Killer Tim, part 32: Quartet
“It’s been a long day, Detective,” Cece says before Smith can say hello.
“All that walking, I bet,” Smith says. “Let us give you a ride home,” she continues. “Skip Muni.”
Cece looks at the car idling at the curb. “Wrong tree, Detective,” she says. Smith motions toward the car. “If you want to get him,” Cece says, “you’ll have to go after him indirectly.”
Smith motions more vehemently. Cece’s shoulders slump as she heads for the car. Smith follows Cece, opens the car’s back door for her, and helps her remove her backpack. Smith follows Cece into the car’s back seat and hands Cece her bag. Iwata drives off the second the door closes. “Indirect?”, Smith asks.
“Sit back and watch what happens,” Cece says. Smith notes the tired in her voice. “Or doesn’t happen, more likely. Can cops even do that?”
“I sit back and watch a lot,” Smith says. “Sometimes all day. It’s half my job, but watching Tim isn’t so easy. Tell me what he’s up to?”
“I didn’t mean watch Tim,” Cece says. “Just watch, as in don’t act.”
“What about your rich friend,” Smith asks, “or is it your friend Rich?”
Cece seems even more exasperated. “Again, not the point,” she says. “There’s a bunch of money behind all this. Whose money is the point.” Cece looks out the car window, then back at Smith. “Think about what it takes to run this operation,” she says. “With nobody noticing, too.”
“Until now,” Smith says.
Cece looks out the window again. “Being spotted hasn’t stopped them,” Cece says. “They’re two jumps ahead of you.”
“Tim has them, doesn’t he?” Smith asks.
“He’s closer to them than you are,” Cece says, “and they know that, too. They’re pretty fearless.”
“Why would they be afraid?”, Smith asks. “No one’s going after them for hacking police networks. I’m supposed to be investigating murders.”
Cece watches the city scroll by the car’s window. “Millionaires don’t go to jail,” she says. “That doesn’t mean they don’t break the law.” Smith is formulating a response when Cece continues: “Including murder.” Smith waits. “You ever wonder about Blisflix’s list?”, Cece asks.
Again Smith waits for Cece to continue, but she just stares sleepily out the car window. “Now who’s barking up the wrong tree?”, Smith asks.
“I wonder what he’s up to,” Cece says, still looking out the car window. “He sure left in a rush.”
“You think Blisflix turned?”, Smith asks.
“Something like that,” Cece says, sounding more bored than tired now.
“Seven bodies,” Smith says. “No one cares but me. Some damn world.”
“I care,” Iwata says, catching Smith’s eye in the rear view mirror. “Cece cares too. I can tell.”
“I might if I wasn’t so tired,” Cece says.
They’re silent until the car stops a half a block from Cece’s house. “Think about backing off,” Cece says to Smith. “For a week, maybe two.”
“What are we supposed to do for a week, maybe two?”, Smith asks.
“You could busy yourself watching whoever’s watching Tim,” Cece replies. “Oh, I forgot. You can’t even keep your eyes on him, let alone all the, um, interested parties.” She opens the car door. “You’re right,” Cece says to Iwata, “I want to get him. But not just yet.” She steps out of the car, lugging her backpack. “Wait,” she says.
“What?”, Smith asks through the open car door.
“Wait,” Cece repeats. “Watch. Get as invisible as they are.” She turns and walks up Liberty.
Smith and Iwata watch in silence as Cece walks slowly up the street and enters her house. “I’d like to know that myself,” Iwata says. Smith looks at Iwata from the back seat. “I mean,” Iwata says, “everybody’s watching this guy, or trying to, but nobody ever sees anything. You think he’s acting alone, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting help, or being used.”
Smith keeps looking at Iwata. “Who pulled the trigger?”, she asks. “Seven times. That’s who I’m after. Tell me it wasn’t Tim?”
Iwata nods. “All you need now is some evidence,” he says as he starts the car and pulls away from the curb.
“So we watch,” Smith says, “some more.”
Smith and Iwata sit in silence, gazing out the car windshield at an empty California Street. They listen to chatter on the police radio. “Are we really gonna do this for the next week, maybe two?”, Iwata asks.
“No way,” Smith replies. “Tomorrow night we’ll stare at Jackson.”
“Did you do this with Blisflix?”, Iwata asks.
“I left him in the car and walked,” Smith says. Before he can ask, she adds, “Not tonight. It’s not even one. He’s most active from one to three-thirty. We got a lot of eyeballs out there, and an idea where to look.”
They sit in silence for another ten minutes. The police radio barely peeps. “Harry’s closes soon,” Smith says, “in case.” Iwata nods, exits.
