Panels 5 and 7 are close-up insert panels in the larger panel 6. As needed the dialogue can spread beyond these smaller panels and into 6, so long as they remain attached and don’t confuse the reader.
Wide, exterior shot of a crappy two story brick building. It’s dark, and most of the lights are out, except the lights in an upstairs office. Green shades are pulled down over the windows. It’s raining pitchforks, and on the sidewalk we can see a doll in a green flapper dress, soaked so hard it clings to her (although she’s in just enough shadow we couldn’t say if she’s human or synthetic). But at this moment, she is very much an afterthought, something folks won’t notice the first time through. Even more subtle is the specter of a cab driving away down the street.
Narration: It’s been a week.
Narration: Running low on coin for fuel, thinking of shutting down.
Rex is in his office, sitting at his desk. He’s deep in thought, not betraying any particular emotion, despite what the narration is. On the opposite side of his frosted glass office door is his name in white. It’s reversed, since we’re seeing it from the opposite side, but it says, “Rex Rocket, Private Investigator”.
Narration: Leave a sign on the desk says, “For help, power me on.”
Narration: Coming to with some pervert tinkering in my gearbox gives me pause…
His office door pounds open, and standing in the doorway is the sexy Clara Bot. She’s lanky, dressed in a green flapper dress and hat. She looks as if she’s been crying.
Narration: When the finest chassis on a flapperbot this side of the river waltzes in.
Rex leans back in his chair. He’s relaxed. If he were human, you’d think she just woke him peacefully from a cat nap.
Rex: What’s the trouble?
ECU Insert Panel: She holds up a diamond ring on her finger.
Narration: She shows me an anchor that would have slowed the Titanic and tells me her fiancé’s dead.
Rex, barely looking up at her holding the ring out to him, reaches into his desk.
Close up on Rex’s palm, where he’s got a pack of what look like cigarettes with the brand name Filters on the pack.
Narration: They help me think.
Rex holds one of the filters in his mouth, and vents exhaust through it.
Narration: My mechanic tells me they’re hard on my exhaust vents.
Narration: I told him to screw.
Clara tells her sob story. For the sake of brevity (and because this could easily balloon into a novel-length story if we took our eyes off it for a moment) he’s going to paraphrase because most if not all of what she gives him is worthless. Anything that ain’t we’ll be sure to give to the audience as soon as makes sense.
Narrator: She gives me the straight.
Narrator: If she were human, I’d send her to the bulls.
Rex exhales through the filter. The end is getting red hot and warping.
Narrator: But they don’t work bot crime.
Narrator: They won’t work bot crime.
Narrator: Artificials are property, not people.
Close up on a metal ash tray, as Rex smashes out the red tip of his filter.
Narrator: Ask a bull he cares your car won’t start some time.
Rex grabs a long trench coat and hat as he comes out from around his desk. He looks past Clara to the door.
Rex: Let’s get a wiggle on.
Rex stands on the edge of the street corner holding his thumb out at a taxi (off panel).
Narration: I stick my thumb out…
Rex is splashed as the driver goes through a puddle to pull the car up in front of Clara (the Taxi should look similar to this early model Ford). At the same time as Rex is getting all wet, the panel glamorizes Clara.
Narration: and the driver tries to go through me to bring the car to her.
Rex looks up at a tall, fancy apartment complex; Clara lags a few steps behind, because she’s just paid the driver off panel.
She leads him up a nice set of stairs, not too elegant, but making his office look like a hole.
Narrator: She’s mousy.
Narrator: Figures I’m a bimbo, but not sure that’s enough.
As she opens the door, with the lights still off inside, he walks in.
Rex: Anybody touch the room?
Clara turns on the lamp as he stops at the body.
Clara: Just… my neighbor.
Rex: Which one?
Clara points at the wall where there’s a bookshelf and a doorway into the bedroom.
Rex: I’ll need to speak with him.
There’s a wide, bluish puddle around the body. Rex was in close to to be sure he knows what it is, but he’s rising now, convinced it’s unimportant, and mainly there to fool people into thinking it’s important. Johnny Bolt lays face down, and there’s a deep, obvious hole above his right hip, where the leak came from. As his name might suggest, Johnny was at one point a construction bot, a bolt tightener, specifically.
Rex: Coolant leak, but that’s just the killing blow.
Rex gets Clara down low, and points to a smaller hole in his back, near the hip shoulder with the spine.
Rex: See here. It’s subtle. It’s your first entry wound, meant to sever the logic controller from his kinematic cord.
Rex is up, and helps her to her feet. But he isn’t focusing on her, or the intentional glimpse she’s offering her down her front, but paying attention to the corpse, not the body.
Rex: Keeps the processor from being able to tell his body to move-
Rex: Or shut down when he ran out of coolant.
Rex: His processor overheated.
Clara grabs onto his arm, pressing herself to him. The discussion of her husband’s murder is difficult on her.
Rex: The entry wounds are surgically precise- one entry for each injury.
Rex: Obviously someone familiar with your husband’s model number.
ECU, insert panel inside panel 4, of the puncture mark, as Rex touches the corpse. If need be, the dialogue can bleed into 4 as necessary.
Rex: Look at this puncture here.
Rex: Notice how it enters directly, in both cases, without any warping.
Rex: Indicating a single, confident, powerful thrust.
Wide shot of the room. It’s a sparse but cozy front room, with a couch and an early radio against the wall. There’s a book shelf, and a small window, not opened or touched. Opposite the bedroom door is a door into the kitchen. The room looks completely untouched by violence except for the corpse of Bolt on the floor. Clara, still shaken, clings to Rex.
Rex: There’s no sign of forced entry, struggle, or even surprise.
Rex: Your husband welcomed them in, trusted them enough to turn his back.
Rex: I’ll need a screwdriver.
Clara hands him a flathead, and he deadpans.
Rex: I was hoping for a drink.
Rex has unscrewed an access panel on the back of Johnny’s head. There’s a motherboard there, and several empty RAM slots.
Rex: His RAM’s missing.
Rex: So he won’t have any short-term memory, probably nothing about his murder.
Rex connects a wire from his arm into the open access panel in Johnny’s head.
Rex: Hard drive’s intact. I’ll see if he managed to save anything.
Johnny, without moving, or being alive, speaks. He remains face-down in a puddle of his own fluids.
Johnny: I don’t…
Johnny: I don’t know why I can’t move.
Pull back, as Rex listens, without reacting at all.
Johnny: My CPU is heating up. But I can’t… can’t shut down.
Johnny: I don’t think… don’t think I’ll…
Pull back further, as Clara listens, and the voice nearly breaks her. She’s on the verge of screaming and crying at the same time.
Johnny: Clara… I love you, Clara… I’m sorry…
The first two panels are on the same line, taking up 30-40% of the page. From there, it’s the introduction of Howard.
Rex pulls away from her, putting just enough distance between them to make her feel isolated. Clear lubricant (used to allow their metal eyes to move without grinding against the socket) drips out of her eye.
Rex: Can you think of anyone who would want your husband dead?
Rex doesn’t react.
Rex: I’ll need to speak with everyone who might have been in the building at the time.
Rex: We’ll start with people he knew.
Rex: First your neighbor.
Howard is a human in his fifties, with gray hair. He’s very unassuming, and affable, like someone’s kind grandfather or older uncle, only without any of the damaged faculties that sometimes come with age. Howard already has his hand presumptively held out to him.
Clara: Rex, this is Howard.
Rex puffs through a filter, not even acknowledging the hand.
Rex: What’s a human doing living in a bot joint?
Howard isn’t frazzled by Rex’s rudeness.
Howard: I used to own Clara and Johnny.
Clara looks nervously to Howard as he speaks. The nervousness should be subtle; she’s hiding something; nothing so horrible that it’s obvious, but she’s worried about him speaking.
Howard: They were my family.
Howard: They bought their freedom, but I wanted to be near them.
Rex doesn’t say a damn word, just blows smoke out of the filter.
This page is a bit cramped and full of talking heads set in a 9 panel grid.
They’ve sat down, Howard on the couch, and Rex on a chair pulled in from the dining nook. Clara sits with Howard on the couch, not close, but he’s turned in at an angle to have his knee close to hers. She is angled towards Rex. Rex leans in. Smiling, genial, but with a hint of menace and accusation.
Rex: Clara trusts you.
Rex: She finds her husband murdered, and she runs to you.
Rex: Shows a good deal of trust.
Howard smiles warmly; he’s not about to be provoked.
Howard: I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way.
Howard: She must.
Profile shot of both of them. Rex relaxes slightly; pushing Howard won’t get a reaction, so he’s sliding into being more conversational.
Rex: What do you do, for a living?
Howard; But I used to be a mechanic. Transport and the like.
Howard looks genuinely sad, thinking back about his father.
Rex: Why purchase a pair of androids then?
Howard; They belonged to my father. He was hurt in a factory, and needed help in the house.
Howard looks caringly at Clara, genuinely touched. Clara avoids his look, blushing and hiding herself from either of their gazes.
Howard: When times were tight, Johnny earned extra money in the city doing construction work, and Clara cleaned the neighbor’s houses.
Howard tries perhaps a bit too hard to play the mourning child, and Rex smiles, finding something he can sink his teeth into. There’s a bit of a pause between Rex’s first and second lines in the panel.
Howard: When my father died, they were the only family I had left.
Rex: It’s unusual granting bots their freedom.
Rex: Why did you do it?
Howard smiles; he knows Rex must be without an owner, too.
Howard; Isn’t that a bit of the pot asking the kettle why she’s black?
Rex: My owner died.
Howard smiles a little, making what is perhaps a cold-blooded joke. His first two balloons are joined; the joke and his slight retraction need to happen quickly, so they’re not too offensive.
Howard: You didn’t kill him, did you?
Howard; No, I suppose not.
Howard leans forward, looking very serious, but at the same time very compassionate and caring.
Howard: I did it because they were my family, and they asked.
Rex stares out the window and exhales through a filter.
Close on Rex’s shoulder as Clara touches him. It’s a soft touch, with a little more to it than her just trying to get his attention.
Rex looks over his shoulder at her, abruptly enough that she’s surprised, and as already pulled the hand ever so slightly back.
Rex turns back to the window.
Rex: Are you in any kind of financial trouble?
Clara: No. We both worked, made enough to pay our expenses.
He looks back to her, not exactly accusatory, but not friendly, either.
Rex: But not enough to build up a savings?
He looks disinterestedly away, as if something of interest were happening outside.
Rex: Your husband didn’t have any nasty habits?
Insert panel inside the larger 6, close on Rex’s face as he turns towards her.
Clara slaps him.
She realizes what she’s done, looks sheepishly towards the ground. He expected the reaction, and isn’t even angry about it.
Same exact picture as the last panel, and she very quietly whispers.
Rex looks at her, almost gently.
Rex: Who else do you know in the building?
Clara still feels too badly to notice, or even really look at him straight.
Clara: The only other people we know are the Teslas.
Clara: We’ve had tea with them a few times.
Mrs. Tesla follows Clara into the apartment. The Teslas are both heavily insulated electrical robots. They have plastic, telescoping arms and hands for dealing with electrical wires, and heavily jointed hands and fingers for doing small, complex work. Mr. Tesla is noticeably missing.
Clara: Mrs. Tesla. Where’s Rick?
Mrs. Tesla has a sweet, older face. She’s a woman with a very kind humor, but moments like are a strain on her, trying to explain her husband. Clara is leading her to the couch, in the same basic seating arrangement as Howard’s interview.
Mrs. Tesla: He said… he isn’t coming. He knows you aren’t police.
Mrs. Tesla: He says no one has authority prosecuting bot crime.
She smiles apologetically.
Mrs. Tesla: I’m sorry. He’s dreadfully stubborn.
Rex smiles, very humanely. Mrs. Tesla is confused by his lack of anger.
Rex: That’s all right. I understand how he feels.
Mrs. Tesla: You do?
Rex leans forward; it’s a favorite/sore subject of his.
Rex: I disagree, mind you; if we’re to have any law at all, every honest bot has to participate.
Rex: But I grasp the sentiment.
Rex, in the same breath as his little speech, switches to the task at hand.
Rex: Can you think of anyone who would have wanted to harm John Bolt?
The first two panels exist on a single line, so below that there’s an obvious scene change.
Without skipping a beat, and looking very natural, Mrs. Tesla replies.
Mrs. Tesla: John always seemed very nice.
Rex smiles, sympathetic.
Rex: I’m sure that he was.
Rex again stares out the window, with a red-hot filter in his mouth.
Rex: Are you having an affair with Mr. Tesla?
We haven’t seen Rick Tesla, but the question really is ridiculous. He’s an old, stubborn, grandfatherly robot. Rex doesn’t respond to her or look in her direction, but he tries to make her think hard. Her balloon comes near the top, his near the bottom, to give a pause between.
Clara: What- no. That’s ridiculous.
Rex: Have you ever flirted with him, had a conversation he could have taken to mean more than was intended?
Wide panel, from outside the window (or at least from the window’s POV if drawing the glass is too daunting).
Clara: No- well… nothing that comes to mind.
Rex: Any lingering glances, touches that lasted too long?
Insert panel inside panel 5, Rex blows smoke out of the filter.
Rex doesn’t look at her. What he’s about to say is very necessary, but also awkward to discuss.
Rex: About the body. Have you made arrangements?
She looks away. She hasn’t thought about it, and hadn’t wanted to.
Rex is actually being gentle for a moment. He wants to put his hand on her shoulder, and maybe even moves the hand halfway there before thinking better of it.
Rex: I know someone. He reuses parts for cost to keep aging bots going.
Rex: I can take care of it.
Rex goes back to being cold, back to the business at hand.
Rex: Anyone else?
Clara: I guess there’s Mr. Mason, from upstairs.
Clara: He worked with Johnny on a few sites, and had dinner with us once.
Clara blushes, feeling a little ashamed.
Clara: I… I didn’t like the way he looked at me, so Johnny didn’t bring him around anymore.
Rex doesn’t react. He just commands.
Rex: Ring him down.
Rex: Then check through everything in the apartment again.
Rex: Anything missing, no matter how insignificant.
Rex and Mason sit on the couch and chair respectively. Clara isn’t with them; she’s “cleaning” the apartment, checking to see if anything’s missing. Mason completely ignores her as she bustles in and out of panels, thoroughly disinterested. Mason is a construction bot, specializing in stone work and concrete. As such, he’s thickly built. Clara is currently going through the bookshelf, although that may not be in panel.
Rex: Mr. Mason. What was your relationship with John Bolt?
Mason’s got a very tired appearance. His work tires him out, his life tires him out, and the death of one of his few friends tires him out. Clara goes through the door by the bookshelf into their bedroom.
Mason: We worked together. Ate lunch together. He was an okay guy.
Clara walks through the room with a pair of dishes from the bedroom.
Rex: That’s it?
Clara is in the kitchen, out of ear shot.
Rex: What’s your impression of his wife?
Mason isn’t hurt at all, just states his impression matter-of-factly.
Mason: Only met her the one time, but I got the impression she don’t like me much.
Rex seems to understand something, and smiles sympathetically.
Rex: Could I impose on you?
Wide, shot of the outside of the apartment complex. Mason and Rex carry Bolt’s body towards a cab. They cleaned the fluids off him, and he’s no longer leaking. It’s midway between a scene of men through a TV out and carrying a drunken buddy to a cab. It’s still raining.
Rex is back in his office. He’s gotten a bottle of vodka out of his desk and set it on top. He’s reaching for a glass. The first line of dialogue goes at the very top left of the panel to make the transition work.
Narrator: After we drop the stiff, I go straight to the office.
Narrator: The vodka I save for special occasions.
Rex puts a small glass to his lips.
Narrator: It’s a computation high I can only afford when it’s business,
Narrator: Or when it’s something real pleasurable…
Clara bursts in. It’s hard to tell what she’s thinking, but it’s a combination of grief, sadness and lust. Rex is on his feet and walks around the desk (not necessarily on panel, but he does). She’s even more beautiful for being soaked with rain.
Narrator: She follows me home like a stray.
Closer on her face. She’s nearly crying, but isn’t.
Clara: I’m all balled up.
She falls in his arms and gives him a look like Clara Bow (and she’s also painted on her mouth in that familiar heart-shape named after the actress). She leans in close to him; if he doesn’t answer her quick, she’s just going to kiss him.
Clara: Cash or check?
He spins her to her feet, and turns away, acting disinterested and nodding to the door. It’s important that the open door be visible. He isn’t looking at her, afraid what he might do if he did. The narration comes at the very bottom of the panel, as if it were a transition.
Rex: It’s raining.
Rex: Now dry up.
Narrator: Trying not to take any wooden nickels.
Same as six, only Clara’s gone, and the door’s been shut violently. Rex still hasn’t looked up.
Narrator: And hoping I didn’t pass on something real.
Caption: Continued in the next issue of Shorties, from Nic Wilson and Pencil Head.