by Kevin Z. Garvey
Upon being handed a five wood instead of a five iron on the thirteenth hole, Alex Prescott reared back with the club and swung it at the caddy, cracking him in the head. The caddy’s eyes rolled back and he fell to the ground.
Alex’s twosome partner, Raymond Wellington, shook his head. “That’s going to cost you,” he said.
“He gave me the wrong club. What was I supposed to do?”
“This isn’t your first offense, Alex. You could be looking at jail time.”
Alex nudged the fallen caddy with his foot. “I don’t care anymore, Ray. This is getting ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous enough to rot in a prison cell somewhere?”
“Yes. If that’s what it takes to get rid of these stupid laws. It’s time we went back to the way things were.”
Raymond shook his head and looked down at the caddy. “What should we do about him?”
Alex shrugged. “Nothing. Let’s continue with the round. Hand me my five iron, would you?”
“Not a chance,” Raymond said.
Alex laughed. “You know something? If I clubbed you, it would take longer for the cops to arrive than for this thing.”
“If they came at all.”
“Real people don’t come equipped with sensors and eye-cameras like workbots do,” Raymond said. “Not yet, anyway.”
“That’s my point. In the eyes of the law, bots are more important than flesh and blood people.”
“In the eyes of the law, you’ve already been identified and the cops are on their way.”
“Let them come,” Alex said, putting away his wood and taking out the iron. “I don’t care anymore.”
The two men played another hole. It was Alex’s worst hole of the day. A triple bogey. At the tee on fifteen, two police officers were waiting.
“Good afternoon, officers,” Alex said. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Not for the caddy with his skull bashed in,” said one cop, the one with the bushy mustache.
“And not for the guy who bashed his skull in,” said the clean-shaven one.
“Don’t be coy,” Alex said. “You know it was me. And I’d hardly call my little love tap a bashing.”
“It was enough to shut down his motor,” said Mustache. “That’s against the law.”
“And it’s not your first offense,” added Clean Shave. “You’ll have to come with us.”
“This is an outrage,” Alex said. “I hit a piece of machinery, not a human being.”
“We’re not here to debate the law, Mr. Prescott. We’re here to enforce it.”
Alex looked at Raymond. “Could I trouble you to call my lawyer?” he asked. “Charles Abercrombie.”
Raymond nodded. “Told you this was going to cost you.”
After Charles Abercrombie, Esq. had bailed Alex Prescott out of jail, they’d gone directly to Abercrombie’s sixty-sixth floor office. The massive suite overlooked New York’s Central Park. The two men sat cater-cornered at a twenty-foot Napoli conference table.
“How much is it going to cost me this time?” Alex asked.
“I’m afraid it’s more complicated than that,” Abercrombie said. “It’s your third offense. The statute calls for a mandatory prison sentence.”
“That’s crazy. It’s a machine, for crying out loud.”
Abercrombie sighed. “We’ve had this discussion before, Alex. And frankly, I’d rather not have it again.”
“Then maybe you’d rather not cash my retainer checks, Charles.”
Abercrombie spread his hands. “If you feel I’m not providing you with adequate counsel, you can terminate my services.”
Alex stared into the eyes of his lawyer for a moment. “Just tell me how to get out of this mess, Charles. There must be a way.”
Abercrombie rubbed his chin. “The first thing you need to do is seek psychiatric help.”
“For two reasons. One, it shows the court that you’re admitting you have a problem and that you wish to change. Two, you do have a problem and you need to change.”
Alex put his elbows on the conference table and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “I don’t have a problem, Charles.”
“I’m your lawyer, Alex, not a doctor. I can’t make a clinical diagnosis. But you knew from last time that one more offense could send you to prison. Would send you to prison. And yet, here you are again.”
“No buts. You need to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. If for nothing else than for the sake of appearances. Once you do that, I may be able to make a deal with the DA.”
Alex sighed and shook his head. “Because I broke a bot. That’s what this boils down to.”
“You broke the law, Alex.”
“A stupid law.”
Abercrombie took out his wallet and sifted through it. He pulled out a business card. “Dr. Lipton,” he said. “She specializes in workbot violence cases. She can help you.”
“Utterly ridiculous,” Alex said, but he took the card.
