The entire courtroom became eerily quiet, apart from a few gasps being heard from the audience.

Collin still had his finger outstretched like he was trying to touch it to something he would never be able to reach. He stared out at the person he was pointing to with a serious and hateful stare.

Randy let out a small gasp; Nick looked like he had just been blown back in his seat by a stick of dynamite.

"Me?!" Nick raged. "What the?!..."

"I'll tell you why," Collin plainly answered. He somehow sounded like he was completely convinced that he was right. "I remember something very interesting Lisa told me on my very first day on the job…"

\/

"But be careful not to lose that, all right? It takes us over a week to order those knives and get them delivered. Trust me, you don't want to go ten days without one of those things."

/\

Who woulda thought such a trivial bit of info would end up revealing the truth, Collin asked himself. The answer was right there with me when I first walked into this job!

"Objection!" yelled Vill as he jumped up again. "Your Honor, this is a teenaged kid! You're not really going to let him decide that my client is guilty, are you?!"

"Objection overruled."

"What?!"

"Don't forget that Mr. Bansen is representing the entire police force. He has been given special permission to do this. I'm sure the police have briefed him and have told him to do just this."

"Thank you, Your Honor," Collin said as he continued staring at Vill and Nick. "As I was saying, Lisa…er, Ms. McNorr told me it takes us over a week to get new knives if we lose ours. And do you all remember what Nick said earlier on when he was testifying?"

\/

"Yes, your honor. Now then, when did you say it was that you lost your knife?"

"Uh…I think probably a little less than a week before Scott was killed."

-

"Very well. And when did your replacement knife come in?"

"The day before Scott got stabbed," Nick quickly answered.

/\

"You get what I'm saying?" Collin said. "Nick, your testimony is what's gonna kill you. You said you lost your knife a little less than a week before Scott was killed, but you said your replacement one came the day before Scott died!"

"So?!" Nick yelled. He was now beginning to sweat profusely; he had suddenly become much jumpier.

"Lisa said the time it typically takes for a new knife to come is ten days. But according to you, your first knife was lost less than a week before the murder, and your new one came the day before!"

"What are you trying to say?!"

"Like I said, the typical amount of time is ten days. But if what you said is true, that means you had to wait five days at the most. How could you have possibly gotten a knife in half the time it typically takes?!"

"Objection!" yelled Vill. "My client is just confused about when he lost his knife and when he got a new one. Do you keep track of stuff like that?!"

"No, but think about this!" Collin yelled back without even letting the Judge say whether she approved of his objection or not. "Even if he was off by two or three days, it still wouldn't be enough time! You want to know what Mr. Fust did?! He purposely got suspended to give himself an alibi about why he couldn't have possibly been at work when Scott was killed. And before that, you 'borrowed' Jess's knife because you knew she'd never need it and you used it as the murder weapon! Then you took some target practice with that giant sign that has a map of the forest on it until Scott had to come see what the problem is. Then you killed him, hid Jess's knife under the lifeguard tower and then left!"

Nick looked flabbergasted at everything Collin had just said. Not knowing what else to do, he pounded on the desk and yelled, "STOOOOOOOOOOOP IIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTT,' as if he had just been possessed.

Vill turned to Nick with a look of disbelief plastered all over his face. He couldn't believe what had just happened.

Nick slowly brought his head up; his eyes suddenly seemed much more gray, and the veins in his neck and in his wrists had suddenly become much more visible.

"Collin…I swear to God I'm gonna come after you one of these days and rip each and every single limb outta they're fu…"

Before he could finish that sentence, Nick had sprung up from his chair and started advancing very aggressively towards the witness stand, ready to do everything he just said he would.

In no time, the Judge had the bailiff and security tackling Nick to the ground and making sure he wasn't getting up.

The courtroom became eerily silent after the commotion had died down. Nick let out one more violent scream before he was taken out of the courtroom and into the Judge's chambers. Then, just like that, it almost seemed as if every bit of life in the courthouse died with that shout.

When things had finally calmed down, the Judge took a deep breath and organized all the papers on her bench into a neat pile. "Well…sounds like a confession to me, but the jury will have to deliberate on this before I can deliver a verdict."

Just like that, all the jurors got up out of their seats and into their own chambers. The sight of Nick being let out of the courtroom and all the jurors going into deliberation gave Collin the biggest sense of satisfaction and relief he had ever recieved.

"Ha…ha ha…ha ha," he nervously laughed when he saw everything was more or less over. Just like that he stopped sweating and he began breathing at a much more normal pace. He looked across the courtroom and saw Mandel standing at the prosecution's table, smiling and giving him a thumb's up.

