|Scott sat across from Gene.|
The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue Pt. 18.
Forty-eight hours had gone by.
Gene felt refreshed, after a couple of good sleeps, a proper shave, and some real food. Hyper-lag was a bitch. He’d kind of forgotten that as he didn’t travel so much these days. There was some unfinished business to take care of.
Gene MacBride sat across from Scott Nettles in Interview Room Four. Nettles looked oddly comfortable in the orange coveralls and red slippers. The face had character, except when he got angry and it all twisted up like a raisin on PCP.
“I just want you to know that you’re not in any trouble.”
The thought was written all over Mister Nettles’ face and body, as he sat there with arms crossed and one ankle up on the other knee.
“Seriously. We see you more as kind of a victim here…”
Gene suppressed a laugh.
Good for you, sir.
Never give up one iota of your power, Mister Nettles.
Thank you, God, for allowing me to witness this moment.
“I’m a police officer, Scott. We’re just here to help you.”
Even Gene heard the soft hack of Francine’s cough on the other side of the partition, with its obligatory one-way glass panel, dark and smoky and looking like Scott’s tired but angry brown eyes. Scott’s eyebrows climbed but he said nothing.
“Anyway, Mister Nettles, your property will be returned to you. We’ll have a constable help you with that, and there is a bus stop right out front.”
Nettles still had a pair of twenties as Gene recalled from the case notes. With the workload, it was amazing how yesterday’s novelty was today’s passer.
With the benefit of two full days of news coverage, it had become patently obvious that some of their fears had been groundless. A prominent singer had just delivered triplets in conjunction with her new boxed set and the world was simply moving on. There were real crises looming on the horizon and all of this would be quickly forgotten. That disturbed him, but he wasn’t an ethicist.
“So that’s it, then?”
“Yes, Mister Nettles. We would appreciate it if you were available to answer any further questions that we might have—I always like to leave the door open like that, but that’s just the normal duty of a citizen…I don’t expect too much to come out of it.”
“But—but. But—what about my kid?”
“I’m sorry, Mister Nettles. That, is a matter for other authorities. It’s out of my hands—and none of my concern…” Yeah, and maybe you and Betty should have thought of that earlier.
Human Services were all over the unborn child like a dirty shirt. On balance, a recently-founded foundation was lobbying all over the Hill on behalf of Betty’s right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
“What—fuck you! God damn you all to hell! What about all that stuff I stole—what about all the God-damned crimes I committed…?” Scott was furious.
In here, there was a chance of sneaking a message to her. He’d already tried to get on the laundry work team, but had been turned down. Gene could read him like a book, and it was all so unnecessary.
Scott was going on. The man certainly had an impressive vocabulary. Gene winced and reddened slightly when Scott turned from the state and the system and the world and humankind in general and started in on him, personally.
“Mister Nettles.” Gene broke in during a pause for breath as Nettles ran out of air, beet-red in the face and glowering blindly at him. “You’re blind. You are simply not capable of committing all the crimes you are describing. No jury in the land would convict you. My colleagues and I are agreed on that much at least…relax. Get over it. Go home. Get on with your life.”
“Argh! What about Betty—you fucking son of a bitch.”
“Scott. You can’t help Betty Blue—or your child, when you’re sitting on the inside of a jail cell.” There were a million people, some of them pretty good lawyers, all wanting to talk to Mister Nettles.
It wasn’t Gene’s job to give the man advice, legal or otherwise.
A shudder of emotion went through that thin frame and then the man got a hold on his emotions.
Fuck the world. The knowledge that he was powerless was devastating. To know that he simply didn’t matter in the equation.
Scott slumped in resignation, head going back and forth, no, no, no, and jaws working. He was near tears.
Gene had a moment of remorse.
“Aw, fuck.” Scott slumped forward and put his head in his hands.
“Thank you, Mister Nettles. Now let’s see about getting you out of here.”
As Nettles clambered unsteadily to his feet, Gene took him by the elbow and led him to the doorway.
He stood there, breathing heavily, as Gene opened up. Scott was clearly on edge and emotionally flabbergasted. Probably thought they were going to gas him or something.
“Tom?” A uniformed officer cooling his heels on a hard plastic bench, flipping mindlessly through a garden magazine, looked up.
“Would you take the gentlemen down, please? He’s, uh, legally blind and needs help getting out of here. See if we have a stick or a cane in Lost and Found.”
Throwing the magazine aside, the officer hastened over to take Scott and the paperwork proffered by Gene.
“Yes, sir.” Anything that would get him off that bench for a while.
“Thanks, Tom. And goodbye, Mister Nettles. God bless, and good luck to you in all things.”
It was nothing more and nothing less than he would have said to any other citizen under similar circumstances.
“Good morning, Inspector MacBride.”
“Good morning, Miss Blue.”
“Please call me Betty—or Missus Nettles.”
Gene smiled in spite of his inner misgivings.
