When Ocelot woke up, he had a splitting pain in his head and a blurry troll bending worriedly over him. After a moment, the blurry troll resolved itself into Joe. "He's awake now," Joe announced.
They were in the truck, and it was moving. He was lying across the back seat, with Joe scrunched up on the end next to him. There was a wet cloth on his head. `Wraith was driving, but Ocelot was still too fuzzy-headed to tell where they were. He barely remembered what had happened at first, though the longer he lay there, the more it came back to him. The warehouse. The bomb— "What—?"
"How do you feel?" Joe asked.
"Like I got hit by a truck." Ocelot raised up a bit and noticed Winterhawk slumped in the passenger seat. The mage's face was bloody, and his armored coat was shredded. He appeared to be asleep or unconscious. Ocelot looked down at his own coat and saw that it was similarly shredded. "The bomb—"
"Yeah. It was pretty powerful. Went off a couple seconds after you came out like something was chasin' you. We heard you yell `Run!' and then the whole thing blew." Joe looked concerned. "What happened in there?"
Ocelot raised up a bit more, moving gingerly to verify that nothing was broken. Unsure about the structural integrity of a couple of his ribs, he remained in that position instead of trying to sit up fully. "Nobody there. Just a speaker. It was a trap."
ShadoWraith turned his head to face Ocelot. "Speaker?"
"Yeah. Either voice activated, or else somebody was watchin' the place from a distance." He looked at Winterhawk. "How's he doin'?"
"About the same as you," Joe said. "We were gonna head over to Trixie's unless he wakes up pretty soon." Trixie was a Dog shaman to whom they sometimes went for healing services when Winterhawk was unable to provide them.
As if on cue, Winterhawk groaned and brought a hand up to his head. Experimentally, he opened his eyes.
"Welcome back," Ocelot said sourly. Then he addressed `Wraith: "By the way, where the hell are we?"
"Heading to Trixie's," the elf said. He looked at Winterhawk. "Still?"
`Hawk shook his head, wincing in pain. "No—I can take care of it. Just—need to rest for a bit first."
`Wraith nodded and returned his attention to driving. At the first opportunity, he changed direction. Nobody asked him where he was going.
Joe produced another cloth, which he dampened with water from his canteen and handed to Winterhawk. The mage took it, nodding gratefully, and began mopping at the blood on his face. "I think we'll be needing to have a word with Harry," he mumbled.
Ocelot had nearly forgotten about that. "Harry. Damn straight. We need to find out who called him. Whoever it was set us up."
"Why don't we wait until you guys are healed up?" Joe said. Looking them over, he added, "It's a good thing you ran away when you did. If you'd been standing there when that thing went up, you'd be dead now."
"Thank you for that cheery thought," Winterhawk said, grimacing as he levered himself up to a fully sitting position.
"I take it you guys didn't get a look at the scene," Ocelot said.
Joe shook his head. "No way. When the bomb blew, it threw you guys into the wall and you were out like lights. We ran in, grabbed you, and got our asses outta there before Lone Star or anybody showed up."
"Didn't know your condition," `Wraith added without taking his attention from the road.
"And you didn't see anybody moving? When you were leaving?"
"No," `Wraith said.
Ocelot sighed, sinking back down to a mostly reclining position. He had a lot of things he wanted to say, but he didn't feel much like talking at the moment. Neither, apparently, did Winterhawk. That wasn't surprising, though: Ocelot was amazed that the mage was even awake, considering their relative physical toughness and the fact that they'd both taken essentially the same hit.
Nobody said much until they reached their destination, which turned out to be the abandoned school Ocelot had used as a flophouse a few days ago. `Wraith, Ingram in hand, got his other arm around Ocelot and supported him as they went inside. Winterhawk used his levitation spell lock to glide in, with Joe bringing up the rear with his combat shotgun.
Once they were inside and `Wraith and Joe had verified that they were alone, Winterhawk set about healing both himself and Ocelot. It was a slow and arduous task; by the time he finished, his drain-induced exhaustion was evident. "Talk amongst yourselves," he said faintly with a small smile as he wadded up his jacket and lay down on the floor to get his strength back. He didn't even complain about the accommodations, which wasn't like him at all.
