I Am Lucario

Disclaimer: I do not own Pokémon. This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to any events, locations, and/or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. The views expressed by the characters and/or the narratives do not necessarily reflect the author's views.

Last update was 18th May 2014.

Current update is 31st December 2016.

Sooo, the bad news is that it still took me ages to write this chapter. Looking back, while it's true that I had all sorts of things going on that prevented me from writing much in this past two years, it still shouldn't have taken this long. The good news is that, this chapter has been a sort of a roadblock which stumped me quite a bit, so at least the blockage is slightly cleared now! In fact, I've already written a bit of Chapter 19, so that's a start at least!

This is a double-length chapter. Please enjoy!

Response to Guest (28 Sep and 4 Oct 2016) – Yep, Lucario does indeed evolve from friendship! The context of evolutions in the story is a bit different from the games, since there are no game mechanics in consideration, but I generally try my best to stay faithful to the games. In Lucario's case, he evolves from having enough happiness in his life, as well as "levelling up" during the fight (since in the games, you still need to level up once to trigger evolution). As for the TMs, I have not forgotten! They will still come into play later in the story. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!

Response to Guest (20 June and 25 Sep 2016) – Hey there! Thanks so much for your kind feedback! And I totally don't mind long reviews at all; in fact, I enjoy them! Feedback, comments, and constructive criticism are important as sources of motivation and inspiration, and I really appreciate the feedback I've gotten from everyone. This chapter took a while to figure out, but I really hope the next ones will come faster too. Good luck with your fanfiction too!

Response to weslyx8 – Thanks very much for your review! I'm guessing you have included your email address in your review, but it unfortunately got deleted as the review is posted, so I can't notify you. Sorry about that!

Response to Furrboy – Thanks so much! Ah, that would be wonderful, wouldn't it? I think it's every fanfiction writer's dream to have their works become something more.

Response to Lucariofan448, Lucario fanatic and Enker and Treble – Thank you so much for reading and reviewing! The scarf will definitely make an appearance again someday, though whether or not he gets it back remains to be seen!

Response to FlyAway01 – Ah, thank you so much; your kind words mean a lot to me! This story has become quite a significant part of my life, and it warms my heart to know that it has a special place in the hearts of some of my readers too. All the best with your writing as well! Let's do our best together!

Response to Zero Lunar – Your encouragement certainly has made my day brighter! I appreciate feedback of all kinds, whether it's constructive criticism or general comments! Reece will have a significant role in the story, so we'll be seeing him a lot more still. Some of the Pokémon species for this story are chosen because they are my favourites too, so it's likely we share some favourites! It's interesting though: even the ones who weren't my favourites began to grow on me as I write. Thanks so much for the review!

Response to Guest (29 Aug and 12 Sep 2015) – If I'm not mistaken, Owen slid to the ground and sat down near the start of their talk, so Lucario was able to reach his shoulders without problem. As much as I try to, I avoid specifying the characters' heights since I like leaving it up to the readers how tall the characters are. Personally, I've always disregarded their official sizes and just imagine them as I see fit, haha! Lucario especially is an interesting case because I know some people stick to the official size, while others prefer Lucario to be taller. I'll do my best to continue keeping the sizes ambiguous! Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!

Response to ShadowHawk – Hey, please don't worry about it! Your enthusiasm is touching! I've said this to numerous people now, but reader support is really the fuel which keeps me going. Thank you so much for the support!

Response to Guest 100 – I have not forgotten that story, and I hope to return to it someday. Thanks very much for supporting that story too!

And to the many other reviewers and readers: seriously, thank you so much for sticking with the story. It really wouldn't be where it is today without all of your support! I am still in the middle of replying to some of you, so you might get a private message from me yet!

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The freshly-made egg burger was warm to the touch, emanating a most appealing scent which would normally have enticed Lucario into chomping down on the treat immediately. Indeed, Spike, who had ordered the same thing, already had ketchup spread all over his muzzle.

Lucario squeezed the burger lightly with his paws, not altogether aware of what he was doing.

"Luc."

The Aura Pokémon glanced at Absol, who had similarly neglected his food and was instead observing Lucario.

"You've seemed awfully distracted ever since we left the parking lot. A penny for your thoughts."

"… What?"

Absol was about to explain the phrase when Eevee piped up with a titter, "Absol's saying your thoughts are only worth a pittance."

"Well, the best things come in small packages!" the Disaster Pokémon said, chuckling lightly for a few seconds before clearing his throat. He turned to Lucario, looking utmost embarrassed. "Er… sorry, Luc! That's not what I meant at all." That statement only roused more laughter from Eevee, but Absol shook his head before readjusting his expression into a serious one. "Really though… what's bothering you?"

Lucario placed the burger down, pondering for a second on how best to voice his concerns. "It's just that… Capp and Reece seemed so convinced of Mr. Cooper's guilt."

Absol nodded slowly. "Yeah, but they can't know for sure, right? They're gathering clues just as we are; it's not like they witnessed the crime or anything."

"But there must be something that made them think that way. Maybe they've found some sort of decisive evidence."

"Maybe they haven't. The police have Mr. Cooper as their main suspect. Maybe that's where Capp and Reece got that idea from. Besides, if they already have some sort of evidence, why didn't they give it to the police?"

Lucario mindlessly prodded his burger as he thought about Absol's statement for a while. "I get the impression they don't think much of the police," he said as he remembered Reece's snarky comments when pointing out the lone Manectric guarding the parking lot. "But the thing that's bothering me most is… well, they know my father…"

"Yeah, I had a feeling that might eat at your mind a little."

Lucario pressed on. "I bet they were on good terms, since Xatu told them about me. Wouldn't that mean my father wanted me to join them; cooperate with them? Wouldn't that mean Mr. Cooper really is guilty after all?"

Absol fell silent, and Lucario's heart sank. He was half-hoping Absol might be able to dispel this lingering doubt, but it seemed even the Disaster Pokémon believed it was plausible.

"I told you, Lucario," Eevee chimed in solemnly. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was the true murderer."

"I know, but…" Despite their previous discussion about this subject, Lucario had been optimistic. After all, the superintendent himself claimed that the police did not believe Mr. Cooper to be guilty, so who was Lucario to doubt that? In light of recent events, however, he couldn't be too sure anymore. He wanted to assist in proving Mr. Cooper's innocence to help Greg, but what should he do if the man truly was the killer?

"Well, Luc," Absol said, "you're thinking that your father had meant for you to help Reece and Capp prove Mr. Cooper's guilt, but have you considered the possibility that Xatu had instead wanted you to convince them of his innocence?"

Lucario sat in stunned silence as Absol's words sank in. What Absol theorised was indeed plausible! He wagged his tail subconsciously; it was as though a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders. "You're right! That's brilliant, Absol. I don't know why I haven't thought of it that way."

"Maybe it's because your thoughts are only worth a penny," Eevee said, cackling again.

"The point is," Absol said earnestly, "we don't know for sure what your father's relationship with them was like. I still don't trust them completely, and I really think you ought to be cautious around them too. Don't let your guard down just because they claim to know your father."

"Yeah, I know, Absol," Lucario said cheerily as he picked up the egg burger once more. Despite his friend's reservations, he was fairly certain the Unovan trio were harmless, but it was clear the overprotective Disaster Pokémon would be ever cautious.

Lucario took a whiff of his burger before tentatively sinking his teeth into it. The first thing he tasted was the ketchup; perhaps he had laid it on a bit too thick. Still, it did not drown out the flavour of the buttered bun and fried egg, which went really well together. Some oil oozed out of the egg as he continued chewing, which he felt added to the taste somehow.

While he was preparing to take another bite, he heard a small voice seemingly coming from below him. "Hey…!" it said in an urgent whisper.

Utterly bewildered, Lucario dropped his burger back onto the plate and stared downwards. Much to his surprise, Capp was staring right back at him from under the table, waving. She had somehow sneaked there without Lucario noticing.

"Capp! What are you doing here?" he exclaimed, to which she responded with a hurried 'shh!' as she glanced around wildly, looking afraid for some reason. Meanwhile, Absol had hopped off his chair, assuming a predatory stance. Lucario shot him a warning look before returning his focus to the Minccino.

"Hey, keep it down a little; Reece doesn't know I'm here!" she said, trying to keep her voice as soft as possible. "I just wanted to talk with all of you a little bit. You don't mind if I sit on your lap, do you? It's easier that way."

Without waiting for his reply, Capp climbed her way up his leg and plopped herself comfortably on his lap, beaming at the others around the table as she gave a small wave. "Hello again. Sorry for being so secretive, but it wasn't easy sneaking away from Reece." She rolled her eyes. "You know how he is."

"But why have you come to see us?" Lucario asked. "I thought we aren't on the same side."

"It's true that we seem to be here for very different reasons, but that doesn't mean we have to be enemies!" She frowned up at him. "That's what I think anyway. Clearly Reece doesn't seem to share the same sentiments."

Lucario found himself growing hopeful again. "Exactly! Since you know my father, I'm sure the three of you aren't bad Pokémon. I don't know why you think Mr. Cooper is guilty though."

"Well…" Capp began, visibly uncomfortable. She took a quick scan of the cafeteria before she hopped off Lucario's lap and sat on the edge of the table. "Honestly, I'm puzzled myself why you are actually siding with him. Do you have some conclusive reason to believe in his innocence or something?"

"No, but…"

"You don't?" Capp said, looking surprised. "That's really odd then. Given the circumstances and all that we know so far, wouldn't you agree that Sydney Cooper is our most likely culprit?"

"It may seem that way, but… I just can't imagine how Greg would feel if his father was the culprit…"

Capp blinked as she took in his words. "You mean… his son? Wait, you're trying to help Sydney Cooper out of compassion for his son? That's… not a very good reason, Lucario."

"I know, I know." He jerked his head towards Eevee. "Eevee was saying that Mr. Cooper could very well end up being the killer, and there's nothing we can do to change that. But, until we know for sure, I'll keep investigating. In that sense, Capp, we're on the same side, really."

"Oh, if you're just trying to get to the bottom of this, sure," Capp said cheerily. "Reece is just concerned that…"

"… Yes?" Lucario urged as she hesitated.

"That you might tamper with the evidence or something. I don't think you're the sort," she quickly added, "but please don't blame him for not trusting you. We've just met, after all, and he doesn't trust anyone else much anyway."

"Oh, I understand completely." Lucario grinned as he cast a sideway glance at Absol. "I know it's not always easy to trust others. Don't worry though; we don't plan on tampering with anything."

"I knew you were all good Pokémon! It's the same with me; I trust Xatu too, so I never had any doubts. It sure surprised me when you said you were seeking to prove Sydney Cooper innocent though."

"Capp," Lucario said, glad that she had brought the topic of Xatu up, "do you think you can tell me more about my father? Now is a good time, isn't it?" he added beseechingly.

The Minccino gave an understanding smile. "Yes, that's the main reason why I'm here. I felt it was unfair to leave you hanging like that—you must have been so anxious! I'll preface my story by saying that we haven't lived together for long, however, so we actually don't know all too—"

"You lived with my father?" Lucario exclaimed, tremendously startled. "Wait… you've stayed in the cave before?"

A fleeting look of confusion spread across Capp's features. "Cave…? Oh, no, no, not the cave! We stayed in the city. Reece and I… we've had our fair share of trouble in the past." There was a vacant look in her eyes as her smile dimmed. "We were strays for a while, I suppose. But we found Xatu—or maybe he found us? I don't know. Anyway, we've had a home ever since."

"Wait, I don't understand." Lucario paused for a moment to arrange his thoughts. "You lived in the city… with Xatu? So he used to stay in the city?"

"Yes, that's correct. A small little place, but it beats living in the streets. Xatu moved away shortly after—to your cave, I assume—but we're still staying at his old home."

"Wow…" The new information rendered Lucario momentarily speechless. He supposed it wasn't too surprising to find out that his father used to live in the city; it would explain all the items he managed to procure.

He briefly pondered why Xatu had never brought this up before, but at the same time, remembered that Xatu had mentioned there being things the Aura Pokémon would find out himself in due course. "So… if he was staying in the city, does that mean he had a human?"

"I don't know the exact relationship between them, but yes, there used to be a human too." Capp gave a pensive smile as she shook her head. "He's passed away, and Xatu moved shortly after that. Reece and I… and Fabian, we're living alone now."

"Hmm… Are Pokémon allowed to legally own their own homes?" Absol said. Lucario could still detect mild wariness emanating from his friend, but he was curious about the answer to the question as well. "I didn't think a human is able to transfer ownership of their houses to Pokémon once they die."

"I'm not sure about all the legal details, but I would hazard a guess at Pokémon still not being able to possess land and property. No," Capp continued, "ours is more of a rented place anyway; we don't own it. The landlord wasn't sure about continuing to let us stay at first, but he relented in the end."

"Capp, I would love to come and visit some time…" Lucario said hesitantly. While he was sure the Minccino would be all right with him dropping in on their home, he wasn't so convinced that Reece would be receptive to the idea.

Capp turned away from Absol to beam at Lucario; she did not seem to pick up on his uncertainty. "Of course! I'd be happy to show you around the place after this whole investigation is complete. Maybe I can even drop by your cave some time too."

"Oh, yes, definitely. I'm really looking forward to that."

