Killer Tim, Part 30: Drafted
As Smith walks into Villa Lobos’s tiny office, she thinks, the place where nothing good happens, at least not to me.
“Where’s your buddy?” Villa Lobos asks Smith without looking up from his computer screen.
“Dunno,” Smith replies. “Maybe he caught a bug.”
“What about the intern? Did she take the job?”, Villa Lobos asks, still no eye contact.
“She’s back at school,” Smith says.
Now Villa Lobos looks up. “School?”, he asks surprised. “What’s she doing there?” Smith waits. Villa Lobos shakes his head. “This isn’t going well,” he says.
You said it, thinks Smith. “They’re connected, the three victims,” she tells Villa Lobos. “All three had fake IDs. We're running the prints.”
“Battle of the nerds,” Villa Lobos says. “Why haven’t you brought him in?”
“Two reasons,” Smith answers. “First, the publicity.”
“Good reason,” Villa Lobos says. “Not good enough.”
Smith coughs and continues: “Second, it wouldn’t do any good. Nothing ties him to it. No witnesses, no physical evidence. Hunches we got a lot of.”
“Right under our noses,” says Villa Lobos, “in broad daylight. Connect these three to our guy. Figure out a way to keep him in sight. Get the intern to ID the two contacts she saw.”
“Three,” Smith corrects him. Villa Lobos looks up. “The guy in the coffee shop I saw, the woman in the library, and the man on Nineteenth.”
“He’s getting careless,” Villa Lobos says. “Let’s be there when he screws up. Varona and Pham, right?” Smith looks back at her boss blankly. “Who are you working with on this?"
“Varona and Thu,” Smith replies. “You lost me at ‘keep an eye on him’. Not so easy.”
“Bring the intern back,” Villa Lobos says. “Tell her there’s a bounty on Charlie. Make up something.”
“I have to get her back,” Smith says. "She’s my medium.”
“What?”, Villa Lobos asks, a little irked.
“We’re going to conjure up a ghost, geek-style,” Smith says. “Only she doesn’t know about it yet.” She stands. “Cece doesn’t like being followed. I don’t blame her for being scared.”
“Get her on board,” Villa Lobos says. “We’ll keep her safe.” He waves Smith out the office door. “And get something on our shooter pronto.”
“No match,” the man says without looking up from the screen.
“On which?”, Smith asks.
“All three,” the man replies. “It happens sometimes.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Smith says under her breath.
“What?”, the man says, looking up.
“Keep looking,” Smith says.
“Military. Foreign,” Smith adds. “Start with Canada.”
“What about missing persons?”, the man asks.
“Don’t bother. Nobody’ll report these poor saps. Something related to government, police,” Smith says. The man looks at her like she’s crazy. “Get me IDs,” she says. “Three. By tomorrow.”
“You must be new,” the man says. He turns his attention to the monitor on his desk. “Next week, maybe. Unless I get some help.”
“What kind of help?”, Smith asks, ignoring the “new” comment.
“Get Villa Lobos to hire a contractor,” the man says.
Good idea, Smith thinks. “I’m gonna quote you on that,” Smith says. She smiles, thinking her luck could be turning. This might just flush two birds out of the bush.
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter who they are?”, Villa Lobos asks.
Smith thinks, this office gets smaller every damn time I come in here. “Charlie’s doing the same thing,” she says. “Only faster. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had the IDs by now. Why don’t we just snoop him? Turn the tables on him.”
Villa Lobos considers this. “How?”, he asks.
“Hire a hacker to impersonate him,” Smith replies. “Make the other guys think our guy’s Charlie. Then we see how Charlie reacts to our ringer.”
Villa Lobos shakes his head. “Well, you got guts,” he says. “There’s not another detective in the department who’d bring such a lame-ass idea into this office. Give the computer a break, and get back on the street. Don’t let this guy out of your sight when he goes out walking. Where’s Blisflix?”
Smith stares back. “Still haven’t seen him,” she says finally. “His whereabouts aren’t a priority.”
Now Villa Lobos stares back. Smith leaves her boss’s office without saying another word. She makes her way through the maze to her cubicle. She sits, looks at her screen. Nothing. She thinks, Maybe I should ask him, Who were those guys you killed while we were tailing you?
Smith is surprised to see her boss standing outside her cubicle. “You need a new partner,” Villa Lobos tells her. “Blisflix just retired.”
Smith tries not to show Villa Lobos how happy the news makes her. “Now what?”, she asks him.
“Iwata,” he replies.
Now Smith’s truly shocked “He’s a detective?”, she asks. “He’s a kid.”
