Zero Hour: Three – How Not To Be Seen

Troubleshooter
Zero Hour
by Andrea Speed

Three – How Not To Be Seen

She went home and found two recent pictures of her and Shan. Shan was easy to get a photo of, but she avoided cameras as a matter of practicality. Still, she always had one around, just for fake identification purposes. It was always good to have some handy, especially if you needed to change identities in a hurry.

31.jpgShe messengered them over to Frost’s hotel, then headed out, driving up to Kamloops, mainly because no one knew her in Kamloops. There she hit the first relatively clean looking strip mall, and had her hair cut in a cheap chain store. She just told the woman she got that she wanted it short, style didn’t matter, and the woman did just that. People often looked a lot like their i.d. photos, but if you wanted to look like you’d had it for a while, something about your appearance had to change. Hair was the easiest, cheapest, and most dramatic. After getting her cut, she hit the chain drugstore in the same lot and bought a box of hair dye. While she was fond of her understated purple, if you intended to follow someone or otherwise stake them out, you needed to be as inconspicuous and bland as possible. After looking over her choices, she settled on black, and while waiting for the bored clerk to ring it up, she saw a pair of sunglasses with round, powder blue lenses. They looked exactly like cheap knock offs of something Bono would wear on a talk show, and because they were something she wouldn’t wear in a million years, she bought them too.

She went home once more, and dyed her hair, aware that this did sort of … well, “excite” was too strong a word. But one of the things she’d enjoyed about this line of work was pretending to be someone else for a while. She knew herself, and it bored her more than anything. She could pretend to be a complete prat for a while, someone who didn’t have her background or her name, someone who didn’t know what she knew. She couldn’t live like that, but she could do it for a little while, and it was somewhat liberating. If she really needed to appear spacey, she popped a cold pill or a painkiller beforehand. It wasn’t too disabling, and yet gave off an aura of either stupidity or boredom minus her usual contempt. It wasn’t easy to bear the mantel of misanthrope on an undercover job.

She picked a good color; her hair came out so black it was almost blue, although only in very bright light, so she would easily blend into a crowd.

She then headed over to Shan’s place to let him know they had a gig that would take him out of Vancouver for a couple of days. It was possible he’d say no, but she doubted it – it would probably be better for him if he did.

When she got there, she found a little kid, maybe about ten, knocking on his door, leaning on a hockey stick like it was a cane. As she came up, she said, “That Shan’s stick?”

The kid glanced over his shoulder at her, lips pursed in annoyance. He was a small Asian kid, with temporary green streaks in his short black hair. “Shan? Do you mean Shane?”

The slightly snotty tone of his voice almost made her laugh. “Yeah. Didn’t he tell you his hockey nickname was Shan? Short for Shanahan. “

The kid sniffed and looked generally unimpressed and petulant, reminding her quite vividly why she never liked kids. “Yeah, but it sounds stupid.”

“Hockey ain’t played by brain surgeons.” No sport was, but why go into it? “So I’ll put his stick inside if you want.”

He looked wary and suspicious, tightening his grip on the stick. “How’ll you do that?”

She held up Shan’s apartment key, as she had a spare. He always liked her to have a spare “just because”, but she suspected this fell into his general fear about his petit mal seizures eventually moving up to grand mals. He was told that was unlikely to impossible, but since the treatment of his petit mals was a collective shrug, she couldn’t blame him for not trusting them. “’Cause I’m goin’ inside.”

Again that distrustful look, which was funny to see on a tween. Maybe he was one of those kids that had a “tough life”, as Shan had euphemistically called it. She should have sympathy, having had a “tough life” herself, but too often it was an excuse for other crap. Did she turn into a psychopath? Okay, maybe, but a government sanctioned psychopath, which could be at least argued as being semi-constructive. “You his girlfriend or somethin‘?”

“Or something. I’m his friend, thank you.” She moved to the door to unlock it, but as soon as she slid the key in, she knew the door wasn’t locked. So why wasn’t he answering the door? It wasn’t like Shan to shun anyone.

Oh shit. Today was “new medication” day, wasn’t it? He would be trying new meds to see if they could help his condition at all, and that was basically like playing Russian roulette with your brain chemistry. It could do nothing, it could do something good, or it could do something that would require a visit to the emergency room. Too bad he couldn’t have EMTs standing by.

She pretended to unlock the door and opened it a crack, pocketing her key. “See?”

The kid grumbled, a reluctant agreement, and handed her the stick. She briefly considered smacking him with it, but that was probably illegal unless they were actually on the ice. She went in and closed the door, prepared for the worst.

The television was on, but the volume was low, sparing her a commercial for the Fifth Estate. His blinds were open, letting in a soft gray light, but she didn’t see him, not at first. But then, just beyond the coffee table, was a foot.

He was passed out on the floor, dressed in sweatpants and a Ramones t-shirt, a fallen glass just beyond his outstretched right hand. She tossed the stick on the sofa and crouched down beside him. “Hey, Shan, get up you lazy asshole,” she taunted, feeling for a pulse on his neck. It was slow but there, steady, and he seemed to be breathing okay. She whistled sharply, but he didn’t even twitch.

