“What am I looking at?”, Villa Lobos asks as he scrolls through a screen of grainy images.
“Charlie,” Blisflix says.
Villa Lobos squints, leans foward. “Which?”, he asks. “All of ‘em,” Blisflix replies.
“There’s no face. In any of them. How many are there?”
“Nineteen, so far,” Blisflix answers. “We’ve got ‘em on Nineteenth down to Taraval. Helluva walk.”
Villa Lobos peers at the screen. “This other, the tall one, he’s our vic?”, he asks.
“Still no ID.”
“Not one good face,” Villa Lobos says, mainly to himself. “How is it he’s looking away in every picture?” Blisflix and Smith say nothing. Villa Lobos turns to Smith. “You’re awful quiet,” he says.
Smith starts to say something, stops, and then says, “It’s Charlie, no doubt.”
“They take a long walk through the middle of the city in the middle of the day,” Villa Lobos says. “Find some witnesses who can ID the guy.”
Blisflix starts to leave his boss’s office, but Smith doesn’t budge. “What?”, Villa Lobos asks her.
“We won’t find any witnesses,” she says.
“You won’t if you don’t try,” Villa Lobos replies.
“We won’t if we do try, either,” Smith says. “Charlie’s invisible, when he wants to be.”
“Then what do you suggest?”, Villa Lobos asks. “Bring in another intern?”
Smith smiles. “As a matter of fact,” she says, “let’s hire her.”
Villa Lobos hmphs. “What’s her name again?”, he asks.
“Khoury,” Smith says, “Cecilia. Cece.”
“What’s she done so far?”, Villa Lobos asks.
Smith hesitates. “The people who hack our network,” she says, “They use Cece as their contact. If she works for us, they’re easier to nab.”
Villa Lobos leans forward and says in a hard whisper, “Nab Charlie. You know, the guy with five kills? I care diddly about your hackers.” Smith stands and turns to leave. “Talk to Jane,” Villa Lobos says.
“Huh?”, Smith asks.
“HR. Your intern. One month only.”
“Blisflix,” Smith says, “He’s--”
“Nuh-uh,” Villa Lobos cuts her off. “His case, at least for now. You’re both on it, or you’re both off it.”
Smith leaves without another word. More nighttime walks, she thinks. “What was that?” Blisflix’s voice startles her.
“Cece,” she replies. “One month.” Smith walks through the cubicles. Blisflix stays right behind her. “Get some sleep,” she adds.
Blisflix stops. “No,” he says. “More walking? My blisters haven’t healed.” Smith ignores him. Things have changed, she thinks. Charlie’s gone bold.
“No,” says Cece. “He’s a maniac. What if he turns on me?”
“He won’t,” says Smith.
“You don’t know that. Look at that park.”
Smith and Cece are sitting in a small conference room at the Hall of Justice. “Two weeks, then,” Smith says. Cece considers this, frowns. “He’s not as invisible as he thinks he is,” Smith says.
Cece’s frown deepens. “Sounds to me like you’re making promises you can’t keep,” she says. “I’m supposed to be a student. At school, I don’t know who I’m going to bump into next. Yesterday it was some slacker wannabe.”
“What time was that?”, Smith asks.
“Ten-thirty,” Cece replies. “On 19th.”
Smith thinks about this. “Heading toward Stonestown?”, she asks.
“North, yeah,” Cece replies.
“Was Charlie around, by any chance?”
“I didn’t see him, but it wouldn’t surprise me. They watch me, Tim watches them watch me, they watch Tim watch them watch me. So, who’s missing?”
“Us,” Smith replies. “But we can’t do 24-hour surveillance. Especially with this guy. You said yourself he knows how to become invisible.”
“First you say he’s not invisible, then you say he is,” Cece says. “Just admit you can’t catch the guy.”
“He’ll catch himself,” Smith says.
“He’ll do what?”, Cece asks.
“Overconfidence,” Smith replies. “Or what-do-you-call-it. Hubris.”
