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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