The name of Augie’s Delicatessen was a bit of a misnomer, because it wasn’t exactly a delicatessen and the owner’s name wasn’t Augie. Both had been true two generations ago when the current owner’s grandfather still ran the place as a little corner eatery in one of the out-of-the-way corners of Downtown, but over the years it had evolved into something that wasn’t quite a deli and yet wasn’t quite an upscale lunch spot, but rather something halfway between the two. The current owner, Max Goldberg, had been largely responsible for the change, which had catapulted the place from an obscure watering hole for the local wageslaves to its current position as one of the places to be for those who liked good food and a sort of ‘downscale upscale’ atmosphere. Class without the stuffiness, that was what it was, and that was the way its regular patrons liked it.
Augie’s was one of Harry’s favorite places to eat lunch, although he didn’t often go there anymore. Too many security risks, going out in public like that—he always felt safer in the sorts of places that made you check everything from your coat to your artillery at the door, which Augie’s did not. Still, though, Max was an old friend for whom Harry had done a few favors many years ago, and as a result he had a standing invitation to drop by whenever he was in the neighborhood and in the mood for good food at a substantial discount.
It was a drizzly Monday afternoon. Harry had been here for about an hour (the service at Augie’s was slow but worth the wait), sitting with his back to the wall at one of the tables near the rear of the restaurant where he could keep an eye on things and be alone with his thoughts, slightly out of the way of the rushed waitstaff and the impatient customers. He never looked at the man and the woman sitting at the table a few meters away, nor at the nervous-looking young guy reading a magazine at another table on the other side of him; he didn’t have to. They were there, and they knew their jobs well. That was all he needed to know. They were watching so he didn’t have to. He did anyway, though. There wasn’t much that Harry missed. He picked idly at the coleslaw that accompanied his egg-salad sandwich and glanced over the day’s datafax, making mental notes of some of the stories that he wanted to check into with more detail later.
He wasn’t sure how long there was someone standing next to his table before he noticed him. He glanced up, a quick movement of his eyes alerting the two bodyguards at the table to his right. Then his gaze came up to see who had approached him.
Surprise quickly crossed his features at the sight of Gabriel. It had been at least three months since that particular professional counterpart had shown up in Seattle. The handsome young man was dressed in a business suit, with an overcoat draped casually over his arm. In contrast to his usual look of perpetual amusement, today he looked somehow...subdued. “Good afternoon, Harry.” His voice was soft, polite. It was something that Harry always found odd about Gabriel—his total lack of cockiness, especially given his young age and the high-powered circles in which he traveled.
Harry nodded a greeting. “Yeah. Nice t’ see you back in town. This ain’t your normal beat. Slumming?”
Gabriel shook his head. “May I sit down?”
“Sure.” Harry nodded toward the chair across from him. “Want a beer or a sandwich or something?”
Again the young man shook his head, taking the offered chair and putting his coat over the back of one of the other two at the table. “Thank you, but no. I’ve come because I need your help.”
This time Harry didn’t register any surprise, although he was feeling plenty. This was an unexpected development. He sized Gabriel up slowly, munching a bite of his egg salad sandwich to cover it. “And...” he said at last, “you came here to find me? Kinda odd, wouldn’t you say?” Especially since I didn’t even know I was coming here until an hour ago.
“I didn’t have time to make an appointment.” Gabriel still seemed strangely quiet, the usual spark of mischief in his eyes conspicuously absent. He looked like a man who had a very important problem on his mind. He sat there across from Harry, watching the older man with a gaze that held respect, but not an excess of it. It was the respect of one professional colleague for another.
Harry stared off into space for a moment, appearing to be adding something up in his head. “You didn’t have time...and you found me here. Right. Must be something important. Sure you don’t wanna discuss it over a knish?”
Gabriel shook his head, not falling for Harry’s attempt at distraction. “No, thank you. And it is important. I need to locate your team.”
Harry sat up straighter, slowly returning the sandwich to his plate. For a moment he didn’t speak, his shrewd brown eyes studying the younger man. “Right to the point,” he said at last. “This must be something serious. And you just expect to come in and get me to tell you this?” He glanced sideways at the two bodyguards again under cover of taking a sip of beer—just checking to make sure they were still paying attention. They were. In fact, they seemed quite interested in what was going on, in a surreptitious sort of way.
“I need to speak to them as soon as possible,” Gabriel said, nodding. “They could be in danger.”
Harry raised his hands. “Hey, slow down. If we’re talkin’ business—well, this is a little open for that. Especially if you want details. Maybe we should go back there.” Here he nodded over toward the kitchen; there were two other doors there, both unmarked. “Maybe we can make a deal.”
