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...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 9

9 – New Orleans Is Sinking Shan wondered how long he could sit here before he could think up an excuse to bust in on Z. She’d hate him for it, but damn it, he just could never reconcile the difference between who she appeared to be and who she actually was. She looked like a kind of average to slightly small woman; in reality, she was more gonzo and hard core violent than any hockey player he had ever met. It was hard to reconcile the two things. His head knew she didn’t need his help ever, but his head was basically broken, so he could expect no help from it at all. But that worked in his favor, right? She’d probably forgive him. He could blame a ton of shit on his brain injury. Shan was searching his pockets for gum when he glanced up and realized...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 8

8 – All Come True Besides the ka-bar, she was carrying another weapon: the electronic equivalent of a skeleton key. Only the manager was supposed to have it, but hey, it was a brave new world, was it not? Who was to say she couldn’t be the manager? Okay, so she was as likely to be a manager as a room service tray. But this was all theoretical. No one who looked at her had paid a single bit of attention to her: she was a woman with short hair and a loose, drab wardrobe, her eyes hidden behind dark glasses. She wasn’t particularly attractive, startling, or memorable. She might as well have been wallpaper. All part of the plan, of course. She was nobody, and no one ever remembered a nobody. The hall was empty as she approached, and she hoped that it stayed...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 7

7 – Idle Hands Chen wasn’t taking her calls right now. Z got routed to a functionary named McCallum, who had his knickers in a twist over how shot up the guys in the woods were (and they didn’t find their being bound with hockey tape very amusing either). After asking how the Eurotrash dirt bags ended up getting so perforated with bullets, she finally told him, “They got in my way.” Did he think she was out in the woods for fun? He sounded flustered for a moment, but then got back on track with the usual “I don’t know how they do things in MI-6, but -” which she’d heard in some form or another a hundred times. She’d even heard it from MI-6. Shan took the time to change clothes, coming back into the living room wearing jeans not spattered...

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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...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 5

5 – Greetings From The Great North Woods In the end, she decided that she could kill in front of Shan, just not in any way that suggested execution style. Which left her with a bit of problem, because these guys just weren’t resisting. But she did agree to keep in touch with Chen, and hadn’t bothered for long enough that CSIS were probably starting to doubt her intentions. At least Shan had some hockey tape in his Jeep. They used it to tape the thugs’ wrists behind their back, and taped their ankles together up to their calves. Just because he was bleeding so much, Shan taped up the bullet wounded knee of the more severely injured guy. Shan advised him to tell the doctors not to just rip it off as they might take skin with it, but for his kind advice...

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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...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 3

3 – Locked In The Trunk Of A Car Five Days Earlier She ended up meeting Shan at a Tim Horton’s not far from the rec center, after one of his afternoons coaching. His hair was still wet and combed back like he was a villain in an old Miami Vice episode, his face slightly flushed from exertion. It was obvious this gig tired him out and depleted his energy, and yet it was equally clear he got enough joy from it that quitting would rob him of his will to live. Z wondered how long he could keep it up before something had to give. And if you weren’t sitting across from him, where you could see his brain surgery scar peeking out from under his hairline, you’d probably think he was the most normal guy in the universe. He was sitting there, eating a box of sour...

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Scorched Earth Policy, Part 2

2 – Insignificant One Week Earlier This time, the meeting was in a movie theater. It was early on a Tuesday afternoon on a sunny but cool day, and this picture was apparently a flop, which would explain why there was only Sir Randolph Frost sitting in the center of the second topmost row of the otherwise empty theater. Z hadn’t really been expecting to find him eating Junior Mints, but he was. This proved he was an old spymaster: always keep them guessing. She didn’t acknowledge him in any way. She just sat down beside him and put her feet on the seat back in front of her as a loud promo for some network series or another unspooled on the big screen. Never mind that there were only two people in the entire theater, they were going to play this grim...

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Troubleshooter: Scorched Earth Policy, Part 1

(Just a reprint, for those who forgot it.) 1 – Thugs Right now I’m having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before. -Steven Wright Nothing suggested you’d made horrible choices in your life like waking up in the trunk of the car. Z tasted blood in her mouth and her head throbbed like a stubbed toe, and her wrists and ankles ached from where the ties were cutting into her skin. It was stuffy in the trunk, smelled like tires even though they had to take them out to make room for her. She hated that smell; it gave her a headache and a bad taste in the back of her throat. She listened carefully for what seemed like an eternity, but was really just about ten minutes. She didn’t hear anyone, and she guessed...

