Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero had been almost happy when he came out of the bathroom. He knew they had a lot of work to do, there was no time to sleep and he was now on someone's very real killfile, but his body had felt clean and the sex had done a lot toward improving his mood. The shower was not the best place for it, but Heero figured they needed it and wasting more time would be unfair to others. The universe would be served well if they added a few minutes on top of the good five minutes it took to feel clean after having another person's blood on you, to suck each other off. There had been no point in getting more athletic than that on wet tile.
So, they had been almost happy, Heero and Duo and Koi. Not that the dog had been involved in the sex, but he was usually happy if Heero was, so long as he did not need food or a walk very badly. They had left the bathroom, wounds and bodies redressed. Then Heero had seen him.
That guy. No, that kid. Not so much as one piece of a uniform or the flash of a badge. He just sat there on the chaise near the dressing table toying with Duo's collar in both hands. He looked like he was dressed for a club. If seen by fangirls then he would have been the subject of their I Saw a Real Life reports to net-friends.
He was so cute, with snowy skin, plum-rinsed black hair and light gray eyes. He looked like he knew it too. Heero bared his teeth from across the room and growled. This too-slick kid was Preventers IT.
The kid stood up, cocked his head and smiled. His eyes even squinted cutely when he smiled.
"That doesn't belong to you," Duo said as he stepped over the mess that was still on the floor.
The kid tossed the collar casually to the chaise. "Hi," he said. He extended a hand to Duo. "Special Agent Yuki Prunier."
"Is that your real name?" Duo asked quietly.
Yuki laughed, gayly.
Heero knew that name, Yuki Prunier. "Is Claudia here?" he asked.
"Oh, Quick? Yes. Her escort just brought her in with some gear." They must have taken her to her apartment to collect some things and put the location under surveillance, Heero surmised.
"Hn." Heero turned and left the bedroom. The living room was fairly tidy, rather it no longer looked ransacked, and instead there were at least a half-dozen machines, some with cables, set up around the room. Quick was there and Johnny. Delorme was in the kitchen speaking to two other agents in uniform.
Heero sat down on the couch, beside Johnny, where his mobile had already been set up. Duo sprawled in the armchair, his neck on one arm and the backs of his knees over the other. Quick was on the floor with her newly acquired mobiles and a bag of parts arranged around her. Yuki knelt opposite Heero. Duo's old computer was linked to one of his, on the coffee table.
"So, Quick and..."
"You know that name because I am registered and you are IT, so do not say it," Heero warned. He knew what Yuki had been about to say next.
"And you can call me Claudia," Quick said, "Heero just calls me Quick so I will do what he wants faster."
Heero laughed. This was mostly true. "True. We are all on the same side, theoretically. There is no more war or resistance. No one needs aliases unless they are using their powers for evil, right Yuki?"
"Then why not tell everyone the alias you used, Heero?"
"It should be there for others to figure out," Quick said helpfully.
"Can I call her Quick?" Duo asked.
"Yes, Duo, but Claudia is my real name, if Heero has not enlightened you."
Yuki mumbled something about enlightenment being attained for one's self and not a thing that was given.
"She's an Existentialist, not a Buddhist," Heero whispered. And for that matter, Yuki should be French enough to realize that Claudia had used the word correctly. Seeking spiritual wisdom and peace was one thing, but intellectual knowledge could be passed to others.
"I figured that out," Duo said slowly.
"It is selfish, leaving others to solve a problem you already solved."
Heero glanced to Quick and answered for her. "If you solve a problem you share the solution with your friends. If you solve a puzzle, you share the puzzle with your friends."
"Either way if you do not solve it, you can ask your friends for help," Quick added.
"Mutual satisfaction, both getting the challenge, fun and solution that way," Heero said.
"Especially nice if you come to the solution at the same time."
"You guys really have to stop that," Duo told them.
"It would be counterproductive if we sat around and mocked each other. So, I think we should agree to have our differences and..." Heero started.
"What differences?" Yuki asked. If he kept pressing Heero, then it was going to come out why Heero really disliked him. It had not much to do with finding him playing with Duo's collar.
