Killer Tim, part 36: Chronicle
“What do you have on Billikin?”, Bridgid Catona asks. Roy Meneses clears his throat.
“Databases,” Meneses replies.
“Good,” Catona says, “scour your databases and tell us why he did it.”
Meneses clears his throat again. “I mean, he’s databases,” he says. Catona waits for Meneses to explain. “His companies have made some of the most popular databases in the world,” Meneses says. “Super geek.”
“So why did he decide to wreck so many of ‘em?”, Catona asks.
“He says he didn’t,” Meneses replies. “Claims he was set up by the police.”
“And the police would set up a billionaire techie because...”, Catona says.
“Cover up, he claims,” says Meneses. “For rogue cops, I guess.”
Catona looks confused. “Police hacked millions of databases?”, she asks. “To frame a billionaire techie so they can cover up their crimes?”
“Something like that,” Meneses replies. “Only I don’t think Billikin’s a billionaire, technically.”
“Okay, almost-billionaire,” says Catona. “Hacks his own databases,” muses Catona. “Attacks his own customers. Blames it on the police, who are a bunch of criminals. That about it? No story there,” she adds. Meneses laughs despite Catona’s stone look. “What’s Billikin offering to corroborate it all?”, Catona asks.
“The Feds set him up,” Meneses says. “Something about the SFPD. The Feds were investigating, he says. Claims they found some crooked cops.”
“What’s that got to do with databases?”, Catona asks.
“The hackers who did it worked for the crooked police, he claims.”
“Let’s start with the crooked cops,” Catona says. “Was the SFPD under investigation?”
“Nobody’s talking,” Meneses says, “except Billikin.”
“What else is Billikin saying?”
Meneses takes a deep breath and begins: “The bad cops hired some ace hacker to set him up. These bad cops are behind the vigilante murders, and maybe other crimes.” He looks at Catona for a “continue” sign. Catona stares blankly back. Meneses continues: “The SFPD and the Feds say that’s bull. The hack originated at servers of a company he owns. Over on Tennessee Street.”
Catona’s stare is unchanged. “It doesn’t make sense,” Catona says finally. “Hack your customers.”
Meneses asks, “How does Billikin know about the crooked cops? Maybe he broke into the SFPD network. Maybe he breaks into lots of networks. I’d say Billikin’s a hacker. But not the hacker who hit these companies.”
Catona’s blank expression hasn’t changed. “New moon,” Catona adds softly. “That’s who Billikin’s talking about. Four new moon vigilante killings, and maybe others.” She straightens. “Tie the new moon killings to this database hack,” Catona says. “See if what Billikin says is plausible. But keep the new moon stuff quiet.”
“I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation, you know that,” Smith says into the phone. “They shouldn’t have given you my name and number.”
“Lieutenant Villa Lobos said you were the person to talk to,” Meneses replies. “Said the investigation was transferred to another agency.”
Smith holds the phone up before she curses a blue streak to prevent the reporter from hearing it. “What would you like to know?”, she asks.
“Why was the case transferred?”, Meneses asks. “What agency was it transferred to, and how long ago did this happen?”
“FBI,” Smith says, “I don’t know when, I don’t know why.”
“Were you investigating Billikin?”, Meneses asks.
“Me personally?”, Smith replies.
Meneses tries again: “Was Billikin under investigation by anyone prior to yesterday’s data breach?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Smith replies.
Smith hears Meneses sigh over the line. “Did you read the statement Billikin’s lawyer released today?”, Meneses asks.
“Yes,” She replies.
“How do you respond to his--”
“Nonsense,” Smith interrupts.
“--claim about the new moon guy and corrupt cops?”, Meneses finishes anyway. "Are there any new moon suspects?”, Meneses asks.
“I can’t comment,” Smith replies.
“Were there any?”, he asks.
“Plenty,” Smith answers.
“Any in particular?”, Meneses asks, sounding bored.
“No,” Smith replies. “I mean, the investigation--”
“Is ongoing,” Meneses says for her. “Why would Billikin take on the SFPD?”, he asks.
