Winterhawk didn't sound too happy about meeting Ocelot the next morning. In fact, the mage's normally pleasant voice had sounded positively grim when he had answered the phone.

Of course, Ocelot realized as he hung up, he had called a bit early. He'd had trouble sleeping on the hard floor of one of the school's inner rooms, with every noise or movement jerking him from his light, troubled slumber. When he'd finally decided to give it up as a lost cause and get up, his chrono had informed him that it was only 5:30 in the morning. He'd waited as long as he could, going through some exercises and then getting dressed and gathering up his stuff, but by then it was still barely after 7.

He hadn't told Winterhawk anything about why he wanted to meet, which had probably added to his friend's irritation at having been awakened from what was most likely a lulu of a hangover, given the rate at which `Hawk had been tossing back the bubbly last night. He wasn't sure exactly why he didn't want to say anything, but his little voice told him that he should air this particular problem in person, rather than giving `Hawk fodder for wild speculation over the phone. He'd promised to buy the mage breakfast at a decent little coffee shop near his apartment, but aside from that he had just said that it was important. Grumbling about lack of sleep, Winterhawk had agreed. "But this had better be good," he'd warned right before he'd hung up.

The Busy Bee Coffee Shop was living up to at least half of its name when Ocelot got there around 8:15. Customers and waitstaff flowed around each other in a well choreographed dance of the commute hours, everyone trying to serve or get served, get out as fast as possible or get on to the next customer. The place was occupied mostly by suits grabbing cups of coffee or pastries to enjoy with their morning datafaxes as they fought their way through the snarled traffic toward their jobs. Ocelot chose a table in the back (fortunately, most of the suits weren't waiting for tables) and waited for `Hawk to show up. One of the suits had left part of a datafax on the table, so he occupied himself with glancing through that—anything was better than concentrating on what had happened last night. He was getting tired of thinking about it, or at least thinking about it without any new input.

"So," said a sudden voice, "what's so important that you had to wake me up out of a sound sleep to tell me about it?"

Ocelot looked up from the datafax. Winterhawk was sitting down across from him. In contrast to his gravelly tone and vaguely miffed expression, every line of `Hawk's suit was perfect, every hair in place. Ocelot couldn't even tell if he really was hung over, since his eyes, normal looking except for their electric blue color, couldn't get bloodshot.

"Hey, `Hawk." Ocelot put down the datafax, letting the mage get a good look at him. He hadn't shaved, had barely run a comb through his hair and captured it into an untidy ponytail, and his clothes looked like he had slept in them. That was because he had.

"Well—you're looking chipper this morning," Winterhawk commented with a raised eyebrow. "You look worse than I feel." A waitress came by; he ordered a large coffee.

Ocelot nodded. "Make that two." When she'd left, he said, "Listen—sorry about waking you up so early. I just got something I need to talk to you about."

"This isn't one of those `advice to the lovelorn' sort of things, is it?" Winterhawk asked suspiciously. "Because if it is, I'll warn you: my sense of tact is sorely lacking this time of the morning."

"No, no." Ocelot shook his head vigorously. "Nothing like that."

"Well, good. Tell you what: why don't you wait until I've got some caffeine in my bloodstream before you tell me anything requiring my attention. Until then, p'raps you might tell me where you encountered the charming young lady you were so smitten with last night?" `Hawk smiled cynically. "I trust she wasn't rented."

Ocelot felt a flash of anger, but quickly squelched it. "No," he said shortly. "I met her a long time ago. She'd been out of town for a couple of years, and now she's back."

"I see," he said, nodding. "Well, I can see you're so obviously interested in leaving it at that, so I shan't pry. Ah," he added, as the waitress brought back two steaming cups of coffee and set them before the two men. `Hawk nodded thanks to her and took a long sip. "Yes," he said, satisfied. "This place may be a bit crowded, but at least you can get a real cup of coffee here. I can't stand that ghastly soykaf swill."

Ocelot nodded, taking a sip of his own coffee. "Okay," he said without preamble. "I wanted to talk to you because I got a problem, and I need your help with it." At Winterhawk's `go on' nod, he told the mage about the previous night's events, beginning with his arrival home and ending with his night spent at the abandoned school.

Winterhawk listened closely, occasionally pausing for another sip of coffee. As the story progressed, his attention became more and more riveted to Ocelot's words until at the end he was leaning forward, his probing gaze fixed on Ocelot's face. Somewhere in the middle of the story he forgot about the coffee.

When Ocelot finished, he sighed. "So," he said, "what do you make of it? Am I going crazy?"

"Have you been back to your house since last night?" Winterhawk asked. All traces of hangover-induced peevishness were long gone from his voice.

"No. I came straight here from the school."

"And you're quite sure you found no evidence of entry?"

Ocelot shook his head impatiently. "`Hawk, I was over every inch of that place. You know it isn't very big—I checked everywhere. Other than the stuff moved around, there was no sign of anybody."

"Interesting..." Winterhawk mused, almost to himself. "And they even managed to get into your gun safe..."

