The name of the bar was O’Riley’s, and as soon as Sean saw it he felt a thrill of exhilaration. He was in over his head and getting deeper with each passing moment, but that was a situation he was well familiar with. He just hoped Jay’s fake IDs would work again. It was one a.m. and the place was clearly jumping. Sean liked a town where life didn’t begin until after the sun went down.
There was a troll lounging just inside the door, perched precariously on a narrow stool that barely looked capable of supporting his weight. He wore a black T-shirt with KILL ‘EM ALL across the front in white letters stretched tightly across his massive chest, snow-camo fatigue pants, and a red bandanna tied around his head. He glared at Sean and Jay as they approached. “Kiddie joint’s down th’ street,” he rumbled around a thick unlit cigar.
Sean presented his ID chip calmly, watching it disappear into the troll’s outsized paw. He waited, forcing himself to remain still and keep his gaze steady, while the bouncer slotted it and examined the results. After a moment the troll looked up at him. “You don’t look 21,” he said.
“Clean living,” Sean replied, reaching out for the chip.
The troll didn’t hand it back. “Or fake ID. We get ‘em all the time. Maybe I oughtta check with the boss.”
Sean produced a twenty nuyen note from his pocket, glad he’d thought to get some paper currency instead of relying on his credchip. “Or you could just let us in,” he said. “We’re just here for the same thing everybody else is—to relax. Okay?”
The troll eyed the twenty for a moment and then smoothly palmed it. “Hey, I was just makin’ a observation, that’s all.” Handing Sean back his ID, he eyed him up and down. “Ya got any weapons?”
The troll gave him a sideways look and spoke in a slow voice like his was addressing a four-year-old. “Weapons. You know—guns, knives, things to hurt people with?”
“Oh. No. No weapons.”
“Me neither,” Jay said, presenting his own ID.
Apparently the troll had tired of his game; he waved Jay through without looking twice at his chip. “No trouble,” he called. “Or ya get tossed out on yer ears.”
Sean waved back over his shoulder in assent and he and Jay hurried inside before the troll could change his mind. Once they were out of sight, they stopped and stepped back into the shadows where they could observe. “So this is where shadowrunners hang out,” Jay commented. “Looks like a dive to me.”
Sean nodded, but he didn’t seem bothered by this fact. The place was a bit of a dive—it had that threadbare, over-the-road look of a bar that had been around since the dawn of time and would probably be around long after everyone inside was long dead. “You sure Crank knows what he’s talking about?”
Now it was Jay’s turn to nod. “Yeah. He told me a few things before, and I, like a good little trust-nobody decker, did some checking up on him. He’s small potatoes as far as shadowrunners go, but he’s done a few minor-league jobs for some folks who aren’t. This might not be the best place to look, but it’s a good place to start.”
Sean looked around. The place was filling up, the clientele mostly nondescript looking people of all metatypes. He suspected that the few flashy sorts he saw milling around—one with a heavily chromed cyberarm, another in a long coat covered with glowing magical sigils—were probably not the people he wanted to talk to. He didn’t know much about shadowrunners beyond what he’d seen on the trideo, but he suspected that real ones probably didn’t want to draw attention to themselves in places like this. “I’m going to look around,” he said. “You coming?”
Jay shook his head and pointed toward a table in the back of the room where two men and a woman were hunched over what looked like a data display. “I’ll see if I can track down the decker angle for you. Yell if you need me to beat anybody up for you.”
Sean grinned and waved him off. After the dwarf had left, he realized he didn’t know where to start. There were all kinds of people in here, but which ones should he ask? You’re looking for information about old-time shadowrunners. Asking young guys probably won’t get you anywhere. He nodded to himself, realizing the thought was probably a good one, and moved over toward the bar. It was full, but after a moment, a raggedy looking elf stepped back with his drink and headed away. Sean quickly took his place.
In answer to the bartender’s wordless question, he ordered a beer; while he waited for it to arrive, he looked surreptitiously around at the people near him. On one side was a muscular ork in jeans, synthleather jacket, and a tank top; on the other side was a dark-skinned female elf who looked like her mind was several kilometers away. He decided not to disturb the elf, but he nodded greeting to the ork.
