None of the team had ever seen the place the decker known as T. C. Pip called home. For all they knew, she could have just as easily lived in a palace or in the back of a van in an alley somewhere, but wherever it was that she spent her time, she chose not to share that information with anyone. The runners weren't even sure Harry knew exactly where she lived.
She was, however, easy enough to contact for those who knew the proper way to do it and who had business with her. All you had to do was call her number (the one she gave out, at least), leave a message, and wait for her to get back to you. How long it took her to do that was directly dependent on how engrossed she was in what she was doing when you called and how interesting your problem sounded.
She returned `Wraith's call in less than five minutes.
When she had identified herself, he switched on the video. Her image appeared on the little screen: a thin, rather plain Asian woman in her early thirties, her dark hair cut in a short and thoroughly no-nonsense style. "Haven't heard from you in a while," she said.
"No need," `Wraith replied. In the background, Winterhawk smiled a bit to himself: it was amusing to watch the elf and the decker, both of whom were get-right-to-the-point types with very little regard for social niceties, carry on a conversation. The only reason why `Wraith was the one doing the calling in this case was that of the four, he had had the most contact with her, especially since he had bought himself a cyberdeck and begun training as a "turtle" decker.
"What can I do for you?" T. C. asked.
"LTG number. Need it traced."
She considered. "Anything possibly special about it? You know: top secret military, Aztechnology CEO's personal number, anything like that?"
Winterhawk, exasperated with `Wraith's monosyllabism, leaned across the seat. "It's the number of a Mr. Johnson or a fixer, most likely. Someone who hired a couple of unfortunate sods to kill us."
Again, T. C. considered. "Hmmm...could be bad, could be no problem. How about I wait on the price until I see how hard it is to trace?"
"Yes," `Wraith said as Winterhawk returned to his position in the shotgun seat.
"Okay. Give me the number and I'll get back to you when I've got something."
`Wraith transmitted the number to her. When she had indicated that it had been received, he said "Thanks," and broke the connection.
"Now we wait," Ocelot said with a sigh.
"Anybody hungry?" Joe spoke up. When they stared at him, he shrugged and grinned. "Hey, if we gotta wait anyway, we might as well eat, right? Who knows when we'll have time to stop again?"
Everyone had to admit that he did have a point. Thus, they were sitting around a table in a nearby restaurant an hour later when T. C. called back. "Okay," she said. "Got your number. Wasn't even hard." She smiled wickedly at `Wraith. "You could have done this one. Saved yourself some nuyen."
"Who?" `Wraith asked, ignoring her joking tone.
She consulted something offscreen. "Says here the number belongs to a guy named Carl Mortenson. It's his office number—he works for a place called APS—Advanced Protection Systems. They're a mid-size corp in Bellevue that makes custom cyberware and that sort of thing. He's a security manager." A picture flashed on the screen: a black human male of about 45 years old with slightly graying temples.
The runners pondered that. As they glanced around at each other, it quickly became apparent that none of them had ever seen nor heard of Carl Mortenson or Advanced Protection Systems. "Did you find any reason why he might be hiring people to kill us?" Winterhawk asked.
"Didn't get anything else," T. C. said. "Want me to do some more digging?"
`Wraith looked around at the group as he said, "Not yet. Get back to you. How much?"
She shrugged. "Easy stuff. Say two hundred?"
`Wraith took care of the fund transfer and ended the conversation after asking T. C. to stay available if they needed her in the next day or so.
Ocelot leaned back and sighed. "Okay, now we got a name, lot of good it does us. Who the hell is Carl Mortenson, and what's he want with us?"
"I think we ought to find out," Joe said. "Let's set up a meet with him."
"How are we gonna do that?" Ocelot asked.
"We can pretend to be somebody else," the troll said. "Somebody who needs to talk to him for something."
`Wraith nodded. "T. C. can do it. False appointment."
"Yes, somewhere where he won't be on his own territory," Winterhawk put in. "We'll question him and get to the bottom of this."
"What about Jenner and Magnum?" Ocelot reminded them.
Winterhawk shrugged. "What about them?"
"Maybe he had them killed to keep them from talking to us."
"So?" Joe asked.
"So I'd like to hear about what happened to them before we do this," Ocelot said. "This whole thing is still makin' me damned nervous."
"I don't think you're the only one, my friend," Winterhawk said. "But Harry's doctor should have those autopsy results fairly soon—perhaps we should set up the meet with Mr. Mortenson, and if something amiss turns up, we can always choose not to show."
Ocelot shoved at the uneaten remains of his dinner with his fork and sighed. "Yeah, I guess that sounds okay. If nothing else, maybe it'll feel good to beat the truth out of this Mortenson asshole. I want to know why he's hirin' people to kill us."
Over coffee, they made their plans. Then, once back in the truck, they called T. C. and asked her to plant an item in Mortenson's calendar that he was to meet them at Denny Park tomorrow night at 18:00. The meeting was ostensibly with a freelance security consultant to discuss some new (and, as gently implied by the calendar item, illegal) surveillance technology. She was also to set up a fake LTG number for the consultant, and route any calls that came to that number back to the team.
Their trap laid, the runners decided to take the night off and reconvene in the morning. They felt better than they had in quite some time, and thought that they were finally closing in on the odd goings-on that had been plaguing them.
At least the belief helped them to sleep better.