"Good. You can keep looking forward to it then," said Reece's voice from seemingly around them, though there was no sign of the Zoroark anywhere.

"Oh, no!" Capp muttered under her breath. She gave a resigned sigh as she slumped forward with a gloomy expression. A moment later, she began floating off the table; the air around her seemed to pulse and vibrate before Reece's illusion dissipated, revealing the Zoroark with Capp in his paws.

He gazed down at the Minccino forlornly. "I was hoping you wouldn't be here. It seems we need to have a talk."

Casting a quick look of disdain back at Lucario, Reece turned around and walked off without another word.

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Chapter Eighteen: High-Speed Passacaglia

"Beware of human."

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"I told you to stay put! I told you!" Gardie glared at Lucario, her expression a combination of indignation and dismay which conveyed her immense disappointment at the Aura Pokémon. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to find you? Even if you were hungry, you could have waited for me—I told you I wouldn't be long!"

"I'm really sorry, Gardie!" Lucario said quickly, hoping to placate the irate Growlithe. The little canine's angry barks and growls were drawing amused stares from the other people at the cafeteria. "We kinda got distracted a little back there. I promise I won't run off on my own again without telling you first." He held out a small bun to her. "Since you're here, would you like to have something to eat?"

"Bribing a policedog, eh? I ought to put you in a jail cell, mister! Why, the audacity!" She shook her head. "You never cease to amaze me; and I don't mean that in a good way!"

"Oh, come on, Gardie! It's just a well-intentioned offer!"

"That is a common euphemism for bribery!" she shot back.

"What bribery? What is going on here?" A Manectric—the same one Lucario had seen earlier in the parking lot—strode up to them, her gaze as sharp and stern as he had remembered. Her eyes lingered on the Aura Pokémon for a few uncomfortable seconds before she turned to Gardie. "I hope we are not thinking of accepting any bribes now, are we?"

Gardie sat upright with her muzzle pointed high as she let out a shrill bark. Her tail thumped repeatedly against the floor as she struggled to contain her excitement at being addressed by the Manectric. "Most certainly not, ma'am! I would never dream of doing such a thing!"

"Good." She turned her attention towards Lucario. "I take it you are the Pokémon our superintendent was talking about. The mind-reader who is supposed to instil paranoia in the culprit."

"Yes, that would be me."

She gave a light huff. "I can see the logic behind this appointment, but I disapprove. We, as Pokémon, are supposed to follow our leader's orders, but he has made a string of unorthodox decisions lately which does not sit well with me. Letting a complete outsider in on the investigation is really toeing the line, however…"

Though she did not sound angry, Lucario couldn't help but feel unnerved. "I understand, but rest assured I will not leak out any information or get in the way."

"Hmm. You say that, and yet I see you and your group of friends speaking with the driver earlier. I hope you've not divulged anything private… you do know that not many here are aware of the murder?"

"Yeah, I know. Don't worry, we were very careful. We just wanted to see if we could extract any information about the victim."

"And? Were you successful?"

Lucario thought back to their conversation with Terry. "We found out a bit about the strike some days ago. Also, there's a possibility that the driver you saw had been drunk-driving the other day, which might make him a suspect in the accident involving Greg Cooper. Nigel, the murder victim, had a leg injury after all, so he might not have been able to drive. However, of course… Terry, the driver, denies it."

"Conjectures," she said somewhat dismissively. "I would advise against making wild speculations, especially this early into the investigation. There is no surer way of straying down the wrong path as playing the guessing game with no hard evidence as a basis." She regarded Lucario for a moment. "Then again, you are not part of the investigation team, so that advice is not applicable to you."

"Oh, that is not necessarily so, Madam Coyena!" Gardie barked. "This Lucario fancies himself as a bit of a detective, and he will happily wheedle all sorts of information from you! He's very good at that!"

"Really?" The Manectric gave a sideways glance at Lucario, a small hint of a smirk on her face. "And what sort of police secrets have you managed to extract?"

Lucario raised both of his paws in defence. "Don't listen to Gardie! She was the one who—" He caught himself in time, casting a quick look at the little Growlithe. He didn't want to get her into trouble by saying that it was she who blabbed without restraint. "She's the one who keeps exaggerating!"

"You better hope it stays that way. I have seen you mingling with many others…" Her grin faded as she appeared to assess Lucario. "It would be disastrous if you let something slip."

"Please don't worry about that," Lucario reassured firmly. "I'm very careful. Besides, I don't have much information anyway. There doesn't seem to be any witnesses, which might be why the police have been able to keep this quiet. I only know about some seemingly unrelated things, like the strike."

"Yes," she huffed, "there has been a severe lack of information all around. Although, given our superintendent's secretive stance lately, I would not be surprised if he had been hiding information from his Pokémon team as well—that is to say, us." Scoffing, she shook her head. "I do not even know what is going on anymore… Lieutenant Lyle Wynfield has been tasked to investigate the accused, while the superintendent is looking into the victim, but… last I heard, he wasn't even in town."

Coyena tilted her head slightly. "It just feels like there is something else we are kept in the dark about. No matter. Should anything go wrong… it is all on him."

"Madam Coyena, I'm sure it'll be fine," Lucario said. "He must have planned something if he's keeping things secret even from your team."

The Manectric, despite having been composed all the while, flinched a little at being addressed like that by Lucario. "… We shall see. I must admit I usually take a more active role during investigation, which I much prefer over guard duty. The only eventful thing which occurred all day was cleaning out that giant inflatable rat."

"Inflatable rat? What's that?"

She waved her paw dismissively. "An ugly relic of the worker's strike, left behind as a reminder and symbol of their cause. The strike may be over, but clearly someone wants the management to remember."

"I'm afraid I still don't really understand."

"A great big inflatable rat has been placed in the Poffin storeroom, where they store the Poffins ready for transport." Seeing Lucario's continued look of puzzlement, she ploughed on. "Raticate balloons are sometimes used by strikers to signify their displeasure. Usually these are placed in prominent locations—the entrance of a building, perhaps, so that more people can see it… Seeing as this was placed inside the storeroom, I can only guess it was meant for the internal staff only. Maybe it was meant to incite further rebellion among those who remained."

"Oh…" Lucario nodded. "I get it now, I think. So basically it's just some balloon left behind by one of the drivers on strike. So why were you cleaning it up then? Shouldn't the workers here handle it?"

"An excellent point. I can only guess they were too busy… or they just did not care. Either way, we police have to deal with clean-up sometimes. At least this was mere vandalism instead of some gory scene." A fleeting look of surprise crossed her features. She paused for a moment before regarding Lucario with a smirk. "Well, well, so Gardie was right. You are very good at prying information from others. You had me talking more than I had intended."

"Wait a minute! I was just making casual conversation!" Lucario protested. "Besides, that wasn't relevant to the murder case, was it?"

"No, it is not for you to decide if that was relevant or not. No one can say for sure until the case is closed, and the culprit apprehended. Until then, do not leak this out. Remember, we are the ones doing the questioning. We have no need to explain anything to witnesses."

"All right, I understand."

She glared at him. "But, once again, this does not apply to you. Your job is to show your face around, not to question anyone. The last thing we need is for you to jeopardise the investigation. Got it?"

Lucario nodded. "Yes, I'll be careful."

Coyena stared at the Aura Pokémon sceptically, but chose not to voice her evident doubt. "Good. Now, I am still concerned about the Zoroark from earlier. I had thought he was your friend, but Gardie told me he was not among your group when you came this morning. He seems like an unreasonable sort."

"Well…" Lucario paused, unsure of how to best phrase his response. While Reece had made clear that their interests differed, Capp's conversation with him earlier was still on his mind. "He's an acquaintance of mine. I don't think you need to worry about him. He's suspicious of everyone, so I doubt he'd leak anything."

She tilted her head. "Not very close with him, I take it. This is quite worrying. I shall have to see if he ought to be removed from the premises…" Coyena stood up and glanced around, as though contemplating where to go. "I will take my leave. Stay out of trouble, and stay close to Gardie so that she can keep an eye on you."

The little Growlithe gave a happy bark as Coyena strode away. "You can count on me!" She turned back towards Lucario and puffed out her chest. "I'm so glad Madam Coyena understood that it wasn't my fault you wandered off by yourself! I'm gonna keep a very close eye on you from now on!"

"She actually seemed quite easy-going," Lucario commented, albeit only after checking to make sure the Manectric was out of earshot. "I was half-expecting her to chew either you or me out."

Gardie gave a quick high-pitched bark. "Better you than me! I was with my human; I didn't do anything wrong!"

"Yes, of course, Gardie. What were you doing earlier anyway? Did your human make some new discoveries?"

The Growlithe stuck out her tongue. "Anything I do would be super-extra-top-secret! You don't need to know that! And I won't fall for your tricks anymore, so don't bother trying. I can't believe your tactics worked on Madam Coyena though…" Her tail fell limp as she stared at Lucario almost as if in wonder. "You must be really something!"

Eevee gave Lucario's leg a light poke as she muttered under her breath, "I'm not surprised; given your penchant for stalking humans, you've got to be an expert at prying."

"Hey," Lucario protested with playful indignation to them both. "I was just making casual conversation. It's not my fault everyone feeds me information willingly."

"Well, stop making casual conversations then!" Gardie said. "We're here for a very formal reason! Let's walk and show your face around, like what you were originally supposed to do!"

"I've done a bit of that already," Lucario said. "I've been to the parking lot, and I've walked around some parts of the factory before coming here to this cafeteria. Since it's lunch time, most everyone is here, so I imagine a lot of people must know of my presence by now. No one seems to be panicking though."

"We can do it again!" Gardie piped up cheerfully. "Maybe they will panic more if they see you with a police dog! Like you should have been in the first place!" she added sternly. "Otherwise they would think you were just some random stray!"

Lucario sighed, though he couldn't stop himself from smiling. Gardie was enthusiastic and could be quite assertive, but it was rather endearing all the same.

After everyone had finished their meal—with Gardie still refusing to eat anything—the little canine led the group out of the cafeteria to roam around. They had barely moved anywhere when Lucario spotted Segue the Chatot standing in the adjacent corridor, his wings folded in front of him as he appeared to be in deep thought.

Lucario walked up to him cheerfully; Segue's eyes were closed, and the Aura Pokémon could pick up some incoherent words which the bird seemed to be thinking about. "Hello, Segue! What are you doing?"

Segue squawked loudly as he jumped, his wings spreading open as he flapped a little. "Who – what – where?" He tilted his head as he saw Lucario. "Oh… it's you. What are you thinking, scaring me like that?"

"Sorry, but I was just wondering what you were up to. You seemed troubled!"

"Well, it's hard not to be, when I consider that there could be a ghost lurking around in the factory! I mean, if it were some small harmless ghost Pokémon, then sure, no problem, but what if it's something… more?" The little Chatot shivered, and then noticed Gardie walking towards them with the rest of the group. His expression fell flat. "Oh… it's her again."

"I told you, it's probably just an intruder! No need to worry about anything supernatural!" Gardie insisted.

"But… but…!" Segue squeezed his eyes shut. "Those sounds… Moaning and groaning and scratching… why would an intruder make those noises? It makes no sense; surely they would be as quiet as possible!"

"Why would a ghost make those noises either?" Gardie shot back, almost laughingly. "That's so clichéd! Nah, maybe your intruder got hurt or something—that's so much more likely, don't you think? You know, I didn't want to say this, but… you're supposed to guard this place! You should've investigated this matter further!"

"What! No way!" Segue squawked with indignation. "I don't stand a chance against ghosts… or intruders!" he added upon catching Gardie's impatient expression. "They don't pay me enough to risk my life, no-sirree! If I find any suspicious character, I'll just report them, and I'll wash my wings off it!"

"Then put what you saw behind you; you've reported the intruder to me!" Gardie barked. "What are you still fretting over it for?"

"It's just…" Segue faltered, hugging himself around the chest as he squeezed his eyes shut.

And here, Lucario saw it: a quick flash of Segue's thoughts, depicting a large shadow stretched on the floor, and a dark, humongous, silhouetted figure towering over some cartons. While he couldn't make out any finer details, the fangs on the creature were quite prominent in the shadow. Stunned, the Aura Pokémon gazed at Segue, wondering if the image was an actual scene seen by the bird, or if it was just a figment of the Chatot's imagination.

"Well, you're right!" Segue said suddenly, snapping Lucario out of his reverie. "I'll just report anything suspicious to you, and toss it out of my mind! And I'm gonna do that starting now!" He stretched a wing out. "There's a shady man in the delivery vehicles' parking lot. He's an ex-driver here, and has no business lurking in the premises. There. I've done my duty; now you do yours."

With an air of finality, Segue hopped away. Gardie strode forward, barking. "Wait! Why did you just let him in here in the first place?"

When Segue had hopped out of sight, ignoring the Growlithe completely, Gardie whipped around, growling. "I can't believe that guy. C'mon, we ought to check this out."

As Gardie led them back to the parking lot, Lucario reflected on what he had seen. If the silhouetted monster was in fact witnessed by Segue, then it would explain why he was so confident about it being a ghost or supernatural being instead of an intruder. And yet, if that was the case, then why didn't he mention this to Gardie? Surely it would do more to convince the sceptical Growlithe. Instead, the Chatot had only talked about hearing moans and groans.

