Chapter 1: Murder
1 - MURDER
April 29 - 2:12 PM Books-a-Poppin' Bookstore
"Ugh, when are they going to start?" Athena checked her watch impatiently, grimacing. "This was supposed to start at 2, right? My watch isn't fast, right?" She turned to me, her eyes wide in panic. "Do you think something's happened to her??"
I put up a placating hand. "Nothing's happened. You know as well as I do that big events always start a little late. It's just how it goes."
Athena grumbled, the pendant around her neck glowing red. "I WAITED HERE ALL MORNING!" Widget spouted. "I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO WAIT MORE!"
A few of the others in line craned their heads around to search for the source of the shrill voice, glaring. "Oh, come on," Athena hissed through gritted teeth as she hugged her copy of Pye in the Sky, "it's not like you're not all thinking it."
I shoved my hands in my pockets uncomfortably. Despite being a prodigy defense attorney, Athena Cykes is still a teenager. Not that I'm much more skilled -- I've only got two years of actual experience under my belt. I'm-
"Apollo? Apollo Justice?"
I turned my head at the sound of the voice. "Wait... is that...?"
I looked off to the side. Standing a few feet away and waving cheerfully was someone I hadn't seen since law school: Artemis Masters, as upbeat as ever, now displaying a shiny defense attorney's badge on his lapel. Next to him was a young woman in distinctly foreign clothes, working away at a clipboard.
"Hey, hey!" Artemis jogged up to me. "Didn't expect to see you here. You a Sellers fan?"
I shrugged. "She's all right. Mostly I'm here for Athena." I nodded to my associate, still clutching her book and staring at the empty table ahead of us with burning eyes. "What about you?"
"Not really. But my girlfriend works for her, so I'm here for, you know. Moral support." He shrugged; I couldn’t help noting he didn’t seem particularly pleased about offering said moral support. "And no cases today, which is nice."
"Yeah, same here."
"Oh, yeah... you guys are working with that Wright guy now, huh?" Artemis laughed. "Man, suits your style, though, I tell you what."
"Thanks..." I blinked. "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"
There was a sudden beeping sound, and the woman jumped, grabbing for a cell phone hidden up one of her long sleeves. "Hello? Yes? Yes? Of course. Right away." She snapped the phone shut, stowing it away again. "I have to go. Bess is coming out in a few minutes."
"Sure. I'll come with you. One sec." He put an arm around the woman's shoulders. "This is my girlfriend, by the way. Su."
Su bobbed her head quickly. "Nice to meet you." Then she glanced at Artemis, lowering her voice. "Art, you said there was something you wanted to talk about?"
"Yeah, I..." He glanced at me. "We can talk in the back."
"No, I can't, I have to be with..." Their whispered conversation trailed off as they left.
Athena glanced over. "So who was that?"
"Eh. Old law school buddy. Guess he's doing all right for himself. Got a job, got a g-"
"Shh! Apollo! She's here! She's here!"
The whole line had turned their attention to the front, where a tall blonde woman was making her way gracefully to the table. She was smartly dressed in a white three-piece skirt suit, her hair pulled tightly back and held in place with a clip, with what looked like a quill pen jabbed through it. The store's overhead lights reflected off her glasses as she smiled at the crowd.
"Thank you so much for waiting!" she said, beaming. "It's wonderful to see so many of you out here today for the release of my latest book, Defining Pye. I hope you'll enjoy this one as much as the last."
The people in line -- including Athena -- cheered and clapped as the woman sat down at her table.
Elizabeth Sellers, known to her fans as "Bess." A rags-to-riches writer story if ever there was one. She'd been a self-published author with little to no success, until the day she started writing about Margaret Pye, the lead character in her Pye, P.I. series. Since then, she'd gotten a publishing contract and become one of the foremost names in detective fiction.
I'd tried reading a couple of her books before. They were admittedly well-written, but not my style. Between the day job and playing “assistant” for my boss’s daughter’s magic tricks, I get more than enough crime and punishment of a day.
"Ooh, I'm so excited!" Athena wiggled in place, hugging her book. "Do you think she'll be okay with signing this one and the new one? Do you think that'll be asking too much? Do you think she'll like me? Ooh, I'm so nervous!"
"Calm down," I muttered. "You're just getting a writer to put her name on the inside of a book. You're not on a blind date."
Athena scowled. "You just don't get it, do you? Isn't there anyone you're a big fan of?"
"Not... really, no." That wasn't entirely true... but it wasn't so much a matter of being a fan as it was finding someone whose work spoke to me in an odd way. Whether that was the same or not...
"Oh, hey, it's Su!"
I looked to the front of the room. Sure enough, Artemis and his girlfriend were back, with him whispering things to her as she attempted to work. "You know her?"
