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There are human beings who function "like machines" and there are machines which seem to be "almost human." So—the problem in this case was not murder, or who committed it but who was the "machine" and who was the "human being".
ON January 5, 1997 Isobel Smith became Isobel Smith d'Larte. On November 13, 1997 Isobel Smith d'Larte gave birth to a boy-child who died. And on March 20, 1998 Isobel Smith d'Larte was placed on trial for the willful and premeditated murder of her husband Arnaud d'Larte.
"Not Isobel," said her friends. "Not Isobel. Too mousey. So quiet. Surely it wasn't Isobel."
"But it's the quiet type you've got to watch out for," said others. "Probably has a lover somewhere. She was younger than her husband you know. Much younger. Too much younger."
"Killed him for his money," said the people on the street. "Read where she likes art and museums, stuff like that. Must be a queer one that Isobel d'Larte."
The accusations piled high against Isobel, but she said nothing. She sat in court, a tiny figure in black saying nothing, seemingly not even listening to the accusations of the Prosecutor.
"We will prove willful and premeditated murder," the Prosecutor thundered.
"Easily done," an old woman in the audience murmured spitefully. "Young wife, old husband. Rich husband. Murder! Easily proved."
"First witness," the Prosecutor called. "Sergeant Melot."
Sergeant Melot took the stand. The witness chair creaked under his weight. He answered a loud, "I do," when the clerk swore him in.
"Tell us about finding the body," the Prosecutor said. "Miss no details."
"A Mrs. Watson, servant of Arnaud d'Larte, called us at nine five P.M. on March 15. Her master was dead, she said. When we answered her call we found Mr. d'Larte's body in his bedroom. He had been dead for about an hour."
"Beaten to death. Beaten with an iron statue of Venus. Evidence of a struggle. Twenty wounds on his head."
"Twenty wounds, Sergeant Melot?"
"Twenty. The first, or second, would have been enough to kill him. But there were twenty."
The audience gasped and the Prosecutor smiled. "And where was Mrs. d'Larte?" he asked.
"Locked in her bedroom. Had to break the door down to get to her."
"Did you speak to her?"
"We spoke to her, but she didn't speak to us."
The audience laughed and the judge rapped for silence.
"The iron statue of Venus, the one found near Mr. d'Larte's body, you found fingerprints on it, did you not?" Sergeant Melot nodded. "Whose fingerprints were they, Sergeant Melot?"
"Your witness," the Prosecutor told the Defense.
"No questions," said the Defense.
"Why ask questions," a spectator commented. "She's guilty."
"Mrs. Abby Watson to the stand please."
Abby Watson strode to the witness chair. Her shrew-like eyes flicked sharply towards Isobel d'Larte then away. Her answer to the clerk who swore her in was sharp and positive.
"How long have you worked for Mr. d'Larte?" the Prosecutor asked.
"In your opinion Mr. d'Larte was a good employer?"
"The best. A wonderful man, but a lonely one. That woman tricked him into marriage. Played on his loneliness."
"Objection sustained. Confine yourself to the questions please."
"Mr. d'Larte was older than his wife?" the Prosecutor asked.
"Eighteen years older."
"Was it a happy marriage?"
"At first, at least on his part. He was contented, but she seemed restless. Always wanted to go to museums and see paintings, or playing her silly antique records all day. Not content with the government 'Do-It-Yourself' kits. Called them mechanical and expressionless. She insulted Mr. d'Larte's friends time and again. Called them frauds. Said their paintings, books and plays were terrible. Said that real talent was dead.
"You said she spent a lot of time in museums?"
"I didn't say it, but she did. Every chance she got. She'd be gone for hours."
"Which museum? The one commemorating the wars? The Museum of Mechanics?"
"None of those. She'd go to the old one on the hill. That horrible thing with the relics of the past in it. The one run by the robots. The one run by the government to remind us of the past when only a few were allowed talent and not everybody like today. But I think she went to the museum for another reason. No one could really be interested in those things they have there."
"What do you think she went for, Mrs. Watson?"
"To meet her lover. Shortly before he was killed Mr. d'Larte confessed to me that he was of the same opinion."
"See, I told you she had a lover," someone whispered. "Old husband, young wife. I just knew there was a lover."
"Objection," said the Defense. "There is no proof that Mrs. d'Larte went to the museum to meet a lover. There are only opinions, guesses."
"If your honor will permit me to call my next witness I think I can prove that there was a lover," the Prosecutor said.
The judge leaned forward in eager anticipation. "Call your witness."
