Zero Hour: Five – Not Was

Troubleshooter
Zero Hour
by Andrea Speed

Five – Not Was

Inside the smallest bag was a bunch of money, small non-sequential bills gathered into stacks by rubber bands, and a relatively thick portfolio. Shan was too busy looking at the cash to notice the folder. “Whoa,” he said, looking like he wanted to touch it but didn’t dare. “I thought suitcases full of money only existed in movies.”

“Don’t be too impressed, there’s a lot of singles in there. It’s just a partial payment of our fee. We’ll get the rest once we complete our objective.”

81.jpgShan looked at her suspiciously. “Exactly what fee did you quote him?”

That made her smirk. Head injury or not, he could catch on quick sometimes. “A special job requires special funding.”

“Yeah, okay, but what is the job? You said we were setting some guy up, but the fact that we now have a small armory is making me think you’re hiding something. More than usual.”

She took out the folder and laid it on the bed before opening it. Just as she thought, it was full of photos and detailed itineraries. “Nothing important, Shan. The weapons are just a precaution.”

His look was scathing, and it wasn’t the least bit funny. “A precaution against what? A militia overthrow?”

She laid out some of the photos, garnering his attention. “These guys, I imagine.”

The black and white glossies clearly showed that the Wolf often traveled with three men, although only two were regularly visible. The third was often in the background, or partially out of frame. A floater, probably. She pointed at the Wolf, and told him, “This is our target, Andrew Romano, known internationally as the Wolf. His alias this time out is …” She consulted the itinerary, and couldn’t quite believe her eyes. “Oh, you’ve got to be shitting me. Kane Ironwood.”

“Seriously? Damn, that’s … bad. It’s like he walked out of a soap opera or a porno or something.”

“He’s batting zero. A skuzzy little psychopath, and he has no imagination at all.”

That made Shan raise his eyebrows. “Psychopath? How a psychopath? Are we talking Enron style psycho or Leatherface style?”

Rather than answer that and scare the shit out of him, she laid down some of the pictures on the bed that gave the best look at the bodyguards. “He’s got security, namely three guys, two of which are always close at hand, and a third who’s a floater.”

“Floater? Does he hover?”

“No, it’s a typical security configuration. Most dangers are evident and best handled from a distance, so they have a guy who’s constantly mobile and away from the client who can identify potential threats before they become a true threat. Now, according to the report, they only have last names on the two bodyguards, Montoya and Sanchez. The floater is unknown, so let’s just call him Mongo. If we move on the target, we’re going to have to neutralize Mongo first; he’s more of a threat than either of the two bodyguards.”

Shan looked warily between the guns and the photographs. “Neutralize? You don’t mean …”

“No, I don’t.” Actually, it depended, but if it needed to be done, she would be doing it, not him. She looked over the report, and read him the things he needed to know. “Romano likes to hit the town at night. His favorite bar is a fancy ass Yuppie place called Orbit, and he has a penchant for strip clubs, his favorite being … oh, you have to love this: a club called Spank.”

“Spank? Ooh, kinky. Think it’s an S&M place?”

“It doesn’t say, but I doubt it. An S&M place would probably be called the Nipple Clamp or something. Romano has a preference for barely legal girls as well, most often blonde and stacked. His favorite escort service is called Discreet Companions. Jesus, you’d think an escort service could come up with a more imaginative name. Maybe they pulled it from the same book he got Kane Ironwood from.”

“Umm … what’s the deal here?” Shan gestured at the photos and the case of guns, and at the file in her hands. “You didn’t do this. So who did? Why are we being handed someone else’s case? And why does this seem so … ominous?”

He deserved a good answer, but she wasn’t positive she could give him one. Sure she had all the information she needed, she closed the file and tossed it on the bed. “Okay, look – this guy is currently being protected because he’s a snitch. Of course, most of the stuff he’s snitching is bullshit, but as long as he gets a hit every now and again, they’re gonna protect him. What we’re doing here is setting him up, so his protection is taken away. That’s all we’re doing. He’ll be someone else’s problem then.”

