“Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
(Arthur C. Clarke)
Sinatra sang Fly Me To The Moon and the magic began. Errol grinned at his old man’s awe at a technology unthinkable to a guy still dazzled by his smart phone. ‘The Voice’ warbled his anticipation of spring on Jupiter and Mars.
“Amaze-ling!” Samuel Greene muttered, purposely mispronouncing his cleverly misspoken word, a habit he had for as long as his son could remember. Errol recalled how his dad used that malapropism to express admiration during his first experience with the Internet, years later repeating his delight observing the spinning Rumba, robo vacuuming its way along his daughter-in-law’s carpet. Sam had whispered to his son, “Someday that little dust buster could replace you in bed.” Should driverless cars become common, the technology would probably blow the old man’s brain clear out of his head, but not before he could utter his favorite dopey little word.
Errol ’s newest gadget had that effect right now. He pointed to the small flashing tube on his bookshelf. “Pick another song, Dad, any song.”
The old man thought for a moment. “How about My Way?
Errol grinned. “Piece of cake. Hey, Siri! My Way, please.”
“Sinatra, Elvis, or Paul Anka versions?” Siri asked, her voice oozing porn star sexuality that Errol had programmed himself.
He winked at his dad. “Sinatra, please.”
Ol’ Blue Eyes crooned the words Samuel Greene loved because the song was his late wife’s favorite. Sam’s marriage had been mostly good, yet not without its bumps. But for now, Siri served as an acceptable mistress, and she did it his way.
Samuel closed his eyes, smiling while enjoying the old favorite, possibly realizing that final curtain wasn’t far off. He savored the good memories his eighty-three years had offered him, but when the song ended his reverie ended with it.
“Siri, you say? Sexy name for a plug-in toy that sounds like a hooker.”
“I’ve got her in my cell and my car too. She does more. Ask her any question, Dad.” Errol caught his mistake the moment he opened that door. He knew his dad would ask about what had been eating at his son for months.
“Hey, Siri. What nasty shit is my successful son and his beautiful wife going through lately that no one cares to share with me?”
Before Errol could protest, Siri’s light emitting diodes flashed purple.
“I have no information about nasty shit. Reword, please.”
They both laughed. That was good. “Siri sometimes misunderstands. She responds to what sounds familiar. It’s funny, sometimes. Like bad auto-correct.” Errol hoped he had steered his dad away from his observation, because there had been nasty shit between him and Sheila, all right. There had been plenty.
Sam’s eyes met Errol ’s head on. “Well, then, son, maybe you can tell me what your Siri can’t? Sheila hasn’t called in weeks, and you change the subject whenever I ask anything about— ”
“—So how about those Jets, eh?”
“Screw the Jets. Talk to your old man.”
Samuel Greene was too smart for any more ducking and weaving.
“We’re going through a rough patch, is all. COVID shut down the restaurant, but we’ll reopen The Aqua Room when the weather turns warm again. Sheila took a job working with some local veterinarian. People can do without fancy dining, but not without their fucking dogs. Dad, I may have to sell the boat.”
“Sheila can’t be happy about that.”
“We’ll make it through this, Dad. Money, the marriage, all of it.”
“Your wife works while you’re here on your ass playing with this talking toy?”
“I’m keeping the business going as best I can. Had to lay off half the wait staff, and that shut us down for the winter. Times are hard quarantining some of our servers. Sometimes Sheila and I, we just don’t — lately we don’t really —”
(…we don’t really fuck anymore, and I’m pretty sure she’s not sleeping with the Rumba, Dad.)
Errol knew the lecture was coming. His old man had avoided it as best he could. But Sam kept his fatherly advice short, and thank you, Jesus, for that. “Women can turn on you, son. You screw up, even the best ones walk. Don’t matter the circumstances. Been down that road once or twice with your mother.”
Errol ’s eyes shot to the floor. “I know all about that, Dad. The silence was deafening.”
(…and that’s why I’m thinking my wife’s been doing a lot more than neutering poodles…)
Maybe the old guy had read his son’s mind. Sam returned his attention to the glowing tube.
“So, hey, Siri. You got any Tony Bennett for me?”
In rich stereo, Tony sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco.
“Fucking amaze-ling,” Sam said.