“So he’s new,” Villa Lobos says. “The guy’s smart, and he’s fit. He’ll keep up with Charlie. Find Iwata and tell him you’re on starting tonight. Get something on Charlie so we can get in there for a look around.”
Villa Lobos is gone as quickly as he appeared. No more Blisflix, thinks Smith. Good. I’ll take a newbie with a brain and some guts any day.
Smith wends her way through the cubicles to the nondescript back wall where new arrivals toil until a more convenient cubbyhole opens up. Only one of the cubicles is occupied. “Is Iwata around?”, Smith asks the occupant.
“Try the roof,” the woman replies without looking up.
Smith has to ask twice for directions to the Hall of Justice roof. There she finds a man sitting on a wooden crate, gazing down at a tablet. “I’d ask what you’re doing here,” she says to Iwata, “but I can guess. The cubicles, right? Dismal.”
Iwata smiles and says, “New moon.”
“We call him Charlie,” Smith says. “His name is--”
“Timothy Rist,” Iwata interrupts. “2204 Steiner, apartment 2A. Programmer, night walker. Vigilante, four homicides.”
“Seven,” Smith corrects him. “The park in the Haight and the two at Lake Merced yesterday.”
“Whoa!”, Iwata says as he stands up. “Am I on it?”
“You’re on it,” Smith says. She turns and heads back inside. “Get your walking shoes on.”
“Seems quiet,” Iwata says. “Even for midnight.” He and Smith are standing across the street from 2204 Steiner. Smith tries to ignore him. She thinks, didn’t take Iwata for a talker. Been gabbing since we got hear. “Every time?”, he asks her.
“Every time what?”, she replies.
“He gave you the slip,” Iwata repeats.
“Hmm,” Smith says. “He’s easy to miss. He’s got three ways in and out, maybe more. Probably more. Thu’s watching the gate on Clay, Kammerman’s got the garage on Sacramento. I just hope he doesn’t have a tunnel to Fillmore.”
“Fillmore,” Smith repeats. “Damn. Wait here,” she tells Iwata and takes off down Steiner. She pantomimes “call if you see him” and is gone.
Compared to Steiner’s quiet, Fillmore is jumping for a weekday midnight. Smith scans each sidewalk for lone figures moving in the shadows. She thinks as she walks, time for another educated guess. She heads uphill to Clay, then turns around. She imagines Tim’s destinations. Gotta be a good-sized operation Tim’s hunting, Smith thinks. Where do you hide it? Light industrial. She heads south, toward Portrero Hill.
Ten tin abble ease in. Contranabelisian. Drubble archemedron. Go deck a beam bomb.
Tim is waiting for the door to open. Ninety-five minutes. He has to be heading back to Steiner in another 95 minutes to avoid the early morning city stir. Twenty minutes is how long he has inside. Someone has to enter or exit the recessed garage door on Tennessee Street within 75 minutes or the night’s a wash. Tim calculates the odds. For three nights he has stood in the shadows beside the narrow driveway. First night, two cars. Next night, no cars. Last night, one car.
Tim calculates the odds of a car pulling into the driveway in the next 20 minutes at 15 percent. He can wait another day. Much better odds.
Butter odes, bitter ends, beaker edge, baker itch, bred or borne. Ab’s sad effigy hedge. Clem’s no picker. Stuvy Ouse is briftin’ awrong. Glyphin’ the heroes, Skiff in the boroughs, deafen tabolis.
Headlights. Tim tenses. The car slows, angles for the driveway, cuts its lights. Tim watches the sedan drive slowly past as the garage door opens. He crouches and follows the car inside, his head just below trunk level.
The moment the garage door closes, the floor begins to drop. Tim slides under the car, careful to avoid touching the catalytic converter. Tim expects the car to move when the floor comes to a stop, but instead, he sees three people exit: the driver and two rear-seat passengers. All three exit the idling car on the driver’s side and walk single-file around a corner and out of view.
Tim tries to picture the new space. He hears steps approach from the direction the car’s inhabitants went. The person opens the driver’s door, gets in. The car moves forward. The first thing Tim sees after the car drives off is a switch box high on a wall. Conduits run from the box in three directions. Tim follows the car’s inhabitants into a dimly lit passageway leading to a metal door. He listens for a second, turns the knob, goes in.
Tim enters a small space, just as dimly lit as the passageway. One dark hallway leads straight, another is to the right. Tim picks up a hum. The low machine whir is coming from the left. He follows the sound down one of the hallways, more certain with every step: they’re servers.
