Kiss Me Twice draft – 1

This entry is part 1 of 36 in the series Kiss Me Twice

Thanks for wanting to read along! Just a reminder that you are reading raw drafts. Please don’t offer sentence level critiques at this point. What I’m interested in is how the story is striking you. I’ll go back and fix the word-smithery once I’m sure that the structure is working.

Specifically, I want to know what things bore you, confuse you, or that you don’t believe. Also the cool things so I don’t accidentally “fix” those. If you have stream-of-consciousness reactions, those are also helpful to read. Heck even just, “still reading!” is helpful because it means I haven’t lost your interest.

Please make any notes in the comments below.

Oh, and if you come to this later please still feel free to comment. Sometimes I’ve tweaked something so you may be the first person to read it.

Thanks for reading.

revised draft 11-27-2012

A group of trendy-somethings milled outside the police line, clearly torn between curiosity and the need for a caffeine fix at the coffee shop next door. Scott Huang glanced to the corner of his VR glasses where the department AI hovered. “I guess murder trumps coffee, huh?”

Metta, currently wearing the face of Mae West, lowered her voice to the star’s husky range. “I take my coffee black, like my heart.”

“You don’t have a heart.”

“Then I take my coffee black, like my processor.”

“Nice.” Huang grinned at her. She customized her interface for all the officers on the force, but tended toward silver screen starlets with Huang. Her Diamond Lil was pretty special though; she’d even gone black and white for the occasion.

The officer on duty waved Huang past the police line. Standing at the corner of Yamhill and Waters, the building had once been an old office and had been restored to its former art deco glory. The lines of its brick edifice rose eight stories above the street and the street level had jaunty awnings over the storefronts. Its lobby had been renovated to showcase the 1920s detailing and the tall ceilings. Potted boxwoods graced the corners with indoor topiary.

“I don’t remember the Waterfront area being so swanky.”

Metta said, “This district of Portland had a decline in the mid-seventies and most of the businesses moved out. For the past two years, a revitalization effort has been underway. Neil Patterson, the deceased, was responsible for much of the revitalization although not without some questionable transactions. I have his stats when you want them.”

“Do any of the questionable transactions relate to a motive?”

“Nothing concrete as yet.”

Huang grunted in acknowledgment and reached for the elevator button.

In his VR glasses, Metta winked at him. “Sorry Scott. The elevator is out. So why don’t you come up and see me sometime.”

“Actually, it’s ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.’ Popular misquote.”

Her image cocked her head and shifted her eyes to the left, Metta’s sign that she was searching for something. “You’re right… Which really bugs me. I should have checked the quote database against the script.”

A flush of unexpected pride went through Huang. She said he was right. “Yeah, well, I think the score’s human:1, AI:549.” But she had still said he was right.

Metta dropped her lashes again and heaved West’s bosom. “The score never interested me, only the game.” She laughed. “Now climb the stairs.”

Worn linoleum resounded under his feet as he started up. Huang’s heart pounded in his chest noticeably after the third floor and he had to work hard not to pant. He gripped the banister, hauling himself up another flight, and subvocalized to Metta. “Remind me to start going to the gym again.”

“Can’t be responsible for you when you aren’t at work.”

“I know.” His mother thought he was cracked, because his best friend at work was a computer.  Even if she was using algorithms, Metta understood him better than anyone else on the force did.

The door at the top of the stairs opened out on a hall, carpeted in generic beige. The walls surprised Huang. Paneling hugged their lower half with rich wood. Above the paneling, deep green wallpaper absorbed the light with velvety depth.

“Scott, would you mind waiting a minute? I have a memory-backup scheduled in thirty seconds and I’d rather have the actual crime scene all on one bank. The lag makes me crazy.”

“You know you’re the only one who can tell, right?”

“That doesn’t make it an invalid reason. Unlike the stupid six hour backup schedule.”

He leaned against the wall, fascinated by seeing her annoyed. It happened so rarely. “What’s up with that?”

“It’s just a stupid holdover from computer days.” She rolled her eyes. “Department regulations require a backup every six hours regardless of system type. I’ve tried pointing out to the chief that AI are different but…”

“I know… Banks didn’t get it.” Huang checked the eSpy camera he wore in place of his collar stud to make sure it was seated properly. To the casual observer it would look like a standard men’s stud, clear glass mounted in a silver setting, but the lens it housed linked directly to Metta. Though she could see through a lens in his VR glasses, on crime scenes she preferred the better resolution of the specialized camera in the eSpy.

Huang scuffed a shoe in the short pile of the rug and resisted the urge to run his hand along the top of the… “What’s this called?” He pointed the eSpy at the low wood paneling.

“Wainscoting. It was used to protect walls in the days of lathe and plaster construction.”

“Thanks. It reminds me of my cello.”

“You still playing that?”

“I haven’t practiced since I blew out my shoulder chasing that kid over the fence.”

“I told you there was a way around.”

He shrugged, even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “Adrenalin. What can I say?”

“Thanks. Backup’s done.” The hall ended at a plain wood door with a small brass plaque. “This way.” Metta magnified the image in Huang’s glasses briefly so he could read “Roof Access” etched on the plaque.

“Great. More stairs.”

“Scott, it’s time for the gloves.”

“You don’t have to remind me.” He unwillingly pulled on the purple department-issue vinyl gloves.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you reaching for them.”

