Hildebrandt and ShadoWraith both looked up as the door opened, the former expectant, the latter expressionless. "Well?" the ork said. "Did you decide? Are you gonna help me?"
Winterhawk nodded. "Apparently so. Although I, for one, would like to have a bit more detail before making a final decision."
"What kind of detail?" Hildebrandt asked.
"For example, where are we going?"
The ork sighed. "Like I said, there are three chips. One's with an old colleague of mine on the UCLA faculty. One is with a friend in Las Vegas. And one's with another friend in Provo. I did kind of a Southwest thing on my vacation."
"So we're gonna have to go into the NAN lands?" Ocelot asked. "That could be tough."
Winterhawk looked the ork up and down, unsure of whether he could really be that unaware. "Because, Doctor, I'll wager you have a proper passport. By nature of our occupation, we do not. It will take time to have papers and such prepared."
"We're gonna have to call Harry anyway," Ocelot pointed out. "For one thing, if we just take off, he'll think we've gone AWOL. For another thing, we're gonna need some more gear."
"Harry?" ShadoWraith asked. The elf had been so quiet that the others had almost forgotten his presence.
"Our fixer." Ocelot eyed the elf. "You do do shadow work, right?"
ShadoWraith inclined his head.
"You got a fixer?"
"No. I've been--freelance."
Ocelot nodded. "Well, unless you've got a way to get travel documents forged, I suggest you go through Harry too. He's good, he's fast, he's trustworthy, and he doesn't screw you over. Of course, he ain't cheap."
"Don't worry about that," Hildebrandt said. "I'll pay for stuff like that. You make whatever calls you need to make and get things set up. If you don't mind, I want to get on the road."
"Yeah," Ocelot said. "First thing we're gonna need to do is get a new vehicle." He looked around pointedly at the bullet-holes, blood stains, and broken windows of the RV. "This thing's gonna stand out like a sore thumb."
"How do you suggest we do that?" Winterhawk asked. "Unfortunately, even with Dr. Hildebrandt's boundless credstick, purchasing one legitimately is not an option."
"No," Ocelot agreed. "Too many trails. I think we're gonna need to...er...procure one. At least until Harry can find us something. What's the next town?"
Winterhawk consulted the nav computer. "We just passed through King City about thirty kilometers ago. Depending on where we decide to go first, it might make sense to turn around and go back the way we came, in which case we might find a suitable vehicle there."
Ocelot addressed Hildebrandt. "Is any one of these three pieces more important than the others? I mean, are there any that if they get 'em, they might be able to skip the others because there's enough there to go on?"
Hildebrandt shook his head. "They're all about the same. I did it that way on purpose--split things up so no one piece would have all the necessary answers."
"All right, then," Winterhawk said, consulting the map again. "It makes sense to me to hit UCLA first, followed by Las Vegas and then finally Provo. At that point, we can catch Highway 80 here--" he pointed to a spot near Salt Lake City "--and take it back to 5, and then take 5 up through Tir Tairngire and back to Seattle."
Ocelot looked over his shoulder, nodding. "Yeah. That looks the best to me too." He glanced up for objections from ShadoWraith and Hildebrandt, got none, and addressed the ork again. "Can we call ahead to any of these places so they'll be expecting us?"
"Bad idea," ShadoWraith said.
"He's right," Hildebrandt said. "These guys seem to be able to trace our movement. I don't want to put my friends in danger by letting on that they're our destinations."
Ocelot nodded. "Yeah, good point. But how the hell are they tracing us?" To Winterhawk, he said, "Magic?"
"Possibly," the mage admitted. "I can check the astral again, but most solutions I can come up with to guard against that are going to either be expensive and time-consuming, or else they'll stand out like a beacon to anyone who's looking. At least if we're driving, they won't know where we're going until we get there, and by then we should have the chips."
"What are you planning to do with the chips when you get them?" Ocelot asked Hildebrandt.
"I need to get 'em all back together long enough to download some notes I want to keep," the ork said. "Then I'm gonna destroy 'em. They're just too dangerous to keep around. I'll keep the important parts in my head, where I should've kept 'em all along."
