Killer Tim, part 38: Conference
“Tell me about this guy Charlie,” Sullivan says. Smith eyes the man. He introduced himself as “Sullivan.” No first name, no title, no department. Just “Sullivan.” Now the man in the dark suit is sitting across from Smith, asking about Charlie.
“Tell me about Villa Lobos,” Smith replies.
“He’s dead,” says Sullivan. “And he was buddies with Billikin, which is probably why he’s dead.”
Smith shifts in her creaking seat. “Mr. Sullivan, um, do you work around here?”, she asks.
“Just Sullivan,” he replies. “Right now I do. Kind of a specialist in these situations.”
Smith doesn’t ask what situation this might be. She ponders Villa Lobos. Billikin and Villa Lobos, she thinks. Didn’t see that one. Explains why Villa Lobos never cared much about nailing Charlie. Tim. Whoever. “Charlie or Tim?”, Smith asks.
“Your call,” Sullivan says.
“Charlie killed seven, eight, or nine creeps, and maybe Villa Lobos,” says Smith. "Tim lives on Steiner Street. Charlie may be one person, a bunch of people, or nobody. Tim likes to walk all night long.”
Smith hesitates. “Charlie didn’t do it alone,” she tells Sullivan, “Tim could only do it alone.” She pauses again. “Tim could be a stooge. Maybe Tim’s just a kook who Billikin latched onto as a front,” she says. “Billikin’s a big-time techie with a vendetta. Tim’s a nobody.”
“That’s quite a pitch,” Sullivan says. “It’s bullshit, but within the sphere of plausible deniability.” He gives Smith a friendly smile.
Sullivan stands, and Smith does likewise, with relief. Sullivan asks, “Any reason why you weren’t watching this Tim the nobody last night?”
“Villa Lobos took me off the case when Blisflix was killed,” Smith says. “My only connection to any of it is Cecelia Khoury, the intern.”
“You’ve talked to this guy since then,” Sullivan says, “and so has the intern. She’s the one who was contacted by Billikin’s people, right?”
“Billikin has a lot of people,” Smith replies with a smile. “Ms. Khouri isn’t one of them.”
Sullivan asks, “Are you on tonight, Detective?” He adds, “I figure, if anybody can keep an eye on this nobody, it’s you.”
“I’ll save you the trouble,” Smith says. “Watch Billikin.”
As she leads Sullivan out of the small office, Smith says, “Let me get some good sleep for a change.” She glances down at Sullivan’s shoes. “Those’ll never do,” she says, pointing at Sullivan’s shiny wing tips. “Your blisters will have blisters.”
“I’ll keep up,” Sullivan says.
Karen sits on the front steps of 2204 Steiner, watching the evening settle in. She strains to listen to the city the way Tim taught her. She closes her eyes to focus on Steiner Street’s soundtrack. When she opens them, she sees Iwata standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Do you hear something?”, she asks.
Iwata listens, shakes his head, starts up the stairs slowly. “Do you?”, he asks.
Karen tilts her head. “Not yet,” Karen says, “but it’s early.” She stands. “You wanna come in?”, she asks.
“Actually,” Iwata replies, “I’d like to take a walk.”
“I wonder why,” Karen says.
Iwata stops one step below the one Karen is standing on. “Night-time walks,” he says. “Everybody’s doing it.”
“Thought I’d stay home tonight,” Karen says. “Keep an eye on things.”
Iwata looks around. “Yeah,” he says, “things are getting out of hand.”
Karen looks around too. “I got a feeling,” she says. Iwata sits on the top step. Karen sits next to him. They stare at empty Steiner Street.
“Tim,” Iwata says finally.
“Not Tim,” Karen replies. “Tim and feelings.” She shakes her head. “What about Smith?”, she asks.
Iwata shrugs. “Smith’s the only one not getting played,” he says. “She goes by the book.” He looks at Karen. “Only one trying to stop him,” he adds. Iwata doesn’t mention Cece, though he suspects she also wants to stop Tim.
“What about you?”, Karen asks.
Iwata smiles, “What about you?”
“I asked first,” Karen replies.
“I took an oath, remember?”, Iwata says. “Uphold the law, no matter who breaks it, or why. Tim included.”
“Unconvincing,” Karen says. Iwata waits. “No,” Karen says a few seconds later. “I don’t want Tim stopped, but I wish he would. He’s human.”
“I’m not so sure,” Iwata says. “Tim hasn’t made any mistakes yet.”
Karen looks up and down Steiner. She thinks, Then what does that make me? She squeezes Iwata’s arm. “I, on the other hand, keep making the same mistake.” She kisses him.
“I’ll be your mistake any time,” he says.
Karen stands, holds her hand out. Iwata takes it and lets her lead him into the apartment building. “What about your feeling?”, Iwata asks.
“It’ll pass,” Karen replies as they cross the narrow lobby. They climb the stairs and pass the door to Tim’s apartment, almost giggling.