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A brief interlude – sample chapter from the upcoming “Troubleshooter” story

I will be back to Freefall in no time flat, but as a treat for fans of my first serial, Troubleshooter – all two of you – here’s a sneak preview of what just may be the last Troubleshooter. Untitled at the moment, the Steven Wright quote does have a purpose and reason to be here, I swear. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with Z and Shan, go into the archives and read up on them. (If this makes you at all curious about them and their history.) ****** Right now I’m having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before. -Steven Wright Nothing suggested you’d made horrible choices in your life like waking up in the trunk of the car. Z tasted blood in her mouth and her head throbbed like a stubbed toe, and her...

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Zero Hour: Ten – You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Ten – You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison Shan looked a bit shaken after returning from the men’s room, but he just looked at her and nodded, the sign that everything was done. While he had been gone, she’d already snapped some great pictures, including Romano subtly sliding cash to Blunt across the table, trying to buy some of Kristal’s time. Very cute – and wonderfully incriminating. Since she had enough shots, and Shan looked fragile, she figured she should call it. She pulled out her cell phone, punched up the pre-programmed number, and when someone answered, said, “Looks like the party’s over. Wanna pick us up?” After a moment, a voice replied, “On my way.” And that was the...

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Zero Hour: Nine – CandyGram For Mongo

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Nine – CandyGram For Mongo The weakest link in the entire plan was in fact the most important player. Wasn’t that always the way?After Anton – still nervous, but professional all the way – left, she called Jody’s place to check up on her and make sure she remembered what she was supposed to do. Jody was hung over and grumpy as hell, and not all that sure about what happened last night and what this was all about. She kept calling her a “cop”, and after the third time, Z stopped correcting her. So what if she thought they were cops? As long as she did her job, who cared? It was all set up for tonight. Jody would meet with her number one fan, and set up a meeting between her and her “manager”....

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Zero Hour: Eight – Spasmolytic

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Eight – Spasmolytic Was there anything more fun than spending an evening in a Tim Horton’s with a slightly stoned stripper? If there was, she didn’t want to know about it. Seriously, she didn’t. Coffee just made a drunk person more alert, contrary to mythology – it didn’t sober them up. So she didn’t expect good things from combining a moccahino with whatever pills Jody/Kristal was currently on. She sat across the small plastic table from her, so Shan was closest, although out of the direct line of fire in case she projectile vomited. Jody was loopy and just barely conscious half the time, but this made her far more malleable. She easily agreed to what they wanted her to do, even though they had to...

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Zero Hour: Seven – Somebody to Shove

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Seven – Somebody to Shove We have to get out of here,” she told him quietly, keeping her head ducked down like she was looking for a crumb on the wood grain table. Shan looked around, but carefully, trying not to seem too suspicious. “Why? What’s wrong?” “There’s a guy in here who can’t see me. He’ll recognize me and blow the whole deal.” He looked around again, but let his eyes settle on the jailbait twirling around the pole. “Who? Somebody from Vancouver?” “Something like that. I’m sick, and you have to help me outta here.” “Huh?” She glared up at him through her reading glasses, which distorted his face ever so slightly. “My cover story, why you have to get me out of the club now....

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Zero Hour: Six – Yawning or Snarling

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Six – Yawning or Snarling Shan was staring, so she grabbed the back of his head and turned his face away before they could notice. “Don’t do that,” she whispered harshly. “What the fuck are we going to do?” he whispered back, starting to look slightly panicked. “We are going to finish our drinks with due haste, and move on to Spank. He’ll probably be here a while, soaking up the atmosphere.” That last bit was sarcastic, and she wasn’t sure if he got it or not, because he was resolutely looking down into his drink, and pretending – badly – not to be nervous. Suddenly he looked at her, eyes narrowing in suspicion. “In due haste? Who in the hell ever says that?” Oh great. He could forget...

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Zero Hour: Five – Not Was

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Five – Not Was Inside the smallest bag was a bunch of money, small non-sequential bills gathered into stacks by rubber bands, and a relatively thick portfolio. Shan was too busy looking at the cash to notice the folder. “Whoa,” he said, looking like he wanted to touch it but didn’t dare. “I thought suitcases full of money only existed in movies.” “Don’t be too impressed, there’s a lot of singles in there. It’s just a partial payment of our fee. We’ll get the rest once we complete our objective.” Shan looked at her suspiciously. “Exactly what fee did you quote him?” That made her smirk. Head injury or not, he could catch on quick sometimes. “A special job requires special...

