"Where were you on the 17th of January this year?"
They didn't mince their words, these cops. Even though they hadn't arrested me, and this interview was still supposedly informal, as soon as they'd got me sat down, the questions started.
I thought, though I knew it was in vain. "I've no idea. It was five months ago! I guess I was working, if it was a weekday… See, I can't even remember that! What happened on the 17th of January, anyway?" I had a sinking feeling I knew the answer to that question.
The two detectives exchanged looks. The one with the glasses, Andersen, steepled his fingers and looked at me over them. "On the 17th of January this year, Ellerin O'Connell, formerly an officer in the Earth Sphere Unified Alliance, was found strangled at his home in the Park area of the colony. There were no signs of a break in. And furthermore, there were no clues on which we could carry out DNA testing."
I kept silent. I knew nothing I could say would make any difference right now, and I forced myself to remain calm.
"Mr Maxwell. Where were you o the evening of the 10th of February?"
"…I don't know," I answered again, sourly.
"The 21st of March?"
I couldn't answer.
"The 9th of April? The 30th of April? The 15th of May?"
That last date was yesterday. The murder that I'd seen on the news just an hour ago. I felt sick. I felt a wave of helpless anger sweep over me; there was absolutely nothing I could do! I managed to bite back my initial need to yell my frustration, and instead ground out "Off the top of my head, I don't know where I was on any of those dates, except yesterday." They looked at me expectantly, so took a deep breath and went on. "I had to go collect a load of parts. From the Upper end of the colony." I took one look at their faces and knew what they were going to say. "Don't tell me. This guy was from up there, right?"
"Derran Witt was stabbed with a kitchen knife at about 2pm yesterday. Were you still in that area then?"
I gritted my teeth. I had been to the guy's yard at about 11, hung around for a while chatting as he was a friend of mine, had lunch, got the parts… left about 1.30. "I was on my way home."
"When did you get back?"
"About 2.30." I stared at them, defiant, though I didn't feel it at that moment. They let it go for now.
"What about the other dates? Don't you have a diary we could check?"
If I could have met myself, face to face I would have hit myself so hard my teeth would have rattled. The amount of times Hilde had urged me to get a diary to keep track of all our appointments and deals… But I insisted I could manage. The irony was, I had – I had never missed an appointment, or forgotten where I was meant to be. I had never needed the damn diary.
But then, I had never envisioned something like this happening. I'd had no reason to; or so I'd thought.
"No," I said dully. "I don't keep a diary."
The detectives had the decency to look surprised. "And there's nothing special you remember about any of those dates?"
I gave the matter some thought, unwilling to give in to the absurdity of the situation just yet. A ,memory sprang up; I almost laughed aloud. "The 9th of April – I was on Earth! Or at least, I was on the way. I was going to a party." Relena's twenty-first birthday. She invited all of us, every year, even though some of us barely knew her; but I know she liked to celebrate with her friends, and we, as friends of friends, and acquaintances, were a part of that extended family. I appreciated it; I enjoyed the parties, and I liked catching up with those I saw less regularly than I might have liked.
"What time did you set off?" The detectives looked interested.
I thought, not quite able to stem the blooming of relief I felt. "Well, we'd set off about… 11, from the house, to catch the shuttle at 12.30 in the afternoon." We liked to arrive there in time to eat, then just rest after the journey. Hilde and I always went, leaving Dan in charge of the yard for a few days. Hilde and Relena had become quite good friends over the years.
The detectives frowned. My heart fell.
"The body of Adon Frost was found in his home at 1.45pm. He had been dead for about 8 hours."
I slumped back in my seat. This was just… surreal! So ironic, that this would happen after I'd actually overcome my distrust of the police… No, no, this had to be a simple mistake, surely there had to be a way out…
"Is there no-one who can verify where you were on any of the dates in question?"
"Depends. If those murders were committed during the night…"
"Three of them were. The rest were carried out during the working day."
"Well, the daytime ones… I'd be at work in the yard, but Hilde doesn't keep a diary of my appointments either… She'd not be able to remember where I was…" My voice trailed off. These detectives would know as well as I did that salvage merchants spent a lot of time travelling around to collect or deliver parts, or check out new stock, even if we didn't do all the actual salvaging ourselves.
"What about at night? Anyone who can –" I was sure that guy Cullen was smirking.
"No!" I snapped distractedly, cutting him off. I wasn't going to discuss my sex life with these men who were making me more and more edgy with every passing minute. I stared at the table, tapping my fingers on the edge of it. The situation was bleak. I had no alibis. There was not a fucking thing I could do about it.
I knew what was coming next.
