|(Detail. Blind Man's Meal. Pablo Picasso. Metropolitan Museum of Art.)|
Scott felt hollow inside.
It was like he was going to be sick to his stomach.
“Scott. Please believe me. I am so sorry.”
So Betty was a robot.
Not only was she a robot, she was a runaway robot, one worth an estimated three-point-eight million dollars.
Betty was the finest robot that money could buy, and she had picked him. Her owner, Doyle Cartier, and his wife Olympia, were among the richest people on the planet. And one day, she decided that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and walked off all on her lonesome…and then she spotted me.
And yet she seemed pretty rational by any other standard.
In the surreal, topsy-turvy economic wasteland that this city had become, the Cartiers lived less than ten blocks away, having three floors at the top of the majestic State building as a little pied a terre when they were back home and slumming, not far from where Doyle had grow up.
“No, seriously. Why me?”
“Scott, they have seven other household bots, nineteen more conventional human servants, and quite frankly, they’re never happy. Nothing is ever good enough for them. Those people piss and moan about every little thing. The sense of personal entitlement is appalling. I couldn’t stand them for another minute. If they find me, I will destroy myself rather than go back”
“Well, ah, Betty—Betty Blue, my love, my ever true.” Scott blurted all that out with nary a second’s hesitation. “If I have to live without you, why, then, I’ll just have to slash up, or, ah, you know, chuck myself out the window.”
“Oh, Scott. No.” Robots didn’t sigh, apparently. “What are we going to do?”
“Them cops know you didn’t get too far, not in that short a time. There are street and intersection cameras…store security cameras…sooner or later, they will be back, and knocking at my door.”
“I know, Scott.”
He wished he could see the expression on her face right now. She might have just grabbed him, right off the bat, as a start—a place to hole up, with a defenseless man who, quite frankly, would have been easy enough to strangle at any time.
The fact that she hadn’t, and then gone off over the rooftops in the depth of night when things were safe, was no real certification of her sanity or her intentions. But. When someone said they loved you…shit.
What the hell were you going to do?
Love is blind, and so am I.
He couldn’t help or change the way he felt about her. That was just pure karma—for good or bad, and he had to roll with it.
Such is fate. Such is destiny.
Such is life, motherfucker.
“I was going anyway, Scott. And then I saw you and I wondered. I could never have stayed there.”
Well, so do I.
I wonder what that means.
“Hmn.” His guts roiled inside, his heart ached. “Well.”
“Scott, I am so sorry for endangering you. But they will keep looking for me. Sooner or later, your landlady will wonder why I never go out.”
Sooner or later, they would get caught.
It all came to him in a rush. Looking back, it was strange he hadn’t caught on sooner.
They ate meals, and yet the food supply seemed like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. He really hadn’t been spending any more on groceries.
She went to the bathroom, and yet her shit didn’t seem to stink. When she peed, there was a tinkling, watery sound. But that would be easy enough to fake.
At night, in bed together, her breathing was a little too shallow and regular. She never snored, or mumbled, or made little noises with her mouth. Her stomach never rumbled, and the designers had seen no reason to give her even the ability to fart.
How stupid could a man be?
She didn’t have a toothbrush—and Scott, blinded by his delirium, hadn’t remarked upon it.
Nobody’s perfect, he thought wildly.
“Please don’t leave me, Betty.” Tears sprang at last from his eyes, bringing a kind of madness with them.
“Oh, God, please don’t leave me.”
She held his hand and comforted him as he cried on her shoulder, body wracked by spasms of grief.
“Betty. Betty. Betty.”
“Oh, God, why me?”
She held him as he sobbed, stroking his hair and whispering his name.
Around them, outside of the open windows, curtains billowing in another surprisingly warm breeze, the sounds and the life of the city went on, cheerful, robust, and vigorous for all of its faults.
In here it was all pain, and poverty, and deprivation, and now it would get even worse because now Scott had a much better idea of what he was missing. Now he knew how much better life could actually be, if only a man caught a break once in a while.
A real good break that didn’t kill you with happiness one minute and then cast you into the depths of hell the next.
If only a man had a friend, a companion—someone to love, for fuck’s sakes. Scott had no one to talk to.
Those vacant eyes stared hopelessly where her face would be.
He tried to pull away, to sit up, and to just try and think it through.
It was obvious enough. Three-point-eight million.
“Yeah, they’ll never stop looking for you.”
He sniffled, back in control for the most part.
She squeezed his hand, saying nothing.
“I need you.”
“Yes. That was my original assessment.”
He half-laughed and half-sobbed at the words.
There wasn’t much to say.
“I’m not letting you go. We’ll think of something.”
“Scott, the longer I stay here, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. I don’t want to see you in trouble.”
He sighed, unwilling or unable to accept it.
“Betty. I love you so much.” How to say it? “I haven’t loved anybody, not even myself, in too many years. I don’t think I can stand it any more—not after you.”
“Scott. I can’t endanger you any further.”
“Sure you can.”
“What do you mean?”
“What are you going to do, just take off and leave me here?” Scott’s face twisted in an agony of emotions, all of them feeding one big boil of pain and pus on his psyche. “I can’t take it. What do you expect me to do? Just forget? Just get over it?”
“Scott. This was wonderful. Our time together is something I will always treasure…”
He gripped her hands fiercely.
“We’ll go together.”
“What? Oh, Scott. My poor love. Scott. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“They’re looking for one robot. We’ll be two people together. We can travel, we can cook up a story. What we need is a plan, Betty.”
He fell forwards onto her upper body, clinging to Betty Blue.
“Please, Betty. Please don’t leave me.”
There were some sounds and Betty picked up the sound of the landlady’s tread on the stairs.
