Countdown to Zero: Three – Enter, Chased By A Bear

TROUBLESHOOTER:
Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed
Three – Enter, Chased By A Bear

Z hated corporate espionage cases. She especially hated ones where she had to pretend to be a temp.

Pretending to be a janitor was much more preferable, as no one in an office ever gave them a second glance. Office peons felt superior to the clean up crew, just like the CEO felt superior to all his workers. It was a nice little tree of ever grown contempt, from the janitors on the bottom to the corporate board at the very top, and everybody hated those above and below them in equal measure. At least it was the class system in action.

cab.jpgThe client assumed she’d go in as a temp, but she went ahead and pulled out the right colored jumpsuit and pretended to be on the janitorial staff, and only a pudgy weasel in a loud tie noticed she was new, and that was only because he tried to hit on her. She would have rather been mauled by a bear, and told him so. After standing there several seconds, trying to formulate a response in the recesses of his sluggish synapses, the best he could do was call her, “Bitch!” Wow, so original – she hoped he wrote that down for future reference.

She tossed her folded up janitorial on the couch, and then tossed the disc she smuggled out on top of it, but far more carefully. At least this bloody assignment was over, and she could look forward to a big fat check. And even then, she wasn’t sure it was worth it just to nail some pissant corporation for knocking off someone else’s designs.

She picked up the remote from her coffee table and turned on her stereo, not sure what she had left in the cd player. She was reminded as soon as the sarcastic, angry strains of “American Jesus” started coming through the speakers, and counterintuitively, the noise was rather soothing to her. Other people being angry seemed to give her a break from having to do it.

She saw her machine light blinking, but figured it was her client, and went to the kitchen to get a tea first. God, she couldn’t wait to give Ness his fucking disc. The guy nagged more than a fucking stallion, like he could do her job better. If he could, why didn’t he just fucking do it then? Because he was a fat, lazy prick? She had no idea why she wasn’t yet inured to working for pricks – her life had been overflowing with them.

She gulped down half her bottle of kiwi tea – too damn sweet; so why did she keep drinking the stuff? Did they spike it with opium or something? – and felt the handle of the utility knife she kept in her boot digging into her ankle. She pulled it out and tossed it on the counter before she went to the fridge and retrieved the leftover Mongolian beef from the night before last. Who knew Canada would have such great Chinese places? If she had the money, she’d eat nothing but Chinese food, the spicier the better. Okay, technically it wasn’t exactly like food the Chinese actually ate – she had yet to come upon a menu with snake meat as an option – but when it was so good, you didn’t quibble.

She nuked the leftovers, searched empty drawers and cupboards until she found a fork, then ate as she went back into the living room, mentally arguing with herself over whether she should finish her dinner first, or listen to her messages and risk losing her appetite. She got irritated watching the blinking light, so she decided to risk it.

She sat on the couch and tuned out the telephone solicitor, and Ness “just checking in” (she’d be so happy to give him his disc, take her check, and tell him to suck her dick), but was surprised back to full awareness by Shan’s voice. She liked to tease him that he sounded like the white Barry White on the phone, but he did, in a way. Maybe it was a gender thing, but she found her own voice sounded higher pitched on the phone, while his sounded deeper, and yet in person, her voice wasn’t that bad, and his wasn’t that velvety. Just one of those things, she supposed.

He was talking really fast – was he overdosing on energy drinks again? – but when he mentioned “bomb”, she really started paying attention. Did he really say that? Apparently so, and it got worse. She set aside her dinner, and grimaced as he said he was going to try and short it out – she wished he’d had the time to describe the type of explosive he was dealing with. It was possible to short some types of bombs out with water, especially if it was made poorly or on the cheap, but a short was more likely to cause a premature detonation than shut it down.

But Shan proved he had that special kind of luck that only belonged to the completely clueless, and the bomb didn’t detonate. To her, that meant it was probably so poorly made it wasn’t going to go off anyways, whether he dumped it in water or not, but she didn’t want to kick the shit out of his triumph.

He never brought a girl home to meet his parents? Why? Was he that embarrassed of his parents, that much of a player, or a combination? He could be bi and not completely comfortable with it; it might explain why he worked so many gay clubs.

Oh well, whatever, didn’t matter. She gulped down the rest of her tea, then went back to the kitchen and found her phone book. If Shan wasn’t injured – and it didn’t sound like it – he’d probably be pulled, taken to the nearest cop shop as a material witness for questioning. He might even be a minor suspect until they got it all worked out. She thought she’d seen one not too far from Shan’s place, and the phone book confirmed it: there was a PD a mile and a half from his apartment, and that’s probably where they took him.

She tried to remember the last time she was in a cop shop, and she suspected it was way back, in some official capacity or another. That was enough to make her shudder.

*****

They tried to dress it up, make it look nice, but under the fresh paint and behind the low growing junipers, it was a depressing as all fuck cinderblock police station that could never look nice, no matter how hard it tried. It gave off an air of oppression and depression, and she could imagine the smell of industrial grade coffee, fax toner, and body odor before she even stepped in the door. It was amazing how most cop shops smelled alike, no matter where they were.

