|Some sort of old auto plant.|
Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue Pt. 8
Gene MacBride was barely at his desk. As a youth, he had never been a morning person, but as a mature man he saw the necessity. His grey eyes watered at the sight of his desk…notes and reminders all over the place.
Lately he felt tired a lot of the time, and he really couldn’t account for it.
There had already been a few calls, and most of the team was out investigating this dead body in an alley or that other dead body in a car…the desk phone buzzed.
“Yes.” The voice seemed oddly familiar, and yet he couldn’t quite place it.
The readout on the phone told him this was Parsons from the 38th.
His pulse quickened.
“Call me Gene.” Parsons wouldn’t have called him back unless he had something real.
MacBride almost laughed but didn’t. It was helpful, though. Today might actually hold some promise.
“Anyway, we have some sightings on record. Can I send them over?”
“It’s in your inbox.”
MacBride touched the icon. His internal memos popped up and he saw the Parsons one right at the top.
The file name was clean and sensible.
Possible Robot Sighting, and the date, the time, the officer’s name. Precinct and badge number.
“Okay, what am I looking at?”
“Shot one. A blind man in the station. According to a security guard, he was waiting for his girlfriend.”
“Subject has been identified as Mister Scott Nettles.” Parsons read off an address. “Check that out, eh. That’s about six blocks from where our hot little robot lady disappeared.”
A further series of shots were all lined up in a row, stills from cameras along Nettles’ route. Point A to Point B stuff, the stuff convictions were made of. There was little doubt about the identification, or the point of origin. An apartment building squeezed in between other buildings, sharing walls with other apartment buildings, and a laundromat on the ground floor, with lofts and commercial offices above.
The windows without gold lettering were either residential or storage, some kind of sweatshop maybe…
There was a link to Nettles’ lifetime file, where his entire life would be laid out…from Point A to Point B.
“Unfortunately, Mister Nettles doesn’t have a mobile, and he was one of last children to be born without being chipped.” Parsons’ voice had an ironic tone.
Nothing they hadn’t seen before.
“Okay. Next shot. Gang-bangers in the hospital.”
“So, what’s the significance?”
“They talk about the robot, and there’s just more there than I have time to give you over the phone. Next shot. This is one of the few cameras left in the park. It’s real heavy gang territory, and cameras don’t last long in that neighbourhood.”
Gene cursed gently under his breath.
They had taken the time, spent the money, found the political will, and wired up the whole planet it seemed, and yet, life being what it was, they had used thirty-cent cameras for all but the most prestigious locations.
“I’m always impressed when a jury of their fellow citizens convicts someone based on these…”
There was a snort.
Gene watched a man and a woman, a man with a long white stick, a small backpack, and the woman with two suitcases, striding along down a paved trail and into the inky blackness of the night. The male subject was tall and thin, wearing a long black trench-coat. He had a ball-cap and white running shoes, cheap-looking. The woman, their possible robot, certainly looked very athletic.
“Not much to go on, I admit. But our perps, sorry, I mean victims, described her as wearing…”
“A slinky blue silk dress….and so was our missing robot, as I remember.”
Gene sat up.
“Anyway, these are our official suspects, the only ones, in the assault.” The victims had been, predictably enough, hard to find, but one of them had answered his phone.
From pictures, he had confirmed the suspects, seemingly very sure of it, and in the conversation, he was streaming curses and profanities. The gangstas wouldn’t give a hoot about charges and court, thought MacBride.
All they would want would be names…and addresses. The gentleman seemed quite perturbed by the polite notion that the police were working on it and had no further information.
“Okay, where could they go from there?”
He pulled his second screen into position.
Maps. He zoomed in and linked Parsons to his desk. Parsons took over and a red dot appeared.
MacBride sat back, blinked a bit, not really seeing much, and listened.
“Yes, sir. That’s where it gets a bit weird. That path goes to the north end of the park. Then it branches off to east and west in curving, winding trails. Theoretically, they should have either taken another trail, or they should have arrived at the street. Any street, sooner or later. The cameras along there are a bit spotty. However there are one or two left intact—on the tops of fortified buildings and such where the gang-bangers can’t get at them.”