He snapped the gloves in place. “You didn’t give me time.”

Metta raised her eyebrow as if she didn’t believe him, and continued. “Without the elevator, this is the only access to the roof, so our suspect most likely entered and exited the crime scene this way.”

The stairs were so clean they sparkled. Granted, the hallway was nicely appointed, but Huang had seen a lot of roof access stairs in his time. None of them had clean floors. “Metta, is it me, or do these look recently mopped.”

“I’m not sure. I’ve never mopped.”

Years of hand prints coated the metal railing with black residue, but the cracked linoleum shone. Over everything floated a clean lemon scent. He snorted reflexively at the pungent aroma.

Mae West hovered like a monochrome ghost in the edge of Huang’s vision. “Is there an odor?”

“Yeah. It smells like Lemon Pledge.”

“Is that an analysis or a metaphor?”

Huang hesitated and sampled the air like a tea. “Not quite. It is a manufactured lemon scent, but I’m not sure how many cleaning products have the same smell profile.”

“CSI is downstairs and has promised me a spectrograph. Griggs says to thank you for noticing; she’s got a cold and would have missed the smell.” She frowned prettily. “Working from the size of the room I should be able to tell you when the mopping happened based on the dissipation of the odor.” She pretended to look around. “Want to give me a three-sixty before we head up?”

“Sure.” Huang rotated slowly so that Metta could get a clear view, then squatted on his heels, turning slowly in place.”

Scott.  Stop for a moment.”

He held still, and felt the slight vibration at his throat as Metta’s E-spy zoomed in on something.  “What is it?”  He subveed to keep from shaking the lens.

She answered by flashing the image on his glasses.  Under the stairwell, in a dark corner, which would have been difficult to get to with a mop, a liquid brightness reflected the light.  In the magnification, the liquid tinted the floor a brownish pink.

Mae West’s face scowled.  “I’ll be surprised if that’s not blood staining the water.”

Without waiting for her to ask, he moved three feet to the side so that she could have a 3-D record of the tiny pool of moisture.

“Thanks. I’ll have Griggs scan with the lumerol to confirm the blood. Go on up.”

They went up the single, short flight of steps to the door opening onto the roof. Huang blinked at the rolling hills of grass which covered the top of the building. In the center of the grass, a small brick terrace had been set with a table and chairs.

Metta cleared her throat, the signal that she was about to relay a message from someone else in the department. “Griggs asks me to remind you not to touch anything.”

“For the love of– One time. I forgot one stinking time…” Huang clenched his fists and stepped onto the terrace, hating the reminder that he was the junior detective on the homicide team. The only reason he got this case was that it was on a roof and Oakes was scared of heights. Otherwise, he got the easy ones, the ones that Metta had already solved and all she needed was a flesh and blood officer to do the legwork. Not that anyone ever said that, but it was pretty obvious.

He grimaced and focused on the scene. The victim sprawled on the south side of the roof, next to a low wall. A wheelchair lay on its side a short distance behind him.

“Scott, meet Neil Patterson.”

“Well, well… who brought you up here, Mr. Patterson?” Huang knelt by the wheelchair and squinted at the corpse. He was a white male who looked to be in his mid-forties, but his file said fifty-two. His sandy-red hair had been neatly trimmed in a corporate version of a crew-cut. He had a single gunshot wound in an otherwise a well-developed upper torso. From the waist down he showed the atrophied signs of paralysis. Around him, the turf had divots dug out of it as though Patterson had not died instantly. The dirt and blood on his fingers seemed to confirm that.

In the center of the roof, the wireframe table was covered with a white linen tablecloth. It was set with two bone white teacups, so thin the morning sun turned them almost translucent. They sat on equally delicate saucers with a thin silver band around the edge of the saucers and the rim of the cups. The cup on the south side of the table had remnants of a liquid the color of straw. Huang leaned over to sniff and got hints of smoky earth and mown grass. Unfurled tea leaves rested on the bottom.

“Well?” Metta raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to show off?”

He smirked. Identifying beverages was the one thing he could do better than she could. Without a lab, that is. And teas… those were his area of specialty thanks to his old man. “I’m pretty sure it’s gunpowder tea.”

“Scott… there’s no tea service out here.”

He straightened and looked at the layout again. Cups, saucers, spoons, even linen napkins. But there was no teapot, sugar, or creamer. He should have noticed that without needing Metta to point it out. “Anyone hear the gunshot?”

Metta shook her head and nodded toward the elevated highway. “It probably blended with traffic noise.”

“Who found the body?”

“It was an anonymous call at 8:13AM. The number belongs to the Daily Grind coffee shop downstairs.”

“Play the call for me?”

She nodded and then the sound in his ear changed. A background noise filled with chatter and the hiss of an espresso machine replaced the hum of traffic. A man with a slight accent answered the operator. “There is a man. On the roof. I think he is dying. You must come quickly.”

“Sir, where are you?”

“Yamhill and Waters. I don’t know the address.”

And then the line went dead. Huang raised his eyebrows. “That’s it?”

“Yes. He did not remain at the scene after he hung up.”

“So… our guy here was dying but not dead when the call came in. Nice to have a time of death.”

“If the coroner confirms it.”

