"I thought you used to be good at this shit," Yang Shao shook his head. The two of them were walking away from yet another crappy neighborhood in North Omaha, one with plenty of vacant houses. Still no sign of Russel, though the two of them had narrowly avoided a fight with a group of drunken teens over turf.
"Used to, I guess. Tampa was an easier town, and I already knew where all the thugs and lowlifes hung out."
"Look, sun's coming up in an hour or so. We're not going to find him tonight, and I'm about to crash. We'll call it a night, pick it up in a few hours."
Eric nodded -- they weren't having much luck, and they still had a lot of ground to cover. For only holding a million or so people, Omaha was a huge town. Finding one skinny white guy in all of this land area would be next to impossible, as he could be hiding anywhere -- even in the suburbs, which would expand their search quite a bit.
Eric was driving the BMW, as Yang Shao was starting to phase in and out of the conversation.
"Coming off the amphetamines is never pretty," the thin Chinese shrugged.
Eric pulled the BMW into the parking lot of the @PaneraBreadCo just off of Saddle Creek Road. He shook Yang Shao, who had fallen asleep just after bitching about stimulant withdrawal, and the two of them walked into the restaurant, which had just opened.
"Hi, what can I get for you gentlemen today?" the too-perky-for-6am cashier greeted.
"Coffee. Lots of motherfucking coffee," Yang Shao growled.
"Um, sorry about him. He's cranky," Eric mumbled. "Four large coffees. Strongest stuff you have."
Eyeing Yang Shao, who was staring off into space like a zombie, the cashier produced four Styrofoam cups and filled them with the darkest of dark Kenyan roasts. Eric paid her, then handed two of the coffees to Yang Shao. The two of them took a table near the window, and Eric sipped at his coffee while Yang Shao downed both of his. Eric slid the third over to him, and Yang Shao began sipping at it.
"So, we're going about this all wrong," Eric offered.
"I'd say. We've found fuck-all," Yang Shao nodded, some of the animation returning to his face after his mega-dose of caffeine.
"What I'm saying is, I know how Russel operates. I worked next to him for eight years. He knows I know where he'd go, so he'd make sure not to go there."
Eric pulled out his phone and connected to the restaurant's wi-fi. Thirty seconds later, he looked back up at Yang Shao.
"He's checked into the fucking Hilton. Under his own fucking name."
Yang Shao was halfway through his third coffee now.
"Great. We go back to your place, I dose up, and we go pay him a visit."
Eric shook his head.
"No way. We're both wrecked, and you need to crash out for a while before you go hitting the Dexedrine again, unless you want to have a massive heart attack."
"Where have you been sleeping, anyway?"
"Caught about 15 minutes on your couch this morning."
"Jesus, man. Take a nap every now and then."
Eric drove them back to his apartment, still finishing off his coffee. Yang Shao had decimated all three of his, then bought two more from the cashier. He was almost out.
As the two of them walked into the apartment, they saw Captain Henry Graham struggling to get out of the chair they'd duct-taped him into.
"Oh, yeah. Forgot about him," Yang Shao said disinterestedly, as if he was talking about a letter he'd neglected to mail.
* * *
Eric had to talk Yang Shao out of shooting the soldier and disposing of the body, which actually took far longer than it should have. In the end, Eric decided to call Johnny -- he'd recognized Graham as one of the shooters from the Dodge Street fiasco, and was sure the police wanted him for questioning.
Johnny was none too happy about being woken up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, but he told Eric he'd be over in about ten minutes. Yang Shao disappeared (and Eric was just starting to wonder exactly where in his tiny apartment the Chinese assassin managed to hide himself) just before Johnny knocked on the door.
"How'd you get a hold of this guy?"
"He was waiting for me in the apartment. I just got lucky -- caught him when his back was turned."
"Hey, I've been meaning to tell you -- I'm sorry about what happened to Marshal Dean. The two of you were friends?"
"Sort of. I didn't want to see him get killed, that's for sure."
"I contacted the Marshal's Service after the ambulance showed up last night. I wouldn't be surprised if you're getting a visit from them sometime today."
"You all ready for tonight?" Eric asked.
"Um, yeah. But I'll just be sitting in the car waiting for you, so there's not that much to be ready for."
"I meant to talk to you about that. I need you to go to the meet with me. I need them to think I have a crew, and you can be a scary-looking dude when you need to."
"You sure? You wouldn't rather have the boss?"
"Nathaniel's fine and everything, but we need to sell them on the fact that we know more than we do about the people who are after them. You're ex-military -- you can talk that language. I sure can't."
"So how should I, you know, look?"
"Wear the same thing you normally do."
