Harry, apparently anxious to redeem himself even though he hadn't been responsible for the ambush, wasted no time in putting his massive network of contacts to work on the information provided to him by the team. Despite the fact that all four team members had also spread the news about the two men to their own contacts, it was Harry who, late the next afternoon, sent word that he'd come up with something.

The runners insisted in meeting him in person this time, to at least try to avoid the mistaken identity problem that had gotten them into this situation in the first place. "Okay," he said at the bar where they'd gotten together, "I found your guys. Human/ork partners, one white, dark hair, orange car—don't know about any bumper sticker, but these guys fit the profile."

"So who are they?" Joe asked.

Harry blew air through his teeth. "That's the weird thing—these guys ain't in your league. Nobody with half a brain would send them against a team with your rep."

"I must remind you, Harry, that they very nearly succeeded in killing two of us," Winterhawk said.

"Either you're gettin' sloppy, then, or they're gettin' better," Harry replied. "But anyway, they go by Jenner and Magnum—Magnum's the ork. Coupla small-time muscle types who've been tryin' to break into the runner biz for a couple years now. Problem is, they've blown a few jobs and they've been havin' a hell of a time gettin' anything good."

"Any idea who hired `em?" Ocelot asked.

"Nope, not yet. I can keep checkin' if you want, but you'll probably have better luck talkin' to them yerselves. I hear they hang out at the Neon Blitz over in Redmond."

"Thanks, Harry," Ocelot said. "We'll do that." Something about his tone suggested that the talk would not be an enjoyable one.

The evening that would turn out to be the last one on earth for two minor-league shadowrunner wannabes named Jenner and Magnum began quite pleasantly, all things considered.

The Neon Blitz was a dive by anybody's reckoning, but it was their dive—a place where they had hung out off and on for the past couple of years, picking up a job here and there, trying to catch the attention of somebody who could score them the kind of gig that would elevate them from their street-level, hand-to-mouth existences and into the rarefied ranks of Seattle's respected shadowrunner teams. To Jenner's and Magnum's minds, this occurrence was only a matter of time; they simply hadn't caught the right eyes yet.

All that had changed yesterday when Jenner's phone had beeped.

Mr. Johnson apparently didn't like publicity, because he had blanked out the video pickup on the conversation. That didn't matter, though: it was the message that was important. He had heard of them, he'd said, and thought that they sounded like exactly the sort of talent he was looking for to carry out his job. Talent, he'd said. He'd actually used that word, causing Jenner and Magnum to puff up with self-important pride. Of course they were the right guys for the job, they'd assured Johnson, practically falling over each other in their enthusiasm to get the words out. All he had to do was tell them what he needed done, and it was as good as completed.

He was a very good Mr. Johnson, they thought—he even paid in advance: two thousand nuyen for each of them, all up front. He trusted them, he had said. All they had to do was plant some explosives and set up a wireless speakerphone in a particular place; they did know how to plant explosives, yes? You bet we do, they had assured him. We're experts at it.

Jenner had once blown up a toilet at a bus-station men's room with cherry bombs; Magnum had stolen a stick of dynamite from a demolition site and nearly blown his arm off in an attempt to destroy the car of the sonofabitch who'd run off with his chick a couple years ago. He had managed to blow up the car, though: that made him, at least in his own mind, an expert.

Well, good, Johnson had said, satisfied. He had given them the particulars of where they were to set the explosives and how they were to arrange the speakerphone, and what they were to do once everything was set. Some men would come to investigate; they should set off the explosives when at least one of them was close by. It didn't matter whether any of the men were killed or even injured, although that would be preferred. After this occurred, they were on their own to get out of the area, and the two K each was theirs to keep.

Johnson had even given them an LTG number to call should they have any trouble, although he had cautioned them that they should not call it unless things had gone terribly wrong. They were, after all, shadowrunners, right? They should be able to deal with minor unforeseen difficulties. Still, he had insisted that both of them write down the number and keep it with them. Just in case. Once he was sure that they understood his instructions and that they had written down his contact number, he had made the transfer of cred right then and there. Suddenly Jenner and Magnum were sitting there at the Neon Blitz with two things they rarely had: a job, and cred to burn.