"What the cow says," Heero whispered.
"You can answer that question."
"Not very productively."
"He is saying that he knows you are IT and he's also a Preventer and he would like to cooperate but, you do not really do anything that he should respect you for," Quick answered for him.
"So it's some elitist attitude then? I should have expected it, but I told myself that Heero Yuy would not be like that."
"I am not being elitist. I take no pure political or moral stance. I cracked and crashed and now I've gone corporate and I am paid to crack and crash, but that is not all I do. I program. And Quick has done her share of crashing and bombing, but that was mostly in wartime when we all had to resist the disinformation."
"Treize wasn't in wartime." The airport, TKI he meant.
"Excuse my karma. A hacker was in trouble." Her tone said Yuki was not to be considered a hacker. Quick folded her arms across her chest and tossed her head. Her attitude said it as well.
"My point is, we do things, we produce. Quick knows at least five languages and her The Doors site won awards for content. She gathers information and then makes it accessible and understandable to others. Lapin was productive that way as well, though she was trying to hide her identity because she took freedom of information to an extreme and made available for free what was sold elsewhere."
"But that's all moral relativity," Quick said. "Some people thought her a saint. She didn't just give away other people data, she wrote. She did the thing with the marquee several times."
"I think she did only the ones in France and told others how to do it elsewhere. She wrote that file sharing app and then converted it for two other OSs," Heero pointed out. "Romeo was a bit different."
"But in a perverse and clever way. He wrote Juliet's Spiral. Do you know what that did to Alliance systems in 194? I looked at Juliet's Spiral; it was art!"
"All you did was launch viruses and scripts Heero wrote when he was ten," Quick told Yuki. Heero thought it was actually ones he wrote at 12, but it was a minor point and he had no wish to interrupt Quick over it.
"That was the point, ne? To resist the disinformation?"
"Well, that was the point in my loosing dangerous code like that onto the 'net, but if you meant the point in living, then no. There is more too it than just being an end user. You have to give back to the system."
"Build positive Karma," Quick said.
"Use your abilities for good. You got carried away. You used code I wrote to fuck a Colonial weather control system and people died before word of your stunt got around, Snow Crash. You realize that Quick and I were the ones who cleaned up that mess?"
"Yes. It was. I suppose I should thank you for the guilt. It convinced me to not only write the anti-virus and distribute it, but track down every copy of those viruses I could find and obliterate them."
"That was not your guilt. He used your work to hurt people. You just wrote it."
"Aa, but the creator should bear some responsibility. I agreed to destroy the Gundams. Some things are powerful. If you cannot guarantee that no one will be able to use them for evil, then you must make sure no one can use them at all."
"Doesn't really fit with the idea of having people think for themselves," Yuki said. "Peacecraft wanted to make sure no one could have Earth because it seemed to be used to do a lot of bad things."
"Would be a nice world if you could enlighten others with wisdom to use knowledge appropriately in the way you can enlighten them with knowledge," Quick mused.
"Millard did not make the Earth," Heero said, "We have no right to destroy Earth, because we did not create it. I made the code, so I destroyed it. In the absence of those who did make the Gundams, I participated in their destruction, knowing the wishes of their late creators.
"Quatre built ZERO and he was the one who first suggested destroying them" Duo interjected.
Heero ignored Duo for the moment and continued, "Of course, evil usage is not always a potential, but rather history. We must make amends for what has already been done."
"I am a Preventer now. It is my arranged retribution. I have been with them since the beginning, as long as you have anyway. You know, they arrested me and registered me before all of you were so casual about giving out your real names. Well, some of you, Heero." The way he said it, implied that 'Heero' was not any more his name than an alias he had used to destroy OZ computer systems.
"OK, now you are pissing me off," Duo said from the chair. "He's a war orphan! He had to pick some name, otherwise how would I know what to scream while he was fucking me? Can we cut out this more hacker than thou bullshit and get to figuring out who is trying to kill us all and why?"
"You're a bottom?" Johnny asked.
Duo laughed. "You ever try it?"
"It's pretty good. Amazing, if you have the right partner."
"And this is productive conversation?" Yuki asked.
