Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 6.

Solace of another kind.









Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 6.



Someone coughed fifty feet to his left, oddly muted by the small lungs and ill health of a familiar type. It had to be a wino, someone living outdoors almost, by the sounds of it.

Scott wondered if he was spending the night there, but shuffling footsteps indicated he was heading in the opposite direction. If that was a woman, she was in rough shape. A noisy group of people were somewhere nearby, a sports bar, he thought. A grille, with a barbecue and big-screen TVs all over the place. They were out on the patio.

The damp of the grass came in around the edges of his shoes, above the rubber soles. He must tread carefully.

Crickets muted momentarily and then rose in song again after his passing. The cool breeze stirred the branches and he ducked his head in reflex. Raising the stick, he found nothing there.

He straightened up. The branches might be twenty feet up. The wind was very strong, and the trees were rattling and groaning where they rubbed up against one another.

He was afraid to speak, to give her away. She must be able to see him just fine. In which case her silence was suggestive. It was a warning. The whole set-up was hoary—or hairy.

There were others out there, nearby, for he heard their cheerful, youthful voices. And yet he knew enough to be afraid. Fifty yards off the street, and it was a whole ‘nother world.

It was a big city, its infernal hum all around, and the little patches of jungle splotched here and there, oases of sanity by day and a kind of insanity by night.

That was a fine way of saying it was just kids, mostly…getting out of stuffy apartments and away from soul-crushing, barren existences if only for a brief moment of play and hooliganism.

He stumbled over a small cut in the ground, and then there was soft dirt underfoot. The tip of his stick brushed something higher and thicker and stronger than grass…flowers, he surmised.

He decided to go left, possibly around it. The smell of lilies arose all around him, thick and sweet. There was another smell there too, the smell of the earth. He wondered if there were cedars around here somewhere…he hoped so. He always liked the smell when he was under cedars.

He waited for a moment.

The whistle came again, from sort of ahead of him but off to the right, as if shaped and distorted by intervening landscape features. She was farther away now, it seemed. She was like a siren, a siren of the night.

Scott decided to pee right where he was. He could always plead insanity. If it was her, she’d wait, and if not…not.

He coughed twice, carefully, and then carefully put the stick under his arm, and proceeded to thoroughly relieve himself. The pungent steam was both a reminder of boiled cabbage and the fact that all men were animals.

***

In familiar surroundings, vertigo normally wasn’t a problem, but with the uneven ground and the stumbling around in the blackness and the dew, Scott was grateful for an overhead lamp up ahead.

Its fuzzy globe of prismatic colour told him which way was up and how far he could safely wobble without falling over.

The moment passed.

“…Betty…?” Scott hissed in the darkness, ears straining for the hint of a footfall.

“It’s okay, here I am, Lover.”

Scott caught himself with a start.

He stood there, trembling, sagging in relief. There was the briefest of sounds and then she was there.

“Betty.”

“Scott.”

She held him and wetness filled his eyes as he clung to her. It was all too brief.

“We’d better go.”

His heart raced and the blood rang in his ears. It was relief and the terror of what came next.

“Yes. It’s just that I didn’t expect it to be so late.” Scott didn’t bother to dry his tears, and he felt a little better now. “Oh, Jesus. I was scared shitless, Honey.”

He let it all out in one big exhalation.

“Oh, God. Thank God.”

She took him by the hand.

“Okay, Scott. Forward twenty steps, and then there’s a small stairs…a bit to the right, and we’re going up.”

With a grin as big as all outdoors on his homely mug, Scott plodded along, checking still, off to the right with his stick and trying to take regular-sized steps.

“Okay, slow down…one or two more…good.”

Scott paused.

First one.

He lifted a foot and located the step with the tip of his cane.

“Upsy-daisy.”

He found the next level and then tapping his way up. The steps must be pretty wide. He negotiated the stairs with a silent Betty holding his hand for reassurance more than anything. Scott had gone up and down stairs a million times on his own. He just needed to know how high and how many. He’d gone up more than one set of stairs on all fours. It was better than dying.

“Three more, Scott.”

“Yes.” His questing cane had already found the flat and level.

