Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 7.

Under the highway.

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

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 7.

Louis Shalako

Things could have been worse, although they were wet, and Scott for one was getting ravenously hungry. He was thirsty as hell and kept dreaming of a cold beer, which she had promised him at some point to keep up morale when he flagged a bit.

Scott was getting tired, and he told her so.

She digested that bit in silence.

“Scott. There’s something I want you to know.”

“Sure, Honey. What is it?”

She was lost in thought for a second, but Scott wasn't going anywhere.

“I can have babies, Scott.”

That was right—it was on the TV and everything, about artificial wombs and how robots could be surrogate mothers for folks who were infertile, or sterile, or perhaps couldn’t see their way to adoption. There was a big demand for certain types of babies. Adoption was tough because demand was high.

“Well. So can I. Big deal.”

She tried to chuckle but it didn’t come off so well.

“But underneath, I really am just a robot. Scott. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to…I mean, really, Lover.”

Scott thought about that for all of thirty seconds.

"Scott. I can have babies."
His words, when they came, were oddly serene, calm, even.

He grinned crookedly.

“Oh, no, Baby. This is the perfect revenge.” He bit his lip, and bit back some tears as well.

The perfect revenge for a forgotten life.

A couple of spasms went through him, and he took a big breath.

Fuck the world, anyways.

 “Where in the hell have you been all my life? Wild horses couldn’t drag me away at this point, Baby…Betty Blue.”

He sang a little tune.

“Betty Blue, where are you? Get it, Honey? Betty Blue!” He laughed. “Baby, baby baby…Betty Blue, where are you?” It had a kind of ship-shap, retro-doof beat to it.

“Boy, you really are getting tired. Anyway, we’d better…”


The sounds of an unfamiliar location were all around. They had followed the paths to the end of the park. 

Scott had endured a terrifying descent into the ravine, hanging onto saplings and roots all the way, followed by the entrance into the culvert, and then across under the highway, along the deep ditch, half a mile or so of that, and then some more fields, woods, brush. It was all wasteland and industrial decay. 

Pop open the nearest manhole cover and you're home-free, Baby.

He was taking it all on faith.

They were in the warehouse district. Whether on her own, or when they were together, they had to avoid cameras and drones. While Betty’s transponder was switched off, she could still be pinged passively at almost every street-corner, and she couldn’t shut that part down. It was a fail-safe from the manufacturer. 

The parts were inside of her, they were real small, and Scott obviously couldn’t do the work of cutting the fine wires even if they did get a chance to get her access panels open.

His mind reeled when she said that…Betty would block out the pain, or so she said, but under her natural skin was a chassis.

And a very nice chassis it was, too, or so he assured her.

But there was just no way, and hence their stealth, and all this creeping about in dark sewers.

According to Betty, they were in a culvert. Also according to Betty, there was some kind of rave party going on up above. It was on private property, but the cops were all around. She’d spent twenty minutes or half an hour scouting the place while he rested as best he could in ankle-deep water.

“So. What do we do?”

He sensed her quick grin.

“I’ll bet I’m going to love it.”

“Of course you are—George.”


“George, and from now on my name is…” She hesitated a moment too long.

“Giselle—no, Gigi.”

She chuckled, the sound sepulchral in the enclosed tubular space.

The whanging and banging up above, the sweet and saccharine sounds of some real oldies, Agnes L. Dildoe, and Beyond Belief, and Baby Goo-Goo or whatever her name was, dispelled any fears that they might be overheard.

“I would prefer Sushi, or almost anything, rather than that.”

“Okay, what name do you want?”


He laughed. Somebody somewhere was missing a purse.

“Sure. Why not.”

Scott, now George, sort of saw where this was headed.

“So—we pop up and then just walk right out the front door. Right?”




“I’m listening.”

The pair squatted in six inches of unpleasantly warm sewage. Luckily, this was a storm sewer, but even so. 

There would be everything in here, everything from gasoline, motor oil and brake fluid, to dead squirrels, dead birds, rotting debris, in fact all kinds of stuff coming down off of the streets.

Considering human propensities, and the inevitable dogs, cats and urban wildlife, no doubt there would be some piss and shit in there as well.