The ork nodded back, grunting something under his breath that Sean couldn’t make out. He didn’t look like he was in the mood to talk.
Sean shrugged and waited for his beer, his mind running fast as he tried to come up with some logical choices to start with. He almost didn’t notice the glass shoved toward him, nor the weathered hand that did that shoving. “That’ll be five nuyen,” said a gravelly voice.
Sean looked up. The bartender was looking impatient—a middle-aged human with slightly sagging jowls and small brown eyes. Sean pulled out a twenty-nuyen bill and before he realized what he was doing said, “Keep the change. Maybe you can answer a question for me.”
The barman looked noncommittal, but he did pocket the change. “You can ask. Don’t know if I know the answer.”
Sean drew a deep breath and pulled out his two holos. “I’m looking for these two people. They go by Ocelot and Kestrel, and I understand they used to hang around Seattle awhile ago. Any idea where I might find them, or who I could ask that might know something?”
The bartender examined the pictures carefully. Sean noticed out of the corner of his eye that the ork was looking at them as well. After a moment the bartender asked, “How long ago we talkin’?”
“Awhile. Fifteen, maybe twenty years ago.”
The bartender whistled softly. “You don’t want much, kid. Drek, I ain’t even been around this town that long. I sure’s hell haven’t ever seen ‘em.” He lowered his voice. “You realize if you’re askin’ around here and you know where you are, they’re probably dead. That line of work don’t produce too many old folks.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Sean said, taking back the holopics. “But I want to know for sure. The only information I have on them is that they used to be—in that line of work—in Seattle in about that timeframe. And the man at least, Ocelot, was pretty good at it. I’m hoping maybe they retired before somebody got to ‘em.”
The bartender spread his hands. “Sorry, kid. I wish I could help you, I really do. But I ain’t seen nobody like that. I don’t know anybody in here that goes back that far. Like I said, there’s a high turnover.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, well thanks.” He didn’t let his disappointment show; after all, this was only the first person he asked. It wasn’t as if he expected that he’d ask one guy, the guy would know the story, and he’d be set in ten minutes. He sipped contemplatively at his beer as he watched the bartender head off to wait on somebody else.
“Why you lookin’ for them?” said a voice to his right.
Sean started a bit, then turned to find himself looking into the face of the ork who’d grunted at him before. He looked old for an ork, but it was impossible to tell if he was one of the rare goblinized orks who lived a normal human lifespan or if he was just pushing thirty hard. “Sorry?”
“I said, why you lookin’ for them?” he asked again, indicating the pocket where Sean had stowed the holos.
“They’re—were—friends of my parents,” Sean told him. “Why? You know something about them?”
The ork shrugged. “Buy me another beer and we’ll talk.”
Sean did as directed, motioning for the bartender to bring him another of what he was drinking.
The ork took a long pull at it and ran the back of his hand across his mouth to wipe off the head. “You say the guy’s name’s Ocelot?”
“And the woman?”
The ork shook his head. “Never hearda her. Him, though—I don’t recognize the pic, but the name’s familiar. Timeframe sounds right, too.”
“So—you knew him?” Sean hardly dared to hope.
“Nah. Never met the guy. I just said the name’s familiar, and I think you got the time right. Not too many guys named Ocelot, y’know?”
“I guess not,” Sean agreed. “So—you have any idea where he might be? Maybe if he’s still in town?”
The ork shrugged. “Nope. If he’s the guy I think he is, he ran with a decent team back in the day. Their names got out there, y’know? The guys who could do the job, even if the job was weirder’n drek.”
Sean was interested, and leaned forward. “What—what kind of runner was he? You know—what’d he do?”
The ork thought about that for a few moments, trying to recall long-buried memories. “You gotta remember this was a long time ago, kid, ‘specially for a guy I never even met. But if my brain’s still here, I think he mighta been a fighter of some type. Martial artist type.”
