Joe’s residence, a place where none of his team members had spent very much time, was located on the edge of the Redmond Barrens. He shared this residence, which had once been a large, multi-unit brownstone apartment building and which now hovered only a few steps above being condemned, with his gang. The gang, named Darwin’s Bastards after a semi-obscure all-troll band from the earlier part of the century, consisted of an indeterminate and often-changing number of orks and trolls who joined together in a combination of mutual protection society and organization dedicated to the pursuit of minor-league mayhem. Nobody knew who owned the building—it was a good bet that the Bastards didn’t—but nobody bothered them. For one thing, they were good for the neighborhood, keeping an eye on things and swiftly showing troublesome newcomers the way out of the area. For another, even the hardiest of Barrens denizens blanched a little at the thought of telling a large number of massive and potentially violent individuals that they should find other digs. For the most part, the arrangement worked out to the mutual benefit of the Bastards and their neighbors.

Even from down the street where they had parked, the four visitors could hear the loud sounds of a driving beat, yelling, and something which was probably supposed to be music but which in actuality sounded more like barely controlled demolitions.

It was a little before one o’clock in the morning; the team had seen no particular reason to wait for morning as they expected that at least a few of Darwin’s Bastards would be awake at this hour. From the sound of things, all of them were.

Ocelot and Winterhawk took the front of the group as they approached the door, while Gabriel and Kestrel hung back a bit and waited to see what kind of reception they would get.

There weren’t any gang members hanging around the outside of the place at the moment, so they reached the front unchallenged. However, as they mounted the steps to the door (which had been enlarged to accommodate the greater height and breadth of the residents), a voice called from off to one side: “We don’t want any!”

Ocelot took charge of the situation as he and Kestrel turned to look at the speaker while ‘Hawk and Gabriel kept their eyes on the door. He didn’t recognize the young troll who leaned out the window, but that was okay. “Hey. Open up. We’re here about Joe.”

The troll leaned out a little farther. He had slicked-back hair, a pierced tusk, and several earrings running up the sides of each of his ears. He was dressed in a studded leather jacket and a ratty T-shirt. “What about Joe? He ain’t here.”

“That’s what we’re here to talk about,” Ocelot said patiently. “Is Jake there? Tell him Ocelot and Winterhawk are here to see him.”

More orks and trolls were poking their heads out of various windows, watching the newcomers suspiciously. So far, no one else said anything, at least not that the group at the door could hear.

The troll they’d been talking to paused a minute, then said, “Hang on. Wait there. I’ll see if he’s here.”

The four exchanged glances and remained on the porch. There was a several-minute wait after which the door was opened by yet another troll. This one was older than the first, big and muscular and bald, his jacket festooned with various studs, patches, and painted slogans. He looked the four over and nodded as he recognized Ocelot. “Haven’t seen you around here in awhile.” He looked suspicious. “Somethin’ happen to Joe?” He stood aside and motioned them in.

The place looked about like one would expect an ill-maintained apartment building occupied by a large number of male teenagers to look: chaotic. As the four were led back through the place to what looked like a combination living room and game room, they got glimpses in through some of the open doorways. Every surface was covered with pizza boxes, empty beer cans, clothes, girlie magazines featuring just about every available metatype in every available combination, and sports equipment. The aroma of something strong and spicy wafted out from what was presumably the kitchen. The music was very loud, coming from two different locations, each tune competing with the other for aural supremacy. The effect, on the whole, was rather overwhelming, although their current host didn’t give it a second look. When they arrived in the back room he hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward two trolls who were having an arm-wrestling contest on the coffee table as the trid unit blared a pirated porno flick in the background. They grumbled but made their exit, eyeing the newcomers as they went. Kestrel ignored the comments they made to each other as they passed.

Jake used one beefy arm to sweep clothing and magazines from the two large couches, motioning for the guests to sit down. Digging the remote from beneath a pillow he switched off the trideo unit and dropped down into a chair. “Okay,” he said. “So what’s with Joe?”

Winterhawk sat down rather gingerly on the arm of one of the couches and waited for Ocelot to speak. This was definitely Ocelot’s show. He glanced around the room. Back when he had left England and begun his shadowrunning career he had thought that he didn’t care for trolls—over the years and especially following his association with Joe and other professional and shadowrunning trolls, he realized that it was not trolls per se that he did not like. He liked them just fine. It was many young trolls he had difficulty dealing with, especially the males of the street-tough variety. The combination of the intellect of a hormone-crazed thirteen-year-old boy in the body of a fully mature male often disturbed him. When the male in question approached ten feet tall and possessed a musculature that would put a steroid-pumped professional football player to shame, it disturbed him even more. Jake, to the contrary, was older than Joe and looked like just the kind of guy who might be able to hold on to some authority over this unruly bunch. ‘Hawk respected that.