Abercrombie then pulled out another business card and placed it on the table. Using his finger, he slid the card across to Alex.
Alex looked down at the card. There was a phone number in the center of it, nothing more.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“The next time you feel an uncontrollable urge to assault a bot, call this number. But I must warn you, the service is very expensive. It’s also highly secretive and you will be extensively vetted. Please don’t mention where you got the number.”
“A word of advice,” Abercrombie said. “You’re better off seeking treatment than making this call.”
Alex Prescott slammed his fist down on Charles Abercrombie’s conference table.
“This is an outrage,” he said. “I won’t stand for it!”
“I’m sorry, Alex. The authorities are taking a hard line on bot abuse. I warned you last time.”
“But you said if I saw Dr. Lipton, you could get me off.”
“No, I said I would try to make a deal with DA. Which I did. And Dr. Lipton helped. She feels you can be rehabilitated, and will continue working with you throughout your incarceration.”
“But thirteen months, Charles? That’s insane. I won’t do it. I refuse.”
“If you go to trial and lose, you’re looking at three to five years, Alex. And there’s no way you can win the trial. I’m sorry. This is the best offer you’ll get. You should take it.”
Alex shook his head. “I’ll flee the country first. Disappear.”
“Not a good idea.”
Alex sighed. “I need time to think about it.”
“You have to decide today. If you agree to the deal, I can get them to give you a week to get your affairs in order.”
Alex put his head in his hands. “A year for breaking a bot. Unreal.”
“I’m sorry, Alex. I did everything I could.”
It was day three of the week Charles Abercrombie had negotiated for Alex Prescott. Alex had not seen a soul in those three days. He had resigned his position at his firm via certified mail, and was now holed up in his penthouse apartment on New York’s Upper West Side.
He stood at the window, gazing down at the busy streets of Manhattan. He had always taken this spectacular view for granted, but now he couldn’t get enough of it. In four more days, this view would vanish for at least thirteen months. Possibly forever, if he got shanked or shived or whatever they called prison stabbings these days.
Sighing, he forced himself to move away from the window. He walked across his exotic hardware floor and went into the kitchen. In the past seventy-two hours, he’d dropped five pounds. He’d barely eaten, and hadn’t bathed or shaved. He’d lost his appetite. For food, and for life. He was a mess.
He looked in the refrigerator, but nothing appealed to him, despite his hunger. Slamming the door shut, he took a seat at his white marble kitchen island and thought about his predicament.
I’ll flee the country first. Disappear.
That’s what he had told Charles Abercrombie. But the reality was that he had no idea how to go about it. He’d already turned in his passport as a condition of his plea deal. In order to flee, he’d need to obtain a high quality fake one. But where? He could ask around, but that would leave clues, a paper trail. He needed a clean break. A new identity, known only to himself.
His situation seemed hopeless. It was frustrating. Made more so by the fact that money was not an issue. He had the funds to buy the very best forged documentation. It was just that he didn’t know where to shop for such a thing. Maybe if he had more time, he could have managed it. But a week? Impossible.
“Money,” he muttered. He’d paid Abercrombie a fortune over the years, and the famed attorney had failed him. So had Dr. Lipton. She was supposed to be one of the top mental health experts in the world. And yet, between the both of them, they couldn’t keep him out of prison. What a joke.
She and Abercrombie are picking my pockets, he thought. That’s what this was about. Profiting from a single outburst of his temper. The more he thought about it, the more enraged he became. Finally, he erupted. He stomped over to the counter, picked up his state of the art coffee maker and threw it down onto the floor, smashing it to pieces. Kicking the debris out of the way, he then stalked into the living room and smashed his TV.
Still not satisfied, Alex went into the bedroom, grabbed his wallet and extracted Dr. Lipton’s business card.
“You’ll never get another cent from me, you quack,” he said, ripping the card to shreds.
That’s when he remembered the other card. The one Charles Abercrombie had given him, with just a phone number on it.
He pulled the card from his wallet and stared at it. Abercrombie had told him that if he ever felt the need to assault a bot, he should call this number. The implication was clear. The people at that number were providing an illegal service. Alex wondered if they provided more than one.
After a brief period of deliberation, he made the call.
A man picked up on the second ring.
“Yes, hi,” Alex said. “I got your number from–”
“Stop,” said the man on the other end.