He didn't have much time to ponder this riddle, for they found themselves back in the parking lot before long. The sound of laughter and talking reached their ears even before they arrived—the newcomer seemed to be conversing with Terry, and was not bothering to keep his voice down.

"—and so I told him, he could take that shovel and shove it, for after what I've been through here, I won't let any employer walk all over me again! Hahaha!"

The raucous laughter was joined with a weak and barely audible chuckle, which Lucario recognized to be from Terry. The alcohol-loving driver was sitting on the ground next to the delivery van, just like when the Aura Pokémon first met him, except he was now together with a beefy man sporting a thin moustache—and next to the stranger sat a Pokémon with greyish-brown skin and pinkish vein-like bulges, clutching onto what seemed to be a gas tank.

Despite Terry's drunken state, Lucario could sense that he seemed uncomfortable to be in the new man's company. The stranger seemed oblivious to this, however, and was raising a beer can up high as he continued talking loudly.

The Pokémon with the gas tank was the first to notice them, though Gardie went ahead and made her presence known by barking loudly. "Excuse me! Who are you people, and what are you doing here?"

"Haha! What an adorable little doggie, with such a cute hat too!" the man exclaimed with a wide smile, putting his can down and stretching both arms out as though inviting the Growlithe to hug. "C'mere!"

Gardie ignored him, and turned to the short but burly Pokémon. "Hey, you're his Timburr, aren't you? Can you explain what the two of you are doing here? I hear he isn't even a driver here anymore! You can't just enter the premises as you please!"

The Timburr stood up and adjusted the tank's positioning before giving a little bow. "Oh, I do hope there's no problem with us being here, miss." He motioned towards a little rectangular object dangling around the man's neck. "Sure, he's not working here anymore, but that's why we got that there visitor's pass, see?"

Gardie smacked a paw on her forehead and turned to Lucario. "That Chatot… first, he gives them the pass, and then he tells us that they're suspicious," she hissed softly.

The Timburr maintained a polite but firm expression as Gardie whirled around back to face him. "We won't be here long," he said. "We just came to get back some stuff we left behind."

"Gahaha!" laughed the man suddenly, clapping Terry on the back and causing him to jolt in surprise. "Always loved watching Pokémon talk with one another! Look, aren't they just adorable?"

"Yeah… is cute, I s'pose…" Terry replied weakly, his eyes looking a little unfocused.

Gardie disregarded the men and maintained her focus on the Timburr. "You don't look like you're here to retrieve some items. You look like you're here for merrymaking! Plus, your human's released from the company! How could they have let you in to retrieve your things without even sending someone to supervise you?" The little canine was practically trembling with indignation now. "And you were involved in the strike too, right? Surely… surely the security here isn't so incompetent!"

"Whoa…" The Timburr raised both hands up. "Relax! It's not like we're up to no good here. We just wanted to retrieve something, honest."

"And you're sure taking your time doing it!" she barked back immediately.

The fighting-type shrugged. "Well, we tried finding it, but it seems that it's been removed. Nothing we can do about that."

"What's this item then?"

"Come now," the Timburr said with a laugh. "Surely you don't need to know that? It's something trivial. Not important at all."

"Unwillingness to disclose information is always suspicious in my book, mister!"

He looked visibly uncomfortable now. "Oh, all right. We were looking for this." He nudged the gas tank behind him. "I left it behind the last time I was here, before the strike." The Timburr paused for a while as he regarded Gardie. "Workers aren't supposed to bring their Pokémon here unless they have obtained permission, but it was easy for me to hang out here without anyone bothering me."

"Yeah…" Gardie began in a sardonic tone. "Just moments ago you said you weren't able to find what you were looking for. And now you claim you've got it."

"I-I wasn't lying!" he said, flustered. "This is a different one. The one I left behind is still missing."

The Growlithe narrowed her eyes. "Real believable. I'm keeping an eye on you, mister."

He managed a smile, shrugging lightly. "Fine, if it'd make you happy. You're wasting your time though; we're not up to anything. We're only still here because Farlow here found his friend and thought he'd like to—"

The man in question had gotten up and clapped a hand onto his Pokémon's back, eyes on Gardie. "Heh, guess you must be some sort of police dog, with that getup! Hope Biff isn't causing much trouble! Can't understand you and all, but in case you were wondering, we're just here to retrieve a toy we left behind."

Farlow gave a booming laugh and continued, "I wish you could've seen it, little doggie! You would've loved it! It's a sight to behold, I tell ya; you'd definitely be impressed!"

Gardie glared at the man, and then directed her gaze to Biff. "Why would I be impressed by a gas canister?"

The Timburr averted his gaze. "Uh…"

"Too bad someone has removed it," Farlow said again. "Pity, but expected. I knew they wouldn't let a huge thing like that continue to take up space. I'll show you a photo of it next time, lil' fella! C'mon, Biff, let's get you to try some of Terry's beer, eh?"

The man wrapped an arm around the Timburr's neck and wheeled him around to head back to where Terry was sitting. "Hold on, mister!" Gardie barked, and Biff paused in his tracks to look at her. Seeing his partner stop, the man laughed loudly again and thumped Biff's back.

"Guess you Pokémon want to continue mingling, eh? Haha! Adorable, all of you. Well, don't let me hold you back from having fun!"

Farlow walked back to re-join Terry, leaving Biff alone to face Gardie, looking a little unsettled. "Uh… I know what you're going to ask." He smiled sheepishly and innocently. "It's a really, really large gas tank?"

"I'm really not in the mood to play games," Gardie said warningly. "You'd better explain this nonsense right away."

Biff held out both hands again, shaking his head. "All right, all right. I wasn't lying, really. We're just referring to different items of ours. Of course the gas tank means nothing to him, right? Nah, he's talking about the other stuff, which to me isn't important at all. We had a party the other day, and we left behind some balloons. I, on the other hand, left the tank."

"A party," Gardie repeated dryly.

Biff nodded. "A party."

"A party, here, when there was a strike."

The Timburr folded his arms and tilted his head. "A strike is a party too, isn't it? Large gathering of people and stuff. It was one of the other's birthdays, and it's a Poffin factory. Balloons liven the mood!"

Gardie gave a small twisted smile which resembled Coyena's. "Such exemplary colleagues you guys were, celebrating one another's birthdays even in a strike."

Biff gave a little bow of the head and smirked. "Thank you. The drivers here are treated as lowly workers, so they find comfort in one another."

"So he left some balloons. Then why did he say it was something huge?"

"Since there were so many of them, I suppose they were huge collectively."

While Gardie glowered at the Timburr, Lucario felt a tugging at the tails of his scarf, and turned around to find Absol calling for his attention. Behind his white-furred friend, Eevee and Spike were staring at him intently. Somewhat amused, he returned his gaze to Absol.

"What's the matter?"

"The moment he mentioned balloons, the three of us realised something, and have come to a quick consensus. We think we know what item these two have left behind, and what they have been up to," Absol said.

Lucario chuckled lightly. "Why do you three never rope me in to your discussions?" Behind him, Gardie had already continued her questioning with Biff.

"You were busy listening to them," Eevee replied.

"And we haven't discussed much!" Spike chimed in.

"Anyway," Absol pressed on, "we can assume this man had been part of the strike previously. Since he mentioned the item was something huge, and since his Pokémon mentioned balloons…"

"There's only one thing it could have been!" Spike piped up again.

Eevee nodded. "We also remembered what the Manectric from earlier mentioned, yes."

"You mean Coyena?" Lucario scratched his head as he tried to recall the conversation with the Manectric. All he could remember at the moment was her smirking and saying that he was indeed good at wheedling information out of people. "Why, what did she say?"

It was now Absol's turn to laugh lightly as he stared at Lucario amusedly. "Don't tell me you've forgotten? She was talking about having removed a gigantic Raticate balloon. Don't you think it's something that man would feel that Gardie will be entertained by? He probably sees the balloon as a giant toy for an excitable puppy."

"Oh! I see what you mean. So you're saying Biff is lying about there being many balloons, and that these two were the ones who placed the single, giant balloon here then? I suppose the gas tank he's holding could have been used to inflate it. Could it?"

He peered inquiringly at Absol, who merely shrugged. "I have absolutely no idea. He might have needed a pump or something. Either way, it's not important, is it? It doesn't seem like this is relevant to what we're investigating."

Lucario nodded. "Yeah, it seems that way. You three are really perceptive, noticing that."

Eevee snickered, flicking her tail around to curl by her front paws. "Or maybe it's just you who's slow on the uptake."

The Aura Pokémon protested in mock indignation, "Hey! Gardie doesn't know that either. I'd better tell her though."

But when Lucario whirled back around, Gardie seemed to have already advanced a few steps closer to the Timburr, drilling him thoroughly without even noticing the conversation Lucario had with his friends. "—giant Raticate!" she had said. "Did you think you could hide the fact that you placed that ugly monstrosity here in the factory? You should be charged with vandalism!"

"Now hang on a minute! I told you, it wasn't me!" He jerked his head towards his human partner. "It was all him. He carried it here and set the whole thing up two days ago, early in the evening."

Gardie nodded, but still looked sceptical. "Why were you back here to retrieve it? Is there something important about it?"

Lucario could detect some nervous excitement from the little canine as she asked that, and he wondered if Gardie suspected the balloon to be an important piece of evidence related to the murder somehow.

"Not really, no. Farlow just thought he should move it somewhere else if it's still here, since they're likely to destroy it if we'd kept it in that there storeroom for too long. Personally, I thought it'd be a wasted trip today, and I was right, wasn't I? It's already gone. No way they'd let that stay there as soon as they'd seen it. I'd have told him," he added with a noncommittal shrug, "but I can't speak human."

"I still find it hard to believe you came all this way and risk exposing your crime just so you can take a balloon… whoever heard of a vandal returning to clean up the mess he created?"

"Now, crime is a strong word…"

"How can you pretend that's not a crime? Breaking and entering, and leaving litter all over the place, how—?"

"Oh, come on!" Biff interjected, looking anxious. "People leave balloons like this all the time in strikes! We're not doing anyone any harm! What you should be looking into is the management here. Treating employees unfairly, that ain't right and surely you know that. I'm sure there's some law about giving all employees equal treatment!"

"Is that what the strike is about? Because you guys aren't being treated well?"

"The opposite, rather," Biff said, looking thoughtful. "Now don't quote me on it, since I wasn't exactly here. From what I heard, one of the drivers was found to have been treated a whole lot better. More salary, more leniency… and he doesn't even get as much done 'round here. Many thinks there's something fishy going on about that. Maybe the guy's a friend of one of the higher-ups, and the job's more of an excuse for him to get paid large amounts of money without doing much work. Maybe he's a spy from the upper management, to keep tabs on all the other drivers.

"Either way, a fight happened, and that there strike some time afterwards. The drivers demanded something to be done about this. Everything must be explained clearly, and that particular driver needs to be removed, or, everyone else needs to be paid higher." He folded his arms and nodded. "If you ask me, sneaky employer-employee behaviours like that is far more of a crime than merely putting a silly balloon."

"But no one's asking you, mister!" Gardie snapped. "I admit your crime isn't all too serious, so your punishment, if any, will be light to reflect that. It's something I'll have to notify the others, and have them decide!"

"Then let it be known that it's all him!" Biff said again, pointing at his human. "He planned and executed the whole thing! I was just dragged along for the ride."

"You can tell all that to the officer in charge if we call for you," Gardie said firmly. "You still seem to be an accomplice, from the looks of it."

Biff folded his arms and flicked his head in annoyance toward the side, looking resigned. "Fine. So be it. At worst it's a fine, so Farlow will handle all that. Or if it's community service, sure, I can slog it out. I just don't get why he is so carefree about the whole thing, telling you about all that we did like that." He cast a bitter look at Gardie. "He must think you're no threat, or that he's done nothing wrong."

Gardie gave a loud bark in reply. "Whichever it was, I can assure you he's wrong on both counts! Now, if there's any other secrets you haven't told me, you'd best be doing that now, mister, or things will look really bad for you!"

The Timburr's eyes widened in surprise. "What other secrets would I be holding back from you? No, that's all I know."

"You're sure? You said you were here two days ago to place the balloon. Did you see anything out of the ordinary? Anything at all!"

Biff regarded her with puzzlement for a moment. "No, why? You sound like something else has happened two days ago. What is it?"

"Never you mind. All right then, that should be all for now. We'll call you up again if we need anything."

The fighting-type looked relieved at the dismissal. "I hope that time will never come then." He gave a little ironic salute and hastened back towards Farlow, sitting close by the man and focusing his gaze on Terry, as though perhaps afraid that Gardie would summon him again if he were to even glance at her.

Gardie gave a huff as she continued to stare at the Timburr for a while, before turning to look at Lucario and the rest. "What a ridiculous pair. At least that's the balloon vandal incident cleared up." What had been a glower instantly brightened into a joyful look of glee, her tail wagging speedily. "Madam Coyena will be so proud of me when I tell her!"

"You did well, Gardie!" Lucario complimented. "That was some fast deduction. I suppose you really are a well-trained police officer who's quick on the take."

Eevee rolled her eyes and muttered so only Lucario could hear, "You were the only one who didn't figure it out though."