He stared at her, slightly uncomprehending, and for a moment she thought he’d phased out. He could have – it was hard to tell. “Snitch? What is he, a plaza informant?”

She overlooked his malapropism. “Informant only refers to localized police investigations. The proper term in this case is asset.”

Shan continued to give her a puzzled look, like a dog who didn’t know where his favorite ball had been thrown. “This really isn’t explaining anything for me, Z. Who put all of this together? Who wants him … out, or whatever?”

She bit her lip, and considered her options. She knew Shan wasn’t likely to tell anyone about this, but she never wanted to give him information that could turn out potentially dangerous to him, whether he knew it or not. “Let’s just say there are some governments who want him off the grid, and they can’t do it without causing an incident with their allies. They’ve been watching him for some time, but they can’t do anything, except shop it out to freelancers. Which is us.”

It took him a moment to digest that, and she let him have it. She was really impressed with the British military issue night vision goggles that Frost sent along, and the camera with the zoom and the night filter. She wondered if she could keep any of this stuff after this was all over.

Finally Shan, strangely sober, said, “You weren’t kidding when you said we were causin’ an international incident, were you?”

“No. But you’ll never hear a thing about it on the CBC. This is the kind of stuff that happens all the time, but no one ever hears about it.”

He met her gaze steadily. “And you know this how?”

She shook her head and started sifting through the case of guns, picking out a clip on holster and a Browning Pro-40. For a forty caliber weapon, it was compact yet powerful and reliable. “I know a lot of things. Let’s just leave it at that.”

But she should have known better. Shan wasn’t like that. “You know, I know you weren’t a cop. I mean, no way. I couldn’t even picture you in the uniform. I did wonder if maybe you were an, I don’t know, former mobster or something, assassin. You seemed to know who those Triad guys were, and it turns out you’re part Japanese, so -”

“Triad are Chinese; Yakuza are Japanese.”

“See, you even know that! But you didn’t strike me as a mobster type, y’know. So now I’m thinking that maybe you were … government. A spy or … something.”

She continued shaking her head, and looked up at him as she clipped the holster onto the waistband of her jeans and put the gun inside. “You’re falling victim to Hollywood bullshit. Being a spy is boring, tedious work, bureaucracy in action as opposed to a thrill ride. They’re like cops, but even less interesting, and most aren’t even armed. They’re professional liars. I’m just an amateur liar.”

His look was deeply skeptical. “You’ve never been an amateur anything.”

“Don’t be too sure about that.” She decided to change the subject, get him back on topic. “Get settled in your room, and meet me back here in fifteen minutes. I want to hit Orbit and Spank, get the layout of the places, get an idea of all the entry points and egresses, find out where the weaknesses are in the basic architecture of the place. I’d rather study how he moves in a group, the weaknesses of the unit, but we don’t have that kind of time. As it is, Romano has been here a while, and he’s probably complacent, which should make it easier.”

Although there was a stubborn set to his jaw, something in his eyes seemed to light up a bit. “We’re going to Spank?”

“That’s what I said. But it’s reconnaissance, not a chance to drool. Got it?”

“Aye aye, Cap’n,” he replied, with a comical salute. He started to turn towards the door, but paused. “Er, uh, what the hell’s an egress?”

“An exit point.”

“Oh. You couldn’t just say that?”

“No.” She would have asked if he’d like a gun, but he was actually a poor excuse for an American, as he didn’t like guns, and invariably turned them down when she offered them to him. He liked to say that, being a bouncer, he never needed one anyways. Why bring a gun to an evil stare fight?

He sighed, shoulders sagging like he was the most put upon person in the world, and headed out to his room. She knew she’d dodged a bullet here, but only for the meantime. He would bring it up again; his suspicions were too deep, and by process of elimination, he had gotten too close to the truth. So what was she going to do about it?

****

Orbit was one of those places she instinctively hated, simply because it tried too hard to impress her.

It was in one of the chic enclaves inside downtown Toronto, not all that far from the Wyndham, which might explain why it had become a favorite of Romano’s. On the outside there was no sign that said that this was a bar, nor was its name given; there was just a blue neon O. If you were cool enough, you already knew what this place was.