The doors to the server cabinets are unlocked. Tim takes the sniffer out of his pocket and chooses a switch in the cabinet to attach it to. It takes Tim only a few seconds to unplug the Ethernet cable at the back of the box, plug in the sniffer, and reattach the cable. He waits. The tiny LED on the sniffer turns from blinking yellow to solid green. Tim sets the box aright, closes the cabinet door, and plans his exit. He retraces his steps back to the drop-down garage. High on one wall is the control that raises and lowers the floor. He looks for a door.
Tim gets a picture in his head of the building layout, as close as he can guess after seeing it only from the outside. No real front door. This garage is the main access point, but not the only one. Wouldn’t be the front or the hospital side. That leaves 18th Street. The building’s back door takes Tim only a few seconds to find, but it doesn’t open to the outside. It leads down a wide concrete stairway.
Tim hesitates at the top of the stairs until he notices the signs of frequent use. Not likely to be any surprises at the end of this path. At the bottom of the stairs there is enough light for Tim to see a door at the end of a long hallway. Tim spots other doors along each wall. The doors are identical: gray metal, no windows, no signs. He stops three feet from the last of them. He’s 85 percent sure it’s an exit.
Tim thinks, the sound is off. The street noise was louder when he passed the second-to-last door. It’s warmer here, and dustier. He turns, retraces his steps, and stands in front of the second-to-last door. He opens it and steps onto the north sidewalk of 18th Street. Tim recounts: Seventeen minutes inside the building means an extra eight minutes to get home before the city starts to rouse. Douce Pereux.
Toodle ooze. Boo-staid snooze. Crusade blues. Cuddle a fish, scuttle a butt, rib of my roast, plank of my flake, miz pa-te-dough undecide.
Tim lets the words fumble and trunce as he maps his route: Eighteenth to Rhode Island to Seventeenth to Sanchez, then careful across Market. Then up the Steiner hill, then down the Steiner hill, careful across Geary, past St. Dominic’s. Before he reaches California, Tim stops.
The perimeter. Tim realizes they’ve expanded it to California Street. He decides to enter the apartment building through the front door. But not yet. Tim has a good view of the intersection from his shadowy spot on Steiner. He wonders where Detective Smith is posted tonight, whether he should let Smith introduce him to her new partner. Tim won’t miss Blisflix, who never was much of a cop. A grinder.
Smith cares, Tim thinks. She won’t quit, but she’ll never get him, either. Tim considers the number. Not too many, not too few. Just enough.
“How was your walk, Mr. Rist?”, Detective Smith asks from just behind Tim. He turns slowly.
“Fine, thank you,” he replies. “How was yours?”
“Lonely,” Smith replies. “I see you lack for company tonight. Should we be waking up the M.E.? Search for another weapon we’ll never find?”
“As you wish,” Tim says and returns to gazing at California Street. Quiet, even for four o’clock in the morning.
“Odd thing,” Smith says. “About the boyfriend. He just disappears after the assault. Nobody misses him. Much like those four on Blisflix’s list. And those other three,” she continues, “the one in the Haight and the two at the beach. No one’s asking after them.” Tim doesn’t budge.
“Who do they work for again?”, Smith asks.
Tim turns to her and says, “Good morning!” He walks up Steiner toward California.
Smith follows. “I never met Officer Pellegrini,” Smith says as she walks two steps behind Tim. “But I hear he was a real character. Beat cop all the way. Makes you wonder,” she continues, “how he ever managed to buy that apartment building on a cop’s salary.”
Tim stops, turns, and smiles. “You are talkative this morning,” he says. “Coffee?”
“Sure,” Smith replies.
“I’m told coffee and conversation go together,” Tim tells her.
“Who told you that?”, Smith asks as they walk east on California.
“I prefer water,” Tim says.
“And silence, I bet,” Smith says.
Tim smiles. “It’s never silent,” he says. “The city. Sometimes it shouts, sometimes it whispers. It always has something to say, more secrets to tell.”
“And you never tell the city’s secrets, do you?”, Smith asks.
“No one ever asked me before,” Tim replies.
They enter the empty donut shop. As they reach the counter, a woman wearing a white apron over a white lab coat enters from the kitchen. “Two coffees, please,” Tim says.
“Three sixty,” the woman says, giving Smith the eye. Tim takes four dollar bills from his wallet and gives them to her.
“Fresh,” Smith says.
“Other detective not so picky,” the woman says as she starts a pot of coffee brewing.
