Troubleshooter – Seven

TROUBLESHOOTER
by Andrea Speed
Seven

She heard the gunshots as she shoved Shan back and took dubious shelter behind a parked car, but in the back of her mind she knew they were wrong – those gunshots didn’t sound right.

You could do a lot of things to alter a gunshot: mufflers, silencers (which were not silent, but what else could you say?), alterations of the barrel, even holding a throw pillow in front of the muzzle. But judging from the sound, none of those applied. So what the hell was going on here?

Troubleshooter 1She didn’t hear any wasp like noise of bullets whizzing past, nor did she hear thuds of impact or breaking glass. It was quite possible that, even at this proximity, he was a supremely shitty shot. Most people were, no matter how many times they practiced at the shooting range – this is why randomly spraying bullets and insane automatic weapons were so popular. If you can’t be a good shot, at least you can push three hundred rounds a minute.

She ducked down behind a parked Saturn, and with her SIG Sauer in one hand, she looked back at Shan – crouched down next to the brick wall, looking slightly startled – and pointed down the street with her free hand. He gave her a curious look, and hissed, “What?”

She glared at him in disbelief. Why the fuck was he whispering? In fact, people were walking past them on the street and looking at them funny, giving her an occasional dirty look because of her gun. What, didn’t they hear the shots? “Circle around,” she snapped. “That alley only has one outlet. Let’s box him in.”

“Can two people actually make a box?”

She gave him her ‘evil molten death’ look, and he rolled his eyes, shoulders sagging in acquiescence. “Okay, okay.” He duck walked down a few cars, keeping low, and then broke out into a run. Shan could run fast, so if the guy decided to make a break for it on foot, he’d be shit out of luck.

Perhaps a car was finally hit by a random bullet, or a driver was freaked by the bright flash out of the corner of their eye, because there was a screech of brakes and a sudden, violent crash, metal on metal, glass shattering, raining softly down on the pavement. Like lemmings, or suburban teens, others quickly followed in sequence – screech, crash, break – setting off a chain reaction that quickly clogged the narrow side street. She stood up, taking advantage of the chaos, and fired randomly over the tops of cars, into the alley.

She knew about urban warfare. It was part of her training. She could still remember skulking around what they called the “ghost city”, shells of buildings replicating an anonymous major city, junked cars lining the streets as if parked, and training for various scenarios. In some areas, you could use crimes such as carjacking and drive by shootings to your advantage; in others, your best bet was to snip from a window or a roof, but even then, escape could be tricky, especially if you were hitting your target at a parade or a stump speech or even just coming out of the strip club. The problem with an urban situation was it was chaotic, and there were a thousand different variables, dozens of potential witnesses, and dozens of potential “collaterals”.

But if they actually saw you, they weren’t considered collaterals – they were considered liabilities, otherwise known as viable secondary targets. As much as she loathed it, it was hard training to break.

The funny thing was, she only squeezed off two shots, not worried about ricochets since she was using fragmenting rounds, but they were still blind as hell, and way too high to avoid people coming out of their cars to argue with one another. Still, she was pretty sure she heard, exclaimed from the general vicinity of the alley, “Holy shit!” She saw that flash of light as the guy turned away, and realized the light came from something on his jacket, not his gun. Mirrored sunglasses? Oh, that moron. He’d just made things worse for himself by revealing he wasn’t a professional, or even a gifted amateur.

She broke out in a run, headed across the street, and as she threaded through the crashed cars, she yelled, “Freeze, motherfucker!” Well, she was getting weird looks for the gun, and if she said something that sounded like cop show dialogue, they’d likely believe she had a reason for running with a firearm. No matter that she didn’t wear a uniform, as most cop show cops didn’t either. This was one of those times when she was honestly grateful for television.

In theory he had a head start, but not much of one, as the torn chain link fence at the end of the alley was still vibrating. Did he get stuck? Wasn’t as easy as the movies, was it? This is where she had a slight advantage – as a man, he was probably a faster runner, but as a relatively petite woman, she could slip through the fence with no trouble at all.

The lot behind the buildings used to be a warehouse loading area, but since no warehouse existed anymore, most of the access was blocked off by fences, buildings, or dumpsters, with only the single access road still open – the only easy exit point, where Shan would be cutting him off. But she wasn’t even going to let him get that far.

She stopped and took quick aim, her sight a small black dot in her immediate foreground as she squeezed the trigger. There was little kick, she braced for it, but the shot was still explosively loud, echoing off the buildings like a prematurely set M-80.

