Zero Hour: Six – Yawning or Snarling

Troubleshooter
Zero Hour
by Andrea Speed

Six – Yawning or Snarling

Shan was staring, so she grabbed the back of his head and turned his face away before they could notice. “Don’t do that,” she whispered harshly.

“What the fuck are we going to do?” he whispered back, starting to look slightly panicked.

71.jpg“We are going to finish our drinks with due haste, and move on to Spank. He’ll probably be here a while, soaking up the atmosphere.” That last bit was sarcastic, and she wasn’t sure if he got it or not, because he was resolutely looking down into his drink, and pretending – badly – not to be nervous.

Suddenly he looked at her, eyes narrowing in suspicion. “In due haste? Who in the hell ever says that?”

Oh great. He could forget to panic only when he was being a smart ass. “Would you just shut up and drink your toilet cleanser?”

Sanchez came up to the bar and ordered for their table, two club sodas, one with lemon (obviously for him and Montoya), and a fuzzy navel, which made her rub her eyes to keep from smirking. The Wolf was a fuzzy navel man? For some reason, that made lots and lots of sense, and yet she was still afraid she’d start laughing if she didn’t keep digging her fingers into her closed eyes.

Once he’d gone away, joining the Wolf and Montoya at a small table in the back, she glanced at her watch. She couldn’t see the floater, which meant he was probably outside, waiting with the car. She took care of her soda in four swallows, while Shan continued to nurse his hideous excuse for a drink. After Mr. Clean got the Wolf’s party their drinks, she asked, “Just wanna go?”

He nodded. “I feel like a sitting duck here.”

“You’re not, you’re with me.”

“Oh, right.” They got up and left, never once looking at the Wolf, and she left a meager tip, because it probably wasn’t trendy to tip. (Okay, she was just being pointless bitchy because she didn’t like the place. Still, she was allowed to be that way sometimes.)

Once they were out on the street – and yes, there was the floater, sitting in a silver Porsche by the curb – Shan asked her quietly, “Doesn’t anything freak you out? I mean, you’re not bothered by a gun aimed at you, or suitcases full of cash …”

“Do you really expect me to answer that honestly?”

The streets of Toronto had a pretty good pedestrian flow at this time of night, people coming and going, usually in pairs or groups, and no one ever gave them a second glance. That was good, as that meant she was successful in looking anonymous, like absolutely nothing special and no one remarkable. Shan was a pretty big guy and pretty good looking for one, but he looked like he belonged here. He looked like an out of work hockey player, which wasn’t especially accurate – he did have a job, after all – but otherwise it was a reasonable assessment. Even Shan would have agreed with it.

He shrugged. “Well, you could …”

“Everybody’s freaked out by something. But the key is never to show it.”

“Or admit it?”

“That too. Would it make you feel better if I told you what freaked me out?”

He had to think about it a moment, head down as the wind came up briefly, and he got a troubling far away look in his eye, like a seizure was coming on. But either she was wrong, or he rode it out somehow, because he never zoned out. “No, not technically, but I’m kinda curious …”

“Well, you’ll have to live with your curiosity, ‘cause I’m not saying.”

“Now that’s just mean.”

Probably, but generally she kind of was. What could she do? Being nicer was completely off the table.

Spank was only a few blocks away, but in a part of town where things took a decidedly seedier turn. She dragged him across the street, into a small drugstore, which was brightly lit and nearly as cluttered as a thrift shop. “Do you think we need tetracycline before we get in there?” Shan asked, baffled. Although he had no idea what she was doing, the good thing about him was he went along with it anyways – he wasn’t the type to stop everything until he got an explanation.

“No, but that’s a good idea. We need to modify our appearance a bit, in case they recognize us.” She found two rather generic wool caps, and a pair of “reading glasses” that could pass for just plain old glasses, and bought them. She had to buy some life savers as well, because Shan threw them in the pile, and started eating them on their way out of the store.

“What is it with you and sugar tonight?” she wondered, ripping the tags off the caps.

“I dunno. I eat when I’m nervous.”

She stopped him on the sidewalk, and pulled the green wool cap over his head. “You must be in touch with your feminine side. There. Now you look like a Canadian.”

He frowned at her. “Is that a good thing?”

“In today’s political climate? Hell yeah.” She pulled the gray wool cap over her head, almost all the way down to her eyebrows, and put on the reading glasses, perching them on the end of her nose. “So how do I look?”

