Troubleshooter – Three

TROUBLESHOOTER
by Andrea Speed
Three

“Bryce had a partner? I had no idea,” she responded coolly, not bothering to turn around. She slipped her hand inside her coat, and listened hard, trying to judge his proximity to her by sound alone. It was difficult, especially considering the couple next door, who sounded like they were filming a porno movie.

There was a noise behind her, a small “snick”, and she figured he had pulled out his knife. Guns were noisy, but they were also relatively easy to trace via ballistics now – you had to have lots of money, or be extremely smart (or lucky) to use a gun in a murder that was anything but a drive by nowadays. But knives were low tech and ubiquitous, difficult to trace with such exactitude … and preferred by professionals, unless they were snipers. Anyone could use a gun, but not everyone could use a knife with proficiency. Bryce had not been stabbed multiple times; he had been cut once, and all the blood was in the bathroom, running mostly down the drain. If he wasn’t a professional killer, he was at the very least a skilled amateur.

There was a flaw with knives, though, one that she intended to exploit. It could only be used in close quarters.

“D’ya think lyin’s actually gonna help you?” He snarled. His voice had a touch of the Midwest to it, in direct opposition to his tough guy talk. He was moving towards her slowly, taking his time. Perhaps he was suspicious of her refusal to turn around and face him.

“Who do you work for?” She wondered, hand closing around the cool metal cylinder hidden inside her jacket. Some people carried guns – herself included – but there were times when quiet and finesse were called for.

“You ain’t the one askin’ questions here, darlin‘. Now let’s see those hands of yours.”

She waited until he had taken step closer, and then said, trying her best to sound cowed, “Okay, sure, no problem.”

She had done it more times than was probably necessary in any lifetime. She spun quickly, thumbing the stud on the thick handle of the automatic baton half way through her turn, so it was completely out by the time she hit him in the side of the face with it. The tip grazed his eye, making him instinctively move his head back, even while his hand moved forward with the knife (he was a lefty). She quickly cracked the baton across his thumb, making him lose his grip on the knife, and gave him a solid kick square in the balls.

Alex had always wondered why she liked to wear clunky, steel toed boots. She wished he was here to see why.

He didn’t scream – he couldn’t. The best he managed was a high pitched squeak as the breath escaped from him in a rush, and she was so pissed off she bet she ruptured at least one of his testicles. As he doubled over, face flushed, she grabbed his head and rammed her knee right into the bridge of his nose, shattering it. She felt the cartilage snap, felt the warmth of his blood as it gushed down her leg, and then cracked him across the temple with the butt end of her baton. He hit the floor like a two hundred pound sack of shit, which was undoubtedly what he was.

Just for good measure – and Bryce – she kicked him in the face, cracking something in his jaw, sending a tooth flying out of his mouth like a bullet. Had to love these steel toed boots. “You ain’t dealing with a rent boy anymore, fuckface,” she spat, retracting and pocketing the baton and pulling out a knife of her own. This was automatic as well, the blade snapping out at the press of a button, a blade like a box cutter. It was made for slashing, not stabbing, but was sharp enough to slice an artery like it was no more than sealing tape.

She dropped to her knees on the floor, right beside him, and dug her elbow into the back of his neck, leaning across his shoulder so she could put all her weight down on it if necessary. Then she put the blade of her small knife right behind his ear, pressing the edge hard enough so he could feel it. “You’re groaning, asshole, so I know you’re conscious. Now you’re going to talk, or we’re going to re-enact a scene from Reservoir Dogs.”

It was vital that once you had an opponent off his feet, you kept him down, especially if he was bigger and stronger than you. But with ruptured testicles, she had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting up right quick anyways. His dominant (left) arm was pinned beneath her, for added leverage. “Fug oo,” he said into the carpet. The fact that he had a broken nose and was getting his face mashed into the rug combined to make him sound like he had the worst cold of winter. A painful one too. “Ill oo bidge.”

It took a second or two for her to interpret that. You had to love some people – even drowning in their own blood, they refused to acknowledge they had lost. She knew from experience she was exactly like that, but she didn’t find it all that endearing in other people. “You’re threatening me? That’s hilarious.” She pressed the blade down until it sliced into his ear, sending a thin trickle of blood down the line of his jaw. “You’re running out of time, dog boy.”

He made a noise like a muffled squeal as the blade cut through cartilage, but she was careful to stop, leaving the blade wedged in the wound, with just enough pressure so he knew it was there. “You have a lot of parts I can cut off before you even get close to dying,” she hissed. “Ears, nose, eyes, dick. Fingers are overrated, don’t you think?”

“Fug oo.” But he didn’t say it like he meant it.

“Where’s the briefcase, jackoff?”

“On hav id. Ee din ave id.”

‘Don’t have it. He didn’t have it.’ “Bullshit.” She put enough pressure on the knife to cut a millimeter more into his ear.

He made a noise like a wounded donkey and tried to struggle, but she pressed down on his neck, keeping him stuck to the floor. “M ellin th’ ooth! Ee ribbed ub uff!”

‘I’m telling the truth. He ripped us off.’ “Who’s we?”