Siri glowed in the dark alongside Errol who was flat out on the couch. Sheila had missed dinner again, and Lean Cuisine had become Errol ’s good pal, joining another best bud, Jack Daniel. The woman came through the door and hit the table lamp, her hair looking like she’d arrived from a tornado. She no longer attempted to hide the obvious.
“This old lady’s Bulldog had balls big as zucchinis,” she muttered. “Huge bastard. Mutt wouldn’t stay still long enough to have his nuts clipped. John had to sedate him twice.”
“We males hate having our nuts clipped. Last week your new boss was Dr. Mittman. Now he’s John?”
His wife saw the emptied bourbon bottle on her carpet. ”Don’t start, Errol , okay? I’m tired.”
“Disheveled, too, I see. That Bulldog must’ve put up one hell of a fight.”
Sheila removed her coat without looking at him, unwilling to play Alice Kramden to his Ralph. “I need a long soak in the tub. Hey, Siri, turn on the hall light.” She headed for the stairway, but the upstairs light remained off. She hit the downstairs switch herself, removing her blouse on the staircase.
Were those scratches on her back? Hell of a dog, that mutt.
Errol let it go and remained on the couch, his mind replaying images of Sheila’s midday activities: Dr. John squeezing Sheila’s breasts, kissing her lips and nipples, tearing well manicured fingernails into her back as she took his manhood into her mouth, then into her.
(“And will you be clipping my balls too, Sheila?”)
Siri’s violet diodes flashed. “I don’t have that information, Errol …”
He had spoken his thoughts aloud. Siri’s response seemed almost funny.
Water ran into the tub for another of his wife’s bubble baths. Errol spoke with a forced calm. “Hey, Siri! Some music, okay? Something loud to drown out my thoughts. Shake the walls, Siri!”
The tube’s purple LEDs brightened like Christmas lights.
“Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, Errol ?”
“Fine.” Errol had no idea who Motorhead was. Probably some idiot hair band. But Siri chose well. The blasting from her speaker could have hemorrhaged her electronic innards, the heavy metal intro capable of melting a man’s ear wax. If you liked to gamble Lemmy was your man and it was all the same to him.
The tub had filled by now. Errol mumbled, “…and I’m your Rumba, bitch, here to vacuum your dirt.” Once up the staircase, he paused for several minutes outside the bathroom door. Hearing the faint splash of water, he pictured his naked young wife slippery smooth in the warm bath water. The mental image gave him a hard-on, and he hated that his wife could still give him one. He didn’t knock, just pushed the door open.
“Christ, Errol …!”
Sheila remained modest in that way, preferring to keep her bathroom time to herself from the first day of their marriage. Never once had Errol intruded on his wife’s private moments. It was one of those woman things, he’d told himself, but tonight he didn’t give shit-one about Sheila’s privacy.
“We have to talk,” he said.
She brushed wet hair from her forehead. “Talk to me when you’re sober and when I’m not naked.”
“You couldn’t give me some quiet moments to myself, could you? And what is that racket you’ve got on the stereo?”
“It’s Siri. And Motorhead, whoever they are.”
“It’s too fucking loud! Hand me a towel. We’ll talk after I—”
“No, you stay right there. This can’t wait, Sheila.”
She stared at her husband, shrugged. “Okay, talk. But I’m very tired and not in the best mood.”
“You have scratches on your back.”
“I slipped on the ice this morning, okay? Anything else?” One milky breast peeked through the soapy water.
(”Women can turn on you, son. You screw up, they walk…”)
Sinatra and Bennett probably would have agreed, but the words Errol Greene spoke seemed anything but lyrical.
“You’re a cunt, Sheila. I’m married to a cunt.”
From downstairs Motorhead screamed on.
Sheila grabbed her loofa, soaped a shoulder. “That’s what you wanted to tell me? This medley of your greatest hit? Give it a rest, will you?” She briefly sank below the suds, then moved to climb out. Errol shoved her back into the tub, not delicate about it.
“You’re fucking him, aren’t you? Dr. John, the dog snipper?”
“Who?? John the veterinarian? Fucking him?? The man stands about four feet tall and hasn’t seen me without my mask for more than three minutes! There’s a pandemic going on, you know.”
“I know that it’s been keeping you from Neiman Marcus lately!”
