None of the runners moved, although all four of them kept a very close eye on the elven woman who stood before them.

“Is that true?” Winterhawk asked her. “Are you behind the attacks?” Looking into her eyes, he got the impression of something not quite right—an odd light shining behind the beautiful sky blue.

“Of course she is!” yelled Carson. “Shoot, damn you! Don’t you know how fast her kind can move?

“What the hell is going on here?” Ocelot demanded again.

“Your troll friend is right,” the woman said. “I am Twyla Ellindel.”

“But—” Winterhawk ventured, “Twyla Ellindel died two years ago when the car she was driving plunged over a cliff and exploded. The body was—”

“—destroyed in the explosion,” the woman finished.

“So—that wasn’t you in the car,” Joe said.

“No.” She glanced at Carson, then back at the runners. “I was thrown free of the car. I was found by some people, near death—I would have died had they not been—” she paused “—as I am now. They made me as I am to save my life. It would not have been my choice, but I knew that once it happened, I could not return to my old life. I dropped out of sight, prepared to remain in hiding until it was safe to venture out again.”

Carson had once again found his voice. “Why are you standing here talking to her?” he cried. “Shoot her, damn it!”

“We’re not planning to let her hurt you, Mr. Carson,” Winterhawk said a little coolly. “No harm in allowing her to have her say.”

“So why the sabotage?” ‘Wraith asked. “Why not remain in hiding?”

Before Twyla Ellindel could answer, Timothy Carson screamed “NO!!!” Plunging his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a small handgun and aimed it at the elf—

—or tried to. His hand had barely made it out of his pocket before Ocelot and ‘Wraith moved simultaneously. As Joe and Winterhawk continued to keep Twyla covered, Ocelot grabbed Carson’s wrist and gripped it hard until he dropped the gun. The manager pounded ineffectually at Ocelot with his fists, letting loose with a stream of obscenities that gradually dissolved into angry gibberish. Ocelot and ‘Wraith dragged him out of the corner and kept hold of him.

“Well?” Winterhawk asked the elf woman. “I think we’d all like to hear the answer to our friend’s question.”

“Why did I come out of hiding?” Her face twisted into a mask of rage before returning once again to normal. She made a contemptuous head movement toward Carson. “Because of this swine.”

“Explain,” ‘Wraith said, as Carson wriggled in his and Ocelot’s grip.

Twyla bared her fangs at Carson, who shrank back. “He is a thief and a swindler. After I died, my money was intended to go to my mother and my sister. It was in my will. But somehow this—this piece of garbage managed to challenge the will, claiming that I owed him money that was never owed. My mother and my sister got nothing, while he stole my money!”

“You bitch!” Carson screamed. It was hard to tell who was more unhinged at this point—him or Twyla. “I made you! Without me you were nothing! Just some two-bit dandelion eater with a pretty voice and a way with the crowds! Do you know how many acts like that go nowhere? Without me, you’d still have been back in the Tir, smelling the flowers and hugging the trees! You ungrateful bitch!” He made a lunge for her but was pulled up short by Ocelot and ‘Wraith.

Winterhawk was looking coolly back and forth between the two of them. His gaze settled on Twyla. “So you wanted revenge against Mr. Carson here? Was it necessary to harm innocents to get it? Couldn’t you have simply faced him?”

Twyla closed her eyes for a moment and bowed her head. “I never meant for those children to be hurt. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt. Only him. Only him...” Tears sprang to her eyes and she began to sob.

The runners exchanged glances, keeping their eyes on their two charges. Twyla had covered her face with her hands and was crying softly, while Carson looked like he might burst a blood vessel. “You’re working for me!” he cried. “I’m paying you, damn it! I order you to kill her!”

Ocelot smiled rather nastily. “Sorry, asshole. I think you’re gonna get your money back.”

“It might be the only money you have by the time this is over,” Winterhawk added.

“I wonder if he’s swindling any of his other acts,” Joe mused, glancing toward the hallway leading to the stage. “Somebody should check.”