A fat, dumpy, flame-haired woman made her way to the witness stand. As she was sworn in she tugged self-consciously at her too tight girdle.
"Mrs. ... I'm a widow."
"Mrs. Whychek, would you tell us where you are employed."
"Timon's and Sons. I'm a secretary there."
"And where is your office located."
"In the building just across the street from the Museum of the Past—the one you were just talking about to that other woman."
"Mrs. Whychek, do you recognize the woman sitting over there?" the Prosecutor asked as he pointed to Isobel d'Larte.
"Indeed I do. I saw her most everyday."
"Would you tell us the circumstances."
"Well, from the window in my office I have a very good view of the park that is next to the museum. About a month ago I began noticing that woman in the park. I couldn't help but notice her, she came so often."
"Alone, Mrs. Whychek?"
"At first yes. She'd go into the museum, stay about two hours or so, then come out and sit in the park. She never did anything but sit."
"Was she always alone?"
"I was just coming to that. After about a week I noticed that a man would come and sit with her in the park."
"Could you describe the man?"
"No, I'm afraid I couldn't. He always wore a long overcoat and a hat pulled down over his face. Both the overcoat and the hat were very old though. I did notice that. They looked like they might have dated from around 1950."
"And what did this man and Mrs. d'Larte do in the park?"
"Just sat. Talked I guess. I never saw them kiss or anything if that's what you mean. Of course many times they would still be sitting there when I left work. What they did after that I don't know."
"But Mrs. d'Larte definitely did meet a man in the park."
"Oh, yes. She met him nearly every day for almost a month."
"Thank you. Your witness."
The Defense rose slowly and walked over to where Mrs. Whychek sat.
"Remember you are under oath, Mrs. Whychek," he said. "You say Mrs. d'Larte and this man merely sat and talked?"
"As far as I could tell that's all they did. Of course I didn't watch them every minute."
"Then you can say that they never did anything out of the way, that their meetings, if they were that, were innocent?"
"As far as I could tell they were."
"Could you say whether the meetings were prearranged?"
"I really couldn't, but—"
"That will be all, thank you," the Defense interrupted.
So the first day of the trial went. There seemed no doubt that Isobel d'Larte was guilty. Her friends admitted loudly that poor Isobel had scandalized them to the core. The papers labeled Isobel queer and hinted that her lover, whoever he might be, killed Mr. d'Larte for her. Old fashioned Isobel, they called her. Some had other names for her.
ON the second day of the trial the Defense called its witnesses. There were only three. Two were character witnesses who hesitantly assured the court that Isobel d'Larte could not have killed her husband. She really was a good woman.
The third witness was Isobel herself. When she was called she rose very slowly and walked to the witness stand. She was sworn in and seated herself in the witness chair. Her face and hands were chalk white against the blackness of her dress.
"Mrs. d'Larte, did you kill your husband?" the Defense asked.
"Do you know who did kill your husband?"
"Why did you lock yourself in your bedroom the night he was killed."
"I wanted to be alone."
The spectators giggled.
"Could you explain how your fingerprints came to be on the iron statue of Venus? The statue that killed your husband."
"It was my statue. It is quite possible that my fingerprints would be on it."
"And you heard nothing, no sounds of struggle, the night your husband was killed?"
"No. I slept awhile that night. I was tired so I locked my door and slept. I heard nothing."
"Do you know who would want to kill your husband?"
"An enemy I suppose."
"Did your husband have any enemies?"
"Of course, everyone does. Even God has enemies."
That shocked the spectators, but then Isobel had meant it to. Quite suddenly she found herself hating those in the packed court room. Hating these upright citizens who had come to delight in her misfortune. Who sat in smug holier-than-thou attitudes and hoped for the worst. Not one among them really cared what happened to her—as long as it entertained them. Isobel shivered.
"Could you be more specific about your husband's enemies?" the Defense asked.
"No. He never confided in me. He was only interested in his munitions factories. In machines. He loved machines. He particularly loved destructive machines. Some hated him for that."
"The man Mrs. Whychek said you met in the park. Was there such a man?"
Isobel twisted her handkerchief. It was a thin, white snake in her hands.
"Was there a man, Mrs. d'Larte?" the Defense repeated.
"There was a man."
"Could you tell us his name?"
"I do not know his name. He was a man I met in the park. He was a kind and gentle man. We talked about art, music—the beautiful old art and music. He was well informed about such things. We talked a lot, but I don't know his name. We just talked."
"Were you in love with this man, or he with you?"
"You definitely were not lovers?"
"We were not!"
"Thank you, Mrs. d'Larte. Your witness."