I…I can't believe it! It's over!

Only a matter of minutes later, the jurors came back and announced their unanimous verdict.

A man on the jury who looked like he was in his mid twenties with pepper colored hair read the sheet of paper in his hand. With a very serious look, he said, "We, the jury, find the defendant, Nicholas Fust, guilty of first degree murder or Scott Halpin."

Nick, now sitting back at the defense's table, slammed his head down and pounded his fists. He let out one more violent scream before he was handcuffed and taken out of the courthouse. As he was led out, he turned around and gave Collin the most hateful look he had given in his whole life; Collin replied by smirking.

"Very well," said the Judge. "The penalty phase of Mr. Fust's trial shall begin in within three months' time in a higher courthouse. Court is adjourned."

The sound of the gavel slamming down on the desk was perhaps the greatest sound Collin had ever heard in his life.

-

Outside the courthouse, members of the media were standing outside and begging Collin to smile for a "few pictures" that would soon be going into the newspaper.

"Oh, man…" Collin whispered to himself when he was sure no one was looking at him. "This is awesome!"

"Mr. Bansen!" called someone from behind.

Collin turned around and saw Mandel walking out of the courthouse behind him with a wide smile. "You did it, Mr. Bansen!"

After letting out an uneasy laugh, Collin humbly said, "It really wasn't anything."

"Are you nuts?!" Mandel said loudly while still smiling. "Collin, do you have any idea how few kids under the age of eighteen do something like that?!"

I'm actually eighteen on the nose, but whatever. Heh heh…yeah, I was pretty awesome in there, wasn't I?

Mandel looked like he would've liked to stay and talk longer, but he had to leave to do some interviews with other reporters about the outcome of the trial.

Still grinning and looking around, Collin heard someone else yell for him. He turned around and saw that it was Teneire, who looked even more pleased with the outcome than Collin himself probably was.

"Hey, Collin," Teneire said warmly. Never had he been seen this loose and relieved. "Wow, you were pretty good."

"Thanks," Collin answered, not knowing what else to say. "Yeah, it was pretty cool testifying and all. Thanks for letting me do that."

"Collin, I should be the one saying thank you. I don't know how you did it, but you sure buried that case once and for all. Maybe I should have you help me with some of our other unsolved cases."

"Yeah, you told me plenty of times you had a bunch of other stuff to worry about."

"You bet I do," Teneire answered. "Well, I'd better let you go. Reporters are gonna be wanting to talk to you."

"Ha ha. Yeah. All right, see ya."

He started turning around, but was stopped in his tracks. "Wait, Collin?"

Turning back around, he saw Teneire seemed to want to say something else to him. "I know you're last job was at Arbur Winslow, but if you want a job at the precinct again, I promise you there will be one for you."

Heh…how the tables have turned, Collin thought to himself. Now Teneire is the one who wants me working there?! Well, I guess I can either decide to go back or not. Heh. It's all up to me. Awesome.

"I'll think about it," Collin said warmly while still smiling back.

Teneire nodded. "All right, Collin. Take care."

Collin turned back around and saw Randy standing there, looming over him pretty uneasily.

"Uh…hi," he awkwardly said.

"Hi," counter Collin with an unusually cheerful pitch.

"Uh…geez, I'm not really good at this. I, uh…owe you an apology. I was a total dic…er, jerk, and…I just wanted to say thanks. And sorry."

Yeah, you SHOULD be sorry! If it weren't for me, you could've been in jail by now! "Don't mention it!" he said with a wide smile, completely ignoring all the other thoughts going on through his head.

"Yeah, uh…well, see ya."

Without another word Randy walked away, leaving Collin there thinking, Heh…not one for words, is he?

-

About ten minutes later, Collin was standing at the foot of the stairs to the courthouse (that was as far as he managed to walk without getting stopped by a reporter or someone similar). When he got to the bottom, he saw a large, plump man who had a face that looked almost as inflated as a balloon. It was mayor Menkino, doing a segment on the news about how a teenager was able to help influence a court ruling by representing the police.

"Uwah…y'know," Menkino said. "Connor's did us a great service and the whole city owes'em un.

Great. He's messing up my name and everything else in that sentence, Collin thought to himself as he saw the interview being given.

"Yeah, he's round heyah someplace," Menkino said as he looked away from the cameras and began scanning the crowd. After just a short while, he found Collin standing only a few yards away said, "There yous are. Get inna this shot, we's are doin' a segment 'bout you."

Groaning, but still smiling, Collin walked over to the camera. He continued flashing his relieved expression into the camera lens throughout every single interview he did later that day.