"Yes, I did good today!" Gardie said happily to Lucario. "Sure, there aren't any leads for the murder case, but at least we found out about the vandal." She stared at the Aura Pokémon for a few seconds. "Wait! I found out about the vandal. Don't think about stealing my thunder, mister!"

"Oh, no, the thought had never crossed my mind. Of course you'll get the credit for that discovery."

"Well, good," Gardie said as she strolled toward the exit of the parking lot. "I can't wait until my human finds out about what I did!" Her tail began wagging exuberantly. "He'll be so happy. I did really good for a newbie!"

Her joyful mood persisted even as they strolled through the sunlit compound back towards the main building. "I want to be the best police dog I can be and make him proud!"

"You really like Lyle a lot," commented Lucario, shielding his eyes from the sun with his right paw. "He's lucky to have someone as enthusiastic as you."

Gardie pranced around in a circle and barked. "He showed confidence in me like no one has before! Everyone doubted a small pup like me would ever amount to anything, but I've made progress in leaps and bounds ever since my human picked me! I'm working hard to continue making him proud!"

"What do you mean, he picked you?" Lucario asked with interest.

"We police dogs are trained hard before we get assigned to an officer. Not many of us make the cut, and to tell you the truth, I wasn't exactly among the top achievers. But, but! He showed confidence in me, and handpicked me directly! It made my day! It made my life!"

Lucario chuckled and nodded. "Well, you certainly did a good job today. I'm sure he is indeed proud of you."

"You've been flattering me a lot!" Gardie said brightly as they entered the main building once more. "Let me tell you now, I'm not giving you any special privileges just because you're throwing some praises my way!"

"I'm not trying to do anything here!" Lucario protested while lightly shoving Absol, who was smirking at his misfortune. "Really though. It's encouraging to see you being so enthusiastic going about your work."

The group strolled around the factory a little more. Lunchtime was over now, and there were less human chatter, though the hums of machinery remained ubiquitous. The workers were spread out in various areas, having returned to their tasks. While there were a few cheerful auras emanating around—mostly from the gossiping employees—Lucario couldn't help but pick up on the much more pervasive dreary atmosphere.

The Aura Pokémon sidled closer to lean against the wall as he used his aura abilities to eavesdrop on one of the chattering workers' talk, having heard the word 'strike' thrown out by a portly lady.

"… don't seem worried at all, no. Production has continued, but shipment has stopped! Boxes piled high to the ceilings, I tell you! I was at HR just yesterday, and they've just chucked all these crates everywhere."

Her companion, a balding man who seemed to be around his fifties, looked perturbed. "But that's impossible!"

"You go to HR now and have a look," the woman insisted, slightly pushing the man as though indeed urging him to check the matter immediately. "I won't be surprised if the whole office has been converted to a storeroom by now."

"Go to HR," the man parroted derisively. "Please. I avoid that place whenever I can."

They shared a laugh, and the woman wagged a finger at him. "I thought so. You'll have to take my word for it then."

The man frowned, expression turning serious again. "But if they don't get more drivers, how are they going to get all these crates out? Eventually there will be a surplus of stock, and then production will cease, and we'll be out of work!"

"Which brings me back to what I've said," the lady continued importantly, "send your résumés out now while you can. Don't wait till you get a love letter from HR. The way I see it, the factory will be closing its doors soon; the new head just ain't up to it. Even if not, we're bound to be replaced with robots soon anyway."

As the man shook his head and sighed, Lucario opened his eyes again and stood upright. He had a sudden image of the factory workers being transformed into robots by force, and figured there was something he was probably misunderstanding here. Rubbing at his temples, he reflected on the conversation once more. So there was an excess of Poffins now that there were not enough drivers to offload them… Was it likely for the factory to shut down, or was it just pure speculation on the woman's part?

Lucario glanced around at his friends to check that he hadn't missed anything. It would seem that none of them had spoken or done much. Even Gardie was merely humming happily to herself as she watched one of the workers being yelled at by someone who appeared to be a middle manager of some sort.

"Gardie."

The little Growlithe whirled around in surprise, as did Lucario, for he did not expect his quiet white-furred friend to address Gardie.

"Your human mentioned that he's retiring soon, didn't he?" Absol asked kindly. "What are your plans for after that? Will you retire with him or switch partners with someone else in the force?"

Lucario felt a jolt of discomfort emitting from Gardie while the Growlithe gaped at the Disaster Pokémon. Her ears drooped a little as she contemplated the question.

"Well. I don't know. I don't want my career to end just when it was picking up, but I can't imagine working with anyone else."

"I understand. I'm sorry for springing that on you like this." Absol gave a reassuring smile. "I was just curious to hear your plans. You seem very attached to your job, but have also developed a strong bond with your human partner."

"But…" Spike began, looking back and forth between Absol and Gardie. "There's no reason you can't have both, right? You can continue being his Pokémon, and come to work with a different human officer partner!"

Gardie's expression brightened immediately. She adjusted her cap and wagged. "Yes! You're right! Thank you, Spike!"

There was a faint wave of relief emanating from Absol as he nodded. Perhaps he was worried that he had made Gardie upset. "Yes, of course, that's one possible solution to this dilemma. I imagine police officers usually get to keep their partners 24/7, but I'm sure the people in the force will understand if you'd prefer a different arrangement."

"Yep, yep! I'm sure they will! I'll try asking Madam Coyena or Superintendent Regal for permission! They can advise me!"

"You do that, Gardie," Absol said. "Again, sorry I asked, but it's good to plan ahead. I stayed with a retiree once, and it's really quite a nice living too, relaxing all day and watching television. I understand it's not for everyone though."

While Gardie continued humming to herself as she observed the workers going about their routine, Lucario stared quizzically at his friend, tapping lightly on Absol's back to call for his attention. "Absol, why the question?"

Absol shook his head. "Nah, it's nothing; I was just curious." He tilted his head, looking slightly wistful. "A bright, cheery, young Pokémon like her, I didn't think she would have thought much about the future. Her human did mention he was going to retire, so I thought I'd ask what her plans were."

Lucario nodded, still studying him intently. He could detect faint sorrow emitting from his friend still, likely brought about by the memories of Absol's life with his former human partner. Perhaps Absol just didn't want Gardie to get caught off guard by any sudden changes in her lifestyle, just like Absol had.

About half an hour later, the group toured around the main building's second floor, where several more offices were located. The staff around these parts were dressed more formally compared to the ones downstairs, and the area was considerably quieter as well.

"A lot of the administrative staff work here," Gardie pointed out when Lucario asked about it. "Their roles are very different from the fast-paced activity downstairs. As you may have noticed, a lot of them here are just low-level staff. Higher-ups are mainly located in that other building, I think!"

Lucario took a moment to observe the place. The same dreariness from downstairs was present here as well, though it was at a notably lower level. Most of the workers were at their desks, though a few of them were chatting by a water cooler at the corner, while several more were lounging in what seemed to be the pantry. Even the workers who were at their tables seemed lax, however, and a few of them were idling about as they talked with one another. There were even a couple of staff who appeared to be fiddling with their mobiles.

While it was tremendously exciting for Lucario to be visiting a proper workplace, and with permission to boot, it was difficult not to be affected by the dull mood in the air. Looking over at his friends, he found that he was not alone in this. Eevee made no effort to suppress a wide yawn, while Spike was gazing longingly at a chair, clearly wanting to sit down and rest his feet.

Glancing around some more, Lucario noticed that several crates had been scattered around the office, most of them stuffed into a corner. The conversation between the pair of workers downstairs came to mind again, and the sight of these crates seemed to reaffirm the woman's words. He couldn't help but wonder if the higher-ups had indeed been planning to shut the factory down, and hence them not even bothering to replace the fired drivers after the strike.

A sudden loud crash from a few doors away caught their attention. Gardie's ears perked up immediately, and almost as though on instinct, she began to bound towards the source of the sound. The group followed at her heels, stopping at the doorway of what appeared to be a meeting room which had transparent glass walls on all sides.

Like the entire office, there were a number of crates there, and it seemed that several of them had toppled over. A couple of cartons were lying on the floor with their lids open, and numerous multi-coloured Poffins were strewn about the floor. A few humans were huddled around a well-dressed man in the middle, and Lucario quickly noticed that one of the surrounding people was Gardie's human, Lyle.

Gardie gave a sharp bark which caused everyone to turn around.

"Ah, Gardie!" Lyle exclaimed, staring at his canine companion in surprise. "No, stand back for a while. There's been a slight accident, and the man's bleeding."

Gardie obediently sat down and watched as Lyle bent to help the fallen man, gripping around the man's arm and hoisting him up.

"I'm all right," the injured man assured some of the other staff who had drawn closer to help.

"Sir, you're bleeding quite heavily," a woman in a green jacket said, indicating the wound around the man's forearm. "That's quite a nasty cut you've got there – you need to get that treated right away."

"Yeah, of course." The man rolled the sleeve of his shirt back, exposing a fairly large gash across his forearm which was dripping a substantial amount of blood to the floor. "Geez, this is quite bad indeed." He adjusted the square-rimmed glasses on his face and glanced towards the corner of a carton on the ground, which was stained with blood. "These things are sharper than I thought."

Lyle nudged the carton aside with his foot and helped steady the injured man. "Must've caught your arm on the corner or a nail or something. Here, I'll escort you to get that treated. You've got a first-aid kit somewhere, right?" Without waiting for an answer, he turned to address the others. "All right, meeting's adjourned."

He jerked his head towards the fallen crates and bloodstain. "I know this place's a mess, but I want everyone to stay away from the room for now, okay? There's something I need to check once I'm done making sure Mr. Filwell has been treated, and I'll get this room cleaned later."

Some of the other staff looked surprised at hearing about Lyle needing to check the room, but none of them objected. Lucario moved aside from the doorway to make way as they slowly trickled out, and soon only Lyle and the injured man were left inside. Mr. Filwell continued to examine his wound, but Lyle gently nudged him towards the exit.

Lyle turned towards Gardie. "I may need your help, Gardie. Follow me for a moment. The rest of you," he indicated Lucario and his friends, "can wait around outside in the office for a while. We'll be back soon!"

Gardie strode out to follow her human, but not before turning back to bark at the group importantly, "You heard him! Wait here for us, and don't go wandering off like earlier!"

"Yeah, I hear you," Lucario reassured. "We'll remain somewhere on this second floor!" he called after her retreating figure. "So, where should we wait?"

"Oh, don't let's stay here," Spike said, eyeing the bloodstain with disgust. "Besides, the cop told everyone to leave this room alone."

"Yeah, okay, let's just walk around and find somewhere to sit."

"He just wants to explore," Eevee whispered to Absol without the slightest discretion, to which the Disaster Pokémon chuckled.

As he had already incurred Gardie's wrath earlier in the day, Lucario decided to do as he was told, remaining around the vicinity. Besides, it was an interesting spot to observe some humans working – the business world had always intrigued him.

Absol and Eevee sauntered over to an empty cubicle and sat by a couple of cartons, while Spike hopped to rest on top of one. Lucario took the chair instead, and glanced at the man in the cubicle across. He was resting his chin on his palm while idly clicking on the computer mouse. A glance at the monitor revealed a green background, and it appeared the man was dragging some playing cards around in the screen.

"Working looks like fun!" Lucario remarked cheerily, before looking around at the rest of the staff. There was no mistaking the lax atmosphere in this section of the factory.

"Couldn't disagree more," Eevee replied without missing a beat. "I don't need those aura organs of yours to sense the dullness in the air here."

"There are people who enjoy work," Absol said with a smile. "To them, progressing one's way up the hierarchy is a challenge and an accomplishment."

Eevee stretched her forelimbs out and shook her head lazily, her eyes closed. "Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can rise up and hold a strong position in a company. For every one person at the top, you'll get thousands more crawling around the bottom for scraps. It's good to be wild Pokémon like us, without the need for working every day."

"It must be nice to have some extra money though," Lucario piped in fairly. He caught Absol's gaze and smiled; they had briefly discussed this before. "Without money, we can't afford luxury."

Eevee scoffed without opening her eyes. "Wild Pokémon like us don't need luxury. You're just one of the luckier ones to have some human possessions in your home."

"Yeah, I consider myself quite lucky too. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about using the money left behind by my father though. It would be good if I can find a way to grow that pile of money again."

There was a brief pause before Absol said kindly, "Luc, I am sure your father had meant for you to use the money to your heart's content."

"Listen to Absol, Lucario," Eevee chimed in again, her head now curled up around her body. "What's the point of hoarding the money without ever using it? We're wild; we can survive without human currency."

"I know, but still." Lucario glanced around at the office again.

Eevee poked her head up, her expression suddenly bright. "On the other hand, I'd love to see you try working somewhere, like here!" She snickered, tail thumping against the crate behind her. "Ha, I can't imagine you ever fitting in a corporate culture like this one. I bet you won't last a week. You'll be pining for your freedom again."

"Oh, I don't necessarily have to work in a place like this. I'm sure there are a lot more fun jobs in the world which don't require being stuck in an office. Like being an actor! Or a rock star!"

Lucario caught Eevee's eye and knew she was now incredulously envisioning him standing on a stage, crooning to a crowd of adoring fans.

"Or a Pokémon trainer!" Spike put forth, finally contributing to the discussion. "They make a ton of money from battling, and battling is just so much fun! That's pretty much the best job in the world!"