"You mean the shit you said makes me look like a cop?"
"Exactly that. You'll see my reasoning later."
"Well, I'm sure the boss will feel better sending you in with a cop, anyway. But why me? There are plenty of ex-military guys in the task force."
"Couple of reasons. One, you already know who I am. That's big -- I want to keep this as small as possible. Two, and I hate to say this. . . I trust you. Yeah, I thought you were an ass when we met, but you've turned out to be a hell of a guy, and a lot smarter than anyone gives you credit for."
"Um, thanks for that. I get the impression that everyone just thinks I'm good at hitting people and not much else. But, truth be told, I've never done undercover work."
"Just follow my lead. And the less you say, the scarier you are. Remember that, and you'll do fine."
Johnny nodded as he cuffed Graham and started cutting the tape from the chair.
"One other thing -- don't bring your gun."
"It's something you'll have to trust me on. You trust me?"
"I'm getting there. At least, I think you're less and less of a lowlife thug every day."
"That's pretty much the most I could hope for," Eric smirked.
As Johnny hustled Graham into his car, Yang Shao appeared at Eric's shoulder.
"Still think you should have just let me drop the guy in the river," the Chinese assassin grumbled.
"Jesus, man. Make some noise or something," Eric said, jolting slightly in place. "Where do you keep vanishing to, anyway?"
"You've got a crawlspace over your bedroom closet. I could live up there for days."
"That's. . . disturbing. Go get some sleep. On the couch, not in the crawlspace. We'll roll to the Hilton later today -- I'll stay up for a couple hours in case Russel decides to visit us first."
Yang Shao nodded and headed over to the couch. Within moments of putting his head down, the thin Chinese was out cold. Eric grabbed a can of @Rockstar_Energy, booted up his tiny netbook, and camped out at the kitchen table.
* * *
Yang Shao woke about noon, and immediately started preparing a hypodermic from a bottle stashed in Eric's spice rack. Eric, rather than watch Yang Shao shoot up, shut down his netbook, headed to the bedroom, and passed out.
When he awoke, it was nearing 5:00. Eric quickly changed, choosing an overshirt that would let him conceal the two Raven WSK knives. Yang Shao was in the living room, playing Gears of War 2 on @Microsoft_Xbox.
"When did I get an Xbox?"
"You ready to roll?"
Yang Shao pulled a pair of Desert Eagle .50 pistols from under Eric's couch. He slid them into his belt, then threw his shirt over them.
"OK, just how much shit are you hiding in my apartment?"
"You really, really don't want to know. Really."
"Just clean it up before they assign me a new Marshal, yeah? I don't feel like going to prison because you forgot to pick up your stash."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm on it. Come on, let's roll."
Eric and Yang Shao hopped into the BMW, and Yang Shao sped for downtown. The radio was silent most of the way, until Eric finally had enough quiet and turned it on. Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" blared through the BMW's cabin. Yang Shao quickly reached out and turned the stereo off.
"You listen to Patsy fucking Cline?" Eric said, trying not to laugh.
"You know, I still haven't decided for sure not to kill you yet."
"OK, all fine and good. But Patsy Cline? Come on, man. I thought you were hardcore."
"Really, Eric. . . you're not helping your fucking case any if you want to stay alive after we deal with Russel. Really."
"All right. Leaving it alone now," Eric smirked. Still, he had to actively fight to keep from laughing.
Yang Shao rocketed past the Omaha convention center and e-brake turned into the parking lot of the Hilton. Without another word to Eric, he got out of the car and stalked towards the hotel's main entrance. Eric finally let out a chuckle, checked his knives, then followed the assassin toward the lobby.
Eric probably should have known it wasn't a good idea to piss off a violent killer doped to the gills on amphetamines, so he made sure to make it to the front desk ahead of Yang Shao. He smiled politely at the young man behind the desk, putting up a hand behind him to stop Yang Shao from beating Russel's room number out of the poor kid.
"Hi. We're looking for a friend of ours who's supposed to be at this hotel. Jimmy Branch? Could you ring his room?" Eric leaned his elbows on the desk, still smiling, and leaned in as the kid typed the name into his computer. A guest registry popped up on the screen, and Eric could just make it out -- Brandt, Russel, Room 345.
"Sorry, sir. We don't seem to have anyone by that name," the kid said, involuntarily backing up when he saw how close Eric was leaning.
"You sure? He said he was checking in today," Eric said.
"No one by that name in our computers."
"Ah, well. Thanks for checking. Maybe he just hasn't gotten here yet."
"Sure thing, sir," the kid breathed an almost inaudible sigh of relief as Eric finally backed away from the counter.
