“Let me see the card I gave you.” Bridget says.
Ethan reaches into the back pocket of his jeans, “this?” He pulls out a crumpled card.
“Wait. Flatten the card face down in your palm. Keep it that way and turn it around and around in your palm. Position the card with a short edge pointed at your fingers.” She instructs. She takes the card and lays it on the table in front of Ethan with the edge closet to his fingertips as the top edge.
Joel comes over to their spool with a plate of steak and salad. He sits on the opposite side, turn his head toward the grill and back. “Do you guys have a knife?”
Bridget reaches over to Ethan’s plate and picks up his steak with her fingertips. Ethan watches her, intently. “We’re primitives.” She bites it, twists her head, as she tears a corner off and grunts. Blood and juice run down her chin. Ethan’s eyes light up and he hands her his napkin. He’s careful not to get blood on the card. She winks.
“Oh brother,” Joel says and rolls his eyes. He turns back fire pit and shouts “Comma, are there, knives?” Guests at the other tables turn and look.
Comma looks up surveys the tables. He looks for Phoebe, but she’s gone inside again. “Uh,” he shrugs.
“Use your fingers, man,” Chilli yells across the yard, and as if rehearsed, the clowns stand with their steak, burger, or wiener on their fingertips, twirl their wrists, grunt in unison, and take a bite.
“Man.” Joel blushes. “Clowns. I hate clowns.” He says to his friends and picks up the steak with his fingertips and drops it. “Ouch.”
“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, owee,” revolves around him accompanied by random snorts, giggles, chortles, and then fades out to the business at hand.
“Fucking clowns,” Joel says under his breath. He feels the heat in his cheeks return, than laughs to himself for relief. Ethan smiles to a blush.
Bridget shakes her head, “Is Heather coming?”
Joel looks up from his salad, “I don’t know. She’s not answering. I hope she’s on her way.”
Scooter downs the first triple-meat burger in almost one bite. Steve McSwain stares in disbelief and takes a bite out of his double with everything. Sefa takes a single bite of his triple, then three fingers full of fries. He picks up his chocolate shake and pulls a long draw. Scooter picks up the 2nd triple, and bites off a quarter of it. He shovels half of one order of three, French fries in his mouth. Scooter chews with his mouth closed, his checks bulge a bit, his eyes close, and he grins, like a hamster in ecstasy.
“Does he always eat like that?” Steve asks and takes another bite.
“Yeah. He’s a biggie.” Sefa says and takes another bite, fries, and draws on his shake. Scooter finishes the 2nd triple and the first order of fries. His mouth is fuller and up looks up for a moment.
“Is that good?” Steven asks him.
“Yum, yes,” he garbles the answer with a full mouth. He swallows. “In/Out is the best. I could eat a dozen easy, but Momma is smoking a pig tonight.” Scooter answers and scoops another whole order of fries into his massive jaws.
Steve takes a bite of his burger and several fries. He reaches for the saltshaker just as Scooter picks up the last burger.
“Careful. Don’t get between Biggie and his burger or you could loose a hand, even an arm.” Sefa says and chuckles.
Steve pulls back too quickly, but catches his coke before it tumbles off the table.
Sefa laughs out loud. “I’m jus’ kiddin’ Stevie. He’s never eatin’ more than a finger.” His face turns red as he laughs harder. “I’m jus’ kidding.”
Steve is as red as Sefa. Scooter hasn’t even noticed. He looks up to their red faces and smiles. Scooter bites half of the last, triple and downs another fist full of fries.
The four investigators, two San Francisco officers, an Oakland Officer, and Seven, keep replaying the same snippet of video, hoping for a different outcome. Sergeant Ed Rice is in the drivers seat and he tweaks a few more parameters and plays it again. He’s created a new file just of when the murderer pushes the victim onto the tracks. If it’s not first tier, not a usual problem; if it’s not recognizable equipment failure, or doesn’t even leave a trail of failure, try one thing, then another of a standard list as a starting point. Then, it’s a geek’s random-blind-debug when you don’t exactly know what is causing it. Find out if anyone else is having the problem and if they solved it. If you can’t solve it, then call the manufacturer or developer, and they start the same process over. If it’s a unique, first-time-ever issue, the developer’s programmers may have to write a patch to the application code. And, that process could take months.
