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The program facilitator scanned the faces of the six people sitting in front of him. All six would now have the chance to unravel a real mystery from two centuries before – by going back in time to the location of the offense.
“Greetings to all of you,” began the facilitator. “As you know, crime has been eradicated from our world by the webnet that protects us. But in the far past, killers ran wild through the streets like uncontrolled predators, hiding in large cities.” He was pleased that most of the participants gasped at his statement. These time tourists had paid to be entertained afterall. “We’ve selected a crime from the year 1963 involving the deaths of 3 women. A suspect was arrested, but later released, due to lack of a motive and physical evidence.”
Magalie Stenger began to ask a question but was stopped. “Each of you will be supplied with an era appropriate C-241 robot, who will answer only 20 questions when you get to the time location. The tourist who solves the crime with the least number of questions wins bragging rights. Well, if there are no further questions, Pittsburg 1963 is awaiting your detection skills. The travel booths are in the next room. Happy hunting!”
As Magalie looked around, she thought that stepping through the time portal into Old Earth 1963 was well worth the cost of the trip. She enjoyed seeing the sky and the city built on rolling hills. A robot followed her through the portal, having been modified to look like a girl of eight.
“I am here to assist you, mother,” said the C-241’s soft voice. “What would you like to know?”
“What happened to the three women, in general terms?”
“Helen B, Mary F, and Jane C were abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered – their remains were found floating in the Allegheny River. One of the bodies was discovered in those bushes over there.”
“What was the suspect’s name?” asked Magalie.
“Lowell Roppo,” came the answer.
“Is the suspect’s job location within walking distance?”
“Every location on Earth is within walking distance for me,” said the robot child, not understanding the question clearly.
“How about for me, C-241 – is it within walking distance for me?”
“Is that a countable question?” asked the C-241.
“How many have I asked so far?” asked Magalie.
“Five, including this one.”
“Could be worse,” she whispered to herself. “Yes, that is a countable question.”
“Yes!” said the small robot, leading the way into the heart of downtown Pittsburg on a lovely Autumn afternoon.
“Did Lowell work in this neighborhood?” asked Magalie, walking past the brick buildings.
“Yes,” said the girl. “All his life.”
This was harder than Magalie thought it was going to be. “Will you take me to the place where Lowell worked?” insisted Magalie.
“Yes,” said the C-241.
After several twists and turns through the streets, the pair came to a row of six buildings, all of which were in need of repair. “I’m going to assume that Lowell left town after being released and his shop is the one with the windows covered with brown paper.”
The C-241 did not respond, as the woman’s sentence was a statement, not a question.
“Silence gives consent,” said Magalie, walking up to the entrance to the closed store. “As she peeked through the cracks between the papers, she could see what appeared to be women’s heads. “Can you get me inside?” asked Magalie.
“Yes,” said the robot.
“Will you get me inside now?”
“Yes,” said the girl, tearing off the dead-bolt lock with one swipe of her hand.
Magalie looked around before going into the building.
The room was musty and opening the door had stirred up the dust, making the human wheeze. “Why are those heads there?”
“Those are ceramic heads used to hold wigs which were worn by women for fashion or because they had lost their hair due to age or disease.”
“How long had Mr. Roppo owned this store?”
“Both of their lives.”
“You mean there were two Mr. Roppos?” she asked.
“Yes, according to records, Lowell’s father owned the wig store before him.”
Magalie went further back, seeing a calendar hanging on the wall. She noticed 3 days which had circles drawn around them. “C-241, what did the three murdered women do on these 3 days that were similar?”
“They all had appointments at a cancer clinic nearby.”
“Cancer? – could that disease have caused their hair to fall out?”
“Yes. The cure for cancer at this time was chemotherapy.”
Suddenly the woman saw her refection in a jar on a counter. As she looked inside, she saw a blonde wig. She took it out, turning it over in her hands.
“I’m ready to go back to tell Rodgers my findings,” she told the robot, and the pair disappeared.
The other five travelers were also in the room.
“I’m ready to hear your theory, Ms. Stenger,” said the administrator.
Magalie Stenger smiled to herself. “I propose that as Lowell Roppo grew to become a man in his father’s wig store, he came to fantasize about the women in the display windows. But since all of those ceramic heads were hairless he looked for women who were hairless – women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, like the women who came and went from his father’s shop.”
From behind her back she held up the wig from the jar. “I believe that you’ll find the DNA of all three murdered women on this wig – the wig that Lowell Roppo put on each of the women after he had killed them, thus satisfying his fetish.”
“And she developed this provable theory in how many questions?” Mr. Rodgers asked the C-241.
“Can anyone beat it?” he asked looking around the room. The others shook their heads no. “Well then you win bragging rights and one free trip on another murder vacation. I hope everyone will travel with us again soon.”
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