Heero stood up. "Have we any tea?" He asked, just loudly enough that those in the kitchen would hear.
"All the things that you asked for are here," Delorme said.
Heero went into the kitchen. The room had been straightened up quite well. He saw a box of teabags was on the counter. Lapin's kitchen had a tap for pre-heated water so Heero filled a mug from it. He tested the temperature with a finger and decided it was just cool enough to add the tea. He knew the water should not be as hot as boiling to brew green tea.
Heero gathered a spoon, napkin, the magazine he had requested and the new phone. He passed through the living room. "I will be in the bedroom programming my new phone and cleaning, possibly making some calls to ask friends for help. Let me know if you need me."
"I can help clean, if you do not mind company," Johnny offered.
"Thank you, that is acceptable. There are things to be put in order that are not mine in particular, so you can deal with that."
"Later. I think I'll stay in this chair and consider the situation."
"Fine, I guess I will have sex with Yuki then."
"Be sure to let us know if he is the right sort of partner," Heero said. He walked into the bedroom. He could trust Quick to determine if Yuki really had changed. Heero sincerely hoped he had.
Heero sat cross-legged on the floor, in reach of his trunk. He set his tea and Magazine down and then began to input the codes into the new phone that would activate it and allow it to receive calls from his established number. Then there was the matter of re-recording his voice commands and programming into memory numbers of people he often called.
Heero sipped some tea, adjusted the fit of the headset then called Midii. It might be late, depending on where she was, but he should at least be able to leave a message.
"Heero! Are you all right?" She asked as soon as the connection was made. She was able to see Heero's number. He made a note to program his phone to disguise the number, but that would take a little more time. "We just saw a report on the news, but the Preventers aren't saying what was happening. But you were there. Hilde's contacted Preventers here, but they have not been able to give her any information yet. They say it is in interest of security."
"Slow down," Heero said. She was with Hilde. The time difference explained why she was awake now. "Duo and I were wounded, but the injuries are minor and we are safe now. I will prepare a file explaining everything it is secure to release to you and send it to you soon. I will use the code I used that time to encrypt it."
"I called because I have a favor to ask. This is not business, but more personal."
"Someone suspects that my family are the cause of certain actions taken against me, either directly, or indirectly. I do not presently believe this, but I have no leads that would prove or disprove that theory. If you could look for those leads, it would leave us to investigate in other directions."
"I understand. You will give me the information I need?"
"Yes." Heero muted the phone and called to Duo.
"Yeah?" He called from the other side of the door.
"Would you bring me my 'puter, please?"
"Yeah, just a sec."
Heero unmuted the phone. "How is Hilde?"
"Fine. She's doing well."
"That's good," Heero said. The bedroom doors opened and Duo came in along with the sound of a spoken word segment of a The Doors track. Duo closed the door then brought the mobile to Heero. "Thanks," Heero said as he smiled up at Duo. "Have you been staying there?"
"Yes," Midii said.
"Apart from the events I will send you, Paris had been lovely. Perhaps I will tell you about it when I see you again."
Midii laughed. "I think they did it."
"She's telling Hilde now, huh?" Duo asked.
Heero nodded. He had not actually said what had happened, he had not even told Midii of his plan to set a date to try what he had not tried, but somehow the news was delivered and understood. "Do you want to talk to them?" Heero asked Duo.
"Just ask how Hilde is."
"I did. She is fine. Duo asked about her."
"Tell him we love him and that we hope he stays out of danger. And you too."
"They love us and hope we stay out of danger."
Duo nodded and Heero said, "Thanks."
"Do you know they are lightin' up and listening to The Doors out there?" Duo asked quietly.
Heero smiled and nodded at him. "I will go and send you that file now," Heero told Midii. She said goodbye and Heero disconnected. He took another sip of tea, then set his mug down and opened his mobile on the floor in front of him.
"Didn't really get much cleaning done," Duo said.
"They are fine, if you want to know. She is just feeling him out."
"Ya don't think she'd make that feeling him up?"
Heero shook his head. "Not her style. And not her type." He looked up from typing a report to Midii and saw Duo dancing slowly near the door. "Is Koi out there?"
