Countdown to Zero: Two – Optimistic

Countdown to Zero
by Andrea Speed
Two – Optimistic

It was a weird looking bomb. Wasn’t it supposed to have some kind of explosive on it? Well, maybe it did; maybe those canisters were full of plastique or something. Maybe it wasn’t even a real bomb, just something that kind of looked like one.

He dialed 911, glad that Canada had that too, and turned on the taps full blast, putting the plug in the sink. What the hell was he doing? Sometimes his mind was even a mystery to him.

harbor.jpgEven if he picked this guy up and managed not to accidentally kill him while doing so, they wouldn’t get far in the time they had left. And what about the other people in the apartment building? Not to mention all his stuff was downstairs, and he didn’t want to lose his stuff. God, he wished Z was here – she would know what to do.

If he could short circuit the bomb, it might not go off, or it might go off prematurely, but with forty seconds to detonation, it probably didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. “9-1-1. What is the nature of your emergency?” A clipped, ultra professional female voice asked.

“Well, for starters, my neighbor has been shot. He’s bleeding all over the place.”

“Do you know where he’s been shot?”

“Back, I think. I don’t see any exit or entrance wounds in the front, and all the blood seems to be coming out from under him.” He was honestly astonished at how cool and professional he sounded to himself. Z really must have rubbed off on him in a big way, because he felt like he was channeling her. And he must have been, because he was sure normally he’d be hysterical. Maybe so much hideous crap happening at once just overloaded you and focused your attention like a laser. It was be Data or be absolutely useless.

“What’s your location?”

“The Sun Hill apartments, 123 Royal Road, apartment … oh shit, what is this … apartment 22-B, I think.”

“Do you know who shot him?”

“One of two guys who are probably still bleeding at the bottom of the stairwell.”

“They were shot as well?”

“No. They … fell.” Okay, he threw one over the stairs, and probably ruptured the testicle of another, but he was rapidly running out of time. “Look, I’m sorry, I have to go. It looks like there’s a bomb here as well.”

That cracked through her professional courtesy. “Did you say a bomb?”

“Yeah. Nice talking to you.” He disconnected, and hit the speed dial button that connected him to Z. Only, after two rings, he connected to her machine. “This is Markham. If you know who I am, you know what to do.” Markham was her new last name, adopted with such ease he wondered if Stark was actually her real last name. The only thing she had told him was, “I haven’t used my real name in so long, I don’t think I know what it is anymore.” He assumed she was joking, but sometimes with her it was hard to tell.

After the beep, he said, “If you’re there, Z, I really need you to pick up.” He paused for two seconds, and started turning off the taps, as the sink was so full it was almost overflowing. “Okay, you’re not. Umm, some goons shot my neighbor and left a bomb behind, and I’m almost down to single digit time here. I’ve decided to put it in water, and see if I can short it out. If I die, you can have any of my stuff you can salvage, and please tell my parents we were sleeping together, because I think they’ve always suspected I was gay since I never brought a girl home to meet ‘em. Oh, and, uh, I’m kinda sorry we never did anyways, although honestly you scare the shit out of me most of the time.”

Six seconds. Shit. “Here goes nothing,” he said, and swept the bomb into the sink, making water slosh over the side and onto the floor.

He closed his eyes and tensed, wondering if it was humanly possible to brace for being blown up. Would it hurt, or would it happen so fast it wouldn’t matter? He counted to six in his head, and then went up to ten in case he counted too fast, then reluctantly opened his eyes.

The bomb was settled at the bottom of the peeling sink, the clock no longer counting off anything; it appeared to be dead. Not waterproof? So did that mean the bomb was dead, or that it could go off at any time?

He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, his hand sweating so much his phone felt slippery. “Wow, Z, I think it worked. It hasn’t gone off yet, and the countdown has stopped. Maybe it’s dumb luck, or it just wasn’t a good bomb. I mean, I know they’re supposed to be easy to make, but hey, I survived a subdermal hematoma, and they’re often fable.” He paused, because he was sure he said something wrong? Had he? That was another shitty thing about his head injury – sometimes he knew he said something wrong, but he couldn’t always figure out what. Words slipped between his fingers like sand, and it made him feel like a complete moron, which is exactly what most people thought he was (and there was a difference between stupid and brain damaged – okay, not a huge difference, but still). That’s why he liked Z so much. Scary or not, she never made fun of him, or treated him like he was an idiot. Well, no more so than anyone else, that is.