Tim feels the door to 2D close. Karen and Iwata are in for the night. One hour to his departure. Tim considers who else may attempt to join him. They’ll monitor the front door and the gates on Clay and Sacramento. Tim contemplates foot traffic volume on Fillmore between 10 and 11 p.m. He weighs the risk of being spotted coming down from the roof. He may need to wait several minutes for a gap in the foot and car traffic. Then north on Fillmore to nice, quiet Jackson. Then then then end again -gain -gain said the men men men in the ‘cor-di-gan, gan, and another.
Smith stands with her back to the dark southern edge of the Moscone Center. She’s looking at the diners in the restaurant across the street. One diner commands Smith’s attention: Billikin. He should be anywhere but within the San Francisco city limits. On Howard Street, no less.
Traps within traps, thinks Smith as she watches Billikin eat mediocre Thai food. He thinks Tim won’t be able to resist such an easy target.
When Billikin springs his trap, Smith thinks to herself, I’ll be here to witness the whole thing. Smith knows Tim is way ahead of this guy. From her spot across Howard, Smith watches someone approach Billikin at his window table in the restaurant. Man or woman, Smith can’t tell. The person says something in Billikin’s ear. Billikin doesn’t appear to respond.
A second later, one of the men at Billikin’s table stands. The man leads the person who spoke to Billikin out the front door of the restaurant, down Third. The other man at Billikin’s table stands, then exits the restaurant, crosses Howard, and walks toward Smith. He stops two feet from her, says, “Sutro Heights,” and walks back. The man stops to let the Howard traffic clear. He turns back toward Smith, says, “Better hurry.”
“Hey!”, Smith shouts, but he ignores her. When Smith looks back in the restaurant, Billikin’s table is empty. She makes a call on her phone, says, “Third and Howard,” and hangs up.
Helluva place to put a park, thinks Smith as she stares across 48th Avenue at a clump of misty dark. She’s standing at the foot of Geary. Behind her, Iwata leans against his car. He shows no trace of annoyance, but Smith knows he’s not happy about being back on night patrol. “I’m gonna look around,” Smith says over her shoulder to Iwata. She walks south on 48th Avenue, keeping her eyes on the park to her right.
Smith cuts through the southern end of the park, not seeing anyone. She walks west on Balboa, turns right on the Great Highway, sees no one. Up the hill Smith walks, keeping the park on her right. She crosses the deserted parking lot, turns right on 48th, and spots Iwata’s car. The street is deserted. Iwata is no longer leaning against his car’s hood. Smith turns, expecting to find Iwata approaching her from behind. There’s no sign of anyone on 48th. Smith walks toward Iwata’s car, expecting him to appear any second. Nothing. She considers whistling.
While Smith looks around the foot of Geary, Tim stands at the top of a 20th Street stairway, considering the odds of Billikin appearing. Tim has placed Billikin at two high-class flops in the City, one in the Marina and this one in the Castro. This one is quieter, so this one.
Billikin will want to flop in this one, Tim thinks, after an unconventional, unexpectedly public day. Billikin thinks he’s in the clear. From the steps, Tim imagines Billikin’s car parking at the dead end of 20th, Billikin and his driver exiting. To the flat, 30 paces tops.
At the sound of someone coming up the stairs, Tim retreats into the darkness of a clump of low trees and bushes at the top of the stairway. A second before the person comes into view, Tim knows it’s Cece. She stops at the top step, looks at the dead end, then at the greenery. Cece peers into the dark-gray, dark-green just to the left of the stairway. A second later, Tim steps out of the shadows, half-waves at her. “You’re making a big mistake,” Cece says, stepping closer to Tim. “Leave Billikin alone. That’s an order.”
Tim waits for her to explain. “Your targets are the people most likely to cause future harm,” Cece continues. “Billikin poses no threat to anyone. He’s being used, too. Billikin, you, me, we’re all being moved around like pieces on a chessboard. Now Billikin’s going down. Don’t go with him.”
“Who?”, Tim asks.
Cece pauses. “Who’s doing the pushing?”, she asks. “I kinda don’t know and it kinda doesn’t matter. We can’t reach them. Not by doing what you have in mind. There’s a way--” She’s cut off by the appearance of headlights coming up 20th Street.
Tim and Cece are halfway down the steps and out of sight when the car parks at the dead end above them. No one exits the car. Tim steps up. Cece strains to get a look at the car without moving into the streetlight glow at the top of the stairs. Tim stands motionless one step up.
They hear two car doors open, two people walking out of view of the stairs. Tim stands motionless. Cece fights the urge to grab his coat.
As the two men walk out of earshot from the stairway, Tim turns slightly toward Cece. She’s about to speak when the first shot rings out. Tim is nearly to the top step when Cece hears the second gunshot. A second later, she follows him. She stops next to one of the parked cars.
At first, Cece can’t see anyone. Then she’s surprised to see a woman walking toward her, unhurried, her face shrouded in a dark gray hoodie. The woman walks past Cece without a word and heads down the 20th Street stairs. Suddenly, Tim is standing next to Cece, saying, “Go home.”