He fell strangely quiet. If he was playing unconscious, she wasn’t buying it – she’d used that gambit herself. But maybe he just didn’t know what to say … or just couldn’t say it. Torture now was better than death later on. “It’s Girani, isn’t it? He hired you, didn’t he?”

“Fug oo.”

Oh yeah, that was as good as a yes. “Did you torture Bryce? He showed up without the briefcase, and you tried to get the info out of him, but finally you got bored? Does that sum it up?”

He made an inarticulate noise that was probably a curse, but she didn’t even try and interpret it. She was too busy trying to pull the threads together in her mind. Something still wasn’t right here. “If he was meeting you here to sell the case, he’d have brought it with him. He wasn’t meeting you, was he? He thought he was meeting someone else, but you guys got in the way. Is that a corpse they’ll be fishing out of the river soon? But Bryce wasn’t as dumb as you thought, because he came to the meeting without the case …” Okay, so he was low level grifter, a boy toy getting bored, but he was not a complete idiot. He probably stored the briefcase somewhere safe, and soon as he had the cash, he would take them to the location. Was Bryce strong enough to withhold the information at the cost of his life? From what little she knew about him, she wouldn’t think so, but people could often surprise you.

What had the prick said when he finally came out of the closet? (Oh, the joke possibilities there.) “You his partner?” Bryce must have said his “partner” had the case. A real person, or one he made up, in hopes of scamming his way out of this? Shit, he was a con artist – each was equally probable. “He gave you a name, didn’t he? Give me the name, shithead, or you’re gettin’ the full Van Gogh.” She pressed down a little more, to help him make up his mind.

“Airy!”

“You can enunciate better than that.”

Now she knew he cursed her, but then he spat out, with relative clarity, “Perry!”

“Perry? That’s it? Just one name?”

He huffed a hard sigh through his mouth, as if forcing himself to talk clearly had exhausted him. Or just used up his available oxygen, since he could no longer breathe out of his ruined nose. “Ee ept refeedin’ id oar an’ oar.”

‘He kept repeating it over and over.’ Did she believe that? Busted ball man could certainly be lying, but right now she had no proof one way or the other. She’d just have to accept it for now, and come back after him if she discovered he’d fed her a shovelful of shit. “I think some good boy gets to keep most of his ear,” she told him, retracting the knife. She them hit him savagely with the blunt, butt end of the blade, right behind the ear. It was a sensitive spot, and most people you hit there hard enough went right out. She told herself she was simply playing it safe by hitting him there three times in rapid succession. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was so angry she wanted to eviscerate him with an X-Acto knife and scatter his guts into the parking lot for the dogs and crows to have; she told herself it had absolutely nothing to do with that. You had to have genuine emotions before they could carry you away.

He was out cold and not faking it – she might have fractured his skull. But she’d have bet once of her periodic paychecks that his skull was so thick you could use it for a bowling ball. She pocketed her knife, and started carefully searching his jacket.

He didn’t have any i.d. on him, which proved he wasn’t a complete novice. He did have a nice blackjack, though; how quaint. You hardly ever saw those anymore, except in the occasional “specialty” weapons shop, which happened to be where she got her baton. Perhaps he’d have been better off buying one of those.

She found three things she took, figuring they might be of some use: a crumpled business card used as a gum wrapper, a cell phone, and a mostly empty book of matches from a place called ‘Honey’s’. The name gave it away as a strip club, if the silhouette of the well endowed woman didn’t. She didn’t even know places had customized matchbooks anymore, not in the States.

Sajeet could pull the numbers off the phone – it was probably her best bet for getting answers. He was still talking to her, right? Shit.

She shoved them in the front pocket of her jeans and left the room, careful to make sure she hadn’t left fingerprints anywhere. Once outside, where the heat seemed to be radiating off the cement like she was trapped in a convection oven, she remembered she had the guy’s blood on her right pant leg. It looked like a reddish black smear on her knee, rivulets running down towards her boots, random spots spattered on her thigh. She was probably going to have to go home and change before she followed up on any more leads; she even smelled like blood. Shit shit shit – she hated laundry.

Z stopped in the manager’s grotty office, where he was still reclined in his chair behind the desk, watching white trash families get into well choreographed brawls on a talk show stage. She tossed the room key in his lap, making him start. “Was he there?” He asked, trying to pretend he didn’t almost piss himself.

“Yeah, somebody killed him.” He stared at her, goggle eyed, clearly not certain if she was joking or not. But Bryce’s killing would hardly be the first one here. No tell motels like this attracted violence like a landfill attracted rats. “But his murderer’s still there, if you wanna call the cops. I don’t think he’ll be getting very far.”

The man’s jaw went slack, his eyes still far too wide. “You’re serious?”

She pulled out a folded fifty dollar bill and tossed it on the messy check-in desk. “I was never here.” She left before he could ask any further question. The answers were waiting for him in the room, if he was brave enough to go in. She didn’t think he was.

Nor did she think Dog Boy would squeal to the cops. First of all, most thugs like him were reluctant to admit they got the shit beaten out of them by a “girl”, even in this day and age, and if he was an agent of Girani, he probably wouldn’t live until the arraignment. He didn’t get where he was by having his people rat him out.

She wasn’t sure she was getting any closer to the briefcase. But at least she knew the nature of the competition.

Maybe now it was time to pull out the big artillery.

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