Conscious of their newfound status as shadowrunners, the two goons had gone out to discuss matters with a friend of theirs who was a small-time fixer. He had helped them to procure the explosives, a radio detonator, and a speakerphone of the type described by Johnson. This had put a dent in their funds, but they counted it as the cost of doing business. They had headed out to the site, planted the stuff, and gone off to hide some distance away where they could observe the festivities through high-powered binoculars.

Jenner had provided the quavering, frightened voice. Magnum had watched through the binoculars and triggered the explosion when two of the men had come to investigate. He hadn't seen the other two guys Johnson had mentioned, but that was okay. Neither he nor Jenner waited around to see the aftermath; once the explosion went off, they both got their tails out of there and made their getaway in their car, which they had parked nearby. No problem, they thought. Piece o' cake.

Now, the following night, the two of them were ensconced at a table mid-way back in the Neon Blitz, buying drinks and living the life of the successful shadowrunner (or at least their version thereof). Jenner, a wiry, blotchy-skinned caucasian human with greasy hair and a ragged military-style jacket, was getting rather sloppily drunk, leering and pawing at any woman unfortunate enough to get within his reach and loudly proclaiming his opinions on everything from the sexual prowess of Maria Mercurial to the chances that the Sonics would win the championship this year. Magnum, a large and stupefyingly ugly ork of mixed racial stock, was a bit more under control. He sat back in a haze of smoke, cigarette sticking out from behind his steel-capped left tusk, and grinned the grin of the truly dense at random bar patrons. No doubt about it—he and his old buddy Jenner had finally hit the big time. Hell, they'd been drinking all night and they still had over a thousand nuyen left. At this rate, they could go on for days before they'd have to look for another job. By then, the Johnsons would be lining up to hire them.

So caught up were they in their celebratory imbibing that they almost didn't see the man who was approaching their table. Magnum spotted him first: a tall, chubby, nondescript-looking guy with light hair, corp suit, and fussy little wire-rimmed glasses. When it became apparent that the man was headed for their table, the ork elbowed Jenner in what he thought was a subtle attempt to get his attention. "Hey Jenner," he whispered.

"What?" Jenner's irritated voice was a bit slurred and a bit too loud; he seemed more interested in his drink and the shapely posterior of the waitress at the next table than he was in his partner.

"Shuddup, you idiot! There's a guy comin' over here!" Magnum indicated the approaching man with a quick head gesture. "Looks like a corper."

Jenner leaned forward and the two front legs of his chair, which had been tilted upward, crashed to the ground with a loud thud that was fortunately muffled by the loud background noise produced by the bar's other denizens. Following Magnum's gaze, he watched the corper thread his way through the crowd. There was no question that he was headed for their table. Jenner grinned, revealing a mouthful of bad teeth. "Maybe dey hearda us. Got another job for us already."

The two were spared further speculation by the arrival of the nondescript corper, who did indeed stop in front of their table. "Jenner and Magnum?" he inquired.

"Yeah, that's us," Magnum said proudly.

The man pulled a chair from another table and placed it on the other side of the table, then sat down. "Good. You're just the gentlemen I'm looking for. My name is Mr. Johnson. I heard you might be in the market for some shadow work."

"Maybe," Jenner said cagily. "Whaddya got?"

"I heard that you're quite adept with explosives," Mr. Johnson said. "An associate of mine has recommended you; he says you performed a job for him last night."

"Oh, yeah," Magnum said, grinning. His steel-capped tusk glinted in the dim overhead light. He lowered his voice. "You need explosives, we're your guys. But you know we ain't supposed to discuss our jobs, though. Shadowrunners never talk about stuff like that. Bad for biz, if word gets around we got loose lips."

For some reason, Jenner thought that was funny. He giggled, but muffled it quickly with his hand.

Mr. Johnson nodded gravely. "Good. I can see I can count on your discretion as well. Just as I hoped. If you'll come with me, I've a car waiting. We can discuss the job and your payment. If everything is to your liking, we can finalize the arrangements and see to your advance payment this evening." He started to rise.

Jenner and Magnum were quick to rise as well; they didn't appear to notice (or at least to care if they did) that Mr. Johnson's UCAS accent sounded a bit forced. As the corper turned to head back out of the bar, the two grinned at each other. Another job this soon! They couldn't believe their good luck. Naturally, now that they were experienced runners with a successful job under their belts, they planned to ask for a bit higher payment. Visions of nuyen dancing in their befogged brains, they even allowed themselves to consider the possibility that they might make as much as three thousand each. A fortune like that would call for some major celebrating.

