Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, Pt. 17
One of the more prominent local ambulance chasers, holding a white plastic-board placard, struggled through the cordon. Gene thought he saw a credit note slipped into an officer’s side pouch. The man peeled off, raced through a gap in between the two cars, with Gene and his immediate circle standing there at Betty’s door. Theirs would be the second vehicle, with Mister Nettles and a uniformed officer all ready to go.
The law firm’s name and number were on the card as Betty stared straight ahead and Gene was reaching for a weapon in his surprise.
They stood out front in a press of officers, armoured and unarmoured, plain-clothed and uniformed.
The suspects, the subjects, and Betty Blue, unclassifiable by any of the crime manuals written so far in all of history, each had the back seat of a cruiser to themselves. Gene had toyed with the idea of chaining himself to her by the wrist—strange how it wasn’t chain her to me. The thought of losing a hand was enough to convince him otherwise.
She was impressive up close.
“Betty. Do us all a favour and just be cool, okay?”
It was the one and only time she looked at Gene, right into his eyes, thereby acknowledging him in some way. It was one of those moments. His body tensed in the vicinity of the kidneys, it was that visceral. He wouldn’t give a penny for her thoughts under the circumstances. She looked away, and yet her emotions were neutral—completely absent in a kind of personal shield.
It was strictly by the book with these two. Gene had a lot invested in this case, and in his career so far as far as that went.
You had to keep them separated, although later in the debriefing process people might be put in a room together just to hear them talk. The machine would pick through it and look for code, slang, cant, argot, jive-talk, and try and analyze tone and mood.
In the unlikely event they said anything of significance, the machine would pick up on that too. Even just talk of home, family, friends, domestic matters, could be a source of valuable intelligence. He wondered how that applied in this case. The nuances, the subtleties—the permutations were beginning to spin now that he had them in the bucket.
“Okay, Inspector MacBride. We’re off to the holding facility with these bozos—” The LVPD officer was referring to the Downies, being held as material witnesses.
Federal law prohibited them from being released on their own recognizance. Trials were too expensive to have reluctant witnesses changing their story and mucking things up halfway through. They would be thoroughly debriefed.
“And the others?”
“Drop ‘em off at home.” Gene raised a hand. “Except for the dog killer.”
The LVPD sergeant nodded. She would be charged with Canicide in the Second Degree, as it was difficult to see how it could have been premeditated.
However, the law was clear and they had the chapel video recordings and the Downies' testimony. That one looked like a goner. With cooperation and some kind of a plea deal, Amity would be looking at ninety-nine-years-to-life. Luckily for her, it was only the one count.
“Yeah. That’s a bad rap, nice of you guys to nab that one for us.” He gave Parsons and Francine appreciative looks. “I’ve never seen such accurate profiling and prediction—nice work, and all the way from down east as well. Well, thank you very much.”
There were nods and mumbles from the nearest members of the LVPD.
“Yeah.” It seemed pretty unanimous all around.
That was really good police work, and some of them popped the face-plate and took honest-to-goodness looks at the prodigies.
It was best to remain humble, of course. Such admiration never lasted long, in Gene’s experience.
Boyd and Armitage, both with a major employer and tasked by them with the recovery of certain stolen goods, really hadn’t done anything illegal. Empowered to make a citizen’s arrest, they had simply been holding Betty and the Nettles character until they could turn him over to authorities.
They were referring to Mister Nettles, mostly. As for the dog, they said it bit Amity, but the law was clear and dogs were sacred animals.
While they would be happy to cooperate in providing evidence and testimony in a trial, they had Betty in custody. Inspector MacBride knew all about how this particular robot had run amuck. Or amok, in the proper spelling. Naturally Simtech would be pleased to dispose of her and remit all damages…naturally, this would be after making her available for expert witnesses of the prosecution to implement their own objective analysis. They agreed with everything Gene said, and were very polite—like fuckin’ Canadians or something.
Gene wasn’t quite buying it.
Not by a long shot.
“All right.” He turned to Francine and Parsons.
