* Winner of the 2014 Story of the Year Award *
Prosecutor General Eve Marshall – the meanest cross-examiner in the courts of New Scotland. Eyes that glint when she goes for the kill, a mouth that tightens at every lie, a manner that pulls jurors in and makes them believe.
And a babe; long hair practically to her waist, glasses she looks over the top of just so, and a way of sucking a pen that keeps men awake at night, and plenty of women, too.
Just my luck to get her on my case.
The jury were hanging on her every word. Sixteen fine upstanding citizens, chosen for this, “the trial of the year”. All of them watching Eve stick her little tongue out, all of them riveted as she put me through three days of questioning.
Three days where I hadn’t cracked, not once. Three days where question after question got hurled at me and I found the right answer. All I needed to do was survive this day and I’d be home and dry.
“So,” she said, in her lispy, false-cute voice. “You can’t tell us where you were the night of the murder, Oskar?”
“No, ma’am. Just that I wasn’t in the Five-in-a-Line store.”
“And you have no witnesses?”
I paused, just for a second. Sure I had witnesses, a whole score of my people. Just not a single one I’d trust within ten feet of Eve’s glinting eyes.
“No, Ma’am,” I said. “No more than you have any I was there.”
And there was the crux of the case and why I had a chance – I hadn’t been anywhere near Doris the Fence on the night of her murder. Not that I was sorry – if I’d been a murdering type, I’d have picked her out as first against the wall. But not that night, not me, and so long as they couldn’t nail me, and I didn’t crack and reveal the truth, I’d be walking free.
Eve turned away. My shoulders slumped in relief. I’d ridden her out. She turned, pivoting on one heel. The jury gave a soft ooh. Hell, I nearly did, too.
“You know,” she said, her voice like a kitten’s velvet paw. “You don’t strike me as human.” I drew in a breath. The jury sat forward, listening. “For no human could sit and lie like this for three days.”
I relaxed. Fought the urge to give a short laugh. “Well, Ma’am, depends on the nature of lies.”
“Indeed it does.” She turned to the jury. “I think you’ve seen enough to know the nature of his lies.”
I watched the jury file out, none of them meeting my eyes. I sat in the dock, and admired its wooden panelling. When lunch arrived I ate it and did nothing to hide my true feelings on the nature of a ham and egg sandwich, but some things are hard to fake. I sat through the afternoon and fought the nerves eating away at me, and I waited.
It was gone five when the jury filed in. Doris’s family gave some soft murmurs about hanging being too good, and I kept my head down. The punishment wasn’t the question – an eye for an eye was the way in New Scotland – the verdict was. Innocent and I left, guilty and I hung. I looked at my boots. They were fine – they’d likely be just as fine dangling three feet up.
I did, numb. The judge was reading a slip of paper. Sweat broke across my back, full of sour fear, but I lifted my chin. Eve Marshall had done her best – now I’d see if it was enough. The moment drew out, a spun sugar silence until finally the judge spoke.
I had to grip the wood panelling and take a moment to breathe. The dock opened – to the right, into the court. Doris’s family sobbed softly. No one congratulated me – I’d told my own to stay away, and not add to the family’s suffering.
I stepped past her, and she grabbed my arm.
“Good luck,” she said. “Enjoy your freedom.”
She leaned close. She’d reached the end of three days questioning so intimate she knew me as a lover might, and yet she didn’t know me at all.
I pulled my arm away and gave a curt nod. Started up the steps, expecting at any moment to feel the hand on my shoulder, returning me to the dock. I reached the door and pushed it open. I was free but struggled to breathe. Only two crimes carried death in New Scotland: murder, and impersonating a human, and there was only one I’d done.
I walked down the steps from the court, and thought of Eve Marshall’s knowing eyes, with their hunter’s gleam. The only thing she likes catching more than a murderer is an A.I. How I fooled her for three whole days, I’ll never know, but it’s enough that I did.
I run, and don’t look back. I don’t stop, until I reach the dark streets of my quarter, and then I slow my steps.
The hand falls on my shoulder. I stifle a yell and turn, and there are her eyes, dark and knowing. She smiles, the smile that’s sucked in a thousand juries.
“You think I don’t know?” she asks.
“You’re a fine job, Oskar,” she says. “The best. And now I’m sure, I’ll be bringing you in any day now.”
I meet her eyes, and smile right back. I lean in close and whisper, “First you have to prove it.” And then I turn and walk into the night. Three days is long enough to pass. She knows it, and she knows she’ll never get me. But it won’t stop her trying. And it won’t stop me lying.