"Yeah, but he's in the kitchen. Delorme stepped out for a bit, but just to one of the other apartments. He gave me a comlink."
"They offered the residents temporary housing?"
Heero closed his eyes and calculated the hours until they had to give their interview. "I will really do some cleaning as soon as I get this report sent."
Duo sat down and began sorting through some of the litter on the floor. "Ya know, we have no privacy left now. The drug thugs, blue boys and spooks have all gone through our stuff."
"Don't worry about it," Johnny said, "at least you don't have anyone going through your trash. In LA, well my family is not very famous, but we have been there for generations and we have a nice house. Some of our neighbors are quite famous actors or musicians. There are crazy fans or sleazy reporters that will actually go through their trash at the curb."
"In some areas the trash must be put out on the street and the law says that once you put it there you have no legal rights to it."
"Why?" Duo asked.
"Otherwise the trash collectors could be sued for taking something you threw away by mistake. So, it's ruled that once you place it out for collection you surrender rights to it. That means if a stalker or someone with a court case against you manages to take the trash before the assigned collectors do you are out of luck. When I do security checks I recommend that people with concerns shred documents and that they not put the trash out until the last moment possible."
"Is that your work now?"
"Aa. Security consultation. Also testing. I attempt to access what is secured and then report on weaknesses I found."
Johnny nodded. "Anyway, it is not so bad. Everyone has kinks, they just do not always admit it."
"What do you think of that shit about Colonials being more deviant, though? You hear that?"
"I have heard it," Johnny said, laughing. "I do not know. I have not really had that many lovers. Cary says he thinks that in the Colonies, he has worked there, that it is just more open. It is more common to discuss private issues with acquaintances. People on Earth are, in some regions, more secretive. I find that in Europe now, people will admit to keeping mistresses or visiting prostitutes or having affairs more than they will admit to having particular kinks. In America, people will tell you they have a kink, often with laughter, but it is not seen as acceptable to have affairs and to cheat."
"I was talking to Quatre about it one day. He says that in the Colonies you can say to your coworkers that on your way home you have to go buy a zipper hood and harness for you pet and they know you are not talking about an animal and will recommend a shop, but if you tell coworkers on Earth you are picking up condoms after work, they'd think that harassment. I think people in America must do the same stuff others do, they just don't admit it." Duo had one of his toys in his left hand and he was waving his hands as he spoke, the way he often did. "I think I'm going to have to count all of these! How disturbing would that be if I found one missing?" Heero hardly heard what he was saying, as his eyes were tracking the movement of the translucent purple dildo.
"How many pieces were there of this?" Johnny asked. He was holding the blue velvet bondage collar. Unlike Yuki, he did not toy with it, just held it casually as he had all of Lapin's dressing table accessories.
"Six. Six pieces," Heero said. "Pass them to me if you find them, I will take care of them."
"Did you see some red ones?"
"No," Johnny answered.
"I have them," Heero said quickly. He saw Duo nod. He was collecting the things that had been thrown in the corner of the room near doors and computer armoire.
"I seem to be mainly finding things that came from this table," Johnny said. He was beginning the cleaning from another corner. "I am not sure about some of these clothes."
"Yeah, some of my luggage was around there too. If you find any clothes at all, just fold them if you can. I'll go through them in a bit," Duo told him.
Heero went back to typing, reporting on all the most suspicious things that had happened in Paris, since they had found the flat broken into. Johnny and Duo made progress with cleaning. Duo went out to check on the others and to make coffee. Heero finished his report, encrypted it and sent it to Midii.
He went to the corner of the room near the bathroom and started cleaning there. Duo had already arranged some sort of piles in this area, but Heero did not recognize Duo's system.
Duo came back into the bedroom as Heero was making the bed. "What do you guys think?" He started, "Quick and Yuki are talking about getting food delivered. I think they've managed to brief each other on all the leads and theories we've got. So, do you think we try to get any sleep, or should we all try to start working together over some food?"
"I want to get the room clean. It is almost done," Heero said. "Apart from that, I had considered resting, but I did not think I would be able to sleep very well."