-ONE WEEK LATER-

"Well, there it is," Lisa said as she put something else up in her office. Right above her on the wall behind was a large picture of Collin; it was one of the literally hundreds of photos taken of him within the hour after the session in court ended.

The picture consisted of Collin shaking the mayor's hand while focusing all of his attention towards looking at the camera.

"I like it," Jess said with her hands on her hips as she nodded her head.

"Goes great with the other pictures," Ian added. "If only the mayor was a hottie instead of a clown missing his makeup."

"Oh, stop that," Lisa ordered, even though she was laughing a little herself. The whole sense of peace and triumph in the room made everyone much more laid back than they were on a typical day.

"I'm with Jess," Christine interrupted. "That's a pretty cool picture. Imagine how awesome it would've been if we got it autographed."

"Oh, I'm sure if we asked Collin to sign it, he would," Lisa answered confidently.

"I was talking about the mayor," Christine replied bluntly. "But yeah, it'd be kind of cute if Coll signed it, too."

Lisa let out a small sigh before Jess asked, "Hey, where is Collin?"

She laughed a little bit before answering, "Where do you think? He's at school, of course."

"Oh, that's right. Any idea where?"

"I think it's out of state. But I'm not sure."

"You're not too far off," said a deep and commanding voice from behind. It was so sudden that it made everyone in the room jump. But they were a bit relieved to turn around and see it was only Teneire. He gave a warm smile before saying, "Hey, everyone. Long time, no see."

Lisa smiled wide. "Yeah, if you call a week a long time. How've ya been?"

"Oh, I can't complain. How about you?"

"Things have been pretty cool around here. The only reason these guys are still here is because they're full-time employees. Tourist season's pretty much over and we're just packing it all in until next spring."

"Ah…always a depressing feeling, closing something up after a while," Teneire philosophically replied. "I almost felt that way closing up the case here."

"Yeah, I guess."

"That's actually why I'm here. I just wanted to make sure all you guys were sure the case was over and everything is settled."

There was a chorus of "Yeah's" and "Definitely's". Teneire allowed a small chuckle. "Okay, sounds good enough for me."

"Wait, Mr. Teneire," Ian called out, "What's gonna happen to Nick?"

"Nick? He's done. I'm guessing he'll get life in prison, and he probably won't be up for parole. That's my guess. I've been wrong before, but I think that's what's gonna happen."

Ian smiled. "Awesome. Now I can tell all my drinkin' buds that I've worked with a guy who's sentenced to life in prison!"

"Uh…sure, if that's your definition of 'awesome'," Teneire said, clearly not understanding what Ian thought was so incredible. "Anyway, that's all I wanted to say. I gotta get going."

"Wait, Mr. Teneire," Lisa said just as he began walking out the door.

Teneire froze in his tracks and turned around. "What's wrong?"

Lisa sighed. She turned to her workers and calmly asked them, "Would you all mind leaving the room for a minute or two?"

There was some confusion on everyone's faces, but Ian broke the silence with, "Ooooooh, I see where this is going!"

Lisa scoffed. "Oh, it's nothing like that."

"Heh, heh. Whatever, Lees."

The room quickly emptied until it was just Teneire and Lisa. Lisa took a deep breath before walking around to her desk and opening the top drawer in it.

"Collin came by a couple days ago. He wanted me to give you this," she said neutrally as he handed her the object in her hand; it was an envelope that wasn't all that different from the one that contained the incriminating picture of Nick.

Teneire looked slightly confused as he opened it up. Out came a sheet of paper filled with writing done by a typical ballpoint pen.

"It's a letter," Teneire said with a hint of curiosity.

"Collin wrote it. He wanted me to give it to you."

"Why wouldn'the just give it to me himself?"

Lisa passed a quick glance at the letter. "Maybe he'll say."

Still slightly confused, Teneire started reading the letter:

Dear Sergeant Teneire,

I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for helping me work on that case. I don't mean to imitate Lou Gehrig when I say this, but you helped make me the luckiest kid in the world. I don't think you have any idea how awesome it is to finally be able to sleep without thinking about Scott's death. (actually, you probably do, but that's not the point)

You were a great boss to me when I worked at your station. (And if you see her, tell Lisa she was a pretty good boss, too) I'll never forget everything you taught me about keeping my cool and always doing my best. You're right: it DOES feel good to help keep killers off the streets, even if it's just one.

In case you were wondering, I just wanted to let you know I don't plan on going back to Arbur Winslow to work. In fact, I'm not planning on going back to work with you either, Sergeant, even though you invited me back. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment from working with you both, but I think everything is done now. If fate thinks different, we'll meet again. Otherwise, I think it's best that we all get on. But just to make sure you don't forget these days, I wanted you to have something.