Alex stopped talking.
“State your name,” the man said. “Your name.”
“Address, date of birth, social security number.
Alex recited the information.
“Expect a call back within the hour.”
Alex’s phone had been ringing non-stop for the past three days. News travels fast, and his friends and associates had been trying to contact him. But he wasn’t answering.
At least it’s not family calling, he had thought several times. He was glad he was a bachelor. He couldn’t imagine the shame his wife and kids would feel knowing he was about to be jailed like a common criminal. He was also glad his parents were deceased, so they wouldn’t have to see the failure they had raised.
An hour came and went. After ninety minutes, he was angry. How dare they keep him waiting? Alex Prescott wasn’t the kind of man you kept waiting. He debated calling them back, but decided against it. In another fifteen minutes, he would turn his phone off and be done with it. They wouldn’t see a dime from him.
Five minutes later, the man called back. Alex had a mind to lecture him on his lateness, but told himself not to. “I’m here,” he said.
“We can meet,” said the man, not bothering to apologize for his tardiness.
“The northeast corner of 74th and Broadway.”
“Now or never,” the man said.
“Fine,” Alex said, taken aback by how abrupt the man was. “How will I know you?”
“You won’t. I’ll know you.”
The man hung up.
Alex stared at the phone for a second. The man’s curtness was disconcerting. But wasn’t that a good thing? These people didn’t fool around. They were all business.
The problem was that Alex was in no condition to leave his apartment. He looked and smelled terrible. He thought about taking a quick shower, but decided against it. The man seemed willing to walk away from Alex’s business, and Alex couldn’t take the chance.
Instead, he splashed some water on his face and gargled with mouthwash. Then he threw on some clothes, put on a baseball cap, pulled the brim down low and headed out of his apartment to the elevator.
The meeting place was several blocks from his home. He stood on the northeast corner as instructed. A few minutes later, a man appeared. He was wearing an expensive suit. He was clean-shaven and wearing sunglasses. Alex felt grimy next to him.
“Mr. Prescott, let’s walk.”
The man began walking north on Broadway. Alex followed. He had a lot of questions, but thought it best to let the man lead.
After a block, the man said, “How can we be of service?”
“I understand that you provide bots.”
“We call them dolls. They are of a much higher quality than the workbots you’re used to.”
“And these…dolls. They’re for specialized purposes, correct?”
“For any purpose. There are no restrictions. However you see fit.”
“Very good. But here’s the thing. I know you’re going to have to vet me before the transaction, but I don’t have much time.”
“We’ve already vetted you, Mr. Prescott. We know you’re scheduled for prison in four days.”
“Oh? That was fast.”
“When do you wish to interact with your doll?”
“I have another question first.”
“The price is non-negotiable,” the man said. He told Alex the number.
“My word, that’s a lot of money.”
The man did not respond.
“I agree to the price. But that’s not what I was going to ask. I want to know if you provide other services besides your dolls.”
“I’d like some high quality forged documents, including a passport.”
The man turned and gave Alex an appraising look as they walked. After a moment he said, “Yes, we can help you with that.”
“Really? That’s wonderful. How much extra?”
“No charge,” the man said. “We’ll include it in the price of the doll.”
For the first time in three days, Alex Prescott smiled.
“When do you wish to interact with your doll?” the man asked again.
“How soon can you be ready?”
“Today, if you wish.”
“I prefer tomorrow. Say noon?”
“That will be fine. What kind of doll are you looking for?”
Alex thought back to his conversations with Dr. Lipton. He shuddered at the thought of how some people might use these dolls.
“I know there are a lot of sickos out there,” he told the man. “But to me, violence against women and children is abhorrent.”
“Please tell me what you want, Mr. Prescott, not what you don’t want.”
Alex paused. “I just want to beat a man to death with my bare hands,” he said. “Well, not a man. A bot. A doll, I should say.”
“A kill doll. Understood.”
“One that looks like a man. Yours do look authentic, correct?”
The man nodded. “More realistic than the caddy you killed last week,” he said. “Our dolls are indistinguishable from the real thing. Guaranteed.”
Alex frowned. He didn’t like the man’s use of the word “killed.” Nor did he appreciate the reminder of his deed. But he wasn’t here to argue. “Excellent,” he said.