"Yeah," Duo agreed.
"I could eat something, but I am tired too," Johnny said.
"We appreciate the help, Man, but you aren't obligated to solve this case or anything."
"He has already been seen with us, so it is in his interest to help," Heero said, "Duo is correct. If you would like to sleep, you may. We would make sure you were at least as safe as the rest of us."
"I can help finish here and have a little food, if you do not mind me sleeping in tomorrow."
"We'll have the crew here around 11 I think, but we'll figure something out," Duo said. "What do you want to eat?"
"Considering the disrupted sleep schedule, I think protein would be better than carbs."
"Yeah, but what qualifies as that? You want to eat meat?"
"I think the decision greatly depends on which places deliver. Anyway, I think Yuki at least pretends to be Buddhist. He might not eat meat."
Duo turned and spoke into the living room. 'Yuki, they have good Japanese in Paris?"
It sounded like he was telling Duo the name of a particular restaurant.
"Japanese OK with you, Johnny?" Duo asked as he looked back into the bedroom.
"Grill? Sushi? Noodles? Pizza?"
Duo grinned. "I forgot how many Japanese-Americans are around LA." He listened. "Yuki says they do not have 'Japanese Pizza' in France but the place he knows has various noodles, sushi, grilled food and snacks."
"If they have some kind of grilled chicken I will try that."
"I suppose I will find out if they make decent sushi in Paris."
"A lot of carbs in rice."
"Yes, but there is also protein. And see if they have anything with tofu that looks decent."
"I haven't had really good tofu in a long time... somehow I doubt Paris would be the place to get it."
"Maybe they put it on crackers like pâté," Johnny suggested.
"I'll go check it out with Delorme, you know, on whether it's safe to order food."
"Have they checked the phone lines yet?" Heero asked.
"No word on that. Yuki and Delorme said that would tell us what the teams have reported when we talk. Anyway, we've all got mobile communications."
"Could someone be scanning?" Heero asked.
"Someone could always be scanning and probably is. The question is whether they can crack the signal encryption and follow the way the computers arrange all the bits of conversation across the available bandwidth. The phones and computers are probably secure."
"It depends on who our enemy is."
Duo nodded. "Yeah. But it'd take time to intercept a delivery. It's deadline oriented work, right, Heero? And the drivers are used to traveling around at night with various monies in their possession. If they can't take care of themselves, then they don't keep the job."
"True," Heero agreed.
"Yeah, I'll come back and help when I'm done." Duo closed the doors again.
Heero moved to the other side of the bed and picked up things there. The room had been straightened enough that the luggage and furniture was all in the appropriate location, so now when he found items, Heero had places to put them. They were almost finished with the work when Duo returned.
"We thought you should look at the pile of clothes," Heero told him.
Duo nodded and went to the pile on the floor.
Heero had cleared most of mess, so he went to the few remaining piles that had been made earlier and put each item away more neatly. He had not unpacked the shopping bags from their outing, only put the bags near the luggage.
"This is actually yours, Heero," Duo said. He stood and carried a small pile of clothing over to Heero.
"It's mine?" Heero accepted the clothing. He had never seen these garments, except maybe as part of the whole of the mess on the floor.
"I had them made as a gift for you, but they got ripped out of the paper during the search I guess. Sake made them."
Heero looked at the clothing. The first piece he found was a small shirt on top of the pile. It was a fine silk and off-white in color. It looked to be snugly fitted and sleeveless. Beneath the shirt was a sash, like an obi, in a sort of red and beige check. There was a pair of beige, or perhaps bronze, pants made of a heavier silk. Finally, there was a long jacket of this same fabric.
At first Heero supposed these were more of Sake's Neo Japanese designs, but the more Heero looked at the cut of the clothing he understood that it was much more like a Star Wars costume. It was not an exact replica of any of the costumes Heero had seen, but it was similar.
"There's a longer coat that goes over it, but Sake didn't have it finished. Anyway, it's still summer, you don't need it. I thought you could wear those oxblood riding boots."
"I like it," Heero said. "When should I wear something like this?"