"All right then," Winterhawk said briskly, "It seems we're turning around. I think our first order of business is to get a new vehicle, and our second is to destroy this one."
"How are we gonna 'procure' a vehicle?" Hildebrandt asked.
Ocelot smiled wickedly. "Leave that to me. C'mon. Let's get going."
ShadoWraith silently resumed his place in the driver's seat, and in less than half an hour they were back in King City. A small, agriculturally-oriented town, its residents weren't much in evidence at this hour of the morning, so driving in and parking the RV on a side street was not difficult. "All right," Winterhawk said, "What's this idea of yours?"
When Ocelot had explained it, the mage turned to ShadoWraith. "I don't suppose you have skills in vehicle thievery, do you?"
The elf shook his head. "No."
"You do realize that this is a ridiculous idea, don't you?" Winterhawk asked Ocelot sourly.
"It'll work, won't it?"
"I hope so." 'Hawk sighed. "All right. Let's do it before my rational mind convinces me that I'm an idiot for going along with it."
In the end it was almost criminally easy for them to obtain the services of a large, beat-up gray van. Ocelot's plan, despite Winterhawk's reservations, went off flawlessly. While Hildebrandt and ShadoWraith (the latter with his Browning pistol aimed and ready for any trouble) hid behind a nearby corner, Winterhawk and Ocelot hid behind an opposite corner and watched vehicles go by, waiting for something appropriate (that is to say, large enough to hold all of them) to come by. It was fifteen minutes before anything did; at this hour, there wasn't much on the road. But when Ocelot spotted the van, he glanced over at Winterhawk. "Ready?"
"Sure," the mage said, his voice dripping with cynical lack of confidence.
Ocelot nodded as if he'd heard the words but not the tone, then turned and darted madly out into the street, gauging the approaching van's speed out of the corner of his eye. Using all of his considerable athletics skills, he was able to leap up and roll over the van as it slammed on its brakes, thudding over the top with all the noise he could muster. He dropped to the pavement in front of the van and lay still.
The van driver immediately leaped out of the van, leaving the engine running, and hurried over to the fallen man. He was a human in his mid-40s, dressed in work clothes. "Oh my God..." he muttered to himself as he approached.
The van driver looked up to see another man, obviously distraught, running over toward them. This new man was tall, young, dressed in nondescript and shabby-looking clothes. "What have you done?" the man yelled, dropping down next to the victim. He was nearly in tears. Grabbing the man's shoulders, he cried, "Speak to me, Andy!" Then he glared at the driver. "You've killed him!" he moaned. "You've killed--"
Phhhttt! The driver, intent on this new arrival, did not see the victim raise a tiny pistol, and did not hear the tiny sound as it fired. He pitched forward and was caught before he hit the ground.
"All right," said the distraught friend, his magically-created disguise dropping to reveal Winterhawk, still in his bloodstained suit. "Hurry up." He motioned for Hildebrandt and ShadoWraith.
The elf and the ork hurried over. ShadoWraith got behind the wheel of the van as Winterhawk and Ocelot dragged the unconscious worker off the road and into some bushes. "He won't wake up for hours," Ocelot said. "By that time, we'll be long gone." He looked up at Winterhawk. "Nice job, by the way. A bit over-the-top, but nice."
"Yes, well, next time I'll play the unfortunate victim and you can be the grief-stricken compatriot," the mage said.
"Sure. Only problem is, you try a stunt like that and you will be the unfortunate victim," Ocelot pointed out. He rubbed his hip. "I think I smacked my leg on the top of that damn thing."
"Sorry, but you've already gotten my quota of sympathy for the day." The mage headed back toward the van, and Ocelot followed.
After that, it was a simple matter to drive the van back to where they'd left the RV and transfer their gear (at least what they'd been willing to leave unguarded) into the van's cargo area, and almost as simple to drive the RV out of town, park it behind an abandoned warehouse, and set the interior of it ablaze. They didn't wait around for it to completely finish burning, but they were suitably convinced that no one would find anything that might incriminate them inside the gutted husk. "I hope Mr. Johnson wasn't attached to that thing," Winterhawk commented as they drove off.