“You’re asking a detective why someone accused of a crime would blame the police?”, she asks back.
“Billikin’s allegations aren’t the usual planted-evidence charge,” Meneses says, though he knows the interview was over a few questions ago. “Is the FBI investigating a possible link between the SFPD and the new moon killings?”, he asks.
Smith lets the question sit there. “Not to my knowledge,” she says finally. “Since you know I don’t know what the FBI is or isn’t up to, you must be asking something else. My guess is, you’re asking whether I think there’s such a connection. As I said before, no comments on an open case.”
As Smith hangs up on the reporter, she curses her boss aloud for putting her on the spot. Bastard Villa Lobos wants me to leak, she thinks.
Tim expected Karen to stop by days earlier. When he heard her knock on his apartment door, he knew it was the data breach that brought her.
“Come in,” Tim says as he opens the door for her. She enters without a word and heads for Tim’s kitchen. Tim follows, sits at the table.
Karen fills two glasses with water from a pitcher in Tim’s refrigerator. She sets the glasses on the table and sits down across from Tim. “Was it you?”, she asks conspiratorially. Tim looks at her in silence. “I didn’t think you’d admit it,” Karen adds, “but it has to be. It’s got you written all over it.” Karen smiles widely. “Anarchist hackers my butt.”
“You look well,” Tim says. “Healthy, I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” Karen replies. “Does that guy the FBI’s blaming know about you? He must.” She takes a long drink from her glass.
“It doesn’t matter what Billikin does or doesn’t do,” Tim says. “How have you been?”
“You know how I’ve been,” Karen replies with a smile. “You introduced us. Skip and me. Iwata, I mean. The detective.” She feels herself blushing. Tim gazes down at the table top. “What’s gonna happen next?”, Karen asks. “With the data, I mean.”
Tim doesn’t answer right away, then he looks up and says, “I don’t know.”
“What do you think is going to happen?”, Karen asks.
“They’ll write it off,” Tim says. “What records they can’t recreate. A nuisance. A nag, an irritation. A flat tire on the road to grandma’s. Software is magically fragile, mathematically controvertible. Malleable, mutable, a place to hide and to discover,” Tim drones. “Billikin hid, Billikin was discovered.”
“Discovered how?”, Karen asks.
“Discovered what,” Tim replies. “Billikin set the lock, why wouldn’t he turn the key?”
“A better question is why would he?”, Karen asks. “Even better, can Billikin turn the key back and unlock the data? Would he if he could?”
“You’re dating a cop,” Tim says. “Ask Detective Iwata,” he adds when he sees Karen’s surprise. “I suspect he won’t say much, either.”
“Yeah, but it’s his job,” Karen says. “Skip took an oath not to blab, or something. You’re just being secretive, as usual.” She smiles at Tim’s discomfort.
“There’s a reason why things don’t happen,” Tim says. “Like there’s no reason. That’s a good reason for a thing not to happen. The best.”
“The best reason for a thing not to happen is because there’s no reason for it to happen?”, Karen asks. Tim nods. “I’ve got one,” she adds. “How about satisfying my curiosity on the issue of what’s going on with Billikin?”
“Not a good enough reason,” Tim replies.
“I used to be able to get you to talk,” Karen says. “Back then you had a reason.” She smiles and reaches for Tim’s hand across the table.
Tim surprises Karen by taking her offered hand and looking her in the eye. “I thought about you a lot,” Tim says. “Good thoughts, nice.”
“That’s nice to hear,” Karen says, “I think.”
“I’m glad I helped you,” Tim says. “Your future is not in apartment 2D.”
“Will you miss me?”
“I don’t understand the question,” Tim says. “To miss someone is to wish them back? Desiring to be with them? You’re here, you’re gone. It surprised me to learn people reflect on the past. What do you gain from that?”
“Insight, maybe,” Karen replies. “Knowledge.”