The Prosecutor approached the witness stand. "Mrs. d'Larte, you do not like the 'Do-It-Yourself' kits the government has put out, do you?"
"I do not."
"You do not approve or recognize the fact that today everyone is conceded to have talent, do you?"
"I do not."
"Why, Mrs. d'Larte?"
"Anyone can paint, but everyone isn't an artist. Anyone can write, but everyone isn't an author. Anyone can do anything, but everyone does not have talent."
"So you spent a great deal of your time in the Museum of the Past looking at the so-called art treasures there?"
"Yes. They were worth looking at."
"And you did not use that to cover up the fact that you met your lover at the museum?"
"I do not have a lover."
"The man you met in the park, you just talked to him?"
"We talked about the wonderful, the beautiful things in the museum. He knew about them and loved them as I did. There was no one else I could talk to about them."
"Naturally," the Prosecutor sneered. "Everyone else knows what frauds they are."
The spectators laughed.
"Then I like the frauds," Isobel said quietly.
"You claim you were in your bedroom with the door locked and asleep when Mr. d'Larte was killed. Is that right?"
"That is right."
"And even though your bedroom is right next to Mr. d'Larte's you heard nothing. Is that right?"
"Your husband struggled, struggled hard before he died, Mrs. d'Larte. You'll forgive me if I seem skeptical of the fact that you heard nothing."
"I was asleep. I heard nothing."
"No cry? No crashes?"
"I heard nothing!"
"And the man in the park—he was not your lover?"
"He was not my lover."
The Prosecutor turned to the judge with a grim smile. "Your honor, I request a recess so that I may bring in a new witness."
"This witness is not in the court room?"
"No. I myself only learned of him a few minutes ago. It will take about a half-hour to bring him here."
"And this witness is important?"
"Yes. I believe he can prove that Mrs. d'Larte is lying."
"Then this court is recessed until the prosecution brings in the new witness."
The spectators buzzed and jibbered excitedly. A new witness. A surprise witness. The trial was really becoming interesting.
"I hate to leave. I really hate to leave," one said to her companion. "I'll never get back in if I leave. But one must eat. I hate to leave."
"No need. No need to leave," the companion assured her. "See, I brought sandwiches. Always bring something to eat to things like this. People crowd so. It's really terrible. Have an egg?"
"Pretty good trial," an old man with a white beard told the person next to him. "Not as good as the Bronson trial, but pretty good."
"You've seen a lot of trials?" the figure next to him asked.
"Seen all the good ones," the one with the beard said proudly. "Saw the Bronson trial in '96, the Treamont trial in '94. Saw a lot of trials. First time that I've seen one where a wife killed her husband. Most of the others involved infanticide. Good trials, you understand, but disappointing. All the verdicts were not guilty."
"Naturally. With over-population infanticide isn't a crime. Rather more like a good deed these days."
"Understand they are going to legalize the killing of unwanted children."
"Should have been done long ago."
"People should be more careful. If they don't want children, they should be more careful."
"If you know you can get rid of them, why be careful?"
A woman fanned herself with her pocketbook and glanced at her companion. "Have another sandwich, dear?"
"No, on a diet you know." The companion sighed. "It's too bad that they abolished capital punishment. Believe me, this d'Larte hussy deserves it."
"But it's so much better the way they do it now, I mean sending the guilty to the wars to fight in the front lines. Might as well get some use out of them."
"True. But why bother killing a husband? Divorcing them is so much easier. Only takes a day and you get half the husband's earnings."
"You should know, dear. You've done it enough."
"Only seven times."
"I thought it was eight?"
"I don't count Rodger. The lout killed himself so he wouldn't have to pay me a settlement. Ah, here comes the judge."
THE spectators stood lazily as the judge entered, then reseated themselves and buzzed in anticipation.
"Your witness has arrived?" the judge asked.
"Yes, Your Honor," the Prosecutor replied.
"Then call him."
The witness was called and sworn in as the spectators gawked at him eagerly.
"Good looking. Dark. Evil eyes though. Black eyes. I like dark eyes, don't you?"
"Dark blue coat. Lime green sports shirt. Nice combination. Must have a suit made with those colors."
"Nasty look about that fellow. Wouldn't trust him."
"Who is he?"
Isobel d'Larte stared at the witness in fear.
"Your name, please," the Prosecutor demanded of the witness.
"You are Mr. d'Larte's nephew?"
"What do you do for a living, Mr. Kirk?"
"Anything, but basically I'm an artist."
"Is that what you are doing at the present time, Mr. Kirk?"
"No. Everybody's an artist today. No room for a good one, a real one."