A brief look of—disappointment?—flickered across Gabriel’s face, but it was quickly gone. “Perhaps we can,” he said softly.
Harry hadn’t missed the look, but he didn’t know what to make of it so he just filed it away for now. He gave the young man a stern look of his own. “It would be nice if you told me what’s going on, y’know. This is a little...abnormal.” Yeah, that’s the understatement of the year.
Gabriel nodded soberly. “I know it is, and I’m sorry. If I could have done this another way, I would have.” He paused a moment and took a deep breath. “I can’t tell you everything—all I can say is that it is likely that they are in danger. If I can find them, I think I can help them.”
Harry was still looking stern, partially because he still couldn’t figure out what this kid was after. Why the sudden interest in his team, especially now? What was this danger he was talking about? The little hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood up a little. “They’re big boys,” was all he said, “and they take care of themselves. Besides,” he added after a moment, “another ‘personnel manager’ getting a little too interested in them isn’t good for business, if you know what I mean.” He cocked his head a bit at Gabriel, still not seeing his angle. “You aren’t recruiting, or so I hear.”
Once again the brief look of disappointment passed over Gabriel’s eyes. “No, Harry. I am not, and never have been, attempting to ‘recruit’ your team. They are my friends. I want to help them, but I can’t do that unless I know where they are.”
“So why don’t you just call them?”
“I have tried,” the young man said, in a tone that suggested that he knew that Harry knew that. “I haven’t been successful so far. That is why I am here. I thought you might have other ways to contact them.”
Harry leaned across the table a bit, meeting Gabriel’s gaze. “Okay, let’s stop the dance. There’s something you ain’t tellin’ me—two things, actually. One is what’s at the bottom of this request. The other is what your angle is. I don’t get into things uninformed. It’s bad business.”
Gabriel sighed, bowing his head slightly. “This isn’t about business.”
“You know what I mean.” Harry made a dismissive gesture. “Get involved in something with someone who doesn’t have his motives out on the table, and you ain’t really sure what you’re gettin’ into. And you’re saying this is dangerous.” He continued to study Gabriel as he spoke. Red flags were going up in every direction, and this whole situation was making him nervous. First this kid fixer, the guy who nobody knew his background, managed to find him when nobody should be able to find him that easily. That was flag one. Flag two was that the kid was talking about his team, and about danger. Flag three was the fact that Gabriel didn’t seem to be worried about having just waltzed in here, neat-as-you-please, asking for the kind of information that no fixer in his right mind would give out, while still holding back enough cards on his side of the table to make a whole new deck. This just didn’t add up, and Harry hated things that didn’t add up.
Gabriel nodded. He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath, as if considering something. Then he returned his attention to Harry. “All right. Certainly you understand that I am reluctant to, as you say, put my motives on the table—but time grows short. I might be able to find them on my own, but it will take longer than I like. I am not sure I have that time.” Appearing to take notice of his surroundings for the first time since he had sat down, he looked around the room. “We can’t talk here, though.”
Harry hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Back room. Nobody’ll overhear.” Nobody except my people. But if he doesn’t expect that, he ain’t half as good as I thought he was.
Gabriel shook his head, a hint of a gentle smile quirking the corners of his lips. “No, Harry, I don’t think that will be possible. I suspect that the two individuals at the table over there, and the other gentleman—” He nodded toward the nervous-looking magazine reader at the other table “—might have some interest in our conversation.”
It was Harry’s day for not showing surprise, even though he was getting quite a few of them. It was just possible that Gabriel might have noticed his glances over to the two bodyguards, but Harry had never even looked in the direction of Rick, his surveillance expert. Had the kid noticed the tiny directional mike hidden under the magazine? He let out his breath slowly. “It’s strictly confidential,” he assured him. “You oughtta know that by now.”
Again Gabriel shook his head, and the smile disappeared. “To me, strictly confidential means that only you hear what I have to say.”
Harry had had about enough of this enigmatic kid. “All right,” he said, “screw formality. I don’t know how you found me here, but I don’t like it. You want my help—you better tell me what’s going on, and why, from your end. This sounds like some major secret to you, yes?”
Gabriel paused. When he spoke again, his words came with measured care. “It isn’t a secret. I think a better way to put it is...that it’s something I don’t think you want to be involved with.”
Harry shook his head. “Too late for that, I think. You want the information I got—that’s the price. I don’t get into something I don’t have a handle on. That’s a good way to get bit.”
Gabriel didn’t answer. He sat there considering, silently watching Harry.