Z seemed to know a whole lot about a lot of things, and sometimes a certain contempt for people who didn’t seemed to bleed out of her, although it wasn’t personal. She was such a cynic she seemed to hate the world in its entirety at times, although he supposed it had earned her contempt. He had seen the ghosts of scars on her arms, the one on her face that was usually hidden by her hair, and it wasn’t hard to guess she’d had a tough life, besides the fact that she had been a cop, and even in Australia that had to be a hard job. “You know, if this was a movie, I’d relax and say “Phew, glad that’s over”, and it would blow up.” He peered down into the water suspiciously. “So I guess I won’t say that.”

He heard the scream of sirens, distant but growing louder, and guessed they were heading his way. His heart continued to beat an erratic tattoo, though, and his palms remained sweaty. Maybe later, when he really had time to think about what happened, he’d shit himself. “Ah, I think the cops and the bomb squad are almost here. Sorry to leave a message like this, but I really didn’t know who else to call. Oh, and uh, forget what I said about my parents, and sleeping with you. Not that I don’t wanna, but I know you’d break every bone in my body and dump me in the crocodile pit. Which is cool … no, I don’t mean breakin’ my bones and giving me to the crocodiles, but the other thing. Umm, okay, see you later. Bye.”

He disconnected and shoved the phone back in his pocket, suddenly realizing that Sade provided really inappropriate background music for this, and remembered the guy on the floor. “Oh shit. Dude, you okay?”

But he was laying serenely on the diving line between the linoleum and the carpet, the pool of blood surrounding him like a liquid shadow diffused by water from the sink. He stared at him closely, trying to figure out if he was dead or not, but it did look like he was breathing. Not rapidly or terribly well, but hey, he was still alive. Sometimes you had to accept small victories as the only ones you could reach.

Even though the curtains were drawn, Shan could see flashes of red and blue lights outside in the parking lot, and he was relieved that there were professionals here that he could hand this off to, as he really wasn’t made for dealing with bombs and shootings. Again, Z’s territory, not his, and she could have it.

Since no one was up here yet, and the guy in question was passed out, he decided to have a look around. Well, from his vantage point, as he’d track water and blood on the carpet and be obvious about it if he started walking around. It looked like there was a small fight, maybe before he got home, or the place was – as Z would put it – “tossed”, as if someone was looking for valuables. So, robbery? That might explain the shooting, but it sure as shit wouldn’t explain an attempted bombing. What kind of “home invasion” ended with explosives?

The door opened, and a wary, wiry looking Asian cop peered in, hand on the butt of his gun (but it wasn’t drawn, which was kind of him). “You the one who called it in?”

“Yep. Sorry, didn’t introduce myself, I thought I was going to get blown up. I’m Shane Shanahan, 12-A.”

The cop nodded like he wasn’t really interested, and glanced around the room. “Where’s the bomb?”

“In the sink. The countdown’s stopped for nudge, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing.”

The cop flashed him a brief, puzzled look before motioning him towards the door. “C’mon sir, I need you to come with me now.”

“Am I being arrested?”

The cop gave him an ‘Are you a complete idiot’ look, which Shan felt he got more often than he actually deserved. “No, but you do need to clear the scene for the bomb squad and the EMT’s.”

“Oh, yeah.” He went to the door, and the cop quickly grabbed his arm and hustled him out of there, as if he was afraid the bomb would go off. They had to stand aside as a couple of heavily body armored guys went by (must have been the bomb squad, as the cop – whose little nametag read “D. Sakai” – told them gruffly, “Kitchen sink,”) followed by a man and a woman who must have been the EMTs.

At the top of the stairs, he saw a couple of cops clustered around someone near the base. “Did you say on the phone there were two assailants?”


“We only found this guy here, holding his nuts and weeping,” Sakai said, gesturing towards the clot of police.

“Ah, yeah, he’s one of ‘em. The guy who face-planted is gone?” He looked over the stair railing, but all he saw down on the concrete where he had landed was a smear of blood, and a few droplets.

“The guy who what?”

“He was there last time I saw him,” Shan offered, pointing out the blood to the cop.

Sakai grunted, which was probably an affirmative, and asked, “So what happened here, Mr. Shanahan?”

He thought about telling him his fucked up luck just caught up with him, but somehow he bet that wouldn’t hold up in court.

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