“Memories are corrupt data,” Tim says. “What can you learn from garbage? The medium we store our memories on is untrustworthy, unreliable. If you don’t learn what there is to learn when a thing happens, reflecting on the thing later won’t be of any benefit.”
“Some days it seems that’s all I do,” Karen says, “reflect on stuff. I never thought of my memories as unreliable. I suppose they must be.”
“It never happened like you remember it,” Tim says. “Why waste time dwelling on imaginings?”
“You never think about the past?”, Karen asks.
“Not the part with me in it,” Tim says. “Entropy is calculated for other memories, the usual variants for time, relation, other attributes.”
“You never think about our times together?”, Karen asks.
“Not the part with me in it,” Tim repeats. “The memories of you, no entropy there.”
“That might be one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me,” Karen says. “Or it could be an insult. Let me reflect on it a bit." Karen is about to attempt another joke but stops when she sees Tim’s furrowed brow. “It’s a beautiful day for a walk,” she says instead.
“Too crowded,” Tim replies, keeping his gaze on the kitchen table. “Lots of activity. Lots of watchers.” He looks up and says, “Ask Iwata.”
Karen smiles, disappointed. “I’m not afraid of being seen with you,” she says.
Tim regards the tabletop. “Billikin is emotional,” he says. “Unpredictable. Billikin’s operation remains intact. Better I walk alone, for now. He’ll regain his bearings soon enough.”
“In a jail cell,” Karen says.
“Billikin won’t go to jail,” Tim replies. “Not for this. He’s rich. His rich victims will give him a medal.”
Tim flinches when Karen laughs. “A medal,” she says, “that’s funny.”
The furrows return to Tim’s brow. “I didn’t mean to joke,” he says.
“I’ll be your joke spotter,” Karen says seriously.
“I need eyes,” Tim says. “I mean, please watch the back.”
“Watch for what?”, Karen asks. Tim doesn’t answer. “Never mind,” Karen says. “I had to give it one more try.” She stands. “You can count on me,” she says with a salute.
Tim stands and follows Karen to his apartment door. She turns at the door and says, “You’re something. Even for this town.” She kisses him, turns, ands exits without another word.
“We’ll walk again,” Tim says to her back as she heads down the hall to her apartment. “Later.”
“What now?”, Cece says when she spots Detective Smith waiting outside the library.
“Nice to see you, too,” Smith replies. Cece waits for it. “Billikin,” Smith says quietly. “He’s dangerous. He may come after you.” Cece walks toward 19th Avenue. “We’ll give you a ride,” Smith says.
“What does Billikin want with a student?”, Cece asks once she and Smith are in the back seat of the unmarked car.
“Your friend,” Smith says. “You know Billikin had people tailing your walks with Tim.”
“You were tailing us, too,” Cece replies. “Or trying to, anyway.”
“We had a good reason,” Smith says. “Billikin, not so much. Now he wants to blame Tim for this breach, but like us, he has no evidence.”
From the front seat, Iwata asks, “Do you know how he did it?”
Cece doesn’t reply. “I still don’t get what Billikin wants with me,” she says.
“Information, for one thing,” Smith answers. “Billikin’s curious about what you and Tim discussed on your early-morning walks. I am too.”
“You’re here to help, right?”, Cece asks. “I get confused because you got me into this. Twice. Now I’m being interrogated. This is help?”
“You can ID three people who work for Billikin,” Smith tells Cece. “This guy has a long reach. We suspect he disappeared the neighbor’s ex. We didn’t have a name until yesterday’s breach.” Smith watches Cece. “It’s not like Billikin to make a mistake. Maybe....” Smith lets the word hang in the air. “Maybe Billikin’s telling the truth. About getting set up, I mean. Not that cop-conspiracy garbage.”
“Do you think a guy like Billikin has any interest in me?”, Cece asks. “Or the SFPD, for that matter? This supposed breach will evaporate.”
Smith continues: “All the databases get unfrozen, and all the tech boy billionaires snicker and wink.” She sees Cece’s house come into view. “Tim is the last person in the world to need a babysitter,” she says. “The only way to hurt him is to hurt his friends. And you’re one.”