Smith points to the counter looking out at Fillmore. “When you’re a cop,” she says as she sits at the counter, “you get to know a lot of bars and coffee shops. You meet a lot of bartenders. I never met Karen Mieke,” she says, “before the assault. You knew she was a barmaid before she started working at the insurance company.”
Tim looks out the donut shop window at Fillmore, nearly still. The woman sets two cups of coffee on the counter, returns to the back room. Smith retrieves the cups, gives one to Tim, sets the other on the window counter. “That’s where her ex attacked her,” she says. “Then....”
Smith makes a “poof” motion with both hands. “He disappears. Karen’s new boyfriend--,” she points at Tim, “has a solid alibi.”
“Then there are these others,” Smith continues. “The ones who watch everything. Maybe they do more than watch.”
Tim looks out at Fillmore. “You could ask him,” he says. Smith looks out the window, sees no one. “He doesn’t look like one of yours,” Tim adds, staying stock still. “Yours are in cars parked around each corner. This is one of theirs, low level, observing, not acting.”
Smith still sees no one. “Not like the one at the park and the two at the beach,” Smith says. “They were the acting type, so you acted first.”
Tim sits motionless. “You asked about the apartment building,” he says. “Mrs. Pellegrini told me the story years ago. Her family loaned them the down payment. After Mr. Pellegrini died, I started helping with upkeep and such, In exchange for lower rent. Plus I provide Internet access.”
“To the whole building?”, Smith asks.
“To the tenants,” Tim answers, “as part of my business.”
“Isn’t that expensive?”, the detective asks.
“Not at all,” Tim answers. “The software is free, and the hardware is cheap. My business needs reliable Internet. Best to do that myself.”
“Was that the Internet connection Mr. Pellegrini used while he was on limited duty?”, Smith asks.
“Yes,” Tim answers. “I can give you--.”
“The logs,” Smith interrupts. “I’m sure you can.”
“Mrs. Pellegrini still uses it,” Tim continues. “Facebook.”
“Her husband?”, Smith asks.
“Only for work,” Tim replies. “And porn, of course. Then the heart attack, eighteen months after he retired.”
“From the force,” Smith adds.
“Yes,” Tim says, still looking out the donut shop window. “From the S.F.P.D.” Smith follows his gaze. Tim asks, “Have you other questions?”
Smith looks out the window across Fillmore, trying to spot the person watching. “Who are they?”, she asks.
“Rich,” Tim replies. “Scared.”
That answers my second question, thinks Smith: Why? Then she spots him. “Behind the bus stop,” she says.
“Daybreak,” Tim replies. “Soon. Where’s his ride?”, he asks.
“Bus stop guy?” Smith asks back.
“You and your friends could follow them,” Tim says. “Maybe mid-size SUV." He stands. “Good morning,” he says.
Smith asks, “How do we get them off our network?”
“You don’t,” Tim replies. “And that doesn’t matter. It’s their network,” he says, finally making eye contact with Smith. “They’re the ghosts. I’m just a debugger.” He turns and walks out.
Smith watches Tim exit, then she looks for the figure behind the bus stop. Gone. She reaches for her phone, speed dials, and says, “Shit.”
“Pick me up at Happy Donuts,” Smith says into the phone. “We’re looking for a mid-size SUV.” She puts the phone down. “Shit,” she repeats.
Four hours later, Iwata and Smith are parked outside Cece’s house on Liberty Street. “Finally,” Smith says as Cece walks down the steps.
“Can we give you a ride?”, Smith asks as she exits the car.
Cece reaches the bottom step. “What’s it gonna cost me?”, she asks.
“Pain, heartache,” Smith says, “anger, frustration, grief. The usual.”
“I’m done,” Cece says. She turns and walks up Liberty.
“Just a ride,” Smith says.
“I don’t mind walking,” Cece says. “I got used to it.”
“Then let me walk with you,” Smith asks. Cece frowns at her, then walks to the car.
“Thank God,” Smith says under her breath as she follows Cece to the car. Cece sits in the back, Smith gets in the front and nods to Iwata. She says to Cece, “This is Detective Iwata.” Iwata turns, nods to Cece in the back seat, drives. “You need to be Tim,” Smith says to Cece. “Just for a couple of weeks. Long enough to flush out the watchers.”
Cece shifts in the back seat. “No walking,” Smith says. “No coffee shops, no Tim at all. You’re the only one who knows him well enough to be him.”
“They’ll know,” Cece says. “But maybe that wouldn’t matter, if you just want to poke them. The bigger question is why. Do you think you can stop them? You can’t even find them, let alone find out what they’re up to. There’s probably another group even shadier above them.”
