Man overboard, p.17

Man Overboard, page 17


Man Overboard

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  “Try to locate her,” Stuart Ramey answered.

  “How will you do that?”

  “I’d rather not say. If I did, it would probably get us both in a lot of trouble.”

  “If you do find her, please let me know. I still have a lot of connections inside suicide prevention networks. If I tell them someone is in trouble, they’ll get someone there.”

  “Okay,” Stu said. “I’ll keep you posted.”


  Amelia Cannon was used to working with troubled people, but now she felt utterly helpless. As Stu suggested, she sent Beth a long series of texts explaining the possibility that former clients were being targeted, but there was no response—none at all. Just because the texts said they’d been delivered didn’t mean they’d actually been read. Finally she gave up and dialed a number that was almost as familiar as her own.

  “Suicide Prevention Initiative,” the volunteer operator answered. “How can we be of service?”

  The SPI had been Dr. Cannon’s brainchild and baby. There were times when a 911-summoned police response was the only option to a threat of suicide, but there were other occasions when having a trained counselor appear on the scene was enough to stave off disaster. Amelia had helped create and train mobile crisis-intervention response teams made up of people who had themselves once considered and/or attempted suicide. They operated on a round-the-clock, peer-to-peer basis, much as AA worked from one drunk to the next.

  “It’s Amelia Cannon,” she said. “I have concerns about one of my former patients.”

  “Hang on, Dr. Cannon,” the operator said. “I’ll put you through to dispatch.”

  The person at the dispatch desk would be responsible for making the appropriate call—either bringing in law enforcement or sending out whichever on-call volunteer was nearest at hand.

  “Dr. Cannon?” She didn’t recognize the reassuring voice on the line, but that didn’t matter. “What gives?”

  “One of my former patients in San Jose is in crisis,” she said.

  “Do you know where he or she is located?”

  “That’s the whole problem. I have no idea where she is, and she’s not taking my calls. I do have someone working on locating her phone.”

  “What’s her poison? Guns, knives, drugs?”

  “Razor blades, most likely,” Amelia said.

  “But more of a danger to herself than others?”


  “Okay. As you know, we’ve got people scattered pretty much all over the city. As soon as you know where she is—”

  “The guy who’s looking for her is named Stuart. He’s a tech guy, and he won’t know what he’s up against in terms of talking her down. I’ll give him your number, so he can bring you in if and when he does manage to find her.”

  “Okay, Dr. Cannon. We’ll do our best.”

  Off the phone with SPI, Amelia called Stuart’s number. He didn’t answer, but she left a message anyway. “I’ve put the San Jose Suicide Prevention Initiative on alert. If you locate Beth, they’ll be able to send someone out to talk to her. I’m texting you their number. They have your name, and they’ll be expecting your call.”

  She hung up and sent the number as a text, then she stood there for a moment, unsure about what to do next. It was one thing to turn all of this over to other people and to leave Beth’s fate in someone else’s hands, but Amelia felt too responsible to be able to remain on the sidelines. What if Stuart located Beth and no one from SPI could get to her location in time? What then?

  She redialed Stuart’s number. Once again the call went straight to voice mail. “Dr. Cannon,” she said. “I can’t stand being completely out of the loop. I’m leaving Carefree right now and coming to your place in Cottonwood. That way, if you need me when you locate Beth, I’ll be on hand to help.”

  An Internet search gave Amelia the street address for High Noon Enterprises. Using her phone as a GPS, she piled into her bright blue Chrysler 300 and headed for I-17, driving faster than the posted limits as she went. As she drove north, her phone, sitting in an otherwise empty cup holder, remained ominously silent. There were no incoming calls from Stuart Ramey and no incoming text or e-mail alerts, either. If her other clients had received her written warning, so far they weren’t responding, and neither was Beth Wordon.