"That's the part that spooks me. The rest, they could have done with magic, right?"

The mage nodded. He rediscovered his coffee cup and waved to the waitress for a refill. "Yes, assuming that they could get a look in through the windows—or they could even do it with a clairvoyance spell, if they wanted to go through all that trouble. Wouldn't be hard at all. My guess would be that it would take at least two magicians to make a decent go of it, though. They'd need a levitation spell to get in close without leaving traces outside the windows, then a magic fingers or at least a levitate object spell to move things about in there. P'raps even an invisibility if they were worried about prying eyes." He paused, staring down into his cup. "But I don't know how they could have managed the trick with the gun safe."

"You said they could use a clairvoyance spell," Ocelot pointed out.

"Yes, but unless you keep a light burning in your gun safe, clairvoyance would be useless. With the sort of fine control it sounds like they were exhibiting, they'd need to see what they were doing."

Ocelot nodded slowly. "So it might have been magic, or it might not."

Winterhawk shrugged. "Hard to say. I keep fairly current with spell research literature, but the sorts of spells being designed by the sorts of people who break into houses don't usually show up in the thaumaturgical journals. It's possible that someone might have designed a spell for opening locks, but it would be bloody hard to do. Your locks are fairly hefty, yes?"

"Yeah. Both of `em. And they're not even the same type."

"And there's another problem. Magic and technology don't tend to mix well. Trying to design a spell that would open a maglock would be quite an endeavor. Combine it with all the other spells they'd need to accomplish what they did, and it hardly seems worth it to me."

Ocelot sighed, picking up his coffee cup and swirling the dregs around. "I just don't get it. Why would you break into somebody's house and just move things around?"

"Are you sure they didn't leave anything?" Winterhawk said suddenly.

"Leave—?" Ocelot's eyes widened. "No. I'm not. I mean, I checked the whole place, but I wasn't looking for—" he paused. "You know, you might have something there. The whole thing might have been a front for somebody leaving a bug or a bomb or who knows what else?"

"Just a thought," the mage said. "Not really my department. You might want to call up the others in a bit, though, and have that checked out. And I'd like to get a look at the place on the astral, if you don't mind."

"I wish you would. That's part of why I called you."

"Lucky me," Winterhawk growled, but his eyes were amused. "I can go to the astral plane, so I get roused from a sound sleep at seven in the morning. `Wraith and Joe can check for bugs and bombs, so they get to sleep in."

"Not my fault you stayed out dancing all night," Ocelot said teasingly. "Shoulda gone home at a decent hour like the rest of us."

Winterhawk started to say something, but then his expression clouded a bit. "You know," he said speculatively, "I had a strange thing happen to me last night too, now that you mention it. I'd almost forgotten about it—figured it was caused by a bit too much champagne at the party."

Ocelot leaned forward. "What was it?"

He thought about it a minute before answering. "It started when I left the party, about an hour after you did." He went on to describe his strange experiences in the elevator, the cab, and his trideo unit.

Now it was Ocelot's turn to stare. "You know, that would have freaked the crap out of me. It was bad enough getting home and finding all my stuff moved around."

Winterhawk shrugged. "Unlike you, I had no tangible evidence. You could see that your furniture and your weapons were moved around. All I had was what my eyes were telling me. It's entirely possible that it could have been nothing more than hallucinations brought on by too much alcohol."

"But you didn't drink that much, `Hawk," Ocelot protested. "I've seen you falling-down drunk before, and you don't see stuff like that, right?"

"Not normally," the mage admitted.


He shook his head. "Not until last night."

"Then what makes you think that would change now?"

Again, Winterhawk shrugged. "I considered the possibility that there might have been something other than champagne in the champagne, but it seems unlikely. No hallucinogen I've ever seen works like that: producing selective hallucinations of that type, then disappearing without a trace. When I woke up this morning, all I felt was the sort of symptoms normally associated with a fairly average hangover."

"But you don't know much about hallucinogens, right? I mean, that's not exactly your department."

"No," Winterhawk admitted. "It isn't. And I suppose it is possible. But I still think it's unlikely. It might be worthwhile doing a bit of snooping about to determine whether any of the other guests experienced similar hallucinations, and if so, whether they drank the champagne. Aside from that, I'm not terribly worried about it. I was probably just a bit more tired than I thought I was, that's all."

"Maybe..." Ocelot mused. "But I'd like to give the other guys a call and see if they had any weird experiences. Not to mention get them over to check out my place. I'm gonna be a little reluctant to go back there until we can figure out if there's any unexpected surprises." He sighed loudly, swiping his hand across his forehead. "I said I'd buy you breakfast—"

Winterhawk shook his head. "I'll take a rain check, if that's all right. I'd like to get over to your place and see if I can find anything odd on the astral."

Ocelot grinned, noting that `Hawk's early-morning ill humor and fatigue had disappeared now that he had been presented with a new puzzle. Even though he himself didn't feel that way (this whole thing was weirding him out, big-time), he was glad to see that his friend was willing and eager to take up the search for the answer.

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