She knew she hit her target, not by the crimson mist that exploded from about calf level, but because he pitched forward mid-step, his now injured right leg unable to hold even a modicum of his weight. He went down so fast he didn’t even have time to put his hands out in front of his face. He kissed the asphalt so hard, she wondered if he was still conscious. She got her answer a second later, as he exclaimed, loudly and indignantly “Fuck!”

“Show me your hands!” She barked, keeping her gun focused on his body. To take someone down as rapidly possible without risking a kill shot, you had to go for the lower legs. Upper legs gave you more of a target, but if you nicked the femoral artery or hit it outright, you had a corpse in three minutes. Now that he was a stationary target, she could pick and choose painful, crippling shots to the trunk if he tried any more shit. “Show me your fucking hands or I’ll take your other leg!”

The guy rolled over onto his back, holding up his empty hands as if in surrender. His lips and nose were bloody from smashing face first into the pavement, and the lower half of his right pant leg was already black with blood. “Fuckin’ … Jesus fucking Christ, you shot me! I didn’t … I didn’t know you were a fucking cop! “

She almost told him he would have been better off if she was a cop, but she noticed Shan coming up the access road, and was aware her current i.d. in this city had her back story as Z. Stark, former Sydney police officer. Since her story was still holding water with her friends, there was no reason to blow it now. “Why did you try and shoot me? Where’s the fucking piece?”

The man – who was a small man, non-descript, with greasy brown hair and a pinched face that made him look rodential – was whimpering slightly and holding on to his injured leg, folded over on his side in an almost fetal position. “Can’t believe you fucking shot me, you bitch,” he was muttering, mostly to himself.

“Where’s the fucking piece?” She demanded, louder this time.

“I threw it! It’s over there somewhere,” he shouted back, tears of pain running down his face as he vaguely waved towards the weedy, trash strewn lot behind her. “Doesn’t matter, it’s not real.”

“What do you mean it’s not real?”

“It’s fulla blanks! Shit, I was only ‘sposed to scare you!”

Blanks? If that was true, that explained the weird sound of the discharge. She caught Shan’s eyes, which were wide with surprise, and jerked her head back towards the lot. “See if you can find the gun, okay?”

He nodded, continuing to look stunned. “Yeah, sure. Is he, uh, is he gonna be okay?”

“He’ll be fine. A limp’s no biggie.”

“Limp?!” The guy squeaked.

“Why were you trying to scare me?” She heard Shan walk off, his shoes crunching on the gravel, and she wondered what the conversation about this later was going to be like. He’d never seen her shoot someone before. Rat Boy was too busy mewling to pay attention, so she kicked him in his good leg, and snapped, “Answer the fucking question!”

“Dickeye said we’d be even if I did this, okay?!” He shouted, bloody spittle flying. “He said he’d forgive my debts if I just shot some blanks at you! He said you were a pain in the ass and he wanted you scared off! But he never said you were a fucking cop! Shit, I knew it was too easy …”

“Dickeye?” That had to be one of the worst nicknames she had ever heard in her life, and she had never heard it before. Well, not outside the context of a Jerry Cantrell song. But it sounded like one of Girani’s associates – they all had stupid nicknames. “What kind of debts did you have?” But even as she asked the question, she saw the ghostly scars of track marks on his scrawny, pale arms, and had her answer. “Drugs. Shit man, you’re fucked.” She stepped back, keeping her gun leveled on the junkie (whom she now decided was perfectly harmless), and asked, “Shan, found the piece yet?”

She risked a glance at him, and saw him standing stock still near an abandoned and apparently used mattress, looking down at the trash pile of needles and condoms at its foot, frozen as if in wonder. “Shan?”

No movement, no reply. Shit! Maybe it was just too much stimulation for him, and he got hit by a seizure. Or maybe his meds were wearing off; she hadn’t asked when he’d taken them. She looked back down at the bloody junkie, who was too busy curling up into a ball and weeping like a mama’s boy. She’d been shot in the leg before; it didn’t hurt that much. A shot in the gut was much worse. “Move, and you’re going back to Dickeye as the Swiss cheese boy,” she threatened, but didn’t wait for an acknowledgement as she walked a way. He was a complete no hoper; a janitor with a bottle of Clorox and a grudge was more dangerous than him at this point.

She still kept her gun out, held loose at her side, as she went and patted him on the back with her free hand. “Shane? Shan, you back yet?”