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Zero Hour: Four – The Masochism Tango

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed Four – The Masochism Tango She should have known that Frost’s wicked sense of humor would come back to bite her on the ass. As soon as Shan felt ready to venture out, they went back to her place to intercept the messenger who’d be returning with their new i.d.‘s, and she sent him to talk to Ms. Gordon down the hall, as the old lady had an obvious crush on Shan (older women loved him – she enjoyed teasing him about that), and she figured she’d take good care of Satan while she was gone. Of course, Shan would probably tell her the cat was named Satin, but that was okay; Satan couldn’t correct her. The courier arrived while he was still gone, and she got the first look at their new identities. Shan was...

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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. She 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...

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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.” That 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...

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Zero Hour: One – Faithless

Troubleshooter Zero Hour by Andrea Speed One – Faithless Algiers, Algeria – Five Years Ago She didn’t think there were any dead ends around here, and yet she stumbled into one. It figured. Her leg kept wanting to give way, and no amount of willpower was making it obedient. It hurt like fuck, and the fact that was a very large piece of glass still sticking out the side, just an inch and a half below her knee, was only part of the problem. Blood had pooled inside her boots and made a telltale squishing noise as she limped along, while her ribs seemed to grind inside her chest, poking her skin from the inside. At least two broken, as far as she could tell; maybe more, and she could feel blood dripping from her nose like hot snot. But the absolutely...

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Countdown to Zero: Nine – Fade in a Day

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Nine – Fade in a Day She called the police from a public phone several blocks away, disguising her voice and just saying she heard gunshots coming from the Cat Club. When the 911 operator asked for more information, she simply hung up. They would show up or they wouldn’t; either way, it was probably done. She took Shan back to her place, even though it was unlikely the Triad had any interest in cleaning up Fixer’s fuck ups – it just seemed safer, and besides, Shan really didn’t want to go back to his place at the moment. Z realized how truly misanthropic she had become when she realized that it felt weird and wrong to have someone else in her place, even if it was Shan. At least Satan seemed to...

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Countdown to Zero: Eight – Goodbye Sober Day

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Eight – Goodbye Sober Day The good thing about knowing a bouncer wasn’t just that he knew other bouncers, it was that he also knew a lot of bartenders. In spite of the shifts in society, and the shift in the job, people still talked a lot to bartenders, especially the ones who worked until last call. They were like priests, only there was less chance that they would molest you, especially if you were underage. Shan knew this bartender named Malik who worked a real dive called Charlie’s, the type of place where the scum of the earth circled the drain before being actually flushed away. As a result, he was connected to most of the questionable activities in the city, and knew the perfect guy for them:...

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Countdown to Zero: Seven – Digging the Grave

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Seven – Digging the Grave “Why are we all gonna die?” Z asked wearily, hoping he’d finally say something of value.He scoffed, or possibly choked. Seriously, having all that blood run down your throat wasn’t pleasant. “You know why. We were supposed to get the stuff to ‘em by midnight. Maybe the boss can put ‘em off for a while, but nobody fucks with those guys and lives to tell about it.” Now that she knew he was just a junkie lackey, it was easy to interpret his vague language: “the stuff” was drugs, and the “boss” was a dealer, although obviously not a dealer powerful enough to be on his own. The “guys” had to be suppliers, or just bigger dealers that the “boss” wanted to...

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Countdown to Zero: Six – Breaking the Broken

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Six – Breaking the BrokenSometimes playing dumb was the smartest thing you could do. Z dug out her old apartment keys – she’d never gotten rid of the damn things, mainly because she thought they might be useful in keying someone’s car or breaking off in a lock. Now they had another, more active purpose. “Shit!” She exclaimed, then lobbed them over the side of the railing. They hit the courtyard below with a metallic jingle, and she raced down the stairs, cursing quietly under her breath. By the time she hit the ground level, the beaten man looked at her suspiciously, hand hovering near his coat pocket. “Dude, seen my keys?” She asked. He stared through her, as if not comprehending what she...