Their eyes widened as they saw the black, corporate-issue Nightsky limousine that pulled smoothly up in front of the bar. They stared at each other, each of them silently upping their fee to five grand each. "Gentlemen," Johnson said, his voice as smooth as the car. The door opened, seemingly of its own volition, with a soft click. Mr. Johnson indicated for them to precede him into the car's rear compartment.

It wasn't until they had both piled into the limo's soft leather seats and Johnson had climbed in after them that Jenner and Magnum realized that they were not alone. As the door closed behind them with the same soft click, the two goons noticed three other occupants: a large troll, a tall, thin elf, and a well-built, blond human. They all sat silently, watching the newcomers. Their expressions were unreadable.

Magnum and Jenner looked at each other fearfully, then relaxed. Of course. Bodyguards. Hey, this guy must be pretty important to rate three bodyguards, yeah? They sat down and turned back around to face Johnson again, ready to begin negotiations.

Johnson was smiling, and it wasn't a pleasant smile at all. As Jenner and Magnum watched, wide-eyed, the corper's plain, pudgy features dropped away, replaced by those of a sharp-featured, dark-haired human with piercing blue eyes. "Hello, gentlemen," he said softly. Johnson's forced UCAS accent was gone; the newcomer spoke with a much more relaxed British one. His boring corp-issue suit faded into one of much finer cut, covered by a heavy wool overcoat. "How nice of you to join our little party." The man's smile was broad and superficially friendly, but even Jenner and Magnum could see the wolfish quality lurking beneath the cheeriness.

Their first instinct was to escape; unfortunately for Jenner and Magnum, they didn't often get past their first instinct to one that made a bit more sense. Almost in unison they lunged for the door, intending to dive straight across the lightly-built Brit and bull their way out the door. Their hands went for their pockets, where Jenner had a Ceska vz/120 and Magnum had a Predator.

They didn't get very far. They had barely begun their lunge when each of them was seized in a viselike grip: Jenner by the blond human, and Magnum by the troll. The Brit and the elf remained calmly seated.

"What da fuck—?" Jenner yelled, writhing madly in an attempt to loosen the blond man's grip.

Magnum was likewise writhing. "It's a setup!" he screamed, clawing at the seats as the Brit casually shifted his leg to one side to avoid the reaching hands.

"Sit down and shut up," growled the troll, "or I'll rip your arm off."

"He'll do it, too," the Brit said pleasantly. "I fear that none of us are very pleased with you two right now. I'd sit down if I were you."

The blond human hauled Jenner back and threw him roughly down in the seat. The expression on his face was one of carefully controlled rage. One look at his eyes convinced the skinny thug that he'd best hear these people out if he wanted to live much longer.

Unnoticed, the car pulled away from the curb without a sound and merged smoothly into the late evening traffic.

"Now then," the Brit said. "First thing we'll be doing is relieving you of some of your unnecessary possessions. Then we'll have a chat. How does that sound?"

The troll and the blond man didn't give them a chance to answer. They moved in and began silently on their task. When it appeared that Jenner and Magnum were going to protest, the elf just as silently—and with inhuman speed—withdrew a heavy pistol from a holster inside his jacket and aimed it squarely at the middle of first Jenner's, then Magnum's, forehead. The movement had been so swift that the two thugs could not follow it: one moment, the elf was sitting there calmly, and the next, he had a gun pointed at them. His expression never changed from calm and neutral readiness. Once again, they decided to cooperate.

When the troll and the blond man had finished, Jenner and Magnum sat with their hands and feet zip-tied with plastic restraints, dressed only in their shorts. "What da hell is this?" Jenner demanded. "Who da fuck are you guys, and what do ya want?"

The Brit shook his head, still smiling. "No, I think you've got this wrong. When I said we'd be having a chat, I meant that we'll be doing the chatting." He indicated his companions. "You'll be doing the answering. We'd rather not hear anything from you other than answers to our questions. Do we understand each other?"

Magnum took a deep breath and started to say something, but stopped when the blond man clamped down on his arm and wrenched it backward in its socket. It wasn't enough to do any damage, but the implication was enough. "Yeah," he rasped.

"What do ya want wit' us?" Jenner whined. His bloodshot eyes, so wide that the whites could be seen all the way around, couldn't tear themselves away from the steady, unwavering barrel of the gun held by the elf. Then his expression grew sly. "Ya want money? We got money. Lotsa money. You take it, let us go. Okay?"