If only they had time to talk and the privacy; but other hushed voices nearby ruled that out. They were on the run and interactions should be avoided as much as possible. All kinds of people in the park at night, Scott thought. Betty had to avoid her fellow robots if at all possible, with their total recall and constant recording and feedback links.

There were plenty of other hazards.

You couldn’t rule it out, anything from muggers to dog-walkers and joggers and teenagers drinking.

If they could just get out of the city undetected, they might have a chance. If nothing else, they might get a two or three-day head start while they figured out what to do next.

There was an abrupt burst of laughter, raucous and mean.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

“Say! Dewey! Would you look at that!”

“Ooh-ee.”

***

The tone said it all, and Scott’s neck prickled in sudden fear. Punks, and he caught the faint whiff of alcohol. Betty’s sudden stop and the long silence implied much.

“It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it, little lady?” Someone spat. “Oh, such a little sweetie-pie.”

The accents and emphasis were lewd and carefully offensive.

“Yes, it’s very pleasant.” Betty gave Scott’s bicep a quick squeeze and then let go.

Scott’s imagination ran wild. He could only try to visualize. There were at least three of them.

Shoe scuffs, breathing, giggles off to the right…someone in front and one off to the left as well.

“So, Baby, what do you say you ditch the loser. You can come along and party with us.”

“Yeah!”

“That guy’s nowhere, Baby.” That one had a real scumbag giggle on him. "Why, he can't even really 'preciate ya, can he?"

“We’ll show you a good time!”

More laughs. Someone sloshed a bottle of something. That was the guy to Scott’s immediate right front…

“I’m sorry. We have someplace we need to be.” She was two feet away, a little in front and to Scott’s left.

“We wasn’t asking, lady.”

“Leave her alone.”

“Shut up, Mister Blind-Melon.”

Scott turned angrily. He was about to open his mouth when a hard hand shoved him back. The guy was right there, and he caught himself, teetering on the brink of the eight concrete steps they had just come up.

He stood there unsteadily, knees bent. His feet were apart and he knew where at least one of them was…hard breathing was right there. The guy was drunk and not in that good a shape by the sounds of things, but then Scott wasn’t either. The stick was sort of trailing behind him now.

Come on, Pally…say something.

The guy sniffled and then a hyper-aware Scott had him dead to rights.

Thank you very much, sir.

Make the first one count.

Thanks, Dad.

“What made me do this?” His voice was clear and strong.

Scott imagined the puzzled faces all swinging to him.

“Huh? What?”

“This.”

The cane hummed through the air.

“I wasn’t always blind, you know.”

You fucking bastard.

Scott’s wicked, up, over and around-hand swipe with the cane must have caught the punk smack-dab in the chops. He went right down, although Scott heard him getting up again, too. There were unmistakable sounds.

He couldn’t help but smile.

“Fuckin’ son of a bitch!” There was blood in that mouth, if Scott wasn’t mistaken.

Scott stepped forwards, following the squeals of rage. He was swinging straight down from high overhead, two-handed, giving the man a good caning or at least giving all he had in the attempt.

If nothing else, put on a show—they’d think twice before coming at him again.

He connected with something fleshy more than once and was hoping pure blind luck would give him another face shot on the guy.

The fellow bolted as grunts and gasps came from the other two. Betty didn’t seem to make much noise. 

Whatever she was doing over there sure sounded appropriate. Thuds and soft whumps pretty much said it all. Scott’s breath was ragged and his emotions were all over the place when he turned to help her. There didn’t seem to be much he could do.

He didn’t think he could do much damage to her. Feebly poking away was only going to do so much.

One man said fuck, and then repeated it several times. Someone was groaning and gasping now.

He heard a kind of a crack sound…

If only he could get a clue from the sounds of the scuffle. One of them was cussing, on the ground a few feet away…just a bit to his left.

As for the other one, he might be made of sterner stuff.

There was a snap, a crackle and a pop. There was a scream and then a thud, like when someone drops a bag of cement onto a wheelbarrow…whoever that was, that boy hit metal when he landed.

It was very quiet now. Someone warm and soft in the grip took his hand and led him rather quickly away.

Walk, don’t run, right?

“Betty?”

“It’s okay, Scott.”

He sucked in air. He smelled her, and then she paused. She was taking him in her arms.

She gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Are you okay?”

He cracked a wry grin.

“Yeah. You should see the other guy.” Now that he thought about it, there was a stinging sensation on the left side of his neck.

He put his hand up there but couldn’t find anything wet.

The other guy, or somebody, had managed to connect after all, and Scott dimly recalled feeling something like that in his berserker rage. Something had definitely brushed up against him.

Her soft fingertips touched the wound.

“Am I bleeding?”

“It’s not bad. Just a scratch. A scuff, really. But we’d better go.”

She picked up the pace. They walked for five or six minutes. She was taking him to a dark and very narrow trail leading down into a ravine. She briefed him in a cautious voice. All he had to do was to wait.

“I’ll just go and get our suitcases. I’ll only be a minute or two—they’re right there, okay, Scott? I promise. And I really am sorry about before— ” She would explain later.

“Yeah.” He listened intently.

The wind in the trees covered a multitude of sins, and that was a good thing sometimes. He was getting his breath back now. The adrenalin would subside, or so he hoped. He was a bit trembly in the knees even now, perhaps more so. It was best to think about something else.

It was a good idea to pay attention.

He had the impression there was no one about, at least for fifty, or seventy-five yards or so. Their would-be assailants had been easily tracked, with his not particularly exceptional hearing, back out to the street-lights and some other solace. First-aid of one kind or another would be in order, at least for one or two of them, but the yelps and heartfelt curses indicated that the body count was low enough.

“What did you do to them?”

There was a dog out there.

He heard an adult woman calling a dog, and more barks as if in answer from somewhere behind him. She was off in front somewhere. The highway must be nearby. There was the constant thrum from the north-west, or so he thought.

He heard a creek or rivulet down below, directly in front of him.

He could always turn and pretend to stare off in another direction.

It was like getting on an elevator and facing the back.

What difference did it make?

Betty had slipped off and wherever she was, she wasn’t answering. He had the impression there was a fog rising. Whether or not it was starry, or moonlit, what difference would it make?

A bit of fog would be good cover.

Scott stood there, with the end of the cane firmly planted as an anchor against an uncertain Fate. he listened to the sounds of the night, both up close and personal, and far off. There was something funny going on. He lifted the end of this constant companion and felt it. It seemed like a couple of inches was shredded, and maybe a bit of it was even missing.

Hopefully someone had that embedded in them…it complicated matters. He relied on that thing, at least when out of doors. Now the length would be all wrong.

That was the thing with robots, no heavy breathing.

“Scott.”

When she spoke, a short, sharp burst of adrenalin went through him. His heartbeat subsided, and then she was talking him along a path through a city park. They were still in a patch of forest and brush of some kind. 

He had to listen hard, as she had both hands full with the luggage. She was quiet enough, just sort of muttering encouragement as they went.

He walked along at her right side.

He’d never been in that particular park before and it was all very well.

It was better than sitting at home listening to the boob-tube.

Scott would have given his left nut to see the look on that guy’s face.


END



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Publishing System Revamp; Tooth-to-Tail Ratio.

The old front matter.









Louis Shalako



“Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.” > Ayn Rand.

***

Here at Shalako Publishing and Long Cool One Books we’re sixteen days into a massive revamp of our publishing system.

While many of the changes are behind the scenes or otherwise invisible to readers, (metadata or changes in formatting for example), there are a number of new cover images and we have refreshed or otherwise breathed new life into half a dozen older ones. We’ve punched up the blurbs a bit and just tried to think things through with the clarity of twenty-twenty hindsight.

Not always a pleasant experience, but sometimes a good thing to do.

Setting aside an entire month might have seemed excessive to begin with, but that might turn out to be simple wisdom.

<A brief report ensues.>


We found two or three missing titles on Amazon, we found half a dozen missing titles on OmniLit, and probably the same number on Google Books. We even found one or two that had never been published on Smashwords.

Simply by trying to get the maximum number of titles up on (or in) the maximum number of stores, we’ve probably added a few horsepower to our publishing machine.

Thinking in terms of passive discoverability, the more titles in more places means, theoretically at least, more sales.

This whole rebuild is geared to passive discoverability.

It’s massive-passive, a phrase I just coined.