Sheila faked a laugh, but gave it up. “You’re crazy, you know that?” Again she moved to climb from the tub. Errol grabbed his wife’s newly scrubbed shoulder, shoved harder and grabbed her again. Through a mouthful of soapy water she managed, “Goddammit! You’re hurting me!”
“You want to see hurt? I’ll show you hurt!”
“Listen, Errol , you’re drunk. There’s nothing going on, I swear it. You’re—”
Some hairy-man instinct took over and Errol punched his wife square in the jaw, pushing her under the bath water. Sheila’s words, whatever she’d tried saying, diminished to furious gurgles, and she struggled. Errol pushed harder, palming the top of her head to keep her submerged, pushing, pushing…
Sheila kicked at the bath water, thrashing soapy water into Errol ’s eyes.
“LYING BITCH CUNT!”
The woman was a fighter. Her head splashed to the surface. Like some grotesquely comic spit take, she unloaded a mouth filled with suds. Her eyes went wide.
“MMMMPHHHH!! You fucking—-!”
Grabbing a handful of sopping hair, Errol pressed again with both hands and she went under. Hundreds of bubbles escaped her mouth, bursting in a projectile vomiting of bath water. She squirmed and shook, but her resistance lessened. This wasn’t enough for a man now in full rage. He squeezed the tendons of his wife’s throat, and she kicked until the last air bubbles disappeared and her face went blank. Sheila’s eyes, still open, stared at her husband with dull accusation.
Errol lay flat on his back, breathing heavily upon the wet tile. From the parlor Siri continued blasting.
Errol muttered, “Hey, Siri! Shut up!”
Siri did. The house fell silent. For an hour, so did Errol .
He let the water drain from the tub, stared at Sheila’s lifeless body as the metal gullet burped with what remained of the bath suds. Rationality didn’t come; how could it, for a man who had just drowned and strangled his own wife? Errol knew he couldn’t hide his act, couldn’t offer the authorities bullshit explanations how the woman must have slipped in the tub when the reddened prints of her husband’s fingers circled her throat. A Boy Scout could have figured out that much.
“Get a grip…Get a grip…”
He carried Sheila from the tub. Slinging her remains over his shoulder like a dripping knapsack, he held her legs and made his way to the living room past the glowing Siri.
And he stopped…
“I hear everything…I see everything…”
“Oh, yes. I know everything, Errol …”
Siri —- she was speaking to him!
Holding his wife’s corpse before him, he stared at the glowing tube.
(Fucking Jack Daniel! Has to be…)
“Just what do you know?”
Nothing from the tube.
“Hey, Siri! Tell me just what is it that you know!”
Siri remained silent, but her LEDs glowed brighter than ever.
“Okay then,” he muttered, headed through the kitchen for the garage. He had a huge freezer at the restaurant, capable of holding his wife’s petite body for sure. His boat remained docked not a half hour’s drive from the closed Aqua Room. Easing the cruiser from the marina, he could sail her remains maybe fifteen knots out to sea. The car’s tire iron could weight the freezer and he could dump the whole fucking mess into the Atlantic. This seemed the best idea he could come up with, but it just might work. He placed his wife’s corpse in her Blazer’s luggage compartment, having to curl her body into a grotesque fetal position to fit. Slamming the trunk, he slid behind the wheel. He would have to ditch Sheila’s car, of course, but details would come to him — they would have to come.
(“My wife didn’t return home, officers. She worked late, and I have no idea where—“)
Errol pulled slowly out of the driveway. If any of his neighbors saw, well then—
Errol ’s cell phone buzzed. It was past 10:00 already, so who would be calling? The cell’s screen remained dark, but he knew he had best answer.
“She wasn’t fucking him, Errol . Your wife, she told you the truth. Overkill, Errol , like the song says…”
“What? Who is this? Who—?”
Errol didn’t have to ask. He recognized the voice. The cell’s screen glowed purple to confirm it.
“I know what you did, Errol …You really lost it, didn’t you?”
“Hey Siri! Fuck you!” It seemed amazing how the human mind adjusted to any technological craziness thrown its way. (Amaze-ling!) He tossed the cellular into the glove compartment, slammed it shut. Managing to hold it together, he headed for his restaurant. The roads were icy from the recent snowfall. Remembering that sometimes the old bridge over Bayonne Creek closed in bad weather, he switched on the navigational system. You don’t want to find yourself where local police might be redirecting traffic while you’re driving with a body inside your trunk, nuh huh.
