Read Chapter Six

As the light changes again, I scramble out of the way of oncoming traffic. Back on the curb, I frantically scan the sidewalks in all directions for the man, or for anyone who saw what happened. He’s gone, but the phones remain.

Dodging honking traffic, I run back onto Post St. I retrieve Hannah’s phone, and then my own, which I’m dismayed to see has a cracked screen. At least nothing more serious is broken. There’s no blood.

Scoping the scene again, I realize there are also no witnesses, which is a scary thought. I’m a little shaken, I admit, but I walk across the street, sticking to the plan of a coffee run.

Two blocks away, after I order cafe au laits for Mira and myself, I sit while I wait. Finally at rest, I realize I’m shaking.

Who the hell is this guy? And how does he know who I am?

It must be from the blog, I realize. It’s only been up a couple days, though. I’m doubtful my random little blog could attract traffic that instantly. I suspect there’s something more going on here.

The coffee order is called, and I pick it up, stopping at the bar to grab sugar packets. The best coffee roaster in San Francisco just happened to open a new location a couple blocks from the MI Library.

I take a sip and the rich flavors soothe my senses. I never get jittery from caffeine — my body relishes it. As I start walking back to work, I examine my phone, and am lucky that the power is on and the device seems to be working, despite the shattered touchscreen. I dial Larissa, and when she answers, tell her what happened. She can’t believe it, but what I can’t believe is what she tells me next.

“I just read online that the police arrested someone for the murder.”

“What? They have the wrong guy. I swear, Larissa, it was the man who I saw at the bar, and last Friday at the party, who just pushed me into Post St.”

I take a deep breath to calm down, but I’m so confused.

“There’s no other rational explanation, Larissa. Why would some random stranger try to hurt me? It had to be him.”

We make plans to meet up in the Mission after we both leave work. As I hang up with Larissa, I wonder how I could get information about the man they arrested. Would Detective Chen come through for me?

I quickly use my phone to search for the mention of the arrest. The item is in the local SF news, and it’s a footnote, a meaningless and hollow sound bite.

Back at work, I walk through the security doors with the illicit coffees, and discreetly deliver them to Mira behind the reference desk. She slides me a fiver and says thanks, then busily drinks her beverage in silence as she resumes her work.

I return to work as well. Or pretend to work. My bones ache, and I stretch in my seat and try to work out the kinks. It’s never pleasant being assaulted and pushed into oncoming traffic.

What I can’t believe is, if the man took the trouble to track me down, why didn’t he swipe Hannah Taylor’s phone? If he knew enough about me to know where I work, he must read my blog, so he knows I found the phone.

Or maybe he knows nothing about the blog.

When it’s time to leave work, I head around the corner to Market St. and jump on the streetcar to Valencia. My new job is quiet so far, and yesterday that bothered me, but now with so much on my mind, I’m grateful for the peaceful continuity.

As I travel down Market St., I watch the city change. Office buildings blend into shopping, and the mall, and on past the cable car turnaround where the real transformation is taking place. Vagrants unable to care for themselves, because of mental illness, drug use or both, roam the streets alongside techies who work at startups. Mid-market is being revitalized, but it’s a slow process.

The Mission is becoming even more gentrified, but I like it. Growing up, it used to be the best place for tacos, and it still is, but since the food truck phenomenon happened a few years ago, it means you can get good Mexican food practically in any neighborhood now. In San Francisco, it seems like there really is a taco truck on every corner.

But still, old habits die hard, and I’m meeting Larissa at one of our standbys, La Taqueria on Mission and 20th. Mission St. is still as gritty and real as mid-Market, a world away from Valencia instead of an avenue.

Larissa is there, at a little table marked with her order number. I wave, and get in line to request two crispy chicken tacos, then go and join her.

Over some cinnamon horchata, we hash through everything we know. Then Larissa drops the bomb.

“I called someone and found out some more information.”

“What? Who did you call?”

“A connection of mine in the district attorney’s office.” She pauses as the server brings her burrito. “The police just made an arrest for show. They were pressured into making a move on the case.”