New front matter with internal navigation.
We have upgraded and enhanced the front matter in all titles. It’s nicer-looking, it’s easier to read. It’s a better product. We have upgraded virtually all cover images, although there are one or two that I for one would like to find a better image for.

Until that happens, we’re stuck with the one we got.

In terms of front matter, I was frankly shocked when looking at something I had personally formatted back in 2010 when the world was still young and I was just setting out.

The new layout is much better.

The strange thing was, the book probably made it into the Smashwords Premium Distribution Catalogue and consequently, that would be why I never thought about it again.

But it’s a good idea to schedule another rebuild, or at least another quality control audit, for sometime in the future.

After working at this for a solid month, I reckon it will be time to move on.

We went over the blogs and the websites to ensure that all images are current. Moreover, we took another look at the buy links. If a platform isn’t a big seller, love or loyalty should not be enough to induce us to link to them all the time.

In terms of passive discoverability, it makes more sense to lead readers to an iTunes as opposed to someplace where I might have sold three books in the last twelve months. Let’s say I’m only selling three books a month on iTunes. A good point, but why not try to make it four a month, as opposed to four a year?

Bear in mind that you’re sending the exact same amount of traffic to either store…why not make it a more effective store?

All of this is cumulative over time. It builds on itself, (or at least it’s supposed to, and it seems like it is sometimes) but all of that was being hampered by unprofessional presentation.

What the hell, eh? There is a learning curve to everything, and I did not come from any sort of literary or publishing background. It was all learned the hard way, from the ground up.

Looking back, I guess that kind of shows, especially in the early works.

I have no real regrets about that, ladies and gentlemen.

I just wanted to see how it worked or something. But if it really is a machine, then there is nothing that I can’t learn about it or understand about it.

It doesn’t work by magic after all.

I guess that’s one good reason to take it all apart.

When I put it all back together, it will run better and be a little more efficient.

***

A customer that follows a link to your book on any given store is more likely to be presented with one of your books in the future. The customer is more likely to have an account, and to buy books, on the bigger and more famous platforms.

Those bigger platforms have more browsing customers who might see the ‘the last customer who looked at this book also looked at this book’ and (insert your name here) comes up as a suggestion. I even found a link on my website leading to the now-defunct Sony Ereader store.

That’s simply unnecessary, and useless to a prospective reader.

The point is that iTunes has a zillion times the traffic compared to some other outlets.

The even bigger point is that one or two of my books had never sold a copy, for example on Amazon. When I looked at them this time around in the previewer, the font size in them was like thirty-six point. It should be twelve, and they had the old front matter as well. It probably looked fine on Smashwords when I downloaded epub and Kindle versions, and so I just loaded it up on Amazon. But there would be a reason why that book never sold. Any customer who previewed it would just move on.

Passive discoverability doesn’t work for a badly-formatted book, or one with a bad cover. Giving away large numbers of bad books doesn’t help much either.

Also, there were issues with the tags, and the categories, in fact one book had no tags at all entered on Amazon.

One title had the last letter left off the author’s name…the list goes on. Some were listed with the author as publisher, some said Shalako Publishing and others said Long Cool One Books…

The list goes on.

If it takes another fifteen days to finish all this, that is an investment of time and effort that might have a surprisingly long tooth-to-tail ratio.

There's something to be said for peace of mind as well.

We can only speculate as to tooth-to-tail ratio.
Because I got to be honest about one thing, all of the little screw-ups undoubtedly had a long tooth-to-tail ratio in the negative sense..I mean, really long.

Also on the list for this revamp would be getting fourteen or so titles on Createspace into the last free distribution channel and out into the big catalogues. There’s some time involved there.

Also, wouldn’t it be nice to clean up some of these folders on the old PC. I could get rid of a bajillion duplicate files and make things easier to find. Also, when you do make a correction or revision, it would sure be nice to be able to quickly pick the most recent one to work on…rather than something from four years ago. I know I’ve made that blunder somewhere along the way.

Other than that, writing a quick little blog post sure was a nice break from what could be sheer misery if one was in the wrong frame of mind about it.

So far we’re doing fair to middlin’ with the mental challenges.