He started slightly, and looked at her with genuine surprise. “Wow, how’d you get here so fast? I didn’t even hear you come up.”

“I’m stealthy like that. C’mon, let’s get to your place. This guy’s a complete wash out.” The Dickeye and Girani shit could wait. It wasn’t a priority right now, and she needed to get Shan out of her before a real gunman showed up.

He looked back uncertainly, his eyes slightly glazed with that lost, post petit mal look. “Should we, uh, call him an ambulance or something?”

“Don’t need to.” She held up her finger, indicating silence, and there, as if on cue, was the sound of sirens in the distance, faint but growing louder. It was probably for the five car pile up on the street, but hey, that was close enough, wasn’t it?

She gave him the slightest push to get him moving, and he started walking, scratching his head as if trying to figure out a particularly enigmatic puzzle. “I lost time again, didn’t I?”

“A few seconds. No worries.”

“Shit. I hate this.”

“I know.”

And Shan was so preoccupied with his own embarrassment, he completely ignored the bleeding, moaning guy on the ground as they walked past. But wasn’t that better for everyone?

****

While Shan changed into more “police like” clothes back at his place (and took his meds – she heard the telltale rattle of pills in a bottle), she checked her phone, and Saj had left her a text message, all the numbers on the thug’s phone. Just to prove how efficient he was, all the numbers had full names, as if he’d hit the online phone directory as well.

And it made no fucking sense at all.

She rubbed her eyes, and tried to think of a logical way to explain all this. The only things it could be was someone was attempting to play both ends against the middle, or a single entity with conflicting goals. The only way to confirm it was to find that fucking briefcase.

She didn’t think they were followed or currently being watched, but she decided to do a superficial appearance change. She emptied everything out of her leather jacket and slipped them into the blue windbreaker of Shan’s she borrowed, and then grabbed one of his baseball caps, this with a red rubber duck with devil’s horns embossed on the front (why? Who knew?), and put as much of her hair in it as she could. Her hair was short anyways, just to keep it out of her eyes, but she wanted to cover up as much as she could. The finishing touch was a pair of his black plastic sunglasses. It was weird, but he had a desk with one drawer completely full of sunglasses. She had no idea what that was about, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Maybe he was a sunglasses kleptomaniac.

Shan was too accustomed to her odd behaviors to ask why, or why she wanted to stop by his landlord’s tool shed and borrow something. (His landlord, Mr. Nguyen, was Zen Buddhist and completely cool. His wife could strip the skin off your bones with just a few choice words, though, so there was some assumption he had to adopt a Zen outlook to tolerate her for five minutes. Z had only met her once, and briefly, but even she had wanted to deck her.)

On their way back to Perry Street, he admitted, “Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you really act like a cop before. It was …”

“Frightening?”

“Oh yeah. I was ready to assume the position.”

“Like that’s a big shock. Get some Jaegermeister in you, and you’ll assume it for anyone.”

As she had hoped, he laughed, and it cut the tension somewhat. But she knew she shouldn’t have gotten him in on this. Among all the misfit and outsiders she usually surrounded herself with, Shan was probably the most tragic, only he didn’t know it. It was surely better that way.

“But you look so … y’know, harmless. No offense.”

“None taken. It was part of why they hired me. Element of surprise.”

A quick check had revealed there was indeed a shift change, and she kept her cell phone open and wedged against her ear as he went into his blowhard cop routine on the little clerk, and she quickly got lost in the paint smelling halls of the small U-Store-It.

Either Shan was ultra-convincing, the clerk was completely spineless, or both, because the guy quickly folded. Maybe it helped that she told Shan to mention the name Bertrand could be involved – Bertrand was Andrew Ward’s egregiously dorky middle name. Shaw may have hidden it here, but he was still working with Ward in some capacity.

As the clerk coughed up a lot number, she found it, and slid Nguyen’s bolt cutters from beneath her borrowed jacket, and went to work on the lock. It didn’t take long.

The storage “unit” Shaw had rented was hardly bigger than a bus station locker, but was big enough to store the metal sided briefcase, which sat there waiting like an obedient dog. She hauled it out, mildly surprised by its lightness, and put it down on the pored cement floor. She had learned a few tricks in MI-6 (nothing was ever as secure as it seemed), and between that and the bolt cutters, the case didn’t stand a chance.

Finally, she popped the briefcase open, and got a look at just what all the fuss was about.

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