Zero Hour: Ten – You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison

Troubleshooter
Zero Hour
by Andrea Speed

Ten – You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison

Shan looked a bit shaken after returning from the men’s room, but he just looked at her and nodded, the sign that everything was done. While he had been gone, she’d already snapped some great pictures, including Romano subtly sliding cash to Blunt across the table, trying to buy some of Kristal’s time. Very cute – and wonderfully incriminating.

Since she had enough shots, and Shan looked fragile, she figured she should call it. She pulled out her cell phone, punched up the pre-programmed number, and when someone answered, said, “Looks like the party’s over. Wanna pick us up?”

121.jpgAfter a moment, a voice replied, “On my way.” And that was the extent of the conversation.

Shan just stared at her from across the table, still slightly stunned from what he had to do. He leaned across the table, and whispered, “Why does this sound like spy shit?”

She shrugged. “Did taking care of Mongo seem like spy shit?”

“No.”

The funny thing was, in a way, it was very much like espionage, but she couldn’t tell him that. Also, he’d never believe her anyways.

They got up and left, as Blunt and Romano continued their pointless negotiations, and Jody continued drinking herself into a coma, which was probably fun, even though combining it with her “meds” was flirting with the future of choking to death on her own vomit. (Now that would have been a picture.)

They got in their rental car, an unremarkable Toyota, and drove a few blocks to a fast food joint that was still open, better to feed the hungry drunks, a bright beacon of harsh lighting and fatty foods. They slumped in a primary colored plastic window booth, and waited. “So who is this Mr. Frost anyways?” Shan wondered.

“Our employer.”

“So why haven’t I seen him since we’ve gotten here?”

“He wants to remain more or less anonymous. He values his privacy.” That was generally true, as anyone in the espionage business, even retired, never liked to bring undue attention to themselves. Unless, of course, they became a network news commentator, or they wrote a book about it. She idly wondered how much she’d get for her story, which no one in MI-6 would confirm. A buck fifty? Two?

Shan stared back at her across the gulf of the shiny plastic table, looking too weary for words. “You didn’t find that suspicious?”

“I know him. He was a friend of Alex’s.”

The mention of his name, such a blast from the past, made him sit up straighter, taken slightly aback. She didn’t even feel bad about lying, but did she ever? Her selective conscience was actually the thing that most enamored her recruiter. “Oh. I didn’t … I’ve never heard that name before.”

She shrugged, and noticed as their contact finally came in the door. Frost had told her on the phone that the “courier” would be a young man in a Sex Pistols t-shirt, also wearing a denim jacket with a green four leaf clover on the lapel. Said fashion disaster had just walked through the door, black nylon backpack dangling loosely over his right shoulder, and although he was trying his best to look casual, he was clearly the type of guy who always felt better in a suit. He had a hair cut that suggested that too; he’d tried to muss it up, but it was a cut that still screamed “Hey, I’m a federale!”

She told Frost what she’d look like, so he could find her. He looked around in an easy manner, supposedly not seeing anything, but he started walking their way. She got out her keys, and subtly slid her camera out of her bag. She let it wait on the seat beside her, and when he was close to their table, she tossed her keys, so they hit the floor with a clatter.

Shan was about to say something, she heard his intake of breath, but the courier was already there, and paused as he crouched down, the backpack sliding down his arm and hitting the floor quietly. It was unzipped.

“Dropped your keys,” he said helpfully, handing them up towards her. His body blocked everyone’s view but hers and Shan’s, so no one could see her slide the camera along the seat until it fell into his backpack, just as he lifted it up his arm. It was a smooth transfer, suggesting he’d done transfers and drops like this many times before.

She took her keys back, and noticed his brown eyes were as soft as a rabbit’s, although nowhere near as scared. In fact, they were remarkably hard beneath the surface. “Thanks,” she replied, as he nodded, got up, and walked over to the counter to order. While he ordered, he let the pack slide down his arm, and idly zipped it shut.

“What the hell just happened?” Shan hastily whispered.

“We made the drop, which we were supposed to do.” She pulled her cell phone out, and put in a call to Blunt. “We have what we need,” she told him. “Wrap it up. There’s a cab waiting for you outside.”

