Scorched Earth Policy, Part 6

6 – In Action

The first shot pinged off the hood, making both Z and Shan duck behind their open doors. Other shots went wide, although one cracked the windshield with a sound like rime creaking under the heat of the morning sun.

“You got a lotta nerve, you stupid bitch!” a man roared from the shack.

Shan looked at her across the seat. “A friend of yours?”

“People love me,” Z replied, as she fired back blindly with one of the nines. She wasn’t trying to hit anything, just trying to make him stop shooting for a second so she could gauge where he was firing from.

“You’re a people person,” Shan agreed. “Can I surrender?”

“I’d let ya, but I bet they’ll think it’s a trap.”

“What if I swore it wasn’t?” He ducked even lower as bullets shattered the passenger side window above him.

“I doubt they’d believe you.” From what she’d been able to tell, muzzle flashes seemed to be emanating from a crack beside the door. Not the door, which was shut, but a crack between boards, wide enough to shave a gun barrel in. Did they think that was going to save them? “Cover me. I’m gonna make a run for the door.”

“Umm … I really don’t wanna shoot anybody.”

“Just shoot towards the shed. You probably couldn’t shoot anyone from here anyways.”

“Are you sure?”

“Would you just fucking shoot already?”

He did, very randomly, almost missing the shed entirely, and she fired randomly with one of the nine millimeters as she ran in a crouch towards the shed. She made it without getting shot, but she suspected that she’d have been okay even if Shan hadn’t covered her. The crack they were shooting through was too narrow; they didn’t have much range or maneuverability. It was like having a huge blind spot, but worse than that: an obvious blind spot.

She waited for the pause after a shot, the barely audible click of someone cocking their gun, and put the shotgun up against the crack and pulled the trigger. As usual with a shotgun, it was explosively loud compared to the other guns, and it blew a huge hole in the wall, causing someone inside to yell “Holy fuck!” After pulling the trigger, Z quickly spun back to where she had been and ducked down, in case someone started shooting through the wall.

But no one did, not until she got back beside the flimsy door, and their shots were so far off target that they might as well have been lobbing frozen peas at them. Shan, for his part, had moved around to the other side of the car, staying as low as he could, which was difficult since he was such a big guy. Still, they never came close to shooting him.

She threw open the door but stood aside, letting the idiots fire blindly out and around the door, occasionally shooting randomly inside with one of the nines to encourage them firing back. Her ears grew accustomed to the small explosions of sound, so she was able to hear the familiar sounds of hasty reloading.

It was only then that she swung into the doorway, shotgun braced against her hip. “First guy to move gets his guts splattered on the wall.”

There were two guys in the shack, which was an odd collection of valuable car parts and shiny hubcaps amidst straggly pot plants on wooden shelves that looked like they could give way at any moment. There was also a lumpy love seat with worn spots and a brown plaid pattern like a series of accidents, which one of the guys was using as a makeshift cover. The other guy was kneeling on the floor near the crack, beside a knocked over coffee table, his arm visibly bleeding from either a bullet wound or a shrapnel wound. Both were white and slightly dopey looking; older too, and doughy. Not White Wolf, or at least not from the mercenary division. Did they have a Human Resources department?

Shan came up behind her in the doorway, gun out. “So, is the bad guy here?”

“Six? No, not unless he’s really let himself go. You dropping those guns, boys, or do I hafta make an example outta one of you?”

The guys reluctantly dropped their guns with loud clunks. Maybe they were hoping for accidental discharges that would shoot her in the foot, but it didn’t happen. “Good. Who are you dickheads?”

“Fuck off, limey,” the guy on the floor spat.

“Limey?” Shan repeated with a scoff. “Dude, she’s a dingo. Or whatever the nickname for Aussies is.”

“I think it’s koala fucker.” Z told him.

Shan looked at her in surprise. “Is it?”

“I’ve got no fucking idea. I’m guessing.”

“Huh. Might work, I suppose.”

