It was going on three hours before Harry called back. Ocelot spent the time working out, glad to have the opportunity to take out some of his frustration in hard physical effort. He was just getting out of the shower when his wristphone rang. Still dripping, he wrapped a towel around his waist and picked it up. "Yeah?"
"Hey, kid." As he suspected, it was Harry.
"What've you got for me, Harry?" With his free hand, Ocelot ran another towel over his long wet hair.
The fixer's expression was unreadable. "I just wanted to let ya know that I got somethin'. Not over the phone, though. Can ya meet me at the Spider in about forty-five?"
Ocelot's paranoia radar notched up another level. "Anything wrong?"
"Not sure. I'll talk to ya there, okay?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I'll be there." Slowly, he hit the button to break the connection, unsure of what this could mean. Getting dressed quickly, he tried not to speculate; when he did that, his mind tended to go off and find the worst possible scenarios, and that wasn't going to do him any good at all. Harry just didn't like to talk on nonsecure lines, that was all. It was probably nothing.
Still, he arrived at the Glass Spider a full ten minutes early. This time of day, it was nearly deserted. He'd even managed to get a parking spot out front for the Blitzen. He ordered a beer and settled into a dark rearward booth to wait for Harry.
The fixer arrived right on time, dressed as usual in a rumpled gray suit. He dropped into a seat opposite Ocelot and waved for a beer of his own.
"What've you got?" Ocelot asked, leaning forward intently.
"Slow down, kid," Harry said. His eyes narrowed a bit. "This ain't like you. Sounds like you're gettin' too involved. That ain't good for yer edge."
Ocelot took a deep breath. "Tell me what you got, Harry. Did you find out anything?"
"Sure I did. She ain't nearly as hard to find stuff on as her new partner is." From inside his jacket, he pulled out a pocket secretary. "How much do you want to know?"
"What kind of question is that?" Ocelot was getting exasperated now. "Just tell me what you found out, okay?"
Harry raised his hands in a `backing off' gesture. "Okay, okay." He consulted the pocket secretary's screen. "Lessee...Kestrel. Real name: Juliana Harvath. 32 years old. Born in Boston. Both parents worked at Renraku. Old money family. Looks like she was raised as a typical corp brat."
"Checks out so far," Ocelot said, almost to himself. Then louder, to Harry: "Parents disowned her when she left school and decided not to follow the family biz?"
"Yeah, that's right," Harry said, nodding as he checked. "Knocked around for a couple of years doing odd jobs, then met up with some shadow types at a bar. Looks like she hooked up with a decker for awhile, and he helped her siphon off the money that was supposed to be her inheritance from her parents' accounts. Shortly after that both parents were killed in a hostile extraction attempt. She used the money to get tricked out with cyberware and such—didn't get clear data here, but it looks like her first job was to nail the people who geeked her parents." He shook his head. "All this is a long time ago, though. I don't think it matters much." He tapped the screen. "Here's where it gets interesting, though."
His beer arrived and he paused for a swig before continuing. "Looks like she'd been with the same team for about six years. They were damn good, too. Moved around a lot—never stayed in the same town more than a couple years. Got quite a rep for bein' quiet and efficient and smart."
"She said they were like her family," Ocelot said, staring down at his beer.
"Yeah, I believe it." Harry nodded. "Five person team, counting Kestrel. She was their sam. The rest of the team was a physad named Raptor—he was an elf, a human mage named Cabal, ork rigger named Indy, and human decker named Geist."
"So why'd she leave?" Ocelot asked.
"She didn't," Harry said soberly. "They're all dead."
Ocelot had been in the act of picking up his beer glass; he nearly dropped it. "What?"
Harry nodded, his expression still grim. "Yeah. Happened a little over a year ago. The team went out to do a run, and they got massacred. Somebody was waiting for them. Kestrel was the only one who got out alive."
Slowly, Ocelot put his glass down, his eyes never leaving Harry's face. "Do you have any details?"
"That's when it gets weird," the fixer said. "If I dig deep enough, I can find info about the run: they were supposed to break into a research facility on an island and grab some kind of prototype. But that's where the information stops. The location of the island and the facility, the details on the prototype, and the info about what happened to screw up the run are all missing. Kestrel called her fixer, told him the run was hosed and the team was dead, told him she was retired and he shouldn't call her anymore, and then dropped off the face of the earth."
Ocelot stared at him, stunned. He wasn't sure exactly what he had thought he was going to hear, but this wasn't it. "Where—" he started, then paused. "Where did you get this information? Did you talk to the fixer?"
Harry shook his head. "Nope. He's dead too. Totally unrelated, though. I checked into it. He had a gambling problem, and the mob finally punched his ticket about six months ago. I talked to the guy who took over for him. He didn't know Kestrel and her team, but he checked into the other guy's records. That was all he found."
For a long time, Ocelot said nothing. He dropped his gaze down into the bottom of his beer glass, holding the glass with both hands. "So what do you make of it?"
Harry didn't answer right away. "I think your girlfriend's involved in something, kid. But I can't put my finger on what."
"You don't think she was responsible for her team—?"
