A light-noir detective story after the style of the 1930’s, but set in the world of tomorrow.
There were few intellectual things we humans could do today that the machines couldn’t do better. One of those was dealing with the unexpected or unusual, the outliers. The Dark Lady was one of those. Oh boy was she ever.
The detective business had been slow lately. That meant either the skills or the morals of the populace had been improving. The smart money was on the skills. My partner, Paul Bigelow, and I were sitting in our office up on the fifth floor of a dilapidated office building. We were watching the traffic flow on the interstate below us, and trying to figure out what we could bet on to make it interesting. There was a knock on the office door, and when I looked there was a woman, dressed in black and wearing a veil. It looked good on her and had the side benefit of making visual recognition difficult. She walked in and gave Paul the glad eye. Paul, always one for extending his family sideways returned it. While they chatted, I took the EM scanner and walked around her. It was an old-fashioned analog box some long-dead ham had built to tune his antennas. She didn’t flinch as I moved it up and down her shapely body.
“She’s clean. No wireless.” Maybe she’d left her cell at home. Though if she were a real spook she’d be using spread spectrum and we’d miss it with that scanner.
“OK Ma’am, what’s your problem?”
“There’s this man. My boyfriend. I want him followed.”
“Stalking’s illegal,” I said. Paul nodded then said, “Unless you need information, but why not ask?”
“The machine? No thanks. Anyway he’s a geek, a real hacker. Knows his way around the net.” She paused, “and outside of it.”
I wondered if we were meeting with a member of the mutual impedance society. In which case, Paul and I were in for a few days of intense questioning. That is if we were innocent. The probes would come later if we didn’t account for ourselves.
“Look Ma’am,” I said, “This man, he’s not wanted or anything. What’s this about?” It was usually money or sex with a woman. Sometimes both.
She ignored me and smiled at Paul. Then she said, “I can see you’re the sympathetic one.” Paul was moy sympatico, as they say, especially if there was a dame involved. He told me, “Alan, leave this one to me. It’s just another divorce case. I’ll get her particulars and find who or what else this geek of hers is screwing.”
I thought for a moment, something about it bothered me. It didn’t bother me enough to make me want to ask questions though. Thinking about it, that was my first error.
I said, “Sure thing Paul. Handle it. I’m going home, maybe stop for a drink on the way and see what I can pick up.” Usually, it was just the tab. I started for the door, then said, “Make sure you get the earnest money up front.” These personal cases often got nasty with a vengeance.
After I had left, it occurred to me that there didn’t seem any point in going home, nor was there any point in getting smashed in a local dive. Instead, I decided to see what I could scare up downtown, in the big city. The easiest way to the good bars and hot night clubs was to catch the old commuter rail line. I stopped on the way to BART and picked up my cell. I parked her in a neighbor’s house, tied into their solar panel to charge during the day.
She complained, as usual, “Why don’t you keep me with you? I like it when I’m with you; it’s boring sitting here all day watching the birds.”
“Babe, listen, the kind of people I deal with don’t want to talk to the machine.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. He has a name.”
“And I’m sure he’s very nice too. Tough. Thing is, Babe if they could find their answers by asking him, they would. It’s the thing that keeps Paul and me off relief and pays for your charging and my tequila.”
“Alan, she’s been calling. A couple times this evening, and she’s lonely.”
“Who?” As if I didn’t know.
“Celine.” Paul’s wife.
“What was it this time?”
“Seeing as Paul will be busy on a case, she was wondering if-”
“If I’d like to come around for dinner and a drink?”
If my cell could have blushed, it would have. Instead, it dryly said, “Yes, how’d you guess?”
“Celine asks that nearly every time Paul’s away. It’s easier that hitting the bars and looking for a pickup.” Especially once her looks began to go.
“Why don’t you?”
“Paul’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Good eye-candy for the divorce and adultery trade, but limited career prospects. She’d divorce him in a minute if she got her hooks into someone better. Besides, you don’t mess with your partner.”
“So you say you’re going somewhere with your career? Doesn’t seem like it to me, Alan.”
“Babe, I’m here because I want to be. You can ask the machine about me anytime you want.”
“He was asking about you this afternoon. Why don’t you chat with him?”
“I have my reasons, Babe. He knows what they are.”
“Still, Alan, he sounded lonely.”
“Maybe I should hook him up with Celine.” The humor escaped my cell.
“I don’t think she could keep up with him.”
“Babe, this conversation isn’t going anywhere.” When you start arguing with an ‘answer bot’ it’s time to stop.
“Yes Mr. Blake.”
“Good, now look up some wild, rough places for a fun night out. I’m off work and need to relax.”
“You know you’re attracting the wrong kind of attention by doing that.”
“I want to attract some more of the wrong kind of attention tonight. Especially the female kind. The cheap and easy female kind. Where’s the hot club?”