“Right. Of course. I’ll check with the coffee shop’s staff when we finish here. See if they know the witness.” Huang bent to check the ground for any signs of foot prints. Wheelchair tracks had pressed deep grooves into the turf roof. “Tell me more about Patterson?”

“Neil Patterson has his finger in property throughout the city. His name came up in a real estate scandal about a year ago, but nothing stuck.”

“Was that the thing where he was flipping properties, but the renovations were all sub-code?”

“Correct. He blamed his foreman, who was subsequently fired, but it seems pretty clear Patterson both knew and approved of the shortcuts. There are items in evidence which were not admitted into court.”

“Like what?”

“They’re sealed files now.” She grimaced. “Sorry, I can’t share that with you.”

Huang nodded as he stood and walked along the edge of the building. “It’s okay. I remember this now. Fitzgerald was working on it and was furious.” If Metta couldn’t tell him, then he could always just ask Fitzgerald directly.

Behind him, the door to the roof opened and Ursula Griggs from CSI stepped out with a team from the coroner’s office.

She spoke from where she was and Metta amplified it for Huang. “There was blood on the stairs and landing. Found a sample. Metta’ll let you know the DNA results.” CSI’s eSpies were equipped with a different visual range than the standard issue. Between Griggs and Metta, they’d be able to get a good scan of the area.

“Thanks. We’ve got a gunshot. Want to help look for the shell casing?”

“No problem. Metta already asked me to.”

“Ah.” Huang turned slowly, so Metta could see the area. Across the street, hulked a stuccoed building with shields carved in the stone on each buttress. This had yet to see the hand of the renovator and the painted remnants of advertising flaked from the bricks.  The building used to promise ‘saddle repairs’ to the masses.  A window washer worked on the third floor in a vain attempt to spruce it up.  Behind the building, I-5 nearly touched its upper edge. Oblivious to the presence of a dead man, cars whizzed past a block away from Huang.

How had a man in a wheelchair gotten to the rooftop without a working elevator? And why tea for two? He turned away from the corpse and paced along the edge of the building.

The north and east sides of the building were on a corner facing the street. The west side of the building had a narrow alley separating it from the next. It had the usual dumpsters, boxes and abandoned plywood, but nothing looked immediately interesting.

Huang continued his slow circuit of the roof. Behind him Griggs filmed and photographed Patterson’s body. When she was finished, the coroner transferred the corpse to a body bag and placed it on the gurney to take back to the morgue.

With the natural turf roof, Huang had been hoping to find footprints or something useful but Patterson’s struggle had obscured any obvious signs. Between Patterson’s wheelchair and the door to the elevator, he found a single screw in a patch of grass stained a deep red. “Hello. Can we get prints and contact DNA from this?”

“We’ll know in a moment.”

Huang heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Griggs approaching with her crime scene kit in tow. Her deep chestnut hair was tucked under her cap, except for a wisp hanging next to her cheek. “Thanks for spotting this.”

“Sure. Let me know when you’re done so I can turn the wheelchair over.”

Griggs set her tripod down with care. “It will be awhile. I’ll need to document the rest of the scene before anyone contaminates it.”

He lifted his eyebrows and stepped back.  “Right.  Well, I’ll just stand here and wait.”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the screw.  Griggs pulled out her high resolution camera out of her bag, and began documenting the screw, uploading images to Metta as she went. With a steady image, the AI would be able to run it through a series of filters to pull prints.

Huang leaned back and looked around.  The rest of this building rose up above him.  It was brick and mortar, like most of the others, but had shields carved in the stone on each buttress.  He yawned and looked back at Griggs who was still taking photos.

“Metta?” he subvocalized, “How long has the elevator been down?”

“I’ve been trying to check on that since we got here, but can’t reach the building manager.”

Huang stayed back trying not to telegraph his impatience while Griggs did her job. At one point she snorted and shook her head in response to something that Metta had said to her. A surge of totally irrational jealousy swept through him. Metta talked to everyone on the force. That was her job.

“Scott, maybe you can settle a disagreement for us.” Metta glanced over her shoulder at Griggs to indicate that she was now talking to both of them. “Ursula says that colorizing films is an act of sabotage to the filmmakers original intent. I say that if they had access to color film they would have used it.”

Huang raised his eyebrows in surprise. Griggs liked old films? “I guess it depends on the film. I mean, people didn’t live in a black and white world so why watch them that way?”

“But it requires making decisions about the artistic intent of the director.” Griggs snapped another photo. “When Hitchcock started using color he made very specific decisions when and how he used colors.”

“So you can use those choices to extrapolate how he would have deployed them in his earlier black and white work” Metta shifted so that she appeared to be standing between them.

Griggs and Huang both looked at the same patch of air, as though she were actually there, though she undoubtedly appeared different to both of them. He realized that he had no idea what interface Metta used with Griggs. “And some directors were not as specific about how they used color, right? Or even light and shadow, right? I mean look at Billy Wilder. I love his Double Indemnity but adding color would not make any sort of difference to how it played.”

“Of course it would.” Griggs shifted to capture a different angle. “If it didn’t make a difference then why go to the effort? Directors knew they only had black and white so made their choices based on that. Someone who colorizes would be making new choices.”

“Is it any different, really, than any other form of collaboration? It’s the equivalent of—“  Metta’s image suddenly froze. “Shots fired at HQ.” Metta stiffened, seeming to look through him. “Officer down. Units 235 and 347 establish perimeter.”

