It was later that same evening, and the team was once more arrayed around Winterhawk's living room, considering their options.
ShadoWraith and Joe had not been entirely pleased with the prospect of pursuing the new development. `Wraith had been preparing to leave town on his motorcycle when he had gotten Ocelot's call; they had been lucky to catch him at all. Joe had not even answered his phone, which was common when he was spending time on his land. Winterhawk had had to summon a watcher spirit and send it off to find him and request that he call in.
"I don't get it," Joe had said irritably when he had arrived back. "I mean, I know she's your girlfriend, Ocelot, but this whole thing seems to be over for us. Maybe it's over for her too. I'm not sure I want to get involved in this thing anymore."
`Wraith nodded. "Agreed. Already investigated. Found nothing."
"Ocelot had a new thought," Winterhawk said, perched as usual on the arm of the sofa. "I'm not sure how much I believe it, but it's something to think about." He looked at Ocelot pointedly.
"What if it's the Horrors?" Ocelot asked in a reluctant tone.
That got everyone's attention fast. "Not here," `Wraith stated.
"Maybe not," Ocelot said. "It's been two years. What if one of `em—or more, even—made it across?"
Joe looked skeptical. "Why would they waste their time doin' stuff like this?" he asked. "If they were really here, wouldn't they be killing people? Or at least doing something dangerous?"
"I dunno," Ocelot said, shaking his head and spreading his hands in a gesture of confusion. "It was just a thought. But `Hawk and I told Kestrel we'd look into this for her. We figured we'd better fill you in on the latest, and then you can make up your mind what you want to do."
"I'm not—" Joe started to say, when suddenly Ocelot's phone beeped.
Ocelot held up one finger, then hit the button.
Harry's face appeared on the screen. His expression was concerned. "Hey, kid. Glad I found you. I got some news for you."
Everyone leaned in to stare at the tiny vidscreen. "What, Harry?" Ocelot said, afraid of what the fixer was going to tell him.
"I think I found a guy who might know somethin' about your problem."
Ocelot stiffened, gripping the phone more tightly. "You did? Who?"
"A guy who saw somethin' he shouldn't have. He's real nervous, but he says he'll talk to ya if ya make it worth his while."
"Where? When? Can we set up a meet?"
Harry held up a hand. "Slow down, kid. He wants to do it on his terms. I don't know what he's scared of, but he's spooked bad. He said if ya want to talk to him, meet him at the corner of Kramer and Williams. There's an abandoned warehouse there. 21:00 tonight. Don't be late—he didn't sound like the type who'd be brave enough to wait for long."
Ocelot looked around at his teammates. Winterhawk nodded; after a moment, the others did as well. "Okay, Harry. We'll be there. Thanks."
"Hope this turns up what you want. We'll talk price later." He hung up.
Slowly, Ocelot lowered his arm and slumped back into his seat. "You guys in?"
"I am," Winterhawk said immediately.
`Wraith nodded. "Yes."
"Me too," Joe said. "If there's really something to do, I'll go along with it."
"Good," Ocelot said. "I'm wonderin' if I should call Kestrel."
"No," `Wraith said.
Winterhawk shook his head. "I agree—I wouldn't. If we come up with something, we can tell her afterward. In a potentially dangerous situation, though, I'd prefer to limit things to those we're all familiar with."
"Yeah," Ocelot said with a sigh. "Better not to get her involved anyway. Just on the off chance that Gabriel or his people are in on this somehow, maybe he won't find out if she doesn't know." He looked at his chrono. "It's a little after 19:00 now—why don't we get our stuff, grab some dinner and get over there a little early."
"Not too early," `Wraith said. "Might spook him." One of `Wraith's regular contacts, a nervous little snitch named Willie the Weasel, exhibited similar behavior to what Harry was describing. The elf knew what he was talking about.
It was 20:45 when the runners reached the vicinity of the warehouse. The combination of a near-moonless night and the paucity of streetlights wreathed the area in an inky darkness that was broken only by the headlights of an occasional vehicle. ShadoWraith, who was driving, pulled the truck into an alley about a block away. "Take a look?" he asked Winterhawk, who was in his usual shotgun position.
`Hawk nodded and shifted over to the astral realm, sagging sideways against the door as the other three runners waited impatiently, preparing their weapons. All four of them wore their armored jackets: even though they didn't expect trouble, that was no excuse for lack of preparation. Some of their worst ambushes had been during times when they had been convinced that there was no threat.