It didn’t smell all that bad, and unlike a film version, there were no shrieking, squeaking, highly-aggressive rats to be heard in the wings. Also unlike the film version, no one threw a cat at them at an opportune moment, of which there were one or two…

She held his head, kissed him on the lips, and then he saw a flood of warm light in his eyes as she worked. 

Betty’s eyes were good enough for most purposes in low light, but for this job proper illumination was best.

“This is an earpiece.”

Her warm, gentle fingers pushed it firmly into place.

She took off his ball cap and threw it away. She took his sunglasses for safekeeping. He changed coats, finding the thing a bit short in the arms. It smelled of another man’s aftershave.

“You look a bit like him in the photo on the driver’s license.”

“If we get asked for I.D. we’re done anyways.”

She ignored it. It was obvious enough. The odd light in his eyes went off.

“So what’s going to happen, George, is that you are going to walk out of here. All on your lonesome.”

His jaw dropped.

“And you’re going to talk me through it?”

Scott shook his head.

“Nah. I mean, I don’t think I can do it.”

He didn’t think it was humanly possible. It sounded pretty damned crazy up there.


He sighed.

“Of course I’ll do it. Anything for you, dear.” It made a weird kind of sense. “Hey. It’ll be fun.”

The logic was good. The cops couldn’t care less what happened to him.

But if Betty was spotted on camera, anywhere, they were both goners. And they’d be watching this place like a hawk. In that sense, they were coming out of the Trojan Horse. They were coming out openly, out of the ass end to be sure…but it was the wrong guys, from the cops’ point of view. It made a weird kind of sense.

“So…ah, how is this supposed to work?” Scott pulled her in close. “Don’t worry, Baby. I ain’t skeered a nothin’. But…”

“I’ll be right with you at all times. At least until you get outside the gate. Here’s your ticket stub, here’s your wallet and I.D.” The real problem with the lapel cameras was the small lens, and in low light, with a lot of distractions, Scott had better be prepared for anything.

He might be on his own, all too unexpectedly.

The wallet felt fat and heavy in his hand. He could literally smell the thing, even in here. He opened it up and had a quick riffle through it.

There was some money in there, a couple of hundred at least.

“Nice.” Scott wondered what the guy's credit limit might be.

“Put it away.”

He stuck it in his pocket. He gave her his wallet. She’d have all of their luggage to deal with. What he had in the small backpack wouldn’t get him very far.

Scott nodded in contemplation. The plan would get him out the gate. They were safe enough at this exact moment. 

The cops wouldn’t come on private property without a complaint, for one thing. And for another, they would probably just let the party go on. 

They would sit down the road and pull over cars coming out, looking for drugs, booze, contraband of all sorts…but he, and Betty as well, would be clean. Betty had boundless energy and could go across country for days.

It had interesting possibilities.

“So who’s this George guy?”

 “He’s sleeping off a good drunk, quite the chemical cocktail, actually.”

"Can he dance?"

She laughed. The humour in her voice belied her own worries.

If the cops knew her and Scott were together, they’d pick him off by retinal scan or remote facial recognition via the ubiquitous overhead cop-drones, flying pigs people called them. And if they had Scott, then they had her. But they would only go in for the retinal scan if something triggered their suspicions. 

There were civil liberties and privacy issues involved, as Scott recalled. They were still taking a chance, going out right past their noses.

“I’ll believe it when pigs can fly.”

She slapped him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, George. I promise not to tell your mother about all this.”

Scott snorted.

“All right. I go up the ladder…”

“That’s right. I’ll lift the cover for you, or at least help lift it. You step out. You’ll turn exactly eighty-seven degrees to your left.” She had pinned a miniature cam-phone-GPS pin to his lapel.

All the kids had them now, that and the Googgles. Apparently they could play games and drive in a never-ending Disneyland, shit like that, as Scott knew.

Betty would follow the drainage tunnels, the ditches, and meet him somewhere away from all the cameras. If only he could get there on his own.

Not being sighted himself, the whole subject of gaming had always been a crashing bore to him. He’d been walking around in front of those cameras for his entire life. He figured he was pretty much invisible, as long as he had the stick.

“And then I just walk out the front door.”