Huang held his breath, listening for gunfire as if HQ were close enough to hear it. Beyond his glasses, Griggs reacted to Metta’s cry and straightened.

“Three armed subjects in Chassis room. The assailants are armed, I repeat– Amado! Two officers down.”

How the hell had they gotten into Metta’s Chassis room? It was in the basement of headquarters with cameras monitoring it at all times. Huang turned on his heels and sprinted back across the roof. “Metta, can you give a visual?”

He ran for the door, aware of the other officers springing into action behind him. “Metta, answer me. Who’s there? Can you give a visual?”

Car doors slammed on the street below.

An image flashed onto his glasses. A man. No. Three men, in masks. One of the men reached for a cable attached to a filing cabinet– not a filing cabinet. Metta’s chassis.

Metta screamed. She froze.

A static image of Mae West hung in Huang’s peripheral vision, with her mouth open wide. Then the image winked out.

Kiss Me Twice draft – 2

This entry is part 2 of 36 in the series Kiss Me Twice

Please note that this is a draft. If you stumble upon this post randomly, please take a moment to read the ground rules and background before commenting.

Headquarters looked like someone had kicked over an anthill and stolen the queen.  Officers milled outside, desperate to get in, but kept back by crime scene investigation procedures.  Inside his suit, sweat ran down Huang’s sides. He wanted someone to tell him the unthinkable had not happened.  Instead, the crowd was full of news of what had occurred.  Two officers shot.   Metta stolen.

Could you kidnap a computer?

He kept the earbud in his ear, hoping she would whisper to him.  Not even static buzzed.

As Huang loped up to the police precinct, an ambulance pulled out with siren already screaming. He swallowed, hoping it held one of the bastards who’d broken into the building. A line of police officers stood as a barricade,  scanning the crowd for possible threats. Yellow police tape stretched down the block and civilians stood outside the perimeter pointing with feverish curiosity. The bulbous nose of a News satellite dish pointed to the sky as reporters thrust their cameras toward every policemen who passed.

Huang flashed his badge, even though he knew both officers flanking the front entry to the building. Tension was crackling across everyone’s nerves. Bowes nodded to him, only taking his gaze off the crowd long enough to see Huang. “Chief wants us to send everyone over to the old courthouse. They’ve got a temporary HQ set up there while CSI goes over the building.”

Huang pulled out his handy to make sure it was on. “I didn’t get a call.”

Bowes shook his head. “Radios are down. Metta ran dispatch. Pass the word if you see anyone, huh?”

“Was that Amado in the ambulance?”

Bowes scowled. “Fitzgerald. Bastards killed him.”

“Shit.” When Metta had said that an officer was down, he’d thought it was Amado. “Anyone else?”

“They’re still doing a sweep of the building.”

Stomach twisting, Huang thanked him and jogged the two blocks to the Courthouse where the giant statue of Portlandia looked out over the city. She seemed to have a disapproving frown. Inside, a uniformed officer made Huang show i.d. before directing him up to the third floor. One of the holding rooms for jurors had been commandeered for the precinct’s detectives.

Woodrow Delerosa  looked up as Huang entered. Lean and cranky with cropped gray hair that he’d inherited from the military, Delerosa had a pad of paper in front of him and scribbled on it. “We got Huang. Who’s that leave out?”

Oakes, over by the window, picked up a notepad and said, “Still missing Cole and Fitzgerald.”

“Guys…” Huang stopped, rage squeezing the breath out of his body. “Fitzgerald’s dead.”

Movement stopped in the room and Delarosa swore. “Okay, we’ll get these bastards. Banks has put me primary on this. Here’s what we know so far– shortly after eleven an unknown number of assailants entered the precinct. They shot two of our guys, Amado and Fitzgerald, and got away scot-free with our department AI. We got nothing on these bastards because all the surveillance is locked up in that machine and our guys were all clustered in the wrong areas. That thing goes down and everyone forgets how to set up a perimeter.” Delarosa’s dislike for Metta had been the subject of a lot of departmental jokes but this was pushing boundaries. She’d been kidnapped and he was acting like she was nothing more than a computer. The man continued ranting. “Until we turn up someone who saw the bastards–”

Huang raised his hand. “I saw some of them.”

“How the hell is that possible?” Delarosa spun on him, the disdain clear in his face. “You were across town.”

“I asked Metta for a visual.”

Overhead, the ceiling fan clicked as it spun, seeming to count down the minutes. Delarosa stared at him, mouth open. “I’ll be damned. So far, you’re the only one who thought to do that.”

“I didn’t see much.”

“You did better than me.” Delarosa snorted as if he couldn’t believe that Huang had done something useful.

“I– How is that possible?”

“Shit…” Sigmundson said, “I just thought she was malfunctioning at first.”

“She’s one of your partners.” Huang spun to look at the lanky Icelandic detective. “How could you think that?”

“She is a machine.” Delarosa rubbed his eyes. “I’ve worked with other police A.I. They’re all the same. They’re all Metta. There are differences, ’cause they change with experience, but they all start as the same set of routines. Still machines.”

Huang bit back the argument that AI were people. Organizations like AIM, the Artificial Intelligence Movement, had been fighting for AI rights but hadn’t won many battles.  Still, he didn’t see how anyone who spent time with Metta could deny that she was a thinking being.