The other three runners were all pacing. "Okay," Ocelot said. He was feeling much better now that his ribs weren't on fire and his head wasn't throbbing. "First thing we gotta do is call Harry. Agreed?"
"Yeah," Joe said. "He's gonna want to know about this."
`Wraith was looking troubled. He started to say something, then stopped as if unsure he wanted to voice it.
"What?" Ocelot asked.
"Harry," `Wraith said reluctantly. "Setup?"
"You mean you think Harry might have set us up?" Joe asked. At `Wraith's nod, he shook his head. "Why would he want to do that?"
"Examining all possibilities," the elf said.
Ocelot nodded. "Yeah, but I can't believe Harry would do somethin' like this to us. For one thing, it's too crude. If he wanted us dead, he'd have a million much more subtle ways to do it."
"If anybody found out about it, he'd never get another team," Joe added.
"Why don't we assume it isn't Harry until something shows us otherwise," Ocelot said. "Okay?"
The two runners nodded. None of them was in any hurry to believe that their trusted fixer would try to set them up in this or any other manner.
"Need to go back," `Wraith said.
"To the warehouse?" Ocelot asked.
"Yes. Someone was responsible."
"Yeah," Joe agreed. "At least this is something we can investigate. I don't think it's gonna disappear into thin air like before." He looked at the bloody, tattered forms of Ocelot and Winterhawk. "You guys definitely got hurt, and we're not dreaming this time."
That just dawned on Ocelot. "Yeah..." he said slowly. "The whole thing was pretty crude, really. But the Star's gonna be crawling all over that place."
"So?" Joe pointed out. "I'm not even sure they will, in that part of town. What do they care about an abandoned warehouse in Puyallup? But even if they are, people aren't gonna talk to Lone Star. They're all gonna hide until they leave. But they might talk to us, though."
Ocelot nodded. He'd been away from the gang lifestyle in the bad part of town long enough that sometimes he forgot that the local constabulary didn't tend to pay much attention to areas like the Barrens, or the people who inhabited them. If a few squatters got geeked, that wasn't something they were going to care much about. Who was going to miss a few more squatters? Seattle had thousands of them. It was a sad but true fact of life in the Sprawl. "Okay, then why don't we wait until `Hawk gets himself together, and then we'll call Harry and find out what the hell's going on. Then we can go back over there and see if we can't find out who set up that ambush."
"I hope we're planning to add `clean up' to that list of things to do," came a quiet voice from the other side of the room. Winterhawk sat up, color already beginning to return to his pale face. "In case you hadn't noticed, we both look ghastly. I can't quite bring myself to believe that you don't care."
Ocelot looked down at his shredded, bloodstained coat. "Yeah...you're right. And besides, we should probably pick up spare armor before we go back over there." He held up his arm, the wristphone on which still miraculously appeared to be functional. "Who's gonna call Harry?"
Winterhawk lurched to his feet, retrieved his coat, and joined the others. "Be my guest," he said.
It rang several times before it was picked up. "Yeah?" The voice was unmistakably Harry's, although there was no video.
"Harry. Ocelot. We gotta talk."
The video switched on, revealing the fixer's face. In the background the scene was that of a fancy restaurant. "Kid, this isn't a good time—"
"No good, Harry. That meet you sent us on was a setup, and we want some answers." He switched on his own video pickup.
Harry's expression flitted from concern to alarm when he saw Ocelot, and then to confusion. "What are you talkin' about, kid? What meet? And what happened to you?" He turned off to one side for a second to wave someone off, then returned his attention to the vidscreen.
Ocelot glared at him. "What do you mean, `what meet'?" he demanded angrily. "Harry, you called us tonight. Said you had a guy who might know about what's been happening lately. We showed up at the meet and nearly got ourselves killed!" His voice rose with his anger.
