“Corona Crime” Chapter 4 – the ultimate post-coronavirus novel. Jake Moonrath terminates ‘Time-expired Jennifer.
My last three posts have featured the opening chapters of my new novel CORONA CRIME: Chapter 1 (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site); Chapter 2 – “Extreme Suffering”; and Chapter 3 – “Your cup of tea”.
The sky is darkening over Santa Monica (photo: SDT)
In Corona Crime Chapter 4, Jake Moonrath enforces a Termination Contract against Corona criminal ‘Time-expired Jennifer, and witnesses an inexplicable suicide. He does not know it, but time is running out for the 10,290 occupants – born and unborn – of the Hughes Procreation Center in Santa Monica.
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“Corona Crime” Chapter 4
“The cloning of human beings is an abomination. Ask any religious leader. Conversely, the Pope himself uses Coronatime. You can’t get any greater moral endorsement than that.”
House Report on the Benefits of Coronatime, Annex 4(B): The Dangers of Cloning (Interviews)
In Beverly Hills, Jake stepped out of the Cheyenne. The house seemed quiet. But it was hard to be certain. Enforcing Termination Contracts was a delicate business. Many offenders were crazed with fear. None had much to live for. They were liable to take their own lives, which legally didn’t belong to them, at the slightest provocation. The whole house might be wired and ready to blow. Even if a million dollars’ worth of Coronatime said otherwise. Open curtains in the front room should place ’Time-expired Jennifer asleep in bed. Perhaps with a passionthriller or two the night before to weigh down any errant eyelids. That was what Jake had suggested to Jennifer’s boyfriend, Franco Ardizzione.
Jake ran across the fake lawn. Speed was vital.
Right now, his bracelet would be interrogating the ID tab in his spine to compare the DNA of the blood surrounding it with his identity. The match confirmed, his bracelet would announce, loud and clear, “Coronatime enforcement agent”.
Not so anyone could hear it, except for the home security system at number 137. As the intruder alarm and shielding switched themselves off, a stream of data appeared on Jake’s bracelet.
’Time-expired Jennifer, biological and chronological age both 54, was inside the house. So was Franco Ardizzione, biological 18, chronological 31. Jake frowned. The discrepancy was large for a small-time conman. Could that be significant? Something to check out later. The front door of the house swung open as Jake stepped through it.
Into the heart of a gigolo’s gin palace. Everything screamed gloss, from the brilliant Outlive-U carpeting to the nozzles of the Dis-Arm/Dat-Arm anti-intruder complex at the angles of the hall. How many decades ago had phosphorescent carpets been a thing? Straight ahead, the wall was playing a tropical beach, waves breaking silently in the rays of a dying sunset. Probably a direct feed wallpaper, Jake thought, a real-time image of a landscape half way round the world. Soon it would be dark there, night falling at noon in LA.
This one’s for you, Jennifer.
Jake crept towards the bedroom, sneaker-soft on the Outlive-U. He hadn’t felt this nervous since the raid on the West California Access Facility in the Man Without a Past case. He gripped his Big Fright scare-o-matic to stop his hand shaking.
Jake’s fringe had fallen forward; when he pushed it back he felt his face slick with sweat. Franco shouldn’t be a problem. But ’Time-expired Jennifer might do anything. Silently, Jake cursed the red tape that prevented him immobilising her without issuing an oral warning. The Chattanooga court had already declared her ’Time-expired, had they not? But his bracelet had been streaming a life feed to the Coronatime Enforcement Channel from the moment his tab unlocked the house. He could no more break the rules than any other law-abiding citizen.
A groan came from the next room. Jake raised the Big Fright. Disabler: ready. The old men in Washington had been procrastinating over changing the Criminal Justice Act for years. Hands: steady. Result: the guys on the front line had to creep around risking their lives (valuable) and those of their targets (value actuarially assessed) to preserve someone’s precious civil liberties. Civil liabilities, more like. Taking two steps back, he launched himself into the bedroom.
Jake rolled twice across the floor, leapt to his feet, and waved his Big Fright at the two naked people on the bed. He hadn’t known that ’Time-expired Jennifer and Franco Ardizzione were making love. If you could call it that.
Jennifer was old. Jake had imagined someone more glamorous, more full of life. He felt a pulse of pity at the sight of her knobbly knees, her bony feet, and Franco’s hairy ass.
‘Coronatime enforcement agent!’ Jake yelled. ‘Any movement and I open fire.’ He brandished the scare-o-matic. Its hideous mass performed no function except to house the tab-disabler which, having issued the prescribed oral warning, he was now entitled to use. He could no more do actual bodily harm to either of these two than he could fly: she alone was worth millions of dollars alive, and a load of lawsuits dead. But research had shown that people responded better to instructions when facing a perceived threat of pain, injury or death. Most enforcement officers agreed it felt good to have a scare-o-matic under your belt. People respected you more.
‘Stand up. I need to see you.’ Behind the bed, the walls glowed orange with moving images of some part of the human anatomy so enlarged that Jake could not immediately see what it was. ‘That’s it.’
They were both standing now, bodies pasty in the glow of the walls. Next to Jennifer, Franco looked like a child: short, with a firmly muscled body. The little man was alert, watching Jake with a disconcerting familiarity. Who was this guy?
‘Have you anything to say before you are disabled?’ Jake indicated the holocam on his lapel.