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Countdown to Zero: Five – Manifest Destiny

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Five – Manifest Density By the time they returned to Shan’s place, the cops had already cleared off, although Gilbert’s apartment was sealed off with police tape. Z stopped by the mailboxes on the inner side of the apartment building to see if she could get a full name, and it paid off: Bennett Gilbert. Now she had two names to run. Once inside his cramped but oddly neat (for a bachelor) place, he said, “So, can I offer you a drink? I have … uh, shit, I don’t know what I have. Lemme check.” “Am I right to guess you want me to stick around?” She sat on the arm of his couch, and looked up at the off white ceiling. Was Gilbert directly overhead? If there was someone in the apartment, she could...

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Countdown to Zero: Four – Territorial Pissings

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Four – Territorial Pissings When they came in, they interrupted a conversation Shan was having with a lean Asian cop, Major’s partner. “ … so small, whenever he went out on the ice, me or LeClare went with him,” Shan was saying. “We were the enforcers.” He looked up, and when he saw it was her, he smiled, “Z! I was wondering where you were.” “Late case,” she said, a vague explanation he knew he’d be content with. The room was small and claustrophobic, nearly filled up by the presence of a cheap metal desk and matching file cabinet, not to mention the two chairs crammed in, and the ill advised fake rubber plant sitting in the far corner. Because Shan and the cop were sitting in the only...

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Countdown to Zero: Three – Enter, Chased By A Bear

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Three – Enter, Chased By A Bear Z hated corporate espionage cases. She especially hated ones where she had to pretend to be a temp. Pretending to be a janitor was much more preferable, as no one in an office ever gave them a second glance. Office peons felt superior to the clean up crew, just like the CEO felt superior to all his workers. It was a nice little tree of ever grown contempt, from the janitors on the bottom to the corporate board at the very top, and everybody hated those above and below them in equal measure. At least it was the class system in action. The client assumed she’d go in as a temp, but she went ahead and pulled out the right colored jumpsuit and pretended to be on the janitorial...

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Countdown to Zero: Two – Optimistic

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed Two – Optimistic It was a weird looking bomb. Wasn’t it supposed to have some kind of explosive on it? Well, maybe it did; maybe those canisters were full of plastique or something. Maybe it wasn’t even a real bomb, just something that kind of looked like one. He dialed 911, glad that Canada had that too, and turned on the taps full blast, putting the plug in the sink. What the hell was he doing? Sometimes his mind was even a mystery to him. Even if he picked this guy up and managed not to accidentally kill him while doing so, they wouldn’t get far in the time they had left. And what about the other people in the apartment building? Not to mention all his stuff was downstairs, and he didn’t want to...

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Countdown to Zero: One – Bring on the Flying Monkeys

TROUBLESHOOTER: Countdown to Zero by Andrea Speed One – Bring on the Flying Monkeys He should have known something was wrong the instant he realized his neighbor was blasting Elton John. No one blasted Elton John. Maybe in the ‘70’s, but not nowadays. It was like blasting elevator music, or the “soft rock” they played in the dentist’s office – not only was it not done, it was just fundamentally wrong. Still, Shan basically ignored it as he let himself in his apartment and threw his gear on the couch. He flipped on the light and kicked the door shut as he took his small bag of groceries into his “kitchenette”, which actually seemed to share an awful lot of space with his living room. Not that it mattered; the place was small –...

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Troubleshooter – Nine

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Nine “Why are you smiling?” Hilda asked, clearly annoyed. “This isn’t a laughing matter.” “When you get down to it, what is?” Z replied breezily, tapping a couple of keys on her laptop keyboard. “But here’s the biggest joke of all.” She turned the laptop around, and then shoved it towards the Osiris woman and her bodyguards. The blonde eyed her warily before edging closer to have a better look at the screen. She squinted down at it for a moment, the blue-white light reflecting in her slightly bloodshot eyes. She scowled at it, then shifted her gaze towards her. “What the fuck is this?” “It’s a usenet site where hackers are known to gather. There are two guys on it right now who cracked your interface,...

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Troubleshooter – Eight

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Eight She laid her windbreaker on the floor and emptied the contents of the briefcase onto it, and it was surprisingly meager, considering how much this stupid thing had ultimately cost. Once that was done, she gathered the coat into a sort of makeshift bag, and put the slightly mangled suitcase back in the slightly mangled locker. Yes, it would be obvious it had been broken into, but she didn’t care – she just didn’t want to be spotted with the briefcase at the moment. Not until she was ready. Once that was done, she tucked the bolt cutter under her arm, grabbed her “bag”, and headed out the back. It was actually an emergency exit, but it wasn’t hooked up to any alarms. She had already told Shan she’d meet him...