They were just piling into the cars to take Betty Blue and Scott Nettles to a secure federal holding facility, the only place Gene would feel safe with such a volatile cargo. They weren’t armoured, and this was one valuable cargo. They were still trying to get a flight. Parsons looked up from Gene’s screen and shook his head: still no luck.
Parsons rode with Nettles. Gene and Francine were in with Betty, whose stony face ignored them.
Francine gave an odd look. Her device was buzzing and rumbling in her belt pouch.
“What? I though I told them—” She pulled it out and looked at the screen, eyebrows rising.
She looked over at Gene.
“What is it?”
“What! Oh. Writs.” His hand went up to his face and he rubbed his whiskered chin.
His own device hummed in his hip pocket just then and he pulled it out and had a look.
“Who in the hell…?” It was the Right-to-Life Foundation.
His jaw dropped as he opened the document and read the first paragraphs.
Francine was slumped in the right hand side of the car, with Betty staring straight ahead in between them.
She gave a brief shake of her head.
“What now, Boss?”
“The Right-to-Life Foundation has filed a brief on behalf of the unborn fetus of Betty Blue and Scott Nettles….” Gene’s eyes lifted and he found himself transfixed by those deadly eyes as the robot herself turned to regard him.
He tried not to swallow and Francine sat up a little.
“I’m sorry, Miss Blue. I didn’t mean to upset you…”
Gene snapped the thing off and stuffed it into his pocket again.
He thought she would speak, say, ‘That’s Mizz Blue…’
To you, you son of a bitch.
One could hardly blame her.
He looked at the back of their driver’s dummy plastic head. If nothing else, it gave you something to talk at.
“Driver. Can you please step on it? We haven’t got all day.”
One and a half hours later, they were aboard the Silver Bird Airlines flight. Gene contacted the Chief as it looked like they’d be on the ramp a while.
“You got ‘em! Good work.” The chief, porcine and expectant in a calm and self-assured manner, sat up straight.
This would be all over the nightly news.
“Can you give me a thumbnail briefing?”
“Ah—I don’t know about that, Chief.” Gene was appalled.
That was the trouble with electing chiefs of police, he supposed—anyone could win, especially with the party-political machinery backing him up.
“There are certain issues involved. We’re already getting writs…”
“Writs?” The chief’s face clouded.
One of them was from a foundation founded about four minutes ago, noted Gene. They were all getting in on the act. It would do wonders for fund-raising, of course. This had all the hallmarks of a hot-button issue.
Until the next one came along.
“So…what are the issues involved?” The chief went up just a tad in Gene’s estimation.
“Hmn, Well. Is Betty Blue stolen property? If so, then Mister Nettles may be in a lot of trouble. And yet I really haven’t charged the gentleman with anything yet.”
They could keep him in custody for up to fourteen days, in his particular citizen-class, which was a straight D-minus all across the board. They could ding him for up to ninety days on Mental Health Suspicion, but that seemed premature.
The chief pursed his lips as if to speak, but Gene soldiered on.
“Is Betty Blue Missus Cartier’s property? If so, is she property with a mind of her own—otherwise the Cartiers are looking at some public liabilities, not to mention possible charges. I’m sort of thinking reckless endangerment or negligence. This is all pie in the sky at the present moment. I wouldn’t mind some guidance from the Public Prosecutor on this one. The assault victims do have rights. They can also afford some kind of ramshackle legal assistance.”
The chief’s eyes went left…
“Is a mind sufficient to indicate life? Up until now, all the experts say no. But was this a malfunction, or was it simply the irrational act of a living individual in human terms…?”
If it was a malfunction, the company that built the machine might be looking at some serious liabilities. They would begin by denying everything. It wasn’t all that hard to read the future sometimes. Gene thought the chief read the notes provided, as the man’s eyes began to glaze over. Apparently not.
The chief’s eyes centered up and the jaw dropped, and then his eyes slid to the right…
“Is Betty a new form of life? Then we must define her rights before we can try her.” Gene’s eyes glittered.
Francine sat rigid. She couldn’t believe her ears.