"I dunno… can a Pokémon be a trainer though?" Lucario pondered aloud. "I've never heard of one."

Spike shrugged. "I'm not sure either. I guess there's probably some rule that it has to be a human, but maybe someday that will change. You could always team up with a human though!"

"Hmm." Lucario reflected back on his past battles. He had survived through them mostly with luck, it would seem, along with making full use of the environment around him. While battles were guaranteed to get his adrenaline pumping, he couldn't really say that he had particularly enjoyed them.

Then again, perhaps he would have enjoyed fighting a whole lot more if the battles he had participated in so far weren't a matter of life and death.

Musing about fights brought back another jolt of guilt to Lucario: he needed to get back on his training regimen soon. It was just too easy to forget about it and procrastinate. At least he had a valid excuse not to train these few days: helping Mr. Cooper establish his innocence seemed a much more important task. Still, he would undoubtedly need to pick the pace up once they were done here. Perhaps Spike could even lend a paw when the time came; the Riolu certainly seemed constantly battle-ready!

Lucario was about to make this request to Spike when Eevee yawned again. "This investigation just drags on, doesn't it? I can't imagine what it's like to be a police Pokémon. I'd be bored to death!"

"To be fair, Coyena has stressed that this is an unusual investigation," Lucario said reasonably. "It probably isn't like this all the time. Besides, we aren't here as investigators… we're here as panic-inducing Pokémon!"

The brown-furred Pokémon shook her head. "For a role designed to cause chaos, it sure is dull. But… I suppose I've had enough excitement to last me a while. What with that accident and all."

"Yeah… that must have been quite a scare."

She shrugged. "It affected Greg more than it did me. Although… I don't know… I get the feeling like… like there's something more to the accident that I'm just not remembering…" Eevee paused, seeming to try her best at recalling the events. "Eh, it's probably nothing."

Before Lucario could make any comment in reply, he noticed a bearded and bespectacled man poking his head atop the neighbouring cubicle wall. The man remained silent for a moment as the Aura Pokémon stared back politely, and then he spoke in a hushed whisper, "Hey. So you bunch were there when that little accident happened, right?" He thrust a stubby thumb towards the meeting room and grinned. "Mind filling me on what went on?"

Puzzled, Lucario waved his arms around, trying to mime a tower of boxes tumbling down. The man stared at the display for a moment and then scowled. "Right. I have forgotten you can't speak human. How annoying."

Lucario's confusion at the man's sudden rudeness lasted only a second. "I hope you didn't think this disguise would fool me."

As with the form of the policeman earlier in the day, the man's appearance began to waver and distort. Within moments, the illusion disintegrated, leaving behind a black-furred vulpine. "Don't lie. It did trick you for a good while." The Zoroark vanished from view for a moment before appearing from the side of the partition, his arms folded. Capp waved merrily from around his legs.

Reece spoke again before Capp could get a word in. "Now, how about the question I asked? Surely you know how to answer in Pokémon speak."

Lucario could feel Absol tensing by his side once more, and the Aura Pokémon hastily stepped in before his friend could snap back. "I thought you said we're on different sides?"

"We are. I was hoping, however, that you would have come to your senses after watching that ridiculous display."

Lucario tilted his head. "What display?"

Reece snorted. "The one I was asking about, silly. What happened back there with the cop and that guy?"

"Like what I was trying to convey with my gestures, it was just a simple accident. The tower of crates toppled over, and one of the workers was cut pretty bad. He's being taken for treatment now."

"Hmph." The Zoroark turned towards the empty room and pondered for a moment. "Sounds like a silly accident. What were they doing that would cause the crates to fall – leaning against it or something?"

"Well, I don't actually know. The crates had toppled over when I reached the room."

"How odd, and how suspicious."

"Suspicious? In what way?"

Reece snorted and leaned against the partition. "Tell me, 'Cario. A murder case usually involves a big investigation with plenty of cops about. When you consider how few policemen there are—and this is just the start of the investigation, mind you, which is usually when it's at its busiest—what does that tell you about what's happening behind the scenes? Clearly there's something going on here."

Lucario remained silent, but recalled what Capp had told him previously at the cafeteria. The Minccino did mention about Reece's concerns of tampered evidence… A sudden gush of tension caused Lucario to glance towards Absol's direction. Reece's words seemed to have struck a chord within his friend, and for good reason too. Could what have happened at the Silver Lane murder be occurring right here as well?

"There's really only one explanation. They are doing all they can to seek and destroy any evidence they can find… and something tells me that ridiculous circus act you saw was a measly attempt at doing just that. Yes, they are doing all they can to get Sydney Cooper off the hook… And yet you still dare to tell me you're trying to prove his innocence."

"But Reece, you don't know that for sure," Lucario protested. "I know those two policemen, and I highly doubt they are the sort to do something like that. Besides, I know some of the police Pokémon team too, and they are as rigid and law-abiding as they can be!"

"I know what I see. And get this: that toppling of the crates and clearing out the room… there must have been some pivotal evidence there that they are trying to conceal. I wonder if I'll get a chance to find out before they get back."

Reece's eyes wandered toward the meeting room, as did Lucario's. The room was visible from where they were, and the glass walls made it possible to look through the place, where the toppled crates were still visible.

"Well, no time like the present," Reece declared, and in an instant, his form shimmered once more before the black and grey fur vanished into the air like smoke, disappearing from view completely.

Though he could no longer see the Zoroark, Lucario could still detect the vulpine's presence and hear the shuffling of Reece's messenger bag. The soft footsteps of the fox soon followed as he presumably went to investigate the room.

"That went well, all things considered," Lucario remarked to Capp, returning his eyes toward the little Pokémon by the partition.

"Yep! He had some time to cool down, and I tried to persuade him a little; said that you were just searching for the truth."

Lucario beamed at her. "Thanks, Capp. I think he still doesn't trust me completely, but it's a start. I really do mean what I said though: I don't think any of the policemen or police Pokémon here are up to no good."

Capp frowned and dithered for a moment. "Hmm, well. Now, that, I am not so sure I can agree with. Reece is right, you know, there have been some suspicious activities happening around… We know that someone is going around manipulating evidence, at the very least."

"Really? But that's quite a serious thing to say," Lucario said. "What makes you so sure?"

"Because Reece has been snooping around!" Capp replied with a cheeky smile. "Earlier in the afternoon, we were looking at a few documents in the administration office, mainly for information about the victim and the suspect. Now, there were a lot of files we sieved through, but we did print out a few we thought important."

"And how were you able to do this?" Lucario enquired, amazed.

"Mr. Parlour Tricks did his usual magic, of course," Capp said dismissively. "He went all invisible with me as we watched one of the senior administrators here type her password in order to learn it, but we need not have bothered. Honestly, the IT security here is pretty lacklustre. You won't believe how many people paste their passwords on a piece of paper on their monitors… Anyway, we logged into her user account on a different unmanned computer once she left her desk for lunch. I am not sure if she was really all that high-ranking, but she had access to quite a lot of documents within the database."

Lucario could barely understand what the Minccino was rambling about, but he nodded absently, eager to hear the rest of her tale.

"So, anyway, one of the documents we obtained was a log of the delivery vans' movements on the day of the crime. You might remember Reece mentioning that the vans here are installed with a GPS, so basically, this document pinpoints each van's routes that day."

"Ah… that's really handy," Lucario commented.

"Did you get the routes for just the day of the murder? It would be good if we had the data on the other days too, just in case," Eevee piped up, and Lucario could tell she was thinking of the van which was used to knock Greg down.

Capp nodded. "Yes, we printed out the whole week's worth of logs, except today's, because that has not been uploaded. You might think the records would end up large, but since pretty much all the drivers have been released, there were only a few vans moving around."

Lucario made a mental note to check the records for himself later; it would surely confirm his suspicions that one of the vans here was the one responsible for knocking Greg down. But, for the moment, there was something more pressing to consider. "So… how is this related to the tampered evidence?"

The Minccino folded her arms and tilted her head, eyes gazing emptily at the side as she seemed to ponder for a moment. "Well, it is really strange. After some time going through the printouts, I noticed something odd about the log on the day of the murder… so we returned to check the files again to confirm something. Anyway… I discovered then that someone has edited the files. All of them."

"Edited?" Lucario echoed. The computer terminologies were still confusing to understand, but he was still curious about what Capp was driving at. "How did you know?"

"Oh, I saw that the 'Last saved' date was different from when we checked them the first time. The whole weeks' worth of files. Each day's records were all edited, some time after we printed them. So we printed these seven edited files again and did a thorough comparison… and I found the changes, all of which were in just a single file from the entire week's. The system says the other six were edited, but they appear to be the same, so I'm guessing they were just blank edits."

"Could it have been some automatic system-wide updating of the documents?" Absol asked, and Lucario remembered all of a sudden that there had been a computer in Absol's old home.

"I doubt it," Capp said. "Only the week's documents were affected. But we'll check this to be sure later on."

"You said the whole week's files were all edited," Absol pointed out. The Disaster Pokémon had drawn closer to Capp; the observation had apparently piqued his interest. "So why were there only changes in one file?"

Capp nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! I thought that was strange too!" Frowning, she took the pencil from behind her ear and twirled it a little. "But, really, there can only be one explanation. The saboteur wanted to make changes on just that one file… but doing so would change the 'Last saved' date for this document alone, which might draw attention to it. So the non-existent edits of the other documents were just to serve as diversions."

"And this one document in question was…" Absol said sharply.

Capp nodded again. "The log from the day of the murder, naturally."

"But what was the change?" Lucario asked. "And what was the odd thing about that log which made you return to check the files again?"

"Ah. Let me first explain how the log works. It seems to automatically record the van's coordinates and location every fifteen minutes, as long as the van's engine is on. I believe the GPS in the van pings a computer server somewhere, and the details are then recorded in the log. This is probably to ensure that no driver carts the cargo off somewhere else to steal, or to make sure no one is robbing the van, or who-knows-what. Well, see, after we printed the documents, I discovered that one of the vans—well, the only van—which left to make their deliveries on the day of the murder… did not return."

"And…?" Absol urged.

"It left to deliver some crates to a branch in Eterna City, and on its way back through Eterna Forest, it… vanished," Capp said simply. "The log stops right there."

"Could the GTS thingy have just been broken?" Lucario suggested.

"Yes, it is possible, I suppose, but there is no way to know for sure unless we check the van in question. Which we tried to, but we could not find it."

Absol considered this for a moment. "So there is a van missing in the parking lot?"

"That is the strange thing: all the vans are accounted for. The number of vans in the lot matches the number of vans there should be, according to the list of registered vehicles."

"But you couldn't find the van used on the day of the murder," Absol confirmed.

"Yes. It took a while to check, but there was a different van in the lot which was not listed in the document. I could tell, based on the vehicle plate numbers recorded in the document of registered vans."

"So, an old van didn't make it back, but a new one came out of nowhere," Lucario summarised.

Capp tilted her head, tucking her pencil back. "Yes."

"Maybe the old one broke down in the forest, and they had to replace it with a new one," the Aura Pokémon put forth.

"Yes, that is plausible. But, it seems improbable."

"Why?"

"Because of the edit the saboteur made. Listen closely now: he or she manually added some new entries, continuing where the log stopped earlier, detailing the old van's safe return to this factory. If the van had truly broken down in the forest and they had replaced the van with a new one later on, why make these edits at all to hide this? There's no reason to cover it up! The fact that someone is tampering with the evidence to hide this shows that there's clearly something suspicious about the missing old van."

"Maybe the new van which you saw in the parking lot is indeed that missing old van…" Lucario suggested. "Perhaps just with a different vehicle registration number. Maybe they had to change the plate number recently for some reason, and they just didn't update the records."

"Good thinking, but it doesn't explain why someone had to edit the logs." Capp smiled brightly. "But, listen to this. There were a couple of former drivers in the parking lot when we went there earlier, including that drunk man. Reece asked them about the GPS, and they told us what the machine looks like, and where the machine is installed in each van. We searched the new van in question, and there was definitely no GPS installed within it."

Lucario rubbed his chin, wishing he had a paper and pen to write all of this down. It was difficult to digest all these new information and remember them at the same time, especially when there were so many new and unfamiliar terms to keep track of. "So, no GTS. And what does that mean, exactly?"

"If this new van in the lot really has been the same van in question all along, the original log proves that the GPS worked for the first half of the trip… so we know the machine was in place at the start of its journey. So why is the machine not there now? It is likely this is a new van entirely…"

"Or it could still be the same van, and that someone has removed the GPS machine while the van was in Eterna Forest," Absol concluded.

"Yes. We really can't know for sure until we have more information, so we shouldn't make wild guesses until then. But, the main conclusion is: based on the edited logs, someone is trying to manipulate the evidence. I don't know how this van ties in with the murder, but considering the circumstances, it is most likely related somehow."

"But this proves that Mr. Cooper is innocent!" Lucario said excitedly, tail swishing a little. "Someone else is out there trying to hide their crime!"

A sharp voice suddenly cut in. "A little bit hasty there, my dear 'Cario." From out of thin air, Reece manifested once more, looking grim and stern. "What an optimistic conclusion to jump into. Rather than that happy possibility, I offer you an alternative: someone is trying to cover up Mr. Cooper's crime in order to get him off the hook." He extended his arm forward. "There, a much likelier deduction, don't you find?"