Winterhawk reached over and grabbed Ocelot's arm, moving into the video's range. "Harry, as you can see, we haven't had a pleasant evening. Best if you just give us the answers we're looking for—we're not feeling particularly patient or forgiving at the moment."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Listen, `Hawk—normally I wouldn't put up with ya talkin' to me like that, okay? But I'm tellin' ya—I don't have any idea what you're talkin' about. I didn't call any o' you guys tonight. I didn't set up any meet. I don't know about any setup. Okay?"
"Then who did?" Ocelot demanded, reclaiming his arm. "Tonight about 19:00, somebody who looked like you and sounded like you called us and said he had a line on a guy who might have seen somethin' we'd be interested in. We were supposed to meet this guy in Puyallup, at an old warehouse. When we showed up, all we found was a speaker and a bomb. If we'd been a little more out of it than we were, you'd be lookin' for half a new team."
There was a pause. The fixer now looked quite concerned. "Hang on a minute, okay? Let me get somewhere where I can talk." The video blanked. About two minutes later, it came back on. "Okay. Now let me get this straight. You say a guy who looked and sounded like me called you tonight?"
"Yeah," Ocelot growled. "If it wasn't you, it was your twin brother."
"I ain't got a twin brother," Harry said idly. His mind was obviously elsewhere. "At 19:00?"
"Right around then, yeah. The meet was set up for 21:00."
Harry shook his head. "Couldn't'a been me, then. I was at the theater with Lucinda. That Freudiana revival opened tonight, and she wanted to see it. I can show ya the ticket stub if ya don't believe me. We got there a little early and had a few drinks before curtain."
Ocelot sighed. It was becoming clear to him—and the rest of the team—that Harry had not been behind this, nor even made the call. Which put them back to the question of the hour: who had?
"Listen, though," Harry was continuing. "If somebody's out there impersonatin' me, that concerns me. It pisses me off, is what it does. Let me do a little investigatin' from my end and see if I can get a line on who's gonna be dead soon." His words sounded flippant; his tone did not. Harry did not take things like this, especially things like this that could interfere with his livelihood, lightly.
"You do that," Ocelot said. "We're gonna do some checking of our own. Let us know if you come up with anything."
"I will, kid." He paused. "Maybe it'd be best if you call me, though. Or at least if I call you, check back with me to verify that it was really me on the other end."
Ocelot nodded and broke the connection. He looked at Winterhawk. "Can we go by your place to get cleaned up? I got an extra coat in the truck, and that way we don't have to go back to Tacoma."
Winterhawk nodded, shrugging back into the remnants of what was once a well-tailored armored greatcoat. "Good thing I have a number of spares," he commented. "Don't think this look suits me, do you?"
Nobody answered. Quickly, they all got back in the truck and drove back toward Downtown, where they stopped at Winterhawk's apartment long enough to allow him and Ocelot to take showers and clean up. Not long after, they were back on the road and headed south for Puyallup. Once again they parked the truck down the street and approached the warehouse on foot. All four were armed and paying closer than usual attention to their surroundings.
Ocelot's eyes widened as the place rose into view. "Holy shit..." he muttered. Winterhawk, who also hadn't seen the aftermath of the explosion, stared as well.
An area comprising almost a quarter of the length of the warehouse's back wall and part of its roof had been blown away, leaving an enormous gaping hole open to the sleety rain. Piles of rubble were strewn around everywhere, spread over the concrete floor. The floor itself had a hole several centimeters deep in the place where the bomb had exploded.
Gingerly, the runners entered the warehouse through the door Winterhawk and Ocelot had used earlier that evening. They picked their way over the debris until they reached the point of the blast center. The pile of trash behind which the speaker and the bomb had been hidden was gone now, its contents mixed with chunks of concrete from the floor. Joe pulled out a flashlight and squatted down next to the pile, prodding at the chunks with the handle of his currently disassembled battle axe. Then he withdrew his chemsniffer from his duffel bag and turned it on. The others watched him work, every few seconds taking glances around to make sure they were not being observed.
It was `Wraith who noticed it first. "Company," he said quietly, loosening the Ingram in its holster under his jacket. "Doorway. Left."
