The Biscayne Bar and Grill was not a runner bar per se, but everyone who was anyone knew that biz—especially discreet biz—went down there almost nightly anyway. Located in a middle class neighborhood near the Sound, the bar sported a barely tasteful Polynesian-nautical motif, with cargo nets and glass floats hung on the walls and rough plaswood tables designed to look like they were a hundred years old. Its layout was such that the occupants of any given booth could not be seen by the occupants of any of the other booths, which undoubtedly contributed to its success as a place to make deals.

Winterhawk, Ocelot, Joe, and ShadoWraith arrived about ten minutes early. Meeting up in the parking lot, they entered the bar together, stopping to look around for a moment as they got inside. "Lovely place," Winterhawk muttered. He glanced at Ocelot. "Reminds me of an upscale version of that dump we visited looking for Tommy years ago, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. That was a long time ago."

Joe headed off to the bar, coming back again a couple of minutes later. "The bartender says Mr. Johnson's not here yet, but we can wait for him back there at that booth." He pointed toward the back of the bar.

"Well, we are early," Ocelot said, heading in that direction. The others, after a moment, followed.

They had only been seated for about five minutes when a fiftyish, grizzled dwarf in a generic-looking overcoat approached their table. "You Harry's guys?" he asked under his breath.

"That depends on who's askin'," Ocelot said.

"Mr. Johnson," the dwarf said with a slight smile.

Wordlessly, 'Wraith got up from his spot at one end of the semicircular booth and motioned for the dwarf to scoot in. When he had done so, the elf then resumed his seat.

"Okay," the dwarf said. "Harry described you guys to me, so I'll get started right away, okay?" He didn't seem to be the type who stood on social niceties; for a change even Winterhawk didn't appear to mind this.

"Pray continue," the mage said, indicating for Johnson to go on.

The dwarf nodded. His small, shrewd blue eyes took in the faces of the four runners, and then he spoke. "Okay," he said again in his no-nonsense tone. "First thing is, I'm not gonna give you guys any bullshit. None of this 'Mr. Johnson' stuff. You're gonna need to know who I am before you take this job, so I'll get that out on the table right up front." He slowly reached into the inner pocket of his coat and withdrew a leather wallet, which he dropped on the table so it fell open.

The runners all stared at it. Inside was a silver Lone Star badge. As one, they all brought their gazes back up to meet the dwarf's.

"Yeah, I'm Star," he said, gathering the wallet back up and returning it to its place. "Wanted to get that established so if you guys find out about it later it won't spook ya. But I'll also tell you that I'm not workin' in an—official capacity at the moment."

"What does that mean, exactly?" Winterhawk asked.

"What it means," the dwarf said, "is that the Star doesn't necessarily agree with my opinions about this job. They don't disagree with me, either, but they can't officially support it. That's where you guys come in."

"Why don't you give us the details?" Ocelot said, leaning forward. "So far you ain't makin' much sense."

The dwarf sighed. "Yeah. First thing is, I don't like this Johnson stuff. The name's Hennessy. Duke Hennessy. Lieutenant. I work outta the 63rd Precinct in Redmond. Gang Affairs. That's why I'm here talkin' to you guys."

Joe's eyes narrowed. "We aren't in the business of bustin' gangs," he said in a low voice. As a member of a gang himself, he wanted to get that established.

Hennessy shook his head. "No, that's not what I'm after. Let me finish and you'll see." He took a deep breath. "See, there's somebody out there killin' gang members, and I want to do something about it before it gets ugly out there."

"Killing gang members?" Winterhawk repeated. "Aren't they rather adept at doing that to each other?"

"That's what the Star's official line is, too," Hennessy said. "But I don't believe it. The pattern's wrong. I think somethin's up, but officially the Star can't back me up on it since there's no proof."

"Go on..." Winterhawk said, leaning back in his seat.

"Yeah," Joe added. "What makes you think it isn't just gangs fightin' each other?"

"Let me start at the beginning," the dwarf said. He settled back like he was going to tell a long story. "About two months ago, we started hearin' about some kind of mysterious deaths in some of the gangs that control turf in our jurisdiction."

"Why mysterious?" Ocelot asked.

"'Cause everything was just too pat," Hennessy said. "Too easy. The right people were gettin' killed, and it was happenin' when nobody else saw it. Gangs don't operate like that. When they make hits on rival gangs, they want everybody to know it. That's part o' why they do it—either in retaliation for somethin' that's been done to them, or because they want to assert their dominance over a particular bit of turf. In this case, the killings are quiet, and even though they're set up to look like gangs have been bumpin' each other off, I just don't buy it."

"What do you mean, 'set up to look like they're bumpin' each other off'?" Ocelot asked.

"You know—the methods have been consistent with what gangers might do: heavy pistol, SMG, coupla' guys strangled, one beaten to death—and in every case that I know of, the body had some kind o' gang symbol on it. Either a bit o' fabric with a rival gang's colors, or a gang symbol drawn on the body, or somethin' like that."

"How are you finding out about this?" Joe asked. "Gangers aren't exactly up front about going to the Star with their problems."