Iwata double-parks in front of Cece’s house on Liberty. “If Billikin thinks hurting me will hurt Tim,” Cece says, “he doesn’t know Tim.”
Cece doesn’t see the figure sitting halfway up her front steps until she steps out of the car. Smith spots the man at about the same moment. The man stands up and walks down the steps. Cece meets him on the sidewalk. “Good evening,” he says, “Cecelia Khoury, I presume?” He laughs. Meneses holds out his hand. “Roy Meneses,” he says, “I’m a reporter for the Chronicle. Can I talk to you about yesterday’s data breach?” Before Cece can answer, Meneses looks at the car and asks, “Is that the police?”
Smith immediately exits the back seat and says, “Uh-uh.”
“Villa-Lobos told me to talk to you, Detective Smith,” Meneses says and extends his hand to her.
Smith tells Cece, “Go inside. I got this.” Cece walks up the steps and enters the house without saying a word.
“Was Ms. Khoury working on the new moon killings?”, Meneses asks Smith.
“Ms. Khoury worked for the SFPD on a temporary basis,” Smith tells Meneses. “She’s not at liberty to discuss her work. Talk to Villa Lobos.” Smith returns to the car. Iwata is standing outside the driver’s door. Smith turns back to Meneses and says, “Ms. Khoury is off limits.”
Iwata and Smith get in the car and drive off.
Meneses considers ringing the Khoury’s bell again, decides to give Villa Lobos a call first.
Across Liberty, four doors to the east, Tim stands in a mid-afternoon shadow, imagines the indecision playing out on the reporter’s face. Five seconds later, the reporter walks east on Liberty. Tim watches him stride by from across the street. He wonders which cop gave up Cece. In a split second, Tim has the answer: Villa Lobos. He’s pushing Billikin. First, the Feds bust Billikin for a crime he was set up for. Then Villa Lobos sets up Billikin for the new moon killings, using Cece as the bait.
Tim watches Meneses walk east down Liberty. He looks west down Liberty, wondering who else is watching Cece’s house. A minute later, a plan has formed. He heads for home, ameander.
Omniander, ompianer, umptianer, impty orms and emplenade bills. Ruts a runty rosary, peg a pig a poetsry, arsels, carsles, ball point pen.
Tim zigzags a way around Dolores Park, letting the doggerel choose the route. Taking his doggerel for a walk, or vice versa.
Orpheus Vespa. Obvious virtue. Oblative urchin. Impletive ableated. Burnt me a lottergy ditchit et the kerner stir tutherday frendi sodirty sandy mandy.
A low rumble catches Tim’s ear as he walks west on 17th. Behind him, an SUV approaches slowly. Tim reverses direction, walks past the SUV. He doesn’t even glance in the dark vehicle’s direction. He knows he can lose one car in 90 seconds. Two cars take five minutes to shake. Tim is certain the SUV isn’t the only vehicle on his tail. He plots a course for the Mission’s back alleys, then a northwest loop to home.
Once out of the Mission, Tim will hide in plain sight among Soma’s evening commute pedestrians, trudging with backs to sun-specked towers. Blind to the jagged glass pinnacles they just exited. Panes of glass left behind, pane of glass in hand, panes of glass waiting at home.
A handful of alleyways is all it takes for Tim to rid himself of the trackers. He crosses Market amid a sea of harried, hurried, walkers. The foot traffic takes on a different character as Tim zigzags through the Tenderloin. Slower. Careful. Deliberate. Until he nears Van Ness.
Tim can feel Van Ness from Larkin. He walks west on Bush toward Polk. When he reaches Billikin’s rendezvous bus stop, he slows, looks up. Let the surveillance cameras get a good look at your face, thinks Tim as he continues west on Bush, already calculating the signal cycle. Tim adjusts his pace to ensure he reaches the corner as the light turns green. Halfway across Van Ness, Tim notices Detective Iwata ahead.