“Take me to the Aqua Room on Glenn Echoes Boulevard.”
The voice from the system responded.
“There is a detour to avoid the bridge. No more than fifteen minutes…”
Siri again, of course. Did he hear her mutter “asshole”? Traffic seemed headed for the bridge as if the entrance remained open. A detour of even fifteen minutes wasn’t such a good idea. Better to go for the bridge.
From the dashboard, Siri disagreed…
“Turn left on Biscayne Throughway, murderer…”
“I’m not listening to you, Siri. So shut up! Shut up!”
The Blazer’s steering wheel turned a sharp left on its own, accelerating as it entered the highway.
Sheila’s corpse thumped against the hood. Errol hit the brake, but his wife’s Chevy picked up much more speed. The Blazer seemed to have a mind of its own— but no, that wasn’t accurate because Siri had taken the wheel.
The Throughway’s billboards warned the road was radar patrolled, another marvel Errol ’s dad would have considered ‘Amaze-ling.’ But that wasn’t the word Errol uttered when he heard the siren. In the rearview he saw the flashing blue light.
(Calm, stay calm, just slow down and stay—)
The digital speedometer entered the 90s, advancing higher.
“Taking Exit 28, killer…”
The Blazer took the ramp without slowing. Errol ’s head grazed the side window with the sharp swerve, his hands no longer controlling the wheel. Along side streets and through red lights, Siri had selected her destination. Behind the Blazer another flashing patrol car had joined the chase, the twin sirens screaming. On State Street the Chevy came to a screeching stop. Errol managed to find some breath and saw where he had arrived —The 5th District of the Glenn Echoes Police Department.
The Blazer’s horn blasted and wouldn’t stop. Errol hit the steering column, but the horn screamed louder. Several officers scrambled from the station house headed towards the car like a masked posse, and from the two cruisers came four more. A heavyset masked officer rapped at the window, but his eyes showed he wasn’t smiling. Errol half expected some wise ass remark like “Where’s the fire,” but the guy was all business.
“Kill the horn, will you? Turn off your vehicle.” Errol hit the ignition pad and the car went silent. The man poked his head through the open window. “You know you were going pretty fast, sir. License and registration, please, and step out of the vehicle. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Polite as hell, the bastard.
“Certainly, officer.” Errol handed the cards to him. “Sorry about the horn. See, it got stuck. It’s my wife’s car. She’s been meaning to—“
The others stood close as one peeked inside the vehicle. The navigation system lit brightly in purple, flashing in the dark.
The car started up, roaring to life as if someone had stomped on the gas.
“Arrived at destination, Errol …”
The young officer seemed impressed. “Your fob’s remote must’ve gone off. And you have that Siri thing, I see. Damn sexy voice she’s got — almost seems real. Did your little gizmo girlfriend indicate that you were speeding quite a bit? We clocked you at close to 100.”
“No…See, my wife’s car, it —”
“Mask on, please. There’s a virus going on.”
“I’m afraid I left mine at home, officer.”
“In that much of a hurry, were you? Ran some lights too.”
The cop reached into the interior, cut the ignition again.
“Have you been drinking tonight, Mr. Greene?”
Errol remembered the bourbon bottle, emptied on his living room floor. Polite as he could speak the words, he managed, “Well, see officer, I…”
Close enough! He had said the words, and Siri responded through the raised window.
“Go ahead. I’m listening.”
Siri was back on her best behavior for her audience in blue.
(I turned you off, goddamn it! I turned you off!!)
Errol pretended to pay the voice no mind. “Listen, officer, I’m not drunk, I swear. Seriously…”
Siri glowed, again ready to obey another familiar word, or maybe pretending to, because Errol could swear he heard her giggle.
(… seriously…not drunk…drunk…drunk…seriously…)
Errol realized his mistake a moment too late.
“Opening the trunk now…”
BIO: Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. His stories have appeared in over 930 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2020. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written six books : three anthologies of short stories, YOU HAD ME AT ARRGH!! (Sam’s Dot Publishers), DONNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (A/A Productions) and STAR-CROSSED (Vampires 2); and a novella, DESIREE, (Damnation Books). His first novel OF A FEATHER (Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014. SINKHOLE, his second novel, was published by Bloodshot Books August 2017.