Yup. As it is, I have ‘thorough’ inked with a ball-point on the back of my left hand, and ‘patience’ on the back of my right.

What’s kind of interesting is that I started off as just some guy who wanted to learn how to write.

All of this other stuff is the result of setting off down that trail over thirty years ago, if you can believe it.

***

So what does all this have to do with Ayn Rand?

Not much, I guess.

Sorry about that.

***

I suppose that’s almost too much information, and that will have to do for now anyways, ladies and gentlemen.

End


P.S.:

Here is my Author Spotlight on Lulu, where clearly Redemption needs a new cover and my original Case of the Curious Killers 4 x 7" POD is looking tired as well. I can't publish Heaven Is Too Far Away because it's 966 pages and the limit for a 4 x 7" POD on Lulu is 740 as I recall.

That involved resizing 5 x 8" POD files and using a resized .jpg. Simple enough, but finding the files took some time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 5.

Eight million stories in the naked city. This is just one of them.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

***

Louis Shalako


Olympia Cartier reminded herself that frowning gave one age lines.

“Darryl.”

The servant inclined its head.

“Yes, Madame?”

“Get that policeman on the phone.”

“Inspector MacBride?”

She nodded.

“That’s the one.”

“One moment please.”

Olympia stood uncertainly in front of the panoramic view, the entire floor ringed by glass. It was one of the better views in Manhattan.

“Hello. Gene MacBride here.”

“Inspector.”

“Yes, Mrs. Cartier?” The fellow was desperately trying not to sound impatient, she understood that.

She was desperately trying not to appear impatient with him and the police in general.

If only someone could tell her, for sure, what happened.

“I was just wondering if we had any new information. On Betty.”

“Ah, no, not really, Mrs. Cartier. These things have a way of resolving themselves, one way or another.” He paused. “If the thing fell in the river or something like that, it would float. It has a transponder and emergency beacons. But the opinions we’re getting from the company and other experts is that it looks like some kind of malfunction.”

They had told her, and her husband, the same thing. This was all based on her statements. What she knew—all she knew, really; was that Betty had been there a few minutes before, and then when next she thought of it, Betty was gone.

But why?

And how?

The hallway cameras showed her opening up the door and walking out as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Which it was, and their servants came and went on a routine basis. 

The only problem was that Betty didn't come back.

“The insurance company is going to be a problem.”

“Ah, yes. Why do you say that?” The Inspector was sympathetic, and the Cartiers were important people. “All you can do is to file the report, I mean the claim, and if necessary, get a lawyer. But they’re just looking to cover their—ah, you know, backsides, Ma’am.”

It struck him just what the problem really was.

“It’s okay, Olympia. I understand. You’re worried about her, of course. They're very human in appearance, and it’s no wonder people take a shine to them…am I right?” The caller was very quiet, and her eyes were on the floor between them. “You’re sort of worrying rather needlessly about Betty, don’t you think? And of course there’s all this pressure, right?”

Pressure to settle with the insurance company, pressure to prove a warranty issue with the manufacturer, pressure to sue, pressure to make a complaint, provide information, talk it over with the husband, pick out the new model, maybe with a few upgrades or a new colour or hair-do or something. He understood the situation well enough.

She felt violated.

She didn't know what to do about it, but time healed all wounds.

Put a little spit on there and walk it off, lady.

“Uh-huh.” Inspector MacBride had seen a few little old ladies and their lost-doggy issues, she realized.

There was the hint of humour in her voice when she responded.

“Well, Inspector. It really is kind of a mystery.” Olympia took a deep breath and then made up her mind as to whether to say it or not.

He would think her quite mad.

“But...I mean, why? Why in the blue blazes would she just up and walk off like that?”

“Well. That really is the question, isn’t it?”

And the manufacturers would be asking themselves the same set of questions, and probably not liking the answers too much. Too much at stake—too much market share, too much liability, too much that could go wrong in a hyper-paranoid world that was nevertheless addicted to what people called tech as if they knew how it worked or could actually grind out the smallest and simplest component in their backyard machine shop.

There were millions of lesser robots out there, and there had been recalls in the past. There were the inevitable horror stories making the rounds.

The Inspector’s calm visage nodded thoughtfully in her big screen, as other detectives milled around in the background of the shot.