“Yes. The cab will be waiting when you get there.”

By her own information, streaming in constantly over the net, the car was a scant six or seven blocks away.

“We’d better get going.”

She took his hand and the pair straightened up. Scott allowed the stick to fall from his hand and the current, slight as it was for the fairly dry season in this part of the state, carried it off.

She lifted his left hand and put it on a rung, half an inch thick and with the paint worn off from the tread of a thousand work-boots. His right hand found the rung above it.

“Twenty-seven rungs, straight up.”

Scott, or George now, lifted his right leg.

“In for a penny, in for a pound.” He began to climb. “What the fuck, eh? Life is beautiful.”

“Scott.” She was climbing right along with him, so close that if he fell back, he was essentially trapped by her body. “Everything is going to be all right.”

There was no way she was going to let him fall. She was strong enough to make it work. She’d just wrap an arm around him and carry him back down, one-handed. The funny thing was, he really wasn’t scared.

This was necessary.

It was even a pretty good plan, although he had no real idea of what came next. They’d talked about it, of course, his ideas wilder than hers. She was the one with all the information.

His heart rate settled and he had to be about six rungs from the top. Even the sound of his breathing was different. He was right there.

“It’s okay, Baby. Can you back off a bit? You’re crowding me.” He climbed another rung.

He supposed it didn’t pay to get too cocky, but—but.

The truth was, that they were really doing this.

Scott Nettles and his girlfriend Betty Blue were really doing it.

They were escaping. 


Would you imagine that?

Me. With a fucking girlfriend.


“George. I have to be able to help you lift it, it’s really heavy—” Ninety kilos of high-grade bronze is what it was, the city sparing no expense when it came to sewers in suburbia.

This was no inner-city outreach program for the disabled, the mentally-ill, the homeless and the permanently unemployable.


Some kind of rave party going on. > Rave is King. (Wiki.)
“Holy, Jesus! Where in the fuck did you come from, man?”

At his feet, the manhole cover settled quietly back into place.

The noise, perhaps music was too kind a word, was horrendously loud. He cringed and grimaced.

Scott straightened fully. He waved his arms a bit and shuffled his feet as much as he dared. He made his head go back and forth like a chicken.

The shoes were squishing with water, which could be a dead give-away if anyone really looked.

He had to blend in. Composing his features as best he could, he pondered the question.

“Yeah. Where did you come from?” The voices were everywhere, but he seemed to have popped up right in a clump of dancers, mostly female.

This one was a guy.

The rushing as of winds was all around him, and the smells, of cannabis, alcohol, perfume and sweat and piss and shit and candy-floss, if one might believe it, were all mixed up into one unforgettable fog.

“I’m not Jesus, although your mistake is a natural one.”

Those nearest or paying any attention at all laughed. Scott, or rather George, practically had to bellow to be heard.

"Yeah, really, it happens all the time..." More laughs.

In his ear, Betty’s clear voice was calm but insistent.

“Don’t get distracted. Just say excuse me and try and go north…to your immediate left.”

“Excuse me.” He raised his voice. “Excuse me…coming through...”

Trying desperately not to fall on someone, making inevitable body contact here and there, with flailing arms and limbs moving the air in tight little zephyrs, and even with the odds and ends of someone’s hair in his mouth as he opened it to speak again, he tried to force his way through.

“Hey, man!”

“I am so sorry.”

 “Watch where you’re going!”

“I am really sorry. You have my deepest apologies…”

The tone of that voice was really angry.

“You fuckin’ doof!”

“It’s just that I’m blind, you see, and I dropped my cane, and I just want to find the gate.”

“You’re what? What, are you fucking blind…?”

The tone was incredulous, and Scott wondered just how fucked-up this person was.

The time for bellowing was now.

“Yes. Yes, sir. I’m fucking blind—now do you get it…Buddy?” Scott almost said ‘asshole’ but stopped himself in the nick of time.

There was no such thing as silence to be had in such a venue, but Scott had the impression the guy hadn’t gone away.

“My name is George…can you please help me get to the gate?”

A hard hand clamped on his upper bicep.

“All right, Bud. Sure, no problem.”

