Scorched Earth Policy, Part 4

4 – Waiting, Phase One

Four Days Earlier

It was so weird to see Shan with kids. It was even odder to see that they looked up to him.

Z was sitting in what would probably be considered the “cheap seats”, if the Rec Center could be said to have cheap seats. It gave her not only a good look at the skating rink, but at the few people in the seats who were sitting watching, presumably parents and family members ready to take the kids home when this was all over. Z found, even after a short amount of surveillance, that she could pick out different types amongst the people.

The “hockey dads” – guys who took it way too fucking seriously – all sat with rigid postures or clenched fists, acting like every kid who stumbled on the ice or took bad potshots at the net were committing some grievous sin. The “hockey moms” – basically chauffeurs – usually looked tired and distracted, although some did other things, such as read mass market paperbacks or knit scarves. The older brothers or sisters sent to pick up their little brother (or sister – Shan had a couple girls on his team, including a pudgy one who was actually an impressive brick wall of a goaltender) usually texted or watched or listened to something on their phone or iPod, their postures reflecting boredom. The older brothers who had played hockey and cared about it did nothing but watch. There was one hockey mom, a Korean woman in her early thirties, who never watched her kid but watched Shan instead, with an almost predatory gaze. He never believed Z when she said that mom wanted to jump his bones, but clearly she did – if it wasn’t for the presence of the kids, she’d have probably tackled him on the rink. Was it wrong that Z would have paid cash to see it?

Shan had haphazardly put on goalie gear (the leg pads and the helmet, but it didn’t look like he was wearing any other padding – maybe he knew they’d never be able to lift a puck into his midsection), and was taking pucks that his kids shot at him. Or towards the net, which was actually a different thing (about one of three kids actually hit him; the rest shanked pucks in wildly variant directions). But Shan always shouted out compliments and encouragement, no matter how far off the mark they were. He was very good with the kids, giving him a “gentle giant” mystique, which made her feel bad for always embroiling him in violent shit, until she recalled that Shan always liked being involved in the violent shit. Oh, he didn’t like hurting people, but he liked the excitement. He was a thrill junkie, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

She was marveling that Shan had a kid named Rajiv on his squad when a woman suddenly appeared in the aisle beside her. She was an older middle aged Asian woman, dressed in a surprisingly neat and conservative dark pantsuit, with a gold silk scarf knotted around her neck to add a little color. Her black hair was cut short and somewhat severe, accidentally emphasizing the roundness of her face. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” she asked.

Z didn’t even look at her watch. “Eight fifteen.” That wasn’t right, but it wasn’t supposed to be. That was the code.

The woman who was her contact with the CSIS, Elena Chen, sat down in the threadbare seat beside her and sighed. “I got held up in traffic. I forgot they were still doing road work.”

“So much for Canadian Intelligence.”

Z noticed her scowl out of the corner of her eye, but didn’t acknowledge it. After a moment, Chen stopped giving it to her. “I understand you don’t want to work with us, but you’re on our soil. If an MI-6 op wants to go off, we have to be involved.”

“I’m just a freelancer. I don’t want to be involved in this at all.”

“But here you are.” They sat in silence for a moment, before Chen said, “So that’s the civilian, Shane Shanahan. He’s a goalie? Well, that explains the brain damage.”

“He’s good, and he’s in. He won’t compromise anything.”

“Did you know I had never heard of petit mal? I had to Google it. And I’m still not sure I know what it means.”

“Look at him. He can handle his shit.”

She stared at him skeptically, like he was a pre-packaged sandwich with a dubious expiration date. “How much does he weigh?”

“Two twenty five, nearly all muscle. I don’t think he has any fat on him.”

She let out a low whistle. “So this and being a bouncer keeps him in shape?”

“He works out a bit. He has no social life. He’s afraid of having seizures in places where you would normally meet people: bars, restaurants, clubs. Too much light and noise contrast can trigger an episode.”

“Doesn’t he work at a club?”

“Yeah, but outside. He only goes in when he’s called for.”

There was a loud crack as a puck hit the Plexiglas behind the rink hard, and while some of the spectators in that area ducked (as if breaking was an actual possibility), Shan seemed unmoved, and actually called out, “Nice slapshot, Scotty! But take a moment to find your target first, okay?” That had missed Shan so badly that the kid might as well have been shooting for the other end of the rink. He would probably get better, but she bet Scotty didn’t have a future as a sniper.