"Mr Maxwell. I'm afraid I'm going to have to arrest you on the suspicion of these six counts of murder. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used in evidence against you." The guy looked almost apologetic. Tch.
"Please come with us."
I stood silently, not trusting myself to say anything. Followed them down the short hall towards the cells. I bit my lip to keep from saying anything; I knew any outburst would get me nowhere and probably do more harm than good. Suddenly something occurred to me. Hilde and Dan! They would have no idea where the hell I was or what was going on. "Hang on a minute."
The detectives stopped.
"Don't I get to make a phonecall? I have to let my friends know why I'm not going to be back for dinner. Don't want Hilde kicking my ass for not letting her know there's been a change of plan, so I?" My sarcasm wasn't lost on them.
"OK. There's a payphone round the corner. You need any change?"
Their attitude was almost amusing. I would probably have felt more comfortable if they'd just tried to trick me at every move, done their best to annoy me. I found their sympathy somehow infuriating.
Andersen followed me, standing at a respectful distance as I sorted through my pockets. I'd have to empty them in a minute anyway. The phone was very basic, no vid connection; I took out a 2 credit coin and put it in the slot. For a strange second, it occurred to me to ring Heero, tell him what was happening, see what he said, get his advice… Then the thought was gone, and I wondered why it had occurred to me in the first place. Even if I could get hold of him, and even if he did have anything to say, I still had my pride! I couldn't deal with that… I dialled my own phone number. It rang only a couple of times before Hilde answered.
"Hey Hilde, it's me."
"Duo! What's going on, Duo? Dan said you left with a couple of detectives to answer some questions, but that was two hours ago! What's happened?!"
I closed my eyes a minute and smiled bitterly. "They've arrested me."
I could hear Dan's voice in the background, wondering what I'd said that had made Hilde react so violently. I had to chuckle, picturing his face, but the amusement passed quickly. "Yeah. They started asking me where I'd been on the dates of all the murders – you know, the ex-Alliance guys. And I couldn't say, with proof, for any of them. So they had to arrest me." I shrugged like it was no big deal. I don't know whether I was trying to convince Hilde by keeping myself nonchalant, or whether it was for the benefit of Detective Andersen, watching me: I didn't want them to feel like they had that over me! I didn't want them to think they'd broken me!
After all, I've had much worse things happen in my life. Why should this bother me, after all I've gone through?
Hilde was fuming on the other end of the line, and I listened. "They can't do that! They've no evidence! It's just desperation on their part, trying to cover their own incompetence!"
I shrugged again. "Come and tell it to these guys." I rethought that. "No, don't." I knew that, given half a chance, she would do. "Don't worry Hilde." I turned to look at Andersen; he met my gaze as if scared to look away. "They'll realise they've got it wrong. I'll be home in a bit. See ya." I put the phone down, not waiting to hear her say anything else. What she'd said might well have been true. All I could do was wait. Nothing else I could do, at all.
I fucking hate that feeling!
Andersen got my message. He led me in silence to the hallway, where I deposited the contents of my pockets, before continuing to the cell, shutting the door quietly after me. I didn't say a word, just stood clenching and unclenching my fists for a while before I sat down on the wooden bench.
It wasn't like I'd not been in prison before. But… that was different. I knew what was happening. I knew I'd be OK, 'cos I knew what I was doing. I knew… knew I'd actually done something to warrant being in jail! On the other hand… my mind wandered back. I could suddenly remember in all clarity the feeling of being captured. Awaiting execution. I'd failed! That was the part that riled me. I wasn't scared if death; I couldn't be, none of us could. But back then… Heero came to get me. When he opened the cell door, I knew he was pointing the gun at me, knew he intended to shoot me… but somehow I never really expected him to do it. Strange, that, you'd've thought I'd've known from my time with him before how he operated! But somehow, I didn't believe that he could stand there and shoot me in cold blood.
But then I saw his finger tighten on the trigger and for a second I felt cold. He was going to do it! Just for a moment I fell, disappointment swallowing me: he knew me, he was my comrade, my ally, wed watched each other's backs before despite our competition and rivalry and quarrels. But… he could still do it.
There was just something in me that felt betrayed… That someone who was meant to be on my side would so readily dispose of me…
Back then, Oz were using tricks and deception. On the moon: it only took the decision of one man. But in the year AC 201, in the Earth Sphere Unified Nation, I thought there were laws there to protect people like me, who hadn't done anything wrong. Seems I was mistaken, I thought.
No! I pulled myself together, telling myself I mustn't think like that. I had to have faith. After all, hero wasn't going to come barging into my cell this time and save my ass. I had to believe in the justice system. I brightened just a little, putting my trust in the police, at least for now.
After all – he didn't pull the trigger in the end.