“Physical adept?” Sean didn’t know whether to be impressed or bitter—the former because it hadn’t even occurred to him that his father might be, the latter because even if he was, he hadn’t passed any of it on to his son.
“Don’t think so,” the ork said, taking another long draught of his beer. “Could be wrong, though. I—” He stopped, noticing that suddenly Sean wasn’t listening.
Sean didn’t know what made him turn around—it was just a feeling in the back of his mind, but he’d had such feelings enough times that he knew enough to heed them. This time it took him a moment to spot its source, and then he was up and vaulting off his barstool without a second thought for his ork companion.
Across the bar near the back corner, two men had cornered Jay near the entrance to the restrooms. Both wore shredded jeans, synth-leather jackets, and elaborately colored mohawks. One, a human, appeared to be having a one-sided conversation with Jay while the second, an ork, stood by to provide backup. Sean noticed that Jay was trying to look nonchalant, but he’d known the dwarf long enough to know that he wasn’t enjoying the attention.
He crossed the bar and was about to tap the human on the shoulder and ask him what was up when suddenly the ork’s hand snaked down and clamped around the collar of Jay’s shirt. His other hand balled into a fist.
Sean was in motion. Before the ork could land the punch on Jay, Sean slipped through the crowd cat-quick and swept the ork’s leg out from under him with a well aimed foot. The ork bellowed, let loose of Jay’s collar, and went down more surprised than hurt.
“What the fu—?” the human began, wheeling on Sean as Jay slipped away to the sidelines.
“You guys have a problem with my friend?” Sean asked, keeping a wary eye on the ork scrambling to his feet off to his right.
“What’s it to you, drekwipe?” the ork snarled. “We don’t like stunties. And unless you want yer face handed to ya, you better get yer ass outta here and take yer stunty boyfriend with ya.”
Sean stood his ground long enough to show them he wasn’t afraid, then shrugged. “Whatever. It’s a big bar. Why don’t you do your business and we’ll do ours, okay?”
The ork chuckled. “Yeah, sure, chummer.”
The human nodded. “Why not?”
“Great.” Sean turned to leave. He had taken perhaps one step before he deftly sidestepped, grabbing the charging ork and using the larger man’s own momentum to fling him forward into an unoccupied table. The ork yowled in rage, scrambling among the chairs to get up.
Sean didn’t have time to watch him, though, because the human wasn’t far behind. He dived on Sean’s back, trying to get his hands around his throat. His only problem was that again Sean had anticipated his move and flung himself to the side, lashing out with a kick neatly planted on the human’s butt. He joined his ork friend in the litter of overturned furniture.
By this time the troll bouncer was wading through the crowd, shoving people aside like bowling pins. “What the hell?” he demanded, his voice booming over the ambient noise. He glared at Sean, who was the only apparent combatant standing. “Didn’t I tell you no trouble, kid?” he yelled. “Get the hell outta here before I—”
“Wrong guy, Jake,” said a voice behind Sean.
It was the ork he’d been talking to at the bar. Apparently he was known around here, because the troll hesitated.
The ork hooked his thumb toward the two with the mohawks, who’d finally managed to get free of the chairs and stand up. “It was these two frag-ups who started it, not the kid. They jumped him and he was just defendin’ himself.”
Jake looked uncertainly between the ork, the two mohawks, and Sean. “Yeah?” At the ork’s nod, he switched his baleful stare to the mohawks. “You two. Out. Now. Before I use ya for bar rags.”
The human and the ork glared at the troll, then slunk out with many nasty looks over their shoulders at Sean. Once they were gone, the troll waded back to his post without another word.
“Thanks,” Sean said to the ork. “I owe you one. Want another beer?”
“Wouldn’t turn it down,” he said, shrugging. After a pause, he added, “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”
Now it was Sean’s turn to shrug. “I studied some martial arts myself.”
“Yeah, I can see that. But it’s something more. Like how you knew those guys were coming at ya. That’s natural talent, kid.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Sean agreed, not sure where this was going. They’d reached the bar again and he waved for another beer. He was about to sit back down when the ork met his eyes.