Smith watches Iwata walk east on California to Fillmore, where he turns right and disappears from view. A minute later, the radio chirps. “Suspect pedestrian, Sutter eastbound, approaching Hyde,” the unknown officer’s voice is clear over the radio static. Smith starts the car. She reminds herself to be inconspicuous as she double-parks the unmarked car in front of Harry’s Bar on Fillmore, facing the wrong way.
A half-minute later, Iwata pops out of the bar and gets in the passenger side. Smith takes off while Iwata’s foot is still in the street. “Sutter and Hyde,” Smith says as she turns left on Bush. “Two minutes ago.”
Iwata asks, “Which direction?” “All of ‘em by now,” Smith says. Iwata turns up the radio volume. “He’s gotta cross Market,” Smith says as she slows for a red light at Van Ness. “You walk south on Hyde.” Smith pulls to the curb at Hyde. “Call if you see him,” she tells Iwata. “Otherwise I’ll meet you at City Hall in an hour.” Iwata jumps out.
Four minutes later, Smith is driving south on the Embarcadero, approaching the foot of Market. She thinks, he’s heading south of the Slot. Smith considers Tim’s most likely destinations. He’ll be most exposed when he crosses Market. He’ll avoid Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. Smith considers Tim’s other options. He would be facing traffic on Seventh, and Ninth is too far west. The Embarcadero is loaded with cops. That leaves Second and Eighth, she thinks as she parks in a bus zone on Steuart. She looks up the block toward Market, still as a pond.
Smith breaks her gaze from nearly empty Market, calls Iwata. “Yeah,” he says before Smith hears it ring.
“Walk up to Eighth,” Smith says.
“Got it,” says Iwata.
“Nothing, right?”, asks Smith.
“Usual homeless,” Iwata replies. “No Tim.”
“It’s 2:30,” says Smith without looking. “If we don’t see him by 3:30, we don’t see him. I’ll hang around Second, maybe find myself a shadow that isn’t occupied.”
Iwata says, “See you at 3:45,” and hangs up.
Smith keeps the phone in her hand. She grabs her coat, adjusts her holster, and exits the car. “Nice night for a walk,” Smith mumbles to herself as she walks up quiet Market Street. Occasional car, no SFPD patrols yet. No Tim, either.
Across the street from the Admission Day statue, Smith finds a shadowy watch post: well out of sight, and clear views in three directions. Tim is nowhere near Market Street, she thinks as she tries to stand still in the cold.
A mile to the west, Tim wonders about the sound. Fern Street has a low, steady crackle, like high-voltage lines in the rain. Half a block down, Polk is one big lightbulb. Here it’s dark. And loud. Tim can’t pinpoint the source of the heavy background hum that he feels more than hears. It started after Smith nearly hit him.
Thirty minutes ago, Tim watched Smith drop off Iwata on Hyde, and then tear east on Sutter, inches from the minivan Tim was hiding behind. With Smith and Iwata chasing wild geese, Tim is less worried about standing at a bus stop for 10 minutes, hours before the next bus is due.
Now Tim stands stock still on Fern, listening with all his might, wondering what’s keeping him from the bus stop, and his meeting with J. J enigma. J non-persona. Ur-J. Id-J.
J a soul discorporated, in-soul-ated, exa-spirit-ed, un-anima-ted. Wuy-wai-weye? Cuz-Cece-sed-sad-sid.
Tim identifies the sound: it’s something building, like a storm approaching from below his feet. He wonders whether only he can hear it. Ridiculous, he thinks just as quickly. Don’t confuse the sensor with the sensed. Then Tim realizes: Too late, J and noise are now one thing.
Jainoys, jannies, jendrese, jint-knees, jackrose among the shards, the bantry pare, shoals of brogotten hun-sisters, palping bristly igrone. Paraben seraphim square by the air of ‘im -
The stream accompanies Tim as he walks west on thrumming Fern Street, to a stop with no buses. Where you can swear by ‘em,
fair here and there by ‘em. Runce ‘round the rosy, froze shimmy shake. Tarry will he, whilaweigh diors in miens.
Turning the corner onto Polk puts Tim on alert. North to Bush, hugging the storefront windows, mostly dark. Odd to be trying to be noticed. At the bus stop, Tim begins counting off 10 minutes, measured in the meter of irremediable rhapsodies redounding in a drubble of dullisions.
The squad car stops next to Tim standing at the bus stop. The passenger window slides open. “There’s no bus ‘til morning,” the officer says.
“Uber,” Tim replies, looking the officer in the eye.
“Late.” The officer starts to say something but is distracted by a call on the radio. The squad car takes off north on Polk. The moment it disappears, Tim notices someone standing directly across the street. The person waves.
Tim waves back. The person walks across the street and stands next to Tim as if waiting for a bus. A minute later, Tim asks, “Are you J?”
“I am if you are Tim,” the person answers, still looking expectantly down Polk street. Tim follows their gaze and sees a car approaching. The car stops in the same spot the police car had occupied two minutes earlier. J opens the back door and gets in, leaving the door open.