“Coffee in two nights,” Tim continues as he heads for the stairs opposite those taken by the woman in the hoodie. Cece follows the woman. When she gets to Sanchez Street, Cece looks left and right, but sees no sign of either Tim or the woman. She sighs, turns right, heads home.
Coffee in two nights, Cece thinks as she walks. A half block from her house on Liberty, Cece hears the first siren, a good distance away. She’ll know long before then what just transpired at the dead end on 20th. Cece looks around before climbing the front stairs of her house. She hears a car racing down 20th, a block away. Another follows as she climbs the stairs, a third as she unlocks the door, steps inside.
As Cece catches her breath just inside her front door, Karen is walking at a steady pace north on Sanchez, still winded from the stairs. Karen is surprised to find Sanchez nearly deserted. She tries to guess the time. Without her phone, she has no idea. She’s far too calm. Karen thinks back: “Jackson and Scott,” was all Tim said as he took the gun from her hand and pointed her toward the 20th Street stairway.
Tim’s appearance, bodies falling, two shots, the gunsight, raising her arm, the two figures walking toward her, finding a convenient shadow. As Karen walks down Sanchez, the evening replays backward in her head:
Keeping Tim in sight as he zigzagged through the city, finding him on Post, losing him on Gough, catching up with him on Webster, running out the door, grabbing her hoodie, retrieving the gun from the closet shelf. Throwing on her best walking shoes, devising her counter-plan, figuring out Tim’s plan, watching him slip out his secret exit on Fillmore, spotting him exiting the back door of the apartment building, taking her seat by the window, making herself tea, kissing Iwata good-bye, listening to Iwata’s half of his phone conversation with Smith, Iwata saying “Fuck, it’s Smith,” Iwata’s phone ringing, nuzzling with Iwata.
From cop girlfriend to double murderer in one long evening, Karen thinks as she walks. “That’s gotta be a record,” she says with a laugh. Karen nearly skips across 17th Street, then she reminds herself to blend into the shadows. The city gets louder as Karen approaches 16th. More light, more traffic, more cameras. Karen stands at the corner of Sanchez and Market, waiting for the light to change, feeling watched.
Karen’s sense of being watched persists as she crosses 14th, zags onto Steiner. She fights the urge to look over her shoulder as she walks. A police car passes slowly as Karen nears Waller. She imagines the kind of route Tim would take to their meeting place at Scott and Jackson. Karen decides to let her feet lead the way. As she crosses Geary at Pierce, a second police car passes. A third as she nears Alamo Square.
Karen finds a suitable shadow on Scott, across from the Jackson Street entrance to the park. She knows Tim won’t make her wait very long. She looks around the intersection, trying to peer into shadows similar to the one she occupies. She hears a car approach on Jackson Street. A dark SUV rolls slowly through the intersection. Karen is sure she’s out of the occupants’ sight. Seconds later, someone taps her shoulder.
“We’re on a tight schedule,” Tim whispers near Karen’s right ear. He takes her arm and leads her across Scott, walking slowly and calmly. Karen falls in step with Tim instantly. She decides not to ask him one of her many questions.
The sound of the city at night is comforting. They walk east on Jackson, the park on their right. Karen senses Tim tighten as they near Steiner. They turn right, still skirting the park. “Not the front door,” Karen whispers.
“Not the front door,” Tim whispers back. “Clay, I think.”
“The reporter might be there.”
“What then?”, Karen asks as they walk. Tim doesn’t answer.
When they reach Clay, they look toward Fillmore. The street seems to be deserted. “Then we climb,” Tim says as they walk on the south side of Clay. They see light traffic ahead on Fillmore, otherwise the street is still.
Karen gives a little gasp when Tim steers her into what she thought was a doorway. It’s actually a gate that Tim unlocks in half a second. Another half second later, they’re through the gate and standing in a narrow walkway between two buildings. Tim leads Karen toward another gate. Past the second gate, the city noise disappears. Tim leads Karen along an abandoned alley cluttered with brush. Dogs bark on both sides. In no time Karen has lost all sense of where she is. Just as quickly, she realizes they’ve reached the gate to their building’s back yard. Karen follows Tim into the yard, walking so close to him she nearly clips his heels. Tim leads her through the back door, into the basement.
They walk along the concrete-lined hall in pitch darkness. Tim is steps ahead of Karen now. He reaches the basement’s sole light switch. In the stark, sudden light, Karen is shocked by the gaunt, ashy look of Tim’s face. He’d always been pale, but now he appears almost gray. Tim opens the trap door to the sub-basement and motions Karen inside.
Karen hesitates. She looks at Tim as if to ask, “Is this necessary?”
“Evidence,” Tim says, pointing at Karen’s clothes.
Karen sighs, starts down the steps. The cold, windowless room lights up automatically. Tim follows Karen into the sub-basement. He turns on the floor heaters, walks to a tall cabinet, removes a stack of neatly folded clothes. Tim puts the clothes on the long wooden table Karen is standing next to. “Sweatshirt, pants, and shoes,” he says. He returns to the cabinet.