“Let me just take a quick look at something,” Winterhawk said. “I’ll be back.” He sat down against the wall and slumped as his astral body slipped free. In a few moments he was back. “It looks like Miss Ellindel is telling the truth,” he said. “She’s no mage, and there’s no deceit in her aura. Mr. Carson, on the other hand, seems to be nothing but deceit—if you don’t count rage and desire to cover his own sorry arse.” His voice dripped with contempt.

Ocelot looked back and forth between them. The intermission had started and people were beginning to filter back toward the backstage area. “So what do we do with ‘em?” he asked.

“Think we’ve got our culprit,” ‘Wraith said. He wasn’t looking at Twyla, but at Carson.

Twyla lowered her hands and looked at them as if hardly daring to hope. “You aren’t going to—?”

“I suspect we’ll initiate a full-scale investigation into Mr. Carson’s financial dealings,” Winterhawk said. “I have a strong feeling we’ll find more dodgy dealings than just your situation. Will that satisfy you?”

“Will my mother and sister get their money?”

“I don’t know at this point,” the mage said. “But I think once they start investigating, there’ll be quite a lot of money changing hands. There’s a good chance.”

She bowed her head. “That’s all I can ask. I don’t want publicity. I want to live quietly, with the friends I’ve made.”

“No more sabotage?” Joe asked.

She shook her head. “It all got out of hand,” she whispered. “No one else was meant to be hurt...”

Footsteps sounded in the hallway. They were getting closer.

The runners looked at each other. They all nodded. “Go,” Winterhawk said to her. “Hurry.”

She looked at them all for a moment, her eyes clear, her face full of the beauty that used to melt fans’ hearts when she appeared on stage. “Thank you,” she whispered, and then she turned to mist and was gone, out through one of the air vents.

“You—let her go?” Timothy Carson spluttered, barely able to control his anger enough to form words. “I’ll destroy you for this. I’ll see that you never work again! I’ll—”

“Shove a sock in it,” Ocelot said, tossing him back, none too gently, into his corner.

Several event security guards came hurrying into the room, followed by Kenny Zane and a few of his entourage. “What’s going on?”

“I think you’ll find that this man is responsible for your problems,” Winterhawk said, pointing at Carson. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, I think we’d like to go enjoy the second half of the show.”

“Not bad,” Ocelot said, taking another long drink of his beer. “Not bad at all.”

The others nodded. They were sitting in the back of one of their favorite haunts, the Glass Spider, enjoying a last round together before they all set off for a much-needed rest and relaxation break. “Shame about old Timothy,” Winterhawk said, not sounding like he thought it was a shame at all.

Upon investigation into Timothy Carson’s financial records, it had been discovered that he had been siphoning money from his acts for years through various shady bookkeeping methods employed by himself and the decker he retained to keep track of his finances. Some of the worst offenses had been committed against Kenny Zane, who had lost a good thirty percent of his rightful earnings due to Carson’s underhanded dealings. Fortunately Carson had squirrelled the money away in accounts that were subsequently traced and returned to their rightful owners, including Twyla Ellindel’s mother and sister. They didn’t get everything that was due them, but it was enough that they could live comfortably for the rest of their days.

No one had believed Carson’s story, of course, about Twyla Ellindel’s having been turned into a vampire. After his web of lies had begun to unravel, Carson did too. He was now awaiting trial, but it would be as long as several months before he might have to appear because he was currently under a psychiatrist’s care.

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” Ocelot said. He took another sip. “You guys headin’ out tomorrow?”

‘Hawk nodded. “Heading home. You-know-who has probably forgotten what I look like.”

Joe grinned. “It’ll be good to relax for awhile.”

“Indeed,” ‘Wraith agreed. He raised his glass. “To safe journeys—and absent friends.”

The others raised their own glasses, sobering slightly. “Absent friends,” Winterhawk repeated softly.

Joe wasn’t about to let the mood sober. “I’ll see you guys in a few months,” he said, grinning again. “In the meantime, have fun but don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Nothing to worry about,” ‘Wraith said.

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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.