“Okay,” Harry finally said, tired of being studied by that unnervingly calm purple gaze, “it’s like this. Tellin’ me what’s up with the situation is just the prereq for me telling you anything. What I want—I want your angle. What’s in this for you. I’m a little tired of playing word games—and never quite knowing where you’re comin’ from.” It was a long shot, sure, but if it paid off, then Harry would have something he had been trying to get for a very long time: the story on what was up with the kid. Was the location of his guys worth that to him? He didn’t think so, after all the trouble Gabriel had gone through to keep his secret under wraps.
Gabriel leaned forward, his expression intense. “And if I tell you this,” he said softly, “you will tell me where they are? Do I understand you correctly?”
“That’s the deal. You get whatever I know about the subject at hand.”
The intensity stepped up a notch, giving Harry the uneasy feeling that he was being scanned. “Do you know where they are?” Gabriel’s tone was still quiet, but very focused.
“More than you do.” If the kid was going to try intimidation, Harry was going to let him know it wouldn’t work. Still, though, it didn’t feel like intimidation. It just felt like Gabriel wanted to make sure Harry knew something worth knowing before he continued. Nothing less than Harry himself would have done. “And a useful amount more than you do,” he added after a pause.
Gabriel studied him for a moment longer and then nodded slightly to himself. He stood, draping his coat back over his arm. “Let’s go for a drive, then.”
Harry remained seated as he mulled that over. On the one hand, he might finally get the information he had been after for a long time. On the other hand, going off with someone, alone, on his own turf, was not the smartest move anyone could make. That was how people turned up dead—or didn’t turn up at all. “Just like that? I prefer not to just head off into who knows where,” he said, looking up at Gabriel.
“We aren’t going far.” Gabriel didn’t look concerned. “And I prefer not to be overheard. I’ll bring you back here when we’re done.”
Harry thought about it a little more, even though he already knew the answer. This piece of intel was too good to pass up, and he knew the chances of having Gabriel in the position of wanting something from him ever again were hovering between slim and none. It was now or never, which meant it was now. He’d just have to trust that the kid’s street rep as a straight-shooter was accurate. “Yeah,” he said. “Twenty minutes. Just you an’ me.” He glanced over at the two bodyguards, making a subtle head gesture. Listen to me. Don’t follow. I’m leaving with him. The female guard’s acknowledgment was every bit as subtle; neither she nor her male counterpart looked pleased about the situation, but they weren’t being paid to question the boss’ orders.
Gabriel nodded. Harry wasn’t sure quite why, but he got the impression from that nod that it would be just the two of them—that it was a good thing he wasn’t intending to try anything funny. This whole situation wasn’t sitting well with him, and the sooner it was over, the better.
Harry rose, tossing enough scrip on the table to cover the bill and a nice tip, then waited for Gabriel to lead the way. This was his show, at least for the next twenty minutes.
Outside, Gabriel did not bother to slip on his coat for the short walk across the parking lot to the black Dynamit waiting there. Harry didn’t ask how he’d gotten a spot that close to the door in the middle of the lunch rush. “I expected a driver,” he said, indicating the small sports car.
Gabriel smiled; this time, it showed genuine, almost boyish amusement. “Where’s the fun in that?” He touched a button on the key and the doors unlocked with a soft whoosh. Motioning Harry toward the passenger side, he climbed in behind the wheel and waited.
Harry took one last glance back toward the restaurant before getting in. The bodyguards, as he had instructed, were nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t sure if that was comforting. Okay, this is it. Now we play it by ear.
The young man started the car, its engine coming to life with a low thrumming roar like some kind of predatory animal held prisoner under the hood. He pulled out of the parking lot and merged into traffic, driving fast but with confident skill. For several minutes he said nothing, guiding the Dynamit through the snarled traffic of Downtown for a couple of blocks and then heading off onto a less-populated side street where he increased speed. “All right,” he said softly, “What do you want to know?”
Harry settled back into the soft leather seat, alternating his gaze between watching the drizzle out the front window and watching the car’s driver out of the corner of his eye. “We ain’t got much time, so let’s get to it.” He turned sideways a little so he could watch Gabriel a bit more closely. “Here it is: What are you up to? Why are you fixing, for whom, or for what? Everyone has a reason: money, excitement, power—you don’t fit. Now, you’re gettin’ a bit close to home for me, and I don’t wanna go any farther until I get some indication of why. That’s it.” His piece said, Harry resumed his old position and continued to look out the window.
Gabriel smiled slightly. “Slow down, Harry. One at a time.”
“It’s all one,” Harry pointed out. “You can’t tell one without giving up the others, so let's go straight to the big stuff.”