In his ear Betty was encouraging him, and the music was much too loud, and for a moment Scott did feel real fear.

“My name is George.”

“Yeah, I’m Sluggo. I’m real glad to meet you, George.”

They must have gone fifty or sixty yards, with Sluggo, what kind of a name was that? Sluggo leading him along, friendly enough now that he understood the situation. Drunk as a skunk, high on everything, smelling of sweat and a few other things, but helpful nonetheless. The guy’s breathing was still loud enough, he must have been dancing up a storm.

“I really am sorry about that.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you don’t look the type.”

Scott couldn’t help but smile. Sluggo was referring to the fact that Scott had inadvertently patted him on the bum while trying to negotiate a way through the frenzy of drug-fueled whirling dervishes, several hundred or even a thousand of them between him and the exit to the park.

Betty was right there in his ear.

“George. You’re right there. Say thank you to the nice man.”

“Okay, Bud, here we are…this is the gate. These guys—” Presumably he was referring to security, of which even raves had some, as tickets and alcohol were sold and things could get rowdy sometimes. “These guys will take care of you, okay, Mister?”

“My name is George. Thank you ever so much—” He stuck out a hand but the other guy didn't take it.

That's life, eh?

“Yeah, whatever. I’m Sluggo. And stop grabbing people’s asses—that sort of thing will get you in trouble someday.”

Scott grinned. Something poked him in the chest and he figured that was just Sluggo’s way of saying goodbye.

There were people right there, he could hear them talking.

“Excuse me. I’m a blind man and I’ve lost my cane—”

“Oh, dear! Yes, sir, what can we do for you?" Again, someone took him by the upper arm.

He sensed he was the centre of attention, out there on the fringes of the insanity, where the music was a little more bearable in terms of volume and somebody had to stay sober, or relatively sober in order to justify their wages…as opposed to merely partying with the rest of them. That’s not to say they weren’t dancing, or just grooving to the music a little, because for some reason Scott rather had the impression they were.

He smelled several different kinds of dope here too.

“Just point me to the door, my good fellow.”

“Actually, I am a trans-gendered individual.”

Scott grinned in appreciation.

“See—I knew that, I just wanted to hear you talk.”

The small crowd there laughed and made a few comments which they both ignored as best they could.

“All right, sir, we’re just going to take your hand. The exit is right this way.”

“Thank you.”

“Can I call someone for you, sir?”

“I believe I have a taxi coming.”

Betty was right there.

“Central Cab, Car Eighteen. The number’s on the door.”

Scott relayed the information as confidently as he could.

“All right, sir, we’ll just stay with you until it arrives.”

There was a crowd outside the gates as well, which served as something of a distraction to his benefactors. 

This was a good thing. They answered questions from youthful voices pretty good-naturedly and their attention was elsewhere.

All Scott wanted was to hear the sound of a car arriving.

“It’s got to be right on you, Scott.”

He lifted a wrist and pretended to check a non-existent wristwatch.

“Where is that pesky fellow?”

No one laughed, or even noticed, judging by the response.

“Ah. Here we are.” The hand squeezed his arm and led him forwards.

“Is that number eighteen? Because somebody else might have called for a taxi.”

“No, this is yours, sir. Have a pleasant evening.” The security guard opened the car door and helped him find his way in. “We certainly hope you enjoyed the music.”

Scott paused on the brink of slamming the door closed.

“May I ask you a personal question?”


“What…what do you plan to be?” It was obscure, but the guard knew what he meant.

“I hope to be a girl someday. Have a pleasant evening, sir.”

It was absolutely deadpan and absolutely perfect as well.

“Ah. Well. Good luck and all that sort of thing.” He paused again. “Who’s your friend?”

“Dave.” This was a new voice, one even deeper than the first guard.

“Dave? How come you never said anything before?” It was weak stuff, but presumably, he was drunk, stoned and just being silly.

He sensed the tolerant looks they exchanged, how he knew that was pure cliché of course.

“Dave’s the strong silent type. Anyhow, thank you.”

“Thank you, too.” Scott closed the door.

Yeah, good luck with that, Buddy.

"Where to, sir or madam?" The car's voice sounded like someone had poked holes in the speakers with a piece of wire or a knitting needle or something. "It's a pleasant evening, isn't it?"

