Tim knocks on the door of 2D. He counts. On five, the door opens to Karen smiling. “Hi,” she says.
“Stay in,” Tim replies. Karen steps back and shows Tim in. “Tonight,” Tim adds as he enters the apartment. “It isn’t safe.”
“So, no walk tonight?”, Karen asks.
“No walk tonight,” Tim echoes. “No need to look out your window.”
“Coffee?”, Karen asks as she walks toward the kitchen. Tim doesn’t budge.
“No, thank you,” Tim answers loudly.
Karen turns around. “You’re not coming in?”
Tim shakes his head. “Good night,” he says.
He turns and heads for the door. Karen follows him. “Coffee will be ready at 4:30, if...,” she tells him. He exits without turning around. Karen regards the closed door for a beat, then she returns to her chair by the window. Tim stands on the other side of the door, listening. Convinced of the silence, he heads down two flights of stairs to the basement. He walks to a corner and slides several boxes to the side.
Tim feels around for the lever that opens the trapdoor to the sub-basement. He finds it and pulls, causing the door to pop open with a wush.
Too windy, thinks Tim. He’s standing in the recessed driveway of a house two doors down from his apartment building. Too much light, too. And the word stream in Tim’s head has gone dry. Maybe dammed up. Tim looks down Steiner and thinks, Everything’s wrong here tonight.
Yet Tim knows, if 2D ex returns to his watching post by the tree across Steiner, he’ll be Tim’s fifth excision, even if everything’s wrong. Breaking all the patterns feels right to Tim. Number five is someone he can be linked to. The guy’s never been convicted of a violent crime. He isn’t guilty of much more than being a first-class jerk. That doesn’t matter.
Tim is ready to kill 2D ex anyway. The man threatens Tim’s clockwork solitude -- a solitude he’s been sharing of late, on a temporary basis. An hour passes with no sign of 2D ex. Tim misses the word track that usually keeps him company when he’s on a night watch. The fog appears.
Move, Tim tells himself. He heads for the stairs leading into Alta Plaza. He forgets all about 2D ex. He tries to forget about Karen Mieke. Twenty paces into the park, Tim starts to feel like himself again. Karen is a tenant, one of 12 residing at 2402 Steiner. No more, no less. Karen’s former boyfriend is an addict and petty thief who will soon find someone else or something else to obsess about. Places fall into.
Graces all shinto. Basis pharyngeal, stasis aboriginal, faces hypotenusical, Casey at the battenoosical. Crusty chattanoogical, moogical. Snoodgical snowments, shnurs to snerish for a snifetime. Slow-pea Sue-plea strophe a troophy true and true, she so shnockered to her knelf.
To Lands End and back through Golden Gate Park, Tim steps bouncibly to the rhythm of the dissensical lexicon, roiling and roubling along.
Fifteen minutes before the stroke of 4:30 a.m., Tim is walking east on Sacramento, approaching Steiner. He stops at the corner and listens. Tim hears only the low hum of early morning. He peers around the corner to the spot where 2D ex had stood watching the apartment building.
The street is empty. Tim walks along the eastern edge of Alta Plaza. He crosses Steiner and climbs the steps of his building. All is still. Tim heads up the stairs to the second floor. He doesn’t consider Karen’s invitation for coffee. By 4:45 a.m. he’s peering into his monitor. Watching the code scroll along the screen makes Tim feel relaxed, invigorated. He works a half hour past his normal 9 a.m. quitting time.
By 11:00 a.m. Tim has fallen into his normal fitful sleep. At noon he’s roused by a light, steady tapping at his door. He knows who it is.
“The police,” Mrs. Pellegrini says when Tim opens the door. “They’re downstairs. Not those detectives. There’s trouble with the girl in 2D.”
“Two minutes,” Tim says to Mrs. Pellegrini, who is shifting from foot to foot. He shuts the door. It takes him 95 seconds to get dressed. One hundred seconds after he shut the door, Tim opens it to find Mrs. Pellegrini still shifting from foot to foot. “Don’t worry,” he says.
