The Detectometer

I removed the forensics probe from the cruiser and set it gently on the walk leading to the Caruso manor. A little green light atop its shining silver head pulsed with the infinite patient of machinery. I pressed the start button and pointed the device toward the scene of the crime. That pretty much completed the human portion of the investigation.

Officer Andy Thomson, of the Texas State Troopers, played solitaire in his vehicle. A few minutes earlier he had pressed the button in his cruiser to release the security drones. The drones busily wove a yellow web of motion sensing security tape around the building. The tape would warn of anyone trying to tamper with the crime scene. As far as the union was concerned, we had both completed our duties for the day. I leaned against the hood of my cruiser to idle my brain on thoughts of the glorious past.

If the crime investigation went as planned, my moving the robot in and out of the trunk would be the sum total of my detective work. Of course, I would be available if some extremely unpleasant circumstance required the brute force of a human officer of the law. However such incidences were rare and better handled by the enforcement drones. In all likelihood, the entire crime investigation would be wrapped up by the machinery. My day would be spent choosing the best selection of doughnuts from the local diner, or, if I was lucky, I might be able to scrounge up a decent snack from the crime victim's refrigerator without notice.

Two years ago, I would have played a more active role in the drama. I would have carried the probe into the crime scene, and watched as it interrogated the subjects.

Five years ago, I would have read questions from a teleprompt, and pushed the probe around the room to vacuum up clues.

Twenty years ago, the whole relation between man and machine was reversed. In ancient times, human investigators collected evidence and manually entered it in the database. The active role of the cop in the chase seemed a paradise lost.

Yes, us cops still watch old time dramas. We imagine ourselves as hardened detectives pounding our beats, and solving crimes with brawn and brain.

I don't mean to complain. It makes sense to remove people from criminal investigations. Studies show that suspects respond unpredictibly to the piercing stares, and carefully timed gestures of police officers. Far too many innocent people ended their days behind bars simply because they were intimidated by the men in blue. Too often the true criminal mind passed our gut tests with little notice.

The human detective of yesteryear made for great drama, but was an uncontrolled variable in the criminal investigation. Human detectives introduced errors--errors that led to false conclusions.

Crime probes do a more thorough job than humans could ever dream. Machines can perform on the fly fingerprinting, or whip up a DNA profile in nanoseconds. A well tuned machine can perform a complete non-invasive forensics probe at the crime site in less than fifteen minutes. They can make a wide variety of chemical and physical measurements with a minimum of interference from the investigator.

The Detectometer has instant access to all of the electronic resources built up through the millennia. It can instantly cross reference police, telephone, finance, school and internet accounts. Data mining features can root out any sinister pattern or find even the most hidden discrepancy in financial accounts.

Computers are amazingly unbiased and excel in interrogations. Not only can they multitask--interviewing up to 99 witnesses simultaneously--detectometers come equipped with software to protect a defendent's rights. Computers are so impartial in their probing that, in 2063, the Supreme Court ruled that crime probes could interrogate all witnesses and suspects without the presence of counsel.

The rule of law is not about the intrigues of the courtroom. The rule of law is about establishing an following fair and objective standards. Our ability to make accurate and unbiased measurements substantially improved the administration and consistent application of justice. For too long, we confused rule by law with rule by lawyers...the latter being a waking nightmare. The detectometer removed the random elements from the investigation gave us truer impartial rulings.

The role of detective may not be as dramatic as in the films of the past, but the first and foremost goal of any police department should be to solve crimes and protect the public. A cop's individual sense of fulfillment is unimportant. By 2072, the FBI had achieved a phenomenal 98.3% success rate in solving murders. They had a 76.9% success rate in catching thieves. This high success rate came from the efforts of the machinery, and we should give the machinery its fair due.


My name, by the way, is Shell Orson. I am a detective in the automated analysis division of the FBI. I began my career reading computer manuals, and studying physics. Apparently, I am ending my career by leaning against my cruiser and eating doughnuts.

I still follow the work of the probes. But I no longer hold the illusion that I contribute more than the formality of my presence.

The lights on the security drones changed from a bright to a medium red. The Detectometer had completed its primary analysis of the scene. With little else do to, I thought I would indulge in a little side diversion, and place my skills against the mystery. I flashed my security badge at the perimeter drone and crossed the yellow line.

The Caruso affair was one of the most intriguing cases of my career. It appeared to be a true serial murder. There were already two corpses, both victims of the same MO.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Serial killings were a scurge of the past. The forensics probes all but eliminated such crimes. No, criminals are not more afraid of computers. With 95% of murders solved in the first 24 hours, serial killers have little chance for a second act.

The Caruso deaths were a dismal exception. Both murders were executed with stunning precision. The perp left no marks or prints. It was most likely a professional hit. Apparently, the murderer had used a specially designed air gun that shot ice pellets. The pellets melted in the victim's cranial cavity, eliminating all traces of the murder weapon.