"Not personally, but I've heard about her. Su Ro'ghit. She's Bess's personal assistant. Apparently, she's originally from Khura'in but was looking to take a job in the literary world. The two are pretty much inseparable now – Bess won’t even do interviews without her on hand." She peered at Artemis and Su, the former of whom was eating what looked like little cookies from a cloth bag. "Looks like that dude's bugging her."
"That's her boyfriend. Old school buddy of mine."
I rolled my eyes. "They were standing right next to us for five minutes. You missed it because you were busy being cross about the wait."
"Ngh." Athena puffed out her cheeks. "I could've met Bess's closest friend! You should've told me!"
"'Friend' and 'assistant' are two very different things, Athena." Though I had to admit, having an assistant who even followed you to interviews? Maybe they were closer than I was giving them credit for.
Finally, we reached the front of the line. Athena, stars in her eyes, laid her copy of Pye in the Sky down in front of Ms. Sellers, who'd already whipped the quill out of her hairdo and was holding it at the ready.
"Who do I sign to?" she asked, smiling.
"A-Athena. Like the goddess." Athena stopped to catch her breath. "M-Ms. Sellers... Bess... I-I just wanted to tell you that I'm, like, your biggest fan, and I've read all the Pye, P.I. books, and I-"
"Easy," I whispered, "you're going to explode all over her."
Ms. Sellers lowered her eyes to the page as she scribbled. To Athena, my biggest fan. With love! And she signed her name below with a flourish.
"OH MY GOSH, thank you SO MUCH." Athena clutched the book to her chest, beaming like a kid on Christmas as she stepped off to the side. I followed close behind, passing by Artemis and Su as their whispered discussion continued.
"Just listen, would you?" Artemis hissed.
"No," Su said quietly. "This isn't the time, Arty. Not now, please."
I was tempted to cut in and see what was wrong, but Athena was skipping merrily ahead of me. I caught up to her when she stopped to stare at the inscription.
"’With love.' Ahh!"
I smiled awkwardly. "I... guess that's good?"
"Of course it's good! It’s WITH LOVE! How much more good than that can you get?" Athena stared down at the book again. "And she signed it to her BIGGEST FAN!"
"Something tells me she puts that in all the books..." I looked at the book in her hands. "Hey... didn't you want a copy of the new book, too?"
Athena slammed the book shut. "Oh, no! I totally forgot! Quick, we have to get back in line!"
"You can get back in line," I muttered. "My feet are hurting."
But before either of us could move, we heard a strange, strangled sound coming from the front of the room. All eyes turned in that direction. Artemis was clutching his throat, his eyes bulging. Ms. Sellers had jumped out of her chair, seeming to be in some sort of holding pattern. Su, meanwhile, was clutching her clipboard to her chest.
"He's choking!" someone in the crowd shouted.
Su shook her head. "No... no, he's... poisoned…" But before she could finish speaking, Artemis had slumped to the ground, motionless.
Ms. Sellers stared down at Artemis, then snapped her head back up to the crowd. "Someone call the police!" she shouted, and the crowd scattered, some pulling out their phones. Athena and I held our positions.
"Su..." Ms. Sellers looked at her assistant in shock.
Su shook her head. "I-I don't know what happened. I don't..."
Bess closed her eyes, sighing. "Su, I'm so disappointed."
"Hey," Athena whispered to me, "did she say 'disappointed'? Shouldn't she be saying 'Sorry'?"
I nodded slowly. What was going on here?
Su shook her head and knelt next to Artemis, checking for a pulse. "He... Bess... he's... dead." Her voice was stunned, quiet, almost tearful.
"Oh, dear." Ms. Sellers sat back down, steadying herself with one hand on the table. "Su... what was in those cookies?"
"N-Nothing! I mean... nothing bad. Why? What would..."
Bess touched Su on the shoulder, whispering something in her ear. Su's eyes went wide, tears welling up. "No! No, how could you think that? How could you..."
"I'm sorry... but it's all I can think." Ms. Sellers stepped away, taking out her own phone.
Su caught my eye. "You." She ran toward me. "You. Arty told me you are a defense attorney."
"Y-Yes." I glanced at Athena. "Yeah, we both are."
"Please, they are going to take me away. Bess thinks I... Bess thinks I have-"
But before she could finish what she was saying, the doors at the front of the shop slammed open, and half a dozen fingers pointed in Su’s direction.
“Wow,” Athena breathed. “I guess Bess isn’t the only one who thinks she did it…”
“We just saw him drop dead right next to her…” Even so, something wasn’t sitting right. It was too obvious. Too simple. And too…
My thoughts were interrupted as two officers shoved past me, grabbing Su by the shoulders and ushering her out. She looked back at me, her eyes full of terror.
"Please!" she cried out to me as she was pulled into the crowd. "Justice! Please!"
"Apollo..." Athena touched my shoulder. I nodded. There had been a death right in front of us. An old friend. And his girlfriend's boss immediately suspected her.
And what had she said?
I looked at Bess Sellers from a distance. She was sitting at her table, eyes on her clasped hands, looking absolutely terrified.