by Gary Clifton
“Well, well, well, Rebound — pardon the pun — you’ve finally managed to end up sitting pretty.” Taylor soft-footed his way from the hallway into a shabby room with boarded-up windows. Rebound was sitting in an old chair at the center of the room.
Rebound stifled a sob. “Taylor, this ain’t funny. You gotta help me, dude. It’s uh... your damned job, man.”
Norm Taylor had been a Dallas cop thirty-one years, twelve as a Homicide detective before he’d yielded to the extra hundred bucks a month for volunteering for the Bomb Squad the year before. It was nearly mandatory-pension time, and every buck counted.
Although bombs and the like sounded dangerous and made good TV drama, the normal disposal procedure was to drag any questionable package outside with a rope and hit it with a high-pressure fire hose. Not dramatic, but a time-proven, reasonably safe way to defuse of a bomb or, more often, to destroy a piece of luggage or a briefcase somebody had forgotten.
“Rebound, I hope you got enough sense to come clean about who did this to you, just in case you run out of luck here.”
Taylor, called “Stub” by co-workers, a squat, husky, former college football lineman, whose thinning red hair was surrendering gradually to the gray-hair monster, had thought until ten seconds earlier he’d seen it all. Approaching Rebound carefully, he flash-lighted the situation with a combination of professional caution and barely suppressed amusement.
Taylor and Rebound had plenty of history. Twelve years earlier, while still a Homicide detective, Taylor had convicted Rebound, a pimp, of brutally murdering one of his girls. Taylor had long since given up on being resentful of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for more closely resembling a defense-lawyer firm. Rebound had paroled out several months ago after serving just over eleven years of a life sentence.
Now Rebound was tied to a rickety chair with what appeared to be several hundred feet of duct tape. A heavy length of chain wrapped through an exposed plumbing pipe and around the fat pimp’s neck compounded trussing. But the six-stick dynamite bomb taped to his chest reduced tape and chain to only a side problem.
“Name, idiot. Who did this?”
“Taylor, I swear, I dunno. Had a few beers at a joint over on Gaston, woke up chained and duct-taped to this damned chair with this bomb taped to me. God, man, I’m gonna die.” Panic was rising in Rebound’s voice, clear evidence he was one frightened pimp.
“Somebody slip you a roofie, tough guy?” Taylor found it hard to grasp the idea that anyone would slip a dose of rohypnol — commonly called the date-rape drug — into the drink of a low-rent street hustler like Rebound. Nonetheless, he would have to follow up on the drug story. But first, Rebound, nasty character or not, was in a fix that required all his attention.
Taylor briefly allowed himself the luxury of fantasizing: he imagined hooking the usual pull rope around the confined man’s neck and yanking on it from outside the small frame house. If any human needed killing, in Taylor’s estimation, Rebound would have finished among the top ten.
“Rebound, do you suppose Flower was as terrified as you when you beat her to death with a baseball bat... for holding out ten bucks, as I recall?” At that, hard-nosed Taylor thought the rope pull solution seemed better than ever.
“Taylor, man, you gotta help me.”
“Gotta? You already said that.” But Rebound was right; Taylor was sworn to try to help. But he had no clue what that help might be.
Taylor studied the terrified man, whose bladder had already failed. His corpulent body had discharged enough sweat to soak through all his clothes. His lips quivered. A man with as many enemies as Rebound wouldn’t be short on ones who would like to blow him into the next country. The line of suspects would stretch down the block.
“Taylor, this thing is ticking, man. In the name of God, do something.” His voice dissolved in sobs.
“You know, Rebound, I’m thinking you might call on somebody a little closer than God for help, ’cuz I bet he don’t like you any better than I do.”
Rebound sobbed. “Oh God, save me.”
“Who’s calling for God in here?” A soft female voice spoke behind Taylor.
Taylor turned partly toward the door.
“Ol’ Rebound has suddenly found the Lord. Minelli, stay out in that hallway until I get a little better grip on this.”
“I brought Rosie. She’s out here, ready and willing.”
Minelli stepped back out into the narrow hallway, behind whatever slight protection the plastered wall might provide. In her Bomb Squad jump-suit uniform, she was slender, thirty, with jet-black hair.
Officer Rosie, stood stoically behind her. Or maybe Rosie didn’t exactly stand— more like “sat.” About the size of a child’s play car with steel bulldozer tracks, her chest was equipped with dual cameras and flexible lenses for better 3-D visibility. The lenses rotated like the human eye, providing a clear image to her handler of anything she saw. The single extension arm protruding from the center of her frame just below the lenses gave her the illusion of a face.
Rosie was a marvelous example of modern engineering. A robot with the ability to enter a volatile bomb crime scene, she could penetrate the device with x-rays and use her arm with its lobster-like hand to tear into nearly any bomb, box, or briefcase. Although referred to in feminine terms, she was no more a “she” than she could recognize herself in a mirror.
Like a talking elevator, Officer Rosie could actually speak in a series of pre-programmed signals to provide Bomb Squad officers with vital info. Built with a U.S. Government grant, Rosie had cost just over a million dollars.
In an instant, Taylor had already concluded that touching or disturbing the bomb strapped to Rebound would be a very bad choice. Rebound, after paroling out, had reestablished his activities in an old frame house just off South Central Expressway. If the device detonated, it would take down a half dozen similar homes nearby and possibly result in deaths and injuries.