He noisily crunched a raspberry life saver, adjusting the cap on his head. “Like Harry Potter’s distant cousin.”

Well, she’d looked worse. She stole a blackberry life saver from his roll, and they continued on to Spank. “Can you see in those things?” he wondered, nodding his head towards her glasses.

“Not well. That’s why I’m looking over the tops of them.”

“Ah, you’re always thinking.”

“I have nothing better to do.”

Shan hadn’t been kidding about her resemblance to Harry Potter, because she was actually carded – how long had it been since that happened? Weird. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the guy doing the carding stared at her i.d. in disbelief. “Female? Oh wow, sorry, s – ma’am.”

Since she was going for androgynous, she didn’t care, but Shan snorted, and made a rather comical face as he tried not to laugh. As soon as they were inside, assailed with smells she didn’t want to think about and bad ‘80’s music, she said, “Go ahead before you pop something.”

He barely let her finish her sentence before he broke out in a huge, teeth rattling laugh, one that made him double over and slap his hands on his knees. She waited for him to get it out of his system, crossing her arms over her chest and looking around, taking in the general ambiance.

Actually, calling it “ambiance” was too pretentious, as well as making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It was a strip club; all strip clubs looked pretty much as they sounded, depressing and as sexy as a sucking chest wound. It was poorly lit, with all the bright lights focused on the stage, with only the barest illumination to allow men to weave their way between tables and seats. Actually, there was two stages, but one was dark and unlit – a girl call in sick? Either way, the one lit up like a Vegas review was currently showcasing a brunette with artificially inflated breasts wearing nothing more than a red g-string and cowboy boots writhing around the large metal pole that dominated the center of the stage. She didn’t recognize the song she was dancing badly to, but it sounded a bit like Duran Duran, which was enough to make her start shooting. The men watching from their tables seemed utterly rapt, though, as if they’d never seen tits in person before. And by the look of most of them, that actually was a pretty good bet.

The bar on their left was a curved bit of plastic, but it had a simulated wood thing going on, which was rather baffling. In general, she found wood grain baffling – who found that attractive? But then again, she would say the same thing of the woman dry humping the pole.

Shan had finally finished laughing, and straightened up, wiping tears from his eyes. He looked around, and his eyes didn’t stick on the brunette as long as she thought they would. “Well, this is .. Uh … huh. Where’s the spanking?”

“I think you’re supposed to do it later on, in the privacy of your own bathroom.”

He scowled in disappointment. “What a fucking cheat.”

“Life is unfair.”

A little searching of the club revealed an extremely poor table in the back on the left hand side, partially obstructed by the bar and poor lighting. It would give them a partially blocked view of the front of the club, but while it was far from perfect, it would keep them out of normal view. Someone would have to look for them to know they were there.

As soon as she pointed out the table and they took their seats, he pouted and shifted his chair around. “This is shitty. You can’t see the dancer unless she comes around to this side.”

“We’re not here for the tits, we’re here for the losers.”

“We can’t be here for both?”

A hard faced waitress, who looked like she’d had her butt grabbed so many times she was on the verge of homicide, asked what they wanted to drink. She figured there was probably a two drink minimum, so she ordered them a round of virgin strawberry daiquiris (well, she was a woman – it was assumed she’d order a frou frou drink), and waited until she walked away before asking Shan, “So what’s this about you drinking again?”

Shan rolled his eyes, and looked uncomfortable, like his jock itch cream just wasn’t cutting it. “I’m not. I’ve just … had a beer after a long night on the job, that’s all. They help me sleep.”

Shan liked to go along with his reputation as “kind of slow”, but he honestly wasn’t. What he had was a problem communicating; his brain injury had left a slight disconnect between what he wanted to say and what he could say. People usually thought his problem was comprehension, and while sometimes you needed to give him a minute to fully understand complicated things, that wasn’t it; his problem was somewhere between the sparking of the neurons, and the bridging of the synapses. It was a cruelly subtle sort of aphasia, and the only saving grace was that it was generally intermittent. But he always understood, whether he could say it or not, and that’s why she was so angry at him she considered smacking him in the face. “Uh huh, I’m sure. Combined with those meds you take, you’re lookin’ to put yourself into a coma again.”