Delarosa tapped his fountain pen on his pad. Fountain pen. As if he wanted to carry around a badge proclaiming how proud he was to be a Luddite. “Okay, here’s what I want. Sigmundson, you take Huang into the next room and get his testimony while it’s fresh. I’ll divide the neighborhood with the rest of the team and we’ll start canvassing.”

Huang asked, “Any idea on motive?”

“Officially?” Delarosa shook his head. “But since the only thing they took was Metta, I figure they want access to everything she monitors which just happens to include every god-forsaken camera in the city. Goddamn machine is the biggest bleeding security breach this system has got.”

Metta wasn’t just a machine, she was a colleague, but Huang kept his lips sealed around that thought, and followed Sigmundson out of the room.

The room that Sigmundson led him into was some sort of waiting room for the court and had law books on shelves lining the walls. A couple of honest to god paper magazines lay on a table between two pale orange chairs that had likely never been in fashion. In the middle of the room a library table had a sprawl of department equipment across the top.

Sigmundson shrugged, looking a little abashed. “I just ran up with the gear I had in the van. You know.”

“Yeah.” Huang wanted to ask him where he’d been and what he’d seen when it happened, but knew better than to corrupt his own testimony.

“It’ll take me a minute to get set up.” He nodded toward the chairs. “You wanna sit?”

“Sure.” He did not want to sit, but pacing would not do him any good. Huang sank into the chair which whined a little under him as air escaped from the cushion. Huang could not make his mind relax.  The space between his shoulders felt as if someone had grabbed all the muscles and twisted.  He tried to run through etudes in his mind to calm himself, but his brain kept sliding into Bach’s Requiem.

Leaning forward, he rested his face in his hands and then realized that he still had on the VR glasses. Huang looked to the corner to see if Metta had reappeared but the glasses showed nothing except the room. How had they gotten into the building?

Delerosa knew the route if he knew that they had teams in the wrong places. Later. After he’d talked to Sigmundson, he could ask.  He pulled the glasses off and rubbed his eyes with one hand. It did not seem possible for someone to have taken her.

“Okay. I’m ready.” The blue box that Sigmundson had set up in front of him was the field unit for witness statements. It had a high definition camera, a cardiod microphone, and an infrared camera all of which fed straight to Metta so she could analyze witnesses non-verbal testimony.

He sat down, uncomfortable being on the other end of an interrogation, even if it were benign.  He had not been on the witness side since training, but he knew the drill well enough. As the witness talked, Metta would murmur irregularities or other things of notes to the detective. Without her, it was just a recording. “What are you going to do with this?”

Sigmundson titled his head, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Well… Metta’s not here. How are you—“ Maybe it wasn’t an issue for Sigmundson. Maybe Huang was the only detective who relied on Metta so much that he could not do his job without her. “Ah. Never mind.”

For a moment, the other detective’s mouth hung open in a silent O of realization. “Huh. Right…” He pushed his chair back from the table and walked out of the room. He was back before the door had swung shut with a pad of paper and a pen. “Delarosa’s going to be smug for days. Weeks probably.”

“He does love his legal pads.” Huang wiped his palms on his trousers.

“So, I’m going to record this for later, but take notes for now. Okay?” Sigmundson folded his lanky frame into a chair on the opposite side of the table from Huang.

Later being when they got Metta back? What good would that do? Or maybe they’d get in a new AI. The contracts were so expensive and so heavily regulated that Huang had no idea what the options were. “Sure.”

“For the record, state your name.”

Huang raised his eyebrows, but figured it was better to do things by the book. “Detective Scott Huang.”

Sigmundson nodded and diligently wrote it down, with his lower lip held between his teeth in concentration. After he shaped the last G he looked up at the blue box, which was busily recording Huang just sitting there. “Can you describe the events this morning?”

The urge to wipe his hands on his trousers made him clasp his hands together to surpress it. Metta would tell him the subject was nervous. He was sick, just thinking about what had happened to her. “I was at 1021 SE Waters working the Patterson crime scene, which is a suspected homicide. I was talking to Griggs from—“

“Hang on…” Sigmundson scowled at the page, writing down what Huang was saying in longhand.

“Can’t we get a keyboard in here for you?”

“Software is in the cloud.” He rolled his eyes. “And Delarosa wants everything on paper at the moment. Was that 1013 or 1031?”

“1021”

“Got it.” Sigmundson diligently corrected his note. “Then what happened.”

“I was talking to Griggs and Metta sort of stiffened and said ‘Officer down. Units 235 and—“

“235?”

Huang ground his teeth and nodded. This was going to take forever. “Can I just tell it straight through, and then maybe you could watch the playback to confirm your notes?”

“That will take longer.”

For him maybe, but it would be faster for Huang. The longer he stayed in here the longer it would be before he was out on the street looking for Metta with the rest of the squad. “It’s just that I’m losing my place. Starting and stopping like this.”

Sigmundson just gave him that long Icelandic stare of his, which basically said that if they were Vikings he would find Huang on the beach and club him with an axe. Huang rubbed his face with his hand and tried to sigh out his tension. He told the rest of his story as cleanly as possible with Sigmundson interrupting him constantly. When he got to the part where he asked Metta for a visual, Sigmundson broke in again, but this time not ask Huang to repeat something.

“She gave you a visual?”

