Zero Hour: Two – My Dinner With Seaborg

Troubleshooter
Zero Hour
by Andrea Speed

Two – My Dinner With Seaborg

She gave him a skeptical look, folding her hands on top of the file. “I’m not a hit woman. And if I was, I’d charge a hell of a lot more.”

“Don’t misunderstand me … what do I call you now?”

She shrugged, not sure it mattered. “What do you want to call me? Zed’s fine.”

21.jpgThat made him quirk a bushy eyebrow at her, amused and annoyed. “So you go by letters of the alphabet now? That’s … unusual.”

“Names don’t mean as much as people think they do. Some of us are never happy with them.”

“And some of us are deliberately freaky.” He sat back in his chair with a sigh, and told her, “I’m not asking you to cancel him. What I’m asking you to do is eliminate him in a rather passive aggressive way: destroy him as an asset.”

Now that intrigued her. “Blow his rep?”

“Do whatever you have to do, just make him persona non grata to whatever government he tries to kiss up to. I don’t need to tell you what will happen as soon as his protection is gone.”

It was an indirect way to kill him. As soon as his protection as an asset was gone, many of the same governments would be after him for a myriad of crimes, and others would be gunning at him for being a snitch. Whether he was poor at it or not, or playing an angle, was irrelevant to the general code that “thou shalt not squeal”.

She opened the folder once more, and looked at The Wolf in profile. There was something about him, with his all American square jaw and sharp nose, the way his thin lips seemed to almost recede into his face, the way his skin pulled taut over razor cut cheekbones, that suggested a rapacious appetite. Not for food, although that was possible. No, she was thinking of hunger for darker things, the things most people wanted but never got a chance to indulge – money, power, sex, drugs. He would be vulnerable there, through his appetites; most people were. “Do you have an activities report?” An activities report would be a record of his general day to day life – the places he usually went to, the people he usually saw, the potentially deadly routines people fell into often without realizing it.

“Not as such, but I’m sure I can take care -”

He paused abruptly as the waiter returned to their table, and put down a steaming plate of frittata (really just a fancy ass omelet) in front of her, and a small saucer of toast in the center of the table, with what appeared to be a condiment caddy of some sort. She noticed Frost’s eyes immediately lock on the toast with an obvious desire, and as soon as the waiter left, she told him, “Take it already.”

“I was that obvious, was I?” He helped himself to a triangle of toast, starting to spread butter – or whatever passed for butter here – on it.

“Like a horny virgin in a whorehouse.”

He almost laughed, but tried his best to swallow it, feigning indignation. “You Australians are so crass.”

“Ain’t we just? Look, I could buy this was just convenient timing, what with Wolf and me both on the same continent at the same time, but I’d have to be pretty fucking drunk. So why me, and why now?”

He finished dumping a small tub of raspberry jam on his toast slice, smearing it on the bread with delicate care. How starved for carbs was he? “Truthfully? I’ve been alerted by my friends still inside MI-6 that there’s been some suspicious activities in a couple of his supposedly “hidden” bank accounts.”

“Shifting big sums in or out?”

“In. Routed through Cambodian accounts to attempt to camouflage the source, which was Uzbekistan.”

She gave him a moment to take a bite of his toast and savor it. Uzbekistan wasn’t known for much, beyond oil and a repressive regime that made one a bit homesick for the old Communist system of rule. Despite their oil and gold deposits, their economy was a big black hole, so if large sums of money were coming out of it, it could generally be attributed to one of two things: oil or black market weaponry. The Wolf wasn’t into oil, not the last she’d heard from him. “What’s the weapon? Who’s he brokering for?”

Frost chewed his bite of toast with such deliberateness she knew that savoring had become stalling. He put his slice down and had a sip of tea before he answered her questions. “I can’t tell you who he’s brokering for, as I’m afraid the data on that isn’t quite strong enough. But the weapon in question … eleven ounces of plutonium.”

She almost dropped her fork, but managed to hang on, although she stopped chopping up her eggs with her fork for a moment. Frost went on casually eating his toast, as if he hadn’t just dropped the “P” word. “I assume we’re talking weapons grade here.”

He crunched nonchalantly, reminding her why he was such an excellent intelligence chief. He was born with liquid nitrogen in his veins. “I hope you appreciate how many laws I’ve broken simply by speaking to you of this.”

“You haven’t broken any laws; you’re retired. The ones who broke the laws are the friends who leaked it to you.”

That made him smile, and he looked like a proud father. “Very good. Civilian life hasn’t dulled your wits any.”

“Nor yours. Plutonium’s gotta be a deal breaker for any asset, so why aren’t the States and Italy playing ball?”

“We don’t have acceptable proof, just the aborted money trail, and technically the Uzbekistanis are American allies – on paper, at least. The Ubekistanis we’ve been able to talk to insist Wolf was paid for the sale of oil stocks.”

“Since when did he have oil stocks?”

“Our point exactly. But Uzbekistan insists all their plutonium is accounted for.”

