When Ocelot awoke late the next morning, there was an annoying sound in his ear and a weight on his chest. Full consciousness resolved the weight as Kestrel, draped over him and just now beginning to awaken herself, and the sound as his wristphone. Fumbling around on the floor amidst his discarded clothing, he grabbed it and hit the audio-only button. "Yeah?"
"Good morning." Winterhawk sounded considerably more awake than either Ocelot or Kestrel.
"Mmm?" Kestrel mumbled.
"And good morning to you too, Kestrel," the mage added, the amusement evident in his voice. "That is Kestrel, isn't it?"
"What do you want, 'Hawk?" Ocelot cut him off. "And why're you callin' so early?" He turned on the video so Winterhawk could get a good look at him.
"Early? Dear boy, even for someone like me, not known as an early riser, this wouldn't qualify as early. It's almost noon." In contrast to Ocelot's wild hair and unshaven face, 'Hawk looked like he'd been up for hours.
"So what do you want?" he asked again as Kestrel stirred and immediately burrowed further under the covers. He'd forgotten to turn up the heater last night, and even at almost noon it was still chilly.
"Harry called. He wants to set up a meet tonight. I've already called the others—who, I might add, were all awake—and they've agreed. So that just leaves you."
Ocelot's eyes narrowed. "A meet? What for? We haven't told him we're looking for a job, have we?"
Winterhawk shrugged. "I don't know. He didn't say. P'raps he's got something he thinks we might be interested in—or p'raps he just wants to discuss something with us." He looked as if he was going to say something else, but then decided not to.
Ocelot thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, okay. Sure. When and where?"
"The Black Dog, tonight at nine. Back room, as usual."
"Right. Got it. Now go away and let me get up in peace."
"You two have a lovely morning." Winterhawk smiled maddeningly and broke the connection.
Kestrel came back up from beneath the covers. "What was that about?"
He frowned. "Harry's actin' kinda weird. He usually doesn't call us for jobs unless we've told him we're in the market." He shrugged, smiling. "Whatever. Doesn't really matter. That's biz, and I don't want to talk about biz right now, do you?" To punctuate his words, he pulled her down and yanked the covers up against the chill of the air.
When Ocelot arrived at the Black Dog Lounge at five to nine that night, he found his other three teammates sitting around a table in the front part of the bar. All three looked like they were dressed for business. "Hey, Ocelot," Joe greeted, motioning for him to sit down. "Harry's not here yet."
"Anybody got any idea what this is about?" Ocelot asked as he took a seat and motioned toward the bar for a beer.
"None," 'Wraith said.
"It is a bit odd," Winterhawk conceded. "But he has called us for jobs before."
"Not often," Joe said.
"Wouldn't mind a job right now," Ocelot said.
"Me neither," Joe agreed. "Hey, that reminds me—did you ever find out from Kestrel what happened to Gabriel last night?"
The others nodded, indicating that they were interested in the answer as well.
"Not much," Ocelot said, shrugging. "She went over to see him, and he's okay now. She says he was just upset about some stuff." He wasn't sure why, but he didn't want to go into details about what Kestrel had told him right now.
Joe nodded, picking up on that. "Just as long as he's doing okay," he said in an I know there's more but it's none of my business tone.
Winterhawk was looking at Ocelot oddly, as was 'Wraith, but neither of them spoke.
At that point, a tall elven waiter approached their table with Ocelot's beer. As he set it down on a coaster, he said quietly, "Your party is ready for you in the back room, gentlemen."
"Shoulda known he'd sneak in the back door," Joe said, grinning as he got up.
Harry was indeed waiting for them, seated in the place of honor at the single table in the Black Dog's small back room. As the team came in and took seats, he motioned for his two "retainers" to wait out in the bar. Harry rarely went anywhere without his bodyguards somewhere in evidence, but his association with the team had long ago progressed far enough that he didn't require them to stay in the same room during meets.
"So—what can we do for you, Harry?" Winterhawk asked, settling himself in a chair across from the fixer. He was the only member of the team who didn't worry about where he was sitting with respect to the room's doors, but he did like to be where he could look the meet's host in the eye.
Harry waited until everyone was settled before speaking. "I got a job I thought you guys might like," he said, shifting his unlit cigar to the left corner of his mouth.
"That's it?" Joe asked, a little surprised.
Winterhawk nodded. "Yes, Harry—you don't usually call us unless we've indicated we're looking. We thought this meet might be for some other purpose."
