|Need a man, ladies? What size and colour do you want? (Makehuman, Wiki.)|
Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 10.
At one time Gene and Francine had been as thick as thieves. That was before his promotion and the consequent pull of higher administrative duties. They had gone through a lot of doors together, and while the bond was still strong, as friends they had drifted apart.
The conversation was lagging. She just looked tired more than anything, although there was still a chance she could get home by six-thirty or so.
In which case, why call a babysitter at all? Gene could sympathize, but no real harm done.
“The chief thinks I’m sort of dispensable.” Gene chuckled self-consciously. “It’s like, you’re just sitting there watching the people work. I swear, it was on the tip of his tongue.”
The chief wasn’t exactly known for tact in the department, and all press announcements were carefully crafted. All but the most sensational announcements were made by junior press officers, but every once in a while a hostile journalist asked the wrong question. Pressing a little too hard, a little persistence, and it didn’t take too much to set him off.
“Yeah. I wondered about that.”
“The damned thing is worth millions. What interests me is key words.” He blinked, thinking back to their visit to SimTech. “For one thing, we were presented with three, pretty heavy hitters if I am not mistaken…and then they really didn’t say much, did they.”
Her eyebrows rose, although normally she was the patient sort and a good listener.
“No, seriously. What were their key words? I mean, specifically…that crazy old man.”
“Who? You mean, Doctor Piqua?”
She stretched out her spine, rising up in the seat. Two more hours to go…
She looked over.
“Well…he said this is their first major malfunction.”
She stared at Gene.
“So where’s the key word?”
“What if it’s major?”
Francine’s dark eyes glazed slightly and her gaze drifted to the window behind Gene’s profile.
Thin scrub, brightening up nicely with mid-spring temperatures and all the rain, sped by in a blur.
“A major malfunction? What else did he say…in terms of key words.”
“He said it was their first…he said they’re eager to get her back.”
Gene’s voice was soft and far away.
He chewed on his lower lip. A hand came up and stroked the bristles on the chin.
“And that Burch character mentioned public safety and liabilities.”
“I suppose I can see their point. I mean, they must have all the usual problems with anything computer-based these days. Constant upgrades to beat the constant attempts at hacking…the constant bombardment of cyber-attacks from overseas…bugs, glitches, viruses, and then there were all those recalls of the early household models.”
“No doubt they had to be careful what they say.”
“Yes.” The trouble was they did say it, and they weren’t real shy about it, either.
He thought about that for a while: stating the obvious.
His earpiece vibrated.
Francine was drifting off, sagging further in the seat and with her chin lowering perceptibly by the second.
Gene touched the tit on the side of his phone.
He kept his voice low. A nap on company time might do her a bit of good.
Gene wasn’t wearing the Googs as he wanted to relax. They were away from work and in an unfamiliar environment. Just this once, there was time to think. This was often conducive to some kind of inspiration, although there was little sign of it yet.
“Who is this, please?”
“This is Patrol Sergeant Parsons. Thirty-Eighth.”
Gene’s voice picked up in volume.
He sat up a little straighter, reaching for his briefcase and his notepad.
“We have a sighting of Mister Scott Nettles. He took a taxi, and it’s only about three k from where our mystery couple disappeared.”
Francine made a sound Gene associated with sleep apnea and her chin bobbed up and down.
Her eyes opened, and she looked up in apparent confusion.
“Hold on, please.” He nodded at Francine. “We’ve had another sighting of Mister Nettles.”
She nodded, sitting up and mouth working.
To no one’s surprise, she looked at her watch and uttered a deep sigh.
|Hopefully by 2025, we will have adapted 1980s technology. (Mx kouhosei.)|
Images appeared on Gene’s large tablet.
“Mister Scott Nettles.” Gene and Francine took a good look at the man in the back of the taxi. The sound came up and then they heard the machine ask for a destination.
Their jaws dropped when Nettles gave a series of coordinates.
“What?” Francine was alert now.
“It’s okay. It’s just GPS. We’ve located that, and it’s only about sixteen k’s up the road. They, or I should say he, headed almost due west from the rave party.”
The interesting thing was that it wasn’t an address in the conventional sense. Why not just say drop me at the Seven-Eleven on Twenty-Seven Mile Road? Whatever. It meant something special.
Gene just didn’t know what.
Point A to Point B. Nettles got out of the car at an intersection. As soon as the car moved on, he went out of the field of view of the rear-view camera. The car had turned left to make another pickup.
“That’s it?” Gene’s voice rose slightly in dismay.
“There were no live cameras at the intersection at the time. There still aren’t, incidentally. Those ones have been out for a while.” Parson’s dry voice came after he cleared his throat. “Our subjects have been having some pretty good luck with that.”
At this stage of the game, Gene wondered if there was any real significance in Mister Nettles movements.
“What’s important here is that they’re not together.”
“There’s another thing, Inspector.”
“The probability has dropped on our identification.”
Gene studied the readout as Francine tried to find it on her own device. Like Gene, she’d taken the Googs off and was reluctant to put them back on as they (or something) had been giving her migraines lately.
“What do you mean?”
“Huh! This guy hasn’t been seen in years, literally years, without the ball cap. He left the house without his dark glasses exactly two days in a row, eight and a half or so years ago. That was the end of February, and he must have replaced them—broken, probably, on cheque day.”
To the blind, it was part of the uniform. It made people aware of them, and drivers needed to see the stick and the dark glasses. It made things easier for those around the blind. While the stick was practical, the white colour and the dark glasses were universal symbols.