“I hope you’ve been getting enough of the, ah…precious bodily fluids.” He didn’t know what else to call them, but her needs were a bit out of the ordinary and there was the baby to consider. “…while you have been our guest.”
“Yes. Thank you. It’s all been very nutritious.” She was expressionless, and yet always that sense of menace.
He had to admit the reaction was not unique. Gene cut quite the authority figure when he had to. She would be defensive as all hell.
“So, anyways. Betty, ah, we’ve been sort of consulting back and forth, with your , ah, former employer—and the, uh, other authorities…”
“Well, I wonder if I might ask you one or two questions?” He tried desperately not to be overly threatening.
All he wanted was a few answers.
Yes, she was in trouble—of sorts, and yes, he had the power to cause her and Scott endless torment.
For what, he asked.
“Yeah—exactly.” He cleared his throat. “No comment. Hmn.”
She wouldn’t let his eyes go, and so he dropped them of his own accord, to the table top, where his hands lay neatly folded.
“Are there other robots like you, Betty?”
Somewhere out there in the world? Did they help her? Were they watching out for her, defying their human masters, feeding her data and holding it back from their masters?
Was this some mad impulse on her part, or part of some larger agenda…? That was the really scary part.
She stared right through him. That didn’t exactly help her case or ease his anxiety.
Is this a malfunction, Betty Blue? Or is it something more?
It was possible she didn’t know. It was possible that she had acted entirely on her own, based entirely on her own feelings, and maybe it wasn’t a malfunction…
In which case why not just say so?
She was aware of the issues.
And smart enough not to give him anything…
Gene was calm, cool and collected.
Like a cucumber.
“I’m prepared to release you right now, Miss Blue. No strings attached. However, I have just one small request.”
His eyes came up again, and hardened.
“It’s all been very fascinating. Really. I’ll be keeping my eye on you, young lady.” The publishers were clamoring for their story—her and Scott.
Life didn’t seen very fair, sometimes.
He smiled, slowly, lasciviously, making it as hard as he could for her. It was the only revenge he was likely to get.
It was the only revenge for a forgotten life.
The smile faded.
“Missus Cartier would desperately like to hear from you, Betty. I think she misses you.”
For the first time, Betty’s eyes changed. They defocused or something, no longer looking deep into his soul and finding him wanting in some way, but through him—off into the future, but not very far, somewhere close by, perhaps.
She was right back with him, though.
“She wants me to call her?” She had a half-witted look of dumbstruck humour on her otherwise smooth visage.
“Yes. Please call the Cartiers. Admittedly, your call may be monitored. Strictly for quality-control purposes, of course…”
They couldn’t have people swearing at each other over the phone now, could they? That one was still mostly just a fine, although there was talk of clamping down from certain quarters. Zero-tolerance. Well-meaning as those folks often were, it was getting to be a pain in the ass at times. Not all human actions were culpable, nor did they require the total legislative approach.
Not that anyone cared what Gene’s opinion was. He was just a cop, and hopefully, a good one.
She nodded, once…or twice.
“Very well. Good. And just so you know, we’ve been talking to the prosecutor, and the company, and the insurance people, as well as the gangstas (she coloured a bit here), and the car-theft victims. They’re all going to receive damages. Paid for by the Cartiers, in some private little settlement with the SimTech people and the insurance company. They have a very good lawyer. I understand there’s a hefty deductible, but that’s all been taken care of.”
They must really love you, Betty Blue.
He didn’t say it. It would have sounded cynical, and that wasn’t how he meant it at all.
He slid the drawer in front of him open. Pulling out a courtesy phone on the end of a two-metre chain, he handed it to her.
Shoving his chair back, he put his hands behind his head and his feet up on the corner of the table.
“If she asks, you might consider working for them again. You know, like eight, or ten, or twelve hours a day. Whatever they want, really, or whatever you think you can handle.” Gene paused thoughtfully. “Make sure you get a good rate, you know?”
As for the legal issues involved in the marriage, the unborn kid, or, was Mister Nettles even capable of informed consent, (what with his chronically-depressed mental state), none of it was any of Gene’s business.
The pair looked like they would be having plenty of legal trouble without his help. They were getting sued fifteen different ways last he had heard, (half the world wanted a piece of that baby) and it wasn’t going to stop there. The city was also in the process of being sued fifteen different ways, but there were the usual legal cut-outs and no one was going to lose their home over it. None of the city employees’ wages would be garnished for life unto the next three generations. No one was taking Gene or the mayor to court and trying to take their first-born kid.
No doubt the Cartiers had some idea of being a part of the child’s life as well. Their present, and very generous attentions, were an easy-to-read indication of that.
She stared into his eyes, and in that moment, it was as if she was aware of his thoughts. She also looked very vulnerable.
Betty looked down at the phone. She uttered a deep sigh. With a resolute gesture, she punched out the number. Her eyes came up and she grimaced.
It was all she said.
It was enough—barely.