From a middle shelf Tim removes a large nylon sack that closes with a draw string. He places it on the table next to the stack of clothes. “Top layer only, please,” Tim says. He returns to the cabinet and begins to undress.
Karen looks down and says, “Damn, I like these shoes.” She changes into the clothes Tim provided, keeping as close to the floor heaters as she can get. She places her own clothes in the bag. On the other side of the table, Tim stands in clothes nearly identical to those he gave Karen to change into. He looks at Karen expectantly. Karen looks back at Tim as if asking, “What?”
“Only one?”, Tim asks back.
Karen hesitates, then reaches behind her back and under her shirt. From the rear waistband of her panties Karen retrieves a .22-caliber pistol. She holds it out to Tim with a touch of defiance. He takes it. Rather than return the small pistol to the cabinet Karen took it from days before, Tim puts the gun in a pocket of his oversized sweatpants. He puts the clothes he was wearing on their walk in the bag atop Karen’s. He closes the bag and places it in a space behind the cabinet.
“Does Detective Iwata have a key?”, Tim asks.
Karen looks puzzled, answers, “No. Why?”
Tim points up and says, “No unexpected visitors.” He follows Karen up the steps and out the sub-basement’s trapdoor. In silence they replace the false floor that hides it and walk upstairs. Two minutes later, Tim and Karen are sitting at Tim’s kitchen table, holding empty glasses that 30 seconds earlier were filled with water.
“You first,” Tim says as he refills their glasses with water from a pitcher in the refrigerator.
“Starting with the basement?”, Karen asks.
“Starting wherever you wish,” Tim replies.
Karen sits back. “I had a lot of time on my hands,” she says, “while I recuperated.” Tim nods. She continues: “I knew Smith was interested in the basement. She never got a good look around. It took me about an hour to find the bump.”
“You were downstairs while I was out?”, Tim asks.
“Sure,” Karen replies, “you’re pretty locked in, schedule-wise.”
“Locked in,” Tim repeats.
“Anyway,” Karen continues, “the bump in the floor led to the door, and the stairs, the workshop, the cabinet, the-- What do you call that?” Tim doesn’t answer. “The shooting range?”, she asks. “Anyway, I took two small ones out of the case, and bullets, of course.” She stops.
Tim regards Karen across the kitchen. “Is this what...?”, Karen asks. Tim says nothing. “Then I waited,” she continues. “For Smith’s call. Skip never talked about,” Karen waves both hands, “all this. But I knew something was up for tonight. From you, from Skippy, from Smith. I had a good idea where you were headed. I followed you there two nights ago. I thought I’d save you the trouble. Payback.”
“Cece had just done the same,” Tim says flatly.
“The woman with the scarf?”, Karen asks.
“Hijab,” Tim corrects. “Promise, no more,” he adds.
“Of course not,” Karen says. “She talked you out of it, didn’t she?”
“For one night, anyway,” Tim says. “Payback for yourself?”, he asks.
“For my ex, mainly,” Karen says. “For me some, too. For you some, too. Is she one of your hacker friends? The woman on the steps. Ceebee?”
“Cece,” Tim corrects her. “What’s your story for Detective Iwata?”
Karen straightens her back. “Went to bed, turned off phone,” she says.
“He’ll spot you on the videos,” Tim says. “So will Smith, but they’ll think you were trying to stop me.”
“They’ll spot you too,” says Karen.
“They will and they won’t,” Tim replies. “They have no witnesses, no evidence.”
“What about Cece?”, Karen asks. “She’s a witness, right?”
“The detectives don’t know that,” Tim replies. “More importantly, they don’t know to ask.”
“Most importantly,” says Karen, “she won’t talk. Will she?”
Tim regards the tabletop. “Cece won’t lie,” he says finally, “but she won’t implicate herself. That’s her out.”
“If anyone ever asks her,” Karen says. She leans forward. “You must wonder why nobody’s trying very hard to catch you.” She leans back.
“I must be killing the right people,” Tim replies flatly. He looks up. “Whether you killed the right people, that I’m not so sure about.”
Karen’s eyes widen, then she laughs nervously. “A joke, right?”
“Right,” Tim echoes, “a joke. I’d like to ask a favor. I need assistance.”
Karen sits up. “Whoa,” she says, “slow down. That’s two things I never thought I’d hear you say. You need a favor? You need assistance?”
“I would like to hire you as my office manager,” Tim says.
“You have an office?”, Karen asks. Tim looks around. “The kitchen?”, she asks.
“The building,” Tim says, “including the basements. Twenty percent above your previous salary.”
“You want me to be the Super,” Karen says.
“Mrs. Pelligrini is the Super,” Tim says. “She’s also part of the office. Her and the other 10 tenants. All my office. And the basements.”
“Basements, gotcha,” Karen says, a little stunned. “You want me to keep an eye on things when you’re out... walking.”
“Gone,” Tim replies.
“Gone where?”, Karen asks.
“Indefinitely,” Tim replies.
“Is that,” Karen stammers, “I mean, are you--.”
“Rudy Cho will call you,” Tim says. “Rudy is my business manager. If you agree, of course.”