The murder occurred at 19:29 on the previous day. The security system showed no intruders. The perpetrator must have developed some sort of mechanized trap that laid in wait for the victim--a new fangled murder weapon that would slay the victim, and leave the scene without a trace.

The solution to the crime would come by analyzing the finances of the Carusos, and by tracking the parts needed for such a device. There was little I could do to pursue the most promising angles; so I consoled myself to examining the scene itself. Unfortunately, I could imagine no clues that my limited human vision could spy that the microprobes missed.

The victim's name was Bernard. He was a twenty-year old student of veterinary pharmacy. He laid face down in the kitchen--a stock of celery in the left hand, and a tofu shake in the right.

Both the time of the murder and the scene of the crime were similar to the death of his uncle Antoine three month's earlier. Two relatives killed in the same kitchen with the same weapon—There had to be a connection.

The Detectometer had gathered over 14 terabytes of data on the two victims, but its recursive analysis led only to dead ends. Antoine Caruso was an international art dealer. Bernard was a student animal doctor. Other than the house, there were no glaring connections between the victims. There had to be something in the house.

The Detectometer did a superb job analyzing the security logs. While the security logs provide the greatest amount of information on the comings and goings of suspects. I find that the refrigerator often has the most interesting information on the lives of the people. The Caruso's had one of the new NutraButler units that both kept and prepared nutritionally balanced meals. The machine had a treasure trove of data. It kept a full inventory, calorie log, and a detailed calendar of food consumption.

A cross analysis of the refrigerator contents showed little difference in the Caruso's diets. Antoine drank fat free milk. Bernard preferred the heavier 2% variety. The refrigerator gave Bernard negative marks for using too much butter. Antoine apparently had a sweet tooth. The refrigerator had issued several demerits for excessive jelly consumption.

Despite a few transgressions. The Carusos appeared to be dedicated health nuts. I remember Antoine was eating a bowl of bran cereal with wheat germ and prune juice at the time of his demise. Bernard was holding a celery stick and a tofu drink. I thought humorously about fridge in my flat warning of eminent heart failure every time I fixed my breakfast.

I waved my universal security badge to deactivate the security grid. I propped open the refrigerator door. The light came on and I heard the compressors kick in as I examined the machine's contents. A recorded voice admonished me to close the door and use the interface for accessing the contents of the unit. "Please use the designed NutraButler interface to access and retrieve your nourishment...blah, blah, blah"

Everything seemed in order. I opened the door to the freezer. The Carusos may have had a boring diet, but they had good taste in deserts. In the top shelf was box of Ms. Applebum's Chocolate Decadence Cheesecake. Hmmm, no one would notice the disappearance of one tiny slice. I snagged a sample just before the spring loaded arm of the freezer slammed the door in my face.

As I chowed down on the confectionary delight, I reviewed the timeline of the crime. Bernard came home from work at 18:07. The trash can in the den recorded that he threw away a Twinkie wrapper at precisely 18:12. The faucet recorded a hand washing and drinking event a few minutes later.

Bernard then went into the den for a short workout. Now, this was interesting. He spent a forty five minutes on the ExerWorld machine, and burned exactly 500.07 calories.

I licked a portion of the chocolate decadence stuck to my fingers. Bernard had obviously worked specifically to cross the 500 calorie mark. My stomach growled at both the thought of 500 calorie workout and the rich textured the chocolate laced cream. I really should trim down. Perhaps I should get one of those NutraButler units. My main sin is doughnuts, the last time I had an piece of chocolate decadence cake was about three months....

Of course! That's it! The garbage can would have told the refrigerator about the Twinkie. Bernard did not pedal his buns off to get a piece of celery and tofu. He was after the cheesecake!

The Detectometer spun around uselessly in the living room, performing a thread by thread analysis of the carpet. It would get nowhere, for I, an insignificant human with a muddled biological brain, held the solution of the crime on my finger tip.

The cheesecake was the common denominator in both crimes. I now had method, means and motive. The ice pellets didn't come from an air gun. The spring loaded arm of the NutraButler had enough force to launch a chipped piece of ice into the victim's brain.

"The butler did it!" I proclaimed aloud. The cold calculating machine had crunched the numbers on Bernard's diet and found it lacking.

I could see the two Carusos exploring clever ways to cut the corner of their diet. The refrigerator would have been the unwitting victim of many of their schemes. I could see the NutraButler jealously guarding its richest delight. The conflict would go unnoticed by all on lookers, including the mechanized eyes of the Detectometer. It would take the active imagination of a experienced cop to see that innocent eating habits were the cause for murder.

I sucked the last trace of the tasty evidence from my fingers, and prepared to file my report.

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