“Just like that?”, Cece asks. Detective Smith nods. She looks around the cafe. Never saw one as empty in the city.
Smith looks Cece in the eye. “The investigation is going in a new direction,” she says. “New eyes, new perspective.”
Cece shakes her head. “He’s the guy,” she says. “He’s going to get away with it.”
Smith swirls the coffee in her cup. “He seems to be taking a break,” she says.
“Are you sure they even want to catch this guy?”, Cece asks. “Maybe they like what he’s doing.”
“That’s not how it works.”
Cece frowns. “If you say so,” she says.
Smith knows it is precisely how it works, sometimes. “I want to know about the snoopers,” she says.
“You haven’t told your bosses.”
“No reason to,” Smith says. “Some guy in a coffee shop tells me we’re bugged and I freak out?” She shakes her head and swirls her coffee. “Business as usual.” She waits, and then says. “I bet you could ID them.”
Cece doesn’t take the bait. “They didn’t kill anybody,” she says.
“They could be accessories”, Smith replies. “They knew what Charlie was up to. Potentially, they’re co-conspirators. Obstructing an investigation at the least, tampering with evidence, destruction of government property. These are serious offenses.”
“Serious offenses that no one will ever be prosecuted for,” Cece replies. “Who are they? What are they doing? We’ll never know, will we?”
“We could,” Smith tells her. “You could find them, couldn’t you?”
“That depends on how badly they don’t want to be found.”
Smith leans forward. “Maybe it depends on how badly you want to find them,” she says.
Cece considers this. “Nah,” she says, “not my game.”
“I think it is exactly your game. And like you said, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”
Cece shakes her head, smiling. “Is this another one of your no-pay jobs?”, she asks.
“Volunteering for a good cause. Maybe you could write a paper on it.”
Cece shifts in her chair. “If I ID one of your snoops,” she says, “you let me take another crack at Charlie.”
Now Smith shifts in her chair. “It’s not like it’s up to me,” she says.
“None of this is on the record," Cece says. "You can volunteer some of your time, same as me.”
Smith nods. “Where do we start?”, she asks.
“Give me a couple of days,” Cece replies.
Smith looks around. “Next time, a place with better coffee.”
Tim scans the list of account names, looking for the least conspicuous. They’re hiding in plain sight, Tim is sure of it.
Medium privilege. Not too much access, not too little. Tim is already considering the best way to track them once he finds the user account they’ve hijacked. The SFPD network is off-limits for the time-being. All the information Tim needs is downloaded from the police network onto his private network. He’ll lay low for a few weeks.
In three weeks, Karen will be mostly recovered and starting her new routine, one that will not include late-night walks with her neighbor. Tim looks away from the monitor. If they’re everywhere, he thinks to himself, then I can find them anywhere. Or just let them find me again.
It’s still 75 minutes until Tim’s scheduled walk time. He considers passing an hour doing code work, but he’s ready for his motion notions. Three minutes later, Tim is out the door, down the steps, and into the night. He notices the volume up on the city sound.
North on Steiner. West on Pacific. Nicely dark and nearly silent, fairly fraudulently pliant. Ne’er reverberant defiant, chaired to swalter metronepisodic.
South on busy Divis, not sleepy-quiet Broderick o’time, trick o‘mine, turpentine. Scorpariuscillasticationarioscillutionistrionickeladean.
Cece is sitting three tables away from the coffee shop window she’s staring out of. Another network, she thinks to herself. I need more room to roam. A network I know, and whose information -- there goes Timothy Rist -- would draw their interest. Then it registers: Charlie!
Without thinking, Cece stands up and heads for the coffee shop’s front door. She follows Tim down Divis toward Geary, notices him slow down. Cece keeps following him. She notices that he reaches the corner at Post just as the light turns green. Cece speeds up to make the light.
Now Cece is only 15 paces behind Tim. Again Tim slows as he nears Geary, again he gets to the corner a half-second after the light changes. After they make the long walk across Geary, Cece and Tim are nearly side-by-side. Cece is surprised to hear Tim ask her, “What do you want?”
“Why?”, Cece replies as they walk down Divis.
Tim looks straight ahead, “You’re following me,” he says. “You want something. What is it?”
Cece stops. Tim does likewise, but he keeps staring up Divis. “I guess I want to tell you something,” Cece says. “But it won’t do any good. Maybe I just wanted to get a closer look at you. Before you disappear.”
Tim turns toward her. “Me? Disappear?”, he asks.
“Did you expect to spend the next 40 years killing one bad guy a month?”, Cece asks.
“I expected only to complete the list,” Tim replies.
“Odd hobby for a coder,” Cece says.
“What do you want?”, Tim repeats.
Cece hesitates. “I guess I want your help,” she says. “To get them.”
Tim looks at the dark sidewalk in front of him. “What do you know about them?”, he asks.
“That they know a lot about you,” Cece replies. She stands in front of Tim on the sidewalk. “Seems like they want you to keep working the list,” she adds. “What do you know about them?”
“I can’t help you,” Tim says, eyes still on the sidewalk.
Cece stands in his path. “They’re after you, one way or another,” she tells him.