Hennessy nodded in agreement. "I got guys in some o' these gangs that trust me, at least enough to tell me when they think somethin's goin' down. I gotta tell ya—none of the gangs in this area are big-timers. We're not talkin' the Ancients or the Halloweeners here. These are just small-time neighborhood gangs, each one controllin' a few blocks o' turf. They make money by runnin' the typical gang stuff—protection, BTL, distribution for some of the organized crime in the area—we don't like 'em, and we'll run 'em in if we catch 'em, but on the great scale of things they're small potatoes. Mostly they just scuffle over borders among themselves—things don't heat up very often down there."

"So lay it out for us, Lieutenant," Winterhawk said. "What exactly do you want us to do?"

Hennessy looked at him for a moment. "What I want," he said, "is for you to figure out who or what is really behind the deaths. See, I don't think it's gangers—at least not these gangers—who are killin' each other, but they're all startin' to get antsy. I'm afraid if we don't figure this out soon, the whole area's gonna explode and a lot of innocent people are gonna die."

"You mean it's only a matter of time before the guys in the gangs start goin' after each other in retaliation for what they think is hits by rival gangs," Ocelot said.

"Exactly," the dwarf said, nodding. "We've already seen some of it—these guys are hotheads, and they ain't gonna stand for what they think is their rivals pickin' off their guys. There've been some drive-bys and such, but fortunately no deaths yet. But the rumblings are already starting that there's gonna be a war soon if something isn't done."

"How many deaths?' 'Wraith asked.

"Six so far," Hennessy said.

"And how many gangs are we talkin' about?" Ocelot asked.

"Five. If you take the job, I'll give you a list of the names and a map showing where each of their territories are."

"Well then," Winterhawk said, "I suppose there's only one other thing to discuss—our compensation."

"Right," Hennessy said. "I can offer you five thousand nuyen each—like I said, since I can't go through official channels, I can't offer as much as I'd like to, but I think that's a pretty fair price. I'm fairly convinced that once somebody actually takes a hard look at this it won't take long to figure out what's up. I'll give you three K now and the other two when the job's done."

The runners looked at each other. After a moment, each one nodded. "All right," Winterhawk said briskly. "Five thousand each. You've got yourself a team, Lieutenant."

Relief showed on the dwarf's face. "Good. Thanks." Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out four credsticks and a pocket secretary; he laid the former on the table. "Here's the first part o' your payment. You're gonna need to work fairly fast—it's lookin' like the killings are starting to increase in frequency. We had one two months or so ago, then another one two weeks after that, another in a week, and then three within the last month. Whoever's doin' this, they're gettin' impatient, which means things are goin' to hell sooner than I expected." Indicating the pocket secretary, he said, "Here's the info about the gangs and their various turfs. We've got decent intelligence on most of 'em, but if there's anything else you need to know that's not in here, just call me. I don't guarantee I'll have the answer, but I might be able to find out. My private number's in there too—lemme send you this stuff."

Wordlessly 'Wraith pulled out his own pocket secretary, and the transfer of information was made.

"Okay," Hennessy said, rising. "That's it. Like I said, don't hesitate to call me if you have questions. I can't help you much since I'm not officially supposed to be doin' this, but I'll do what I can."

"One thing I'm curious about, Lieutenant," Winterhawk said.

"Yeah?" Hennessy sat back down again.

"Why isn't Lone Star officially involved in this? It seems to me that they might be interested in preventing a gang war that would likely cause a great lot of bloodshed. Isn't this correct?"

"I bet I know why," Ocelot said, disgust in his tone. "They ain't interested if a bunch of gangers kill each other. They're just street trash—if they kill each other, then there'll be less street trash they have to contend with."

"It's not quite that bad," Hennessy said with a sigh, "but almost. They're up to their ears in things that are a lot more important—at least to their reckoning. They won't get off their asses until innocent people—people with SINs, I mean—start getting hurt."

"And we all know how many people with SINs live in the Barrens," Joe said with a disgusted tone about like Ocelot's. "Just let 'em kill each other."

The dwarf sighed again. "Yeah. But I grew up in the Barrens, and I don't want to see that happen. I managed to talk my boss into letting me try this—that way if it gets screwed up all we're out is the nuyen, and we don't have to take responsibility for it. Nothin' but my ass hangin' out in the breeze, and the Star stays out of it."

"Great," Ocelot said, but his frustration clearly wasn't aimed at Hennessy.

"We'll do what we can, Lieutenant," Winterhawk said quietly.

Hennessy stood. "Yeah, I know. Harry recommends you guys highly—says you can get things done and keep yer mouths shut about it. That's what I need. I hope you can do it, and soon." Sliding over, he exited the booth as 'Wraith got up to let him out. "I better get outta here," he said. "Wouldn't do any of us any good to see us talkin'." Without further comment, he strode out of the bar.

'Wraith sat back down, and the four runners looked at each other across the table. "We did want a job," Ocelot commented, watching the door close behind the dwarf.

"Start tonight?" 'Wraith asked, holding up the pocket secretary.

"Might as well," Joe said. "Ain't got anything better to do."

Ocelot nodded. He definitely wanted to start the run right away—it was the only way he could think of to quiet the nervous thoughts in his head. At least with something to do, he couldn't spend all his time wondering which dragon was going to eat him.

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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.