Why is the image of the face blurred only when it turns toward the camera? The back of his head is in perfect focus. The victim’s expression is obvious and the device captures in in perfect focus; you cans see the shock in her eyes. You can see wet spots on the escalator rails and that janitors must have mopped the floor, recently. It shines. Trash is normal for the time and none of the bins are overflowing. No one is messing with the camera. The crowds are normal, the capacity is normal, the weather is normal; nothing stands out as to why the murderer’s face is blurred.
Cochran, Simon, and Seven lean over Sargent Rice as he tweaks the parameters of the video software and repeats. There is a knock at the door, and the four turn to look in unison.
“What the FUCK is he doing HERE?” Chief of Detectives (Chief of D’s), Lieutenant Inspector Randal Cummings yells.
Lieutenant Inspector Cochran stands up, rigid. Her freeform curiosity transforms to acute attention. “Sir, he’s helping us with the video review.”
“DAMNIT, Cochran. He has no official standing in this case. Quite the opposite, he’s a person of interest.” The Chief of D’s says. “We need to talk. Officer Simon, please take Mr Bardo into the Hall and keep him their.”
“I was just trying to…” Seven Bardo interjects.
“OFFICER Simon,” the chief emphasises.
Simon grabs Seven by the arm, and Seven’s legs and back stiffen up. Simon pulls harder.
“I’m going.” Seven leads toward the door.
Simon does not let go of his arm, and escorts him to the hallway.
‘Lieutenant Cochran, and I use that rank temporarily, have you lost your FUCKING mind?” Chief of D’s admonishes her.
“Sir, I can confirm that Seven Bardo is not a good suspect.” She answers.
“I don’t give a fuck what you can…”
“Sir, Seven, Mr Bardo was with me all last night. He could not have killed Susan Presdale.”
“Cochran, your previous relationship with the subject has no bearing on this case. Need I remind you of your professionalism?”
“No, sir. He spent the night with me, last night. He could not have been in the underground at the time of the murder.”
“Shut it,” the Chief hisses the “s” and punctuates it with hard breath.
“Sargent Rice, what do we have?” The Chief asks.
“I don’t know what is going on Chief, but as you can see, at this time of the video loop the subject turns directly toward the camera…”
“So, we’ve got a picture, a good picture?” He sighs.
“No, sir, not exactly.” Rice answers.
“Well, as you can see for yourself here, the suspect pushes the victim off of the platform and turns,” he pauses the screen, “the face is blurred.”
“Run that again in slow motion from the push,” Requests the Chief of D’s.
Sargent Rice rewinds the sequence and runs at 5 times slower. The suspect pushes the victim and turns to the camera.
Don’t stop it, let it play.” The chief instructs, but the outcome is the same as before.
“I don’t understand? How can everything be in focus and then not?” The Chief puzzles.
“We’ve tried several…” Cochran starts.
“When I want information from you, Cochran, I will ask.” He instructs her.
“I don’t know, Chief. It’s an anomaly, and I’ve tried everything simple to correct it. There are other things I can do, but it will take some time to complete.”
How long?” He asks.
Forty-eight hours or more.” Sargent Rice answers.
“WHO found this footage?” Asks the Chief.
“I did, sir.” Cochran answers
“Really? It wasn’t your private dick-stick?” He is dubious.
“Chief Cummings, I monitored their progress and these are files that Lieutenant Inspector Cochran was working on.” Sargent Rice answers.
He turns to the officer’s face and looks hard into his eyes. “You were monitoring them the whole time?” Cummings is extremely suspicious.
“Yes, Chief. Because of the unusual circumstance of the non-reg in the room, I recorded it all as well.” He adds.
“So, you can tell if anything is hinky?” Inquires the Chief.
“Yes. I can say with 90% certainty that nothing was out of the ordinary, except for the blur anomaly.” Rice says.
“What do you think it is?” Chief Cummings asks again. He is calmer.
“I just don’t know. I’ve never seen it before. It’s not a thumbprint on the lens or we would see it during the entire play back. It’s not an obstruction of any kind. And, it’s not possible to edit or save anything on this system without admin access. And, no one here has that, except me.”
“Okay. So what can you do? Can you bring the suspects face in focus?” The Chief asks.
“To be honest, I just don’t know. I can’t even begin to know one way or the other for 48 hours or more.” Sargent Rice says.
I just want to reiterate, no one could have messed with the tape?” the Chief reaffirms.