“See, this is what you get for mixing Red Bull with crack.” She got up and went to his sink, pouring cold water in the nearest glass she could find. Not much, just about a half inch of water, and then she splashed it on Shan’s face.

He jolted and spluttered, finally waking up. He opened his eyes, looking around in a dazed manner, before attempting to sit up. “ Damn it, why’d you throw water on me?”

“Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been pee.”

He stared at her a moment, mouth agape, water dripping off his chin. Finally, he chuckled and shook his head. “Why do I get the feeling you’re not joking?” He then did a slight double take, and stared at her hair. “How long have I been out?”

She replied, deadpan, “Eight years. Fuck if I know, man, I came in and found you passed out on the floor. What happened?”

“Your hair is black, right?”

“Yeah, I dyed it and got it cut, so you’re not seein’ things. Get on with it, will you?”

He sighed and wiped the water off his face as he glanced at the carpet, trying to pull his thoughts together. “I took the new meds, and nothing seemed to happen, So I went through my closet, trying to figure out if I had any clean clothes or not, and then I started to feel … weak. Not even tired, I mean weak, like I wasn’t strong enough to hold myself up. So I decided to crash on the couch until I felt better, and …”

“You didn’t make it.”

“No, apparently not.” He struggled to his feet, and she didn’t make any move to help him, as she figured he’d been humiliated enough. He managed to stand, although he wavered unsteadily on his feet for a moment, and brought a hand to his head like it was in danger of floating away. “Man, I’m never taking those again.”

“Why not? They might make kick ass sleeping pills.”

He grunted in what could have been humor, stumbling to the couch and moving the stick aside before collapsing. “Yeah. And I guess if I’m unconscious, I can’t have a seizure, so the logic’s bulletproof.” He rubbed his head one more time – there was a little red spot where he hit the floor the hardest – and looked askance at the hockey stick. “Was Linus here?”

“He a mouthy Asian kid?”

He smirked, wiping more water off his face to hide it. “I’ll take that as a yes. Yeah, he’s gotta ‘tude, but he’s a great goalie in the making.”

“I know I’d like to shoot something at him.”

“Did he, uh, see me -”

“No, I took the stick and closed the door in his face.”

He shook his head, sweeping his damp bangs away from his face. “A little tact wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m deathly allergic to tact.” She leaned against the counter and noticed the plastic amber colored bottle of pills besides the toaster. She picked it up and read the label, figuring it was his new pills, and she didn’t recognize the name of the meds at all, which seemed to have at least two extraneous syllables. “You google these?”

“No, but they came with this huge laundry list of side effects from the pharmacy. I can’t remember narcolepsy being on the list.”

“They probably hid it underneath swollen testicles.” She shook the bottle to gain his full attention. “Can I keep these?”

He gave her the funniest look, like she just told him where he could put his hockey stick, but after a moment he shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I was just going to flush ‘em. You’re not going to do something illegal with them, are you?”

“Can’t make promises.” She slipped them in her coat pocket. “Tell me, you got any plans for the next couple of days?”

That seemed to perk him up. “Ooh, we got a job? Does that explain your hair?”

“Yes and yes. But if you don’t think you can handle it I really don’t want you comin’ along.”

He shook his head and sighed wearily. “See, challenging my manhood isn’t a good way to start any conversation.”

“There’s no joke here, Shan. This is a job I can’t tell you too much about. What I can tell you is that if everything goes wrong, we could end up dead in shallow graves in less than an eye blink, and we have to go to Toronto for two days, pretending to be other people. Think you can handle it?”

He considered that a moment, then slapped himself to make sure he was still awake. “Ow! Shit, I did that too hard.”

“Is abusing yourself an answer?”

He rubbed his jaw, and the scrape of stubble suggested he didn’t shave. “Maybe. Who are we pretending to be, exactly? And what are we doing?”

“Who we are doesn’t matter – we’re just tourists. If no one notices us, that’s what we want. As for what we’re doing, we’re setting up a man – a very dangerous man – for a big fall. If we get caught, we’re dead, so we’re gonna try not to do that, okay?”

“Setting someone up? Isn’t that entrapment?”

“Only for cops. We’re not. And believe me, this guy needs to go down, so don’t let your conscience get to ya.”

“It’s not conscience more than it’s self-preservation. What’s the likelihood we could fuck this up?”

That was a fair question, but she wasn’t sure she could give him a good answer. “It’s relatively low. We just can’t make ourselves conspicuous.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “I’m brain damaged, and you’re you. We’re by nature conspicuous.”

“Yeah, but we can fake invisibility for a while. You in, or do you want to sit this one out?”

He had to think about it, glancing at the t.v., then at the window. “We getting paid good?”

“Oh yeah. I could give you two thousand dollars right now.”

He stared at her wide eyed. “Two thousand ..? Okay, yeah, I’m in. When we going to Toronto?”

It was amazing that everyone had the same bottom line, good guy or bad. But at least it could be said that the want of money – the root of all evil or not – was a tremendous equalizer.

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