“Are you both fucking retarded?” the guy on the floor said irritably, hand over the wound on his opposite arm, so Z couldn’t tell what had injured him.

She motioned the guy over from the love seat, and reluctantly he stepped out from behind the furniture (like it would have protected him from a shotgun blast). “Who are you assholes? You’re not White Wolf.”

“We’re nobody, okay?” the guy on the floor said irritably. Shan collected their dropped guns, and he watched him closely. Z was actually hoping the idiot would jump him, because Shan would make short work of him. He was great at hand to hand combat. He must have figured he was too big for him, because the guy remained where he was.

“Well, I can tell by the accent you’re Canadian. So what are you, stringers?”

The guy on the floor looked at her blankly. He had mouse brown hair that looked liked a collapsed ski lift, sagging on his forehead like it was slowly falling off a cliff. “What the fuck’s a stringer?”

“And you called us retarded?” Shan exclaimed.

“Where’s Six?” She asked, knowing it was a long shot. The reason they’d bring these guys on board was precisely because they knew nothing. They were the weak link in the information chain, and you couldn’t drag information out of a person who genuinely knew nothing at all.

“Six?” Said the uninjured guy. “What the fuck kinda name is that?” They were both pudgy white guys, like men made out of boiled potatoes, but this one had hair the color of smoker’s teeth, so thin in places on top of his head he had a bit of a sunburn. His eyes were small and squinty, barely eyes at all in his creased red face.

“Who’s your boss?” she asked, and then quickly amended, “In this operation, not in the junkyard.”

The sunburned guy rolled his eyes. “It’s not a junkyard, okay? It’s an auto yard. The sign says so!”

“Whatever. Who paid you to shoot at me?”

Mr. Sunburn shrugged and then shook his head, his general attitude one of annoyed boredom. “We just did some paperwork for these Eurotrash guys. They said they were Interpol. And they said you were a terrorist.”

“A terrorist? Me? Since when the fuck do women who aren’t trapped in burqas work for Al Qaeda?”

“They said you were North Korean.”

Z shook her head, scowling in disgust. She was only part Asian, and a rather small part at that. And she was part Japanese, not Korean! Racist assholes thinking all Asians looked alike. It figured Six would latch onto that. Shan laughed.

“Yeah, I’m from the Australian part of North Korea,” she said, deadpan. “Where they have the kangaroos.”

The wounded guy looked up at her curiously. “They got kangaroos in North Korea?”

She glared down at him in disgust – was anyone that stupid? – while sunburn clicked his tongue and exclaimed, “No, ya idiot, she was bein’ sarcastic.”

“Trust me, Interpol wouldn’t need you to cook up fake passports for them, and I’ve never even been to North Korea. So give me everything you got on them.”

The idiot and the sunburned guy exchanged a glance before sunburn said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Don’t give me that shit. You keep a file on these guys so if they need another one, you don’t have to mess with getting another photo or any stats. So now, where is it?”

Again, the morons exchanged a glance. Didn’t they know that was a giveaway? It was a way of saying, “Yes, I’m guilty. Please take me away, Mr. Officer Man” without ever saying a word.

Sunburn sighed and turned away. “Oh, what the fuck.”

“Dude,” the wounded guy said. “You can’t.”

“Yes I can. She’s got a look in her eye like my ex-wife.”

“So?”

“So, I think she’ll kill us all if we don‘t do what she says.” Sunburn pried up a loose floorboard, and Z was watching him closely to make sure he wasn’t going for a weapon. He wasn’t; the only thing in the hollow piece of floor, besides a variety of passport sleeves, was a battered laptop computer.

Z quietly thanked this dumb shit’s ex-wife.

****

Armin Bauer.

Z looked at the file, showing Six’s dead eyed stare. He gave his home address as a parking lot across from the CN Tower, but hey, if they were examining his documents closely he was in deep shit anyways. No harm in giving a phony address as his residence in Canada.

Shan took a look at him, and dramatically shuddered. “Crap in a hat, Z, he looks like a young Hannibal Lecter.”