Parsons went on to explain that every person’s behaviour generated a digital fingerprint. While the Nettles profile was a little sketchier than most, a regular assortment of passive sightings and archived recordings indicated that he lived his life, all of it, within a radius of less than a kilometre and a half.
He was out of his usual neighbourhood, and therefore out of character. It was akin to a person in medieval times, living barely at subsistence level, with the whole family working six and a half days a week, picking beans and dragging a plow behind an oxen, and then suddenly taking a vacation at the beach.
There must be a reason for his behaviour.
Gene nodded and Francine said nothing.
The train whistled along, perceptibly bumpier now, and there were voices in the hall running along outside their compartment. Life went on all around them.
“So, who was the lady in the park, ah; is this the same guy, and why is he alone now?”
Francine made a noise which Gene interpreted as agreement.
He gave her a look. She shrugged.
“It does appear to be the same man.” That was as far as she was prepared to go.
“That’s the real problem, Inspector. The really neat thing about Mister Nettles is how he seems to appear and disappear. He came out of the rave. He did change his appearance...no hat, no glasses. But. Did he go in? No record of that. He gets in the car. He gets out of the car. Then he disappears, completely off the radar for the last day and a half so far…”
Gene nodded firmly.
“Okay. I see your point.”
A day and a half was a long time. At home, in his apartment, that was one thing. But out in the world, that was another.
“Okay, Sergeant. I’ll have someone interview the landlady at the Nettles address. I’ll have them share any information that they get there with you.”
“Ah, thank you.” Parsons still had a series of assaults on the books.
His mouth curled a bit and Gene grinned and nodded. The punks would forget about it soon enough, but Parsons obviously sensed an opportunity.
“And, uh, we’ll keep working on this.”
Gene sat back and hit the icon. Parsons was gone again, although his inbox was lit up with something additional from the sergeant.
His head twisted and he took in Francine with a glance.
“I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
|No camera means that you are invisible.|
“Okay, Scott. Bingo. There’s the doorman, right in front of you. Three feet.”
He spoke up right on cue.
“Excuse me. Is this the Red Dog Saloon?”
“Ah, yes, Ma’am. It sure is. What can I help you with?”
Scott stood there, wavering a bit to and fro. His hippie glasses dangled languidly from his left hand.
“It’s just that I’m blind with these contacts. I’m waiting for my date.”
Betty had applied the makeup, and he had a wig and a hand-clutch type purse. “Nick will be along soon…I hope.”
He positively tottered there on what she said was black patent leather pumps. There were low voices all around and yet he had avoided stepping on anyone. It took fierce concentration to rule one’s emotions. Someone nearby giggled. He hoped they were taking a good look. Time hung heavy, and his pulse was still racing. He struggled to keep his breath calm and smooth, blanking out a little and just going with it. A cheap buzz, he thought.
That’s what I need right about now: an anxiety attack…he gulped and tried to sort of purge the CO2 from his system.
That’s what it was. It wasn’t the lack of oxygen that killed you, it was the CO2. It was a good thing he had the purse to hang onto. A revealing insight about women. They at least had something to do with their hands when they got a little nervous.
Listening to the chat about him settled him down. No one had accosted him, no had remarked upon him.
They were just ignoring him, and he tried to locate them by sound as best he could.
This was said to be the biggest bar in the state, a real turnpike-style roadhouse, away from the city and its satellites, and set in an unincorporated township. It was open 24-7 with continuous live entertainment of an eclectic nature.
The dress, a little shorter on him than it would be on Betty, would be ruined by the huge globs of sweat running down from Scott’s unshaven armpits.
His girdle was killing him. It wasn’t so much about passing as a woman. It was about passing for anyone, anything other than what he was.
“Here I am, Lover.”
Betty and Scott engaged in a quick peck, Scott enjoying the fact that there was a small crowd hanging about the entrance. The irony of it all.
“Where did you park?”
“Oh, I found a good spot.”
It was a short speech, well-rehearsed, strictly for public consumption, and it was soon over.
Scott nodded approvingly. They’d actually walked the last three kilometres, with Betty hanging back around the corner and Scott being talked into position, over the last few yards, through the earpiece. This was all for the eye-witnesses. All of this to get a hot meal and a drink. Scott also wanted a bed for the night something awful. A bed and a bath. Hopefully she had hidden the bags well enough.
Betty had chopped her hair into something more resembling a page-boy cut, and was clad, according to her amused description, in a charcoal-grey zoot suit, very androgynous as she put it.
They held hands as a couple ahead of them murmured with the doorman. They were admitted, a blast of real sow-belly music coming out the door as they went in. She gave a quick pull and Scott stepped forward hesitantly.
Another strong hand grabbed his right elbow and gently steered him into position.
“You guys are next. You’re lucky, it’s not so busy tonight.” Apparently, the bouncer was talking to him.
Betty’s deep basso-profundo voice, put on especially for this occasion, thanked him gravely.
Scott had been thinking about all of those cameras.
If you couldn’t get away from them…then maybe you might as well join them.
|...or something like that...|
Or something like that, but he’d heard of privacy freaks buying expensive masks and wearing them in any public place they went. It seemed a bit much to him at the time, hearing about it on the TV, but he could appreciate the point now.
The smell of food, real food, wafting out from the saloon, more of a head-banger, speed-metal, family-style bar and grille by the sounds of it, was driving him nuts.
Which was more of a short putt, as someone had once said.
Oh, look, ladies and gentlemen. Louis has all kinds of good books here on Chapters/Indigo.