“Hockey players have great bodies,” Chen said, apropos of nothing.

“Really?” Z wondered where this tangent was going.

“Oh yeah. Their faces are often a horror show, but slap a paper bag on their heads and strip ‘em, and they’re some of the best looking straight guys around. Really hard, lean bodies.”

Now Z got it. Chen was joining that one hockey mom who was wondering what Shan was packing under that jersey. “I wouldn’t know. You used to date one?”

“I grew up in Canada. So, yes. And they’re jerks, you know – most jocks are jerks. But nice to look at.”

Z only nodded, swallowing back her initial response, which was all men – jocks or not – were jerks. Women were hardly better. But that was cynical enough to be revealing of her personality, so she didn’t say it. “He’s had a dry spell for a long time. You could probably take a crack at him if you want.”

Chen raised an eyebrow at her for that, scoffing. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m sure he can fight – when he’s conscious – but I’d rather assign you an agent who knows what we’re up against.”

“I don’t want a CSIS shadow, Chen. I don’t want to be followed, I don’t want to be teamed up with someone new. I’m willing to work with you, but on my terms.”

She let out a little huff of a sigh. “They warned me you were difficult. They undersold it.”

“They undersell it to other agencies, and oversell it in house. They’re British – they’re all drama queens.”

That got a small, humorous noise out of her. “They warned me you weren’t a team player.”

“I was always one of those agents you called in when things went tits up. I wasn’t supposed to be a team player.”

She noticed Chen was now studying her out of the corner of her eye, but Z kept her focus resolutely on the ice. “Were you a cleaner?”

Z didn’t answer. She felt that, honestly, there was no need to answer that question. She either figured it out for herself, or she didn’t.

****

Now

The one good thing about being in a forested area was all the good cover it provided. But Z wasn’t happy, mainly because it would have been ideal if she had a sniper rifle. But what she had were two nine millimeters, which weren’t ideal for distance. To use them with any decent accuracy, she’d have to be closer to her targets than she liked. Oh well, it was her fault for getting locked in the trunk of a car.

This was a part Shan wasn’t very good at: waiting. He was used to waiting in one sense, as being a bouncer meant standing around for most of the night, but at least he got paid for it, and there was a nearly endless parade of people – many drunk – to keep things interesting. Here there was nothing to do but birdwatch.

She suggested he take the Jeep and go until she called him, but he refused. He only moved it, hiding it behind cover, and then came to join her where she was waiting for Six to show up.

This went on for a while. Occasionally they talked, but not often. Nothing worthy of note was covered, mainly because Shan had no desire to discuss what he did to those guys back at his apartment. Yeah, he could fuck guys up royal, but unlike most jock boys, he didn’t like to talk about it. Probably because a bit of roughing up lead him to his brain injured status. When you paid the price, you couldn’t be proud of it.

Finally she heard the hum of tires on hard packed earth, and nudged Shan. “Get ready.”

But she knew from nudging him that he seemed almost excessively rigid, and glancing over she confirmed that he was staring out into space, eyes unfocused. Seizure time. Well, you know, he lasted longer than she thought he would. He’d done very well. But she was on her own right now, and she kind of expected that to happen at some point.

She liked working alone. Now she could do stuff and not have to explain it to him.

She laid him out, because, even though he was in a sitting position, she didn’t need him toppling over at an inopportune time.

The car, a white Ford Focus (clearly a rental), came to a stop almost directly parallel to her hiding spot, and she saw two big men in the car, neither Six. She watched them get out, visually assessing them. Both were huge guys, easily beyond six feet, with the approximate width of refrigerators. They walked with their arms slightly held out at their sides, as if the muscles were too bulky to deal with, and both were obviously strapped. Guns sure, but probably knives as well. Both were smoking, one a regular cigarette, one a Galois. She assumed they were both former White Wolf, although she didn’t discount the possibility that the guy with the Galois was simply a Euro-thug.

She let them start moving out towards the clearing before she came out of hiding and advanced in a low crouch towards the Focus. She hid behind it and waited for them to say something, but neither did. They were such pros that they knew you didn’t talk when approaching an unknown situation. She glanced up at the side mirror, making sure their huge backs were turned to her, before standing up and shooting at both of them, a gun in each hand like she was a hero in an action movie.