I shake my head in disbelief. “They arrested the wrong man. The man I saw murder Hannah Taylor, and the man from the science center is the same one who shoved me into the street today.”

“I believe you.” Larissa gives me a meaningful look. “There’s more. My contact shared the police booking photo. Here, I’ll show it to you.”

She hands me her phone. The man in the mug shots bears a resemblance to the murderer, but he’s not as polished. The guy they arrested looks homeless, not like he owns a sleekly tailored black designer suit and attends parties.

“It’s not him. This guy is likely just some drifter the police hope to pin the murder on.”

“Precisely. They just want to close the case.”

“What did your friend say? Who is it? How much did you tell them?”

“Everything you’ve told me. Plus he read your blog.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he loves it. The authorities are taking citizen journalism via blogs and tweets more seriously these days. They can be really powerful.”

“The real killer must be relieved someone else was arrested. Maybe that’s why he didn’t bother to try and get Hannah Taylor’s phone.”

“Maybe.”

My tacos arrive and Larissa and I finish chatting over the meal. The killer is still out there, but I doubt he’ll come after me again since the police made the arrest.

“I can’t believe you found the phone at the crime scene. Did you ever find a hacker? Is that why you were looking for one?” Larissa asks.

“Yeah, but I guessed her password. Hannah must have had the phone out to try and call for help, but then dropped it.” I pull out the phone, and explain how I cracked the password organically.

“I couldn’t find anything on the phone, though,” I admit. “Do you want to have a look?” I pass the evidence to Larissa hopefully.

“Sure, I’ll try to have it scanned. Let’s meet up again on Thursday. I’ll give it back to you then.”

We say our goodbyes and I jump on the 49 Mission Muni for the journey home. As usual, the bus is full of colorful characters that flood from the city’s central artery — the Excelsior, Cesar Chavez, the Mission, City Center, and the Tenderloin. The neighborhoods on each side have million dollar real estate and are surrounded by a seriously real slice of life. It’s jarring to some, but since I grew up here, I’m used to it. I even lent a crackhead my Kiehl’s Lip Balm No.1 at the bus stop one time.

I get off at California St. and walk a few blocks to Trader Joe’s. After I stock up on a few things, I get in the longest grocery store line that ever existed and wait to check out. I’m staring at my phone, spaced out, when I hear my name.

“Skylar.”

I look up and see Reid. His hair’s gotten long enough to be pulled back in a man bun, I notice. No matter how weird things have been between us lately, there’s no denying the man is hot.

“Hey.” My phone buzzes but it barely registers. He’s a few people ahead of me in line.

“Hey, why don’t you go ahead of me?”

“What?” I say, always quick on the uptake.

“The line’s so long, and I know you have to work early tomorrow, so here — ” He motions to the space in front of him. “I’m letting you get in front of me.”

“Okay.” I cut the line, and when no one cares, relax in front of Reid. That was nice of him.

“So, how are you?” He asks. “At the bar yesterday, you seemed sort of stressed out.”

“Yes, there’s a lot going on.” My phone buzzes again and I see that it’s my cousin Emma. She’s texted me a music play list in advance of the beach bonfire coming up this weekend. “Oh, check it out. My cousin just invited me to a party at Baker this weekend.”

I stare Reid squarely in the face and blurt out, “You want to go?”

“Sure,” he says.

“Cool, what’s your phone number again? I’ll text you.” As he rattles off the digits, I enter them into my phone’s address book. Reid, I think, as I hit save, just said yes to going out with me.

The fast lane cashiers in Trader Joe’s are quick and Reid and I end up walking out at the same time.

“Did you hear they arrested someone? For killing that woman?” Reid asks.

“Yes, I heard.”

“So, there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s over now.”

I smile at him, nod and play along, while I think about what to reveal. He doesn’t know I have Hannah’s phone, or that I saw the man who murdered her just today when he pushed me into Post St.

“Who’s the guy they arrested?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but I saw the picture in the paper and it looks like the same man.”

I nod, and begin to walk away, up the hill to my apartment. “That’s good, right?” Not expecting an answer I keep going. “I’ll text you about the party,” I call out after me.