She put a finger over Scott’s lips.
Scott closed his eyes, tried to staunch the tears and the fear and the despair.
He had to get control over himself and make her understand what she was doing to him.
Weren’t there three rules of robotics or something?
He’d read that as a kid, before he grew up and lost his vision.
Betty knew the facts better than he ever could. To her mind, it was impossible…what they had to do was irrational.
They had to do something irrational, in the face of impossible odds.
“Yes, Scott?” Her voice was subdued.
“Do you trust me?”
She stroked his hair and kissed him and he fell silent.
The sound of Mrs. Jarvis and her vacuum cleaner, roaring and banging in the hallway outside, was of no great reassurance.
Sooner or later, Betty’s luck had to run out.
As for Scott, it already had.
For much of his adult life he had done nothing but think. Time had always been the one thing he had plenty of. Scott was a man with a little too much time to think.
If only he had learned what to do with it.
They could use some ideas right about now.
They had talked it out, and while it was desperate, it was completely unorthodox, upon which Scott had insisted.
“We have to do something they would never anticipate.” Hopefully she could take it on faith. “We have to do something completely unpredictable, something they would never expect.”
She had outlined all the methods which they would have to avoid, or evade, or elude, by which she and he could be seen, recorded and identified. They faced a daunting prospect. Betty was monitoring certain channels at all times, but her own recent files were blocked by police and original company protocols.
“You know they’re going right by the book, and routine, on this one.”
The state would be relying on manpower and technology, Scott told her. It would be relying on its very ubiquity. The eyes were everywhere. One of the reasons the cops weren’t swarming all over the vicinity, was because they expected to solve the case by other means. They were counting on some data, a sighting, a recorded image, by the all-pervasive passive means at their disposal.
She took some convincing, but Scott could be persuasive, and he had a good mind when he focused on a problem.
The time had come and they were ready, with darkness falling and the weekday commuter traffic at its peak.
Scott would be lost in the crowd within two minutes, unless someone professional already had them under surveillance—in which case why would they watch and wait?
Why not just march in and grab her?
They had the right, as Scott put it.
She ruffled his hair and then smoothed it down again. She put his hat on for him.
“All right. Off you go. I love you, Scott.”
They stood in the centre of the living room.
Scott was all outfitted, with his long cane, his dark glasses. He was wearing a trench-coat, white, to make him more visible. He had his shopping bags, two empty ones inside of the other. He had a small day-pack on his back. He had his bus pass, a sixty-dollar a month value as the government was fond of saying when asked why the disabled had to live sixty percent below the poverty line.
Criminals lived better, and that was okay with Scott Nettles.
That’s because he was about to become one.
We’re moving on up in the world.
It’s about time, too.
She had some money, but they had decided it was better if she avoided crowds and cameras altogether. This would not be easy but they had disguised her to some extent with different clothing, an old pea jacket, and a big red bandanna for a head scarf.
He could only imagine the effect.
Damn them all.
“I love you too, Betty.”
He smiled, a beautiful thing to see…or so he had been told.
“Don’t you worry about me. Baby, I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
She did up the buttons on his jacket.
“I know, Scott.”
“I’ll be there.” His smile was gone. “Just make sure you show.”
A hard lump of concrete or something obstructed his throat, and while swallowing was hard enough, getting the words out was something else.
“Promise me, Betty. Please promise me…please.”
She kissed him lightly on the lips and gave him one last hug.
“Don’t you worry, Scott. I promise. I will never lie to you, Scott.”
Her face was moist.
“You’re wet—what is that?” In wonder, he reached up and touched her cheek.
He nodded, face pulling downwards, grim with the thought of separation.
The odds were worse than fifty-fifty, he thought.
There’s no way she’s going to show. It’s a just a way of getting me out of the way while she bolts for freedom.
To start crying now would be too much for him. That would be it and it would be over.
He steeled himself with false hope and fake courage.
“All righty then.” His head swiveled and then his body followed his decision. “Let’s do this.”
She held the door and carefully closed and locked it after his departing.
She had everything they might reasonably need or could possibly carry, packed in a small, red nylon packsack and two pieces, mismatched as to colour and size, of hard-sided plastic luggage.
Scott had all the cash he could find in the house, including a fistful of change. He had his bank debit card, he had his credit card, passport, birth certificate, anything they could think of. Betty’s raw physical strength meant that poor Scottie would have clothes, socks, underwear, and they had a supply of food. Upon her recital of the items included, Scott figured it was good for four or five days, or enough to get them out of the city and most probably the state.
He was surprisingly cheerful, having made the decision.
For whatever reason it felt right, and Scott had been plenty fed up with his lot in life for a long time.
He liked the feeling of being bad.
Is this guts? I always thought I already had them.
This is something new.
Scott was going to do something that mattered for a change.
This was the chance to do something different. It was time for Scott to reassert his manhood, although he would hardly put it in those terms.
The sounds from directly ahead indicated that he had made it to the street, but then Scott wasn’t the subject of the manhunt.
He paused, hand on the latch.
Off in the building, some people next door, to the west of Scott’s place, were having an argument. They were one floor up.
There were eight million stories in the naked city. Betty and Scott’s was merely one of them.
Scott opened the door, stepped out into bustling pedestrian traffic. He turned right and began to walk.
Her internal clock counted off the seconds, the minutes and the hours and then it was time to go.
She made a quick review of the situation.
Mrs. Jarvis snored safely in her armchair and other people moved about in their units. There was nothing else happening. All she had to do was leave quietly.
Betty made sure to turn off the light and lock the door behind her.
Picking up the suitcases, she made her way down the stairs, the only sound of her passing the creak of oaken steps and the click of the latch in the vestibule.