The Brit chuckled contemptuously, shaking his head again. "You are rather a thick pair, aren't you? I told you already—we want answers. If you give us the right ones, you might get out of here with your hides intact. If not—" he shrugged, letting the sentence trail off. Suddenly his expression grew cold, all trace of cheerfulness dropping away like a mask. "Who hired you for the job you did last night?"

"Huh?" Magnum was caught off guard by the both the question and the abrupt change in the questioner's demeanor. The elf's gun came around to cover him, and the troll, who was sitting on the other side of him, began cracking his knuckles in a most alarming manner.

"The job. You can remember back that far, correct? The little bit of demolition you did last night. Who hired you to do it?"

"We didn't see him," Jenner answered quickly, in a desperate attempt to find refuge in the truth. "He called us on da comm."

"No vid," Magnum added helpfully. He had determined that his chances of getting out of here were a lot better if he tried to suck up and go along with this very determined and obviously very dangerous foursome, as opposed to trying to snow them. Magnum knew two things very well: one, a guy in his skivvies wasn't going to last long against four armed and armored opponents; and two, his mental capacities were not up to playing mind games with them. Jenner was the fast talker of the pair, and even he seemed to have given it up as a lost cause. Their mutual goal now was to get out of this alive.

"You allowed yourself to be hired for a job by someone you hadn't even seen?" the Brit was asking. His expression grew even more contemptuous.

"He paid in advance!" Jenner said desperately.

"It was an easy job," Magnum muttered. He had not yet managed to rub the correct brain cells together to make the connection between their captors and the target of their run. "Just set off some explosives and get outta there."

"Yes," the Brit said speculatively. "An easy job. Too bad you were so sloppy in the execution. But I don't believe you've answered my question yet. What else do you know about the man who hired you?"

"Nothin'!" Jenner cried. "I told ya, it was all over the comm! Dat's all we got, is what I tol' ya!"

There was a slight click as the safety came off the elf's heavy pistol. The troll grabbed one of Jenner's arms, and the blond man grabbed one of Magnum's. "We're gonna have to kill `em," the troll said, almost ruefully. The blond man popped a wicked-looking cyberspur and eyed it with interest.

The Brit sighed. "I'm afraid you're right. I did so want to avoid this—"

"Wait!" Magnum screeched. "Wait! Jenner—the paper. The number!"

"Huh?" Jenner stared at him blankly, his fear having overwhelmed what little mental acuity he normally possessed.

"The number, Jenner!" Magnum struggled against his bonds. "Johnson! The emergency number! Remember?"

Jenner's eyes popped open even wider, a grin of stupid relief spreading across his features. "Yeah! Yeah, Magnum!" He addressed his captors, cocking his head down toward his greasy military jacket. "Look in dere—in da front pocket. There's a piece o' paper wit' an LTG number on it. Look!" he exhorted, jerking in his bonds like an epileptic puppet. "You'll see!"

The blond man leaned over and snatched up Jenner's jacket. Sheathing the spur, he carefully reached into the front pocket and hooked a badly folded scrap of paper.

Jenner nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, dat's it! Dat's it! Dat's Johnson's number. You call him, `n' let us go, okay?"

The blond man unfolded the scrap and looked at it. Sure enough, there was an LTG number scrawled there. "How do we know you aren't lyin' to us to save your sorry asses?" he asked, speaking for the first time. His voice was harsh and unforgiving; he popped the spur again.

"It's the truth! It is!" Magnum was nearly blubbering now. "That's the number he gave us. Said to call it if we got in trouble!"

"We didn't get in trouble," Jenner said with a certain pride underlying his fear. "We did the job right." The troll's grip tightened on his arm again, and once again he shut up.

The Brit sighed. "I don't think we're going to get much else out of them," he said. Addressing his companions, he added, "Gentlemen?"

The three others shook their heads, although the troll and the blond man maintained their grips on their respective thugs. The elf returned his Browning to its holster without comment.

"All right, then. Perhaps—"

But Jenner and Magnum were no longer listening to the words of their captors. Suddenly they had more important things with which to concern themselves. They didn't see the foursome's expressions as a pressure began to build inexorably inside their skulls, and they were beyond caring what happened to them when blood began to gush from every hole in their heads.

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