Lucario couldn't think of a reply. He reflected back on the scene he had witnessed between the superintendent and Mr. Cooper. The former had claimed he didn't think Mr. Cooper was the true killer… If there was anything which would persuade Lucario as to the truth behind Reece's theory, it would be in how the case was handled thus far.

He thought back to what Coyena had said about the superintendent. "He has made a string of unorthodox decisions lately which does not sit well with me." She had then gone on to talk about how she felt the Pokémon team were being left in the dark to all that was happening with the case… Just what secrets could the superintendent possibly be hiding, keeping this case from his team as well as the rest of the force?

Capp nudged the Zoroark's leg. "Reece, what did you find in there?"

The vulpine merely shrugged. "There doesn't seem to be anything except crates and blood. But I took some photos just in case," he continued while holding up a camera, which Lucario had never seen before, in his right hand. "I can't help feeling this is important."

"It could really have been just an accident though," Capp reasoned.

"I suppose," Reece grudgingly admitted. "But it seems way too contrived."

"But Reece, what purpose could this accident serve?" Lucario asked. "That room is so far away from where the body was discovered, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence there either for them to try and manipulate. How would that accident even tamper with the evidence, in any case?"

"Who knows?" he barked back. "There are countless ways, and we'll never know unless we have more information. It could be that the room is the actual murder scene, and they're masking the victim's blood with this new puddle. Or maybe one of those cartons was from the vans, and contained vital evidence which was now destroyed in that accident you saw earlier." Reece continued, "Or, maybe this is an excuse to remove said carton for disposal. You never know how these people's minds work."

"If this was the actual murder scene, I am sure the traces will still be there," Capp said solemnly. "There is no hiding the DNA evidence!"

"If they're going to bother with DNA testing, they would have done it by now," Reece said impatiently. "The lack of policemen here speaks volumes. I don't even know what they're actually doing now, apart from getting into silly accidents involving toppling crates."

"There were a lot of people in that room earlier though," Lucario put forth. "If Lieutenant Lyle Wynfield had wanted to hide evidence from that room, he would have done it a lot earlier, when no one else was around. The investigation has started for a while now; he would have had plenty of time earlier. Why wait until now, when there's a meeting going on?"

Reece folded his arms and stared right at Lucario, looking very much like he would like to retort, but couldn't find the words.

Capp beamed. "An excellent point! It does seem like it really was an accident after all."

"I won't make any conclusions yet," Reece reluctantly conceded. "We will see if this was relevant or not. After all, it is quite certain that someone is out there hiding the truth, and so –"

"There you are."

A blue-and-yellow form made its way toward the crowd, and Lucario shifted his spot to make way for the solemn Manectric. "Madam Coyena!" Lucario said brightly.

"Enough with the 'Madam'," she said without turning to glance at the Aura Pokémon. Her eyes were focused intently on the Zoroark, and she regarded him for a moment before speaking again. "I hear you have been conducting an investigation of your own, and yet you are not a part of this entourage here. I must ask that you leave the premises."

Reece folded his arms and scoffed. "Well, of course you would want me to leave. Can't risk me finding out about what you people are up to, can you?"

A low growl escaped Coyena's throat. "And just what are you insinuating by that?"

"Am I not wrong? Your team has been putting up a front with this flimsy investigation effort, when in truth, you are doing all you can to hide or tamper with the evidence!"

At his side, Capp gave an urgent tug at Reece's leg to get him to quiet down, while Coyena narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth.

"That is a serious accusation, of which there is no truth whatsoever," she said coldly.

"I don't expect you to come clean, but know this: I do have evidence of someone manipulating the scene." There were more frantic tugging from Capp, but Reece disregarded it entirely. "Once I obtain more proof and ascertain the perpetrator's identity, I will not hold back."

"Evidence of someone manipulating the scene?" Coyena repeated, her head tilted at a slight angle. "What is this? Where is the evidence?"

"Ha. You wish." He glared at the officer. "I'm not going to play my hand this early and give you time to prepare. Spread the word – let your team quake in their boots as they fear the impending retribution which will surely befall upon them."

Coyena held out a paw as if to reason with him. "Yet you say you have no evidence of the perpetrator's identity. It would seem you are hastily shoving the responsibility to my team."

There was the briefest of a wince on Reece's expression, but he hid it well. Losing his composure slightly, the Zoroark curled his right fist into a ball and held it up with a snarl. "How do you explain the lack of policemen in the scene then? We're talking about a murder here! This is no usual investigation, and you know it. I can see no further explanation for this highly suspect behaviour."

She sighed. "No doubt you have learned of the murder through some manner which I will soon have to investigate." Coyena eyed Lucario suspiciously as she said this. "Well, that aside, I have no need to explain our actions to the general public." Despite her own misgivings which she had aired to Lucario earlier in the day, Coyena remained calm and confident when answering Reece. "We at the force constantly strive to maintain the utmost integrity in all of our—"

The Zoroark held out a palm impatiently. "You can stop with your PR script, I'm not interested. Look, I'm not an unreasonable fellow. I'll say this: if your integrity is as strong as you imply, then surely you must have noticed how odd this whole investigation setup is. I know you Pokémon have no say in how the force conducts their work, but how can you continue to help them? How can you look me in the eye and tell me that everything is as it should be?"

"Because I have no reason to believe otherwise. Certainly, the arrangement is unusual, but everyone has followed protocol, and I see no cause for concern."

The Manectric cast a gaze at Lucario's direction for a brief moment, and he felt as though he understood what she was conveying. Her latest statement wasn't in tune with what Coyena had confided previously, but Lucario chose to remain silent to see how Reece would respond. He momentarily eyed his friends, but neither of them gave any indication of wanting to point out the contradiction either.

Reece, meanwhile, looked as though he was struggling with a decision.

"But…" Coyena continued slowly. "If there is indeed proof that someone has been manipulating evidence, and if there is evidence that the someone is from our team… that would change matters entirely."

"Yes, well…" Reece turned his head away obstinately. "Nice try. If I tell you what we discovered, you're going to go run off and erase it."

"Then we are at a stalemate, are we not? What are you going to do with that information, if you are not willing to place your trust in the police?" Coyena said calmly. "If you wish, you may accompany me as we investigate the matter. If there is any truth in what you are suggesting, then I will take immediate action. How does that sound?"

"Reece, c'mere a second!" Capp said, tugging at his calf.

With his eyes trained on the Manectric, Reece bent down to hear what Capp had to say. The Minccino continued to whisper for a moment before Reece drew to his full height again, his expression remaining impassive.

"… Very well. We will reveal our hand, but know this: if you try anything funny, we will know, and we will make sure you pay for it."

Coyena bowed her head. "Be my guest."

The distrust was still etched evidently in Reece's expression, but the Zoroark relented. "An administration staff has printed out a stack of documents earlier in the day, which include logs of the delivery vans' travel routes and locations for the week."

This wasn't exactly what Capp had told him earlier, but Lucario figured he ought to keep that a secret. No doubt Coyena wouldn't take too kindly to knowing that the Unovan group had taken a more hands-on approach in their investigation. The Aura Pokémon inwardly chuckled: it looked like both Coyena and Reece were skirting around the truth with one another.

Sure enough, Coyena stiffened and glared sternly at the vulpine. "And you found it acceptable to sneak a peek at these confidential documents?"

"Do you want the information or not?"

"You have been accusing my team of tampering with the evidence, and yet you yourself have been going around and poking your nose into places it does not belong. If I find out that you have been up to something funny…"

"Everything we do has been by the book. The documents we received were obtained with permission from the staff," Reece said calmly without batting an eyelid.

Coyena grunted. "I will have to look into the lacklustre security and confidentiality among the staff here. As though that colourful feather duster was not bad enough."

It seemed that Gardie had been complaining about Segue to Coyena, Lucario mused to himself.

Reece waved his hand impatiently. "You do that. Now, moving on, we had wanted to double-check something, so we obtained a fresh batch of documents a short while later. We then found that the data logged has been altered. Given that the data is supposed to be recorded automatically by the vans' GPS devices, the fact that someone had manually altered the data shows that someone is tweaking the evidence."

Any look of incredulity and scorn had faded from the Manectric's expression. She tilted her head and appeared to be deep in thought for a moment. "And naturally, I assume the altered log in question was of the day of the murder?"

"Of course. A sure sign that there is vital information hidden within. Information which would undoubtedly pinpoint the identity of the murderer."

Coyena stood up and walked closer to Reece. "Well, let us see it then, the documents which you procured."

"All right, but the documents stay with me." He pulled out a fat stack of paper from his bag, and held it out. "You can read?"

Coyena scoffed as she peered down at the stack. "Do not mock me. Such simple human skills are vital for Pokémon who wish to do well in the force. As part of the superintendent's team, I am perfectly capable of reading and human speech."

Lucario could have sworn that Reece mouthed the word "Show-off" as she perused the documents.

"Yes, I see the time printed is listed on each page," Coyena said softly. "That should prove useful. I believe the systems here utilise a standardised clock, so the time does not vary with each machine. So, where is this alteration which you mentioned?"

Reece turned toward Capp and nodded. The Minccino walked closer and sieved through the documents before pulling out a couple of sheets. She held it out for Coyena.

"Here," Reece said. "Take a look at the 'before-and-after' comparison between these two documents, and see for yourself. As part of the superintendent's team, I assume you are perfectly capable of finding the issue at hand… or would you like me to spoon-feed you?"

His jibe was met with a reprimanding tug from Capp, but the Manectric did not respond. Coyena's eyes were flitting through the data on the first sheet before darting over to the next, her frown deepening with every passing second.

"These new entries…"

"Were added to mask the fact that the van didn't return," Reece finished for her gravely. "Conclusive proof that someone is tampering with the evidence."

Coyena stepped back and pondered hard. Lucario couldn't help but notice she tended to stare unseeingly at a random direction when she did so – she was now gazing emptily diagonally upwards.

"This van in question is not in the parking lot," Coyena said curtly after a while.

Her observation stunned both Reece and Capp; even the Zoroark was unable to hide the surprise in his face. "Well… impressive memory," he grudgingly admitted. "This van is not found in the parking lot anywhere."

"So the first unedited record should be the accurate one. But the number of vans in the parking lot matched the official records of registered vehicles. One of them must be unlisted and unregistered then." She tilted her head. "A cover-up, or lack of diligence in updating the records?"

"Looking at the workers here, the latter wouldn't come as a surprise, but no. Cover-up," Reece said firmly. "Based on the fact that it was edited manually. And… the unlisted van in the lot has no GPS, so it couldn't have had logged any additional entries."

"What if the GPS was only just removed?"

"That does not matter," Reece replied quickly and sternly, as though reprimanding Coyena for daring to come up with a possible rebuttal. "Someone added these new entries just today. The original log shows that the GPS did not record anything after entering Eterna Forest."

"True, and that is puzzling." Another head tilt. "I suppose the obvious course of action would be to ascertain who made these edits." She stood up all of a sudden and made toward the door.

"Hey, hold on a minute!" Reece snarled.

Coyena stopped in her tracks and turned around. "Oh, yes. I suppose you do not trust me, and want to accompany me." She smirked and nodded. "Very well then. Now, the rest of you," she indicated Lucario and his friends, "I want you to head to the security room next to the human resources office at the opposite end of this floor."

Lucario blinked in surprise, caught off guard at being addressed all of a sudden. "You mean us? But Gardie asked us to wait here…"

"I am Gardie's superior," she said simply. "Besides… she will be there. Now, hurry. As for you," Coyena said to Reece, "you had better keep up."

With that, she broke into a run, to which Reece gave a frustrated huff before he followed at her heels. Capp stared at them as they faded from view, then turned around to the bewildered Lucario.

"Um… well. Guess I am with you guys!"

:::::::

It took them only minutes to head toward the security room. Lucario noticed the human resources offices first, given that there was a plaque marking it embedded on the wall next to a pair of finely-polished wooden doors. In contrast, the security room's door was a small, plain thing in need of a new paint job, with an almost-peeled off sticker stuck in the middle of it to indicate what the room within was meant to be. Probably to help prevent people from mistaking it with a utility closet, Lucario mused to himself.

As they neared the room, the door swung open and Segue hopped out before closing the door behind him with a foot. He was muttering incomprehensibly under his breath before he noticed the group. The Chatot looked up at them in surprise.

"Hey, Segue," Lucario said cheerfully. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, as part of the security staff, I linger around this room often," he replied as he pointed a wing toward the label on the door. "I've been inside since after lunch. Much safer here, where there's no ghosts, anyway," he added under his breath. "What about you?"

"One of the superintendent's Pokémon asked us to wait in this room."

"Huh. You guys scheduled a party in there or something? No wonder they were so keen on kicking me out."

"Someone kicked you out?" Lucario asked, curious.

"Yeah," Segue replied softly, seeming tired and unenergetic. "That insufferable mutt and her human companion. They came in and lingered around for a while, then said they had important business inside. They're still there; I've only just been ejected."

"Well, we've been told to enter," Lucario repeated uncertainly. It sounded like Gardie and Lyle didn't want anyone else to intrude upon their investigation, but perhaps that was also because Segue didn't know about the murder. Besides, Coyena had given them permission!

"Yes, have fun," Segue said as he walked away with a brief weary wave of his right wing.