Betty was right there in his ear, and she had an answer for that one, too.


Inspector MacBride was at home, in bed, with his wife sitting upright, propped up by pillows, reading beside him. He was just in that fuzzy state where he was convinced that sleep was indeed possible, this in spite of fifteen cups of coffee over the course of the day, and a flaming row with the eldest son on the inspector’s arrival home from work.

It was the end of a long day and he’d earned his rest, and it was right about then that the telephone buzzed. 

It was on her side of the bed.

“Shit. Honey.”

Inspector MacBride opened his eyes, sighed deeply and rolled over.

He took the phone.

He was used to such calls, never welcome but usually important.

“Yes. MacBride.”

“Dave Parsons. Thirty-Eighth Precinct.”

“Yes?” Gene MacBride struggled with his one free arm to sit up in the bed.

He snapped on the bedside light on his side and reached for his pen and note-pad.

Parsons. 38th.

“We’ve got a funny one here. Assault in a park. Victims say it was a blind man—and a robot.”


“A robot with long, sexy legs.”


They were getting all kinds of crank reports on this one.

“Yeah, well, eh. I just thought you’d like to know.”

Up till now it was mostly just sightings.

An assault. He liked it.

“So what happened? I mean, allegedly?”

Parsons laughed.

“Yeah, I hear you, man.” The voice, a man Gene had never met, although he might know the face to see it, went on. “Apparently these three punks were innocently minding their own business—which in my humble opinion, involves petty drug sales, petty theft, assault, petty extortion if there is such a thing, not above the odd dope-fueled date-rape, making bad porn and grand theft auto. Gang-bangers, anyway, you get the picture. But they say they were jumped by a blind man and a robot, who beat them up pretty bad. Oh, yeah. All for no reason at all.”

“Really? How bad?”

“Broken collar-bone, broken humerus, broken wrist, fingers, two victims there, a broken orbit over the left eye, broken cheekbone, broken jaw, broken noses, two, ah, fat lips, black eyes, cuts, scrapes, abrasions and contusions—the one guy says, ‘she’s real strong, almost strangled me to death’…it goes on, mostly nonsense about how they weren't doing nothing to provoke it.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute…how many victims?”

“Three, sir. Apparently the blind guy can fight too. They say he’s like fucking Bruce Lee—sorry, sir, that’s a direct quote from one of our, ah, victims…sir.”

Parsons went on.

“This is straight from street intelligence. They had to find a doctor and like the fools they are, they went straight to the nearest emerg and started making a lot of noise.”

He digested that thought. A blind man and a robot with long, sexy legs, beating up three hardcases for no reason. 

But that was the story.

Yeah, sure they did. I'll just bet they did.

If nothing else, it was unusual. And the victims couldn’t help but talk about it, of course.

That was their turf and they ruled it. They'd be going around making a lot of loud  talk now, wouldn't they?

“Where did this happen, exactly?”

“A park across from a subway station. The incident happened earlier this evening. It was around eleven o’clock, a little after, maybe.”

“Okay. Any leads?”

“I can ask around. You probably don’t remember me, but you did me a favour a couple years back…”

“Well, I sure owe you one now.” Such promises were easily enough made, and kept surprisingly often.

Otherwise you would be a fool to make them.

“Other than that, it’s worth checking out. It’s a quiet night, I can have a couple of my people ask around. We’ll roll all the recordings from the immediate vicinity.”

As far as MacBride was concerned, this was his only real lead in some days, and that made Parsons his best friend of the moment. He also seemed willing to do a little work.

“Thank you, I would appreciate that very much. Where are you again?”

“Patrol Sergeant Parsons. Thirty-Eighth Precinct.”

“Give me a call, okay?”

“Yes, sir. Good night, sir.”

“Good night, Sergeant.”

Gene thoughtfully hung up the phone. It wasn’t like he didn’t have a hundred cases ongoing and a thousand more unsolved if he cared to think about it.

Which he didn’t at this exact moment. But this one was just a little bit different.

That made all the difference in the world sometimes.

‘…she’s real strong…almost strangled me to death.’ Gene Macbride bit his lip.




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