Countdown to Zero: Four – Territorial Pissings

TROUBLESHOOTER:
Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed

Four – Territorial Pissings

When they came in, they interrupted a conversation Shan was having with a lean Asian cop, Major’s partner. “ … so small, whenever he went out on the ice, me or LeClare went with him,” Shan was saying. “We were the enforcers.” He looked up, and when he saw it was her, he smiled, “Z! I was wondering where you were.”

“Late case,” she said, a vague explanation he knew he’d be content with. The room was small and claustrophobic, nearly filled up by the presence of a cheap metal desk and matching file cabinet, not to mention the two chairs crammed in, and the ill advised fake rubber plant sitting in the far corner. Because Shan and the cop were sitting in the only two chairs, Major had to lean against the wall by the file cabinet, and Z remained standing, which she was more comfortable with anyways.

build2.jpg“I was just talking with Detective Sakai here. Did you know he played hockey in college too?”

Sakai winced in embarrassment, trying to cover it up with a sheepish smile. “Well, I’m Canadian; I think it’s a law. But I was just a left wing, and I wasn’t very good at that. You probably could have kicked my ass all over the ice back then.” He then gave Shan the visual once over, and added, “And now.”

“Case?” Major asked her, giving her a scrutinizing glance.

Z sighed, aware she was just putting her foot in her mouth all over the place tonight. She was usually better than this. Maybe she was tired.

“She’s a private detective,” Shan cheerfully volunteered.

She inwardly groaned, but it was technically true. Still, she knew everyone heard “private detective” and instantly thought of someone who followed cheating spouses, snapping photos of them as they met with their various lovers. Which was only true when she was really hard up for cash. “Yeah, Shane works for me part time.”

Sakai glanced between them, smirking ever so slightly. “Still the enforcer?”

“Eh,” he replied, making a “sort of” wavering gesture with his hand. Z felt like smacking him on the back of the head, but since cops were present, she didn’t.

“So what about the bomb?” Z asked, bringing the conversation back on track.

There was an uneasy silence, the cops exchanging questioning glances, and Z noticed Sakai closing an open file with a mug shot and list of priors in it. She caught the name before he shut it, though: Jackson Steven Rand. “Well, it wasn’t a bomb per se,” Sakai began tentatively. “Not as you would think. It was really an incendiary device.”

“A fire bomb,” Z said, really so Shan didn’t have to ask and feel stupid.

“Exactly. Pretty well made, according to the bomb squad, but not as waterproof as it could have been. The water prevented the device from igniting.”

“So they weren’t trying to blow up the place, just burn it down?” Shan asked, mainly for clarification.

“Apparently so.”

Z gritted her teeth, and crossed her arms tightly over her chest. It made a certain amount of sense that they would leave a firebomb at the scene of a robbery/shooting – burning evidence was one of the cheaper, more successful ways to destroy evidence, assuming you did everything correctly. If you didn’t, you simply got arson added to the list of charges against you.

Of course the question remained why the hell use a firebomb when you could just pour some gasoline around and light it up? Maybe they needed a large, hot fire fast, and wanted to be far from it when it went up. But that begged the question – who the hell was it they shot, and why? What were they after, or more importantly, what were they trying to cover up? Both attempted murder and home invasion didn’t seem firebomb worthy, unless they were over prepared drama queens, but that was unlikely.

“How’s the guy?” Shan asked.

Once more, Sakai and Major exchanged curious glances, a tacit game of “No, you answer him”. “Well,” Sakai said tentatively, clearly the losing man in each and every battle. “Which one? Your assailant did suffer a ruptured testicle, but is otherwise fine ..”

Shan winced at that. “Oh, ouch. No, I meant my neighbor.”

“Mister Gilbert? Last we heard, he was in critical but stable condition. He’ll probably be paralyzed; the bullet lodged in his spine.”

“Shit, that’s horrible.” Shan scrubbed a hand through his hair, making him look about ten years younger than he actually was. “You guys know why?”

Z already knew they’d never answer that question before Major piped up, “Our investigation is still ongoing.” That was cop speak that meant ‘Mind your own fucking business’. How she longed to never deal with these bureaucrats with guns ever again, but she was stuck for the moment.

“I think that means we’re done here now, Shane,” she prompted.

He nodded, and got up from the hard plastic chair. “Yeah, I figured as much.” As soon as he stood, Sakai unfolded himself from his chair, and Shan offered him his hand, which seemed to surprise him for a moment. But he took his hand and shook it, and Sakai told him, “If we have any more questions, we’ll call.”

“Sure. You know where to find me.” He almost offered his hand to Major, but seeing the rather dour look on her face, he just settled on a small, respectful nod, which she returned. It was funny, but naturally you just assumed in the “good cop, bad cop” play, the woman would be the good cop. Stupid gender stereotypes.

As soon as t hey left the office, Shan asked, sotto voce, “Are you gonna hit me?”

“What for?”

“Er, the phone call. And what I said about you being a private detective.”

“Would it keep you from doing it again?”

He thought about that for a moment. “No.”

At least he was honest.