“Does Betty have the right to self determination? Did she cause damage, or did she steal from her employer? So far, we have no complaint from the Cartiers—not a signed one, anyway.”
Betty was a like a daughter to the Cartiers. There was a chance they would drop any charges.
The chief licked his lips, staring at Gene fixedly.
“Okay. Go on.” So the bugger was listening then.
Gene took a breath.
“What about their unborn child.”
The chief interjected.
“And the rights of those who feel it is the anti-Christ…okay, okay. I’m starting to get it now, Gene.” The chief settled back in his chair.
He picked up a stylus and made notes!
“…surely a state-ordered abortion would be premature, and would possibly violate Mister Nettles’ rights, and there are advocacy groups already on us on that score…”
The chief winced.
“Yeah—I hear you.”
“It might violate Betty’s rights as well. There’s nothing illegal about a robot being a surrogate-uterus for a human family. They used to do it in test-tubes, but this way is so much more…ah, social. It’s not a frickin’ glass tube, the baby can hear the mother’s heart and all of that. But not one has ever had custodial rights. They have, so far as we know, never borne a child for their own sakes…”
It was a bit obscure, but the chief knew what he meant. Gene was aware of Parsons’ ears twitching as he tried not to stare too obviously over Gene’s shoulder at the screen.
“Congratulations, incidentally.” The chief’s tone was priceless.
“Don’t forget that they got married. We might want to look up Nevada state law, but marrying a robot might not be specifically prohibited anywhere. That one makes my head spin.”
“Gene. Only God can create life. That’s a Constitutional issue, one that's already been defined.”
Gene nodded as Francine exhaled in a rush.
Shit. He was right.
“It’s better if we just let everybody else do the talking for a while, sir. Let them define the terms and the agenda.”
The chief thought on it.
“So what in the hell are we going to do?”
Gene sighed deeply.
“We’ll be back in a few hours, sir. In the meantime—”
“I could really use a good cup of tea.”
“Hmn. What are the suspects saying, if anything?”
“Betty Blue just ignores us and stares straight ahead. Yet I don’t think she’s catatonic or anything like that. She has ruthless self-control. As for Mister Nettles, he’s quite vocal. Nothing we can really use so far.”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
One row ahead on the other side of the aisle where he could be shot by both Parsons and Francine easily, Mister Nettles’ ears and neck burned red…
“And where do you plan on holding them, Gene?”
“Oh, Lord. Some place where nobody can get at them, chief. Any ideas on that score would be greatly appreciated.”
The chief scowled.
“I’ll put my thinking cap on.”
Gene nodded. The chief meant it quite literally, but Gene had never been able to overcome the squeamish thought of plugging a nine-volt battery into your head.
Whatever gets you through the night, he thought after signing off.
The cat-shot was a kick in the lower back as always, and the climb out at seventy degrees with the usual buffeting only made his mood darken.
They were cruising through the night sky at ninety thousand feet.
Parsons was eyeing up Francine’s leftover steak, and the half of a baked potato still sitting in her tray.
“Go ahead.” He took the platter and she put up the in-flight table and then adjusted her seat in the reclining position.
“Gene. Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Honestly, if they made it through airport security…”
“With the sniffers and the dogs and the human security, we’re lucky we made it on the plane.”
Gene and Francine laughed. Parsons had a point.
Gene kept his voice down.
“Mizz Blue. Are there any weapons, sharp implements, or explosive devices, fireworks, anything at all, that I should know about in these suitcases?” Mr. Nettles’ knapsack had been curiously disappointing.
She ignored him. Nettles turned to bellow.
It was the first class compartment, about a third full of passengers, so anyone could hear him.
There were a few chuckles from other passengers, male and female. No kids in there, and thank the good Lord Almighty for that.
“Don’t mind him, ladies and gentlemen. He’s just having a bad day.” There were more laughs and whispers back and forth.
“Ah, yes, sir.”
“Thank you, Mister Nettles.”
Nettles shut up too.