Minelli said from the hallway, “Taylor, the Lieutenant is out here... and the city facilities director.”
Taylor turned toward the doorway. “Facilities?”
The lieutenant’s scratchy voice drifted around the corner. “I ordered a crew with a truck load of sandbags.”
At the word “sandbag,” Rebound lost it. “Sandbags, man, y’all gonna just write me off and blow the damned house.”
Taylor studied the distraught man. Not a bad idea, he thought but didn’t say.
“Ask the facilities man to have his crew sandbag a barricade around Rebound. Then we’ll send in Officer Rosie.”
“Ros... Rosie,” Rebound blubbered. “Who the hell is...?” His tone was more snarl than question.
“Our bomb specialist, Rebound. She’s gonna save you. Help you with rehab.”
In ten minutes, a sweating, highly agitated crew of city maintenance workers had hurriedly surrounded Rebound with a makeshift fortress, leaving a small opening for access.
Minelli, using her transmitter from out in the yard, steered Rosie into the room and squeezed her through the small opening. Rebound responded first with a shriek of terror, then a very impressive string of invectives.
In the close quarters, Rosie managed to knock two sandbags partly over, further expanding Rebound’s diatribe. He cursed for a full five minutes. Rosie’s camera eyes sent Minelli and Taylor a front-row seat.
Taylor and Minelli took refuge behind a police van. Leaning over Minelli’s shoulder and peering at the monitor, Taylor saw Rosie creep to within a foot of the now totally hysterical prisoner.
When Rosie’s words, in a flat monotone, crackled through Minelli’s remote, “Officer Rosie is now x-raying,” the whir of the X-ray unit buzzed.
“You damned fools, get this stupid pinball machine outta here,” Rebound screamed. “Oh God, help,”
“Tilt device in place,” Rosie said. “Situation grave.” Rosie was reporting that if the device taped to Rebound was moved, it would detonate from the motion.
A metallic clank came over the remote. From Minelli’s video screen, Rebound could be seen kicking at Rosie with a foot, he’d managed to partially free.
“Do not assault Officer Rosie,” the robot said in her emotionless voice.
Minelli looked up at Taylor. “You know, I’d swear sometimes Rosie’s verbal skills are expanding.”
“Expanding?” Taylor asked, eyeing the young officer closely.
“I don’t know who would have programmed the concept of assault into the machine.”
“Rosie has some form of artificial intelligence programmed into her. Isn’t that what makes her talk?”
“She does not have A.I. in any sense of the word, Taylor. She’s programmed to provide a few simple phrases for more effective operation. She doesn’t actually think. She can’t. Something or somebody may have tinkered with her input capacity.”
“When not in use, she stays parked under the coffee pot in the Bomb Squad break room. But, hey, Minelli, that wouldn’t...”
“Naw, somebody is messing with us.”
Behind a string of profanity and another kick to Rosie’s side, visible on the monitor, Rosie spoke again. “Officer Rosie can’t help if you don’t co-operate.”
“Co-operate?” Minelli said. “That word is not in her system.”
“You ain’t nothin’ but a box of junk,” Rebound shouted. “Hellllp.”
Minelli pointed to her remote. On the screen, Rosie reached out slowly with her crab arm toward Rebound’s chest. He shrieked as if a space alien had just entered the room. Taylor and Minelli exchanged glances.
“She couldn’t... wouldn’t take any unnecessary chances.” Minelli said.
“Absolutely not,” Taylor echoed. “You just said, she can’t really think. You’re running that arm extension. But we better back her out so we can revaluate her. Could be a short circuit or some other malfunction.”
Rebound kicked Rosie again.
The roof of the house blew a hundred feet into the air, the walls, even partially shielded by sandbags, disintegrated into a million pieces. Debris, including a human hand, smacked the ground around the truck where they had taken refuge. All personnel reported no injuries. Houses nearby were damaged by shrapnel, but remained standing. The sandbags had worked.
Minelli stared at her remote. “There went a million taxpayer dollars.”
Taylor grinned. “And Rebound, too.”
To the enormous surprise of both cops, the odd clanking of metal on debris, noticeably operating out of sync, wafted from the wreckage. Officer Rosie, one lens hanging out by a spring, her crab arm bent, many dents in her case hardened steel shell, and coated with dust, crept into view from the dusty debris. She had survived the blast.
“Rosie,” Minelli blurted. “What the hell?”
“Oops,” Rosie replied.
“Oops?” Minelli asked, astonished.
“Premature detonation. Mr. Rebound moved during examination.”
Taylor said, “Are we sure it was an accident? Rebound was pretty hard not to dislike.”
Minelli crinkled her nose. “She doesn’t know whether to like or dislike a human or even words like ‘oops’ and ‘premature.’ But, in the break room, you guys are always making wisecracks to her as if she understands, which she can’t.”
Taylor studied the devastation around him. “She sits facing the TV, which is on 24/7. Surely she doesn’t absorb...?
“Absolutely not possible,” Minelli said. “Couldn’t happen. Rosie is only a machine.”
Rosie rolled her remaining lens-eye toward Minelli and said, “Officer Rosie needs a serious tune-up. Minelli, can you call the break room and have someone record Days of Our Lives? It’s coming on in twenty minutes.”
Taylor and Minelli exchanged disbelieving looks.
“Now what?” Minellie asked.
Taylor spoke from experience. “Minelli, I have seniority here. You’re the one who’s gonna have to explain this to the chief.”
Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton