“A bunch of nobodies,” says Detective Blisflix as he reads about the residents of 2402 Steiner. “Dullest place in the city.” Detective Smith sits across from Blisflix at a table in a small meeting room. She’s working her way through a tall stack of manila folders.
“You’re right,” Smith says. “No one of any interest has ever lived in the place. Most of the current residents have been there for years.”
Blisflix sits back in the chair that’s too small for him. “So what’s the plan for tomorrow night?”, he asks Smith. She looks up in surprise.
“Why are you asking me?”, she replies. “Villa Lobos didn’t like my idea of imposing a new moon curfew.” She resumes perusing the folders.
Blisflix goes back to perusing the files. “What kind of a contractor is this guy in 2A?”, he asks. Smith looks up. “Timothy Rist,” he adds. “It just says “˜contractor’ here.” Blisflix taps the paper. “No work address.” He pauses and then adds, “He’s lived there a long time.”
“So has everyone else in the place,” Smith says. “Which one’s a night owl?”
Tim knows it’s Karen before he hears the knock on his door. He shuts down his computer and walks to the door, hesitating before opening it. Through Tim’s head runs the entire conversation he’s about to have with Karen, beginning with her attempt to prevent him from going out. The conversation will end with Karen’s empty threat to call Detective Smith. Tim admits to himself he’s not sure he wants to go out tonight.
Tim opens the door just as Karen knocks a second time. “Okay,” he tells her, “I’ll stay home tonight.”
“Hello to you, too,” Karen says.
“Please come in,” Tim says, opening the door wider. “It’s nice to see you, Karen. Would you like a glass of water?”
“Whoa!”, Karen laughs. “That’s more than you’ve said to me in two years.” She enters Tim’s apartment and looks around. “Yes, thank you,” she says. “A glass of water would be nice.”
Tim leads her into the kitchen. She takes one of the two seats at the small, 50’s-style formica table. “This is the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever seen,” Karen says as Tim takes a pitcher of water from the refrigerator and fills a glass for her.
“I don’t cook,” Tim says.
“Ever?”, Karen asks.
Tim shakes his head. “Mrs. Kahn cooks for me,” he says. “I shop for her, she cooks for me.”
“You work here?”, Karen asks, looking around the apartment. Tim nods. “Computers, right?”, she adds. Tim nods again. Karen waits, smiling. Tim looks at Karen, then the tabletop, then the open doorway, then back to Karen. She laughs. “C’mon,” she says and reaches for his hand.
Tim hesitates before taking Karen’s hand. “Why don’t we stay home together?”, Karen asks.
“Okay,” Tim replies.
“Smooth talker,” she laughs.
“Take me with you,” Karen says. Tim lies motionless beside her. “On one of your walks.” Still no sign of life from Tim. “Why not?” she asks. Karen looks around the dark bedroom. It’s as clean and starkly unadorned as the rest of Tim’s apartment -- straight out of a 1950s movie.
She knows it’s pointless to talk. Tim won’t respond even though he’s awake. Karen thinks, a nighttime stroll would actually be kinda nice. She leans over and kisses Tim lightly on the cheek. “I’m going for a walk,” she says as she jumps out of bed and gets dressed in a rush.
Tim gets out of bed and dresses without a word. “I’ll get my jacket,” Karen tells him. “Meet me in the lobby.” She dashes out the apartment.
Tim was enjoying the tumble of word fragments cartwheeling through his noggin as Karen attempted to converse. Why not a walk?, he thinks. Why not leave through the front door?, he asks himself as he puts on his dark-but-not-black coat and hat. Why not take Karen’s hand? Karen.
Ten weeks, thinks Tim as he exits the apartment and locks the door. That’s how long it will take for Karen to regain her confidence. Then...
Karen will leave. Tim wonders whether he will care. He takes the stairs down to the building lobby. Ninety seconds later, Karen joins him.
Tim starts for the front door, but Karen stops him. “Show me one of your back ways out,” she says. Tim shakes his head. “Please?”, she asks. Tim opens the front door and waits for Karen to exit, which she does, reluctantly. Tim follows her out and says, “Maybe when we return.”
When they get to the bottom of the front steps, Karen asks, “Do you think the cops are watching?”
Tim nods. “Don’t look around,” he says.
“We’re just a regular couple out for a midnight stroll,” Karen says, taking Tim’s arm.
“Quiet or loud?”, Tim asks her.
“Hmm?”, she replies.
“Street noise,” Tim explains. “We can walk where it’s quiet, or where it’s loud.”
“Quiet, definitely,” Karen says.
“Quiet,” Tim repeats. They turn left on Jackson and head for the Presidio. “Loud can be nice, too,” Tim says. “The city mumbling, groaning, grumbling, moaning.”
Karen listens. “I don’t hear anything,” she says. They walk on. A half-block later, she says, “It’s humming, like a power line in the rain.”
“It changes up ahead,” Tim says, pointing down the street. “Over the hill. The Presidio.”
Karen looks over her shoulder. “Yes,” Tim says. Karen looks at Tim. “You were going to ask,” he says. “So, we are, in a way.”
“We are what?” , Karen asks.
“Being followed,” Tim replies. “Just not all at once. Here and there.” He points randomly. Surveilliticity, he thinks. Certaintiplicity in this valicity…
“Tell me again,” Blisflix asks Smith. “Why do you think this is Charlie?”