"Yeah, you accomplished nothing," Yang Shao shook his head as Eric ushered him away from the front desk.
"Calm down, will you? Look, I'm sorry about the music crack. I listen to some way more embarrassing stuff than that. Besides, I got Russel's room number. 345. As soon as the kid behind the counter stops looking at us, we're into those fire stairs," Eric said, nodding at the stairwell just off the hotel bar.
"See? That's the kind of stuff that helps your case. Not giving me shit because I listen to one of the greatest country music vocalists who ever lived," Yang Shao smirked. He almost immediately dashed into the stairwell, and Eric followed -- he hoped the kid at the counter had turned away, as he really didn't want to be identified.
Yang Shao took the stairs three at a time, and though he was in pretty good shape, Eric had a tough time keeping up with someone with that much amphetamine kicking around in his system. Yang Shao made it to the third floor in less than 40 seconds, and flew through the door and out into the hallway before Eric even hit the third floor landing. He caught up to Yang Shao in the hall, just as the thin Chinese kicked in the door to room 345.
"Shit. Hannibal on the jazz," Eric shook his head as he rushed into the room after Yang Shao. He found the assassin with his gun pointed at a profusely sweating, overweight, middle-aged man in a towel.
"Russel Brandt. Where is he?" Yang Shao roared at the man.
"What?" the middle-aged man stammered, raising his hands above his head.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I probably wasn't clear."
The explosion from the Desert Eagle's barrel was deafening, like standing too close to a sonic boom. Eric's ears were ringing, but he could still hear enough to know that the middle-aged man had just lost his shit and was sobbing uncontrollably. The room's 32-inch flatscreen TV was now no more than a memory, and Yang Shao had his gun pressed right up to the man's throat.
"Russel Brandt. I'm not asking again."
"I'm Russel Brandt!" the man shrieked.
Eric had picked up the man's wallet, which was sitting on the table next to what was left of the TV. He checked the man's license -- Russel David Brandt of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"Shit. Wrong Russel Brandt. Thirty, forty seconds until hotel security gets here. Move," Eric spat. Without even waiting for Yang Shao to follow, Eric vanished back down the fire stairs.
He needn't have worried if Yang Shao was on his heels -- the amphetamine-boosted hitman quickly passed him on the fire stairs and burst through the emergency exit well ahead of him. Eric poured on as much speed as he could, and made it into the BMW as Yang Shao was starting the engine.
"You need to run faster, white boy," Yang Shao cackled as he slammed on the accelerator, rocketing them out of the Hilton's parking lot and onto the street.
* * *
Yang Shao was good at avoiding the police -- he'd been doing it since he was eight, just about the time he started stealing cars in Hong Kong's Kowloon Tong. Of course, this particular car wasn't stolen -- it was even registered in his own name -- but old habits died hard, and Eric was thankful. He was making friends in the Sheriff's Department, but Nathaniel and Johnny probably wouldn't spring him from the accessory charges he would definitely face if he and Yang Shao were caught.
"Man, I'm beginning to wonder if you're half as good as your reputation used to be. You're kinda crap at finding people."
"Not people. Russel. You know anyone who's better at not being found than he is? Besides, you're not doing so well, yourself."
Yang Shao shrugged.
"I usually know right where the people I'm looking for are at. 'Sides, I've never had to hunt another fixer before. I figure, I stake out the target, he shows. Hasn't quite worked out that way."
"So we can both admit that we're in over our heads here. What next? We keep banging on doors until Russel slips up?"
"What I'd normally do if someone was this hard to track down is hit up my contacts. I don't suppose you have any contacts in this town?"
"Cops. A dead Federal agent. A former frat boy who supervises a software development team. That's the sum total of the people I know in this town."
"They probably wouldn't be worth much if you did. Not like any of them would have known who the hell Russel was, anyway," Yang Shao slapped the wheel in frustration. "Well, shit. I'm out. I have no idea how we're gonna find this slippery son of a bitch now."
"I don't think it's going to be much of a problem," Eric sighed as they approached his apartment.
"Motherfucker," Yang Shao breathed slowly.
There, sitting casually on the stoop outside as if he was merely waiting for his ride, dressed in a pair of khaki cargos and a sleeveless black shirt, was Russel. He had cut his hair short, so he looked a bit different -- but like Eric, he couldn't hide the shoulder-to-wrist tattoos that covered his arms. Unlike Eric, though, he didn't bother to try. When he saw the BMW approaching, he stood and waved, smiling that creepy grin of his.
Yang Shao hammered down on the accelerator, sending the expensive sedan hurtling towards the thin, goofy-looking man standing calmly on the steps of the ancient apartment building.