Countdown to Zero: Eight – Goodbye Sober Day

TROUBLESHOOTER:
Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed

Eight – Goodbye Sober Day

The good thing about knowing a bouncer wasn’t just that he knew other bouncers, it was that he also knew a lot of bartenders.

In spite of the shifts in society, and the shift in the job, people still talked a lot to bartenders, especially the ones who worked until last call. They were like priests, only there was less chance that they would molest you, especially if you were underage.

builds.jpgShan knew this bartender named Malik who worked a real dive called Charlie’s, the type of place where the scum of the earth circled the drain before being actually flushed away. As a result, he was connected to most of the questionable activities in the city, and knew the perfect guy for them: Mule.

Obviously that wasn’t his real name, but it might as well have been, as that was all anybody knew him by. He sometimes conducted drug deals in the grungy men’s bathroom of Charlie’s, and was known to do any damn thing for money. He looked like a junkie; he might as well have well have worn a sign to that effect. His black hair was always unkempt, going off in several different angles as if trying to escape from his scalp by any means necessary, and while his center mass was kind of bloated (not doughy so much as slightly distended), his limbs were wasted away, stick thin little things that often made him look like the human equivalent of an avocado seed balanced on toothpicks. His eyes were hollow pits in his face, rimmed with dark circles like bruises, his lips like thin pink worms that had chosen an unusual place to die. He wore seven earrings in his left ear, three in his right, a nose stud, and had a tattoo on the side of his neck, black flames shooting out from beneath his collar. He slouched about in clothes that hung off him like muumuus, usually lost beneath a brown fleece lined jacket that was at least two sizes two big, and even though no one really questioned his hygiene, it looked as if he had an odor.

Z told Shan everything he had to say, and Shan was very good at both sticking to the script, and committing to the material. He pretended to be Dooley (Mule was more familiar with the big guys on the scene rather than the dime a dozen runners), and gave Mule a fifty along with the “package”, which was just the Pee-Chee inside a sealed manila envelope. He told him to deliver it to Fixer ASAP, and let him know he couldn’t bring it in because he was afraid he’d picked up a tail at the apartment, and wanted to shake him off or go low if he had to. Mule was enough of a professional that he didn’t ask about any of that; you quickly learned in this world that the less you knew, the more likely you were to get away clean. Ignorance wasn’t so much bliss as it was a survival tool. Shan kept looking around, pretending to be impatient and paranoid, which was par for the course – in fact, if he hadn’t have been obviously anxious, Mule would’ve never bought the story. Before she’d sent him in, she got the first aid kit out of the glove compartment and taped up his nose, using some cotton to bulk it up so it looked swollen. It was unlikely the detail of a broken nose would be mentioned by either party, but it was little details like that could make or break an operation.

The fifty bucks was guarantee of quick delivery, as Mule probably wouldn’t make that much pawning dime bags in the toilet for the length of time he would be gone, and besides, it was about closing time. Shan made the transaction and got out, and Malik pretended he didn’t know him.

She was in the bar, presumably asking directions, five minutes earlier, surreptitiously making sure Shan got off to a good start. He did fine, and she had no idea why she was concerned, as he was a hell of an actor when he put his mind to it.

She waited in the car for him, parked illegally in front of the curb across the street (there were no cops in this area at this time of night – or ever), and it started pissing rain, the heavy drops beating the roof like angry drunks, causing the dreary building that housed Charlie’s to nearly disappear behind a veil of precipitation, only the glow from the “On Tap” sign cutting the gloom. It would make following Mule harder, but it would also obscure them from him. And she really didn’t need to see him, because Mule could only be heading one place – Fixer’s base of operations. It was only four blocks from here; she actually drove past it on their way here to get a better look at it.

She started the car to get the heat going, figuring Shan couldn’t be much longer, and put on some Soul Coughing, which always seemed like the ideal “stakeout in the rain” soundtrack. She also pulled out her handgun from under the seat, making sure it was ready to go. She doubted there would be trouble, but you always had to be ready.

She had a Browning Hi-Power Mark III, which was a gun about as idiot proof as the Glock that Dooley was carrying, but hers was a .40 caliber with delayed blowback, and Browning’s were much less likely to jam or misfire than the Glocks that had flooded the American market and seeped up here. Unlike Dooley, if she had to shoot someone tonight, her shot would be good.

She saw a dark figure emerge from the bar, and just by the size and the shape of him, she knew it was Shan. He raced over to the car and jumped in the passenger side, shaking his wet hair like a dog, and she cursed at him as she wiped the new water off her face. “Did ya have to do that?”

“Sorry, it was getting in my eyes,” he said, as he proceeded to rip the bandages off his nose. “God, this was driving me crazy.”

“Go okay?”

“Oh yeah, easy as pork and beans.”

She assumed that was his malapropism rearing its head again, but she couldn’t figure out for the life of her what words were supposed to be in place of pork and beans. Maybe it was an American thing.

It was several minutes before Mule headed out in the rain, slouching beneath his heavy coat, under which he hid the package, both from rain and from view. She watched him walk up the block and disappear around the corner, and she was in no hurry to follow him. Not only did she know where he was going, but it was always good to let someone on foot get far ahead of you if you were following them via car (not ideal, and not what she preferred, but it would make them less conspicuous, and give them a quick out if things went remarkably bad), as you could catch up to them so fast as to make the observant suspicious.

Shan phased out for a couple of minutes, which was cool with her, as she was able to drive to Fixer’s location in relative silence, and park across the street in a fast food outlet parking lot. Shan was back by the time she was killing the lights. She had beaten Mule here by three and a half minutes.

“Well, it’s nice to know this guy’s classy,” Shan said, as Mule ducked inside the Cat Club, a seedy strip joint with a lurid neon sign that seemed blurred in the rain, an incoherent burst of color.

