The Mouse House was only a couple of miles away from their hotel, but it took them nearly an hour to get there because of the snarled Seattle traffic. Like most big cities, Seattle didn’t slow down at all when the sun went down; in fact, if anything it became more chaotic as the ordered patterns of the commuters gave way to the confused mishmosh of thousands of people simultaneously looking for a good time.

Sean punched in the address and let the Grid take the car to the Mouse House, leaning back in his seat and watching Jay’s stubby fingers flying over the keyboard of his deck. He’d already scanned in the pictures of Terry Symonz and Juliana Harvath, enlarging and enhancing them and then burning them onto several tiny datachips which Sean now had in his possession. At this moment he was busily producing fake identification in case one had to be 21 to get into the House and the staff wasn’t amenable to bribes.

They needn’t have worried. The bored-looking ork at the door barely gave them a second glance as they entered the bar, slotting their five-nuyen cover charges and handing back their credchips with a rote-sounding “Have fun.”

Inside they paused a moment to look around. Jay grinned. “This place is wiz,” he declared. The lighting was dim but all around them the walls were decorated with old pieces of computer hardware—some from as far back as the previous century—painted with various substances that made them glow brightly in different colors. There were tables on several levels, each one with its own bank of jackpoints, and along the far wall were a line of working old-fashioned console video games. Strangely, some of them appeared to be playing themselves until Sean noticed several of the bar’s patrons jacked in nearby and occasionally glancing toward them. Like the walls, the games and the tables glowed as well. Sean glanced down at himself and was pleased to discover that his UV dragon tattoo was shining a soft purple, its head and neck poking out of the deep scoop of his tank top.

Jay was tugging on his jacket sleeve. “C’mon. Let’s take a look around.”

Sean followed his friend in and they spent the next fifteen minutes wandering around looking at the items on the wall, the table decor, and the clientele (the latter discreetly, of course). They selected a table in the back and Jay jacked in, using the bar’s automated ordering system to summon them a couple of beers. When asked for ID he plugged in the fakes he’d made and they were accepted without question. “See?” he demanded to Sean proudly. “I do good work.”

“Either that or they don’t care as long as they make an effort.” Sean, unable to jack in, was lounged back in his chair with his legs stretched out in front of him, watching the door. Most of the clientele in here didn’t look like they could pass a serious check into the legality of their being here, but the bartender and the waitstaff ignored them except to provide more drinks. Of course, the fact that most of the waitstaff was robotic might have had something to do with it. The only living employees Sean noticed were the ork at the door and the human behind the bar.

“How are we supposed to find this guy?” Sean asked as another ten minutes ticked away and Jay continued to commune with the Matrix.

“I already sent a message. He’ll get tagged when he comes in.”

“So we wait.”

“Yeah, looks like it.”

They didn’t have to wait long. Only a couple of minutes later, text flashed on the screen that doubled as their table: You’re early.

Jay did something with his deck and his own words became visible on the table’s screen. “So are you. Where are you?”

I’m watching you now. Don’t look.

It was hard, but both Jay and Sean managed not to look up. “What do you want us to do?” Jay typed. Sean could tell he was frustrated by this archaic method of communication, but Crank ran the show.

The words crawled across the screen. Prove you’re who you say you are. What’s the name of the utility I sold you last month?

Jay thought about it a moment, then nodded and typed, “CrankYank 2.01.”

There was a pause. What’s your sister’s name?

“Don’t have a sister,” Jay typed, rolling his eyes at Sean.

Another pause. Okay. Look at the back wall and find the iPod. Follow the instructions there.

Sean, who was reading upside down, looked perplexed as Jay typed an acknowledgement. “What’s an iPod?”

“Kind of like an antique music chip player,” Jay said, getting up from the table and blanking the screen. “Pretty wiz in its day. C’mon.”

Sean followed him to the back of the bar. He didn’t have any idea what he was looking for but apparently Jay did because a moment later they were standing in front of a small white device attached to the wall in the midst of some other ancient computer hardware. It had a tiny screen, which the two of them had to lean in close to read. The message there said:

Push down, then pull out.

The two of them looked at each other for a moment, then Jay grinned. Reaching out, he grabbed the iPod and pushed down on it. It moved easily. Then he gripped it and tugged.

The little device came out from the wall about an inch, but that was clearly not the important part, because a section of the wall swung away with it. Behind this secret door a narrow corridor led to another, more conventional-looking door. Graffiti lined the small hall between the two.

Behind Jay, Sean sighed and looked amused. He’d never met a decker who didn’t have at least some flair for the dramatic. Apparently Crank was no exception.

Jay knocked on the door at the other end of the hallway. “Enter,” came a voice. It sounded young—maybe late teens or early twenties.