Once they were outside the claustrophobic police station, in the cool, misty night air, she asked, “What do you know about all this?”

“Nothing. The cops didn’t really talk to me, as I’m just a witless after all.” Z wasn’t sure if that was an error on Shan’s part, or a correct assessment of the cops’ attitude towards him. She didn’t dare ask. “All I can tell you is the guy who attacked me was known to them, but they didn’t say how.”

“Probably just a repeat offender. Won’t be too hard to dig up his records, not with my connections.”

He gave her a look that was half skeptical, half amused. “So you’re lookin’ into this?”

“C’mon, Shan, there’s somethin’ crook about all of this. I just wanna make sure it doesn’t come back to bite you on the ass.”

“Crook?”

“Wrong.”

“Ah.” They reached her car, a used 2000 Chevy Cavalier with easily swappable plates (she had a whole duffle bag full of license plates she’d taken from a junkyard, and swapped them periodically for security reasons), and as he looked at her curiously over the roof of the car. Considering all the shit he had been through, he looked remarkably sanguine, but then again, his meds were probably working – they made him so tired he could rarely work up a good emotional reaction to anything. “Why would it bite me on the ass?”

“Because, it may be an old saw, but it’s usually true: no good deed goes unpunished. If you’re lucky, all it will be is testifying in court, which is bad enough.”

He smirked and shook his head. “You’re so cynical.”

“I thought that was part of my appeal.”

“Well … sure. That and the accent.”

She flipped him the bird as she got in the car, and he laughed. But she did wonder if she should just stand back and let the cops do what they did. It was just her natural paranoia making her suspicious of the whole thing, as she was knee jerk suspicious of almost everything, up to and including the convenience store clerk who watched her with great suspicion as she browsed the sodas. So she was a bit nuts – that was hardly a news flash. Maybe just this once, though, she didn’t have to drag Shan through it.



Could you bleed to death from your nose?

Cal didn’t think it was possible, but he’d been swallowing back blood and snot for the better part of two hours now, and it didn’t seem ready to let up. He felt like he was drowning slowly in his own fluids.

And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he had no idea how bad a broken nose could feel. It was like an invisible hand was squeezing his nose in a vice like grip, and it felt as big and solid as an apple. He couldn’t breathe through it either, but the pressure was the worst. It felt like it might pop any second, like an over inflated balloon. He had been holding his head back, holding the blue ice pack to it, but it didn’t really numb it, as it was already pretty numb, save for the overwhelming pressure. It just made the entire center of his face feel cold.

And now, if that wasn’t bad enough, the boss had been giving him the stink eye for the past few minutes, as if he had beaten himself up. “Who the hell was this guy?” The boss demanded once more. “Did he work for Lawson?”

Cal shrugged, even though he knew it would just increase the boss’s wrath. “I don’t know, I didn’t ask him, and he didn’t offer credentials.” He winced at the sound of his own voice – it sounded like he had ears of corn shoved up his nostrils.

The boss’s hateful glare was a sight to behold. In fact, he really wish he had never beheld it, and would stop beholding it sometime soon. “You fucked up, Peters. You fucked up royal.”

“Me? At least I wasn’t caught by the cops, like Jack -”

“Shut the fuck up,” he snarled, his hard blue eyes almost lambent with hate. The sharply chiseled features of his face had so contorted in rage that they looked gaunt, like his skull was trying to push out from beneath the thin flesh. “That shithead Gil is still alive, his apartment is intact and crawling with cops, you couldn’t find the fucking thing, and now Jack is in the hands of the pigs. You know as well as I do he’s gonna bend over for ‘em.”

“No way! Jack’d never roll … “

“Oh yeah? The cops will scare him with attempted murder bullshit, and he’ll fall all over himself to cut a deal. He’s a chickenshit. Lawson’s probably shittin’ himself laughing right now.” The boss tapped his fingers impatiently on the arm of his chair, his scowl getting deeper and deeper, as if it was slicing into his face. ”I want you to find out who the fuck the guy was, and who he works for. And then I want you to burn ‘em both.”

Cal knew he’d heard him clearly, but he wanted to pretend he hadn’t. “Uh … what?”

Not the right tack to take. The boss’s eyes narrowed to slits so tiny, he could barely see them, and his voice lowered to a cool, hard growl. “The fuckin’ goon who beat your ass down, and Rand. Burn them both. I want them gone, as of now.”

He let the blue ice bag fall to his lap, and stared at him in disbelief. “What – right now?”

The reaction took a moment. Cal saw his face redden, saw his knuckles whiten as he gripped the arms of his chair so tightly that it seemed like they might snap, and then finally he roared, “Yes right now, you stupid piece of shit! Burn them or I burn you!”

He wanted to ask why he had to be the one to do it, as he really wasn’t a killer (okay, he shot a guy, but that was totally different), and he had this fucking broken nose to boot, but the boss would honestly kill him – of that, he had no doubt. He might do it anyways.

But as he scrambled to get the fuck out of there, he decided that if he was going down, he was taking those motherfuckers with him. Maybe – just maybe – the boss would spare him after all.

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