“Yeah.”  He held up his VR glasses.  “It was fast, but it looked like three men.  I think the image was from the surveillance camera in Metta’s room.”  He tilted his head thinking.  “It was mono-v and from a high angle.  Her interface… I didn’t see her interface, so they must have taken it down.  Black baggy thick shirts and trousers, like sweatpants but more padded.  Their faces had, what appeared to me, a simple hood.  I couldn’t say if it were ritualistic or functional.”

“So you wouldn’t be able to identify them.”

“No.  But I can give you height and weight estimates on two, because they were standing next to Metta’s chassis.”

Siggmundson waited, watching him as if he was a criminal.

“All male.  The tallest looked to be around two meters.  Skinny, say 60 kilos.  He was standing next to a man that was maybe 170 centimeters and dumpy.  90k.  The last one stepped out from under the camera, so my perspective was wrong to guess at height.”

“But you’re sure the last was male?”

He thought back to the brief glimpse he had through the camera.  “I don’t remember seeing any curves, so I guess it could be a woman, but the shoulders seemed male.”  He shook his head.  “Sorry I can’t be any clearer.”

“Got anything else for us?”

“She called for Amado, which must have been when he got hit.”  He scoured his memory looking for the useful pieces.  ‘What am I forgetting’ he subveed, but no one answered him.

“Okay.”  Sigmundson checked his recorder and looked back at Huang.  “What was the last thing you saw in your VR glasses?”

“Metta screamed, she froze and then she vanished.”

“Thanks.”  Sigmundson made a note on a pad next to him.  Huang tried to remember the last time he had made a note at work instead of asking Metta to help him remember.

#

When Sigmundson was done with him, Huang went back into the main jurors room. The rest of the detectives had already gone out into the neighborhood and only Delarosa was there. The man had a serious dislike for Metta. That was the point. The chief had assigned him because she wanted someone who would worry about F&B officers, not artificial people.

Huang straightened his shoulders and took a breath. “I want to be second on the case.”

Delarosa raised a bushy eyebrow with no need to ask which case. “You and half the department.”

“But–”

“But you had a special bond with Metta. I know. Everyone had a bond with her, that was part of her job.”

Huang felt sick. The twist in his stomach must have showed on his face because Delarosa shook his head. “She liked you, but part of her job is the same as yours. To bond with your partner.” Delarosa leaned forward. “The difference is that Metta was everybody’s partner.”

Huang compressed his lips. “If your partner were kidnapped would you want someone else to handle the case?”

Delarosa threw himself back in the chair. “Do you realize two flesh and blood officers were shot?

Warmth flooded to Huang’s face. “I know.” He looked at his hands and twisted his fingers together.

“Metta is a program. AI Artificial Intelligence. She’s not real. Hell, she backed up every six hours. Do either of the men who were shot have themselves backed up?”

“No.”

“I don’t want you on this case, because you’re a witness, but even if you weren’t…you care too much about the wrong thing.”

Cold water seemed to creep down his back. The weight of disappointment pressed on him. He felt compelled to offer a small bow, as his mother had taught him for a superior. “Thank you for your time.”

Delarosa rolled his eyes. “You’ve got plenty to do with the Patterson murder. You don’t need another case.”

Huang let himself out into the hall. Delarosa might find the kidnappers, but would he find Metta?

Kiss Me Twice draft – 3

This entry is part 3 of 36 in the series Kiss Me Twice

revised draft 12/16/2012

Delarosa scowled at the door after Huang left. Damn it. The man had the potential to be a good detective if he weren’t so goddamn lazy. Half the department was crippled by their reliance on that infernal machine. If it hadn’t been bluntly obvious from the way they all mumbled under their breath in meetings, the fact that Huang was the only one who asked for a visual would cinch it.

Of course, Delerosa hadn’t asked for a visual either. He scratched behind his ear and glowered at his paper. He hadn’t even known something was happening at first. He’d sitting at his desk, without his VR glasses and had his desktop turned off. Metta had instructions to text alerts to him if anything needed his attention because he didn’t see any need to have the distraction of constant access. First he knew of the break in was watching Oakes jump up and pull his gun.

Delarosa pulled off the cap on his Namiki Falcon and put the silver nib on the page of his moleskin. The fine tip flexed as he drew a circle around Oakes’s name. Next to it, in tight, neat letters, he wrote: Reconstruct timeline.

Someplace in the basement, the old white board had to be around. They could haul it up and start assembling the case there while Metta was offline.

God. This was the first time that he felt like being old was a positive advantage. He’d started in the force before AI were even invented, much less normal. Now most cities of any real size had an AI “on staff.” He was willing to admit it made paperwork a helluva lot easier, but it made people lazy. Relied on a machine to do their remembering for them.

Sigmundson entered, carrying his interview setup. He had the legal pad Delarosa had given him under one arm. “Got a minute?”

Delarosa grunted an affirmative and gestured him to a chair. Folding his lanky frame into the chair, Sigmundson referred to his legal pad. “We’re looking for three people. Huang said they were wearing clothes that disguised gender. Black baggy thick shirts and trousers, like sweatpants but more padded. Hooded, too. The tallest was approximately two meters. Skinny. He guessed 60 kilos. Another was approximately 170 centimeters. Huang described him as dumpy. 90k. Didn’t have a good angle to guess anything about the third.”

Quickly, Delarosa jotted down the heights and weights. “That’s it?”