She imagined that Fixer fancied himself some kind of Soprano, working out of a strip club, but it was just pathetic, the mark of a wannabe gangster. “In a way, he is. That’s a sad name for a strip club.”

“I’ve seen a lot of clubs with that name.” After an awkward pause, he added, “Not that I go to strip clubs, mind you, but -”

She didn’t care. “Why do strip clubs feel the need to be coy? Everybody knows what they are. Is the name Pussy Galore copyrighted?”

Shan seemed mildly shocked, and was trying hard not to laugh. “What?”

“There are other names. The Beaver Dam. Cooch Country Corral. Tits-O-Rama. The Bearded Clam. Jug Hut.” Shan was laughing so hard at this point that she could barely hear herself talk, so she stopped and waited for him to get over it.

He flailed his hands helplessly in a surrender gesture, taking a moment to catch his breath as his face turned a mild but slightly alarming shade of red. “Stop, stop.” He wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, and asked, “Are all Australians like you?”

“One would hope not, but probably.” The rain was intense enough that she had to pull out her binoculars to get a good look at the front door. In a minute or two, Mule headed back out into the night, pulling his oversized coat over his head to protect him from the torrent.

“So what now?”

“Nothin’. I’m just waitin’ to make sure there’s no flurry of activity in the next few minutes. If they think or know they’ve been screwed, it’ll look like a swarm of ants after their hill has been kicked over.”

“Have you done this before?”

“I’m guessin’.” Beneath the cover sheet was a real sheet of blotter e; the rest beneath were copies, harmless paper. She assumed they’d test the drugs from the top sheet to make sure it was the real deal; if they chose one at random, they’d know they’d been had. But she was hoping they were creatures of habit as much as anything else.

“Uh huh.” Shan didn’t sound convinced. He let a minute go by, the rain pattering a hard tattoo that almost sounded like music, and asked, “C’mon, it wouldn’t kill you to tell me your real name. Just one of them.”

She sighed, but kept her binoculars trained on the Cat Club. Didn’t look like there was anything amiss yet. As long as he tried to market it, he would hang himself with her rope. He’d be selling bogus e, and no one liked a drug dealer who tried to pass off phony shit. He’d never recover from passing fake drugs; his name would mean less than shit, and he’d probably be lucky to avoid hospitalization. That would teach him to fuck with her friends. “Let it go.”

‘Oh, come on!” he protested. “Throw me a bone over here.”

“You wanna bone, go in the Cat Club.”

“Ha ha. You know what I mean.”

“I’m reserving the right to not incriminate myself.”

“Are you on a wanted list, is that it?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t checked on the internet for a while.”

He scowled at her, giving her a look that would have melted stone, but she just ignored him. His evil bouncer look didn’t work on her. Finally he threw up his hands, exasperated, and said, “Fine. What about your family?”

“What about them?”

“Are they in Australia?”

“I imagine so.”

“You close to them?”

“No.” What was this, twenty questions?

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“Sister.”

“Hey, great! So what does she do? Where does she live?”

“No idea. Haven’t talked to her in twenty years.” She could look it up if she wanted to, with her connections she could unearth Cass in ten minutes, but she had no desire to do so. Besides, Cass had probably been handed the official story, that she had died in a plane crash in Japan, and that was that. She seriously hoped no one had had a funeral for her; she hated those damn things.

He made a rude noise with his lips. “You’re estranged from everybody, is that it?”

“I’m not easy to get along with.”

“No, really?” He shook his head and looked away out the windshield, just as an odd car started coming down the block. It was a recent model BMW, as black as a beetle’s carapace, with tinted windows so she couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the driver. The engine was so well tuned it didn’t so much hum as purr, and as it turned into the parking lot of the Cat Club, all she heard was the crunch of its tires on wet gravel.

Shan whistled low. “Nice car.”

“Too nice.” The club was technically closed, but a few cars were still scattered about the parking lot like dead leaves, and they were almost all beaters. Not only that, but no one smart drove a car that nice into this part of town, unless they really weren’t concerned with its safety. She focused her binoculars on the car, and saw who got out.

It was three Chinese men, in suits that were too well tailored to be off the rack, and two of them were as big as Shan, and muscular enough that they could have been wrestlers, but she knew them for what they were: professional muscle. They escorted the smaller of the men into the club, sticking to him like a shadow. “Holy shit.”

“Those guys are way overdressed,” Shan noted. “Tourists?”

She shook her head. “Shit, Shan, I may have fucked up here.”

“How? Do you know those guys?”

“No, but I think I know they’re type. They’re Triad.” The mobsters Fixer was trying to get an “in” with were actual, genuine mobsters, not wannabes like him. If she was right, not only had his reach far exceeded his grasp, but she had just set him to take a major fall. How was she supposed to know? The Triad was mainly into the opium based drugs, but like any business, they were allowed to branch out.

“Triad? Uh, Chinese mob guys, right?”

“That’s them.”

“You do remember this is Canada, right?”

“We’re on the Pacific Rim, West Coast. You’re more likely to run into a Yakuza or a Triad than a Cosa Nostra.” She grimaced, and lowered the binoculars, eventually folding them up and tossing them on the dashboard. “I think we’d better get the hell out of here.”

He scratched his head. “You can identify them on sight?”

“They’re dressed like a million dollars in a part of town you couldn’t get a buck fifty for – that’s a major tip off.” She started the car, and wondered if this would make the papers tomorrow.

“So … did we succeed?” Shan wondered, as she pulled out of the lot.

“Hell if I know,” she replied, not really wanting to find out.

But at the intersection at the top of the street, she swore she could hear the muffled, distant pop of a gunshot.

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