"Then what do you do, Mr. Kirk?" the Prosecutor asked in exasperation.
"Don't shout. I didn't ask to come here."
"What do you do for a living?" the Prosecutor asked quietly.
"Arnaud—Mr. d'Larte—paid me to follow his wife. To spy on her. He paid very well."
The spectators gasped happily. "Now we'll hear something," someone said in a stage whisper. The judge rapped for silence.
"Why did Mr. d'Larte pay you to follow his wife?"
"He thought she had a lover."
"But you heard Mrs. d'Larte claim that she did not have a lover."
"No, I didn't. How could I? I wasn't here."
Laughter rippled through the crowded room and the judge rapped for silence.
The Prosecutor frowned angrily. "Mrs. d'Larte said under oath that she did not have a lover."
"Can you prove that she lied?"
"I suppose so."
"And they were really lovers?"
"Mrs. d'Larte told me that she loved him."
"And he loved her I suppose."
"Mrs. d'Larte loved him."
"How long were they lovers?"
"Nearly a month."
"I repeat, can you prove it?"
"I can tell you who her lover is."
"Then by all means do so."
"No! Please, no," Isobel d'Larte cried. "I killed my husband."
When order had been restored in the court the judge stared down at Isobel.
"Am I to understand that you confess to the murder of Arnaud d'Larte?"
"Yes," Isobel said softly. "I hated him and I killed him. I killed with the iron statue of Venus. I hit him with it till he died and I hit him with it after he was dead. I killed him."
Andy Kirk smiled.
It only took a short time to bring in a verdict of guilty against Isobel d'Larte. She accepted the verdict silently and without flinching. In like manner she accepted her sentence. She was to be sent to fight in the front lines of the war in Asia.
"I declare this court adjourned," the judge said and banged his gavel down authoritatively.
As Isobel d'Larte was taken from the room she was led passed Andy Kirk. Seeing him, she stopped and stared at him coldly.
"Why did you do this to me?" she asked.
"To help you. If the trial had continued the way it had you would have been judged insane and executed here in the States. In Asia you may have a chance."
"Does it make a difference if I have a chance? No one really cares."
"You may find what you've been looking for over there."
"You think so?"
"I hope so."
"I don't understand you, Andy."
"Sometimes one must do bad to do good."
Isobel stared at him not understanding his words, then the guard led her away. Isobel d'Larte spent the night in jail, and the next morning, along with twenty other prisoners, was taken to the rocket-port to be sent to Asia. At the rocket-port the prisoners were allowed to say their goodbyes to their families without the benefit of guards. Isobel stood alone watching the tearful farewells, then walked slowly into the cafeteria. As she sat alone at the corner table drinking coffee a tall man dressed in an old fashioned top coat and with an old fashioned hat pulled down over his face walked up to the table and sat down opposite her. Isobel looked at the figure happily.
"I knew you would come."
"Why did you confess?"
"I did not want them to know about us. They would have made it all so ugly sounding. They would have made it sound vile ... and it wasn't." Isobel reached out a hand towards the figure and a metal hand closed over hers. "I didn't want them to harm you."
"You did it for me?"
"Yes. I love you."
"I'm a robot. A machine. An unfeeling thing of iron and steel. How can you love me?"
"My husband was the machine. He ate at the same time everyday, dressed at the same time, went to work at the same time. He did the same things, thought the same things every day of his life."
"But he had emotion."
"Only those he had been taught to feel and those only at the proper times. He was mad when he should be mad and happy when he should be happy, nothing more. He was much more of a machine than you."
"But I cannot return your love. I do not know what emotion is."
"I had to have someone," Isobel cried. "I had to have someone who was kind to me. You liked what I liked. You could talk to me of something besides machines. Machines do everything now. But you could talk to me of art, music, beauty."
"My creator taught me those things. Taught me to care for those things in the museum. I would miss them if they were taken away."
"Yes." Sudden tears stung Isobel's eyes. No one would miss her. No one would care about her.
"I will miss you too, Isobel. I will miss you very much."
"As much as the things in the museum?"
"As much as those. More."
Isobel stood up, leaned over and kissed the metal cheek of the one opposite her. "Then it was worth it."
"All prisoners assemble on the runway," a harsh voice boomed over the loudspeaker.
"Perhaps someday I can learn to return love," the robot said.
"You have done more than that. You have made me happy."
"Come back safely, Isobel."
Isobel d'Larte ran to the runway and joined the other prisoners. They looked at her strangely not understanding her smile. Isobel barely noticed them, for she was happy. Someone cared for her. That was the important thing. Someone cared.