Sergeant, this is the reason why I wanted to have Lisa give you this letter instead of me just coming to you. I thought that if I tried doing this in person, you'd reject it, so I'm hoping this will make it a bit harder for you to do that. Maybe you'll think of it as nothing special and just as a cheap little trinket that I found some use for. I personally hope you find some deeper meaning in it than that.

Again, I want you and Lisa to both know how grateful I am. Working with both of you guys has been awesome. I wouldn't trade this summer in for anything.

Yours truly,

Collin

Thank you.

Teneire gently took the envelope and tipped it upside down. The police badge that Collin had utilized to his full advantage while working on the case came tumbling out, right into Teneire's hand.

He let out a small grunt as the cold badge fell into his hand. He stared at in awe, like he was looking for that "deeper meaning" that Collin mentioned in the letter. After staring at the badge and carefully observing it from all sides, Teneire muttered something.

"Thank you, Collin."

THE END

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

There you have it. Another story under the belt. (Certainly took long enough)

As always, I want to thank my readers for reviewing this. Like Everlasting, there weren't a whole lot, but to those of you who did: you know who you are, and thank you.

I've been wanting to try my hand at a mystery story for quite a few months now-probably months before the first chapter of this even got posted. Anyway, while I was working on Everlasting, I pretty much decided I was going to write a mystery at one point or another. However, I was also thinking about writing Strong to Save II, and before I knew it, it was a toss up about which would come first: this, or Strong to Save II.

Obviously, this was the winner. However, this story had a bit of a process to eventually reach what appeared on this site. At one point, the main character wasn't going to be a teenager, but rather an ex-detective. Also, the setting wasn't going to be a state forest, but rather a school. Perhaps the biggest change up of them all was that it was instead going to consist of three or four smaller incidents that all tied together to create a larger story. (much like the concept of "Phoenix Wright", the game that inspired me to give a mystery a shot.) In fact, doing something like having several smaller stories tied together into a bigger mystery doesn't sound too farfetched. Even this story itself had a major change from when I was outlining it. Initially, I was going to hace the second to last chapter end with Collin pointing (THAT much happened) but then the reviews would have to decide who he was pointing to, and if none of them chose the right answer, then the ending would be a depressing one where Nick gets set free and Randy is sentenced instead. (that ending consisted of Randy getting pulled out of court still insisting he was innocent. Nick would've confessed to Collin after, but only to make him more miserable with the knowledge that, thanks to double jeopardy, it would've been impossible for him (Nick) to be charged with the crime. It would've ended with Collin going onto a bridge at night and tossing his badge over the side)

Anyhoo, in the middle of summer I thought this was going to be the previously mentioned story with three or four separate stories and the setting would be in a school. However, after working at a State Forest myself over the summer and realizing how big the place was and how it seemed like an ideal spot for a murder mystery, I toyed with the idea of changing it up: multiple small stories in school, or a single longer one in a State Forest? (you know which one prevailed) But as I've said, the former doesn't seem all that far off.

However, that might be another story for another time. Strong to Save II is next in line, which will go up a little over a month from now on the twenty-first of March. (Yes, I'm purposely launching it on the first anniversary of the start of the first one)

On a side note, I intentionally launched The Night Shift on the same date as the third entry in the "Phoenix Wright" series hit most shelves (even though the shipping date was the day before). I would've finished The Night Shift sooner, but somehow it ended up taking a lot longer than it should have. But that might actually be a good thing; because of that, I was able to reasonably post the final chapter on the very same day the fourth entry in the series is released in the States-February 19, 2008. (starts on the day the third entry in the series hits most shelves, is finished on the day the fourth entry is released. Pretty cool how it al worked out.)

Just as one more little detail, I can't believe it ended up taking as long as it did to come up with the ideas for this story and post all the chapters. (and, chapter-wise, this was fairly short when compared to some of my other stories) Everlasting took probably around two months to outline from scratch ideas to a finished product and about another four months to write, so that was a total of six months. This, on the other hand, had ideas that could've very well gone back to before June, and it took four months to write. Four months before the first chapter goes up and then four months to write…yeah, I'd guess around eight months was put into this overall. Hopefully it was worth it.

I think that pretty much drives it all home. I'll hopefully see you guys again in March when Strong to Save II begins its voyage (pun completely intended), but, until then, I'm taking another quick break from posting on FictionPress.

-Silent Will
Sunday, February 17, 2008, 12:11 a.m.