The man took a folded sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to Alex. “Instructions for the bitcoin transaction.”
“Bitcoin? I assumed you’d want cash.”
“Bitcoin transfers are safer, if done correctly. You must follow these directions to the letter.”
“A car will pick you up on the same corner we met at today. Eleven a.m. sharp.”
“I never did get your name,” Alex said.
“I never gave you my name,” the man said. “Good day, Mr. Prescott.”
Within two hours of the meeting, Alex felt like his old self again. He’d showered, shaved and ordered food. Now he had a full belly and felt reenergized, reinvigorated. Alive.
He was looking forward to smashing the doll tomorrow.
And after that, thanks to the mystery man, he’d disappear. Become a new man. A new man with a clean slate. Who knows, maybe he’d even return to the United States one day and pay Charles Abercrombie a visit. And then beat him to death like a kill doll.
He smiled at the thought.
He considered calling some old friends, but thought better of it. He needed to make a clean break. He’d make plenty of new friends in his new life, wherever that might be.
Following the instructions the man had given him, Alex made the bitcoin transfer. It was a lot of money. Enough, perhaps, for him to reconsider the idea–if the pot hadn’t been sweetened with the forged documents.
In the evening, he ordered more food, and drank a bottle of wine. He went to bed early, and for the first time in days slept peacefully.
As promised, a car pulled up at precisely eleven a.m. It was a standard livery sedan, nothing special. The driver remained in front. Alex had been looking forward to this moment, but now that it was actually here, he felt nervous, apprehensive. He began to second guess his decision to flee the country. It was only an eighteen months sentence, after all, not life in prison.
But as the car began to roll, he chided himself for his sudden indecision. He was a man accustomed to making bold decisions and following through. And that’s what he’d do today.
The car headed up Broadway. The driver turned left on 77th St. and then right on Riverside Drive, heading north. Alex asked where they were going, but the partition was up and apparently the driver couldn’t hear him. He sat back in his seat and waited.
Soon they were out of Manhattan and into the Bronx. At ten minutes to twelve, the car pulled up to a warehouse. The driver exited the vehicle and opened Alex’s door.
Alex stepped out and was met by the man from the yesterday.
“This way,” the man said, and led Alex into the warehouse. They entered a small, sparsely furnished office. The only furniture was a metal desk and chair with two more chairs in front of it.
“What’s going on?” Alex asked.
The man gestured to one of the chairs. “Have a seat. Someone will be with you shortly.” He turned and left the room.
Alex looked at his watch. A few minutes to noon. Right on time. But as minutes passed, he began to get a bad feeling about this place. Something didn’t seem right.
Have I been set up? he thought. Could this be a sting operation?
He considered getting up and walking away. But how far would he get? Not very, if this was indeed a setup. The police would be waiting for him outside. And if it turned out that he was wrong about a sting, he’d be walking away from a boatload of money and his forged passport.
The passport. Alex found it curious that the man hadn’t said anything about it since their meeting yesterday. Thinking back, he recalled how the man had stared at him after he’d asked about forged documents, as though appraising him. He hadn’t given it much thought then, but now the recollection chilled him.
I need to get out of here, he thought. But as he stood up, two men entered the room. Big, burly men in suits. Alex felt a twinge of alarm.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “I wish to leave.”
One man shoved him back down into the seat. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“What is this?” Alex said, hearing the fear in his own voice. “Are you cops? Charles Abercrombie gave me the number.”
The man who had pushed Alex down extracted a pair of handcuffs. In a panic, Alex jumped to his feet. “What’s going on?” he cried.
“On the ground!” the man yelled. “Now!” He grabbed Alex and tripped him forward onto the floor.
The second man kneeled on Alex’s back and took out his out his own set of cuffs. He twisted Alex’s arm behind his back and cuffed his hands together.
Both men then lifted Alex. They rifled through his pockets, taking everything they found, including his watch, before roughly sitting him in the chair. The first man cuffed his feet together.
I knew it, Alex thought. It is a sting operation. But why? Why would Charles set me up?
“Charles Abercrombie!” he shouted. “He set me up. Call him!”
“Don’t move,” one man told him.
“I know my rights,” Alex said. “I demand to speak to my lawyer.”