Tim stares at the open door. “Morning’s not far off,” J says from the back seat. Tim closes the door and walks down Polk the way he came. The car drives off in the opposite direction. Tim considers whether to remain noticeable. He decides to give J 10 more minutes, then “poof.”
Four minutes later, Tim is walking south on Larkin when J’s sedan pulls to the curb in front of him. J gets out and the car drives away. “As you wish,” J says, signaling Tim to proceed.
“First,” Tim says, “Cece.”
“She’s in no danger,” J says. “If anything, she’s safer now.”
“Leave her alone, please,” Tim says. “No more intermediaries.”
J nods, “As you wish.”
Tim continues down the sidewalk. J is a step behind. “Blisflix’s list,” he says, keeping his eyes down. “That’s why you want to see me.”
“No,” J replies. “I simply want to make a request. Well, two requests, actually. First, stop. At least until you consider our second request. Join us.”
Tim turns west on Post. J struggles to keep pace. “Could you--” J starts.
“After Van Ness,” Tim answers. Then he adds. “It’s loud tonight. Let’s find some quiet.”
Tim adjusts his pace so he and J arrive at Van Ness a second after the light turns green. J walks a half step behind him as they cross. “It’s colder than I expected,” J says after they’ve walked another block.
“Yes and no,” Tim replies.
“Either it is or it isn’t,” J says.
“Yes I will stop,” Tim explains, “no I won’t join you.” J slows a bit, Tim walks a few more paces, then stops. “You don’t have to,” he says. J catches up. “I know,” Tim says, looking up Post. “They were poor, but their victims were poor, too. Now, no more victims, but I’ll stop. Not because you asked me. Because of Cecelia Khoury and Detective Smith.” Tim resumes walking up Post.
“Not so fast,” J says. Tim slows. “They think you work for them,” J continues. “Them you don’t just quit.”
“Blisflix’s list,” Tim says.
“Was a plant. A trap. You know these guys have been at this for awhile,” J says, now caught up with Tim. “They had Blisflix in their sights for a couple years.”
Tim turns north on Gough, slowing the pace to let J speak without huffing and puffing. “They probably had an eye on Pellegrini too,” J says. “Plenty of spots on Officer Pellegrini’s record. Just the kind of public servant they prefer. Pellegrini goes on limited duty.”
J stops walking. When Tim stops a few steps ahead, J says, “And there you are, the helpful, tech-savvy neighbor, jacked into the SFPD net.”
Tim turns to face J. “They feed you the list through their stooge Blisflix,” J says, “who’s probably still clueless about his role in it. They futz up the investigation by getting Blisflix assigned to it, they even help keep you out of the press.”
Tim looks up. “Why didn’t they know I would never join them?”, he asks.
J shrugs and says, “Maybe they did know.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
J starts walking up Gough. “We asked you to join us when we knew you’d say no,” J says. “In a way, you join us just by knowing we exist. Maybe they think the same way.” J continues when Tim catches up. “Besides, acting sensibly only gets you so far. That you already know.”
They walk in silence. Tim turns left on Bush. “Five minutes left,” he says. “What do you want?”
A few steps later, J answers, “The same as you.”
“That’s no answer,” Tim says.
J waits for some cars to pass. “To see you not get killed,” J says. “Is that a better answer?”
“No. You want me to do something,” Tim says softly, “for your benefit. Any burden or benefit to me is collateral. Please stop wasting my time.”
“We’re not asking you to do anything for us,” J replies, “we’re trying to persuade you to do something for everyone. With us, not for us. You were trying to prevent harm by eliminating the source. Not practical or effective, but admirable.”
Tim stops suddenly. He nods toward the green light at Fillmore a half block ahead. He motions for J to stand in a shadow. “Ten seconds,” he says. J gets it.
“Don’t be caught standing on a corner waiting for a light to change,” J says softly.
Tim doesn’t respond. Eight seconds later, he continues.
“You have 30 seconds to tell me what you want,” Tim tells J after they cross Fillmore.
“The gentleman you planned to visit tonight,” J says, "Let’s call him B. We’re putting him out of business. Hoisting him on his own petard. And guess who gets to be the petard? B’s so focused on you he’s let his guard down a little. We’re corrupting his data, his lifeblood. Without it, he’s done.”
“It has to be done slowly,” J is rattling now. “Selectively seeding corruption. Just enough to make the data worthless, steal his power. Not so much it’s noticed,” J finishes and inhales deeply. “Did I make it under 30 seconds?”, J asks.
“I didn’t mean literally,” Tim says.
“Yes you did,” J replies. “I bet you were counting down.”
They cross Steiner and continue west. “It was 30 seconds to the corner,” Tim says. “If I turned right, the answer was no. If I went straight, the answer would wait.”
