Portrero to 16th to Sanchez to Steiner. Tim walks and wonders: How long will it be until Detective Smith finds him? As he approaches Sacramento Street, Tim wonders what Mrs. Khan has cooked for dinner. He spots an unmarked police car parked near the corner.
I may not have to wait at all, Tim thinks as he crosses Sacramento, climbs the 14 steps of his apartment building, and unlocks the door. The lobby is empty. Tim takes the stairs to the second floor and knocks on Mrs. Khan’s apartment door. He glances down the hall toward 2D.
Mrs. Khan answers the door looking worried. “A few more minutes, Mr. Tim,” she says, then whispers, “The police,” and motions behind her. “The girl,” she continues, “In 2D. Terrible.”
“Karen,” Tim says.
“You saw her?”, Mrs. Khan asks, “How she is?”
“Sleeping,” Tim says. “Please ask the police to see me before they leave,” Tim says.
“They ask me already,” Mrs. Khan replies. “When you go, when you are home.” Mrs. Khan leans toward Tim. “I say nothing,” she whispers.
“Answer them,” Tim replies. “Whatever they want to know. That will be helpful.”
Mrs. Khan looks perplexed. “Okay Mr. Tim,” she says, “What you say.” Tim opens his apartment door as Mrs. Khan’s door closes behind him. He stands just inside his apartment, waiting for the knock on the door. Six minutes later, it comes. He waits two seconds before he opens.
The two SFPD detectives take seats at Tim’s small kitchen table. Tim leans against the sink, smiling, waiting for a question. The detectives look at each other, as if to ask which of them should begin. The one who introduced himself as Wu asks, “You work at home?”
“Yes,” Tim replies.
“Are you acquainted with Karen Mieke in apartment 2D?”, the officer asks.
“Do you know her boyfriend?”
“Your neighbor, Mrs. Khan, said she saw Ms. Mieke with a tall man with brown hair,” the officer says. “Multiple times,” his partner adds.
“I don’t know that person,” Tim replies.
“Have you seen him?”, the second officer asks.
“I may have.”
“Can you help us locate him?”
“Have you seen Ms. Mieke with anyone else?”, the first officer asks. “Do you know any friends or family?”
“No,” Tim repeats. “I don’t know.”
The officers look at their pads, then at each other, then at Tim. The cops stand in unison. One hands a card to Tim. “Call if...,” he says.
“I will,” Tim replies as he takes the card. He leads the officers to the door.
As they exit, one turns and says, “Sure is quiet in here.”
Tim closes the door without replying. He tosses the card in the trash and heads for the computer. As it boots, Tim hears someone knocking. Tim opens the door and finds Mrs. Pellegrini and Mrs. Khan, the latter holding a covered dish. “Come in,” he says and leads them inside.
“How is she, poor thing?”, Mrs. Pellegrini asks when they reach the kitchen.
“Sleeping,” Tim answers as he takes the plate from Mrs. Khan.
“What do we do?”, Mrs. Khan asks Tim.
“Wait for her to get well,” Tim replies.
“About the police?”, she adds.
“What did they ask us to do?”
“To call them if we see someone,” Mrs. Pellegrini answers. “Or remember something,” Mrs. Khan adds.
“Okay then,” Tim says. “Let’s do that.”
Tim leads the two women to the apartment door. “The boyfriend,” Mrs. Pellegrini asks, “He won’t be back?”
Tim shakes his head. “He won’t.” Tim opens the door. “Tomorrow,” he says before Mrs. Pellegrini can ask. “Let her sleep. Tomorrow I’ll see her.” He looks down at his kitchen floor.
The women walk out the door. “Poor Karen,” Mrs. Khan says. “No family, no friends.” She looks at Tim. “Just that boyfriend.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Khan,” Tim says. “Karen will be fine.”
Mrs. Pellegrini stops. “He won’t be back?”, she asks again.
“No, ma’am, he won’t be back,” Tim replies. “Be nice to the police. That’s the fastest way to get rid of them.” He almost smiles.
Tim feels 11 o’clock approaching. He spent the five-and-a-half hours since his two neighbors departed unmangling code. He’s ready for a walk. Everything’s ready, and has been for days. Tim needs only to walk, wait, double-tap 2D ex, and walk some more. Like it’s all but done.
As Tim rounds the corner from Steiner to Sacramento, he hears steps behind him. A man’s voice says, “Not the police.” Tim walks on. “Lafayette Park,” the man says. Tim no longer hears the steps behind him. He crosses Fillmore, timing his pace to arrive on the green light. Seven minutes later, Tim is walking a path in Lafayette Park when he sees a man sitting on a bench. Tim heads for it and sits next to him.
“We’re big fans,” the man says. “Of your work. Not the coding, which is exceptional, surely.” He takes no notice of Tim sitting next to him. “I refer to your road work,” the man continues, “so to speak.” His gaze remains fixed on the tall rooflines above the trees to the north.
Tim watches the same roofs. “Your choices are impeccable,” the man says. “And you are nearly unconvictable. Not so undetectable, however. In the parlance, you’ve been made.” He looks at Tim. “There’s some question as to whether that was your intention.”
The man leans slightly toward Tim. “You knew, didn’t you? That they were watching you sniff their network. Then the Pellegrini connection. You knew about that, too. Not one toehold did you leave that detective, Smith. Have you made her acquaintance? Not yet?”
Tim waits patiently for the man to say what he’s come to say. He marvels at the man’s unabashed loneliness, wonders what lonely feels like. The man stops talking. Tim enjoys the silence, which lasts only 30 seconds. “I’ve bored you,” the man says.
“What do you want?”, Tim asks.
“Ms. Mieke’s attacker,” the man says, “her former, is gone. He won’t be back. That’s the first item of business, but not the important one.” Tim is tempted to respond but chooses to wait. “You possess a unique set of skills,” the man says. “You deflect attention. Or did, anyway. We would like you to consider joining an effort whose goals align with yours. If I may presume.”
“No,” Tim replies. “Your first item of business is your business, not mine. My interests are mine, not yours, or anyone else’s.” He stands up.
“Either way,” the man continues, “your nighttime program is discontinued. If you log in the network, you’ll be identified. By us. Sit, Tim.” Tim remains standing. “We watch them,” the man tells him. “All of them. For people like you. When we find them, we eliminate them. Or we...”
Tim looks at the man on the bench, waiting for him to finish. “...Incorporate them,” the man says finally.
“You’ll kill me,” Tim replies.
“Nonsense,” the man says. “Totally legitimate offer. No coercion. No consequences.” He smiles. Tim turns and walks west out of the square.
Tim sorts: 2D-ex out, Smith led them to him, they are criminals, they are untrustworthy. Risk to Karen, minimal. Risk to him: uncertain.
Tim is surprised to feel excited. Immediately he sensed the man was bringing a new puzzle into his life. Solving this one may mean his life. Tim doesn’t even mind having his night walk curtailed. He has some work to do on his network. He considers which logs he’ll examine first.
Part 18: Cold
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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