“What am I agreeing to?”, Karen asks.
“Working for me,” says Tim.
“As your office manager,” Karen says, “and your office is this building and everyone in it.”
“You have all the qualifications,” says Tim.
“I don’t remember applying,” Karen says, “and anyway, what qualifications?”
“You already know everything, everyone,” Tim replies. “Smith.”
“Smith is part of your office?”, Karen asks.
“No,” Tim replies, “but she’ll persist. She won’t get Cece in trouble. She’ll be fired soon.”
Karen asks, “What about Skip?”
Tim lifts his gaze from the tabletop and says, “Iwata will be promoted, not long after Smith’s departure.”
He looks at his glass on the table, guesses Karen will ask three more questions. But Karen surprises him by saying, “I’ll take care of everything. One condition,” she adds with a half smile. “Salary. You gotta pay me what office managers make, plus bennies.”
Tim extends his hand. “Work out the details with Rudy,” he says as he and Karen shake hands over the kitchen table. “Reach me through Rudy. Call him any time.” Before Karen can ask, Tim adds, “Rudy’s number is on your phone.”
Karen sits back, looks serious. “I have to ask,” she says, “two things.” Now Tim sits back. “What are you going to do?”, Karen asks.
“Maintenance,” Tim replies, “like now, only different scale, broader scope.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” says Karen.
“The second thing?”, Tim asks.
She replies, “Should I feel bad? About Billikin? ‘Cause I don’t.”
“You might,” Tim replies, “later.”
“Do you?”, Karen asks, then adds, “Silly question. Of course you don’t.”
“Not yet,” Tim replies flatly.
Karen laughs, “Not ever.”
“I don’t know,” Tim says. “Regret, no. Remorse, no. Imperfections, uncertainty, I have learned to live with them.” He looks Karen in the eye. “For you it’s different,” he says. “It’s personal. You acted for someone else. I act because no one else can.”
“I could, and I did,” Karen says.
“That’s only because I showed you how,” Tim replies. “And because you thought you were doing me a favor.”
“You think so, huh?”, Karen replies. “Doing you a favor? Sorry, Tim. That’s not it.” She stands and refills both their glasses at the sink. “You’re over-thinking it, again,” she says as she sets Tim’s glass on the table and sits down. “You showed it was possible, easy even. I knew we could get away with it,” she continues after drinking some water. “I knew they were shits. I knew I would do this only once.”
Tim listens without changing expression. “Now it seems you’re closing up shop,” Karen continues. “Smith fired, Iwata....” She trails off.
“Skip will drop it,” Tim says. “He’ll pretend he believes you.”
“You called him Skip,” Karen smiles.
“You called him Iwata,” Tim replies.
Karen looks toward the door. “Two more things,” Tim says, “then I’ll wish you a good morning.” Karen waits. “Sullivan, the Fed,” says Tim.
“Sullivan the Fed,” Karen repeats.
“He may be curious about me,” Tim says, “my whereabouts, the circumstances of my departure, your hire.”
“What do I tell him?”, Karen asks.
“Nothing,” Tim replies. “As acting building manager, you can’t discuss the private lives of tenants.”
“Like that’s gonna work?”, Karen asks.
“It will,” Tim replies, “well enough.”
Karen thinks about this, then asks, “What’s the second thing?”
“The reporter,” Tim replies, “Meneses. He might not fall for the tale the SFPD tells about all this. Other than him, nobody seems to care.”
“Meneses,” Karen repeats mechanically, “Sullivan the Fed. Other than deal with those two and buy Mrs. Kahn her groceries, what’s the job?”
“Rudy will contact you,” Tim replies. “Nothing onerous, I assure you.”
“No onerousness,” Karen says, “Good.”
Tim extends his hand to her. Karen hesitates, then shakes Tim’s hand. “Rudy,” she says, grimacing a bit. “Meneses the reporter, Sullivan the Fed, Mrs. Khan’s groceries. That about it?”, she asks.
Tim considers the odds of that being a joke, decides not to laugh. “For now,” he says. They sit in silence.
Many long seconds later, Karen slaps both palms on the table and says, “Okay then.” She stands up and heads for the door. Tim follows her. When she reaches the apartment door, Karen turns and says, “Bon voyage.” She pauses, adds, “Don’t kill anybody.”
“You either,” Tim replies.
Karen’s tiredness hits her the moment Tim’s door closes behind her and she’s standing in the hall. She walks stiffly toward her apartment. Once she’s back in her apartment, Karen can think of only one thing: sleep. She sees her phone on the hall table, decides to leave it off. She collapses onto her bed, still wearing the loose sweat pants and shirt Tim gave her downstairs. Immediately, she dreams of walking.
In Karen’s dream, the sun is shining brightly as she walks down empty California Street. She wonders where everyone else has disappeared to. She realizes the street and sidewalk are rippling, like big waves bouncing in mid ocean. To the rhythm of crunching brick, someone chants.
Incense ear, been since there, whence so near, then so pare. Dough no annie king eddy moore. End so epithetical, appetaphor an everseenagor.