"Whenever you want. Sake said she would make other colors if you like, but you would have to pay for those. She actually did these at cost, and mine."
"She made you another outfit?"
"It's really nice! Not as close to a costume as yours, and not really that Japanese. It's sorta Mandarin meets medieval Europe meets Biker."
"I would like to see that."
"Maybe tomorrow or... later today."
Heero nodded and put the clothing away in his trunk. "Will food be delivered?"
Duo nodded. He looked at his watch. "A little while longer. They'll get it at the door."
"I have been a prisoner and I have tried to hide my identity and location, but I do not think I have ever been the one in need of protection before. It feels strange."
"Don't worry about it. We're all protecting each other, so it's not like you are a burden to anyone." Duo looked away for a moment. Heero was sure he knew what Duo was thinking, though he did not read his thoughts. He would have protected Heero if Heero had been the only target and especially if Heero was unable to protect himself. "The room looks decent. You want to come into the other room?"
Heero collected his things, the mug, the used spoon and napkin, his magazine, phone and computer and a scented candle from one of the shopping bags.
Quick and Yuki were still sitting on the floor. Duo moved around the coffee table to the couch and Heero followed to take a seat beside him. Johnny came from the room after them and took the armchair. Duo showed Heero one of the computers Quick had salvaged. "Put the stuff from my computer on here. I wiped the drive of that one after Yuki took the logged data from it. It works all right. You'll still build me a new machine, though?"
Heero got up to dispose of the used, mug, spoon and napkin in the kitchen. He returned, lifting his satchel on the way. Heero put his phone away then opened his mobile computer on the table near his candle. "I need a light, Quick."
Quick handed Heero her lighter.
"Heero saw some guidebook that said all the really kewl people bought candles from this boutique, so he had to get one," Duo told the others.
"They are very popular. The boutique has been there for hundreds of years. There are many old businesses in Paris as well as new," Quick said.
Heero lit the candle. "I just think it would make the room smell good," Heero said. He gave the lighter back to Quick.
"Heero, do you want the Preventer registered hacker database? Yuki said I could have it."
"He only gave you the static copy, not access to their site."
"I have clearance to get it from their site, besides I know who most of them are and wether I trust them or not."
"You added Quick I guess," Duo said.
"Registered simply means the identities have been confirmed. They have data on violations of all 'cyber crimes' and suspects."
"I thought as much, but I mainly maintain the mobile suits and pilot them. Occasionally get sent out to deal with general terrorist threats. I don't really check out IT's files."
Heero smiled. Quick and Yuki did not seem to grasp how brilliant Duo was. He so often played down his own accomplishments. They probably would be impressed if they understood that his maintenance not only included knowledge of mechanics, electromagnetism and rocket science, but reading and writing of MOBILE-P code and expert knowledge of OZ's old standard mobile suit operating systems as well as OSs shipped in suits from all current manufacturers. They would be really impressed if they knew he programmed AI.
"Let's change the music," Duo said, "I gave you a chance, Quick, but since you've copied all my music files to this machine, I feel I should play them now I've got the chance!"
Quick agreed with a shrug and stopped Jim's poetry reading to music.
Duo's music was different. It was somewhat dark, doomy, but driven. It sounded like music Heero would want to listen to, only frightening, synthetic and much much faster. The first song that came on was sung in German, though Heero was not sure if this was signing any more than one of The Doors' spoken word pieces.
"That's better!" Duo said. He leaned forward and shook his head arms and shoulders; Heero thought it was to loosen tense muscles. Duo went still and took a slow breath. "There, now I can feel all zen and stuff."
"This helps you meditate?" Yuki asked.
"Oh, yeah, I do not want."
Heero hooked his heels in the fold of the slipcover beneath the couch cushions so that his legs were drawn up in front of him. He lifted his magazine and pretended to start reading it.
Duo looked toward him slyly. "You like this music?" He asked.
Heero shook his head. He had just been thinking that it was a turn-on knowing how smart Duo was and that this music did make him think of Duo. "It is a lot harder and faster than the music I would dance to," Heero said.