“But they won’t let any outsiders verify this.”

“Heaven forbid, you stupid woman. Intelligence gathering nowadays is all taken on faith.”

She smirked at his sarcasm as she helped herself to a bite of the frittata. It might have been a needlessly fancy way of saying omelet, but it was still damn good, and the vegetables were still crunchy. She also thought she tasted the tang of a strong Italian cheese, more like Romano than anything else, and was amazed at how good it was. If she gave Frost a taste of this, he’d probably steal her plate and shove her away from the table. “Okay, enough foreplay. You must have a vague idea of where the plutonium might be, because I doubt MI-6 would be working on a hunch. Or have things gotten as bad on that side of the pond as it is over here?”

“Ouch. No, things are not quite that bad … often. We believe the plutonium in question is in Africa. North Africa.”

She rolled her eyes, able to guess the rest of this scenario. “Let me take a shot in the dark: one of those North African countries that collectively hates our fucking guts, and will more than likely keep the plutonium for themselves if they find it first.”

He tapped the end of his nose, like this was just one big game of charades. “Excellent. You’re good at this. You should be on a game show.” He unhurriedly chewed another bite of toast, making her wait for the rest of the story. She just continued to eat her eggs, pretending she didn’t care that he was playing this little game with her. It was very much in the character of a director to play around a bit with their troops. Finally, he got to it. “Right now we have operatives in play, trying to find the plutonium or, failing that, the lackeys The Wolf has working for him there. We need to act quickly, before they can get it to the buyer, whose identity remains in question.”

“So by discrediting The Wolf in some way, even if it’s minor, I buy you time.”

“Precisely. If the buyer gets nervous and pulls out, the sellers won’t be pleased with him, and they make themselves known inadvertently. This is doubly true if they immediately turn around and put it back on the market. And if you completely discredit him, well, some government will get him – who is quite irrelevant.”

“And best of all, I can’t be tied to MI-6 in any way, I’m technically dead, so no one can claim it was a frame job, and yet I’m not a freelancer who can come back and blackmail you all. You’re an evil genius, Frost.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you sure you still don’t work for them?”

He smiled at her, in that sly way that suggested he was pulling off one hell of a trick. “No, my dear. I can’t be tied to MI-6 any more than you can. I’m just a normal civilian on a vacation with his long time companion. What could I possibly have to do with an MI-6 operation in Northern Africa?” He bit down his toast slice with a leering grin, as if the eating of the toast was a significant coda to his words. In its way, it was, although the symbolism was fucked.

She pretended to mull it over while helping herself to some more eggs, and wondered how her life had come to this. If she believed in karma, she could blame that. But this was the point where believing in absolutely nothing sucked rocks. “So last year I read an article in the Guardian denying a special section in MI-6 existed, so I figure it was dead. When was it cut?” If you bothered to deny it in print -which everyone generally accepted as a lie – that meant it really was done. Otherwise, you were just asking to be investigated by some dickhead after a journalism award.

“Shortly after I retired.”

“Ah, so I’m to blame for that too, am I?”

He shrugged a single shoulder, avoiding denying it outright. “No, the Algerian incident made for a convenient scapegoat. The truth was it was dead already; there just wasn’t enough budget for it.”

“I always knew money really was the root of all evil.”

“Indeed.” He finished off his toast slice in two bites, delicately wiped his fingers on his napkin, and had a sip of his tea while she watched this polite ritual with something akin to awe. She was beginning to feel she ate like a pig – or a frat boy, whichever. “I’ll take the gig.”

“Excellent. I have five thousand dollars in cash in my briefcase. Will that be an adequate initial payment?”

She kept her expression neutral, and it was an act of will not to drop her fork. “That’ll do for now.”

“Good. I’ll have a plane ticket to Toronto and new identification messengered to you within the hour, along with your hotel reservations. You will have equipment waiting for you in Toronto, so there’s no reason to worry about getting anything through security. Do you still prefer Brownings and Sig Sauers?”

“Yeah. Uh … can we make this all for two?”

The extent of Frost’s reaction was a quirked eyebrow. “You have a partner? One you can trust?”

“Yeah, I do, and he might prove useful.”

“Does he know ..?”

“No. He thinks I’m a former Sydney copper.”

Frost chuckled, glancing out the window as a traffic helicopter flew off towards the downtown area, where the arteries of the city got clogged in no time fast. It wasn’t London or New York by any means, but you were still better off finding another way to get around certain places. “Do they make police officers like you?”

“I wouldn’t know. But my guess is not bloody likely.”

“It’s the safe bet. I’ll need a current photograph.”

“You’ll get it.”

But on the other hand, should she involve Shan in this? This would be incredibly dangerous, and they could never talk about it to anyone. Shan could keep his mouth shut, but right now, with the way he was, she was afraid he wouldn’t be up to the dangerous part. Yet she knew if she left him out, that might be the very last straw.

This convinced her she was getting soft. But it was too late to do anything about it now.

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