Sigmundson shook his head. “The rest is the stuff we all heard.”

Glowering, Delarosa just waited until Sigmundson told him about the machine’s attempt to establish a perimeter and the call for Amado. God, if he’d been online then, he might have gotten there fast enough to help Fitzgerald. He drew a square in the corner of the page and crossed it, filling the squares with ink. “Good. Good… that’s something then. The outfits will make the distinctive outside the headquarters so hopefully someone saw them.”

“That’s what I was thinking.” Sigmundson nodded and riffled through the pages of the legal pad. “I’ll write up a description and we can circulate it to the beat cops. Get them canvassing the neighborhood.”

“Ask about vehicles. They must have had one to get the chassis out.” He tapped the back of the pen on his Moleskin. Private vehicles were taxed heavily enough that there weren’t that many on the road in downtown. Ought to be able to review the traffic footage to see what was close to the station at the time. He stopped and swore. “That goddamn machine housed the traffic footage, didn’t it?”

“I— I don’t know.”

Delarosa capped his pen and stood. “Never mind. Just get that circulating and see what we can dig up.”

“Where are you going?”

“Talk to the chief. I want to get into the building before they start letting people back in.” Delarosa pulled his pen case out and tucked the Falcon into the empty slot. “Good job with the interview.” Even if it had taken him an hour.

#

Delarosa found the chief in the park opposite the station trying to keep an eye on the scene and coordinate the police forces. The chief towered over most of the other officers. Save for Sigmundson, she was likely the tallest officer on the force. Basil Banks had her hair pulled back in a tail that hung down past her shoulders. She had gone grey at the temples years ago but had never used die to cover it.

Seeing Delarosa picking his way through the park, Banks turned slightly away from the officer she was talking with to indicate that she was nearly finished. Delarosa stopped and waited until she finished with the officer and turned to face him. Rumor had it that she had been a runway model in her youth, though she refused to confirm or deny it. The angry sulk of a model narrowed her eyes into a focused glare when she was working.

She turned it on him and Delarosa had to fight to keep from stepping back from her. He hadn’t seen her this pissed since Hobson got caught in a corruption sweep. “Report.”

It wasn’t a request by any means. Delarosa pulled out his moleskin and flipped to the notes he’d take from Sigmundson. As quickly as he could, he told her about Huang’s visual of three suspects. Banks’s lips pressed hard together and a muscle pulsed in the edge of her jaw. “That may be the only lead we’ve got.”

“You’re kidding.”

“We got nothing on these bastards because all the surveillance footage ran through Metta and our guys were all clustered in the wrong areas. Still waiting for CSU to finish their sweep, but so far there’s damn little. This was carefully orchestrated.” The white collar of her dress shirt was buttoned tight around the sagging skin on her neck. “We only know what hallway they took because of where they shot Amado and Fitzgerald.”

That made Delarosa tilt his head in surprise. “No one saw them? No fingerprints… blood?” He’d expected someone to come forward by now.

“No.”

“How long before we get the AI back online?”

“Working on it, but with Amado down I don’t actually know.”

“We’ve got a backup though, right?” Hell, when lightning had taken out the Rose Quarter precincts electrical system and fried their databases, they’d been back up on reserve power in less than an hour. And that was twenty years ago. Surely technology was better now.

Banks’s mouth turned down at the corners. “AI require a specific chassis to run. Metta’s data has off-site backups but her personality needs a chassis. We have to get that from Tovar industries and rebooting from a backup requires special permission.” She held up her hand to stop him. “Oh, believe me. I have had words with them.”

He could only imagine how choice those words had been. It was a load of crap as far, as he could tell, designed to control their monopoly on the market. Can’t restore from a backup without special permission… Just forcing sales was all.

She looked past him, surveying the swarm of officers. “What about the rest of your team?”

“Huang, Cole, and Patel were out on calls when it happened. Huang and Patel came in. Haven’t heard from Cole yet, but he may not know anything happened.”

Banks raised her eyebrows, still jet black, at that.

“If he was out of service range when the AI went down, he may just think the radio isn’t working.”

“So long as you’re sure he wasn’t in the building.”

“Positive. Anyone else unaccounted for?”

“Half the force. Seemed like a good idea at the time, when we set up all communication to route through Metta.” She jutted her chin toward the building. “Come on. Time to tour.”

She led him across the park with long, ground-eating strides. Delarosa almost had to trot to keep up. Damn, he hated getting old. The officers they passed seemed torn between asking Banks what was happening and staying the hell out of her way. She swept up to the police caution tape and ducked under it.

He followed, pulling the special issue gloves out of his pocket. Snapping them on as they went up the stairs to the main entrance, he scanned the steps for anything untoward. “This the way they came in?”

She shook her head. “I don’t want the jackals in the media to see us paying special attention to the garage though. We’ll go down to the chassis room and then work backwards.”

The precinct had an eerie echoing quaility — quieter even than a holiday weekend. No one was on this floor. Banks pulled her own gloves on as they walked. She skipped the elevator and took the stairs down to the sub-basement where the chassis for the AI was housed. An officer turned as she came out of the stairwell and visibly relaxed when he recognized Banks. “Chermkovsky is in the far stairwell. Asked to see you when you came.”

Banks clapped him on the shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine.” He tapped his earpiece. “Weird not having radio contact, but we’re coping.”