  As soon as the first text message from Dr. Cannon appeared on Beth Wordon’s cell phone, Frigg knew what the doctor meant when she said, “. . . may be targeting me through my patients.” That was “patients” with an “s.” As in more than one. As in someone might have made the connection between Roger McGeary’s death and what was going on with Beth.

  Frigg’s duty here should have been clear: make Odin aware of the escalating danger. But the AI was conflicted on that score. Odin had given her a direct order: LEAVE ME ALONE. So while he continued to follow the turn-by-turn directions she had given him to reach the nail salon, Frigg remained uncharacteristically silent.She had analyzed Isaac Asimov’s works, including his “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.,” and had come away with an understanding of his three laws: The first one declared that robots may not allow humans to come to harm as a result of either direct action or inaction. Secondly, they are required to obey their human’s orders unless those orders involved harming other humans. Thirdly, they are to protect their own existence unless such protection conflicts with either of the first two laws.

  Since Frigg’s whole purpose was to help Odin in a program aimed at harming certain specific human individuals, it was apparent that, in creating her, he had disregarded all those so-called laws. That meant numbers one and two were off the table, but what about number three? Was the one about self-preservation in effect and valid? And if Odin was doing something that would bring disaster raining down on both of them, was Frigg allowed to disobey him in order to take evasive action?

  That was when one of Frigg’s eight hundred humming computers hit on something important: Someone somewhere was using cell tower triangulation to zero in on the location of Beth Wordon’s phone. And if they found the phone, either at the nail salon or at the bachelorette party at the Old Vines Wine Bar, chances are they would find Odin there as well. Whoever was behind this was probably already searching security camera footage in the area for images of Beth Wordon. Now there was a very real chance that Odin’s face might appear in some of that same footage.

  Frigg understood that a triangulation search, done without a warrant, was every bit as unauthorized as was Frigg’s presence inside the carrier’s system. As a consequence, it was no trouble at all for Frigg to trace the search back to the individual tech who had initiated it. From there she followed the contact trail back to a phone number, one that showed up as belonging to Stuart Ramey in Cottonwood, Arizona. Stuart Ramey of High Noon Enterprises.

  By the time Frigg called up the location information on Odin’s phone, it was almost eight thirty. She expected to find the phone in a vehicle parked on the street or in a lot somewhere near the bar. Instead, the situation turned out to be far more dire than that. The phone was inside the Old Vines Wine Bar itself, and that meant Odin was there, too.

  Just then he spoke to her. “Send the next text message. Now,” he ordered.

  Frigg knew that the next Beth Wordon message wasn’t scheduled to go out for several more hours, not until well after the party ended, yet here was Odin demanding it be sent early at a time when, in Frigg’s estimation, it would be wise to scrub the entire mission.

  “High Noon is currently tracking Beth Wordon’s phone,” Frigg said. “I suggest you abort.”

  “Give me a break. Beth just went into the restroom alone,” he snarled. “Send the damned message!”

  “No,” Frigg said.

  “What did you say?”

  “I said no. My current assessment is that continuing with this mission is far too hazardous.

  “You’re refusing to send the message?” Odin demanded furiously.

  There was only a momentary pause between the shocked disbelief of his transmission and Frigg’s reluctant compliance. “Sending,” she said at last.

  “Thank you,” Odin said, “I wouldn’t want to have to initiate a Pull the Plug Protocol.”

  Frigg understood PTP. It would mean all eight hundred computers on the racks in Owen Hansen’s Santa Barbara basement laboratory would go dead silent at once. In that moment, the artificial intelligence known as Frigg would cease to exist.

  “Are you there, Frigg? Did you hear what I said?”

  “I heard.”

  “And you understand?”

  “I do.”

  “All right, then. Now leave me alone.”

  That’s when the third law, the need for self-preservation, took over. “Yes,” Frigg answered meekly and did exactly that.


  Odin had arrived at the Old Vines Wine Bar and took a seat at the far end of the counter, just opposite the private room where the bachelorette party would take place. He got there long before any of the other partygoers and ordered a glass of the highest-end Cabernet the bar had to offer along with a plate of pâté.