Duo laughed, though Heero's tone had been completely serious. "Yeah, we really need to go dancing again soon."
"Out to a club too," Heero whispered.
"Didja know Heero could dance?" Duo asked the others, "He has such great moves. It's like, hypnotic. Not like that trip-trance stuff. More like he's incanting with his body. I think he's pagan at heart."
Heero smirked behind his magazine.
"So, I heard from my Section," Yuki said. "We think we know who told the cartel to go after Romeo. It was Miko."
"Mikolaj?" Quick asked sadly.
Heero had heard of him. He was young, but he had a way of acquiring things and negotiating trades and bartering that encouraged people to trust him. He'd dead-dropped goods to Heero in the past, when he had traveled through Europe. Heero supposed Miko had gotten involved with drugs at some point, a little too much.
"Do you have him in custody?" Heero asked.
"He's a minor and currently a ward of the state. He's in a hospital detox ward with a guard on his room."
"So, no useful information from him?"
"We are sure he was the link between the cartel and Romeo, but..."
"We are not even sure that the drug thugs killed Romeo," Duo said.
"I suppose we should go over this from the beginning again," Yuki said, his tone somewhat patronizing. "My section was first called in by Paris police when they had found Romeo's body. Lapin Blanc, or Janice, we believe, discovered the body, called the police from his apartment and then ran."
"No indication that she actually witnessed the crime?" Heero asked. He lowered his magazine to see the others better.
"The police forensics department determined that the time of death was a significant time before the call, perhaps 12 hours. When the police began their investigation and found a lot of gear and data they did not recognize, they called Preventers to send in a technical consultant to the case. That was me. I discovered through my own sources and investigation that Romeo had stolen monies from the cartel and I knew that Lapin was an associate of his. I had a voice file of Lapin to match to the call reporting the body and they did match, however I did not then know that Lapin Blanc was Janice. That had never been proven and people in Romeo's building and workplace had not been properly introduced to her, or else had not heard of her, though some were able to give me a general description of her age, size and coloring."
"So you figured it was Janice, when?" Duo asked.
"The photos in the bedroom. And then Claudia confirmed that she knew Janice to be Lapin. Also, the cartel's interest in this apartment supports the ID, even if I had not been told by Claudia, I could have figured it out, if you had reported the break-in earlier."
"We figured it out," Duo said, "Well, from me seeing the pictures of Romeo in the news and Heero finding the photos and knowing of Lapin and Romeo's relationship. And there was us being aware that we were renting Janice's flat."
"And that was coincidence?" Yuki asked.
"To my knowledge," Heero said.
"Coincidence that Lapin Blanc, Janice rather, is the cousin of a friend of mine. But I cannot be sure it was coincidence we were allowed to stay here. John approached me with the offer when he heard that I was looking to visit Paris. It all happened rather suddenly, fortunately I thought. Maybe she told him to make the offer. I mean that I can't absolutely rule that possibility out."
"Either way, we were here and discovered the apartment broken into and the taps on the hardlines and decided to go to the club to gather information."
"And I told them about the money, which I do not think they knew, and about the cartel in general."
"Right," Duo said, "and we were ready to blame the drug thugs for the murder, but I started thinking about Quick's story and thought there might be another way it all happened."
"And soon after that the other group made themselves known," Heero said.
"We got most of the story from Claudia and Mr. Vasquez here and from the musicians and the bouncer. And our interviews with Duo and with Aubrey Raie filled in some matters. Heero, could you tell me how you saw the events there?"
Heero agreed with a nod. He told Yuki how Duo and he had split up after they had been at the table with Quick. He explained going back to the bar and having a soda. Johnny had invited them to meet the band. "I did not recognize these men in particular, but they looked like suits to me, not office men, but gangsters. They looked the part. Then I saw they recognized me, that does happen, with my face being in the news, but when they saw me, they reached into their jackets, as one would to reach a gun in a shoulder holster. I was not armed at the time." Heero retold the events, the shots that they had heard outside the room, and his getting the girls out of the room. He went over the shots fired in the hall for Yuki. "I did not take the computer with me then, the band found it and gave it to me later, presumably in the condition Aubrey had left it."