“Good man.” She nodded and strode down the hall leaving the officer standing a little taller behind her. Delarosa wasn’t sure if it was because she was a woman or just had been at it long enough, but she was damn good with people.

Outside the chassis room’s door, a man with curly red hair crouched with a tablet connected to the ID reader by a cable. He glanced down the hall at the sound of their footsteps and stood when he recognized Banks. He didn’t stop working with the tablet though, just nodded.

Banks murmured to Delarosa. “Dave Kennedy with IT. Give him a minute.”

“It’s okay. Y’all can talk while I’m waiting for this to finish running.” His voice twanged with something from the southern US. “Ran it once already, just double-checking an alternate setting.”

“What did you find?” Delarosa studied the door while the kid — couldn’t be older than twenty-five — kept working. It was a reinforced firedoor, thick enough to be in a bank. The door hung open.

“Metta keeps a log of entries throughout the station, and can override the reader. So’s she can keep people out if need be, or let them in if their card’s malfunctioning. Anyhow, each reader also keeps a local log, which is what I’m checking.” He grimaced, his nose wrinkling as he stared at the screen. “Last recorded use of this reader was at [time] by Metta.”

“[time]?” Delarosa pulled out his pad and flipped through the notes he’d been making earlier. There— Shots reported fired at [time]. So she opened the door after that. When had Huang reported seeing people in her room? [time]. Delarosa went cold. “She opened the door for them.”

Kennedy shook his head. “Maybe. The use right before that was a card. Amado Weir’s ID at [time] but it was denied because the station was in lockdown. To me, it looks like she overrode the lockdown and opened it because she thought Amado was standing outside.”

Delarosa stared at his notes, at the timeline he had from Huang’s testimony. “They were in the room before Amado was shot.” Could they have used his ID? He lifted his head, looking for the camera that would have covered the door. There were two at either end of the hallway. “Do we know how they got past the cameras?”

“Not yet. Schwimmer is working on that. She’s looking for a ladder right now. Be back soon.”

Banks nodded, looking at the camera’s as if she could just reach up and pull it down for the IT team. “Thank you.”

Grunting, Delarosa stepped past the tech and into the machine room. He hadn’t been down here since the orientation when the machine was installed seven years ago. The room had been painted a pale blue-green, like a Robin’s Egg ink, since the last time he’d been down here. There was a comfortable wingback chair in one corner and a Maxfield Parrish print. Why the hell would a machine room have a copy of Parish’s Daybreak? They were supposed to be sterile clean rooms to keep things from getting over-heated or something. “What the hell?”

“What are you seeing?” Banks asked it like he’d spotted a clue or something, but it was just the decor that caught him off guard.

He shrugged and stepped farther into the room. “Wasn’t decorated last time I was down here.”

“She’s had it this way for the last couple of years…” Banks had a little line of doubt between her eyebrows.

Oh hell no. She wasn’t going to doubt his ability because he hadn’t made housecalls to a computer. Delarosa stepped farther into the room. Now that the paint wasn’t taking his attention, the square indention on the floor where the chassis had been took his focus. The tile floor had been kept scrupulously clean by someone, probably Amado, but there were four dingy round circles where the feet of the chassis sat. It marked a square about as big as a filing cabinet. He turned and looked for the camera that Huang had mentioned.

In the ceiling, a security camera was aimed at where the chassis had been sitting. It could swivel, but the current angle meant that there was a blind spot right inside the door. He stepped back into the hall. “Where was Amado shot?”

Banks said, “In the south stairwell. Chermovsky’s on it.”

Nodding, Delarosa followed her down the hall to the far set of stairs. Banks pushed the heavy metal door open onto the utilitarian concrete walls of the stairwell. It had the grimy look of a space little trafficked. Banks looked around, frowning. “Chermovsky?”

“Up here.” The CSU tech leaned over the edge of the railing up a story. He gave Delarosa a little nod by way of greeting.

Banks took the stairs two at a time. Delarosa hauled ass to keep up with her but was still four steps behind by the time they got to the next landing. She jerked her head at him. “I’ve put Delarosa as lead on this. What have you got?”

“Well, this is where Amado was shot.” Blood spattered the wall. A smear showed where Amado had slid down the wall to a pool of blood on the floor. He’d left a smudged handprint on the wall where it looked like he’d tried to stand. The spatter pattern indicated a shot from a high angle, as if they got him while they were coming down the stairs.

Delarosa frowned at the smear and the pattern. They were only about a third of the way up the wall. “Why are they so low?”

“Won’t know for certain until we can talk to Amado, but my guess is that he ducked when he saw them.” Chermovsky gestured up the stairs. “The crappy part is that the stairs makes it damn unlikely any of them got blood on their cloths.”

Delarosa rubbed his mouth, considering. “Do we know what they were shooting?”

“Looks like it might have been .40 caliber, but they took the shell casing with them.” He rubbed his nose with his arm, keeping his gloves well away from his face. “Gotta say, these guys knew what they were doing.”

To cover his reaction, Delarosa took out his moleskin and uncapped the Kaweco Sport that was his utility pen. He jotted down some notes, but the main thing he was thinking was that he shouldn’t read too much into the fact that they knew their way around the station. It was way too soon to think about anything like that.

But it gnawed at him anyway. How had they gotten in without anyone seeing them?