With a brief glance around at his friends, Lucario opened the door and walked into the dimly-lit room.

"I can't believe you guys!" Gardie said indignantly as they entered, the room devoid of anyone apart from the little canine and her human partner. "You never follow my instructions, do you?" She came trotting forward slowly to meet them while Lyle, who was at the far end of the room, turned around and regarded the crew in surprise.

"You've got it all wrong, Gardie!" Lucario protested quickly before she could go on any further. "We were ordered by Madam Coyena to come here!"

The visible ire melted away from her expression at once. She adjusted her police cap with a paw and stared at Lucario. "What? Madam Coyena did that? Why?"

"Beats me, but rest assured she did. She'll be coming soon, and you can ask her yourself!"

Gardie began to tilt her head slightly as if to ponder this development, but straightened herself again almost immediately as she frowned at him. "Well, I suppose you wouldn't lie about that, but I'll be keeping an eye on you! Don't interfere with our investigation!"

"I wouldn't dream of it!"

Gardie turned slowly toward Capp. "And who's this?"

The Minccino gave a cheery wave. "Hello! Pleasure meeting you! My name is Capp!"

"I recognise you," Gardie said suddenly. "You're the one with the Zoroark…" She glanced around at the group, as though expecting the dark-furred fox to emerge between them. "Hmm… Madam Coyena was enquiring about you earlier…"

"Perhaps so, but I am here with her permission!" the Minccino replied cheerfully. "So please ignore us – just do whatever you were doing before we got here!"

Though doubt was still etched all over her face, Gardie gave a stiff nod. "Mind you behave yourself then!"

She walked back toward Lyle and sat down while eyeing them like a sentinel. The man bent slightly to give her a pat on the back before straightening up again. Lucario couldn't help but notice that Lyle seemed to be feeling awkward at being the only human in the room, and not understanding what the Pokémon were talking about.

It was for this reason that Lucario was relieved when the door behind them creaked open once more shortly after, Coyena striding in with her usual impassive expression. Reece sauntered in after her, silent as a shadow, and Capp detached herself from the group to rejoin him. The duo began to converse in hushed whispers, but Lucario's attention remained focused on the electric-type.

"Good evening, Lieutenant," Coyena said in a commanding voice, and Lucario was quite taken aback at how smoothly she could converse in English. The Manectric spoke very naturally, successfully keeping the slightly gruffer tone—which she had when she spoke in Pokémon language—off her voice.

Lyle, who had looked startled at her sudden entry, composed himself and smiled. "Ah… yes, good evening."

"Good evening, Madam Coyena!" Gardie barked enthusiastically, her tail instantly wagging a mile a minute.

"You too, Gardie." Coyena only gave the little Growlithe a cursory glance before turning back to face Lyle. "How is the investigation coming along?"

The man shook his head. "Nothing new to report. Without the might of a full team, progress has been slow, I'm afraid."

The Manectric sat on the ground and nodded. "Yes… this has been an utterly unusual investigation. The lack of manpower on our end has greatly impeded the process with unnecessary complications and hurdles. I question the need of such stringent measures."

Lyle frowned and scratched his chin. "Well… I'm sure the superintendent must have his reasons."

"I wonder." Coyena tilted her head upwards. "Incidentally, Lieutenant, how were you roped into this investigation anyway? I would assume, given the level of secrecy the superintendent had emphasised, that only his Pokémon team—that is to say, myself and my teammates—would look into this case."

"I was nearby when the accused's son, Greg Cooper, met with that accident. I was the one who brought him to the hospital, and from there, I learned of the murder from the superintendent himself."

"I see. A fortunate coincidence indeed. In any case, I am glad you are here with us."

"I'm happy to be of assistance," Lyle said, giving a small bow. "Even if I haven't been able to be of much help thus far."

"Not at all. You have looked into various areas of the case and have obtained important information for us. Actually, that is the reason why I am here now; I require some details which I am certain you can help provide."

Lyle's eyes widened slightly. "Oh? Certainly, I'd be happy to help where I can." There was a mild nervousness radiating from him; an apprehension akin to what a subordinate might experience when being questioned by a superior. Lucario found it quite remarkable that Lyle would feel that way – it seemed that Coyena commanded quite as much authority as the superintendent himself.

"Well, I find myself quite curious about the delivery vans in the parking lot. I know you have looked into them extensively, so there are some matters which I need you to clear up."

"Very well, but…" The man scratched his beard. "Is there anything in particular about the vans which caught your eye?"

"Not particularly, no. I just wondered if your discerning eye has spotted anything which might be of interest. After all, you were in charge of the investigation of the parking lot and the vans. I am aware that you have looked into the logs of the vans' trips; was there perhaps something interesting in them?"

Lyle shifted his feet uneasily as he pondered. "That's correct; it was the first thing I did for the investigation this morning."

At his words, Lucario detected a rise in tension within Coyena; it appeared that the Manectric had been awaiting this answer in order to determine how she would phrase her questions next.

"There wasn't anything noteworthy in the logs though," Lyle continued. "With most of the drivers having been sacked, there just wasn't much activity with the vans."

"I suppose not. You did look into the logs on the day of the murder, though, correct? I would assume that would be the most critical for the case."

Gardie glanced back and forth between the two. She was still beaming happily, albeit her emotions were tainted with initial signs of confusion and nervousness. Perhaps she had sensed the spike in Lyle's uneasiness too – he seemed as though he could sense that Coyena was heading somewhere with this line of questioning. "Of course," Lyle said. "There was only a single van out on delivery that day. I did not find anything suspicious about it."

"Really?" Coyena's tone grew cold. "I have just only checked the logs myself a few minutes ago, Lieutenant." She paused for a moment, perhaps to let this message sink in. "Nothing suspicious about how the logs detailed the journey of a single van which currently cannot be found in the parking lot, where it should have been?"

Gardie's jaw hung open in surprise while Lyle's eyes widened. "W-well, I must say, er… perhaps this has been an oversight on my part…"

Coyena's sudden strictness astonished Lucario too, but he also noticed that she had questioned Lyle on the van being absent from the parking lot, rather than the more-obvious discovery of the logs having stopped abruptly in the middle of the forest. He couldn't help but wonder if there was any significance in this specific line of questioning.

At the shadowy corner of the room, Reece folded his arms and smiled grimly as he observed. Just what had the Zoroark and Manectric been up to when they dashed off earlier?

Coyena glared at Lyle. "Explain yourself, Lieutenant."

The Growlithe's tail fell limply onto the ground as she stared at her human, who had paused to think. "Well… when I was at the parking lot, I counted the vans, and the total number matched what was stated in the official list of registered delivery vehicles. Therefore, I failed to notice that the van from the log was missing. I apologise for this error," he concluded with a small bow.

The electric-type did not yield. "The number of vans was the same, but there was no way you would have left the investigation at that. There was, after all, just one van to check: I am sure you would have looked for that particular van in the lot."

There was a tense pause, during which Absol nudged at Lucario's thigh while whispering, "Hey, Luc."

Lucario bent down slightly, curious. "What is it?"

"Don't you think Coyena's being a little too… aggressive?"

The Aura Pokémon glanced back at Coyena. The Manectric's demeanour was her usual calm yet firm one, although she did appear to be rather harsh with Lyle. "I wonder…" Lucario heard Absol say softly to no one in particular, and the fighting-type could tell that his friend was reminiscing on what had happened with the Silver Lane murder case.

The man scratched his beard again, frowning. "Well… I think I checked all of the vans in there, not just the van which was out on delivery that day. Hence, since my attention was divided, I did not notice that that specific van was not in the lot. Besides, the log shows that it was only a short trip to and back from Eterna City. The van made a complete trip and returned, so I assumed it was just sitting somewhere among the bunch. I didn't think there was anything suspicious about it."

"I see." Coyena nodded. "Well, that makes sense. Except…"

Lyle seemed almost afraid to ask, but he did anyway. "Except…?"

"The log does show that the van has returned, but this information was only added very recently. You checked the logs in the morning. At that point in time, there was no way you would have learned about the van returning successfully – the only thing you would have noticed was that the log stopped abruptly while the van was in the middle of Eterna Forest!"

At that instant, Lucario realised why Coyena had stressed that she had only just checked the logs minutes before entering this security room. It was also why she asked Lyle about the van being missing, rather than enquiring about why the logs stopped in the middle of Eterna Forest… She did not want to reveal that she had seen the original non-edited version of the logs, but… why?

"What? No, that can't be right, Madam Coyena!" Lyle sputtered. "The logs this morning already showed that the van has returned!"

"Evidence indicating otherwise exists. The logs were manually edited a short time ago, and I have with me printed copies which show what they looked like before and after these edits. I know you checked the logs in the morning, by your own admission, and because you were ordered to. You would thus have seen the logs before they were tweaked."

"This is quite puzzling, I must admit," Lyle said softly, averting his gaze from Coyena's stern glare. "I do remember seeing the logs showing the van's return. I can only assume… yes… that must have been it. I returned and checked the logs a second time today, and must have seen the edited version. I must have mixed them up – my memory isn't what it used to be… getting old…"

"That excuse will not fly with me, Lieutenant," Coyena barked. "Let us disregard your second checking of the logs for a moment. You saw the logs in the morning. You ought to have seen that the logs stopped in Eterna Forest; you ought to have raised an alarm. You ought to have looked for the van in question within the parking lot, and you ought to have discovered that it was not there. You ought to have noticed that a new unregistered van was there instead, and you ought to have notified us immediately.

"Last but not least, Lieutenant," Coyena continued decisively, "if you had indeed checked the logs a second time… you ought to have noticed that the logs were edited, and you ought to have grown suspicious. You did neither of these, and this makes it very suspect."

Lyle shook his head disbelievingly as he stepped backwards. "Madam Coyena… I hope you're not implying what I think you are…"

"Madam Coyena, how could you!" Gardie interjected shrilly. The sudden outburst drew all eyes toward her, and even Coyena seemed a little taken aback at being addressed in this manner by the ever-reverent Growlithe. "You can't seriously be accusing my human of being involved in the crime, are you?"

"Gardie, I—"

"We're a team!" Gardie continued protesting. "A team built on cooperation and mutual trust! How can you hurl these accusations at my human like this!"

While Lyle clearly did not understand Gardie's sudden barks, he reached down to stroke at her urgently. "Shh, it's okay, Gardie. Calm down!"

His words seemed to fall on deaf ears, however; the little canine began to growl, even baring her fangs slightly. Lucario had never seen Gardie like this – she had often done the same toward him, but she had always assumed the air of an authority figure chiding someone below her. This time, however, the Growlithe was playing the role of a loyal guard dog defending her master at all costs.

"You have no proof, Madam Coyena," Gardie went on. "No proof at all!" In her rage, the Growlithe's cap began to sag toward one side, but Gardie raised a paw to nudge it back without once glancing away from the Pokémon whom she had always looked up to.

Coyena sighed heavily. "Very well. Then explain Lieutenant Wynfield's actions, Gardie. Make sense of the chaos your human has created."

"I'll do no such thing! You're the one accusing my human, so you prove it instead!"

"Then refute my claims. I assert that Lieutenant Wynfield has behaved in a manner which highly indicates he is out to sabotage the investigation. Namely, he has not informed any of us upon discovering that the logs stopped at Eterna Forest on the day of the murder, or that the van which went out that day was not in the lot, nor that someone had edited the logs after he claimed to have checked them a second time."

Lucario could practically feel the heat rising in Gardie's cheeks. A quick scan of her thoughts indicated that her mind was a chaotic swirl, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Despite her furious attempts at protecting Lyle, the little Growlithe was inwardly unconfident of going up against Coyena.

"My human could have decided to investigate the vans for himself first after seeing the suspicious logs! No need to raise an alarm before checking it out first! His not noticing the van wasn't there is just a small oversight!" she barked out loudly, perhaps under the illusion that the louder she voiced her answers, the more confident she would appear to be.

Coyena shook her head and replied calmly, "Gardie, there was only one van listed in the logs on the day of the murder. He would have had to search for this single van, using the vehicle plate number, and he would have noticed the van was not there. And if he had conducted a more thorough search, he would have noticed a new unlisted van was in the lot instead."

"And he might have missed it, simple as that! A mistake, but an innocent one! Or is it a crime to make mistakes now? Plus… plus…! Perhaps he did notice the van was missing, but saw the new unlisted van in its place, and guessed that they were one and the same, just with a new plate number!" And as though this line of thought was a new revelation which she had stumbled upon, her expression lightened up. "Aha! You can't prove that they aren't one and the same, can you?"

The Manectric huffed, impatience evident in her gestures now. "You are running in circles. Regardless of whether the van was the same or not, the fact remains that the Lieutenant did not inform anyone else."

"And why should he? Just because you guys are higher in rank doesn't mean we have to report everything to you! Like I said, maybe he just wanted to check and make sure of things first before bothering you!"

"That is not how we operate, and he knows it."

"This isn't how we usually carry out our investigations either!" Gardie retorted in a high-pitched bark. "With so few officers and so much secrecy!"

"Touché. All right. Let us put this discussion aside for now. You wanted evidence, and I believe this room will provide." She glanced up at the many screens lined up along the walls, depicting what appeared to be security camera footages of various locations. "Tell me, Gardie, why is it exactly that you and your human are here right now?"