"I dunno. Looks weird that she was the only one to make it out, but it happens. Somebody that survived somethin' like that might want to retire; that'd just be natural. The part that's makin' me nervous is the fact that she dropped completely out of sight for nearly a year, so good that I couldn't find her. People don't do things like that without reasons."
"You couldn't find her..."Ocelot said to himself. He looked up at Harry. "Like Gabriel."
Harry nodded. "I was gettin' to that. It's even weirder that after disappearin' for a year, she turns up with another guy who doesn't exist."
"You think he helped her stay underground?" Ocelot asked.
"I dunno," the fixer said again, shrugging. "Maybe. I don't mind tellin' you, that kid's got all my radar systems goin' at full capacity, and I still ain't turned up anything on him. It's like he just appeared in Seattle outta thin air right before that party. You'd think somebody would remember a guy who looked like that. I'm followin' up on some other hunches I got, but so far nothin's panned out."
"Like what?" Ocelot spoke a bit too quickly.
"All the standard stuff: plastic surgery, magical masking, that kind of thing. I had one o' the best mages I know check him out on the astral when he left that party, and he looks like exactly what he looks like: a kid. Not even a kid with magical powers. Just a kid. No cyberware, either."
"`Hawk'll be glad to hear that." Ocelot waved for another beer. "He was itching to get a look at him astrally, but he didn't get the chance."
"Tell him not to waste his time," Harry said. "The guy I had do it is an expert at punchin' through astral masking. I'm still followin' up on the plastic surgery angle, though." He looked at Ocelot oddly. "Tell me somethin', kid."
"How come you're so interested in your girlfriend's past? I know you. You're like me: no connections. If you trust somebody enough to get that close to her, it ain't like you to check up on her like that for no reason."
Ocelot took a deep breath and told Harry the story of his and his friends' odd experiences of the previous night. By the time he had finished, he'd polished off the second beer and was starting on a third.
Harry listened attentively. When the story was finished, he blew air out loudly through his teeth. "Whew. That's some story, kid. You sure you didn't all just have too much to drink?"
"We thought of that, Harry," Ocelot said irritably. "We've thought of just about everything. What do you think we've been doing all morning?" He looked up. "Hey, you didn't have anything weird happen to you last night, did you? You drank quite a bit of the booze."
"Not a thing." Harry shook his head and grinned. "I made a few calls, then me and Cherisse went home and had a nice time for a couple hours, then she left and I went to sleep. Woke up with a little hangover, but that's it. No weird experiences at all."
"And your ears to the ground didn't hear about anything else like that?"
"Nope. All I heard was that the party went great. Everybody's talkin' about it, and the people who didn't get invited are jealous of the people who were, especially after they heard that Selective Oblivion was there."
"You said you had somebody check Gabriel out when he left. When did he leave?"
Harry consulted his pocket secretary again. "The party broke up around 4 a.m.; he was outta there by about 3."
"Was Kestrel with him?"
"Yeah, but they took separate cars, and went in two different directions."
"You didn't have him followed, did you?"
"Nah. I figured if he's in town now, he ain't gonna be hidin' where he's doin' business. If I need to, I'll do it later."
Ocelot nodded. "Yeah..." His mind was not on the conversation; he was still too busy thinking about all the things he had found out about Kestrel. He sighed loudly. "Okay, Harry. What do I owe you?"
The fixer shook his head. "This one's on me, kid. Truth is, I woulda done most of the research anyway, so you just had me do it a little faster. Just don't jump to any conclusions, okay? There might be more to this than it looks like, but then again, it might be just like it seems. Even my sources can screw up tryin' to find somebody occasionally."
"Yeah, sure. You don't have to make me feel better, Harry. I'm a big boy."
"Yeah, I know. But you're also a hothead. Don't go runnin' off chasin' shadows by yerself. And give me a call if you need any more info. It might not be free the next time, but I'll see what I can come up with."
Ocelot nodded again. "Right. And let me know if you turn up anything about who or what might be behind all the weird stuff, okay? It's creepin' me out, and I don't like to be creeped out. It makes me even more paranoid than I usually am."
"Didn't think that was possible." Harry grinned, rising. "Gotta go. I'll keep ya posted if I turn up anything else." With a breezy wave, he left the bar.
Ocelot didn't move for a long time after Harry left. He sat there, slumped, empty beer glass in hand, and wondered what the hell he was going to do now. He didn't keep track of exactly how long he sat there, but it must have been at least half an hour before he even considered the possibility of getting up. Somehow, going home just didn't appeal to him, nor did calling the team to see if they had come up with anything. The only thing that sounded remotely interesting was to have another beer, and he didn't want to do that. He couldn't afford to be drunk right now.
He was sitting there trying to decide whether to get up when his wristphone buzzed. Thinking it was Harry again, he hit the button. "What?"
The face on the vidscreen was not Harry's. It was Kestrel's. And she didn't look happy. "I need to talk to you," she said without greeting.
He stiffened. "Something wrong?"
"Just tell me where we can meet," she said.
Ocelot looked around. "You know the Glass Spider? I'm there now."
"I'll be there in twenty minutes," she said, and hung up.