“That’s definitely one of the questions we’re asking, Olympia. But we’re, ah, you know, a little bit out of our depth, and that’s why we’re talking to all the experts.” When we get a minute, it would be better not to say.

Hopefully she got it in the diplomatic sense.

“I keep wondering if it was something I said…” There was a tone of wonder there.

He suppressed any quick changes in expression as best he could.

Lord, love a duck—and that time, he was afraid he wasn’t quite fast enough in the controlling of his demeanour.

***

“Call from Mister Cartier.”

Olympia looked up from the settee, overstuffed and upholstered in lush red velvet. It carefully replicated a piece that could have graced Versailles at the time of Marie Antoinette.

“Thank you, Darryl.”

“I’m Stephen.”

“Ah. Sorry.”

“That’s quite all right, Madame.”

The screen flickered and lit up again.

Her husband, looking long and lean and all of his fifty-seven years at that moment in time, was in the back of his car. It looked to be somewhere on the Turnpike. Any turnpike. In any city of the world, and it probably was.

Quite frankly, she had forgotten where he was today.

“How are you, dearest?”

“Oh, fine. And how are you, lover?”

“Shit. The usual, honey. Gump’s flying in from Rio. He says he has to see me straight away and that it’s, and I quote: important and confidential.”

“I wonder what that means.”

“I wish he wouldn’t call it a loan—it grates on me, that’s all I’m saying. Charity I can understand. Gump just pisses me off with all of his gyrations. So how was your day?”

“It’s still early here. But so-so.” Olympia waved over a servant, pausing theatrically at the archway, the luncheon trolley poised to strike.

“It’s still early there? In other words one of them kind of days. Okay, listen up, Honey. I doubt very much if we’ll get back tonight.” Her husband was on a trade delegation to Sumatra or something, she recalled.

Somewhere like that, but she had her own interests and so she never had to be bored if she didn't want to.

“Yes, not unexpected. We’ll just have to do without you.” Her favourite dwarf, Sylphie, crawled into her lap.

The child had a fetal-alcohol syndrome look about the eyes and forehead, and Olympia stroked her hair as the child looked up in a kind of cheerful worship.

Olympia was allergic to dogs and cats, and for some reason the artificial ones had never appealed to her.

The robotic boys and girls were different, so much more satisfying.

They were like dolls that could talk. And you could switch them off if they became insufferable.

***

Danvers was on the line again. He was pressing them to accept a replacement for Betty and sign off on the claim.

Robots and other chattels were covered under the household policy unless otherwise specified. The Cartiers had top-of-the-line coverage, as he kept reminding her.

“Well, then. Why can’t we let the police have a little more time?” Olympia had always liked Betty Blue.

She was one of her favourites, if not the favourite, among her household servants. That one had always had a kind of personality, not like some of the others. Admittedly, the kitchen and maid staff were less expensive models. They weren’t designed to interact in anything other than the simplest ways. But Betty was a companion, designed and programmed as such.

And she really had been special, Olympia had to admit. Darryl, Stephen, Missy, they were all well enough in their own way. It was true they were very much individuals. Olympia wondered if any of them had ever thought of walking off, but she doubted it very much.

There was that ineffable something about Betty.

Night or day meant nothing to Scott.
Betty asked a question once in a while, and while the others did that too, Betty’s seemed a little deeper.

Betty was looking for meaning sometimes, while the others were just looking for answers and instructions, acknowledgement. It was a kind of artificial neediness. The robots were looking for feedback of an infantile nature.

They were looking for reassurance, so that they would be better able to anticipate—and to serve.

Poor Betty Blue.

Was it something I said?

***

Devon entered the room with a bright and cheerful look on his face.

“Devon! Have you seen James?”

“Ah, yes, Auntie. James is on the kitchen level, polishing silverware.” He stopped there, looking puzzled. “Oh, yes. Scissors.”

“Ah.”

“He should be all right on his own for a while, Ma'am.” Devon went to a side-table and pulled out a drawer.

“Hmn.”

“What?”

“It’s funny how you can never find things when you need them.”

“Ask one of the servants, dear.” Devon was a nephew, and a perennial visitor to the lair, especially when he wasn’t in good odor a the Ivy-League school he had attended off and off over the last eight years.