“I wouldn’t wait for a mistake. You have to find the people he’s after before he does. But I think you’re too late. Tim found one of them, at least. It’s likely he’s IDed others, but that’s not what he’s up to.”
“He’s going to war with these hackers,” Smith says.
“I don’t think so,” says Cece. “He’s negotiating, like a truce, or territory.”
“By killing somebody?”, Smith asks. “Funny way to negotiate.”
“Don’t forget his girlfriend’s ex,” Cece says. “They disappeared that guy only to make an impression on Tim, and it appears they succeeded.”
“The thing is,” Smith says, “Tim knows you work for us.”
“I don’t work for you.”
“A judge would say you do,” Smith replies.
“Well I say I don’t. I know where you’re going with this. I’m not a cop. You asked for help finding him. Now he’s found.”
“But he’s not caught. And he’s still killing people.” Smith stands up. “You know him. You tell me. Is he going to stop?”
Cece stands and faces Smith. “The answer to that question doesn’t change anything for me,” she says. “Tim won’t miss me. You won’t either.”
“The hackers might not be so obliging,” Smith says.
Cece shrugs. “Tim’s problem,” she says, “and yours, maybe. I’m going back to school. They’ll figure it out, when I start staying in at night. My impression is they bore easily, always moving to what’s next.”
“You said once you didn’t want him to get away with it,” Smith says.
“I still don’t,” Cece replies, “but now I know you can’t stop him.”
Smith wants to tell her they can and they will, but she knows Cece would see through it. She smiles. “You’ve been a great help,” she says and extends her hand. “Thank you.”
Cece is startled. “That’s it?”, she asks, taking Smith’s hand hesitantly.
Smith nods blankly. “Good luck at school,” she says, the smile frozen on her face.
Cece narrows her eyes. “Okay,” she says, “thanks.” She heads for the door.
“Shit,” Smith says to herself after Cece turns the corner. She knows she’ll have to tail Cece until the hackers contact her again. “Shit.” With Blisflix in tow, Smith thinks. In his cardboard shoes. Because it was his bad-guy list Charlie hacked, and attacked. Or Tim. Whoever.
Charlie or Tim?, Smith thinks. Cece called him Charlie at first, but after their nighttime walks, he becomes Tim. Now Cece lets him walk. How much of that is fear, Smith thinks, and how much admiration? One code jockey to another? Bastardized justice better than none at all?
As she walks up Brannan, Cece wonders for the thousandth time whether she should be afraid of Tim. For the thousandth time, she decides, no. What Cece’s aptly afraid of is some nut taking offense at her hijab. She reconciled herself to that fear years ago. Not even fear anymore. Wariness, not fear.
Neither is she afraid of whoever hacked the police networks, whoever is after Tim, whoever Tim is after. Whoever.
Whoever’s next. You cared before, Cece reminds herself, a coder killing people some detective calls dangerous. Now it bothers you less. Why? Cece stops at Seventh. She considers taking Uber home, then decides to keep walking. She’s happy to see the fog is roiling over Twin Peaks.
Cece misses the nighttime walks already. Up and down drafty, fog-shrouded streets seemingly at random. Except with Tim, nothing is random. Tim knew I was done playing detective before I knew myself, she tells herself. He probably thinks I’ll change my mind, eventually. But he’s wrong.
Cece, the fog, the SFPD are far from Tim’s thoughts, which are focused on long strings of characters streaming across his laptop screen. Tim feels nine o’clock approaching, thinks about who will be joining him on the night’s walk. Smith, Blisflix, a contingent from Dogpatch. Not Cece. Tim wonders whether he’ll walk with her again. Yes. Karen keeps expecting an invitation to walk with him. Karen is a surprise.
Surprises aren’t good, thinks Tim. They’re unreasonable. Unaccountable.
Undefetidable. Interrefutable. Antedilutional. Undecryably susanal. Ederly irreprobatable. Sadderdy to sentry to mentry too tootsy two wintstry tooth ersty to Freddy to shoulder stay to song stray to milsry.