Seconds later, J asks, “Wait for what?”
“You tell me,” Tim says. “First, let’s find quiet, away from Geary.” Tim is still pondering likely reasons for the city’s increased volume. He and J continue up Gough, reaching Sacramento just as the light turns green. When they’re back in shadow, Tim asks, “How much longer?”
“For B or for everybody?”, J asks back.
Tim turns his head slightly. “Who constitutes everybody?”, he asks.
“Forty-two top 50,” J answers. “Two, three dozen other select targets. We’ve been at this for awhile, slow and steady. Introduce strategic harmless errors. Harmless in isolation, lethal in the aggregate, once we reach the tipping point. When the last bit’s in place, we go live.”
“You go live,” Tim repeats. “What does that mean?”
“We devalue their data,” J replies. “It’s as effective as erasing their bank accounts.”
“Which data?”, Tim asks.
“People data,” J answers, “PII. It already has a high error rate, so it’s easy to render sufficiently unreliable.”
Tim and J walk in silence along the eastern edge of Lafayette Park. At Washington, they turn left. A minute later, Tim asks, “Then what?”
“They lose money,” J replies. “They lose power, no more shadow government.” J stops. “The law can’t touch ‘em. The law can’t even see ‘em. Does that remind you of anybody?”
Tim signals J to continue their walk up Washington. “Not a good place,” he says softly. “Cops.” He motions toward the park they’re walking beside and says, “Lots of cops.” He thinks, plots of crops, knots of strops, des mots de trop.
Tim and J cross Fillmore in silence. At Steiner, they turn right, and then left on Jackson. “Invisible or ignored?”, Tim asks J abruptly. Before J can answer, Tim continues asking: “Ignored or condoned? Condoned or encouraged? Encouraged or sponsored? Sponsored or controlled? Which are the puppets and which the puppeteers? The only one invisible is the one in charge. That’s not you, that’s not me.”
Tim speaks in a kilter rhythm with his stride. “Everyone else a willless, witless marionette, tugged and drugged and bugged and clubbed. Dangerous to ignore that you ignore, to know not that you know not. Certainty is hubris. You’re not as right as you think.”
Tim and J walk in silence. As they approach Divisadero, J says, “Yet you acted. All that about hubris and uncertainty applies to you, too.”
“I act when the math says to,” Tim replies. “I trust numbers, not people. More than trust, and more than numbers. I have faith. In symbols. Infinite ideas, hiding in squiggle lines, atomized in alphabets, ratified in counts. Each an ancestral thought displayed.”
“What do the numbers tell you about Billikin?”, J asks.
“I’ve answered your question,” Tim replies, nearly whispering. “I’ll see you home.”
“My ride will find me,” J replies. “I’ll take your hubris advice to heart if you’ll consider that maybe you’re not always so invisible. We got our answer.”
Tim walks on. J stops. Half a minute later, a car pulls to the curb next to J, who enters the back seat. “You tried,” Billikin says to J. The car drives south on Broderick. “What he said about symbols,” Billikin says, “I think we can use that.”
As J and Billikin head for South Park, Detective Smith is driving in the opposite direction, toward Ninth and Market to pick up poor Iwata. Seconds after Smith pulls the car to the curb, Iwata scrambles into the passenger seat. “Another no-show,” Iwata says. “I’ve been thinking.”
Smith turns right on Van Ness. She waits for Iwata to continue. After they pass City Hall, he resumes: “How does he get in and out unseen?” Smith is tempted to reply but decides to wait. “Somebody has done work on that apartment building,” Iwata says. “The widow owns the place. Got it from her husband, who was a cop. So he wouldn’t bother with permits.”
Smith thinks of the basement’s seamless walls. She turns left on California. Iwata continues: “The girlfriend’s ex hasn’t shown up. We’ve got probable cause to look around her place.” Smith knows they have no reason to suspect any such thing. She also knows they need to get into the basement of that apartment building.
“Nice try,” Smith says, “but we were tailing Charlie when the ex disappeared. Villa Lobos is right. We need a witness. We need evidence.”
“Do you think the girlfriend might confide in somebody?”, Iwata asks as they approach Steiner.
Smith considers Karen Mieke’s odd situation. Poor Karen is attacked by a jealous ex outside her workplace and then hooks up with her geeky neighbor who happens to be a vigilante killer. “Ms. Mieke never had much to say to Blisflix and me,” she says to Iwata. “You might have better luck.”
Smith drives slowly down Steiner. She stops the car in front of 2204. She and Iwata regard the front of the building, indistinct in the dawn light. “He’s home,” Smith says. Iwata looks at Smith and raises an eyebrow. “Just a guess,” she adds. She points the car north up Steiner. “Let’s eat pancakes,” she says.
Part 33: Skippy
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
Copyright 2020 by Dennis Richard O'Reilly -- all rights reserved