“Okay. No one came out. What about the other paths?”
“As near as we can make out, most of the cameras on Basil Street were operating at the time of the incident. Nothing there. Some of the other side streets, not so many good cameras available, but again, you’d think sooner or later they would have to walk past one that was good. No such luck, uh…Gene.”
Gene thought about it.
“Where else could they have gone?”
“We’ve swept the park, and they’re not in it, unless they’re in a hollow tree or maybe we just saw some winos. But no one we spoke to answered to our profile.”
“What does that leave?”
“There’s a ravine there, and a culvert under the highway.” Parsons thought. “If they turned back and beat it southwards, strictly staying in the brush, sooner or later they would have to come out on a street. To the south and west, those are better neighbourhoods. Better lighting, more cameras. We can say with at least some confidence, that they probably didn’t do that.”
Parsons went on.
At the south end of the park, there was a heavy steel grating over the culvert, which went under Appleby Road. The grate at the north end of the park had been removed by vandals years before, as it was a quick way to get across the highway…typical enough in certain neighbourhoods.
“Okay. So we have an assault, and two people—or one person and a robot, unaccounted for.”
“And if they disappeared, we must ask ourselves why.” And if they were the victims of an attempted robbery, why not report it?
Unless they had something to hide themselves. And how would they know just which way to get out of the park without being seen? Something smacked of real planning there. Some real knowledge. The punks were just a coincidence, and a lucky break for the police at that.
“That’s about the size of it.”
“All right. What about highway cameras?”
“Not if they went under it. And the other side is all post-industrial wasteland. Only major intersections have surveillance, mostly for traffic, people running red lights and such.”
Automatic robo-tickets, a valuable source of revenue for the cash-strapped city.
It didn’t actually slow traffic down very much, the ostensible purpose.
There was a silence. Parsons had done his job, and if there was nothing there, then there was nothing there.
What they needed was a plan.
“All right. I’ll have a couple of our people check out this Scott Nettles.” Nettles lived in this precinct; as did Betty Blue, their missing robot.
The numbers onscreen showed a ninety-seven percent probability of identification in Nettles’ case, as the station was relatively well-lit, and had cameras intact. Their guard had ID'd Nettles PPP, the Public Profile Pic.
Yet experience showed that even an identification of one hundred percent probability could be mistaken—too many innocent civilians had been cut down by nervous or over-zealous officers, to place too much credence on the computer files and their biometric identification programming. Good old fashioned fingerprints, retinal scans and DNA were more reliable—although never really a hundred percent. Eye-witnesses were notoriously unreliable...
“Is there anything more we can do here, ah, Gene.” It really wasn't a question, neither was it a statement.
“Don’t know. Can I call you back? I’d like to study this guard’s statement.”
MacBride got it then. Parsons would like to get out of the 38th and into someplace a bit more civilized.
“So what’s on the other side of the highway?”
“Do you guys go there?”
This was a good question. Since the city had started rounding up the homeless and sticking them in for-profit jails for vagrancy, squatters, shanty-towns, or unofficial settlements, had sprung up on the outskirts of every major city. While this annoyed the residents of gated communities and the suburbs to no end, there wasn’t much the big-city police could do about it.
A person with a tent by the side of the road, or sleeping in an alley, could be rounded up as a vagrant.
Squatting was a civil crime, an injury of property, and civil and human rights came into play. Cops could go from door to door and knock, but without a warrant, asking to see a copy of the mortgage or lease was strictly a no-no. Proper squatters didn’t answer the door anyway, they all had peepholes and escape hatches these days.
“Yes. In daylight, and with proper orders and everything.”
“I see. Okay, I’ll get back to you. Other than that, good job. I'm going to call the makers and see just what the capabilities of that robot girl actually are…”
“If that’s her, she’s tougher than effing whale-shit.”
MacBride grinned from ear-to-ear.
“Thank you, Sergeant, for my first good laugh of the day.”
MacBride and Parsons rang off, Parsons to go home, long after his shift was officially over.