As he walks down the stairs to the apartment building lobby, Tim considers the kind of trouble Karen is in, and the odds 2D ex caused it. Two police officers are standing outside the door to Mrs. Pellegrini’s apartment. As Tim approaches, one of them asks, “You the boyfriend?”
“No,” Tim replies. “The neighbor. I help Mrs. Pellegrini.” He looks at the officer and waits. The officer and his partner look back blankly.
“Do you know Karen Mieke in 2D?”, the second officer asks finally. “Yes I do,” Tim replies. “Is she okay?” The officer steps closer to Tim.
“Ms. Mieke was assaulted this morning,” the officer says. “She’s banged up but should be fine.” Tim stares at a discolored spot on the wall.
“What can I do?”, Tim asks, still gazing at the wall.
“We need to reach her family,” the first officer says. “We haven’t located her phone.”
“Her key,” says Mrs. Pellegrini, who has been standing behind Tim in the hallway outside her apartment. “I’ll get it. Tim will show you.”
The two officers spend 15 minutes rummaging through Karen’s apartment as Tim stands just inside her door. “Nothing,” says one to the other.
The first officer asks Tim, “Do you know any of Karen's family? Friends?”
“No,” Tim replies.
“Anyone in the building she was friends with?”
“A mystery woman,” the second officer says. He and his partner take one last look around the apartment and head out the door. Tim follows the two officers down the stairs to the lobby. “Where,” Tim says as they reach the front door. The officers turn to face him. “Is she?”, Tim completes.
“General,” one officer replies. “You’ll let us know if you find any of her family?”, the other officer asks Tim.
“Yes,” Tim replies, looking at the bottom of the front door.
Mrs. Pellegrini joins the three in the lobby. “Will Karen be okay?”, she asks.
“She’s pretty banged up, as I said,” one officer replies. “My guess is she’ll be right as rain in a few weeks. She fought the guy but good.”
“What guy?”, Tim asks.
“We haven’t been able to interview the vic-- Karen yet,” one officer replies. “It may have been someone she knows.”
“Thank you for your help,” the other officer says to Tim and Mrs. Pellegrini.
“She’s alone there, poor girl?”, Mrs. Pellegrini’s asks him.
“We’ll get her emergency contact from her employer,” the other officer replies. “Please give us a call if anyone asks about her.” Tim nods.
Tim and Mrs. Pellegrini watch the officers leave. “Poor thing,” Mrs. Pellegrini says.
All alone. Will you--”
“Yes,” Tim replies. “I will.”
How well I willow while a woolery, ‘urrah! Karen, police, attack, fought back. Tim thinks in snippets, if you can call it thinking at all. Words, images, nonsense flounce and brumble. Behind Tim, somewhere, is Mrs. Pellegrini, fretting, as usual. Faux concierge, wesident ridow.
“I’ll check on Karen in 90 minutes,” Tim tells Mrs. Pellegrini without turning around. He climbs the stairs to the second floor and stops. Tim notices the corner of an envelope under his apartment door. He opens the door, picks up the envelope, and opens it. “Going for a walk.”
Tim asks himself, Why didn’t I see Karen’s note this morning? Why didn’t the police see it? He knows the answer. Because it wasn’t there.
Tim puts the note in his pocket, grabs his coat and hat, and walks out the door. Eighty-five minutes later, he enters San Francisco General.
“You walked, didn’t you?” Tim is surprised to hear the question. Karen was asleep when he arrived in her hospital room an hour earlier. Tim notices a bruise on Karen’s cheek and a bandage around her left shoulder. He waits for her to speak again. Ten minutes later, she does.
“It was him,” Karen mumbles. “I told the cops I didn’t know the guy. But it was him. And I want you to help me get him.”
“No,” Tim replies. He stands beside Karen’s hospital bed. “Rest,” he says. “You’ll never see him again. We’ll never speak of this again.”
“No,” she replies. Karen smiles at Tim. “We work together on this,” she says, “or I talk to Detective Smith.”
“No,” Tim repeats. “I’ll talk to the detective.”
Karen’s eyes close and her breathing deepens. Tim watches her sleep, thinking about the route he’ll walk home. She stirs and says, “Okay.”
Part 17: Number Five
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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