Countdown to Zero: Seven – Digging the Grave

TROUBLESHOOTER:
Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed

Seven – Digging the Grave

“Why are we all gonna die?” Z asked wearily, hoping he’d finally say something of value.He scoffed, or possibly choked. Seriously, having all that blood run down your throat wasn’t pleasant. “You know why. We were supposed to get the stuff to ‘em by midnight. Maybe the boss can put ‘em off for a while, but nobody fucks with those guys and lives to tell about it.”

build3.jpgNow that she knew he was just a junkie lackey, it was easy to interpret his vague language: “the stuff” was drugs, and the “boss” was a dealer, although obviously not a dealer powerful enough to be on his own. The “guys” had to be suppliers, or just bigger dealers that the “boss” wanted to ingratiate himself with; possibly mobsters of some variety. “You thought Gilbert had the stuff? Was he one of your boys?”

He made that noise that teenage girls made before they said something obnoxious. “No. He just stole our stuff. We figured the punk ass bitch was working for Lawson, but if you don’t even know who he is … “

“Wait, wait,” Shan said, breaking his tough guy cover for a minute. “Did I phase out, or does this just not make sense?”

“Dave over here is a runner, working for some would be drug baron. Your Boss have a name?”

Dooley looked at her sharply, suddenly suspicious. “You really don’t work for Lawson?”

“I don’t even know who that is. Rival, I’m assuming.”

“Who are you people?”

“Now, if we told you that, we’d have to kill you. As of now, I’ll settle with dismembering you if you don’t start telling me what I want to hear.”

He weighed his odds, tried his cuffs, and realized that things could only get worse from here. “The Boss is known as Fixer.”

“Fixer? You only know him by his street name?”

“It’s the only one I need to know.”

“Uh huh. Where do I find this Fixer?”

Dooley’s eyes bugged out slightly, like he couldn’t believe she’d ask such a question.

“Are you saying my neighbor was a drug dealer?” Shan interrupted.

She hated him breaking the momentum she had going here, but she could hardly be angry at him. “No. He was a runner.”

“No he wasn’t,” Dooley snapped, his voice dripping with equal parts snot and derision. “He was a bitch. He got our stuff – I don’t know how; somebody fucked up – and then he wouldn’t give it back.”

“Tried to freelance, or tried to blackmail?”

Dooley shrugged. “Dunno. We were just sent to get it back.”

“But you didn’t.”

He scowled violently, like the memory was a bad taste in his mouth. “He claimed he’d unloaded it, but if he did, where was all the fucking money? He was lyin’ his fucking face off. I thought a bullet would make him talk, but …”

“You paralyzed him.”

He shrugged, and glanced down at the carpet, embarrassed that he had made such a terrible shot.

“I bet Fixer’s pretty mad.” She knew it was an understatement when she said it, and from the way he seemed to shrink in his chair, it was even worse than she thought. “If you go back without the drugs, and without killing him, you’re a dead man. You know that. You wanna have one more chance at life?”

It took him a moment, but he glanced up warily. “What d’ya want me to do?”

“Turn yourself in to the police; give yourself up. They’re more likely to keep you alive than anyone else.”

He shook his head with increasing vehemence. “No, no, no -”

“That or die. Make your choice.”

It took him much longer than she thought, but he made the decision she expected. Some people were just so predictable.

****

After the cops had taken Dooley away – they took the gun, but she’d never turned over the butterfly knife or the drugs, figuring the existing charges against him would be enough if he lived – she retrieved her clean kit and went up to Gilbert’s apartment, to see if she could find what Dooley and Rand had never bothered to look for.

It didn’t take long.

That was why you never had amateurs toss a place. They stuck to the script, and couldn’t think around a problem. Assuming Gilbert didn’t have the drugs, and assuming he didn’t have money indicating its sale, he had to have put the drugs somewhere. Although he’d revealed himself to be an idiot by keeping the drugs in the first place, that just made him greedy. You had to be a true moron to keep your contraband in your place if there was the slightest chance the true owners might come back for it.

Rand and Dooley had made a royal mess of the place, turning over his mattress and dumping his dresser drawers on the floor, but they had only been looking for the stuff. It looked like they had just checked out the medicine chest and looked under the bathroom sink, but that was all. She looked in the toilet tank, and found a small key taped to the underside of the lid.