Everyone's eyes came up surreptitiously to look where the elf was indicating. Sure enough, five shadowy figures had separated themselves from the darkness and stood framed in one of the warehouse's large open doorways. It was difficult to make out details, but all five appeared to be human and similarly dressed. "Gangers," Ocelot whispered.
"More," `Wraith said. "Right."
Four more figures appeared in another, smaller doorway to the right. Moving with the easy, swaggering gait of those who knew they were in control of the situation, they entered the warehouse and arranged themselves around the runners. The illumination from Joe's small flashlight provided enough light to get a better view of them: young, human, mixed ethnicity, dressed almost identically in black synth-leather jackets with red sleeves. A couple of them carried what looked like light pistols; the others were empty-handed or carried various crude melee weapons.
"Stay cool," Ocelot whispered.
One of the gangers, apparently the leader of this particular group, took a step forward. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, Hispanic-looking kid of about eighteen, with long black hair and a scraggly goatee. He carried no weapon; his sleeves were shoved up to reveal extensive tattooing on his forearms. "You ain't from around here," he remarked noncommittally. "You guys in Red Death turf."
"We ain't stayin'," Ocelot said.
Joe rose from his crouch, moving slowly so as not to startle the gangers. Still, they took a couple of steps back: a troll of his size, especially one in armor, was not something they were in a hurry to mess with.
The gangleader looked the four runners over, assessing his group's chances of taking them in a fight, and stood up a little straighter. Aside from the troll, the other three didn't look particularly big and tough to him, but he could tell armor when he saw it, and there was also the matter of what kind of weapons they had concealed beneath their coats. "What you want?" he finally asked. Around him, his fellow gangers shifted position, but remained where they were.
"We're checking out the explosion," Joe said.
The gangleader stiffened. "You know `bout that?" His eyes narrowed. "You blow this place up?"
"No," Ocelot said, "But we nearly got geeked in the blast. We ain't too happy about that."
The ganger digested that for a minute, slouching with his hands in his pockets. "Maybe you should go," he said at last. Behind him, he heard the click of the safety being taken off a light pistol.
The runners remained still, for different reasons. For Ocelot and Joe, their gang backgrounds dictated that you did not back down, especially when you knew you had superior force. For `Wraith, it was the certainty that he moved so much faster than the gangers that he could have at least four of them down before they moved. For Winterhawk, it was his contempt for brute street gangs like this, coupled with his knowledge that one area effect spell could take out the lot of them. "We'll go when we're done," Ocelot said. He looked up at the leader. "You help us, we'll go sooner."
The ganger snorted. "Why we gonna help you? You don't go, we make you go." The other safety was disengaged with another click.
From behind him, Ocelot heard `Wraith change position, and Winterhawk was tapping his foot impatiently; he put up his hand in a stop gesture. Taking a deep breath, he appeared to be considering the ganger's threat. "Well," he said after a pause, "We can do things one of two ways. Either you can help us out and we can make it worth your while, or we'll have to do it your way. You ain't gonna be happy with your way, I'll tell you that."
"He's right, you know," Winterhawk said conversationally. "Not to mention it will be terribly messy."
The ganger looked back and forth between Ocelot and Winterhawk. Then he looked up at Joe. Finally, his gaze traveled over to `Wraith, who had silently nudged the front of his coat open to reveal the holstered Ingram. "What'll you give us if we help you?" he demanded. "Whatta we gotta do?"
Ocelot relaxed a bit as the level of tension dropped. The ganger had been smart for a change: he'd realized that his group was outgunned, and now he was trying to save face. Ocelot was cool with that. Silently hoping that Winterhawk, who mixed with the typical gang member about as well as oil mixed with water, would keep his mouth shut, he said, "Just answer some questions. You guys know stuff around this area, right?"
"Damn right we do," the gangleader said with pride. "The Red Death, we own this `round here. We don't miss nothin'."
"Okay, then maybe we can do business," Ocelot said. "See, we're lookin' for the people who set the bomb in here. We want to—talk to them." He grinned a bit ferally, clearly revealing what he meant by "talking."
The ganger understood that very well. "We don' like guys comin' round here messin' with our turf," he said. "Bad for biz, y'know?"