In Karen’s dream, everything disappears except the chanting. The cadence of nonsense fills the void she’s floating in, sounds she touches.
The same odd stream of phonemes crashing Karen’s dream is interlacing Tim’s thoughts as he ponders his long, rambling walk to the airport. The word shapes tumble among Tim’s thoughts, execrating here, exacerbating there, knocking off rough edges, then knocking new ones back on. Until it no longer matters what a word means, it being the product of its lesser parts, disenguilated, declenched, replenched, invenched.
The void in Karen’s dream has everything but shape and sense. Shards of words crash, splinter, rise, reform. Unmade before their makening. The same unreframing befells befond befief the dothracite doth recite Doth’s respite dumple-down dem. Tim strugs in strife to regrain gount.
A phony work loop runs on Tim’s computer. He knows without looking his departure time is 93 minutes away. He looks around the apartment. Ninety-three minutes of nothing to do, less to gain. Tim leans back, lets flow.
Reauxbideaux-deaux, trimaran annageaux. Chasta clozawock. Gesty glozzylick, threshy dozy wog was he. Luddy jeezer, liddy bee.
The buzz reaches Karen’ voidy dreamscape, scrapping sounds and rhythms. Tim in the thrall of nonsense. Karen asleep. Iwata looking at grainy surveillance video of a hooded woman walking away from a crime scene.
“The walk,” Iwata says, staring at the screen. “Too fast, too... bouncy.”
“Could it be Karen Mieke?”, Sullivan asks.
Iwata doesn’t answer. Finally, Iwata says, “I never saw Karen walk like that.”
Sullivan watches Iwata replay the surveillance loop, then asks, “What about him? That’s Timothy Rist, right?”
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” Iwata replies. “We can’t make out their faces.”
“Huh,” Sullivan says. “Huh,” he repeats as he watches the video loop. He straightens suddenly, taps Iwata on the shoulder. “We’ll find one with a face,” he says.
Find one with a conscience, thinks Iwata as he loops the video of the hooded woman leaving two dead techies on the ground. It’s not Karen. It’s probably not Karen. It might not be Karen. I hope it’s not Karen. If it’s Karen, maybe she didn’t know about the dead guys behind her. Iwata laughs. Ridiculous. He knows it’s Karen. He’s just glad that Sullivan left so he doesn’t have to lie about what just made him laugh.
The homicide detective’s girlfriend is wanted for questioning about a double homicide. That’s funny. Her neighbor and ex-boyfriend likewise. Iwata wonders whether he’ll be the first SFPD detective promoted and fired in the same week. He thinks, I’ll work until I’m told to stop. That means a full day hunting for surveillance video identifying the woman on 20th Street last night. Not much chance of finding a witness.
As he gets up to leave, Iwata considers the chances Sullivan knows to look for security cameras along the routes from 20th to 2204 Steiner. Iwata thinks, when it comes to not being seen, Karen’s about as good as Tim. There’s no reason to believe they’d’ve screwed up last night.
Before he reaches the elevator, Iwata gets a text telling him to meet a detective at the scene on 20th Street. It says he’s got witnesses. Iwata thinks, maybe Timmy did screw up for once. On the short drive to the Mission, he tries not to think about Karen standing in a lineup.
Iwata spots the patrol car a half block from the 20th Street steps. He double-parks, joins two officers and two citizens on the sidewalk. “Hey Willa,” Iwata says to the officer he recognizes.
“Hey Detective,” she replies. “This is Scott.” To Scott, Willa says, “This is Iwata.” Willa points to the two figures standing next to them and says to Iwata, “Believe it or not, this is Jack and Jill, who went up the hill.”
Iwata walks over to the woman and says, “I take it you’re Jill.” She eyes Iwata, doesn’t respond. “What did you see last night?”, he asks.
“I seen two,” Jill replies. “He says three,” she points to her companion. “I just seen the woman and the man walkin’ away.” She points up.
“I seen somebody else on the steps,” the man interrupts. “After we heard the shots.” He points up too.
“Show me where, please,” Iwata says. He follows Jill and Jack up the 20th Street steps. At the top, Jill points to the right and says, “We was there, beside that building.” Jill points to the left and says, “She was there, the shooter. Then he comes up these steps, she goes the way he came, he goes the other.”
“Then the other right here on the steps,” says Jack from behind Iwata.
“I didn’t see no other,” Jill says to him, “You’re seeing double.”
Iwata asks Jill, “What did the shooter look like?”
“I couldn’t see her face,” she replies.
“Could you identify her?”
Jill scowls at him. “How’m i s’pose to reconnize her if I didn’t see her face?”, she barks.
Iwata turns to Jack and asks, “Did you see any faces last night?”
Jack looks over at Jill before replying, “Didn’t see no faces either.” He leans toward Iwata and adds, “But I reconnized him. Walking man.”
Jill makes a short spitting sound that makes Jack flinch. “Did you say ‘walking man’?”, Iwata asks Jack. He raises his hand to shush Jill.