Gardie hesitated, looking uneasy at the abrupt switch of topics. Here, Lucario noted Coyena's brilliance in interrogation, being able to halt the other party's momentum as well as stir the conversation back into her favour. "We're here to investigate, of course!" Gardie said.

"Investigate what, precisely? Very early on, in the investigation, all of us have checked the security footages and questioned the guards extensively. You and I were here. The superintendent and lieutenant were here. There is no reason for you two to be here again. I thought it odd when I heard you were in this room with your partner right now, but I did not think too much about it. Given the current circumstances, however… I must ask again." She tilted her muzzle downwards slightly and peered at Gardie sternly. "Why are you here?"

"We wanted to look at the footages again! See if there's anything we missed!"

Coyena cocked her head to one side. "Oh? You are going to review the entire footage again?"

"Y-yeah!" Amidst Gardie's indignation, Lucario could detect a mixture of uncertainty now. "Nothing wrong with us taking the initiative in the investigation!"

"Gardie," the Manectric said gravely, stepping forward. "Is there anything you are not telling me?"

The fire-type faltered and stepped backwards. "W-what? Nothing of the sort!"

"We checked the footages of the day of the murder extensively, along with footages of the days before that. Any information we can obtain from them, we have already done so; as a matter of fact, we have copies of the footages just in case we need them. Therefore, the only footage you might want to review here would be today's. Now… why might that be?"

"That's not true! We have no reason to review today's footages!"

"There is only one reason anyone would want to check today's feed from the security cameras. The vans' GPS logs were edited today, and given that the offices were thoroughly monitored by the cameras, there is a significant possibility that the culprit was caught on camera. I have ascertained the computer in question which was used to alter the records, so all we have to do is check who entered the room at the time… and who was using the terminal during that period. In other words, the evidence we require to determine the saboteur is right in this very room."

Gardie's eyes went wide, and she began to shirk away. "No… that can't be why… that couldn't have been…"

Lucario detected a rising despair within Gardie, as though she had just realised something dire. The fire-type's obstinacy up until this point had been backed by self-perceived justified indignation, but that seemed to have started to crack.

Gardie gritted her teeth, and then as though she suddenly thought of something, she piped up once more, "If the footages can show who manipulated the logs… then my human must have come here to identify the culprit after realising that someone has edited the log! How can you accuse him when he is just doing his job?"

"We shall see, shall we? No point in arguing any further when we can review the day's camera feed together." Coyena stretched out a paw. "Let us settle this matter once and for all."

Gardie looked up at the offered paw, but made no move. Her eyes started to water as she turned her gaze away.

After a few more seconds of silence, Coyena slowly returned her paw to the ground. She then turned towards the many screens on the wall and said aloud, "The camera feed are automatically stored into CDs placed within the hardware. Viewing them is a simple matter, and I can see no reason for you to object. If the Lieutenant is truly innocent, then viewing the video will clear him of all suspicions instantly."

There was another heavy silence, penetrated only by the soft sobbing of the little fire canine. "Gardie," Coyena said, a little gentler this time, "go on. Play back the day's feed."

Gardie shivered, but otherwise made no movement.

"You cannot… can you? Because the day's footage is not here anymore." She grew stern once more. "What have you done to it, Gardie?"

When Gardie gave no reply, Coyena turned toward Lucario. "Were they in this room when you entered?"

"Yes," Lucario promptly replied.

Coyena frowned and pawed anxiously at the ground, apparently subconsciously. "But they had had a lot of time alone in here. They could have done anything by the time you arrived…"

At the word 'alone', a certain colourful figure popped into Lucario's mind. "Oh, they weren't alone though. Segue the Chatot was just leaving the room when we arrived; apparently he had just been chased out by Gardie and her human. Isn't that right, Absol?" he asked, glancing at his white-furred friend for confirmation.

Absol's eyes widened at being addressed suddenly. "What? Oh… uh… yes, that's correct. He also said something about him having been inside this room since lunch time."

Coyena stared at the Disaster Pokémon for a moment, and then tilted her head. "That means there is little chance of the evidence having left this room. If they had to chase the Chatot out, it is likely they were intending to manipulate or destroy the evidence at that point in time, but your entering the room should have put a stop to that. The question now is… where is the evidence?"

Gardie gave another loud sob, visibly trembling from head to toe. Her police cap began to sag once more, only for her to reach a paw up to straighten it again. Meanwhile, Lyle was radiating an intense blend of worry, sadness, and discomfort. Capp was scribbling furiously in her notebook, while Reece stood silently as he observed the scene.

"You could search the room," Lucario suggested helpfully.

Coyena nodded. "I will, if it comes to that. But, I am wondering if maybe our little friend here knows." Almost in unison, the two turned towards Gardie. "Perhaps a quick mind scan will help?"

Lucario glanced over at the quivering canine once more. It was difficult to pinpoint any single dominant emotion in the waves she was emitting: the anxiety, confusion, fear, and sorrow had swirled together into a jumbled and frenzied mess, and extracting the truth from her at this point in time might be difficult.

Gardie readjusted her cap again and sobbed once more. Lucario studied her movements for a moment longer and thought back to her actions from the instant he had entered the room. The ever-excitable canine had been unnaturally stiff since that moment, and she seemed to be constantly occupied with a certain item… Perhaps a mind scan wasn't necessary after all…

"Gardie… you're hiding the evidence, aren't you?" Lucario said uncertainly, in what he hoped was a kindly manner. When his remark was met with no reply, he went on, "You don't have to hide it anymore, Gardie. It's… the right thing to do. Isn't that what being a police officer is all about?"

The Growlithe shivered again and tightened her grip on her cap, pressing into the material.

"I… know where the evidence is, Gardie. But… I hope you will make the right choice, by yourself."

Gardie let out a choked sob and clutched at her cap. As the weeping progressed into full-blown crying, she pulled her cap down and let it tumble upon the floor, where it landed with a muffled clatter.

Though initially shocked by her actions, Lyle reached down to comfort the Growlithe, but she had dashed off through the door before he could reach her. There was a stunned silence as Lucario quickly debated whether to chase after Gardie. Before he could make a decision, however, Spike had said, "I'll get her!" and darted in pursuit of the canine.

With the Riolu gone, all eyes then turned toward the lone man in the room. Lyle glanced around at them, not wanting to look at anyone in the eye, before his gaze turned toward the police cap on the floor.

In a flash, Coyena stepped toward it and placed a paw firmly atop the cap, as though afraid Lyle would make a sudden attempt at seizing it. "It is over," she said to him in English. "I heard it. Something is concealed within this cap. Regardless of what has been filmed in the disc which I am sure is hidden here, the act of concealing evidence immediately renders you guilty."

There was a very long pause before Lyle sighed. He removed his own cap and held it to his chest. "Well. I suppose I've been driven to a corner. I see no reason to hide it anymore… Yes, it was I who altered the logs. I came here to hide the footage as a precautionary measure, but I never expected you to act so quickly… You truly are the superintendent's Pokémon."

Coyena made to speak, but Lyle interjected quickly, "Before you question me, please listen." He gazed down at Gardie's cap morosely and breathed a heavy sigh. "Gardie does not know about any of this. She has no idea that I tampered with the evidence, and she has no idea that I'm trying to destroy the footage. I used her blind trust in me to help me, and convinced her that I have to secure the footage… not even letting you or the superintendent know. So, please…" he said beseechingly, "Please don't hold her liable for my actions. It's all me."

"I cannot promise anything, but I will make a note of it." Coyena pulled the cap closer to her while still keeping her eyes trained on Lyle. "Now then, please explain everything."

Lyle sighed again and gazed blankly to the side. "I can't explain too much. I know I did wrong, but it's not like I wanted to. Let's just say… I had my hands tied."

Coyena's eyes widened, but then she scoffed in disbelief. "So you are not going to talk?"

"I hope you understand that I can't divulge too much… I'll just say that I'm not the murderer. I was forced to cover up the murderer's tracks."

"Who is forcing you and why?" she demanded.

Lyle shook his head. "I can't take that risk. I'll face prosecution for my actions, and I accept that. But I can't tell you much more… although if it's any consolation, I would if I could. Please believe me when I say that."

"Then tell us what you can," Coyena huffed impatiently.

The lieutenant paused for a moment. "Well… the whole thing wasn't meant to play out this way. It was supposed to be a mere kidnapping of Greg Cooper, but something went wrong. Instead of abducting the boy, Nigel—the murder victim—knocked him down instead. I was… planted there to ensure everything went smoothly; I'd been following the boy that day and informing Nigel of Greg's location. But clearly the whole plan went out the window once the kidnapping turned into an accident. I was able to salvage the situation somewhat by bringing Greg to the hospital, but… Well, the murder happened afterward."

"And why did the murder happen?"

"I honestly have no idea," Lyle quickly said. "I was told to help in covering it up, but obviously that became difficult when the superintendent involved himself with the investigation." Here, he gave a chuckle. "I gather he must've had his suspicions of the members of the force, based on how secretive he's being. I wouldn't have been allowed in the investigation here at all if I haven't wormed my way in."

"Yes… so it was no mere coincidence that you were at the scene of Greg Cooper's accident. And that accident was a nice lead-in for you to participate in this investigation too…"

"That would be right. I can tell John wasn't too happy that I got in on the investigation…"

"Let us talk about your cover-ups. Why did you alter the logs?"

"Well…" Lyle shifted his feet uncomfortably. "I don't get told the reasons for what I am instructed to do. I'm afraid your guess is as good as mine. I can only assume the logs have some relevance to the case which would be detrimental to the culprit. Other than that… I really haven't done much." He glanced over at Lucario. "I did know of John's plan to use the Lucario over there to incite panic. I… made sure everyone involved knew about it too. It's not a foolproof method, but we try our best not to think of anything incriminating when the Lucario is around, so that he doesn't pick up on those thoughts."

Lucario stared back unblinkingly at Lyle while quickly recalling his past encounters with the lieutenant. He had never seen the man as suspicious, and hence had never tried reading Lyle's thoughts and emotions, so it was hard to ascertain how effective Lyle's strategy had been.

The Manectric turned to Lucario enquiringly. "Will what he said work? Will this successfully conceal their thoughts from you?"

"I don't really know," Lucario admitted. "I've not done this much, so I don't have a lot of experience in the matter. His method will likely work, but I could probably dig in deeper and drag out the truth if I know where to look."

Lucario felt ashamed as he recalled how drained he felt after attempting something like that back when he was helping Absol with the Silver Lane investigation. More reasons to get into a proper training regimen soon, he mentally noted to himself.

Coyena turned back toward Lyle. After a long while of scrutinising, she said again, "You mentioned the accident. What was the purpose of abducting Greg Cooper?"

"I… can only assume it was to send a message to his father, Sydney Cooper. I don't think they planned to do much else to him, really. If the kidnapping went according to plan, this murder likely wouldn't have happened… although I admit this is just speculation."

"And why would they want to threaten Sydney Cooper?"

"Beats me. You'll have to ask the murderer… when you catch him or her," Lyle added with a small smile.

"You said that something went wrong with the kidnapping, hence the accident. What exactly happened back then?"

Lyle paused and rubbed his chin slowly. "It happened so quickly. There I was, keeping an eye on the boy while communicating with Nigel to update him on Greg's whereabouts… I followed the boy to the beach… he was with an Eevee then; I'm guessing that's you," he added while indicating the Evolution Pokémon with a nod. Eevee merely stared back without reply.

Lyle continued, "And, just when Nigel was about to drive by and swoop in, he was interrupted by a sudden flash."

"A… flash?" Coyena repeated slowly, her eyes narrowed in concentration.

As focused as he was on their conversation, Lucario noticed a sudden spike in Eevee's emotions. Glancing at his brown-furred companion, he noticed that there was a look of shock on her face, as though she had just understood something. He recalled Eevee mentioning that there had been a bright flash before Greg got knocked down… Was that what had caused the accident?

"Yes, a flash of bright light. I assume it must have blinded Nigel, causing him to lose control of the vehicle."

"Where did this flash come from?" Coyena asked, her tone somewhat sceptical as though she did not buy his story.

"It came from a Pokémon, the one individual who turned the whole event upside-down." Lyle chuckled ironically again. "He attacked the van relentlessly, and Nigel had no choice but to drive off with the Pokémon clinging on to the windscreen. I'm not sure what happened to him afterward though."

"No… no…!" Eevee muttered softly, and Lucario was shocked at the sudden chaotic emotions emanating from her. Waves after waves of realisation and horror poured out from the Evolution Pokémon, pelting Lucario's senses such that he found it difficult to listen in on Coyena's and Lyle's next words.

"But where did this Pokémon come from?" Coyena demanded.

"No idea. I don't know why he attacked Nigel either, but he sure was very aggressive. Feisty little fellow, that Jolteon."

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AUTHOR'S NOTES

Next time, on I Am Lucario

"It's been serious all along, of course, with Mr. Cooper's investigation and all… but now that we know Jolteon is involved, and is likely to be in danger… We need to do something."

Let me know if there are any inconsistencies or errors! It's been difficult proofreading and editing this chapter, and making sure everything made sense. Rest assured that the next chapter will not end with another cliffhanger; it should finish this murder mystery storyline once and for all!

Thanks for sticking around with the story! See you soon, hopefully! And have a happy 2017!