Kestrel and Gabriel, meanwhile, had taken seats on a second couch. Both of them looked fully at ease in the situation, and both had, like ‘Hawk, apparently come to the conclusion that Ocelot was the best choice to be their spokesman.

“We can’t find him,” Ocelot said. He hadn’t sat down; he roamed around somewhat restlessly within Jake’s line of sight. “We thought maybe you might know where he is.”

Jake’s warty features twisted into an expression of concern. “I thought he was with you guys. You’re sayin’ he isn’t?”

“We haven’t seen him for a month,” Winterhawk put in. “He doesn’t answer his phone or respond to any messages.”

Ocelot nodded. “You hear from him any time in the last month?”

Jake shook his head. “I tried to reach him too, a couple of times. No answer. I figured he was off with you guys doin’ something.” He leaned back and stared off into the air, thinking. “I guess it was right about a month ago when I saw him last. Come to think of it, he’s been actin’ a little weird, but you know Joe—sometimes when he goes off on that Native American stuff of his, it seems a little weird to the rest of us.”

Ocelot nodded, then his gaze sharpened. “What do you mean, ‘goes off on that Native American stuff?’”

Jake shrugged. “Just seemed like he was actin’ a little strange there before he left. He kept to himself, locked up in his room. He does that sometimes, but this time it seemed to last longer than usual.”

“Did he say anything when he left?” Winterhawk asked, leaning forward. “Anything that might have led you to believe that he would be gone for awhile?”

“No, not really.” Jake shifted his attention to the mage. “He said he might not be back for awhile, but he’s done that before. I guess I just assumed that he was with you guys. I thought you’d just gotten done with somethin,’ but I figured it wasn’t any of my business if you wanted to go right back out again.” He eyed the four of them suspiciously. “So you guys got any idea what might be up with him?” His gaze lingered on Gabriel and Kestrel. “I don’t think I ever heard Joe talk about you two.”

“They’re friends,” Ocelot assured him. “Gabriel and Kestrel. They’re helpin’ us track down where Joe’s got to.”

Jake nodded. “If there’s anything you want us to do, let me know.”

“Do you think we could see his room?” Gabriel asked suddenly.

“Why?” Jake’s suspicions were on the rise again.

Ocelot picked up on Gabriel’s plan. “Maybe he left us some clue in there—you know, something only we might recognize. Has anybody been in there since he left?”

“Nah.” Jake shook his head. “Joe’s made it pretty clear he doesn’t like guys goin’ in his room. Took awhile to convince ‘em, but it’s stuck now.” He smiled, revealing polished tusks. After a moment’s consideration he said, “Yeah, okay. But I’ll come with ya.” He rose from the chair with surprising flexibility for someone his size and motioned them to follow. “C’mon. It’s upstairs.”

The four of them trooped up two flights of stairs behind the troll and then down a long hallway. Joe’s room was at the end of the hall; the door was closed. However, when Jake tried it, the knob turned. Pushing the door open, he moved into the room and waved the others around him.

Unlike the chaos of the downstairs area, Joe’s room was mostly neat and organized. From the look of things some fairly extensive work had been done to make the place troll-sized: the ceiling was higher and it looked like a wall had been knocked out to make two rooms into one. The place was furnished simply: a desk with a heavy wooden chair, a comfortable-looking overstuffed chair, a big bed (both the bedspread and the chair were in a Native American print pattern) and a dresser. In one corner was a massive metal weapon locker, which was closed and locked tight. Another door led to a closet.

“Try not to touch much,” Jake warned.

The four visitors moved around the room, carefully taking Jake’s advice and not moving any of the items in the room. Aside from the furniture, the only other visible items were articles of clothing and several other Native American objects: prints, a rug, and some small tribal items.

“Wonder how many guns he took with him,” Ocelot mused, looking at the safe.

Gabriel sat down on the edge of the bed and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Kestrel was watching him intently. “Anything?”

He shook his head. “Not really. After a month it’s not surprising, though. All I get from the room is a feeling of peace—he obviously feels comfortable here. It wouldn’t be safe to try anything more...complex, I’m afraid.”

Winterhawk sighed, examining one of the prints on the wall. It was done in a highly stylized manner and showed a bear standing in a forest next to a river. “I wonder if he took his spear with him,” he said. “I don’t see it in the room.”

Ocelot looked around, knowing exactly which spear he meant: the spear of Sitting Bull that ‘Hawk, had given Joe years ago. “I don’t see it either, but that probably means it’s in the safe.”