“Are you sure?” he replied, sounding mildly pissed off. That was the scripted response; if things were going badly, he would have said, “You were supposed to call me a half hour ago.”

He went on for a bit, having an imaginary, vexing conversation, just to convince Romano he needed to be elsewhere, but it was probably pointless. He was totally sold and hogtied by his dick, which suggested he’d never heard of a honey trap before, or perhaps thought those were only for spies, and didn’t involve stoned strippers. During that time, the courier left with his bad cup of coffee and small fries, and never once looked in their direction.

But Shan watched him out of the corner of his eye, and when the courier was gone, and she had hung up the phone, he looked at her with unabashed confusion. “Did I phase out, or does none of this make any fucking sense?”

“It makes sense, trust me. It just doesn’t seem like it.”

His eyes bored into hers, but she continued looking blandly at him until he rolled his eyes and slumped back against his seat in defeat. “So what the hell do we do now?”

“Nothing; we’re done here. Let’s just go back and enjoy staying in a high priced hotel on someone else’s dime. Remember to order something ludicrously overpriced from room service.”

He sighed irritably and shook his head. “So somebody paid us to beat up and drug a guy, and take photos of someone else?”

“Well … if you put it that way, it sounds absurd.” But then her life in general sounded absurd, so that made sense. She thought Shan would have been used to that by now.

****

What gave it away? The simple jingle of keys in the night, in the hallway of a hotel where everything was opened with key cards? Perhaps. Honestly, Z didn’t know. All she knew was her mental alarm bells were going off, and as soon as she heard the lock on her door release, she slid out of her bed and straight to the floor, grabbing her Browning from beneath the pillow as she fell. She was looking underneath the bed as the door flew open and two gunmen on either side of the frame started firing shots into the bed, causing the stuffing to spit out in little clumps around her.

The hall wasn’t terribly well lit, and even though the guns clearly had silencers on them, they weren’t very quiet, and the flash of the shots was barely muted, sending lightning flashes of illumination across the room. She didn’t immediately fire back, she waited, carefully aiming her shot – a good move always, especially from a poor angle such as this.

The shots stopped, but the sound seemed to echo, a ringing in the ears and an acid sting of cordite, and the man on the right started to edge into the room, aware she was no longer in her bed. She sized up the distance between the two men, and squeezed off her shots, taking out the man on the right first, putting a fist sized hole in his thigh that spewed blood across the floor, a visual sign that she’d hit his femoral artery.

Before he even fell back against the frame, the man on the left opened fire, but he was still aiming at the bed, and she shot him at about groin level, sending him falling back into the hall screaming. She moved with slow deliberation, getting up to her knees and keeping her gun on the doorway as she moved to her feet. The man with the missing thigh was too weak to move, but she kicked his gun away anyways. The man in the hall was trying to crawl away, leaving a bloody smear of a trail behind him. They both wore nondescript dark suits, and had equally nondescript faces, Caucasians who could have come from anywhere and been anyone’s hyperactive bagmen. She was kind of insulted they only sent two.

She checked both sides of the hall before slinking down towards Shan’s room, back to the wall, wondering if she was too late. His door was shut, and there was no one around, but the key lock had a glowing green light, which meant it was unlocked. That wasn’t right.

She kicked open the door and quickly whirled to the side, braced for someone to fire, but no one did. After a moment, listening hard and hearing nothing, she crouched down to an unconventional angle and peered inside his room.

It wasn’t his room.

It was an empty white space with brightly colored plastic chairs; it sort of resembled an oddball dentists’ waiting room. There was a single man sitting there, a man with a big reddish brown bloodstain down the front of his rumpled safari shirt, and broken glass glittering like ice crystals in the short but deep gash in his throat. Brewer looked at her with a half smile, half sneer, and said, “At least death is a form of change – I’m rotting. You’re just standing still.”

A telephone started ringing, and she woke up, cursing at the phone and rubbing her eyes. It was her wake up call, she knew it, so she knocked the receiver off the cradle, and then dragged it up, aware that the tinny voice was the desk receptionist, and hung it up without acknowledging them. She was up, so they’d done their job – they shouldn’t expect verbal confirmation until she had some caffeine down her throat.