“Do you think I’m doing this for my health?”, Smith asks. “Of course I can catch them. And whoever is above them, if they’re part of it. I’m just not sure how yet. You could help. Just give ‘em a poke. Get ‘em out in the open.”
Cece frowns. “No Tim?”, she asks.
“Just you and the computer,” Smith says.
“What if they stop by school again? They might disappear me next.”
“They like you,” Smith replies. “They won’t hurt you.”
“Until they decide I’m a threat,” Cece says.
“You? A threat?”, Smith laughs. “Nah!”
Iwata slows the car as they pass Stonestown. “Drop me anywhere,” Cece tells him, then she turns to Smith. “I’ll think about it,” she says.
“What’s to think about?”, Smith asks as Cece exits. “Don’t you know when you’re being drafted? Your city needs you.” Cece holds the door.
“Come with me,” Cece says. “Just for a minute.” Smith hesitates, then follows Cece onto Nineteenth. They walk slowly along the sidewalk.
“Where’s Blisflix?”, Cece asks as they walk.
“Retired,” Smith replies.
Cece waits, then asks, “Iwata?”
“What about him?”, Smith answers.
“You trust him?”
“More than I ever trusted Blisflix,” Smith replies.
“I never trusted Blisflix,” Cece says. “Funny timing, eh?”
Smith stops. “Where are we going?”, she asks.
“He’s working for them,” Cece says. “They’re gonna get Tim one way or the other, you know.”
“I know,” Smith says. She looks north up Nineteenth. “Most days I don’t want to let them.”
“Because you want him,” Cece says. “So do I.”
“Seemed to me Tim was winning you over,” Smith says.
“Hubris,” Cece says. “He thinks it’s mathematics. He thinks he can’t make a mistake. He can’t just decide ‘this person is a mistake’ and press Delete. The more people he kills, the more confident he gets.”
“So we both want to get him,” Smith says. “We can’t place him at any scenes, we have no physical evidence.” She looks back at Iwata waiting. “The girlfriend didn’t give us anything. The neighbors clam up as soon as they see us.”
“Karen,” Cece says. “Her name. The girlfriend in 2D. Mieke. The one whose abusive ex-boyfriend disappeared. You can’t pin that one on Tim, can you?”
“You found him,” Smith says, ignoring Cece’s question. “You found the others tracking him on our network. But the job’s only half done. You can help us get ‘em both.”
“Rah rah rah,” says Cece somberly.
“What did Timmy say,” Smith asks, “to scare you off?”
“It’s not something he said,” Cece replies, “it’s something he is.”
“A homicidal maniac?”, Smith asks.
Cece nods. “No feelings,” she says. “He’s driven solely by some peculiar instinct. An obsession with stamping out errors, correcting code. Including genetic.”
“And you’re gonna let him.”
“It’s not up to me,” Cece replies, “I’m a student. You’re the cop.”
“We can’t catch him. You can.”
“Tim will know,” Cece says, “as soon as I get in. Then he’ll track me down, take me for another one of his walks. I can’t hide from him.”
Smith thinks, nobody can hide from him. She’s about to speak when Cece says, “There might be another way. Someone I know. But one thing.” Smith waits for Cece to continue. Finally, Cece says, “Nobody can know who it is but me. Don’t even try. One sign of cops and they’re gone. And don’t hold your breath,” Cece adds. “If it happens at all, it might take awhile.”
Smith considers this, then sighs and shakes her head. “Somebody, you won’t say who, may help at some unknown time in the future, maybe,” Smith says.
Cece replies, “That’s the best I can do.”
No it isn’t, Smith thinks. “I need something to take to my boss,” she says. “Something more than maybes. Just give me something, a name.”
Cece looks Smith in the eye. “Rich,” she says.
Smith’s brow furrows. “Is that a name or an adjective?”, she asks.
“Two days,” Cece replies. She turns and heads into the campus.
Two days, thinks Smith. I’ll be working traffic control by then. Maybe Villa Lobos will get the flu. She motions Iwata to move into the passenger seat. “I’ll drive,” she says. “A rich hacker or a hacker named Rich,” she mumbles to herself.
“What’s that?”, Iwata asks.
“Where are the millionaire techies hanging out these days?”, Smith asks back.
“Besides Palo Alto?”, asks Iwata.
Part 31: Domino
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
Part 30: Drafted
Part 31: Domino
Part 32: Quartet
Part 33: Skippy
Part 34: Blisflix
Part 35: Billikin
Part 36: Chronicle
Part 37: Sutro Heights
Part 38: Conference
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