Jake was listening to the conversation and shook his head. “No, you’re right. It’s gone.” He pointed over to the corner of the room, where a wooden stand sat, previously overlooked, in the corner. “That’s where he keeps it. I’ve seen it lots of times. He said it wasn’t proper to keep it with the guns.”

“He’s got to be where we thought he was,” ‘Hawk said to Ocelot. “Why else would he take it?”

Ocelot shrugged. “It’s as good a place as any to start.” He motioned to Gabriel and Kestrel. “C’mon. Let’s go see if Harry has anything yet. He should by now.” Turning to Jake, he said, “Thanks. I think you gave us what we needed.”

“No problem,” Jake said, standing aside to let them out of the room. “I just hope you find Joe and he’s okay. I know he goes off like this sometimes, but it’s not like him to just disappear.”

Harry came through as they expected him to, because this time the information he was seeking was under his control. Fifteen minutes after calling him they had the location of the parcel of land Harry had helped Joe buy a couple of years ago. Ocelot nodded when he saw it. “Yeah, that’s where we went last time,” he told the others. “That’s where he goes to be alone. Odds are he’s there if he’s anywhere.”

Nobody wanted to split up and despite the hour their mental states meant that none of them were tired, so they decided to drive up to the place immediately. It would take a couple of hours to get there, which meant they would arrive around dawn. It took about half an hour for Kestrel to procure them a four-wheel drive vehicle and then they were on their way.

Gabriel drove, allowing the rest of them to grab catnaps on the way up. After about two hours’ drive, they reached a spot where they had to leave the paved road and follow a rutted dirt road, barely more than a track, up the forested mountainside. Fortunately it was not raining at the time, although the road was muddy and the going slow. Ocelot sat in the passenger seat and alternated between looking at the map on his pocket secretary and the vehicle’s GPS. “It’s not far from here that we’ll have to park and walk,” he told his companions. “It’s a mile or so off the road.”

“Lovely,” Winterhawk muttered. Last time he had been up here he had been feeling terrible and not really paying much attention to his surroundings. Then he looked resigned. “Well, guess it can’t be helped.”

Nobody answered him.

They drove in silence for a few more minutes and then Ocelot pointed. “Here. There should be a trail, but it’ll be hard to spot. It—”

“There it is,” Gabriel and Kestrel said almost simultaneously, both pointing at a spot a few meters ahead of where Ocelot had indicated. Gabriel pulled the vehicle to the side of the track, and shut off the engine.

“Let’s just hope we find him up here,” ‘Hawk said.

Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. If he’s not here, I got no idea where he might have run to.”

The hike up to Joe’s land took another half an hour; by now, the sun was on its way up. It was a beautiful morning, a rare sunny day beginning to dry out the damp carpet of needles that silenced the progress of the four visitors. Kestrel took at the lead at this point, synching up Ocelot’s map and her own hand-held GPS; the trip was a pleasant one undermined only by the hikers’ tension about what they would find when they arrived at Joe’s little cabin.

As they approached the clearing where the cabin stood, they all heard the gentle nearby burble of a small creek. The cabin itself was visible in the distance: a tiny (at least by troll standards), rough-hewn wooden building that seemed at home with the trees and vegetation around it. Kestrel stopped. “Should we call him?” she asked softly.

Ocelot shrugged. “Might as well. But let’s be careful. If those things have got to him, he might be dangerous.”

Winterhawk nodded soberly. “And we don’t know for sure if he took any of his armament with him.”

Ocelot stepped forward, to the edge of the clearing. From behind a tree, he called, “Joe! C’mon out. It’s me—Ocelot!”

There was no answer.

Ocelot paused a moment, then called again: “Hey, Joe! It’s Ocelot. I’m here with ‘Hawk and Gabriel and Kestrel. We gotta talk to you!”

Still no answer.

Winterhawk and Kestrel exchanged puzzled glances. “I was sure he was here,” the mage said.

“Well, let’s have a look,” Ocelot put in. Without waiting for an answer he moved cautiously out into the clearing, keeping low and away from the cabin’s small windows. After a moment the others followed.

The cabin’s door was locked, and a look in through the window confirmed why: there was no one here. The tiny place only had one room, and that room was clearly uninhabited at the moment. The place looked simple, spartan and neat, as if no one had been there for awhile. There was, as far as the observers could tell, no sign of anything Joe had brought with him, including the spear. “Damn,” Ocelot said, smacking his open palm against the wooden outer wall. “Now what?”

“Now,” said a soft voice from the other side of the clearing, “We need to talk.”

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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.