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Troubleshooter – Seven

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Seven She heard the gunshots as she shoved Shan back and took dubious shelter behind a parked car, but in the back of her mind she knew they were wrong – those gunshots didn’t sound right. You could do a lot of things to alter a gunshot: mufflers, silencers (which were not silent, but what else could you say?), alterations of the barrel, even holding a throw pillow in front of the muzzle. But judging from the sound, none of those applied. So what the hell was going on here? She didn’t hear any wasp like noise of bullets whizzing past, nor did she hear thuds of impact or breaking glass. It was quite possible that, even at this proximity, he was a supremely shitty shot. Most people were, no matter how many times they...

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Troubleshooter – Six

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Six Ward’s apartment – if that’s what it was – was horribly sterile, all matte finished wood and beige wall to wall carpeting that should have been an executable offense. But if he was dead, perhaps he deserved it. Blondie kept her distance, not wanting to give Z a chance to capitalize on her obvious inexperience at threatening people with a firearm. She looked more like a machete sort of person anyways. Z figured the time here was hers to waste, so she headed over to their beige striped couch (another crime against decoration – if this was Ward’s home, it looked like a dentist’s office waiting room) and casually threw herself down on it, waiting to get the show on the road. “So why the charade?” She...

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Troubleshooter – Five

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Five Could it be this simple? Z stood on the corner of Perry Street, surveying the block. It was the area connecting the business district to the seedier part of town, and it showed. There wasn’t enough room for a full strip mall, but all the constituent parts were there: clothing chain store, doughnut shop, karate center (why were they always next to the doughnut shop? Was someone trying to send a message?), chain hair salon, two competing fast food joints, and – in a deviation from the norm – a self-storage unit. It still had the fake adobe façade of the Mexican restaurant it used to be, with the second story of huge windows and fake brick looking like it was the top of another building. Some nascent fungal growth...

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Troubleshooter – Four

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Four By the time she reached her apartment, her knee had started to hurt. Well, hurt wasn’t really the term – get stiff was more accurate. The old injury in that knee decided to flare up at the worst times, although it did occur to her that maybe if she didn’t use it to break people’s faces so much, it wouldn’t flare up at all. Her apartment was in a building that used to be an old hotel, converted on the outside to look like just another anonymous, crumbling brick apartment block, while on the inside it still looked like a hotel circa 1950. The halls were long and narrow, red carpeted, the doors oak painted white, the ghosts of old room numbers still visible where the whitewash wasn’t that...

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Troubleshooter – Three

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Three “Bryce had a partner? I had no idea,” she responded coolly, not bothering to turn around. She slipped her hand inside her coat, and listened hard, trying to judge his proximity to her by sound alone. It was difficult, especially considering the couple next door, who sounded like they were filming a porno movie. There was a noise behind her, a small “snick”, and she figured he had pulled out his knife. Guns were noisy, but they were also relatively easy to trace via ballistics now – you had to have lots of money, or be extremely smart (or lucky) to use a gun in a murder that was anything but a drive by nowadays. But knives were low tech and ubiquitous, difficult to trace with such exactitude … and preferred by...

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Troubleshooter – Two

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed Two Since he’d forgotten to bring a photo of Bryce, she’d asked him to e-mail her one ASAP. He did, just shortly after she’d run scans of his fingerprints (she pulled three good ones and a partial) into her database. Ward sent a head shot, which figured. Bryce looked just like the inoffensively handsome lead of every other sitcom on a major network: he had swept back light brown hair, as firmly in place as a helmet, evenly spaced Delft blue eyes set apart by the best bobbed nose money could buy, and an eighty thousand watt smile that could probably be seen from low earth orbit. She was nearly blinded by the bright white glow coming off his perfect, immaculately bleached teeth. You couldn’t have built a better...

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Troubleshooter – One

TROUBLESHOOTER by Andrea Speed One Fear did have a smell. It varied from person to person, like sweat, but usual was acrid, heavy with ammonia and vaguely reminiscent of piss, but never quite that bad. It could be dismissed as body odor if you didn’t know what you were smelling. But Stark knew. She was more familiar with the scent of fear than she would ever admit. The man who came into her office stank of fear. He looked like the template for every middle manager who had ever existed: average height, pudgy enough that his rounded belly stretched the material of his button down white shirt, complexion unnaturally pale and blotchy from being under artificial lighting far too long. His hair was thinning at the front, both the color and texture of straw, his...

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