“Listen, kid,” he said, “I like the way you handled that. You didn’t start the fight, but you finished it. Lotsa young guys fight just ‘cause they can, but you got enough sense to know when to let it go.” He glanced beyond Sean to the doorway where Jay had been. “Tell ya what. See that door, the one that leads to the can? You go through it, past the cans, and there’s another door. Knock on it, and when the guy answers, tell him you’re with Shorty. I ain’t promisin’ anything, but maybe you’ll find somebody who can help ya there—or at least somebody who can point ya in the right direction. Talk to the elf behind the bar.”
Sean nodded slowly. “Thanks,” he said.
The ork waved him off. “Get outta here, kid. I got an appointment with another beer.”
Jay was hovering near the bar, not close enough to intrude but near enough that (he hoped) nobody would start trouble with him again. He looked relieved to see Sean. “So, we going?”
“Not yet. I need to meet some people. Want to come along?”
The dwarf shrugged. “Better than waiting around here.” He gave Sean an odd look. “Hey—thanks. For before, I mean. Those guys were probably all talk, but—”
Sean nodded. “Don’t worry about it. So what were those guys bothering you about, anyway?”
“Just assholes. You know: ‘it’s different, so we have to pick on it.’”
“Yeah,” Sean said with a sigh. “Too many of that type around, unfortunately.”
“So where we going?”
Sean motioned for him to follow. As the ork had directed, he went through the door toward the restrooms, then past the marked doors to the unmarked one at the end of the hallway. It looked significantly heavier than the bathroom doors. “Who’s back here?” Jay whispered as Sean knocked.
“Don’t know yet. Maybe somebody who knew my parents.” He was going to say more, but at that moment a little slot near the top of the door slid open.
“What do you want?” a gruff voice demanded.
Sean felt a tap on his side. He turned to see Jay pointing upward, and followed his finger to see a tiny lens that had moved slightly to follow their actions. He nodded and faced the door again. “We’re with Shorty. He said we should come see you.”
There was a pause, then something behind the door clicked and it swung open. “Hurry up,” the gruff voice ordered. Sean and Jay slipped in and the door closed with a bang behind them.
Standing there at the top of a short stairway downward was another ork. They could hear sounds of music and conversation filtering up to them. The ork was already heading back down.
Sean and Jay looked at each other, then shrugged and followed him down.
Sean didn’t know what he expected to see, so he didn’t know whether to nod knowingly or be surprised to find another barroom at the foot of the stairs. This one looked much like the one on the floor above except that it had no windows, was a lot smokier, and had many more nooks and crannies around the edges, each with a small table tucked inside. The whole atmosphere of the place made it difficult to get a good look at any of the patrons. Sean noticed right away that there were no rowdy drunks like the two who had accosted Jay down here—everybody seemed to be minding his or her own business, chatting in pairs or small groups.
“What the—?” Jay muttered, barely loud enough for Sean to hear.
“I think this is where the business gets conducted,” Sean muttered back. “The real business, I mean.”
Nobody paid them any attention as they moved up to the bar and ordered beers. Right away Sean noticed the elf, a young-looking guy with solid chrome cybereyes. On closer examination, though, he was probably older than he looked. When informed that Shorty had sent them down, he paused. “So?”
Sean shrugged. “I’m looking for some information about an old-time runner named Ocelot. Around town maybe fifteen, twenty years ago. He said you might be able to help.”
The elf appraised him for a long moment before answering. “Maybe,” he said at last. “Not me personally, but hang out awhile. I’ll put the word around and we’ll see what comes back.”
Sean and Jay did as they were told. Minutes passed, and then an hour. Sean didn’t order any more beers—the smoke was getting to him, and he was beginning to wonder if this whole avenue had been a dead end. Jay, on the other hand, was on his third beer and didn’t mind the smoke at all. He chatted away pleasantly about nothing while Sean leaned on his hand and contented himself with a little discreet people-watching.
It wasn’t long after that that he began to get a strange feeling, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on the source. Jay cocked his head at him. “Hunter?”
Sean shook his head to clear it. “What?”
“You didn’t answer me. Did you even hear what I said?”