Iwata watches Tim approach as if he expected him. “Mind if I join you?”, Iwata asks.
“I’m nearly home,” Tim replies. “No, I don’t mind. Where’s Detective Smith?”, Tim asks as they walk west on Sacramento.
Iwata points in the direction of Alta Plaza. “Waiting,” he replies.
“In comfortable shoes,” Tim says.
“We have a message,” Iwata adds, “a proposal, from Villa Lobos.” Iwata hesitates when they reach Steiner. He points up Sacramento, looks at Tim, raises an eyebrow. Tim replies by walking in that direction. Iwata follows him.
“No,” Tim says.
“I didn’t--”, Iwata starts before Tim continues:
“I won’t help Villa Lobos set up Billikin for the new moon killings. Not even for Cece.”
“That’s not the proposal, exactly,” Iwata says as they stroll down Sacramento. “You wanted Billikin out in the open, but not in jail. Why?”
“Billikin will never spend a day in jail,” Tim replies. “He is the head of a criminal network that kills people, among sundry other crimes. Billikin in jail won’t kill the network,” Tim continues as they reach Pierce. “I want the network. Easier to kill with Billikin in view.”
“You don’t worry about Billikin coming after you?”, Iwata asks.
Tim doesn’t reply. He picks up the pace. “Not Divis,” Tim says. “Busses.”
“Okay,” Iwata says. “Not Divis.” He lets the busses reference slide.
“I think,” Tim says, “Villa Lobos should fix his network, leave me be.”
Iwata wonders how Tim managed to reach the corner at Divis three seconds after the light turned green. They hurry across, not saying a word. “The network is somebody else’s department,” Iwata says after they’ve crossed Divis. “As for letting you be, I don’t see that happening.”
“Villa Lobos has it backward,” Tim says. “He thinks the network serves him. He hasn’t figured out that he serves the network. We all do. Billikin figured that out a long time ago,” Tim continues as they approach Broderick. “His mistake was thinking he could chip off a piece.”
“You chipped it right back,” Iwata replies.
Tim turns right on Broderick. Iwata follows. “Enough,” Tim says. “No proposals, no plotting. Villa Lobos should stop worrying about Billikin. It might be a good idea to go back to using paper files, for awhile at least.”
“Another thing that isn’t gonna happen,” Iwata says.
They walk in silence, Tim glancing westward, noting the line of fog rolling in slowly. “What about Smith?”, Tim asks after minutes of silence. Iwata shrugs. “What will happen to her?”, Tim asks again.
“No idea,” Iwata replies. “What about me?”, he asks.
“You’ll be fine,” Tim says. “Smith couldn’t close the case. Villa Lobos blames her. Not to mention Blisflix.”
“He can’t blame Smith for Blisflix,” Iwata says.
Tim doesn’t answer right away. After they turn right on Washington, he says “Smith will take the fall.”
Tim and Iwata continue walking east on Washington to Alta Plaza. Iwata points at the path leading into the park. Tim turns toward Jackson. Though it’s nearly night, Tim spots Smith’s silhouette from 30 yards away. She’s standing at the corner of Jackson and Steiner, facing him.
“What took you?”, Smith asks when Tim is within hearing distance.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Tim replies.
“My fault,” Iwata tells Smith.
“Shall we?”, Smith asks Tim. She motions for Iwata to wait. Tim walks east on Jackson, across Steiner toward Fillmore. Smith follows him.
“What are you investigating, if I may ask?”, Tim says as they walk.
Smith sighs. “A credible threat against Cecelia Khoury,” she replies. “What are you doing with Billikin?”, Smith asks.
“Nothing,” Tim replies, “now.”
“Villa Lobos is ready to feed you to the press,” says Smith.
“The story will be dead by the time the press learn of it,” Tim says. “They’d rather write about a big bad Billikin than a nobody like me.”
“You better hope so,” Smith says. “Vigilante murderers make good copy, last I checked.”
