Winterhawk called the team together the next day with the message that he had gotten the autopsy report back from Harry. When everyone arrived at his apartment, he gave them the news.
"They didn't find anything that caused the deaths of those two men," he said. "Obviously the cause of death was massive hemorrhage, but there was no indication of stroke, head trauma of any kind, magical intervention, poison, or disease. Also no sign of a cortex bomb, which was something we didn't even think of. According to the doctor, it was as if the blood vessels in their heads just spontaneously burst. The only thing she found was some swelling in the brains of both." He shrugged. "I don't think we're going to get anywhere with this one, gentlemen."
"But they're sure it's nothing contagious?" Joe asked.
"Quite sure," Winterhawk said. "And furthermore, there was no sign of trauma or injury to any other part of their bodies."
"Heads don't just do that," Ocelot pointed out. "Something must have caused it."
Again, the mage shrugged. "The doctor said she would continue searching for the answer, but she didn't sound confident that she would find it any time soon. P'raps when we meet with Mr. Mortenson tonight, he can shed some light on the matter."
They agreed to meet back at Winterhawk's place at 17:00 that evening, from which they could head over to Denny Park. Ocelot, still feeling more than a little spooked about the whole thing, spent the afternoon with Kestrel, although he didn't tell her about the latest developments. She seemed to have calmed down from the scare she'd had at the Purple Haze, and he didn't want to get her upset again. Besides, it was looking more and more like whatever this was, it was something that involved the team. If Kestrel was involved at all, it was likely just tangentially.
It turned out that his preoccupation with team business was fine with her anyway; when he commented that she seemed distracted, she told him that Gabriel was still trying to get his own new team straightened out; since she was in charge of procuring weapons and other supplies for them, not to mention being on call should they need anything, she had been quite busy. She expected that wasn't going to change for awhile. Besides, she said, it was better if they didn't see each other every day—that made the times when they did get together more enjoyable. Ocelot, who despite his feelings for Kestrel wasn't about to get into a relationship where either partner was stifling the other, was fine with this arrangement. She had seen him off with a kiss and a promise to call him as soon as things quieted down a bit, which should be in the next day or two.
The team arrived early at Denny Park so they could check it out before Mortenson got there. It was getting dark already, making it easy for `Wraith and Ocelot to use their stealth skills to take a quick circuit around the area and determine that no one was paying too much attention to the meet site. Winterhawk, meanwhile, checked things out on the astral plane, while Joe, posing as a park-goer, surreptitiously ran his bug scanner over the immediate meet site and found nothing of note.
The various team members took up their positions at around 17:45: Ocelot climbed a nearby tree and secreted himself in the upper branches, while `Wraith hid some distance away. Winterhawk and Joe remained in the truck, which was just out of sight of the place where the meet was set, but where the scene could be viewed using Joe's tiny camera and Winterhawk's clairvoyance spell. It was agreed that the mage would initiate the meet again, posing as the security consultant. Once he managed to lure Mortenson back to the truck on the pretense of showing him the new gear, they would grab him and take him away for questioning.
They thought the plan had a reasonable chance of success; the only thing they were concerned about was what to do if Mortenson got suspicious and brought his own security people with him. They wanted to talk to the man, not kill him. At least not at first. A firefight in the park was not something they wanted to deal with. Finally they decided to just wait and see what happened, as they were reasonably sure that they could deal with most eventualities adequately.
They needn't have worried. At a couple of minutes before 18:00, `Wraith's quiet voice came over the commlink: "I see him. West."
Ocelot spoke next: "Got him. Looks like he's alone."
Winterhawk switched to astral perception as Joe realigned his camera; neither of them picked up any invisible or otherwise magically hidden people around Mortenson. He appeared to be walking briskly, looking like a man who was completely comfortable with his surroundings. His aura was calm and unworried. Dressed in a dark blue suit and tan trenchcoat, he carried an umbrella and a slim briefcase. Just a guy walking in the park.
"Wait `till he sits down," Ocelot said. There was a bench at the meet site; Mortenson was supposed to proceed to it, sit down, and wait for the consultant to show up.
"Right," Winterhawk said, his hand on the door handle.
Under the unseen scrutiny of the four runners, Carl Mortenson headed directly to the specified location. He looked around and, apparently satisfied, sat down on the bench, putting his briefcase and umbrella down next to him. Hands in his lap, he bowed his head forward a bit as if examining something in them.
Winterhawk opened the truck door. "All right—I'm going." As he exited the vehicle, his mask spell covered him over with the illusion that he was a slim Asian man of medium height, wearing jeans and a leather jacket. Casually, he headed over toward where Mortenson was sitting.
"He hasn't moved," Ocelot reported over the link. "Just sitting there waiting for you."
"Good," Winterhawk said under his breath. "That means he's not suspicious. All the better." Conscious of the three sets of eyes on him (four, if you counted Mortenson's), `Hawk casually headed over to the bench. Still Mortenson didn't move.
He had to get fairly close before he began to suspect that something was wrong. "Odd..." he subvocalized.
"What?" Ocelot's voice, a bit sharp, came quickly back to him.
"He's not moving at all." Louder, he slipped into his UCAS accent: "Mr. Mortenson?"
Mortenson remained in the same position.