Having gagged down at least some of his own meal, after the service robot took his tray away, Betty and Scott’s suitcases were on the seat beside him. On an impulse, he took that seat and with one bag on the floor, he put the other on the seat between him and Francine as Parsons goggled at it. Shouldn’t they wait for the lab? But the things had to be secured. What with finding a secure facility, body-searching the prisoners, signing them in, signing them out, then airport security, it had been just go-go-go for the last hour and a half.
He glanced at his watch.
Crikey! But it really was like that sometimes.
“You can take some pictures if you like.”
She just grimaced.
Gene opened the first one, and quickly rifled through it.
“All clothes…toothpaste. Shampoo. Oh, look.” He held up a box clearly labeled theatrical makeup.
“Nice.” Francine noted the presence of some grubby-looking rubber masks.
They were underneath everything.
“Hmn.” Gene put it all back for later analysis and then set that one aside.
He put the other case up.
“It’s not even as heavy as the first one.”
On opening the bag, he began pulling out what were clearly tools or instruments of a kind.
One of them was a simple, phone-sized device with a small round orifice and a big slot on one end.
“Huh!” Parsons nodded sharply. “That’s what all the best car thieves are using these days. It’s infrared. There’s probably a small, serrated bar on the other end---here, let me show you.”
Gene passed it over.
Parsons squinted, eyeing up the back side of it, and then with a small click they saw it extend.
Dave handed it over.
“You shove that into the door-lock, and tiny sensors reconfigure the metal in the probe to resemble the original key. All the while, the device is interrogating the car’s chip and it’s, ah, pretty amazing what they can actually do.”
According to Dave, the probe would open anything that accepted a key. There was a slot on the other end for reading cards, then a fake card was created. This could be inserted into certain card readers, but all the bank machines and ATMs were apparently wise to them. The creative criminal just found other ways, he said. These days everyone’s device accepted data from cards, sticks, probes…once you got into the home computer, all you had to do was to hack the passwords and PIN numbers.
Her mouth opened as she examined the thing. Her eyes slid over to Gene.
“This probably belonged to the original thief.”
“Yeah—maybe. But she impresses me as the flexible type. I mean, in her planning.” The fact was that the pair had eluded them for days, and in the ordinary, run of the mill type of criminal activity, that just didn’t happen.
The system might not detect a crime. It might not identify a suspect. Not all crimes got reported or recorded. But when they did, the system was pretty good about finding someone when they wanted them.
The nightly news was jammed with coverage of pursuits, high-speed chases, and reality-based TV shows where these incredibly stupid people were getting picked off all over the place. It was a funny thing, but people never seemed to learn.
“What in the hell is that?”
He passed over a small plastic case with some kind of child-proof fastening. Parsons fiddled with it, as Gene pulled out more black boxes. These were a little more obscure, although a pad with a manual key-pad and a handful of adapter cords looked interesting. He wondered what in the hell that was for, but the adapters would fit just about anything electronic. One cord had what looked like a programmable bank card on the end.
Parsons cussed. Gene looked over in time to see the case pop open and what looked like multi-coloured diodes or transistors, coded in finely-hued stripes, as they flew up in the air in what would have been comedic except they really ought to preserve the integrity of their chain of evidence.
“Shit! Make sure you don’t lose any…” Gene suppressed a grin.
There was no telling how it would go, but they had plenty of material evidence. A rational explanation of Betty’s behaviour, (and Mister Nettles’ for that matter) would have been nice. But it wasn’t essential to a conviction. He had a long list of potential charges, and that was always useful.
More than anything, he would like to get them talking.
Simple possession of any of these devices was enough for a good stretch.
Sitting twelve feet away was Scott Nettles. That one would talk—he was almost sure of it.
Jammed in against the window on this wide-bodied jet, Betty Blue, shackled by metre-long chains to the frame of her seat, stared straight ahead and ignored everything that went on around her.
He wondered just what she was thinking right about then—but if Parson’s little thingies were what he thought they were, blank human ID chips, then that equipment must have come from somewhere else. Car-thieves tended to specialize. It was the key to survival and they really didn’t bother with complex and overly-dangerous sidelines.