“System commander, you have one new message.”
The ‘puter in his cube-home knew exactly when Varriano woke. He’d just sat up when the ‘puter delivered its first words of the day. “Who’s calling?”
“Shit.” Varriano grumbled. He hated when companies stashed cookies in his devices. It was damned near impossible getting rid of them. “Play the fucking message.”
“Good morning! This is West Grippen, your Yuni rep here in Santa Barbara! We noticed that you were browsing through our website yesterday. Did you see that we are giving away beta test versions of our new Tweenie Darlings line? What a conversation starter! You have been selected to try one of these models out! Call us at your earliest convenience and we’ll arrange a model to meet your personal specifications! We’re at… blah, blah, blah… blah, blah, blah.”
Varriano’s first impression was to give Mr. Grippen a good piece of his mind, for offering him, a grown man, a sex device that looked like a little boy or girl. As he reached for his phone, however, he started to remember the promotional banner he’d seen on the website. The Tweenie models were their best-sellers, but he’d also read that he could choose one of the other models.
“Puter, call that number back and ask for West Grippen.” Varriano decided.
Within two minutes he was connected.
“Good morning! This is West Grippen! Did you want to take one of our beta models for a test drive… in your bedroom?”
“Uh, yes and no. I’ll pass on the Tweenies. What I’d like is a woman closer to my age.”
“You mean a novelty doll designed to appear like a woman closer to your age.” Grippen corrected. “You are a policeman in your early thirties… Hmm. We might not have one in that range, but we can offer you a doll designed to look like a woman of twenty-two. That’s our most popular age and model, based on your demographics.”
“By the way, I am no longer a policeman.” Varriano cut in. “I haven’t been a policemen ever since this city was called Santa Barbara. You might want to update your web spiders while you’re at it.”
“I am making a note of it as we speak. Now, you can beta test our dolls for a full week. I will forward you a file containing our rules and regulations. The doll will sit at your side while you both watch instructional videos on what you can and cannot do with it. All we need are your general preferences and we can have one delivered as soon as tonight.”
“Tonight? That fast?”
“Yes, we have a dozen of these test models available, in any ethnicity you choose: Anglo, Asian, Ebony, Indian, Middle East… Of course, we won’t be able to detail the doll as finely as we would our special orders, but she will be a knockout regardless!”
“Right, right.” Varriano said.
“What would you like the doll to look like, Mr. Varriano?” Grippen was certainly imposing himself now. “Big bust, medium or small? Tall or short? What size hips? Your age range likes the larger, round eyes and almond-shaped face, by the way.”
“You know what? Give me about five minutes. I’m just waking up and here I am trying to figure out who I’m going to be sleeping with tonight. Let me call you back.”
“Take all the time you need, and remember, this is all free on your part! All we ask is for an honest evaluation and review and we’re golden!”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll call back.” Varriano said. He ended the call and allowed himself a yawn. A full minute later, he called Lieutenant Racine, who answered after two buzzes. “You awake?”
“It’s ten o’clock. Of course I’m awake. What time are you on duty?”
“Uh… I haven’t decided yet. This is not business, it’s pleasure.”
“Oh? Consider me interested!”
“All right. You’re going to help me out on something I’m going to surprise you with later. First, you gotta tell me, what kind of twenty-two year old girl do you like?”
“Can I choose a cheerleader?” Racine laughed.
“Yes, you can. Give me a general description and I’ll see what I can find. You do have to specify the size of the bust and hips.”
“That’s what I call service!” Racine laughed again.
Racine picked Varriano up at twelve. As the lieutenant drove to the house of his second victim, the fourth overall, he plagued Varriano about the surprise that was coming to him.
“I’ll tell you later.” The detective told him. “First off, let me call my two contacts in the security guard companies to find out about those mysterious deliveries.”
“Are they really mysterious?”
“Yes, I think so.” Varriano nodded. “According to the records, the victims ordered a few things that were easy to identify. A couple of other things aren’t showing up in their expenses, but we know they got delivered because I have video showing couriers walking up to the house rolling small dollies up to the front door.”
“With small boxes the size of children? That’s… that’s disgusting, Rick.”
“Don’t call me Rick.”
“Because then I’ll feel like we’re already in a relationship. I haven’t dated in five years, guy! I wouldn’t date you, except…”
“You feel like a woman! I said it, all right? It doesn’t mean anything, except I think you look and act like a woman sometimes. Wait, does that offend you?”
“Not coming from you it doesn’t.” Racine shrugged. “You can call me a woman, as long as you also call me later.”
Before things could get any more awkward, Varriano called the residential guards where Kennet lived. He spoke with them for about five minutes, taking manual notes on a pad. When he finished up, he updated Racine. “All I got was a courier company. Now I have to call them and see what they say.”
“The Yuni website expressly states they don’t give any information out on their customers.” Racine said. “In that respect, the company has a stellar honesty rating.”
Varriano called the guards at Kerenski’s community, but the results there were decidedly negative. He ended the call quickly. “I guess the chick who works there wants to play this the hard way. I’m calling my super and telling him to tighten the screws on her, or else she won’t give me any information at all.”
“You do have a way with the ladies, Rick.” Racine sang.
“It wasn’t my fault! How was I supposed to know that wearing a Stem Corp badge equates me with big bucks! Hey, I gotta tell you something. I’m not rich. I live in a ten by ten cube.”
“I know where you live.”
“What, you’ve been spying on me or what?”
“I found your address.” Racine admitted. “I wanted to knock on your door last night, but I was worried you’d think I was a stalker. You keep the lights off, don’t you?”
“I wasn’t home last night. I was at the movies until frigging midnight.”
“By yourself? You should have called me!”
“Get this through your thick head. You are a man!”
“It doesn’t matter in a dark movie theater. It doesn’t matter if you have the lights off at your place at night. I told you. We don’t have to go all the way. I just want to sit next to you and act sweet for a while.”
“You’re crazy. Do you ever wish you hadn’t changed sex?”
“Well that’s just great, isn’t it? The first girl I start to like in five years and she turns out to be a man!”
Racine thought that was hilarious.
To be continued.