It was as cowardly as shit to shoot someone in the back. But when you were dealing with mercenaries, there was no room for honor.

Bullets punched through both of them, shock startling yelps out of them as sprays of blood burst from their shoulders, chests, and legs. She wasn’t going for the fatal neck shot (you couldn’t be sure of a fatal head shot with a nine from this distance, but if you took out the carotid or the jugular, it was goodnight nurse, even if you used nothing more than a ballpoint pen), not yet, but she was prepared to as soon as she deemed it necessary.

One was hurt worse than the other, and you could tell which one, because the one with more surface injuries reached for his gun even as he hit the ground. Ignoring the sick ache in her head, she ran up and kicked the gun out of his hand as he pulled it. “Don’t you fucking move,” she snapped. “Unless you want me to shoot your balls off too.”

It was the Galois smoking one who still had some fight left in him. The other thug was curled up in a fetal position, whining, “Fucking cunt, you shot my knee!”

Galois had bristly black hair and eyes as brown as mud, his gaze flat and full of hate. “I knew it was too good to be true. They said they had you wrapped up like a Christmas present.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking Santa Claus.” She was tempted to kick him in his bloody thigh, where a bullet had penetrated (but not exited; he was only bleeding from the back), but she had stepped back after kicking the gun from his hand and had no desire to get that close again. He may have had four or five bullets in him, but the wounds were all minor, and he was a big guy who knew his life was at stake. He would fight like hell to live, and she didn’t need to get into direct combat with him. “Where’s Six?”

He sneered up at her, his eyes showing that, in his mind, he was crunching numbers, trying to figure out if he could tackle her before she could put another bullet in him. Since he didn’t move, he must have figured the answer was no. “What the fuck, d’ya think this is 24 or somethin’? You torture me and I spill my guts? Fuck you! You’re gonna kill me anyways.”

“I’m doin’ you a favor, mate. I could kill you quick, or leave you to die slow. Up to you.”

“I’ve already made my choice.”

“So is this why torture never works?” Shan said, coming up, holding out another nine millimeter Glock he’d gotten from the Jeep. His eyes still had the glassy sheen of post seizure consciousness, that fuzzy half way glance that said he barely knew what planet he was on, but he was with it enough to come help her, which she had to give him credit for. See, CSIS would have been happier to have him as an agent; he was a team player all the way, and never let a friend go it alone, even when he was half-conscious and severely disoriented. Z knew she was living proof that it was hard to teach that kind of knee jerk loyalty – either you were born with the tendency or you weren’t.

“No. Torture never works ‘cause people make shit up. They tell you what you want to hear so you stop shovin’ wires up their urethra.”

Shan and the two men on the ground all winced. “Please tell me you just made that up,” Shan asked. His voice still had a thick, slow fuzz to it – again, typical post-seizure problem – but since the guys on the ground had presumably never heard him speak before, they’d never notice it. They’d just presume he was a slow talker.

“If that makes you sleep better, sure,” she offered. He gave her a wide eyed look of shock.

Galois craned his neck up at him. “Are you the brain damaged fuck buddy? Why ain’t you dead yet?”

“Fuck buddy?” Shan repeated in confusion.

“I think Six is the only guy in the world who thinks I’m straight.”

“Well, you do give off a kinda manly vibe.”

Galois snorted a laugh. He tried to smother it, but not very hard. She wasn’t going to hold it against Shan, because, hell, she knew she came off as pretty butch. It was part of the job.

Shan was getting better. He noticed the guy in the fetal position, holding his bloody kneecap and gritting his teeth against the pain. “Um, should we call an ambulance or something?”

“No.”

Galois now sneered up at Shan. “You don’t have the slightest fucking idea what she is, do you?”

Shan glanced at her, but not in a way that suggested he was surprised by the comment. Shan had made peace with never quite knowing who she was, and actually he seemed happier not knowing, adopting the theory ignorance was bliss, or at least a good friendship. He was correct. “What are we gonna do with ‘em, then?”

What a very good question. With Shan standing right here, an eyeball witness to whatever she did, what was she going to do with them?

How far did Shan’s loyalty go?

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