Tim looks up. “I’m safe,” he tells Cece. “Thank you for your concern.” He steps to the side. “You should be careful going home, Ms. Khoury.” Tim walks past Cece and continues up Divisadero. Cece watches him go, says nothing.
As he heads south, Tim considers his disclosure. Cece’s the first person Tim’s been honest with about Blisflix’s list. She also knows he knows who she is. It took no forethought at all. Pretending otherwise was pointless, even disrespectful. Not so with Karen, Tim thinks. There could be no reason to admit anything to Karen.
Tim is surprised to see he is approaching Haight. He missed his turn on Page. Did he make a mistake in turning down Ms. Khoury’s request? Tim spotted Cece through the cafe window as he walked past, knew she spotted him, suspected she would follow him onto Divis. Wanted her to?
Tim walks down Haight, turns right on Broderick, notices a figure approaching on the sidewalk, wearing a hijab. Cece eyes him and scowls. “That was rude,” Cece says, “even for a sociopath.” Tim just stares. “You can outsmart the cops,” she continues, “but not these other ones.”
Tim’s stare doesn’t break. “Don’t walk away again,” Cece says.
“I won’t,” Tim replies.
“Will you let me help?”, she asks.
“Okay,” he shrugs. “Can we walk?” Tim points up Page. “Walking’s better,” he adds.
“Than standing?”, Cece asks.
“Than everything,” he replies.
“They did ask,” Tim says as he and Cece start walking up Page. He doesn’t mention them warning him away from 2D-ex. Just need-to-know basis. “Ridiculous,” Tim says. “Their scheme will fail, eventually. Too many humans.”
“How many is too many?”, Cece asks. Tim holds up two fingers. “We’re two,” Cece points out.
“Necessity,” Tim says. “Neither of us can do it alone, but both of us can, so we must.”
“Must?”, Cece asks.
“It must be done,” Tim says as they walk. “We can, no one else is.”
“When did you figure this out?”, Cece asks.
Tim turns around and points. “Right back there,” he says. “When I saw you on the sidewalk. The second time. I stay away from Divis most nights, especially this early.”
Pieces fall into place: Cece asks Tim for help after she spots him walking past her favorite cafe on Divisadero, a street he usually avoids. Tim was led to the cafe by the same autonomic system that directed him to 2402 Steiner, to Officer Pellegrini’s arsenal, to Blisflix’s list.
Tim wonders: Did that same autonomic system lead him to Karen Mieke? Did it cause 2D-ex to be disappeared? How will it affect Cece Khoury?
“Are you still helping the police?”, Tim asks.
Cece shakes her head. “Smith wants me to intern,” she says. “She’s off the case, you know. Of course you know. You knew it before she did. Like you knew I’d be in that cafe.”
Tim looks up, sees they’re nearing Cole. He points to the right, up Cole. “To the school,” he says. “Best to avoid the park.” Cece follows Tim as they head toward the panhandle. They reach the end of Cole. Tim looks toward St. Ignatius Church. Cece waits for Tim to say or do something. He turns and looks up Fulton.
“Stay in sight,” Tim says finally. “Take Smith’s internship. Safest to let them see you.” He walks east on Fulton. Cece doesn’t follow him. Tim stops, turns around.
Cece raises her hands and shrugs her shoulders. “And do what?”, she asks. “Pretend I’m waiting for the new moon?”
“Pretend you’re looking for them,” Tim replies. He motions up the street. “We’ll have step one sussed by the time I get you home,” he says.
“Why don’t I really look for them?”, Cece asks.
“Even better,” Tim replies. “But that’s not how we’ll find them.” Cece waits for the rest. They turn right on Ashbury, then left on Grove. “We won’t find them inside out,” Tim continues suddenly. “We’ll get ‘em outside in. And not on the SFPD network.”
Cece folds her arms, wishes she had worn a heavier jacket. “What will you be doing?”, she asks.
“Working,” Tim answers. “No change. Act normal. Make them nervous. Make them look too hard, use more cycles, leave bigger tracks. Wait.”
Tim and Cece meander the quiet back streets from the Haight to the Mission. A block from Cece’s house on Liberty, Tim slows, looks around. “I’ll watch from here,” Tim says. He steps to the side, into the shadow of a tree.
Cece stops. “When shall we two meet again?”, she asks.
“In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”, Tim replies. “Keep drinking coffee, but not on Divis. Try the Inner Sunset. Ten to 13 days. Maybe 14.” Tim seems to dissolve in front of Cece’s eyes. She turns and walks up Liberty. She can feel Tim watching, wonders whether anyone else is.
Tim watches Cece disappear up Liberty Street, thinking of battles lost and won, saddles sauced and spun. Herbal burly, burble early, McAdoo. Mickaduff, mackidef, muckabath...
Tim slips out of the shadow and walks down Liberty toward Sanchez.
...Mac uh Beth, mick-a-muth, mocha myth. Ferris foal in fall is fare. Feliz foolin’ fuel as fire. Heather throws the frog true, missed a year. Huddershoe Corrogan’s gristy heir....
The nonsense bounces around Tim’s noggin as he heads for Steiner. He’s getting ready to do what he loathes to do more than anything: wait.
Part 20: Coffee
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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