The interior was full of chrome and clear Lucite, blue neon and muted gel lighting, creating deep pockets of bruise colored shadows. The air conditioner was cranked up, and the music in the background, which she expected would be Moby or Tangerine Dream or something, was actually the wistful Elliot Smith, which didn’t fit with this deliberately cold and sterile bar. If it just had a bit more grit and signs of realism, it could have been a La Femme Nikita set.

Shan looked around, and let out a low whistle. “I feel pretentious just being in here.”

“Wanna bet all you can get are frou frou drinks and microbrews?”

He let out a mock gasp. “No Molson? This isn’t Canada!”

“Shush, and try and be artsy fartsy.”

“Well, I can do the fartsy part …”

They went to the curved Lucite bar and sat on stools that looked to be warped pieces of chrome with electric blue vinyl on top, and they were just about as comfortable. The bartender was a young guy, maybe twenty six, with a shaved head and six separate earrings in his left ear, including one that looked like a small nail. He wore a blue t-shirt that clung to a relatively muscular torso, and she was sure the color choice of shirt was not coincidental. He stood behind the bar, looking at them expectantly, not saying a word. Too hip to talk, or did he not speak until he was spoken to? “Just give us a couple of sodas, anything with a high caffeine content.”

Mr. Clean finally spoke. “Anything in particular?”

“If you have that weird grape Mountain Dew that tastes like toilet cleanser, I’d like that,” Shan said, so brightly she had to cover her mouth so she didn’t laugh. It wouldn’t have been funny if he wasn’t so serious.

While the bartender got their drinks, she got up and drifted back towards the bathrooms. Orbit was a very small bar in actuality, with a tiny kitchen and a narrow corridor leading to both men’s and lady’s room. She checked out the ladies’ room, which was empty at this time of day, and followed the chrome silver and arctic blue color scheme of the bar, although there was no neon in here, and it smelled strongly of something minty, like mouthwash. There was a single window on the outside facing wall, very high up and narrow, with bars on the outside, so no one could sneak in – or, more likely, sneak out. The men’s room was probably the same way, so there was no need to check there.

She glanced in the window leading back to the kitchen, and saw an emergency exit at the end, past the freezer. Orbit was pretty closed, without a lot of access points, and it was small enough to be a potentially bad action area. It wouldn’t be private, and there’d be a lot of collateral damage, if it came down to a fight. Spank would probably be better on several levels, mainly because strip clubs usually had lots of “private” rooms, and had quite a few doors to sneak out of if you didn’t want to be seen. Orbit would only be good if she wanted to box him in.

She wandered back out to the main bar, where her glass of cola sat waiting, and Shan was glancing around, sipping from a glass of purplish-black liquid that was probably the Mountain Dew-slash-toilet cleanser. She sat on her stool, and asked, “So how is it?”

“Oh, it’s crap,” he said cheerfully. “It could clean oil off an engine block. Want a sip?”

This time she didn’t bother to hide the chuckle. “If it’s that bad, why do you drink it?”

“Are you kidding me? It’s like liquid crack. Try it.”

He nudged the glass over, and she took a sniff before venturing further. It smelled a bit like grape kool-aid, and because of that, her sip was very tentative. It tasted like a very harsh grape kool-aid, and she was sure it was horrible for you, even worse than it tasted. “I think you must have to drink a lot of it to get the full effect.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s just since this thing-” he pointed to his own head, and she knew he meant his little “accident” and subsequent brain damage, “- I think caffeine effects me even more than before. Why I don’t know. Maybe because I’m a forced teetotaler most of the time.”

“Perhaps.” She then realized what he’d said, and looked at him hard. “Most?”

“Well,” he replied, hesitating slightly.

But whatever he was going to say she missed, because the door opened, and her casual glance towards it became a stare as she recognized the thick set, no necked man who stepped through the door. “Oh shit, they’re ahead of schedule.”

“Who is?” Shan asked, following her gaze.

Wasn’t that self-evident? Romano and his goons had decided to have an early night out.

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