The detectives are staring out the window of their unmarked car. “The pieces fit,” Smith says, still staring down the dark, empty street. The police radio chirps intermittently. “He’ll screw up,” she adds.
“He hasn’t yet,” Blisflix replies, sipping his coffee.
“Oh yeah?”, Smith asks. “What do you call what’s-her-name in 2D? Dude’s in love.”
“Always a mistake,” Blisflix says. “Especially if you’re a homicidal maniac.”
“Homicidal, yeah,” Smith answers. “Maniac? Not for me to say.”
“He’s a loon,” Blisflix says. “If that’s really Charlie. I’m not so convinced as you.”
Smith fidgets in her seat. “You’re right,” she says. “It must be one of those other ‘contractors’ with access to a cache of old weapons and a fondness for midnight strolls.”
“When he gets back from his walk,” Blisflix says, “let’s have a chat with the guy.”
Smith laughs. “He’s good at not being found,” she says.
“Makes you wonder what he’s got to be shy about,” Blisflix says.
“Lotsa people don’t like talking to us. You never noticed?”
“You gotta admit,” Blisflix says, “he’s either really good or really innocent.”
“Right the first time,” Smith says, “but he’s not perfect.”
Tim and Karen walk east on Jackson, arm in arm. “Can you feel it?”, Tim asks.
“The cold?”, Karen asks back.
“It’s four o’clock,” Tim says. “It changes at four o’clock. The hum.” He points around. “Later on weekends, earlier in summer. Another change coming up.”
Karen looks ahead. “At four-thirty,” Tim tells her. “It starts to growl a little. That’s time to head home.”
“The city growls?”
“That’s what it sounds like to me,” Tim says. “Or feels like.”
“I hear the city growling sometimes,” Karen says. “Maybe not at four-thirty a.m.”
Karen is surprised when Tim doesn’t turn right at Steiner and instead heads for Fillmore. “I thought we were heading home,” she tells him. Tim just keeps walking, enjoying the feel of Karen’s arm entwined with his.
When they turn right on Fillmore, Tim tenses but maintains the pace. A blue utility truck is parked at the curb, facing the wrong way. All of its lights are on. Karen asks Tim in a whisper, “What’s going on?”
Tim doesn’t answer. He spots more lights and activity two blocks ahead, at Fillmore and Sacramento. They turn right after crossing Clay. Karen is about to repeat her question when Tim walks up to a thin, tall gate next to a garage. He unlocks it in a second and holds it open.
Karen hurries through the gate and walks along a narrow path between the garage and a tall fence. She hears a soft click as the gate closes. When she reaches the end of the path, Karen feels Tim's hand on her shoulder. "Follow me," he says as he slowly sidles by her in the dark.
Tim leads Karen through a gap in a backyard fence. They walk along the fence to another narrow break that opens into an abandoned alley. After 30 paces in the dark, Tim pushes against a wooden fence post and a broad plank opens, just wide enough for a person to slip through. Tim takes Karen’s hand and leads her through the narrow opening in the fence, then closes it behind her. They’re standing in their backyard.
Karen looks around the yard as if she’s never seen it before. Tim keeps his eyes on the apartment building’s back door, stands stock still. Karen follows Tim’s gaze. “What’s wrong?”, she asks.
“Something,” Tim replies.
“Someone,” Tim says. “Was here.”
“The detective,” Karen whispers. “Um, Smith. I saw her back there.” She points at the neighbor’s yard.
“Not her,” Tim says. Him, he thinks.
Tim sees the spot where he jumped the fence from the neighbor’s yard. He walks up to the back door. The lock shows no signs of tampering. Karen joins Tim at the door. “Who?”, she asks. Tim looks up at Karen’s second story window. She follows his gaze. “Shit,” she says. “Shit.”
Tim feels a sense of marvel, as if something is finished, or is about to be. Almost an endorsement. He thinks, the guy is asking for it.
“Sun’s coming up,” Blisflix says, breaking another long silence. He and Smith have spent most of the night in an unmarked car parked on Steiner.
“A good night,” says Smith, though her expression says otherwise. “Nobody died.”
“That we know of,” Blisflix replies. “No sign of Charlie.”
“A couple of hours ago you said you weren’t so sure,” says Smith.
“Process of elimination,” Blisflix says. “We’re on him, nobody gets shot.”
“So all we have to do,” Smith replies, “is be here every new moon and Mr. Rist behaves himself.” She sighs. “Villa Lobos is gonna love it.”
Part 15: Logs
Part 1: Tim
Part 2: Three's a Problem
Part 3: Ninth Avenue
Part 4: Peru Avenue
Part 5: Toast
Part 6: Mrs. Pellegrini
Part 7: Charlie
Part 8: 2D
Part 9: Smith
Part 10: Cece
Part 11: Quarter Moon
Part 12: Interview
Part 13: Mieke
Part 14: 2D Ex
Part 15: Logs
Part 16: Steiner
Part 17: Number Five
Part 18: Cold
Part 19: Intern
Part 20: Coffee
Part 21: Sloth
Part 22: Tennessee Street
Part 23: Error-correcting Code
Part 24: Villa Lobos
Part 25: Entrance
Part 26: Cloak
Part 27: Meeting
Part 28: Fog
Part 29: Bootle
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