It was a key from the local bus station, a couple of blocks from here. A bus station locker? Very ‘50’s, and not very secure, but it probably was only a temporary solution. He probably did have some plan to sell it himself, the deal just hadn’t gone down yet.

Shan was waiting impatiently at the base of the stairs when she came down. “I knew it. I knew you were going to do it.”

“I did, and I know where the stuff is.” She held up the key.

He examined it for a moment, and then asked, dumbfounded, “The bus station?”

“Locker 57-A.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s on the key.”

“Oh.” He scratched his head, still absorbing it all, and then added, “Well, come on, let’s go. The suspense is killing me.”

There was no point in arguing with him, and besides, she knew she might be able to use his help.

No bus station was ever in a good part of town, and this one was no exception, a demarcation line between the efficient downtown core and the area that wasn’t so much depressed as ground underfoot. After midnight, even though the bus station remained lit up and technically open, the area took on a sharper, more dangerous air that sunlight would reveal as pathetic. She was surprised at how many people were actually in the station, but several of them appeared to be homeless people and runaways who had simply sacked out in the hard plastic chairs that filled the “waiting area”.

They headed back to the lockers, a separate area close to the loading bay, and it was just two walls of lockers painted barn door red that looked like high school gym surplus. She found the locker easily, and it opened with just a small punch – why did all these bloody lockers jam?

Maybe he was unconcerned about theft for a good reason: all that was inside was a Pee-Chee, the kind kids took to school. And not even a new one, a clearly used one, with doodles and obnoxious words scrawled on the covers in pen, the fold ragged from use. Inside were several sheets of paper, and when the covering sheet was removed, it revealed itself to be several sheets of thin, perforated paper, covered with big block letter E’s in neon green ink.

“That’s it?” Shan asked, sounding disappointed. “Doesn’t seem like much.”

“No, but we have no idea what the street value is. Even at twenty bucks a hit, you can almost pay your rent.” She counted the sheets before tucking the folder under her arm. “I bet there’s some missing.”

“Think he did sell some?”

“Possibly. Maybe used some as well.” But what did he do with the money from the sale? Did he hide that somewhere else as well?

As far as Dooley could be trusted, this was a new kind of e (ecstasy). It was in a liquid form, allowing it to be impregnated in paper, like this, making it blotter e as opposed to blotter acid. It was easier to control dosage this way, and much easier to smuggle – at least for now – as no one was looking for ecstasy in a paper form. Fixer was supposed to deliver it to someone called Tang as a “test”, but it was a test he’d failed in a major way.

As they left the bus station, Shan asked, “What now?”

“Now we find a copy place.”

“Er, you said coffee place, right?”

“No – copy. Then I plan to pay a visit to someone.”

Shan looked briefly confused, then totally horrified. “Oh no! You can’t be thinking of doing what I think you are.”

“Knowing me, I probably am.” From the look he gave her, he didn’t appreciate that response. “If you want to sit this part out, I don’t blame you. But go to my place for tonight, okay? You still got the spare key? Just in case Dooley shared your whereabouts with anyone.”

That stopped his snit before it could properly start. “You really think they might try to kill me?”

“We’re dealing with petty criminals here, emphasis on the petty. They could and might do any damn thing. But don’t worry about it – pretty soon, Fixer will be history.”

The word “crestfallen” wasn’t thrown around much these days, but sometimes there was no other applicable word. And crestfallen was the only word that described his expression. “Are you gonna … you’re not gonna …” he made vague hand gestures that meant nothing, but could have symbolized his inability to find the word – or say it.

“Don’t worry, Shan. These guys are like sharks. They scent blood in the water, and they will tear the weak to pieces. They expect betrayal, and one generally begets another, so they look for a patsy they can take it out on. I’m going to give them just that.”

He weighed that a moment, his glance not so much scrutinizing as it was scouring. The night was cool, and threatening rain, which she thought would be good cover. Few people passed them by on the sidewalk, and those that did paid them no attention at all. “You weren’t really a cop, were you?”

She shrugged, refusing to answer the question, but she was honestly surprised that it had taken him this long to come to that conclusion. “Come on, we have some work to do.”

She turned her back on him to unlock her car, and he asked quietly, “Are you ever going to tell me anything? Your real name even?”

“Some things are better off dead.”

“Including you?”

She swung open the passenger door for him, and said, “Especially me.”

The look on his face was so heartbreaking, she knew he’d never understand. And that’s why she could never tell him the truth. There really were some things you were just better off not knowing, whether he wanted to believe that or not.

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