“Yes?”, Jack replies, then “Yes,” more confidently. “They say, ‘Don’t talk about him. Bad luck.’ But he don’t trouble anybody. Just walks.”
“What does the walking man look like?”, Iwata asks.
“I ain’t ever seen his face,” says Jack. “Average height, average build, dark clothes.”
Iwata senses that Jack and Jill are itching to go. He’ll never find them again. They’ll melt into the homeless camps. Useless as witnesses.
“Thank you for your time,” Iwata says, nodding to Jill and Jack in turn.
“You didn’t write anything down,” Jill says. “Big waste of time.” She turns and shuffles off. Jack follows her.
“You sure the woman was the shooter?”, Iwata asks.
“Yes!”, barks Jill without turning around.
“Big waste of time,” Iwata repeats to himself as he walks back down the steps to Sanchez. Willa meets him. “They saw ghosts,” Iwata says.
“Sorry to bring you out here for nothing,” Willa replies.
Iwata shrugs. “I didn’t have anything better to do,” he says. He walks to his car.
Iwata turns the car around, heads east on 20th Street. He considers driving by Karen’s building, decides to let her sleep awhile longer. He continues down 20th, in no hurry to return to the station. He knows the answer to the question he doesn’t want to ask. She could have.
Iwata thinks, it wouldn’t change anything if she did. He continues down 20th. Karen was just paying back a favor. Billikin was a dead man. It’s not like I’m the first cop to let a murderer go free, Iwata tells himself. Not many were thinking of asking the murderer to marry them.
Before he knows it, Iwata is crossing 280, heading for Dogpatch. He turns left on Tennessee and finds a line of trucks parked, facing south. Somebody’s doing a lot of moving, he thinks as he regards the trucks.
Two miles to the west, Tim walks south on Guerrero, nearing 20th. He doesn’t think about what transpired last night three blocks to the west, above the steps at Sanchez. His thoughts are on his walk route.
Guerrero to San Jose to Mission. Zigzag through the Excelsior and Visitation Valley, past the squeeze along Bayshore Boulevard, cautiously. Over 101 to Gateway, to South Airport, to North Access.
Tim ponders the street names: Gateway, South Airport, North Access. His pace slows. All appropriate names for streets near an international airport, thinks Tim. Through the gateway, south to the airport, for northern access.
Smith could, Tim thinks. If she chooses to. No time to reroute and make the scheduled departure. Gateway airport access. Smith will know. Two hours to Bayshore Boulevard. Two hours to consider Smith’s questions. No longer Detective Smith. Will that matter? Not to her. To Tim?
Smith’s last duty is to Cece, a CompSci grad student trying to make a few dollars as a tutor. One small favor later, Cece’s on a hit list. Cece bumps into the Billionaire Vigilante Club, permanent residents of every police, fire, and emergency network they choose to manipulate.
Tim is wary as he walks south on Mission over 280. He wonders whether he should mind that Cece found them, that he missed them. He doesn’t. Tim doesn’t mind that Billikin and his friends set him up through Blisflix, that they spotted Tim back when he was doing Pelligrini’s work. For all Tim knew, Pelligrini could have been on Billikin’s payroll. That doesn’t trouble Tim at all. It suited Tim’s purpose as much theirs.
Now Pelligrini, Blisflix, and Billikin are dead, their secret police force is shut down, and Tim is walking to the airport, flying away.
Left on Nye, Tim is glad to be off Mission. Then meander the side streets of the Excelsior, Portola, Vis Valley. Watchful along Bayshore. Tim’s cadence is synced to the rumbling rustling roiling stewing spew of whatwhatwhat disforms of wordswordswords skewing whither about.
Tither and tawned, blother and broned. Dipchecked upon the scormy sneeze of Gord’s gird gringed girth.
Shaken awaken at the figure of sight. Sight of a figure standing astridle the scurb, wrought were access chokes, that is Smith, most asturdiously. Tim walks up to her and says, “Nice shoes.”
Smith nods, stone-faced. “How sweet of you to notice,” she replies. “Mind if I walk with you a bit?”
“I do,” Tim says. “You’re going to walk with me anyway,”
“Don’t you think we have something to talk about?”, Smith asks.
“No,” says Tim. “I don’t.” He walks south on Airport toward Access.
Smith follows. “Cece,” Smith says to Tim’s back. “What about her?”
“What about her?”, Tim echoes.
“She’s at risk,” Smith says when she catches up with Tim.
“She’s not at risk,” he tells her. “Billikin’s gone. Whoever’s left is moving on.” Tim and Smith walk through the deserted business park. Tim has stopped worrying about security cameras. “Villa Lobos set you up,” he says.
“I figured that out,” Smith says, “just about the time you killed him. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Why would I do that?”, Tim asks.
“Cece was the wildcard,” Tim adds. “Villa Lobos wasn’t counting on her. Either was Billikin. You didn’t realize how dangerous that was.”
“I was trying to find you,” Smith protests. “I didn’t think you posed any threat to Cece. I didn’t know anything about Billikin’s doings.”