Jake had addressed Jennifer. Her soft green eyes might have been beautiful had they not been full of sadness. How many times had he witnessed the despair of the endless night to come? Once he put her under, she would spend the rest of her life on the slab at CLEF. But it was Franco who answered.
‘You’re late,’ he said. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’
‘I make it my job to be lucky.’
Franco shook his head, but said nothing. He seemed unnaturally calm for someone looking down the muzzle of a Big Fright.
Jennifer was staring at her lover. ‘This is who you were waiting for? Are you crazy? He’s a Coronatime enforcement agent.’
‘I promised you a third of a gram bounty to bring her in, Franco,’ Jake said. ‘A million bucks’ worth. But I’m taking you in, too, for Coronatime theft.’
Franco’s gaze was fixed on Jake. ‘I heard you were always on time. When you didn’t show, I figured you’d gone to see your pal with the new kid. That would do the job. I thought I’d use the time to say goodbye to Jennifer.’
He knew about Ed. How was that possible? And what did he mean, that would do the job?
But ’Time-expired Jennifer had heard something else.
‘Franco! A bounty? Can’t you see we’re in this together, sweetheart, you and I? Look at yourself. In it. Right up to here.’ Her hands being in the air, she jerked her chin up to indicate submersion. ‘He’ll take you down for helping me evade my contract. That’s a Corona crime. Did he give you anything in writing? Like hell he did.’ She glared at Jake. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘It’s my job to return stolen Coronatime to its owners.’ Jake turned to Franco. ‘How the hell do you know about me?’
Suddenly, the little man’s composure cracked. ‘All I know is, you’re the meanest double-crossing bastard I ever set eyes on and…’ he slumped to his knees on the Outlive-U. ‘Don’t put me under, man, I’ll do anything, I got Coronatime. Please? I don’t want to wake up 15 years older.’
Jake stepped back. The mood-swing was wrong. ‘Away from the bed, Franco.’
‘I beg you.’ Franco’s voice had dwindled to a whine. His hand was under the bed.
‘Stand up now. Last warning – ’
Jake flicked off the safety on the Big Fright. In the same instant he saw Franco’s hand emerge, holding something. Instinctively, Jake pulled the trigger. A deafening explosion rang in his ears. Something warm spattered his face.
Franco lay on the Outlive-U. In his hand was an ancient handgun, a primitive thing made to fire metal bullets.
‘What was that noise?’ Jennifer stared down at Franco’s body. ‘Is he OK?’
‘I disabled him.’ On Jake’s bracelet, the red light burned. ‘He was threatening me.’
‘He’s injured.’ Jennifer pointed. ‘His head.’
Jake stared. She was right. The carpet glistened where Franco Ardizzione lay. Something was on Jake’s cheek. He wiped his face and his hand came away red. A chunk of Franco’s head was missing.
A suspect had died resisting arrest. His death had been broadcast live. Franco would have been facing Termination both for ownership of a deadly weapon and, Jake suspected, for other crimes he had yet to investigate. Franco’s biological age was 18. He would have had decades to live. All his Coronatime, which would have been the property of the Central Authority, had been lost in an instant. An inquiry was automatic. It would focus on whether Jake Moonrath could have prevented the squandering of a public asset worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The man had only had time for one shot. He had used it to kill himself.
Jennifer’s face was pale. ‘Franco would never harm himself,’ she said. ‘Or anyone else.’
‘He’s a con-man! He was ready to sell you out for a million bucks of Coronatime.’
‘He was more than that.’
‘Maybe. But not the way you think.’ He turned to face her. ‘’Time-expired Jennifer. You have the right to make a statement before your sentence is carried out.’
‘Don’t call me that.’ She blinked. ‘You want me to say something on-air?’
‘It’s up to you.’ He wanted to tell the woman she had nothing to fear. But she was a convicted Coronatime criminal.
‘OK.’ Jennifer glanced down at Franco’s body and began to speak, her voice wavering. ‘As a member of the Confederation of US Journalists about to lose the right to life, I want to put on record my view that the Central Authority should outlaw Termination Contracts at once. I also want to declare my support for the One Life movement, although not of course the One Life Army.’
‘Thank you, Jennifer.’ Everyone due for Termination wished they had been a One Lifer. ‘Now back on the bed, please, and I’ll put you out. Relax.’ It was vital she did not injure herself as she lost consciousness. ‘Easy, now.’
Again, he released the safety on his Big Fright and pulled the trigger. In an orgasm of rapid data exchange her bracelet responded, checking separately her DNA tab, her security status on the Central Authority’s Federal Unitary Control Computer in Washington and lastly Jake’s own ID – a precaution against the scare-o-matic passing into the wrong hands.
It was done.
For a moment, Jake gazed down at the limp, naked body. It was almost as if she were the victim, not the perpetrator, of a crime.
Then he terminated the holo.
Who the hell was Franco Ardizzione? CLEF in Chattanooga had identified him as a small-time crook who preyed on cash-rich women near their Termination dates.
But he’d known about Ed Zipper.
He’d been waiting with a handgun to kill Jake.
He’d killed himself rather than face arrest and questioning.
He’d even admitted another crime, infinitely more egregious than Jennifer’s misappropriation of a single, worn-out lifetime.
Jake checked the time. Now he really had a problem.