They couldn't see the warehouse from where they were parked, but they had seen it as they had driven by. It rose at least three stories up, a dark form with broken windows and doors hanging at crazy angles. The largest of the doors, big enough to accommodate a large truck, was open to the world, its former roll-up closure nowhere to be seen. As was the case with the rest of the buildings in the area, the outside walls were covered with spray-painted graffiti; between them, Ocelot and Joe identified the marks of at least four different gangs. "Wonder why he'd pick down here?" Ocelot asked, checking his monowhip in its sleeve compartment.
"Maybe he lives here," Joe said. "Or else he really wanted to fool us." He was leaned over, carefully arranging the weapons and ammunition in his Native American-print duffel bag.
Winterhawk came back to himself, stretching and sitting up straight. "I don't see anyone in there," he said. "Just rats and such. But that's not surprising, considering that we're early."
"At least there's no ambush waiting for us," Ocelot muttered.
"No," the mage agreed. "I checked the immediate area, too, including the tops of buildings where snipers might be hiding. Didn't see anything."
"What do you suppose this guy saw?" Joe asked.
"We'll find out," `Wraith said. With a final check of his Ingram Smartgun, he stowed it in its holster and opened the door. "Should get going."
There was a light mist in the air; not quite a rain, but just enough to create an annoying dampness that settled on the runners' hair, clothing, and skin. The night, in addition to being almost moonless, was clouded over, rendering largely ineffective the scant light from the sliver of moon.
"Should separate," `Wraith said.
"Yeah," Joe agreed. "There's enough doors in that place."
Ocelot nodded. "Yeah, good idea. Maybe you two should go around the side, and `Hawk and I'll go in through the big door. Just don't do anything to scare him. We need to talk to this guy."
Joe switched on his comm unit and put his throat mike in place. "Let's keep in communication, in case anything goes wrong."
The other runners followed his lead as they drew up near the hulking form of the old warehouse. "Ready?" Ocelot asked, as if he was anything but.
Everyone nodded. `Wraith, moving as silently through the shadows as his namesake, slipped off down the side of the building. After a moment, Joe followed. The troll wasn't nearly as quiet as his elven teammate, but he made a remarkably small amount of noise for someone who weighed in at close to three hundred kilograms. After a moment, the two had disappeared, and after another moment, their whispered voices in the commlink announced that they were in position.
Ocelot turned to Winterhawk. "Ready to do this?"
The mage merely nodded. As was often the case in unknown and potentially dangerous situations, his cheerfully sarcastic demeanor had vanished in favor of a grim single-mindedness.
As one the two men moved in through the opening, taking up positions just inside and on either side of it. The floor, made of poured concrete, was damp and littered with dirt, trash, and muck. Their low-light vision picked out the signs that the place had been used as a squat by a number of people, but no one was immediately in evidence. Ocelot moved forward, his soft boots making no sound. Winterhawk mirrored his actions on the other side of the door, moving more slowly in an effort to remain silent. Across the warehouse near one of the other doors, they could just barely see the shadowy forms of `Wraith and Joe.
Ocelot looked at his chrono. 20:58.
There was no sound in the warehouse, except for the far-off scrabbling of small rodents. "See anything?" Ocelot whispered.
Winterhawk looked around, shook his head.
Ocelot stopped. "Anybody here?" he called. His voice echoed around the cavernous space.
"Over here," came a strong but quavering reply from the other side of the room. The voice was male and didn't sound young.
"Come out," Winterhawk called.
"Come over here," the voice replied. It seemed to be coming from behind a large pile of trash on the far side of the warehouse.
The two runners exchanged glances. "We're going over," Ocelot subvocalized into his throat mike. "Cover us, okay?"
"Yes," came ShadoWraith's reassuringly quick reply.
Moving slowly and with great care, Ocelot and Winterhawk approached the pile. "Let's go in from both sides," Ocelot whispered, drawing his stun baton and motioning for Winterhawk to go off to the left while he himself went to the right. The mage nodded and complied. Together, the two of them rounded the corner of the pile.
There was no one there.
"What the hell—?" Ocelot muttered. Louder: "Where are you?"
"Come over here," said the voice. It was coming from ground level, directly between the two of them.
Ocelot and Winterhawk both looked down. On the floor, surrounded by a pile of trash, was a tiny speaker. "Hurry up!" it implored nervously.
The two men looked at each other. The thought came to them nearly simultaneously. "Run!" Ocelot yelled, wheeling around and moving at the full rate of his jacked reflexes.
Winterhawk activated his levitation spell lock and caught up with him.
They were about halfway across the warehouse floor when the bomb went off.