Ignoring him, the two men left the room, closing the door behind them.
“I’ll have your badges!” Alex yelled. But his voice lacked conviction. He was beaten, afraid. He felt sick to his stomach. A year and a half in prison suddenly seemed like a great deal. But now, he knew, he was facing more than that. Much more.
He began to tremble as adrenaline coursed through his body. He stood up again, wildly thinking about running away. But when he tried to move, he nearly fell down. The cuffs were tight. Escape was futile. He sat down again.
His mind racing, Alex fought at the restraints until his wrists and ankles hurt. He wondered if they were bleeding.
“Help!” he cried, unable to contain his panic. “Help me!”
But no one came to his rescue.
Alex didn’t know how much time had pass when the door opened again. It had to be at least an hour, he figured. He was exhausted. His wrists and ankles were rubbed raw. He turned in the chair to see who it was, expecting the two men from before. Instead, he saw a man and woman.
They walked past him to the desk. The man took the seat behind the desk. He was short and slight. The woman, who was significantly younger and taller than the man, stood by his side.
They both stared at Alex.
“My God,” said the man. “Amazing.”
The woman shook her head. “It’s creepy.”
The man kept his eyes on Alex for a moment, then looked at the woman. “Is this the man who assaulted you, Olivia?”
Alex’s eyes went wide. “What?”
Olivia sighed. “I don’t like this, Peter.”
“Oh, come on,” Peter said. “It’ll be fun.”
Olivia shook her head. “No. He looks too real. It’s giving me the creeps.”
“Me?” Alex said. “I am real. What are you talking about? Charles Abercrombie set me up.”
“Even the voice,” Peter said. “So lifelike.”
Alex shook his head. He was trying to understand what was happening. It made no sense.
“Listen,” he said. “There’s been a terrible mistake. I’m not a bot. Not a doll. I’m a human being. I’ve been set up.”
He thought back to the two burly men. Neither of them had shown him a badge. Were they not cops? Had he gotten it all wrong?
“You’re the man who assaulted my wife,” Peter said. “Isn’t that right, darling?”
“Peter, stop. I don’t want to play this game.”
“But it’s just a doll, hon. Don’t be like that.”
“I’m not a doll!” Alex cried. Tears were streaming down his face now. “Please. Help me.”
“I can’t stand to look at that thing,” Olivia said. “It’s making me nauseous.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Olivia. I paid a lot of money for this doll.”
“I’m not a doll,” Alex whimpered. “I swear.”
“This is sick,” Olivia said. “I won’t be a party to it.” She moved towards the door.
Alex stood up. Peter came around the desk and pushed him back into the seat.
Olivia put her hand on the doorknob. “Are you coming home with me or not?” she said, looking back at Peter.
“I told you, I paid a fortune for this. No refunds.”
“I’ll send the car back for you then.” She slammed the door on her way out.
Alex stood again. Peter didn’t push him down this time. Instead, he punched him in the face.
Alex fell to the ground.
Shocked that he’d just been assaulted, Alex curled up in a fetal position on the floor. “Stop!” he cried. “There’s been a mistake. I’m not a doll!”
Peter kicked him in the stomach. “Shut up,” he said. “You’ve ruined everything.”
Alex gasped. He looked up at the man glaring down at him. “Peter, please. I really am human. I can prove it.”
“This whole thing has gone south,” Peter said. “It was supposed to be a fun little role-play, but now it’s off the rails.”
“That’s because I’m real,” Alex said.
“Yeah, real expensive,” Peter snarled. “So shut up. I paid good money to beat you to death, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“No!” Alex cried. “That’s murder! You’ll be locked up!”
Peter smiled down at Alex. “You are one creepy doll, you know that?” He kicked Alex in the ribs, hard.
Alex grunted in pain. He vision blurred. He tried to scream but he couldn’t breathe.
Peter began kicking and stomping him. Alex thrashed around on the floor, but there was no way for him to ward off the blows, not with his hands cuffed behind his back.
He knows I’m not a doll, Alex thought. But he doesn’t care.
Alex began to lose consciousness. He felt himself floating away. As the world faded to black, he wondered what he would do if he were in Peter’s shoes. Would he continue beating on his victim, knowing it was a human being and not a doll?
I probably would, he thought. I probably would.