|Solace of another kind.|
Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.
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.
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.”
He lifted a foot and located the step with the tip of his cane.
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!”
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.”
“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.
“What made me do this?” His voice was clear and strong.
Scott imagined the puzzled faces all swinging to him.
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?
“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.
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.
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.