Gabriel shrugged. “All right,” he said as if he had just decided something. “Why am I fixing? Because I find it intriguing. Because I met someone—I’m sure you’re aware of Kestrel—who was involved in this sort of thing, and I found it interesting. So far it has been. For whom? No one. I’m on my own, except, of course, for Kestrel.”
Harry snorted. “Intrigue? You’re doin’ this for intrigue? That doesn’t add up. If that’s all it was, your past wouldn’t be buried like that, and almost a year of her past wiped off.” He turned toward Gabriel again. “There’s more reason to it than that, ‘cause nobody goes to that kind of trouble just because they like it.” That much he was sure of. Harry might not have known much about Gabriel, but every bit of information he’d gotten on the kid indicated that he was neither stupid nor naive. It would take one or the other to do this sort of thing for the fun of it. Either that or a death wish, and Harry was pretty sure Gabriel didn’t have one of those, either. That left the big question mark.
Gabriel smiled. “True. The problem here, I think, is that you’re not asking the right questions. You seem very interested in the fact that I’m—as you call it—a ‘personnel manager.’ But that is only a small part of what I do. And I haven’t even done that for the last three months.”
Harry sighed. So even now the kid was going to play games. “I thought we were gonna get down to business here,” he said shortly. “I know you’ve been gone for weeks, and trippin’ all over the world. But surprise surprise, you end up back in Seattle. And you’re asking after runners. That tells me you’re in this biz. The rest may be window dressing, but it ain’t the main drive.”
Gabriel’s expression sobered. “Don’t be so sure of that. I am asking after them as friends, not as runners. I am very concerned about their well-being. This has nothing to do with your—or my—business.”
“You neatly ducked the part about your past, and why it’s gone,” Harry pointed out. “And why you’d remove—or at least put a big hole in—someone else’s. This is s’posed to be your time to tell me stuff, and then you get what you’re looking for, remember?”
Gabriel nodded. “I know that. I’m just trying to help you realize that sometimes a puzzle is easier to solve if you ask the right question in the first place.” He paused a moment, looking out the window. The traffic was increasing again, forcing him to slow down. “You say my past is gone. It isn’t. I appeared to you a bit over a year ago, and you hadn’t heard anything about me before then.” He smiled. “Your information gathering sources aren’t failing you, Harry—no one had heard anything about me much before then, because I was somewhere no one could find.”
“Great. Now I get Zen answers.” Harry blew air out through his teeth in frustration. “You didn’t just crawl out from under a rock a year ago! You were somewhere. You were someone. And I’m betting heavily it ain’t who you are now.”
Gabriel smiled, his eyes twinkling, chuckling at some private joke. “You wouldn’t win that bet...and actually, it was more like a year and a half.”
“Enough with the cute,” Harry growled. He’d had about enough of this kid and his evasive answers. He was beginning to wonder if the whole thing hadn’t been some elaborate setup. “Are you answering, or not?”
“I am answering.” Gabriel turned slightly to look at him, then returned his attention to the road. “You said I didn’t just crawl out from under a rock a year ago. I said it was more like a year and a half.”
Harry sighed; it was a sound of long-suffering. “—You expect me to believe you crawled out from under a rock a year and a half ago.” He paused. “Looks like you got your suit cleaned since then.”
Gabriel shrugged. “It’s a different suit. In fact, I wasn’t wearing one at the time. And if you want absolute truth, I didn’t crawl out from under a rock—I broke free of several of them.”
Harry had truly had enough now. He turned on Gabriel, anger and frustration showing in his eyes. “Okay. Here’s a direct question: Who were you then, and why were you stuck to rocks?”
There was a long pause during which Gabriel didn’t answer. He showed no sign of having been affected by Harry’s tirade. When at last he did speak, his voice was very quiet and calm. “My real name is something I will not tell you, so do not ask. I was in rock because that was where I had been sleeping for the last six thousand years.” He did not look at Harry.
The rain was picking up a bit now; for several moments, the soft snick-snick of the windshield wipers and the softer rumble of the engine were the only sounds to be heard. Harry sat back, letting his stunned mind digest the information he had just been given.
No no no no... 6,000 years... sleeping...
“If this is a joke,” he said, unable to keep his voice from rising just a tiny bit, “it’s a long way to go for not much payoff...and if not...” He let his breath out slowly, not wanting to finish that sentence.
“It isn’t a joke, Harry.” Gabriel’s tone was soft. “And I hope you realize the urgency of the information I seek from you, if I am willing to reveal this to you in order to get it.”
