Scorched Earth Policy, The End

10 – Ephemera

This time the meeting place was at a café downtown, near the art museum. It was a sunny day, but the wind off the water gave everything a slight chill. Still, Frost was sitting at one of the round outdoor tables, in the shade of a multicolored umbrella. He wore sunglasses and a gray fedora along with a heavy dark coat, the kind that might be worn by an old man … or a hit man. It was sometimes a strangely fine line.

Z sat down in the chair across from him, suppressing the grimace that her broken rib had threatened to cause, and tried to guess what he was drinking by smell alone. Earl Grey? Frost folded up his newspaper, and said, “You were right about your American. He’s excellent. How much have you coached him?”

“Very little. Some people are just born fighters.”

“Such as you.”

“I wasn’t going to say that. I don’t want to seem conceited.”

“You’ve been a lot of things. Never conceited, though.”

“Thanks. I think.”

The waitress came over, a perky little brunette who was too cheerful not to be high on something or thinking about something much better than her job. Z ordered a sugary soda and sent her off. “You were always intending to permanently neutralize Oswald, weren’t you?” he asked. It almost wasn’t a question.

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“I can’t help but notice you didn’t deny it.”

“I’m more curious in why you said that.”

He shifted in his seat and took his sunglasses off, so he could fix her with his scrutinizing blue eyes. “He didn’t have much in the way of fight injuries, in spite of the mess in the room. Just that single paralyzing wound. It was almost surgical.”

“Almost my ass. It was perfectly surgical. A work of art, if I don’t say so myself.”

The waitress arrived with the soda, so he scowled at her until she left, then slipped his glasses back on. “You gave up the game. Canadian Intelligence knows when they encounter an assassin. They’re not happy.”

“They wanted Oswald out of their country. He is, so they shouldn’t be complaining. Karma’s a bitch and so am I.”

He grimaced as if in pain. “I know what you’re doing.”

She took a drink of her cola, which was iced near to death, and the cold combined with so much sugar made her teeth ache. “Getting my caffeine fix?”

“You think you’re going to get out of this by being trouble. Deary, we at MI-6 knew you were trouble the first moment we saw your psych profile. It’s not going to be that simple.”

“I know. I figured I’d have to die again and take up shop elsewhere. I hear Argentina needs more sheep farmers.”

“It’s a good thing you’re joking.”

“Am I?” She grinned at him in a humorless and honestly annoying way.

He sighed and stood up, putting the folded newspaper on the table. “You did good, so you’re off the hook … for now. But don’t press your luck. They’re so humorless at MI-6 nowadays.”

She wondered if they ever actually had a sense of humor, but didn’t say it. Frost knew it better than anybody.

She was torn. She was getting older, and she couldn’t keep doing this forever, and Shan, as tough as he was, couldn’t do this forever either. Not only did his seizures continue to get worse, he was still a little shaken up over the levels of violence employed on this assignment. He sometimes looked at her sidelong when he didn’t think she was looking. He didn’t ask about Oswald, so she figured he knew he was dead. She guessed it bothered him that she’d killed the guy and didn’t seem bothered by it. He was hardly the first man she’d killed, and besides that, he was a mad dog that deserved putting down. But Shan didn’t know that, and probably never would.

Z picked up the newspaper Frost had left behind, and wasn’t surprised to see a phone number scribbled in the margin of the front page. It was a British number, probably his. But did he give it to her in case she decided to pack up and disappear again, so she could keep him in the loop? Or did he want to talk her out of it?

That was what most sucked about the spy game, and what she missed the least. You never knew quite who you could trust, and how far you could trust them. Absolutely everyone could be bought, but prices varied.

Z sat at the outdoor table, in the shade of the parasol, and tried to figure out her next move.


The End

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