Harry looked a bit more serious. "Well...it kind of is. I do have a job for ya, if ya want it," he added hastily. "But there's somethin' else I wanted to talk about with ya."
Everyone waited for him to speak.
He held up his hand. "Now, hear me out before ya say anything, okay? I realize this is probably nothin', but it's somethin' I been meanin' to talk to ya 'bout for awhile now. This seemed like a good time." He paused, then said quietly, "Coupla my guys were at the playoff game last night. Said they saw you guys hangin' out in one o' the luxury boxes with that Gabriel kid." As all four runners drew breath to speak, Harry raised his hand again. "Now, listen. It ain't none o' my business what you guys do with yer own time, and nobody was spyin' on ya. It just happened that the guys were there and they saw ya, that's all."
"So what's your point, Harry?" Ocelot asked.
Harry looked at him and his tone changed, softened. "Listen. All's I wanted to do was do a little reality check and see where we stand. We been doin' biz a long time, but things change. I know that better'n anybody. I just want to make sure that you guys ain't gonna give me any surprises. It don't make no difference to me one way or the other. You guys are good enough now that you can pretty much write yer own ticket as far as jobs go. If the kid can do better by ya, then ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I just don't wanna get a job lined up, thinkin' you guys would be perfect for it, then find out that you ain't doin' this anymore and end up lookin' like a chump. Ya know?"
For a moment the runners just looked at each other. Even Winterhawk wasn't quite sure what to say. As usual, though, he recovered his voice first. "Harry—" he started. He paused a moment, and then smiled. "I do believe you're jealous."
Surprisingly, the fixer didn't take the bait. "That ain't it, 'Hawk. What I feel or don't feel ain't important anyway. But I gotta know where I stand. I know you been spendin' a decent amount o' time with him, and I also know he's just got the one team right now. For all I know, maybe he's lookin' to expand."
"Not going anywhere, Harry," 'Wraith said.
Ocelot nodded. "Truth is, and I'm surprised you haven't figured this out yet, the only reason we hang out with him sometimes is because of Kestrel. You know—friend of a friend stuff." That wasn't the whole truth, but he couldn't tell Harry the whole truth. The entire team had given their word that they wouldn't reveal Gabriel's "secret."
"Besides, you didn't invite us to the playoffs," Joe added.
"Hey, I didn't even go," Harry protested. "You know how much those tickets were goin' for?"
"Sure, Harry—you couldn't afford it, right?"
"Of course I could afford it. But I'd much rather sit back and rake in the nuyen betting on the Patriots." Harry smiled, shifting his cigar again. "Hey—biz is biz, and money's money." Once again he became serious. "But let's get this settled, okay? I just wanna know—you ain't plannin' on jumpin' ship, right?"
Winterhawk shook his head, for once serious too. "No, Harry. I think I speak for all of my companions when I say that we're not planning on changing our situation in the foreseeable future."
Harry looked around at the others; all of them nodded. "Okay," he said briskly. "Good. Just what I was hopin' you'd say. So now some real biz: I got a job for you guys, if yer interested."
"Why are you callin' us?" Ocelot asked. "This some kind of different job than usual?"
"No—just looked like somethin' you guys might like. I ain't set up the meet yet. I wanted to use the job as kind of a way to bring up that other business."
The four runners exchanged glances. Ocelot, for one, was glad to have a potential job; it was a reason to keep his teammates in town. He had not had much success in shaking the feeling that whatever had hit Gabriel wasn't over yet, and he wasn't crazy about the idea of the other three guys being in three different parts of the world when the bad stuff came down. "I'm up for it," he said.
"Me too," Joe agreed immediately.
Winterhawk shrugged. "Why not?"
'Wraith merely nodded.
"Great," Harry said. "I'll set it up for later tonight, then. In fact, if you go hang out in the bar for a few minutes, I might be able to do it right now. The guy's anxious to talk ta somebody soon."
Nobody said much while Harry made the arrangements. It was only about ten minutes before he showed up at their table. "Got it set," he said. "You're meetin' with Johnson in two hours, at the Biscayne. Don't be late." Once more secure in his team's loyalty, Harry had reverted to his usual irascible self. Without waiting for a reply, he motioned to his two bodyguards, who had been having a beer at a table on the other side of the bar, and the three of them left through the back door.
"That was weird," Joe said, watching them go.
"Yeah," Ocelot agreed. "Never thought Harry was the jealous type. But at least now we got something to keep us busy for awhile." He stood. "I'll meet you guys at the Biscayne in a couple hours."
Copyright ©1998 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.