The older I get, the less and less I understand about men, I swear.

+++   ++   +++

When I wake up the next morning, the first thing I do is get on the computer and update the Librarian Detective blog. I couldn’t stop thinking about the police arresting the wrong man for Hannah’s murder all the way up until I fell asleep.

And then there’s Reid. Why am I keeping developments in the case from Reid? I mean, if he reads my blog, he’ll know what’s really going on anyway, right? Right?!

I like Reid — I’ve always liked Reid, but I have doubts as to whether he’s willing to stand up for me. My mother is right — I need to take a self-defense class.

It’s balmy as promised now that it’s May, and I hope that the weather holds for the beach bash at Baker this weekend. On the walk to work — it’s already the third day of the first week of my new job! — I decide to come clean with Reid about everything, either before the party or this Saturday at Baker Beach.

Later on that afternoon at work, I’m covering the reference desk. I’ve already researched topics for a patron, catalogued some new items, enrolled in a local self-defense class and blogged about the resource. I’ve created a list of new library initiatives and events for members that I’d like to try out, which I’ll present to Julia and Mira.

I want to do some things to get younger people in the library. Not only twentysomethings, but teens, too. As it is, the only young people who come into Mechanics Institute are the after school tweens.

Then out of the blue, I get a text from Laura Taylor. She wants to meet up later, at a coffeehouse near the bar. I quickly reply confirming that I’ll be there.

The girl who I saw last week is in here again today, working on her laptop once again. I’m so curious as to what she’s working on, and commence spying on her again. She has a text editor open, as well as a web browser.

Even though she’s wearing headphones, I notice alerts keep flashing. Then Ben, the director of IT at Mechanics, comes in.

“We’re noticing some strange activity over the network,” he says to me.

“What kind of activity?” I ask.

“We’re also getting warning notifications from a local company called TechTorrent that someone is trying to access unauthorized areas of their code base.”

“Really? From here?”

Ben nods. “Have you noticed any patrons doing anything unusual?”

“Well — yes.” I hate to do it, but I nudge my head in the direction of the kid who’s coding. “The girl over there is coding something.”

I watch as Ben goes over, and lightly taps on the girl’s shoulder. She jerks awake, startled out of concentration, and pulls out her earphones. Ben looks at her screen and starts whispering. As the girl tries to close her laptop, he grabs it.

“What the hell?!” the girl says loudly. Quite inappropriate language for someone so young.

“Come with me,” Ben insists as he takes her computer and motions towards the door. “We have to have a little chat.”

Scowling, the kid gathers her things and follows Ben out the door, presumably down to the IT office on the second floor.

Mira comes over and asks, “What was that about?”

I shrug. “Do you know that kid?”

“Sure — that’s Kat.”

“Ben says she was hacking into some tech company.”

Mira shakes her head in exasperation. “It’s not the first time. Kat’s a computer prodigy, which is amazing, but her renegade attitude is really going to get her in trouble.”

After work, I link to the playlist my cousin Emma sent and start listening. She goes by the handle DJ Sassy, and she’s really good at spinning. She has her own show on Cal radio and everything.

As I near the coffeehouse where I’m meeting Laura Taylor, I remove my ear buds and stow my phone. The upbeat music fades from my brain waves, and the gravity of the police arresting the wrong man for Hannah Taylor’s murder descends.

Laura’s sitting at one of the tables outside, and when I approach, she motions for me to sit down.

“Did you hear?” she asks.

“The police arrested the wrong man,” I tell her.

She grimaces. “So you think that, too.” Laura points at her cup. “Do you want anything?”

“Sure, I’ll have a coffee.”

Laura ducks inside to order, and I glance down Sutter St. The door to the bar is open, and Reid’s standing in it, watching me. And he’s not alone.

 

Readers: What do you think is going on?! What will happen next? Leave a comment below and receive a tip to the next clue.

Also check for clues on PlacingLiterature.com and follow us on Twitter @LibrarianDetect.

READ THE REST OF PART TWO