They stop at Fillmore and watch the traffic go by. “People want to believe Billikin’s story about crooked cops,” Tim says as the Fillmore traffic continues. “The SFPD doesn’t act affronted.” Tim turns and faces the way they came. “A band of rogue cops makes good copy, last I checked,” he says. He gazes up Jackson toward Steiner.
“Good night,” Tim says and walks west on Jackson.
“Hey,” Smith says as she follows him, “I’m not done.”
Tim walks on, eyes on the horizon. “I don’t know what you want from me,” Tim says. “I’m not even sure what you’re investigating. This isn’t in the nature of a social visit.”
“Cece, number one,” Smith says as they walk. “You’re as interested in her safety as I am. And number two, Billikin, who’s coming after you. How’s that for a social visit?”, Smith adds.
When they reach Steiner, Tim stops. Iwata stands across the street. “Villa Lobos,” Tim says. “That’s who you’re really warning me about,” Tim adds. “I appreciate it.” He holds out his hand. “It was a very pleasant visit. Thank you.” Smith shakes Tim’s hand, a little dazed. Tim says softly, “Iwata spoke to someone in a dark SUV. Someone from Billikin. Could’ve been J. With a message,” Tim continues, staring at the sky above Smith. “Saying Cece’s safe. She’s not, but she will be soon.” He looks at Smith. “Forty-eight hours,” he says. “Then you can stop watching her.”
“What happens in 48 hours?”, Smith asks as Iwata joins them on Steiner.
“Nothing,” Tim replies, returning his gaze to the gray sky above Smith’s head. “That’s the whole point.” He nods at Iwata and Smith in turn, walks past the detectives, and heads south down Steiner. Smith and Iwata watch him.
“So, you got a message for me?”, Smith asks Iwata.
The words startitumble before Tim reaches Clay ridescent bellyagic borcalooger. Tim lets time wend for its welp as he welks aleng the el. He checks them off as he walks: Cece, Smith, Villa Lobos. Safe and sound. Billikin’s army of misfit badges, decommissioned. One name left.
When Tim is three doors from his apartment building, her name bounces in his head. And then she’s there, sitting on the steps. Karen Mieke.
“If I didn’t know better,” Karen says when Tim comes into view, “I’d say you were smiling.”
“I smile inside,” Tim replies, “all the time.”
Karen points over her shoulder and asks, “Inside there?” She points at Tim. “Or inside there?”
“Am I smiling now?”, Tim asks.
Karen squints. “You really don’t know,” she says.
“I really don’t know,” Tim echoes.
He looks at the steps behind Karen. “What’s your hurry?”, she asks. “It’s a beautiful night.”
“They’re all beautiful,” Tim replies without moving. “Must go. Work.” He steps lightly past Karen, who gazes across Steiner, barely hearing the lock turn, the door open, the door shut, the lock turn. Across the street, two silhouettes.
“You can come out now,” Karen says to the figures across the street. Smith and Iwata cross Steiner and stand where Tim stood moments before. “Not cool,” Karen says to Smith. She looks at Iwata and says, “I guess you can’t help yourself. Once a snoop, always a snoop.” She stands.
Smith says to Iwata, “She’s all yours, Skip.” She walks south on Steiner, stops, turns around, and adds, “Seven sharp, long day tomorrow.”
Karen looks at Iwata and asks, “’Sharp’? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Iwata walks to the step she’s standing on and says, “’Have fun’.”
Karen and Iwata walk up the steps side-by-side. “You’re not tired from all that walking?”, Karen asks.
“Standing, mostly,” Iwata replies.
Karen and Iwata walk through the narrow lobby and up the stairs to the second floor. Outside apartment 2A, Iwata stops and studies the door. “Can you see through it?”, Karen whispers.
“Can he?”, Iwata whispers back. Karen nods and nearly laughs. Iwata makes a face at the door.
As Karen leads Iwata into apartment 2D, Tim stands just inside the door of 2A, picturing the face Iwata made. Tim thinks, Karen is patched.
Part 37: Sutro Heights
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