It was brightly lit in that unflattering florescent way, and basically a roughly organized clutter of desks topped with boxy computers, and, almost anachronistically, a couple of perps who looked like they had nodded off while handcuffed to bolted benches. You could barely here the guy in the drunk tank with the DT’s hollering about the spiders over the clicks of keyboards, the ringing of phones, and the murmur of voices. The guy manning the front desk had the hangdog look of a basset hound, and gave her a sleepy eyed glance as she came in. “May I help you, ma’am?” He said politely.

Whenever anyone called her “ma’am”, she had to bite back an insult. She had no idea why – it was just one of those things too. “I think you’ve got a friend of mine here. Shane Shanahan?”

He consulted his computer. “Do you know what he was brought in for?”

“Material witness. There was a shooting and attempted bombing at the Sun Hill apartments on Royal Road? He called it in.”

The cop looked back at her in surprise, a new light flaring briefly in his eyes. “Oh, him!” A lot of people said this when it came to Shan. She suspected people said the same thing about her when she was mentioned. There was something about that pair of them that most people just found so damn bizarre that they felt they required exclamation points. “How do you know about that?”

“He called me while waiting for you guys to show up.”

The cop with the deep bags beneath his eyes consulted a piece of paper on his desk, lips twisting as he scanned the page. “You Dee Markham?”

“Z, Z as in zebra, Markham. Yes.”

His brown eyes appraised her in that impersonal cop fashion as he picked up the phone. “He said you might be coming for him.”

Shan may have been guileless, but he was no fool.

Officer Bassett Hound pushed a button for an internal line, then wedged the receiver against his ear. “Major? Markham’s here for Shanahan.” After that terse statement, he hung up, and told her, “A detective will be out in a moment.” He then turned back to his computer, pretending to work, but she suspected he was playing solitaire.

After two minutes of waiting and guessing what the cuffed perps were pulled for (the guy with the track marks on his emaciated arms was an easy guess – narcotics, probably possession, possibly stoned and unruly in public, with twenty to one odds of trafficking. But the guy in the flannel shirt and slacks looked relatively clean. Domestic violence? Well, it looked like he had a type of mullet, so maybe…) a female cop came out of the back. She was about an inch shorter than Z, no more than a hundred and twenty five pounds, and wearing a rather bland dark blue pantsuit and white blouse that plainclothes cops of either sex were generally known for. She wore her badge on her belt right now, though, so the whole cop thing was a dead giveaway anyways.

She had shoulder length chestnut hair, held back in an almost painfully tight bun, a style that did not flatter the blunt plains of her diamond shaped face. While not homely, she wasn’t wildly attractive either, and she was one of those women who had no figure at all – she was as straight as a rail, flat as a board, and many other hardware store analogies. She was the type you could accidentally mistake for a man from the back, as long as her hair wasn’t in some unnecessarily elaborate, female style. Her eyes were a pale, unremarkable blue, and as they scanned her, Z saw she kept her jaw tight. Humorless? Good bet there. She hoped she hadn’t beaten Shan to death with her nightstick. “Markham?” Z simply nodded, as it really wasn’t a question. “I’m Detective Constable Terry Major. My partner and I brought Mr. Shanahan in.”

She offered her hand in a perfunctory manner, and after pretending she didn’t know what she wanted for a couple of seconds, she shook her hand briskly, giving it a brief, hard squeeze before slipping her hand free. “So how’s he doing?”

She considered that, clearly deciding on how much she should say and how she should put it. “He was a little shaken up at first, which is to be expected, but he wasn’t physically harmed.” Detective Major (Z couldn’t wait until she made Sergeant) paused, and glanced around before leaning closer and whispering, “Is he, uh …” she pointed at her temple, as if that was supposed to mean something.

But Z knew what she was getting at. It was the same fucking thing everybody inevitably asked if they hadn’t met Shan before, and he had the misfortune to have a seizure or a spell of malapropism or inappropriate pausing around them. She glared at her, not bothering to hide her contempt. “Retarded, is that what you’re asking me?” She said it in a normal voice, but Major recoiled in horror, as if she had shouted.

“No, I just meant -”

“He suffered a severe head injury several years ago that almost killed him and left him in a coma for two months. Unlike that bint in Kill Bill, he didn’t come back quite the same. He has petit mal seizures that cause him to freeze up for minutes at a time, and the language center of his brain sustained some kind of damage that sometimes leaves him slipping up or grasping at words. Does that answer your question? I’m sorry he wasn’t wearing his “Hi, I’m Brain Damaged!” t-shirt.”

Major tried damn hard to hide her embarrassment, while at the same time annoyance flashed through her eyes, probably because she didn’t like that last second addition of sarcasm. “I see. That’s too bad. It’s a relief in a way – Dan thought he might be stoned.”

Z had to swallow back an insult that she knew would get her arrested. The odds were a Canadian cop would understand Aussie slang more than an American cop, since they both had Britain – source of most decent curses – in common. “Can I see him?”

Major made a show of thinking about it before simply saying, ”This way,” and pivoting smoothly on her heels. Z thought about mimicking her stiff cop gate, ala Groucho Marx, but the humor would be wasted on everybody, and might earn her a beat down. And since she hadn’t said “Walk this way”, the “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need after-shave” joke just wouldn’t work.

The cop led her towards a back office, where they were probably keeping Shan more or less isolated so they could question him in private, without the word bomb being tossed about. But didn’t she just say bomb at the front desk?

Shit. If Shan had just earned her a trip into the box, she was going to kill him.

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