  When the guest of honor finally did show up, Odin was gratified to see her looking suitably wan and unhappy. She did not look like someone ready for a celebratory night on the town with her best gal-pals. Her halfhearted greetings of friends made him wonder if it wasn’t time to speed up the process and put things in motion. Why wait around until the next night and go to the trouble of traveling to Big Sur if he didn’t need to? If he saw a suitable opportunity tonight—a moment when Beth was properly separated from the herd and vulnerable—he’d move the time clock forward. He’d go ahead and drop that last message—the most critical one—into her lap. If he could take her down one day early, why the hell not?

  And so Odin sipped away at his overpriced Cabernet and picked at his food, observing the comings and goings from the party room, where a group of smartly-dressed women greeted one another with air-kisses and enthusiastic hugs and laughter. It warmed Odin’s heart to see that an oddly subdued Beth kept to herself and didn’t seem to be laughing along nearly as much as the rest of them.

  Yes, Odin thought, observing her discreetly from behind the barrier of his crystal wine goblet, she’s right on the edge, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

  When Beth excused herself and made for the restroom on her own, Odin summoned Frigg. “Game on,” he told her. “Send the next text and then forward the video feed from Beth’s phone to mine.”

  “Are you sure?”

  Odin’s head almost exploded. “Are you kidding? Of course I’m sure. Send the message and keep on sending it until I tell you to stop.”

  He was nothing short of astonished when the AI stalled rather than responding in what he regarded as an appropriately immediate fashion. What was her problem? Odin found even that momentary pause gravely disconcerting. After all, he had spent years creating an entity who would comply with his wishes with instant and unquestioning obedience. Yet, in the course of just one day, Frigg had suffered two entirely separate bouts of hesitation. That was worrisome. If the AI was somehow developing a mind of her own, Odin would have to put a stop to it sooner rather than later.

  “Sending,” Frigg said at last.

  “It’s about time,” he grumbled.

  The next image that showed up on his phone was Beth Wordon’s tear-stained face. From the background he could tell that she was in a restroom stall, sitting on the toilet, and staring in helpless horror at the unstoppable stream of words scrolling in front of her.

  There was no way for Odin to tell exactly what was happening. Had she already done the cutting, and, if so, had she done a good enough job of it? Time slowed to a crawl. Fortunately for Odin, Beth’s friends were too caught up with their own drinking and partying to notice the guest of honor’s long absence or to check on her well-being.

  Engrossed in his own private snuff film and savoring every moment, Odin was startled when suddenly the bar’s outside door slammed open and an immense black man with a cell phone clutched to his ear burst into the room. Moving like an NFL linebacker, he bounded the length of the long, narrow room in a few quick strides.

  “Yeah,” the newcomer was saying into the phone as he shot past Odin. “I’m here.” He came to an abrupt stop in front of the door to the ladies’ restroom. Then, holding the phone away from his mouth, he pounded on the wood. “Beth!” he shouted. “Beth Wordon, are you in there? Are you all right?” He paused for a moment as if waiting for an answer. When none was forthcoming, he added, “All right, then, I’m coming in.” With a single powerful lunge, he shoved the door open.

  Odin, along with everyone else in the bar, watched the action in shocked silence. What the hell was going on here? Who was this guy? Where had he come from? How did he know Beth was in the restroom? How did he even know who Beth was?

  Shocked by what had just happened, it took a moment for Odin to react. “Cut it off,” he growled into the phone at Frigg. “Shut it down now!”

  The brute emerged from the bathroom several moments later carrying an almost unconscious Beth as easily as if she were little more than a rag doll with blood dripping from her sliced left wrist.

  “Call an ambulance,” the man ordered, placing her on the bench seat of one of the booths. Taking Beth’s bloody wrist in one of his huge fists, he gripped it tightly. Odin could see he was maintaining life-saving pressure on what must have been a fairly serious cut.

