Although officially the team had decided not to pursue the affair any further now that it appeared to be over, none of them could let it go that easily without at least talking to their various contacts about it. Each of them wondered if perhaps one of the people from whom they often got leads might have some bit of information that had eluded Harry, and that might provide the key that would unlock the whole thing and cause it all to make sense.
To each member of the team, the mystery had begun to represent a challenge that was not easily put aside, especially after all the time they had spent pursuing it. To each, the fact that there were still a number of loose ends hanging in the wind was tantalizing; Winterhawk and ShadoWraith, especially, were unwilling to simply let it pass into history without at least attempting to determine the reasons behind some of the unanswered questions.
This effort, however, was doomed to failure from the start. The runners kept in contact sporadically with each other over the next couple of days, comparing notes and trying to put pieces into place, but without much success. `Wraith got back in touch with T. C. and asked her to dig into APS, Nuance, and Medical Arts in search of any data about the hits that they didn't already have, and also any files indicating that any of those corps had the desire and the capability to stage a long-running psychological war with the runners. T. C. came back with next to nothing that Harry had not already told them. APS was still proclaiming their innocence, she said, but there were signs that they were digging in for a long fight if Nuance should decide to start its own little corporate war. She examined their employee rosters, confident that she had cracked into the file containing everyone from the CEO down to the shipping clerks, and discovered no one who could legitimately be able to magically create the sorts of hallucinations experienced by the runners. Although she wasn't sure whether there was anyone who could do it pharmacologically, she did say that it appeared that prior to all this upheaval, the best scientific minds at both APS and Nuance were hard at work on their latest projects.
`Wraith also discussed the matter with another acquaintance of his who was an expert with poisons, and as an afterthought, put the word out to Willie the Weasel, an aptly-named little snitch who was sometimes able to turn up data that slipped through the cracks in Harry's well-oiled information machine. He didn't expect to get much back, and wasn't surprised when he didn't. The poison expert told him that he knew of no poison that would both act that quickly and leave no trace of itself to be found; the closest thing he was aware of were poisons that could mimic other causes of death, like heart attacks. But since the autopsy had turned up nothing of the sort, the man said, it either had to be a new poison—in which case he was very interested in finding out more about it—or else it wasn't a poison at all.
Joe talked to his friend inside Lone Star and didn't get any further. All he could turn up was that there had been no evidence that anyone had gotten into Hoenberg's office prior to his death, and that the autopsy results were still inconclusive. He also told Joe that according to the report of the Lone Star team that responded to Torval Blake's girlfriend's frantic call from Blake's home in Bellevue, she had been in the room with him when he had suddenly caught fire and been incinerated, taking part of the house with him before fire crews could extinguish the blaze. Therefore, the cop told Joe, there was no doubt about the fact that it was indeed Blake who had died. Magical examination had confirmed this.
Winterhawk, since he didn't have any contacts that could help him directly, spent his time doing magical research, trying to find out if there was any obscure spell that could do the sort of thing that had been done to Hoenberg, Mortenson, and, in a little different fashion, Jenner and Magnum. He called a good friend in England who was the head of London University's Department of Thaumaturgy and asked him to look into it as well, but the man immediately told Winterhawk that he didn't expect to find anything. When he called back, he confirmed this. Two more days' worth of research with full access to the University's magical libraries made Winterhawk inclined to agree. The closest he was able to come to an answer was that all the deaths had been brought about by means of massive rituals, wherein some of the participants were charged with killing the target, while others' responsibility was to erase all traces of their having been there. It seemed to Winterhawk to be a difficult and expensive way to do something that was probably much more easily accomplished using other methods.
Ocelot was the only one of the four who didn't spend too much time searching for more answers. He was still a bit nervous about the whole thing and couldn't shake the feeling that something else was going to happen, but as the two days went by without any further incidents, he found himself more and more willing to believe Harry that maybe it was over after all. He was used to runs that had well defined beginnings and ends: you took the job, you did the job, you got screwed over by somebody, you figured out who that was and dealt with them, you got paid, and that was it. Occasionally the target of a former run would decide they wanted a piece of you, but even that was most often fairly well defined, and you could find out about it if you kept your ears open and knew where to look. It was bothering Ocelot that this one wasn't working out that way, but then again, he told himself, there's no Rules for Shadowrunning book that tells you how it's supposed to go. Sometimes things were messy, and you just had to deal with it.
When he wasn't making his minimal efforts to find out information or catching up with his workout schedule (which took several hours of each day), Ocelot spent much of his remaining free time with Kestrel. Her fixer duties were starting to heat up again, as the new team was right in the middle of what was looking to be a fairly long-running operation, so she had to be on call in case they needed anything. Still, though, she found time to spend several hours with him over the next couple of days. Late on the afternoon on the second day, they made plans to have dinner together at one of the restaurants they'd discovered Downtown, then catch the latest action trid that had just opened a couple of days ago. The plan was to meet at the restaurant and then go from there.
Ocelot was therefore surprised to hear his phone beep a few minutes before he was going to leave for Downtown. Kestrel's face appeared on the screen. "Hi," she said. "Need to change the plan a little bit."
"Why? What's up?" He sat down and adjusted the screen, putting his feet up on the table.
