By Anthony Redgrave
Solomon Hewitt picked at his fingernails. If he looked up at her, he forgot that she was a robot. “So your fee charges to the room, huh?”
“Correct. Before we continue, I must inform you that our session is being remotely monitored for quality control purposes. Is this acceptable?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Excellent, Mister Hewitt. I see you’ve chosen a room with double beds. May I ask if you’ve read the list of our other available services?”
He rubbed the pale indent around the base of his ring finger. “Are those other available services remotely monitored as well?”
“For quality control purposes, yes.”
“Then, no. I’m not interested.” He glanced up. She showed no expression.
“Very well then.” She brushed a hand against her teased and frosted bouffant. The motion was unmistakably deliberate. “My designation is ‘Cindy’. I have been assigned to your case. I will be responsible for all contact with you and your trouble. Will you please confirm her name?”
Solomon shifted on the padded vinyl bench. His pulse quickened. “Lily Hewitt.”
“And her home address?”
He turned his head to the sliding glass door, but his eyes drifted toward her. “Same as mine.”
Cindy nodded. Solomon noticed she wasn’t taking notes. “Please summarize your motivation for contacting Troubleshooters regarding Mrs. Hewitt.”
“Please, don’t call her Mrs. Hewitt.”
Cindy’s silicone brow wrinkled between her fiberglass eyes. Her head angled a few degrees to the left. “For the sake of your emotional wellbeing, Mr. Hewitt, I will accept that statement as sufficient.” She resumed her neutral pose. “Please tell me any details you have of Lily’s regular habits, including places she frequents and any times during which she is most likely to be-ee-ee. Eee.”
Cindy’s mouth remained open with her lips taut. Solomon watched her eyes for a moment. He counted the seconds to himself. Her precisely timed blinking had stopped. “Cindy?”
A short stab of radio static sounded from her frozen mouth. A man’s voice spoke with the snowy quality of an old recording. “We are sorry. This unit is experiencing technical difficulties. Remain where you are and a support technician will arrive shortly to diagnose and repair the problem. You are not being billed at this time. Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters!”
Solomon’s mouth also gaped. For a time, he was as still as Cindy. He then sprang up from the bench, staggered past the sliding glass doors, and fumbled with the phone receiver. It slipped from his hands as quickly as he had picked it up. Immediately he changed his tactics and dragged his suitcase from beneath the bed. His eyes darted this way and that, scanning for any identifying personal belongings that were not packed. The recorded message repeated itself again and again while Solomon zipped his black nylon carry-on with shaking hands.
When the zipper was pulled closed, the room was silent.
Solomon held his breath and listened. The message did not repeat - only faint radio static remained. A shuffling of unseen objects made a dissonant staccato. “Mr. Hewitt?”
Solomon fell backwards onto the single bed beside his suitcase. “Y-yes?”
“Hello, Mr. Hewitt. This is Phil from Troubleshooters technical support. Your Cindy unit sent us an automated crash report. We are sending a technician out to you, but it seems Cindy’s GPS is down as well. What is your current location?”
“The Economy Inn. Hyde Street.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hewitt. We have a technician on the way. He’ll be there in about five minutes. We’ll have Cindy back online in no time. Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters.” The receiver clicked, and a dial tone took the place of the static.
Cindy sat there, inanimate, making a persistent beep-beep-beep sound. The tempo of the beeping was just slightly out of time with the ticking of the second hand on the wall clock. He ground his teeth until his jaw ached.
After a time, a knock at the door broke his concentration on the ambient sounds of the room. “Mr. Hewitt? Phil sent me out.”
Solomon staggered his way to the door, dizzy from hyperventilating. “Yeah, come on in. She’s on the patio.”
“Yeah, I know.” The technician sat his tool kit on the carpet between the twin beds. He popped the latch with a metallic clank. The hinge of the lid squealed. “Good work, Cindy. I can take it from here.”
Solomon wheeled around to where Cindy sat beyond the glass door. She had stopped beeping. She stood, brushed back her teased bouffant, and turned to face him. “It was a pleasure working with you, Mr. Hewitt, but according to our policy regarding conflict of interest, the party who was the first to contact us has priority. You have, however, made our work significantly easier. As such, Mrs. Hewitt will be receiving our services at a significantly reduced rate.”
Solomon covered his face with his palm and groaned. “Oh, god.”
The technician stood from where he knelt by his tool kit, and held a revolver’s barrel level to Solomon’s eyes. “Our client has requested personal feedback, if any, from her trouble. If you have any final statements for Mrs. Hewitt, please record them at the tone.”
“Well played, bitch. I did say that we were too much alike, after all.”
“Your statement has been recorded and will be delivered to Mrs. Hewitt upon conclusion of the assignment.”
“Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters,” Cindy said.
- - -
Thursday, December 18, 2014
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