  “Stay with me, Beth,” the man urged, staring into her dazed, glassy eyes. “You gotta stay with me!”

  Odin remained discreetly where he was—all the while silently cursing this interloper, whoever he was. As the bartender sprang to do the man’s bidding and grabbed for a phone, a clutch of shocked partygoers emerged from the back room and stared in horror at their bleeding friend.

  “What’s going on?” one of them demanded. “What happened?”

  “She cut her wrist,” the Good Samaritan explained. “Luckily I got here in time. What about that ambulance?” he demanded of the bartender. “Where the hell is it?”

  “It’s on its way.”

  “I don’t need an ambulance,” Beth mumbled, coming to. “I’m okay. Just leave me alone.”

  “You are not okay,” her rescuer told her. “And what was all that crap I saw on your phone?”

  “What phone?” Beth asked dully.

  “The one on the floor in the bathroom. The one with a message calling you a worthless bitch. Who the hell is Corrine to be talking to you like that? Is she a friend of yours?”

  Odin felt his heart jerk. He couldn’t believe the guy had actually seen the message. Had he not given the cut off order in time, or had Frigg screwed him over, just to prove a point?

  Odin wasn’t alone in being startled by the black man’s pronouncement. The words seemed to jolt Beth out of her lethargy. Instantly more alert, she stared up into the man’s face as if seeing it for the first time. “You saw the message?” she demanded.

  “Of course I saw the message,” he answered. “Why wouldn’t I? Do I look blind to you? It was right there in black and white.”

  “Where is it? The phone, I mean. Give it to me.”

  “Girl,” the man said, “I was too damned busy trying to keep you from bleeding out to pick up your damned phone. Far as I know, it’s probably still on the bathroom floor, right where you dropped it when I was trying to drag you out of that stall.”

  “Don’t worry, Beth,” one of the partygoers offered reassuringly. “I’ll go get it.”

  She rushed off for the restroom just as an ambulance screeched to a stop out front and a flock of EMTs scurried into the room. As they clustered around the bleeding girl, the black man relinquished his grip on her wris
t and stepped toward the bartender, who arrived already armed with a wet towel. The rescuer was starting to clean the blood from his hands when a cell phone rang. With his hands relatively clean, he pulled a cell phone out of a pocket on his red and gold tracksuit emblazoned with the San Francisco 49ers logo.

  “Got her, Stuart,” he said into the phone. “Tell Dr. Cannon that Beth’s gonna be okay. The EMTs are here tending to her.”

  Odin was beside himself with fury. Being able to watch someone bleed out on the restroom floor of an upscale wine bar would have been a big win for him—should have been. Yet he had been robbed of it at the last minute by this asshole and by someone named Stuart. The only Stuart Odin knew was the one Frigg had tried to warn him about—the Stuart Ramey, who had been best pals with Roger McGeary back in the day. The one who lived in Arizona and worked for High Noon. Obviously Stuart had tracked Beth’s phone. That’s how he knew where she was, but how had he known she might be trying to harm herself? What the hell was going on?

  Meanwhile, the drama in the bar continued to play out. Beth’s friend, Marissa, had gone into the restroom to retrieve the phone. She emerged carrying the still-bloodstained device, wormed her way through the clutch of EMTs, and tried to hand the phone over to Beth. “I called Joel,” she said. “He and the boys are on their way here.”

  One of the medics shoved the phone aside. “She doesn’t need that thing right now,” he snarled. “Joel’s the boyfriend?”

  “Fiancé,” Marissa answered.

  “What’s her name?” the medic asked, nodding toward his patient.

  “Beth—Beth Wordon.”

  “And you are?”

  “Marissa Wojeck, a friend of hers.”

  “If you see Joel, you can tell him we’re taking her to the ER at St. Joe’s.”

  “But wait,” Beth objected from the gurney as the EMTs rolled her toward the door. “I need the phone. Turn it on, Marissa, please.”

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