Thousand Words for January 16, 2018

As Bill and Soren approached the end of the short corridor, Bill pulled out his wallet and retrieved a plastic card. Then he unclipped his casino ID from the inside of his suit jacket. “You got your DL?” he asked, but Soren was already ahead of him. Bill placed his casino ID against a flat plate; there was a click, and he pushed a door open and held it for Soren. He closed it and they were in a featureless anteroom. Cameras at the high top corners of the room moved, and then a speaker came on. The voice uttered a single word: “Code.”
Bill looked up and answered back. “Tulip.”
The only answer was a second click, and Bill again pushed open the door, this time at the other end of the anteroom. Soren passed through and gave his driver’s license to the uniformed security officer sitting at a desk. Beside him, another uniformed officer, standing, held what looked like a machine gun, its barrel down; Soren couldn’t help but notice that the man was wearing a bulletproof vest around his massive upper body.
“How you doing, Mr. Hayes?” The seated officer said as he took the proferred cards.
“Good,” Bill responded.
The officer was inspecting the cards–evidently more than just a cursory glance–then passed them under a laser scanner. There was a chime, and the officer handed the cards back. Then he picked up Soren’s license. “Sir, I’ll need you to fill out the next empty line on this form and sign here, please.” Soren did as he was asked, and when he was done, the agent held out his card. “All right, gentlemen, you may proceed.” The officer who was standing stepped aside and Bill moved to the door that he had been standing in front of. Soren followed him; they passed through and into a large, dimly lit, heavily carpeted room. It took a moment for Soren’s eyes to adjust, and then he perceived the twelve or so persons seated in front of computer monitors around the circumference and the two large island stations in the center of the room. These were raised above floor level; they commanded a view of the entire room over the tops of the heads of the operators. The room was unusually cool, Soren noticed, and he moved along with Bill without knowing precisely where they were going.
“Bill!” a voice called, and the two of them moved toward it.
“Yeah, Johnny,” Soren heard Bill answer back. When they had arrived at Johnny’s station, he swung two wheeled chairs around from the next station, which was unoccupied. “Johnny Williams,” Bill said as they sat down, “this is Soren Roshwald, my friend from the CCHS.”
Soren shook the extended hand. “Good to meet you.”
“Bill here tells me you want to see some video,” Johnny said. “Well, we got lots of it, that’s for sure,” he laughed.
“Yeah,” Soren said. He was a little uncomfortable; he expected to be asked the $64,000-question at any moment: why? But nobody asked him that. “I walked through the casino on Monday morning. I passed a gentleman at a slot machine, and then after I passed him, I believe I recognized him from some of my work.” That was what he had decided to offer.
“Monday, that would have been the 21st,” Johnny said as he manipulated the mouse. The view on his monitor changed to a floor map of the casino’s gaming area. “Okay, Soren, where was this fellow, exactly?”
Soren peered at the map, orienting himself to it. “I entered here,” he pointed, and walked along here.” He tried to recall which bank of slots the man had been seated at–he had been pointed away from Soren as he approached and came into his view only as a result of the continually curving passageway, so that was some help to him as he tried to retrace his steps. He pointed to a spot on the screen. “Somewhere in here, I think.”
“Can you give me a time?”
Soren’s appointment to talk about apples had been at 9:30 that morning, and he was characteristically ten minutes early for it. He calculated backward. “Should have been about 9:15, no earlier than 9:12, I think.”
“Okay,” Johnny said. “Let’s try it from about here.” He clicked the mouse and an image from three cameras filled quadrants of the display; the fourth was a smaller version of the floor plan that had previously occupied the entire screen. Each of the view quadrants had an identical time index on the bottom, which clicked away in lockstep. The indexes had started at 9:12:04 and were counting up from there. Johnny froze all three screens at 9:14:17. “Okay this camera is seeing the passage here,” he pointed, and Soren realized that unless he had badly misinterpreted the floor plan, he should see himself stride right through the middle of that view on his way to where he saw the man. “Then we should see your fellow here or here. This view shows this bank of slots,” Johnny pointed, and this view shows this bank. See?”
“Yeah, I got it,” Soren said.
Johnny turned the feed on again and the time index began moving forward. Soren watched all three quadrants intently. A woman playing slots was visible on the Quadrant 2 view; an older man walked slowly away from the camera to go out through the door that Soren had come in through.
As the indexes move clicked into 9:18, Soren saw what he was looking for on Quadrant Three. The man–his man–stepped into view, stopped, his wrist came up as if he were checking the time, then he sat down at the slot machine where Soren had seen him on Monday.
“That’s your guy, isn’t it?” Johnny said.
“Yep.”
Johnny stopped the feed again, and his man was frozen at index 9:18:11. “Look, I don’t know what this is about, but this guy is exactly the sort of cat were up here looking for,” he said. Soren didn’t understand, and Johnny looked over to Bill. “Did you see it?”
“Um-hmm,” Bill said. “Roll it back a little.” Johnny did so, and the figure moved in reverse, reassuring his standing position and again looking at his watch. “Okay, now forward at quarter speed.” Then man moved with glacial slowness now; the hand came up, but Soren only this time noticed that he didn’t look down at it. “See how he wants us to think he’s looking at a watch, but he doesn’t actually look? That’s a counter’s trick.” Now the figure was sitting down. Even at half speed, the movement was irregular and too fast by half. “Yeah, something’s fishy here,” Johnny said.
“He could just be awkward, but this is the kind of thing we look for,” Bill said. The index continued, and in a moment, Bill and Johnny both snorted. “Gotcha!” Johnny said, and he turned around, leaning back in his chair. “He’s a lookout,” Johnny said with authority.
Soren was puzzled–what had they seen?–but Bill explained it. See how he’s digging around in his pockets after he’s sat down? Honest people don’t do that because they anticipate. This guy doesn’t know what he’s going to do from moment to moment. He just pretending for the camera.”
“Really?” Soren said.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, you never really know. Much of the way human beings behave is–”
Soren interrupted him, pointing at Quadrant One. “There I am,” he said. The video was still at quarter speed, and Johnny left it there. As the three of them watched, Soren made slow plodding steps along the passageway. In Quadrant Three, the man was now raising his hand to the coin slot and feeding coin one-handed into the machine. Soren continued his slow march along the passage and off the screen. A moment or two went by, and Soren stepped into the Quadrant Three view; he marched through it and his head turned in the direction of the man sitting at the slot machine and just about to press the button to play the machine. Soren occluded him for a moment, and then he was past and the machine’s tumblers–they were actually animations on a computer screen–were moving at slowly. The tumble stopped, and the man’s arm came up to touch the activation button again.

 

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