“You’re not far off.” Oswald had assumed the alias of Robert Stevens, the blandest name imaginable. Bob Stevens – now how could that be the name of a mercenary who could kill you with a toothpick? You’d think he was the last person on Earth to be a coldblooded killer. Unless you looked him in the eyes and realized that he was dead from the neck down.

Shan was quiet for a long time, long enough that she was sure he’d had an episode at some point and recovered, and then finally said, “I’m guessing you didn’t tell me all there is to know about this whole thing.”

“You’d guess right.” How could she lie now?

“Is it that bad? I mean … these guys really are killers, aren’t they? What I said to those guys back in my apartment wasn’t just bullshit. They meant to kill me.”

“Yes.”

He hissed a sigh out through his teeth. “Fucking hell. I thought it was hyper … hyper … hyperthyroid.”

“Hyperbole,” she corrected automatically.

“Yeah, that. So why the hell are we going back there?!”

“’Cause I need to talk to somebody. We know who they are, but not where they are. I need more intell.” They had taken a car from the auto junkyard, an old Dodge Charger that needed a paint job, new rear tires, and a bumper to take the place of the missing one, but at least it ran. Oh sure, the flywheel made a scraping noise like someone trying to get burnt residue off the bottom of a pan with a fork, but they weren’t keeping it forever.

“That explains nothing. You can call from the bus station.”

“They won’t be here. You survived the cleaners; it will be assumed you are on the run. Only an idiot would come back here.”

“So now we’re idiots.”

“No, we’re doing an idiotic thing because it’s actually smart. It’s the last place they’ll look. Besides my place.”

Shan looked blankly through the windshield for a moment, scratching his head quite close to his brain surgery scar. “I don’t get you at all. Shouldn’t we be goin’ to the cops?”

“I’ve told you, we’re beyond the cops now. But don’t worry, we’re not alone. It just seems like it.”

“Has it occurred to you that the guys could be still there, unconscious?”

She shook her head as she swung the Charger into the parking lot of Shan’s apartment building. “The Zamboni’s been through.”

“Huh?”

She killed the engine, which made a ticking noise for about half a minute. “I thought you played hockey, mate.”

Shan winced and rubbed his forehead, like she was paining him. “Did I have a seizure, or does this not make sense?”

“It makes sense, trust me.” With that, she got out of the car, and headed for his ground floor apartment. Shan reluctantly followed, and when they neared his door, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

“Look, let me go in first, okay? Just in case.”

She pulled up her t-shirt, just enough to reveal the butt of the nine she had slipped into the waist of her jeans. “I should go just in case, don’t you think?”

He frowned, but reluctantly let her go ahead. Shan had a strange sense of chivalry, which she almost never encountered, certainly not amongst the jock types. You could argue that it was due to his head injury, but Z figured it was because he was raised right. Never mind that he was an American from Michigan who had spent almost all of his childhood playing sports; he was a genuinely nice guy, a very rare breed. She was kind of sorry she was warping him, making him more and more cynical. At least it was occurring slowly.

There was some blood on the edge of his door, and a bit of denting, but she opened his apartment to reveal … nothing.

Well, okay, that wasn’t true. There was his apartment furniture, his television still on but the volume muted, the coffee table overturned and a couple of magazines scattered on the floor, almost covering the large dark spot of blood on the carpet.

Shan looked in the place with growing surprise, his jaw going slack. “What the fuck ..?”

“See? The Zamboni’s cleaned the place up.” When she called Chen to tell her about the Eurotrash in the woods, she also told her that Shan’s place needed “clearing”. It wouldn’t have taken them long. Unbeknownst to him, Shan’s place had been under surveillance since she’d hammered out a deal with Canadian Intelligence.

Yeah okay, he was a civilian and one very adept at beating a punk ass bitch down, but no one wanted to see him hurt. But she’d be damned if she’d ever tell him she’d had him “protected” all along. He’d never take it in a good way.

And really, she couldn’t blame him for that. She wouldn’t have liked it either.

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