Countdown to Zero: Nine – Fade in a Day

TROUBLESHOOTER:
Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed

Nine – Fade in a Day

She called the police from a public phone several blocks away, disguising her voice and just saying she heard gunshots coming from the Cat Club. When the 911 operator asked for more information, she simply hung up. They would show up or they wouldn’t; either way, it was probably done.

She took Shan back to her place, even though it was unlikely the Triad had any interest in cleaning up Fixer’s fuck ups – it just seemed safer, and besides, Shan really didn’t want to go back to his place at the moment.

wall1.jpgZ realized how truly misanthropic she had become when she realized that it felt weird and wrong to have someone else in her place, even if it was Shan. At least Satan seemed to feel the same way, although she generally liked Shan. Christ, she had something in common with a grumpy ass cat – wasn’t this a sign that she should put a gun in her mouth and get it over with?

While Shan sacked out on the couch and fretted, she went in search of a blanket. It was weird that she had just about everything you could name – she even had an old gas mask in her footlocker, epi-pens full of synthetic adrenaline and atropine, but a spare blanket? All she could figure is that she was ready for a personal war, but not something as pedestrian as having a guest over.

By the time she dug one up – it had protected her crossbow in the move – he was already asleep, with Satan perched on his chest, looking like she would pounce on his face if he dared to snore. She tossed the blanket on his legs, and retreated to her bedroom, figuring Satan would alert her if there was trouble. Calicos were pretty vocal about being disturbed, along with being short tempered. (Again, like her. Damn!)

She tried to sleep, but found it difficult. After a few pointless, wasted hours, she decided to hit the all night diner that was just a couple of blocks away. It was almost dawn, so the hung over had mainly gone home or passed out, and while she chased greasy scrambled eggs around her plate, the newspaper was delivered.

She wasn’t terribly surprised by the headline, calling it a “nightclub massacre”, but only three people were shot and killed, which wouldn’t even qualify as a drive-by in the States (no wounded; the three people who were shot were dead by the time the cops showed up, which backed up the fact that they were Triad – the real professionals rarely made mistakes like Dooley had). Of course, with Gilbert’s shooting previously, this was starting to look like a “wave” of violence, but she was sure it was over now. Fixer fucked up and he was dead, end of story. It was unlikely that they even knew about the loose threads that Fixer had left behind, up to and including Dooley, who was probably happy he had turned himself into the cops now. Or maybe not – if the Triad knew he was tied to Fixer somehow, there might be someone in the general prison population who wanted to prove himself to the Triad, and would be leaked his name as a “test”. Still, he was more likely to survive inside than he would have been if he was out and they knew who he was.

None of this bothered her. If you wanted to play in the big leagues, you had to be prepared to face the consequences of failure, and most of those were some variation of torture and death. But she didn’t know how Shan would handle it; he had no familiarity with this part of life. She could hide the paper from him, but he’d find out eventually. How would she break it to him?

Man, it wasn’t her job to break this shit to him. He was an adult, and he could live with it, whether he liked it or not.

She had a couple of bites of her eggs, more of her home fries, paid the bill and left, leaving a substantial tip behind. She was never sure how much she should tip, but she always left a lot, as service jobs were the shittiest jobs you could have, even if you did get paid a decent wage, which you didn’t. She had no idea how anyone could work with the public, day after day, and not kill every single fucking person who gave them shit.

When she got back to her place, the sun was up and shockingly bright, and Shan was up himself, making a mess in her kitchen. “Where do you keep your coffee?” he asked, peering up into an empty cupboard.

“I don’t have any coffee.”

“What? What kind of freak are you? They don’t drink coffee in Australia?”

“They do, but I don’t. I don’t like coffee.” She closed the cupboard, nearly shutting it on his face, and he turned to her with a sad frown. “Does this mean I have to go down to the Tim Horton’s?”

“Probably. Take this with you.” She shoved the newspaper in his hands, and returned to the living room to hang up her coat. When she had finished doing that, he had come into the room, staring down at the front page, losing color in his face.

“Oh shit,” he gasped, sitting down heavily on the couch.

“The good news is we no longer have to worry about the scheme working.”

He looked up at her sharply. “That’s not funny.”

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

She sat on the arm of the nearest chair and waited for more. He finished looking at the paper and folded it up, tossing it on the coffee table like he couldn’t wait to get rid of it. The moment of silence stretched out, the street noises from outside filling the gap, until he asked quietly, “Did we do that?”

“No. Remember how Dooley said we were all dead? Well, they were, yeah. They fucked up a job for the Triad, and believe me, nobody does that twice. Think of them as psychotic capitalists.”

He considered that, resting his chin in his hands, staring at the carpet. “So it wasn’t hyper … hypo …”

“Hyperbole?”

He nodded vigorously. “That, yeah. But how can you be sure?”

“They arrived immediately after Mule delivered the bogus e. They wouldn’t have had time to test it. They just showed up before they could have even called anyone. Dooley said they had to have it by midnight or they were dead. It was after midnight.”

He scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed heavily. “So even if we did nothing, this would have happened?”

“Yeah. We didn’t kill Fixer, Shan; Bennett Gilbert did. That’s what you call irony, or maybe karma. Who the fuck knows?”

Shan didn’t say anything, just looked away, as if the stripes of sunlight on the carpet were suddenly fascinating. The lingering silence was broken by the ring of the telephone, which made them both jump. She let it go to her machine, as she knew exactly who it would be, and Shan looked at her curiously. “Shouldn’t you get that?”

“Hell no, it’s probably Ness.”

“Elliott or Loch?”

She scowled at him, but knew it was a good sign if he could still be a smart ass. “A client, a fucking annoy one. I haven’t had a chance to give him his disc and close the case.”

Shan stood up, rolling the kinks out of his shoulders. “Well, I’m on my way home … it’s safe, right?”

She nodded. “The Triad have no idea who you are.” She’d actually gone by his place and checked it out; there appeared to be no surveillance, and Shan’s apartment looked completely untouched.

“Well, if it’s nearby, I can drop off Ness’s disc if you want, save you the problem from dealing with him.”

“Thanks, but it’s really out of your way.” But she considered it a moment, and asked, “You doing anything in a couple hours?”

“Doubt it. I don’t have to work ‘till eight.”

“Okay. How ‘bout I swing by and pick you up then, and you can help me bug the shit out of him.”

He gave her a thumbs up. “It’s a date. Do I have to dress up special?”

“Just look like a brainless thug.”

“So, normal then?”

She wagged a finger at him like a pent up schoolteacher. “Now now, no self-effacing. You just disarmed a bomb, remember?”

He scoffed, rolled his eyes. “I shoved it in a sink.”

“Still counts.”

“Eh. Thanks for lettin’ me crash on your couch.”

“No problem, but don’t make a habit of it.”

He headed for the door, but she heard his footsteps pause half a minute before he finally asked, “Does it get any easier to live with?”

What did he mean? The fact that people died every day, especially if they were boneheaded, two bit thug types? She had no problem living with it, although that could have been her problem in the first place. To really fight your opponent, you had to know them, and sometimes you became them, which she knew was probably her problem, and the reason she had to leave MI-6 in the first place. But those were more things he didn’t need to know.

“Yeah, it does,” she told him, and hoped, for his sake, it wasn’t a lie.

The End

(Damn, that’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?)

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