Some day her nephew was going to be a doctor.

***

Night or day meant nothing to Scott of course, and yet it was ironic.

All that technology. They could give a robot eyes and sell them to anyone with the price of admission.

But you could not teach a blind man to see, and there were none so blind as those who refused to look.

“Well. I really got to hand it to you, Buddy.” The security guy was apologetic. "I admire you, I really do."

What a fantastic sense of humour. The guy really was priceless.

Fucking unbelievable.

The station closed at two a.m. and the man had been sitting there patiently waiting for his girl. It hadn’t escaped his notice that the man had a white cane and a rather forlorn look on his face.

“Well, what are you going to do, anyways?” There was a catch in Scott’s voice, when he realized that this meant the station was closed and they were kicking him out.

Betty had specified this exact place. Hours had gone by. She wasn’t there. Sooner or later, he had to move on.

It was a simple equation, just a few symbols, all in a row inside of your head, a language that anyone could understand..

“I’m real sorry, man. There’s a park just across the street. You can sit and watch the entrance and maybe she’ll show up…” The guard’s voice trailed off. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. At least it’s not raining.”

The guard had his doubts, as he’d just been out there and the fine pricks of wet coldness were unmistakable. 

Rain was in the forecast, and rain was on the way. He could smell it.

“The street-light is down to the right about fifty yards.” With an arm in the guard’s careful possession, Scott had little choice but to allow himself to be led off into yet another unknown. “I’m really sorry about this, Mister. If you cross at the light and come back down the other side, you’ll find there’s a park bench right across the street.”

For obvious reasons, the guard would be risking his employment for such a simple courtesy as taking Scott directly over there. That would be all of forty-eight feet.

It's a big world.
***

Scott tapped his way along, killing time and avoiding the dreadful thought that Betty would desert him. The alternatives weren’t much better. She might have been caught, she might have given herself up in spite of her statements. She might have simply gotten lost, or detained, or fallen off a roof or something…anything, really.

It was just as the man had said. He found the intersection, listened to the signals, and the cars.

There were few voices about, but the vehicles were idling tamely enough and he set across on the familiar pong-pong, pong.

Fifty yards north, and fifty yards south. He counted his steps. His questioning stick, held in the right hand and then the left, followed the gutter on his left and then hit something on his right.

He stopped, and slowly explored it. It was indeed a park bench. Across the street, he could almost sense the security guard’s benevolent but ultimately impotent watch.

Scott sat down.

Why didn’t Betty show up?

Think in the proper terms.

What I don’t know I can’t reveal under torture.

Scott smiled, for the first time in hours.

It was a bitter smile.

The realization that he could just get on a bus and go home held its own insidious logic.

The trouble was that he wanted to know what happened. And what happens next?

Good question, he admitted.

There was a peculiar whistle from the park behind him, cutting through the noise of cars, trucks, delivery vehicles and always that persistent hum of voices from somewhere.

The whistle came again.

He’d heard that one a million times.

It started off at a certain pitch, and then it went up, and then it went down.

It was like a bosun’s pipe, only electronic.

Scott was being hailed, from somewhere in the darkness.

His heart thudded. It was closer, more insistent now.

Aw, fucking Jesus, what do I do?

How do I know that’s even her?

And yet it did make a weird kind of sense—she’d been watching the area for hours, most likely.

That had to be it. She'd been waiting.

For fuck’s sakes

Ah, fuck it.

I need to fucking pee anyways.

Scott needed to pee anyways.
I might as well get this over with—whatever happens.

He had the sudden urge to cross himself or something, in spite of a strong overall atheism.

Scott clambered awkwardly to his feet, taking his time about it. There were certain to be bushes and trees and arbitrarily-placed bedding plants and herbaceous borders.

Standing there, he sighed deeply.

The whistle came again, twice.

He felt his way into the unknown.

***

Scott disappeared into the forbidding gloom.

The guard tore his eyes off the street and went back to his regular duty of checking all the rest-rooms for stragglers, and then making sure there were no other drunks or druggies hiding away.

He had the coffee-pot and his tablet. What more did he need?

In another few hours, his relief would show up and then he could go home.



END