Harry wasn’t really listening. Instead, he was muttering to himself. “No history...not ‘cause you wiped it, but you weren’t around...awake...until then. And you decided to play human...because...it was fun? And being a fixer intrigues you?” Yeah...dragons like to play games with humans—dammit, that fits—and it explains why nobody can dig up nothin’ on him... “Yeah. Okay.” Another pause. “So, assuming this is true—why the hell do you need my help? Can’t your uncle or someone just wave a claw and find out?”
Gabriel’s expression sobered, unmistakable sadness wreathing his features for a moment before he turned back to Harry. “No.” He sighed. “I need your help because the nature of the threat makes it very dangerous for me to seek them using magic. I can probably find them without magic, but it will take much longer than simply asking someone who knows.”
“Uh...yeah.” Harry paused to digest that. “This threat is something that keeps you from using magic. Okay. And you think this is after them...Why hasn’t it found and eaten them by now, then? It’s not adding up again.”
Gabriel closed his eyes briefly. “I can’t give you the details. I don’t think you want to know them. It isn’t the sort of threat that ‘finds and eats’ people. It is much more... insidious than that.”
“Yeah. Right. Insidious.” This was getting weirder by the minute. Harry looked at his watch. It had been about ten minutes since they had left the restaurant—yeah, ten times as weird was about right. And probably another ten times weirder before they got back. If they got back. “And I’m being told this by a dragon driving a Saab. Maybe I don’t want all the details. You got any other reason I should believe this?”
Gabriel was looking rather stressed, something Harry had never seen before this day. “Harry, I don’t know how to prove it to you, short of showing you my true form—and I don’t think that will be practical right now. Please—I have done as you requested. Tell me where I can find them, before it is too late for me to help them.”
Harry sighed. He didn’t like to trust such things on nothing but words, but there was something in the young man’s tone—he would have put a lot of money on the belief that he wasn’t lying. “Right,” he said. “My end of the deal.” He sat back, adjusting his seat belt as he organized his thoughts. “I don’t know where they all are. They like to split up and disappear sometimes, and I don’t check too closely. Joe I lost sight of; I think he’s relatively nearby, but nothing more. ‘Wraith’s on the east coast—last I heard it was New York, but he dropped down a month or so ago and I didn’t push it. Ocelot went down to CalFree like he does sometimes. And ‘Hawk—did he ever let on who he really is?”
Gabriel shook his head.
Harry took a deep breath. He didn’t like passing on data like that, not without the okay from the person involved. But on the other hand, if this really was a dragon, he could get the info anyway...and if he wasn’t, he still had to have the kind of backing that he might as well be, given that Harry had not been able to poke a hole in his background for more than a year’s worth of trying. “Okay. He’s a British national. Name’s Dr. Alastair Stone. He’s back home in England, where he’s got a family home. He likes to stay there. He’s prob’ly the easiest to find in a hurry—he’s in the phone book.”
Gabriel nodded, making a quick right turn. “Thank you, Harry.”
Harry noticed that they had been heading in a large loop and were now going in the general direction of Augie’s. “Yeah. I’d like to be kept up on what’s happening—but not too involved. I’m not liking the sound of this.”
“Neither am I,” Gabriel said very softly. He nodded. “If you could continue to search for the other three, I would appreciate it...I will go to England first and then, depending on what I find, proceed from there.”
“Sure. I turn up anything, I’ll call.”
“Thank you.” They were nearing the restaurant now. Gabriel turned to Harry. His eyes were very serious. “I am sure it isn’t necessary for me to say this, but I would appreciate it if you would keep what I have told you between the two of us.”
Sure. I’m gonna go blab to everybody I know that the kid’s a dragon. And I might make it to next week. “Yeah. Like someone’d believe me if I told ‘em,” he said, masking that thought with flippancy. “Don’t worry. That was the deal too.”
Gabriel nodded. “I’m not worried. Your team values your integrity highly. I can see that you are an honorable man.”
Harry snorted. “Save the eulogies for later. My lunch is gettin’ cold, and you have something to do.”
Gabriel sighed, shaking his head with amusement. He pulled the car smoothly into the parking lot and up to the front doors of Augie’s. “I will be in touch.”
“I’ll be waiting.” Harry opened the door, stepped out, and closed it behind him. Without turning, he walked back into the restaurant. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to get back to familiar surroundings, where he could sort out what had just happened and what he had just found out. Be careful what you ask for...
As the door closed behind him and the Dynamit headed back off into the rainy afternoon, Harry was already going over the ways he might get in contact with the team. He still wasn’t quite sure about Gabriel, but he was sure that if the guys were in trouble, he wanted to know about it.
(Thanks for Dan for his help with Harry in this chapter)
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.