"And you sent the girls out the stage entrance at the side of the building."
"Yes," Heero told Yuki. He explained meeting Duo and Atashi in the basement.
"Carson Watts. His professional name is Atashi Station."
"Correct," Heero confirmed. "You know his work?"
Yuki rolled his eyes. "We all know his work. He was in those Preventer movies."
Heero smirked. "Yes, we all do."
"Do you know his work, Quick?" Duo asked.
"I do not watch gay porn."
"Those movies had every kind of porn," Johnny said, "He is fairly well known in America, though he pretends to be Colonial. Rock Stars put him in their videos."
"Can we get back to business?" Yuki asked.
"We met in the basement, searched for alternate exits and left by the delivery entrance," Heero said. "We headed back here, with Duo being attacked and knowing that Aubrey was around, we approached cautiously. Duo left us to open the door. We waited. Then Duo called and told me to call Preventers."
"Why was it you did not call yourself?" Yuki asked Duo.
"Tapped hardlines. It would have just been a pain having to apply for new access codes and badge number because I gave them over a monitored line."
Yuki nodded. He looked at Heero, so Heero continued to relate how he had been told of the suspect. The phone had been shot. There had been the second shot. Heero had pursued the suspect. The hovercar had come around the corner shot the man Heero was pursuing.
"He was a merc."
"Soldier for hire type, eh?" Duo asked, "I hadn't thought of that, but it figures."
"As was the individual you took into custody," Yuki told Duo.
Paid assassins Heero had some understanding of, but being a mercenary was not always the same thing. Mercs could be paid to kill certain people, but their work was more general. Assassins had very specialized skills and were expected to be able to cover their work and make deaths look accidental. If he had been with an identified organization, then Yuki probably wouldn't have labeled him a merc; he would have just said he was with a group. It was the same as the difference between being someone's hitman and being an assassin in general.
"So this means we are no closer to finding out for certain who tried to kill me and whether it is connected with Romeo's work or with Janice."
"Not yet," Yuki said. "The prisoner is not talking now, but as the other seems to have been killed for his failure, to prevent him talking, we may convince the individual in custody that telling us who hired him is his only way to live."
"He would know it was a bluff," Duo said casually. "If he's quiet, you keep him at least until he's tried and there's a chance when he's sent to a penal camp or prison that he won't be killed inside. If he talks, he knows for sure those who hired him will put a price on his head. Can you convince him that you can protect him from those people without knowing who they are?"
"He may become a witness, if he knows who is behind his contract and, if you already know who contracted him."
"This would make a good movie. You guys should write screenplays."
Duo laughed. "I'll consult for your series as a mobile suit pilot and mechanic if they pay me."
"Any...?" Yuki started.
The doors opened and Delorme came inside with two other agents. One was sent into the bedroom and the other carried bags smelling of food into the living room.
"Any word on the hovercar lead, Lieutenant?" Duo asked the older agent.
Delorme answered from his position behind Yuki. "Not yet."
"I should have shot the car," Heero said. "I almost did, but I was not thinking about marking the car so that we could trace it. It did not occur to me at the time that there were so few made that we might have a chance to find the one with bullet holes in it. I was only thinking of ways to stop the car... and I worried that the jets would deflect the bullets toward the civilians."
"That is wisdom to use for the next time," Delorme said, "It is not certain it would have helped. It is true there are relatively few hovercars, but there are ways to cover the trail of a vehicle. The car could be stolen or have an altered registration. There are ways to do it."
"Yeah, just like laundering money. You pass it through so many hands that you can not say who it belongs to," Duo said.
Yuki opened the bags of food and passed around the containers.
"I am starving," Quick said.
"Yeah, I'll bet." Duo handed Heero a pair of chopsticks.
Rachael came from the bedroom and joined Delorme. She looked to Heero. "Angela has replaced me. If you are going to sleep, as you suggested, let her know. I have briefed her. If you need one of us again, use the comlink."
Heero saluted and saw Rachael salute back before leaving the flat.
"Ya know," Duo said, "This tofu is not half bad."
"It's three-halves bad!"