At Beacon Street, Tim stops and says, “Cece has many friends.” Smith stops two steps past him. “Cece becoming your son’s tutor,” Tim says. “Maybe that was no accident.”
“Why are we stopped?”, Smith asks.
“The sidewalk ends,” Tim replies. “I go on, you go back.”
Smith looks over her shoulder, then back at Tim. “Cece wasn’t part of it,” she says.
“Not consciously,” Tim replies. “Maybe she was swayed. Nudged, influenced. I know the feeling. So did Blisflix, I imagine. And Villa Lobos.”
“Was Billikin nudged?”, Smith asks.
“You have a long walk home,” Tim says.
“Lyft,” Smith replies. “Who’s pulling all the strings?”, she asks.
“I bet Sullivan knows,” Tim says. He walks swiftly across Airport toward North Access.
Smith watches him disappear into the slate background. She thinks, he travels light.
So Sullivan knows the puppet-master’s ID, Smith thinks as she walks back the way they came. She ponders her next coffee-shop chat with Cece.
Tim focuses on getting to the private terminal as quickly as possible. No thought of Smith or Cece or Karen. Tim is already on eastern time.
“Does this constitute a decent interval?”, Smith asks.
“Two weeks?”, Cece replies, “Decent enough for me.” Smith scans the shop. Professional reflex, thinks Cece. “Don’t worry,” she says, “no one cares.”
“We were the last,” Smith replies, “for all the wrong reasons. Speaking for myself,” Smith adds quickly. “It was pride. ‘Nobody above the law’ crap. Stick up for the profession. Not even mine anymore.”
“You’re done being a cop?”, Cece asks.
“After Blisflix and Villa Lobos,” Smith replies, “I’m poison. Like I could’ve stopped him. Or worse. Not all about him. Billikin was just another player. Set up like everybody else.”
“By who?”, Cece asks.
Smith shrugs, smiles. “You could find out,” Smith says.
Cece considers this. “What if I did find out?”, she asks. “What could anybody do about it? Stop them?”
“Go to the police?”, Smith replies, “Go to the press? Lots of things.”
“Lots of useless things,” says Cece.
“So stop trying?”, Smith asks.
“Try something else,” Cece replies. “Stay out of the way of the fixers. Don’t make it worse.”
“Fixers?”, Smith asks, “Who might they be?”
“If you see ‘em,” says Cece, “if you know ‘em, they’re not fixers. You gotta trust they’re working to put the Billikins out of business.”
“Are you acquainted with any of these fixers?”, Smith asks.
“I may be, But if I knew, then they wouldn’t really be, so I wouldn’t be. See?"
"You’re already one of these fixers, or you soon will be.”
“Then you would never know,” Cece replies, “or I’d be out, right?”
Smith leans forward and says, “Then you wouldn’t know if they have any openings suitable for a recently former police detective, would you?”
Cece leans toward Smith and replies, “If I did know of any, I certainly wouldn’t tell you about them. That would just prove I didn’t know.”
“Thanks,” Smith says, leaning back, “I think.”
“Nobody will be contacting you shortly,” Cece laughs. “Bad things happen in coffee shops.”
In the kitchen of apartment 2D of 2204 Steiner Street, Detective Iwata looks across the table at Karen Mieke and sputters, “Wait a second. Move in here?”
Karen nods, says, “It’s a nice place.”
“You were ready to move.”
“That was before Tim offered me this job.”
“What job?”, Iwata asks.
“Managing the building,” Karen replies.
“This building? That’s a full-time job?”
“This isn’t an ordinary building,” Karen explains. “Mrs. Pellegrini, Mrs. Khan....”
“The basement,” Iwata adds. “What about 2B?”
Karen shrugs. “Traveling for business,” Karen says. “Away indefinitely.”
Iwata turns sideways in his chair. “I don’t know about this,” he says. “Shaky.”
“Shaky how?”, Karen asks.
“For one,” Iwata replies, “the murders.”
“Unsolved,” Karen interjects.
“For another,” Iwata continues, “you. And Tim.”
“There was never a ‘me and Tim’,” says Karen. “There could never be a ‘Tim and anybody.’ He lacks the whatchacallit.”
“The what?”, Iwata asks.
“The things you connect with,” Karen says. “Ports. That’s it. He doesn’t have any people ports.”
They both laugh. “I think maybe Tim found some of your ports,” Iwata laughs.
“Leave my ports out of this,” Karen laughs back.
Iwata reaches for her hand. “It wasn’t what I had in mind,” he says, getting serious. “I suppose I could get used to the place.” He looks around. “And the landlady.”
“Great location,” Karen says, squeezing Iwata’s hand. “Nice amenities.” She stands. “And you can’t beat the rent.” They kiss a long time.
“You drive a hard bargain,” Iwata whispers finally. He feels something new in Karen’s embrace. She’s stronger, relaxed. He hugs her tighter. Karen responds in kind. “Deal,” he says.
The embrace goes on. Finally, Karen says, “Just one thing. Stay out of the basement.”
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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