"I've a bad feeling about this," Winterhawk muttered under his breath. Moving in a little closer with great caution, he switched his cybereyes to thermographic vision.
Mortenson's body glowed, but more faintly than it should.
"Gentlemen..." `Hawk said softly, "I think our man is dead."
"What?" Ocelot demanded.
"Check for observers," `Wraith cut in.
"I don't see anything," Joe said after a moment.
"Me neither," Ocelot said. "How can he be dead? He just sat down less than five minutes ago!" His voice was taking on an edge of fear.
"Nothing here," `Wraith reported. "`Hawk?"
Winterhawk spoke in a distracted tone. "What? Oh—no. No observers I can see. I'm going to take a look here. Keep an eye on this area, will you?" Without waiting for an answer, he took a seat at the other end of the bench and shifted to the astral plane.
Carl Mortenson was indeed dead. Quite irrevocably so, in fact. His lifeforce had faded to the faintest of flickers, and as Winterhawk watched, it winked out. His aura, glowing strongly only a few minutes before, was nothing but the cold dark husk of a dead thing. As before, there was no indication of magical traces around the body. He spent only a few seconds examining the area, since he didn't like to leave his body unprotected in what could possibly be an ambush situation.
When he came back, voices were speaking in his comm unit. "`Hawk?" It was Ocelot, followed by `Wraith, both calling to him.
"Yes—here. What is it?"
"Get outta there," Ocelot said. "You're a sitting duck out there if anybody's watching."
Reluctantly, Winterhawk nodded. He stood and started to move away, then stopped. "Shall I grab the briefcase?"
"No, don't." Joe spoke up for the first time. "It might have a bomb in it."
"He's got a point," Ocelot said. "Get outta there."
The mage looked at the body and the briefcase. "Oh, bugger," he said to himself. But he knew his friends were right, and in any case he wasn't the one who should be dealing with delicate demolitions-type work.
"Go," `Wraith urged.
Winterhawk hurried away from Mortenson's body, half expecting it or the briefcase to blow up before he'd gotten a few meters away. He was a bit surprised when neither did. When all four team members had made it safely to cover near the truck without anything happening to the body, he was even more surprised.
"What the hell was that?" Ocelot demanded, hooking his thumb back toward the scene.
Nobody answered. For a moment, they just stood there, hidden, and watched the body. Since it was almost fully dark now, there didn't appear to be anyone else in the park. The citizens who used it during the day had all left, and the gangs and chip dealers who took over it by night hadn't arrived yet. "I wish we could get that case," Winterhawk said. "I'm reluctant to—wait a moment!" He turned to Joe. "If I brought it in, could you scan it?"
The mage turned back to the scene. As he concentrated, the case rose up and floated, about half a meter above the ground, to a spot about three meters away from where the team hid.
Joe, as soon as he realized what Winterhawk was doing, had gone to the truck to get his chemsniffer. Now, waving the others back, he carefully approached it and waved the device over it. After a moment he shook his head. "Looks okay." Picking it up, he brought it over and climbed into the truck. The others got in as well.
`Wraith set the truck's autopilot to drive in a large circle around Downtown, and turned to face his teammates. "Now what?"
Ocelot shook his head. "This is gettin' weirder and weirder, and I'm getting nervouser and nervouser. First we get a line on a couple of two-bit thugs who got hired to try to kill us, and when we catch `em, they die. Now, following a lead we got from them, we set up a meet with this guy and he dies. `Hawk, was he bleeding like the others?"
Winterhawk had retrieved the briefcase and was rifling through it. He looked up as Ocelot addressed him. "No. No blood at all. He looked quite peaceful, in fact. And obviously he hadn't been dead for long." Pulling out the items in the briefcase one by one, he handed them around: several papers, today's datafax, and a wallet.
The four runners were silent for several minutes as they perused the items. The datafax was nothing unusual. The wallet contained two hundred and ten nuyen in corporate scrip, a driver's license, a season ticket to the Mariners' home games, a dry-cleaning slip, and several holopics of a pretty young woman and three grinning children. The papers were product specifications for various pieces of cyberware, the dates of which showed that most of them had already been released. One one of the papers was scrawled, "Denny Park, 18:00. Sec. consult."
Joe shook his head, handing the wallet back to Winterhawk. "This is making less and less sense as it goes on."
Ocelot nodded. For awhile, it looked like it was all going to come together: first they were going to question the thugs (and likely rough them up for having the audacity to try to blow up the team); then they were going to use the information they got from the thugs to move up the food chain until they found out who hired them and why. But now they had two mysteriously dead thugs, one mysteriously dead Mr. Johnson, and no apparent leads.
No, they did have one lead. "I think we need to talk to Harry or T.C. and have them check out this Advanced Protection Systems place," he said. "If this guy hired Jenner and Magnum, then somebody there's gotta know what's going on and why they want us dead."
"Maybe he was acting on his own," Joe said.
`Wraith shook his head. "No. Not head of security."
"True," Winterhawk agreed. "He'd need to have had authority from someone before setting up a hit like that."
"All we need to do, then, is figure out who gave `em the authority," Ocelot said.
"Yeah, and get to them before somebody bumps them off too," Joe added. He didn't sound like he thought that was going to be an easy thing to accomplish.