Looking at his watch, MacBride tapped his name into the computer.
Parsons was divorced, had two kids, and would have been considered overdue for promotion in almost any other precinct.
But the 38th was definitely special.
From across the room, his partner Francine was waving imperiously, as was her fashion.
MacBride waved back and shut the machine down, as it sure looked like they had another body.
With his rank and experience, it was the only thing that really interested him these days; that and the four years, six months, nine days, and a few hours, until he could take early retirement. He swallowed the rest of his coffee hurriedly, made a quick note for later, and then got up out of his chair.
Detective Suleiman was the investigating officer of record, and this one was her baby. She gave the Inspector a wintry grin and then cleared her throat. That’s what you get for answering the phone sometimes.
Wait a minute. He nipped back to his desk. Grabbing a pen, he made a quick notation.
Drones. Flood the area with drones. Somewhere. Some area.
He really couldn’t think of anything else. It was like his mind went blank. He shook it off and joined the others.
They were all in the huddle, looking expectantly at Francine.
“All right people, listen up.”
|Blind, alone, and carrying some money.|
Scott awoke with a start.
While he hadn’t slept outdoors in years, the dampness in the air and the fitful chirping of robins told him that it was dawn or shortly before. With nothing but pitch blackness, and the place beside him cold, he knew instantly that Betty was gone.
His own voice startled him, and he resolved to shut up in any such future situations. It was a risk he didn’t have to take. The sounds of the wilderness were all around him. Betty had said they were in an old auto parts plant.
He had to accept her word for it, but the sounds said otherwise. The wind luffed in the treetops, and he imagined them in his mind’s eye, growing out of broken windows and holes in the roof. There were crickets and spring peepers—how many years had it been since he’d heard them?
There was always the sound of distant traffic off in the background.
Scott’s lower back hurt from sleeping on the ground. He had to go to the bathroom, and there was no sense in just lying there frozen in fear.
It was certainly no pleasure lying on the hard ground, but he was reluctant to show himself inadvertently.
He had money on him, he was alone, and he was blind.
The sounds were reassuringly natural. It was interesting not to hear voices, and in fact it was so quiet he could hear a solitary jet airliner coursing from east to west overhead at something like thirty thousand feet. It didn’t mean much, but it was something.
He sat up, carefully taking stock of his situation. If he wandered too far, he’d lose the blanket and the backpack, the food, the water.
All right. Time for a pee. He got up creakily, and thought it through. Walk ten feet, pee and then return.
No stick. That was bad. There might be some obstacle directly in front of him. Tottering there on one leg, he poked with a foot. Nothing. He took a step, prodded with his foot again. Nothing there, and he cleared his throat. There was no real echo…
“Shit.” The thoughts of another fucking ravine, or a steep drop like a loading dock, made the skin on the back of his neck prickle.
Shuffling onwards as carefully as he could, he went about ten feet and then relieved himself. It sounded like it was splashing on concrete, but the ground under him was still soft, dead leaves, moss, maybe even grass and weeds. Something scraped his hand, and he felt leaves and shrubbery to his left.
Feeling a little bolder now, he turned and felt his way back carefully to their sleeping area.
A smoke, some water, and maybe some candy or something from his backpack would keep him going, at least for a little while.
Feeling around, the suitcases didn’t seem to be right there.
That made a lot of sense.
He began to feel better about things.
Betty had left him somewhere safe. He had to believe that. She had gone on, not needing sleep as he did.
She must be scouting ahead and she’d be back as soon as she could. That didn’t do much for the fear.
Scott stretched and his jaw worked back and forth. His mouth tasted like a garbage can.
He’d poke the Devil’s eye out for a good cup of coffee right about now, that and an actual chair to sit on.
His sensitive fingers fished out a cigarette and the lighter was in his jacket pocket.
“Come on, Baby. Don’t leave me here waiting too long…please.” Oh, God.
Where in the hell had she gotten off to?
They weren’t even really out of the city yet.
Travelling in daylight was going to be a problem no matter where they were.
Louis Shalako's books and stories are available on iTunes.