He groaned and sunk down in his chair, in a way that suggested he had been expecting this. “Don’t do this, don’t -”

“I think we’ve just figured out your little narcolepsy episode.”

“I did not drink when I had those …” he struggled to find the words, and she was angry enough to let him rather than supply it. Finally, he spit out, “I didn’t drink that day, all right?”

“What about the night before? You work nights, Shan, do I really need to remind you of that? So you’re off at two, you come home, have a beer at what, maybe three in the morning? Then you get up at what, ten, eleven, and try your new meds? The booze is still in your system, mate. Those pills your take are powerful, you know that. This isn’t just a Tylenol codeine, for fuck’s sake, this shit is more in line with thorazine.”

“I know that!” he exclaimed angrily. “I’m an adult, all right? I know what I can and can’t do, a shitload more than you do. I’m the one living with this, not you, so don’t tell me …” He looked away, and she assumed he got tangled in his own words again. When he was upset, he did that more often.

The music died, but only momentarily, as the dancer had finished, and then men hooted and hollered appreciatively as she stalked off, wearing only her boots, or at least that’s what it looked like from this angle. There was a door not far from where they were sitting, with a hand printed paper sign on it, reading “Employees Only – All Customers Beyond This Point Will Be Shot!!!!”, and across the dim club, she could see the glowing sign of a fire exit. The door with the warning probably led to the backstage area where the girls’ changed, but that would also lead to its own outside exit, as the girls wouldn’t come in or leave through the front. Already she saw more egress points than Orbit, and she hadn’t even scoped out the bathrooms yet.

Another dancer with fake boobs and a tattoo in the small of her back, a skimpy lingerie based costume, another poxy song that should be banned (this time it was Britney Spears – she wasn’t sure Frost had paid her enough to listen to this) came on, and again the men were generally rapt. But when the waitress drifted over with their violently red, slushy drinks, she noticed the front door opening, and leaned over to have a better look at the newcomers. Yep, it was the Wolf and his bodyguards, only this time they had the floater with them. So he skipped the pretentious bar, but had to come into the titty bar? At least he had priorities.

They got a table near the front, almost completely obscured from view by the dancer (occasionally), but it pretty much guaranteed that the group would never notice them. Shan sipped his drink, and followed her eyes. After a moment, he noted, “Aren’t they early?” For the moment, they had a détente. But if he thought she was going to let this go, he didn’t know her very well.

“They’re early everywhere tonight. Something’s going on.”

He looked around furtively. “What?”

“I don’t know. But people don’t break their routines for no reason.”

He leaned across the table, and whispered, “Do you think he knows about us?”

She shook her head, pretty sure they would have avoided any confrontation, and stick to the Wolf’s general type of kill: sniper, probably while they were on the street. The news would probably attribute it to a mugging gone wrong. The floater would probably do it.

It was an agonizing twenty minutes of waiting. At least she had learned that you needed no sense of rhythm to be a pole dancer, and that strawberry daiquiris needed alcohol for a rasion d’etre. And it was a funny thing, but it was invariably true: when things did happen on a stakeout, they all happened generally at once.

In this case, it was two specific things. First, just as she thought the music couldn’t get worse, Motley Crue started blasting from the club’s tinny sound system, and a new dancer came out, a very young girl with extremely fake boobs, wearing a “sexy nurse” costume. She had long bleach blonde hair, and while she was probably eighteen, her face put her at fifteen, while her body was at least twenty one. An odd, uncomfortable mix. And Wolf, who had been on his cell phone half the time he’d been here, hung up and stared at her. Just stared, in a slightly predatory way, like he might start drooling any second. Oh yes, she fit his profile, didn’t she? Big breasted jailbait.

And then she realized she had her perfect bait. Here was his desire; here was his weakness, the thing that would lead him willingly to doom. All she had to figure out was how she would use the girl.

She was so busy studying Wolf’s reaction, she almost didn’t notice that a man had joined their table. She could only see his profile, and only when the light and the dancer was in the right spot, but instantly alarm bells went off in her mind, and she let her hand fall casually towards her concealed gun as habit. What was wrong about him? He was rather well dressed for being in a strip club, but …

Holy shit. It was Worden – C.I.A. Agent Charles Worden, Brewer’s partner. The Wolf was hooking up with his contact here.

And, just her luck, a contact that could identify her on sight.

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