Still, she stumbled to the bathroom, and had a shower so brief it was more of a splash. She did feel slightly more awake, though, and phoned room service to bring her an omelet and a whole bunch of useless breakfast snacks she probably wouldn’t eat, just because she wasn’t paying. She got dressed and looked out the window, out into Romano’s hotel room.

Former hotel room. The curtains were open, and she could see the staff maids in there, vacuuming and making the beds. A whole squad was in there; if he was still there, there’d be just the one. But they were turning the whole thing out so it could be used by another client.

She was sitting on her unmade bed, eating her omelet, when Frost called. “He’s done a runner already,” she said, although it was almost a question.

“You have to love technology,” Frost replied. She was sure he was on a secure line, and certainly the hotel land line was clean – she’d checked. “You can get multiple copies of photos developed in under an hour, and with FedEx and scanners, you can spread them all over the world before seven a.m. It’s a brave new world indeed.”

“Who tipped him?”

“Not sure. Canadian Intelligence is still trying to track down the caller, but it’s looking like it came from someone in the States.”

She crunched a crust of toast, wondering which fate would be the best for Romano. “Anyone got him pegged yet?”

He paused long enough that she knew he was leaving something out. “Not to my knowledge. But he’s off the grid.”

“Already? So he’s down the rabbit hole for good?”

“It seems that way. The Americans were unhappy, the Italians want his head, and the cartel was quick to abandon him, saying they had no dealing with terrorists. Well, not Arab ones, at any rate.”

“A qualifier you added, of course.”

“Of course. According to them, they’re “legitimate businessmen” anyways.” He snickered quietly to himself. “Legitimate my rosy red arse.”

“Rosy red? I thought it was pale and spotty.”

That caught him off guard, and he genuinely laughed, quickly regaining his composure. “Gary’s been telling tales out of school, has he? Cheeky monkey.”

“You’re a Pom. I just guessed.”

“Ah, so it’s a form of racism. I thought you were above such things.”

“I am. I hate everyone equally.”

He sighed heavily. “The worst part is, I know you’re not kidding.”

She took a swig of her orange juice, cleaning the burned toast taste out of her mouth, before getting to the important point. “Of course not. I’m off the grid for good, right?”

He clicked his tongue. “You ask that again, I’ll be offended. Of course you are. But you know … you don’t have to be.”

She slumped back against the headboard, disappointed but not surprised. “Frost, don’t.”

“What good is a former head of MI-6 if he has no pull? MI-6 is out of the question, of course, but I can get you into MI-5. They need all the help they can get, and everyone knows it. You’re good; you’re trained.”

“I’m also wanted by the Yanks.”

“Not anymore. You’re dead, you’ll stay dead. You’ll have to be in MI-5 under another name, but it can all be arranged. I can do it in two phone calls.”

“I’m off the grid.”

He was quiet for a long time. “Zed -”

“This is not a conversation we’re having. Thanks for the cash, but I’m walkin’.”

“How has life on the outside been treating you?” He replied coolly. It was a low blow, and he knew it. “You don’t seem very happy.”

“I’ve never been happy. Happiness is for people who don’t know any better.”

He groaned faintly. “You’re unbelievable. You can’t possibly believe that.”

“You claim to know me, Frost. What do you think? It’s nothing personal, I’m flattered by the offer, but I can’t do this anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s all I can do, and maybe it’s finally dawned on me that that should really bother me.” She grimaced at what she said, embarrassed at the thought. But it was true, and now she was wondering where she’d pissed it all away. It probably started in Cooper Flats, and never stopped. “Besides, I’m tired of working for someone else. I don’t even like authority, so how’d I end up a part of it?”

He chuckled again, a sound like thick honey. “I asked myself that every other day until I retired.”

“Yeah, but you got out. I’m staying out.”

“But you’re too good to lose.”

“And yet I’m too bad to stay – life is paradox. Keep your powder dry, Frost. Hope I never hear from you again.”

“Well, you have to expect a Christmas card now,” he replied wryly.

“Yeah, I’ll keep an eye out for that.” She dropped the receiver back in its cradle, and realized her appetite was gone. Damn it.

She wondered what she was going to do, but she already knew. It hadn’t changed, and wouldn’t right away. The plan was the same as always.

It was time to roust Shan, and start on home.

****

The End.

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