They pushed open the door and went in. Sean didn’t know what to expect, but what he saw was certainly not it. The room was small and smelled of equal parts BO and pizza. There were pillows spread out across the floor, which was otherwise covered by industrial-grade carpeting. The single window was painted over with black paint. There appeared to be no other exit.

Sitting in the middle of the floor on a pile of pillows was a young man—at least Sean thought he was young. It was hard to tell because he was covered from head to toe in a short, dense coat of dark fur. His yellow eyes were catlike, but the hair on his head looked human and not very clean. He wore long cutoff shorts and a floppy black T-shirt that read “FREAK NATION” across the front. “You Canfield?”

Jay nodded. From the expression on his face Sean didn’t think his friend had expected Crank to be a changeling, but he recovered quickly. “Yeah. This is my friend Hunter.”

“How you liking Seattle so far?”

“It’s damp,” Jay said. “Listen, you said you might be able to find us a place for a few days. Did that work out?”

Crank shrugged and sat up, shoving his deck aside. “Yeah. Me and my roommates got floor space. It isn’t fancy but it’s out of the rain.” He grinned, looking Jay up and down. “You didn’t say you were a halfer.”

Instead of getting offended at the slur, Jay just grinned right back. “You didn’t say you were a hairball.”

Crank shrugged again. “Hey, in the Matrix nobody knows you’re a dog.” He and Jay both laughed at that, and Sean was left to ponder the universal strangeness of deckers once again.

He cleared his throat and glanced at Jay.

“Oh, yeah,” the dwarf said. “We need a little local help, too, if you or your guys can do it. We’re looking for somebody who might or might not still be in town.”

Crank stood up, brushing pizza crumbs off his shirt and stuffing his deck in a backpack which he slung over one shoulder. “Let’s get outta this dump. Only reason I use it for meets is because Morey the owner doesn’t hassle me.” He glanced at Sean, then back at Jay. “We can talk more back at our place.”

Crank’s place proved to be a small apartment in a dingy building about a mile from the Mouse House. Sean followed the two deckers, who seemed to have bonded like long-lost brothers on the ride back, inside, noting the tiny security camera that had been mounted outside the door.

Inside the place resembled the room where they had met Crank, littered with old mismatched furniture, threadbare carpet, fast-food wrappers, and pornographic magazines. The only things that appeared to be both functional and in excellent working order were the various decks spread out over folding tables and the trid unit in the corner. The place had two other occupants currently: a human and an ork, both of whom were sprawled over stained couches with datajacks plugged into their heads. They didn’t even acknowledge the newcomers’ presence.

“Don’t mind them,” Crank said, waving a dismissive hand. “They’ll be out for the rest of the night.” He shoved some pizza boxes off another couch and sat down, motioning for them to do the same. “You guys can sleep here on the floor—you’ll just have to clear it off. Bathroom’s over there, matrix connection on the wall, and there’s a soyburger joint across the street. Now, what’s this you need to find?”

For the first time, Sean spoke. He pulled out the pictures of Juliana and Terry and handed them across to the changeling. “Their names are Terry Symonz and Juliana Harvath. They used to live in Seattle. They didn’t have SINs, for whatever that’s worth. I want to find them if they’re still in town.”

Crank examined the pictures. “These look old. How long ago did you say they were in town?”

“Eighteen or so years ago.”

The black-furred decker sighed, shaking his head. “That’s a long time. Data that old gets hard to find.”

“Are you saying you can’t do it?” Sean asked.

The yellow eyes settled on him. “Didn’t say that. Didn’t say that at all. Just saying that it might take awhile.”

“How long is awhile?”

Crank shrugged. “Assuming it’s there to find, could be a couple of hours, could be a month. It depends on who they were and how much they don’t want to be found.” He sighed, leaning back on the sofa and stretching in a very catlike manner. “There’s another problem, too.”

“What’s that?” Jay asked.

“I won’t be able to get to it for at least a couple of days. I’ve got a job I’ve got to finish first—a real paying job.” He grinned at Jay ruefully. “You know the score, omae—paying biz comes before friendship. Meeting you two at the Mouse House already cut into the time I was supposed to be spending on it.”

“We can pay—” Sean started, but Jay waved him off.

“Okay,” the dwarf said. “You can’t do it. Can you tell us anyone who can? Sooner than a couple of days?” He looked over at the two stuporous figures by the trid. “What about them?”

Crank snorted. “Them? I wouldn’t trust them to find the newspaper. They’re screwups, mostly.” He thought a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. If you really want to find old stuff, especially if it doesn’t want to be found, you’ll want to look up Teddy. Teddy’s not cheap, but if you want something fast, that’s the place to go.”

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Copyright ©2001, 2002 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.