Sean tried to replay his mental tape recorder to recall the dwarf’s words, but it was blank. “Sorry. Guess I zoned out there for a minute.”
He was about to answer yes, but then looked quizzically at Jay. “Yeah...but—” He pointed at something past the dwarf’s shoulder. “You see that guy over there?”
Jay turned. “Which guy?”
Sean sighed, shaking his head. “He’s gone now. I could swear I’ve seen him somewhere before, but I can’t figure out where.”
“What was he doing?” Jay craned his neck trying to spot anyone in the shadows, but aside from two ork women with beers, nobody was there.
“Not sure. Maybe I didn’t even see him. But it seemed like he was—watching us.”
Jay snorted. “You’re getting paranoid, Hunter. Just because we’re hanging out with shadowrunners doesn’t mean you have to start acting like one.”
Sean took a deep breath, then chuckled. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He took a drink of his beer, wishing he could feel as sure as Jay was. He’d only gotten a glimpse of the guy, enough to tell he was slender, Asian, and dressed in black, but the nagging feeling of familiarity wouldn’t leave him.
“How much longer are we gonna stay here?” Jay asked, looking around.
Sean shrugged. “I don’t know yet. Why? Want to leave?”
“Nah. Just gotta go make room for some more beer. Back in a minute.”
“Don’t get yourself beaten up in the can, okay?”
Jay grinned, slipped off the stool, and headed for the restrooms.
He wasn’t gone more than thirty seconds when someone else took his place. Sean glanced over, startled, about to tell the person that the seat was taken, but something made him hesitate. Maybe it was the fact that it was a woman, and she was looking at him like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to be sitting there. “Little young for this place, aren’t you?” she asked. She herself was human, in her mid-20s, slender but muscular. “Thought your dwarf buddy would never leave.”
Sean kicked himself mentally for not realizing sooner what had happened. “Can I do something for you?” he asked noncommittally.
Her eyes, almond-shaped and obviously cyber, appraised him. “Oh, I’m sure I could come up with something,” she purred with a lecherous half-smile. “But business before pleasure, and I want to finish up before your friend gets back. I hear you’re looking for an old-timer.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah. Guy named Ocelot.”
She returned his nod. “So I hear. We might be able to help each other.”
“Oh?” Sean leaned back on his barstool and waited, hoping this wouldn’t be yet another dead end.
“Maybe so,” she said. “Tell me—if I can point you at somebody who can tell you where to find him, would it be worth doing a little favor for me?”
Sean tensed ever so slightly. “What kind of favor?”
“Just make a delivery for me. Just so happens I have something for the very person who can help you—that’s why I’m here. But see, I’m a little busy and can’t make the drop myself, so that’s the deal. You deliver my little package, and I hook you up with this person.”
“What’s in the package?” Sean asked, his eyes narrowing.
She smiled. “Now, now. The first thing you have to learn if you’re going to be a shadowrunner is when to keep your mouth shut and your curiosity under control. It’s usually better not to know.”
He considered, watching her face closely. “Is this guy a friend of yours? I want to find Ocelot, but it’s not worth delivering something like, say, explosives.”
She laughed, her eyes twinkling, and patted his shoulder. “Not to worry, kid. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is hurt this person. No—I’d say it’s more like...delivering a little happiness, if you get my meaning.”
Sean relaxed. He personally wouldn’t touch recreational drugs—not due to any moral compunctions but because, like cyberware, they artificially altered the way his body functioned and thus the whole concept made him uncomfortable. However, what other adults did with their bodies was their own business. Besides, he could sense that the woman was telling the truth, and he had learned long ago not to doubt his instincts. “How much happiness?” he asked after a pause.
She reached in her pocket and withdrew a box about the size of a cigarette box, carefully wrapped. Keeping it shielded with her coat, she let him see it and then stuck it back in her pocket. She gave him a look like, ‘so?’
Sean nodded. “I’ll do it.”
“Wiz.” She glanced around. “Okay, so here’s the deal—”
By the time Jay returned from the bathroom, she was long gone.
Copyright ©2001-2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of Wizkids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.