"It's the team again," she said ruefully. "I need to meet them with a van and some hardware. `Fraid I'm going to have to miss dinner, but we can still make the show if you can pick me up."
He shrugged. "No prob. Where?"
"You know where the Petrucci Playhouse is? That little small-time live theatre out in north Bellevue? I'm meeting them in there—need to give them some information and hand over the hardware we've got stashed inside. The place is closed for the season, but Gabriel knows the owner so we can get in."
Ocelot shook his head. "Don't know where it is, but I'll find it. When?"
"I'll be there in about half an hour. The west door will be open, but it won't look like it is. Just come in there."
"Yeah. I'll be there. Hope you like ridin' on the back of my bike." He grinned.
"The way you ride?" She grinned back. "Maybe I'd better catch a cab."
"No sense of adventure," he told her. "See you in a bit."
The Petrucci Playhouse was a small, elegant-looking building about twenty-five meters off a tree-lined road in a posh area of northern Bellevue. Ocelot pulled his Blitzen into the large parking lot and looked around for a moment before proceeding on. It was about half an hour after Kestrel had called.
Like a few others of its kind scattered around the greater Seattle area, the Playhouse catered to the small minority of Sprawl citizens who liked their entertainment performed by live actors rather than trideo representations. This particular theatre specialized in classic light operas of the Gilbert and Sullivan type, and seated approximately three hundred people. Ocelot had found this out when he had gone searching through the LTG directory for their address. He also found out that, in keeping with its high-class address, it also had high-class prices. Foo-foo entertainment for foo-foo corporate types, he thought contemptuously. Even though he could easily afford it, Ocelot much preferred a good Urban Brawl game or action trid to this sort of thing.
He rode around to the west side of the building, noting that there was in fact a door there, right where Kestrel had said it would be. Parked in the lot behind the theatre was a nondescript white van. Good—she's here already. He parked the bike next to the van and headed for the door.
The inside was dimly lit, with only the several EXIT signs providing illumination. Ocelot switched to low-light vision as he closed the door behind him.
He was standing in what looked like the backstage area. Dark shapes around him resolved themselves into stacks of props and scenery, some of them covered with black cloths. In front of him, a few meters ahead, heavy velvet curtains hung down, obscuring the front of the stage and the auditorium from the backstage area. "Kestrel?" he called, not too loudly. If she was back here, she'd hear him.
There was no answer.
Checking his pistol and monowhip in their respective places, Ocelot inched forward toward the curtain. He wasn't nervous yet, but it paid to be prepared just in case. Moving off to one side to put one of the wings between him and the rest of the theatre, he pulled the curtain slightly aside and peered out into the darkened seating area. "Kestrel?" he called, a bit louder.
A figure rose up from one of the seats and quickly turned toward the sound of his voice. "Ocelot?" It was Kestrel, but her voice sounded uncertain. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me," he said, coming out from behind the curtain and nimbly leaping down off the stage. "Where's the team?"
She stared at him, her expression warring between suspicion and confusion. "What are you doing here?"
Ocelot stopped. "Huh? You asked me to meet you. Remember?" A faint tingle began at the back of his neck, raising the fine hairs there. Something wasn't right.
Suspicion gave way to confusion as she came forward, shaking her head. "No I didn't. I called you to say I'd be late for dinner. I left you a message. Gabriel called and asked me to meet the team here."
His gaze darted around the room, looking for movement. "You called me. You said that you were gonna be here meeting the team to give `em some hardware, and you wanted me to pick you up so we wouldn't miss the trid show."
She took a deep breath, joining him in his scan of the area. "No. I haven't talked to you at all tonight. Just the message. Gabriel called about twenty-five minutes ago, and asked me to bring the van over. He said the team would give me a ride back."
Ocelot drew his pistol, wishing he'd brought something better. "Something's up here, Kestrel. We need to get out—"
The door in the back of the auditorium opened, slowly. "Ocelot?" came a familiar British-accented voice.
"`Hawk?" Ocelot wheeled around, pointing the gun at the door. "That you?"
The door opened a little wider. Joe came through first, followed by ShadoWraith and finally Winterhawk, all of them wearing their armored coats. Joe and `Wraith both carried firearms drawn and ready. For a second, they and Ocelot covered each other with their respective guns, and then all three lowered them.
"What the hell is going on?" Ocelot demanded. "What are you guys doing here?"
"You called us," Joe said. "You wanted to meet. Don't know why you picked this place, but you said you found something."
"We were a bit suspicious, so I assensed the place before we came in," Winterhawk said. "When we saw you and Kestrel here, we decided it was safe enough to check it out. So what have you found?"
Ocelot raised his hands in a stop gesture. "Hang on. So you're sayin' I called you?"
`Wraith nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Yes."
He turned to Kestrel. "And Gabriel called you?"
"And you called me," he said to Kestrel.
"No, I didn't. I told you that." She looked around nervously again.
"Shit..." Ocelot said under his breath, tightening his grip on his pistol.
The rest of the team was looking equally suspicious. "Out," `Wraith said urgently, turning to head back for the door. "Quickly."
"Yeah," Ocelot said. "Come on. Let's get out of here, before—"
The doors slammed shut and locked with loud clicks.
The lights went out.
The room began to change.