"When we find `em, they won't be coming back here anymore," Joe said.
The ganger looked at Joe, then back at Ocelot. He paused again. "Okay," he said. "You guys look like you got money. You give us—say—five hundred nuyen, and we'll tell you."
Again hoping Winterhawk would keep quiet, Ocelot thought that over as if five hundred nuyen would put a big dent in the team's cash flow. He thought about bargaining, but realized that if the ganger really was able to provide the first useful information they'd had so far, five hundred was a bargain. He glanced at the others, each of whom nodded. "You got it," he said.
"Okay," the ganger said, looking surprised. In this part of town, five hundred nuyen was big money, especially for nothing more than information. "Gimme the money first."
`Wraith, who usually handled the team's petty cash expenditures, pulled five hundred in nuyen notes from his jacket pocket and handed it to Ocelot, who took it and shook his head. "No good. Here's the cash—you can see we're good for it. But you give us the information first."
The ganger appeared to be considering the option of trying to take the team by surprise again, but common sense won out over machismo. "Yeah, okay," he said grudgingly. He snapped his fingers. "Alfonso! Get yo' ass over here!"
A short, powerfully built youth of about fifteen came over and stood next to the gangleader. "Yeah."
"Tell these guys what you saw."
Alfonso looked a little nervously at the team, but pulled himself up to his full height and put on a disinterested demeanor. "I saw some guys come in here. They stayed in for awhile, then they came out and went away. After the bomb went off, I saw `em runnin' for a car and they took off."
"What did they look like?" Ocelot asked. "Did you get a good look at `em?"
"Yeah," Alfonso said. "One of `em was a norm. You know, human. The other one was an ork. Norm was white. They was wearin' long coats like you guys got on."
"Did you see the car?" Winterhawk asked, finding it difficult to stay out of the conversation any longer.
Alfonso looked at him suspiciously, but shrugged. "Yeah. It was orange. Jackrabbit, I t'ink. One o' the back lights was out."
"Anything else?" Ocelot asked. "Anything weird about the guys or the car?"
"No, nothin' else," Alfonso said, then added, "Oh, yeah—it had some kinda bumper sticker on it. Couldn't read it, though. Too far away."
Ocelot nodded. "Thanks. Listen," he said, addressing the gangleader, "any of your guys sees those two around here again, you call me, okay? If they're here and we grab `em, there's another five hundred in it for ya." He handed over the payment along with his wristphone number jotted on a scrap of paper. "Okay?"
The ganger accepted the cash and the paper, squirreling both away in his jacket. "Yeah. Maybe I will. Now you guys better get out of here."
"Good doin' business with you," Ocelot said, then turned and headed for the door, followed by the other runners. The nine gang members stood silently watching the runners as they made their exit.
Once outside, Winterhawk was the first to speak. "Someone got sloppy."
"Yes," `Wraith said. "First time."
"At least we have a real lead now," Ocelot said. "Assuming those guys were telling the truth. Let's hurry up and get the word out that we're lookin' for these guys."
"Find anything?" `Wraith asked Joe, with a pointed glance toward the bag containing his chemsniffer.
"Not much," Joe said. "Looks like a pretty primitive bomb—the sniffer found traces of stuff that makes me think they just strapped some dynamite together and hid it under that trashpile."
"How'd they detonate it?" Ocelot asked. "Couldn't have been on a timer—they couldn't be sure we'd show up at the right time."
"Radio detonator," `Wraith said.
"That fits with what our young friend in there said," Winterhawk agreed. "Remember that he claims to have seen our would-be assassins leaving the scene after the bomb detonated."
"They were probably watching us from a distance," Ocelot said disgustedly, "and just set the thing off when we got close."
"Must have been a decent distance," Winterhawk said. "I assensed the entire area surrounding the warehouse."
"All they'd need is a good telescope or mag or something," Joe pointed out. "We can go back and look if you want—wouldn't be too hard to figure out where they must have been, if we look at the angles they'd need to see in."
"No need," `Wraith said, with a hint of an evil smile. "We'll ask them."