Tim closes the laptop and thinks, Heavy or light? He walks to the kitchen and pours a glass of water from the tap. He looks at the glass. Dust and bubbles dance suspended. Tim tips the glass left, right, left. He decides, light tonight. He drains the glass and sets it down.
Tim dresses for the night. Dark, silent boots, dark coat, dark, wide-brimmed hat. He considers his route and decides, west tonight. Fog. He imagines he hears the echoey fog quiet as he exits his apartment and heads for the front door. Right outside stand Smith and Blisflix. He opens the door and lets the detectives enter the building lobby. “Remember us?”, Smith asks.
“Yes,” Tim answers. “What do you want?”
“Where were you this morning?”, Blisflix asks.
“We’re investigating a homicide this morning. In the Upper Haight. The victim was walking with someone who looks like you.”
Tim stares back at Blisflix blankly. “Can anyone confirm you were working this morning?”, Smith asks.
“Anyone?”, Tim asks back, “Or anything?” Now Smith stares back blankly. “Logs,” Tim says. “Network activity recorded this morning.”
Smith asks, “Did anyone see you today?”
“No,” Tim replies. He looks at the wall. Smith looks at Blisflix, who looks back at her. They both look at Tim. He’s preparing answers to six questions the detectives may ask him. But there are no more questions. Smith and Blisflix walk past him and head up the stairs to the second floor. Tim listens to their steps. He pictures Smith and Blisflix walking past his apartment door, past Mrs. Khan’s door, down the carpeted hall to the last two apartments.
Before the detectives knock on the door to 2D, Tim exits the building. He walks down the stairs, heads south on Steiner, and imagines Karen. Karen answering Smith’s questions, trying not to glare at Blisflix. Karen being primarily truthful. Karen giving away more than she says.
That won’t matter, either. Tim knows he can’t be IDed. He knows that park, those Muni tracks, that street - all but deserted at that time. No full face on any surveillance video, thanks to a wide-brimmed hat and high coat collar - both hat and coat now appropriately retired. A forgettable face. Uninteresting figure. Unphotographable. Recognition rebuffable. Irresolution. A natural blur. A greasy spot on feet.
Tim turns left on Bush and walks past St. Dominic’s Church. He’s not sure about visiting Dogpatch tonight. Let my shoes decide, he thinks.
Shoes decide o’ derode, twizzlin’ interrain. Obs whudda burkin gupta wrongtree, urms abrizing ondie rideside o’ d’llad’lla. Romerrequary.
Approaching Scott, Tim slows. West or south? He knows before the question fully forms in his mind, the answer is west. Ocean, not Dogpatch. Tim reaches Divisadero as the light turns green. Let the followers lose themselves in the fog, he thinks. In an hour it will be thick as paste. The fog is a great place to find things. Sounds bounce free of themselves. Air you wear. Ere you were you wore your heir ewer.
Tim etches his path on an imaginary map. Cliff House, Great Highway, Kirkham, Frederick, Masonic, Page, then let the sounds lead the way. Back home by 4:30. Maybe coffee with Karen. Let her brag about how she fooled the detectives, when they obviously saw right through her. Like you expected her to, Tim reminds himself. Take her for all and all. Karen is a known quantity, and happy to be so. But she’s overdue. Even with her ex’s attack, her neck injury, Tim expected Karen to show signs of boredom by now. Then he could start counting down the weeks.
Tim’s infrequent, temporary relationships all end the same way they begin: imperceptibly. Fewer, shorter meetings. Fewer, shorter words. Tim doesn’t regret his few, evanescent friendships, but neither does he miss them when they end. Days, nights, people, come, go, come, go. Tim wonders, what am I looking for in tonight’s fog? Looking to be looked for, looked after, looked into. Looking to be seen, dimly, dully.
A mile from Land’s End, the fog hides everything more than thirty feet away. Street lights appear, brighten, dim as Tim walks steadily by. Readily sigh. Treadily spry. Grittily spindily blindily surrendily why. Tim’s pace tics to the prutal running through his noodle, kit ‘n ka.
Part 29: Boodle
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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