“I mean, anything is possible, but no. I am almost certain that no one has messed with the recordings. No one since we pulled them, and certainly not anyone here today.” The sergeant repeats. “I’ve been watching closely and if anything was done, I’d be able to detect it. And, I control all the functionality of these terminals.”
“So, you will not know anything for 48 hours?” the Chief clarifies.
“And, you can confirm if the recordings were hashed with?” Cummings asks.
“I can do that as well within that time.” He nods his head, smiles, and laughs cautiously.
Tugging Officer Simon behind him, Seven Bardo barges into the video room. He kept his foot in the door and was ease dropping. “DAMN IT, I didn’t fuck with the tape.”
The Chief Cummings ignores him, leans over Rice and whispers in his ear. “Make the manipulation the priority; it’s most certainly a confession and the other footage won’t matter.” He stands back up, “Simon, control your prisoner.”
“PRISoner…?” Seven shouts.
“Good, good; Sargent Rice, please see if you can clear up the face, and thanks for your help. Get in touch with me immediately either way. 48 hours is a long time to miss on this case, but if we gain the killer’s identity.
“Okay. I’ll report our status to my supervisor.” Includes Rice.
“Good. Let me know if you need anything.” He takes out his card and rights a second phone number on back. “This is my red-line. Use it any time, but with discretion.”
“Of course, Chief.” He smiles nervously and takes the card. I need the overtime, but how will my Chief react to it? Ed Rice thinks to himself.
“I can run down the victim’s…” Says Lieutenant Inspector Cochran, but she is interrupted.
“NO. You’re off the case. I want to see you in my office, bright and bushy tomorrow morning at 8 A.M.” Chief Cummings directs.
“You can’t…” She starts to argue.
“I can’t what? You heard me. You’re dismissed.” He turns to Simon, “Simon, I’ll take you back to the city. Cochran needs to get re-acquainted with a patrol car anyway, if she hopes to pass certification. Give her your keys.”
“Wha…” Lieutenant Inspector Cochran starts.
“I said you are dismissed. Escort your friend back to the city and hold him.” The Chief orders.
“On what charge?” Seven objects, sidestepping towards the Chief.
Cochran grabs his arm and pulls him back, “Yes chief, under protest, sir.”
“Wait a minute. You can’t arrest me with out telling…” Seven tries to pull away.
“Don’t make me arrest you for resisting, Bardo.” Emily asserts. Seven turns to look at her and relaxes. She pushes him towards the exit.
“What a prick,” Seven whispers in her ear.
She smiles and pushes him harder.
“The Ace of Wands is a lucky card, even if reversed, Ethan.” Bridget shows Ethan the image on the card. “I drew it right side up, and now that you’ve had it a while, we see it is upside down.” She sits it down on the table in front of him.
“It looks like a wizard’s staff,” Ethan says.
“Yes. A hand coming out of the clouds holds a wooden staff as greater powers grant you luck. It’s an ace card and considered a trump card, a winning card. See the leaves on the staff and those falling near it? They mean luck will provide positive results. A blue sky over the county side, one steep and several rolling mountains in the distance, and a calm river flows from its foreground to the background. You may encounter difficulties, but luck will be with you.” Bridget interprets.
“What does reverse mean,” Ethan asks, “bad luck?”
Bridget smiles, “no silly, when a card is reversed it doesn’t mean just the opposite; it’s more complicated and may require a fuller reading.” She winks.
“So, you can read my future?” He inquires.
“I brought my cards, so if you’d like, I can. Just remember, the future is not fixed. Usually what the cards mean is based solely on context of what is happening in your life now and what you need to hear in respect to that.”
“Reversed?” Ethan repeats his question.
“We need do a more through reading, but just in this moment, I think it means that you can’t really solely on luck.” She answers.
“So, not lucky? I don’t understand?” Ethan shakes his head, eyes straight, and shrugs his shoulders.
“Ethan, bro, It means you could get lucky, but…” Joel interjects.
Bridget laughs, “No and yes, I mean I think I need to read your fortune with all the cards, Ethan. It could contain something about me?” She adds with a coquette glance.
Ethan slugs Joel in the arm.
“OUCH.” Joel responds a little too loud and rubs arm.
As before, other guests at the party take up Joel’s exclamation, “ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, owee,” can be heard around the yard in sequence, then as a round, and then with acrobatics. Until, everyone is laughing again.