Chapter 7, part 1
Seattle, 1 November 20xx, 18:03
“Okay, now what?”
They were sitting in Ocelot’s threadbare motel room many hours later, pondering their options. A short nap had taken care of Winterhawk’s remaining spell drain, and Ocelot had used the time to check over all his weapons, clean them, and get them ready for whatever action would be necessary, keeping a nervous watch for anything to make an appearance in the room. Nothing had. Now he was getting restless. They had spent the rest of the day taking turns getting some sleep. Neither of them had wanted to take the time, but the realization that they were both exhausted and wouldn’t be worth much if they had to do anything unless they rested had convinced them to take the day off.
Winterhawk shrugged. “I s’pose we should try to call Harry. He was, after all, the one who got us into this.”
“You want to do it, or shall I?”
In answer, Winterhawk picked up the vidphone in the room. “Not secure, but at least we can tell him we need to meet.” He punched in the familiar number, then leaned back in his chair to wait. After a moment, he glanced up at Ocelot with a raised eyebrow. “That’s odd...” he muttered.
“There’s no answer.” A pause, and then, “Can you ever remember Harry not answering his phone?”
Ocelot had a bad feeling about this. “Never. There could be a first time, though, right?”
“There’s a first time for anything,” Winterhawk agreed. “But I must admit I don’t like this very much.” He broke the connection and tried again, this time being more careful to enter the number accurately. Again, there was no answer. “He doesn’t even have something set up to pick it up.”
“Do you think they got to him?” Ocelot asked, his paranoia ramping up in earnest now. The thought of anyone (or anything) getting to Harry was normally so absurd as to be unthinkable.
“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Winterhawk said, but there was an autopilot sort of tone to his voice that suggested he didn’t really mean what he was saying. “Any number of things could account for this.”
“Well--” The mage thought about it for a moment. “P’raps he’s occupied with one or more of his ladies of questionable virtue.”
“That never stopped him from answering the phone before.”
Winterhawk sighed. “Sadly, you’re right. The man has no manners, but at least he’s consistent. All right, then--p’raps he’s in the loo or something, and we’ve just been lucky enough all these years not to catch him similarly occupied.”
“You’re reaching now, ‘Hawk,” Ocelot said.
“All right, I am. But I’m not quite ready to consider the alternative yet. Are you?”
Ocelot picked up his shotgun from where it leaned against the room’s small table. “Okay, then. If he’s in the can, he can’t stay there all day. We’ll try to call him in half an hour or so and see if he answers. Yeah?” He wasn’t really ready to consider the alternative either.
But waiting half an hour and trying again brought no better results: the phone continued to ring as long as Winterhawk kept the connection open. He slammed it down in frustration. “Bloody hell! Harry, you bastard, where are you?”
Ocelot sighed, letting his friend’s burst of anger wind itself out like it always did. After a few moments, he said, “We have to find him.”
“How?” Winterhawk demanded. “We never knew where he was. He always came to us if we ever needed to meet.”
“Can you find him magically?”
Winterhawk dropped back down into the chair he had vacated to make the call and ran an impatient hand through his hair. “I don’t know. Possibly, but it would take a lot of preparation. This isn’t something a watcher can do, you know. And it’s been so long since I’ve had anything to do with him face-to-face I might not be able to do it at all.”
Ocelot shook his head. “Then forget it. Too slow. If nothing else pans out maybe you should try it, but right now we need something better. What time is it?” Without waiting for Winterhawk to answer, he looked at his own chrono. “Almost eight. If I was Harry, where would I be at eight in the evening?”
“Do you really want to know?” Winterhawk asked.
“Right now, yeah. I do.”
“Well, then, you’re out of luck, because I haven’t any idea.” He leaned back in his chair and stared moodily up at the ceiling. “P’raps we’re going about this in the wrong way,” he commented suddenly after several minutes of silence.
“What do you mean by that?”
Winterhawk brought his gaze back down to meet Ocelot’s. “We’ve been out of this business for a long time, right? I don’t know about you, but my first contact with Harry in two years was a bit over a week ago.”
Ocelot nodded. “It’s been more recent than that for me, but not lately. I think it’s been about a year. So?”
The mage shrugged. “So, maybe we’re not the best ones to know where he spends his time.”
Ocelot started to ask him what he meant again, but then it came to him. “You mean we should look for people who know him now.”
“Might work. I don’t know.”
“Go to runner bars. Find somebody who’s worked for him recently. Is that what you’re talking about?”
Winterhawk nodded. “Of course, I wouldn’t have any idea where to look anymore.”
Ocelot grinned evilly. “Don’t worry, ‘Hawk--streets are streets. And that’s still where I spend most of my time.” Despite the fact that Harry might be in danger, having a plan--any plan--did wonders for his outlook. He got up and grabbed his jacket from the bed. “Come on. Let’s get started. And let’s hope we find out he’s just gone off to visit his Aunt Maisie or something.”
The scene in the questionable parts of Seattle had not changed much from the days when Ocelot and Winterhawk had been runners. The names of the bars had changed, the cars were a little newer, and the fashions were a little stranger, but essentially everything was pretty much the same. Ocelot found that a relief. “I gotta say, it’s good being back where the threats come from people with guns, not things from beyond--what did you call it--’the great bugger-all’?”
“Don’t forget,” Winterhawk reminded him, “People with guns can kill you just as dead as those things can.”
“Hey, that’s supposed to be my line.” Ocelot shouldered his way through the crowd and into a seedy-looking bar called E. “Remember this place? Used to be The Glass Onion back in the old days.” Inside, the bar smelled strongly of liquor with a vague overhanging veil of pot smoke, tobacco smoke, unwashed bodies, urine, and cheap perfume. The small confines of the bar were packed with disreputable-looking individuals, most of them with obvious armor and a few with obvious cyberware. Overhead, trideo screens belted out a screeching rendition of what was apparently a recent troll-rock hit. It sounded to the two newcomers like someone systematically destroying a piano factory.
“Looks like the property values have gone down a bit,” Winterhawk said with distaste as a drunken man blundered into him, muttered something, and continued his unsteady progress.
“Yeah, well, we ain’t here for the atmosphere. C’mon. Why don’t you go talk to the bartender. Maybe he knows something.”
“What will you be doing whilst I’m doing that?” the mage asked.
“Trying to chat up the patrons a little without getting in a bar fight,” Ocelot told him. “Try to do the same, okay?”
“Hey, I never get in bar fights.”
“Well, then it shouldn’t be hard, right?” Before Winterhawk could protest, Ocelot disappeared into the crowd.
Winterhawk looked around him, trying not to let his true feelings show. If there was anything he hated worse than sleazy bars, it was crowded sleazy bars. Their last couple of years as runners had provided meets in much more hospitable surroundings; it had been a long time since he’d been in something this run-down, and he was well aware of how out of place he looked. Squaring his shoulders, he headed for the bar.
This time of night, the patrons were squeezed up against the rail as tightly as they could press without injuring each other. Winterhawk moved up to the edge of the throng, selecting a space currently occupied by a dwarf man over whom he could see. He waited until the bartender was looking his way (this took five minutes, but he was patient) and waved him over.
“Whattya havin’, mac?” the barkeep, a large, unflappable-looking ork, bellowed over the intense noise level in the room. He looked Winterhawk up and down, but did not comment. A paying customer is a paying customer was his philosophy of life. It was the ones who didn’t pay who really got his attention.
Winterhawk shoved his way forward, hating every minute of it. He was tall, but not physically imposing, and did not like this kind of activity in the slightest. Fortunately, the dwarf chose that moment to vacate his seat and take off; the mage quickly slipped into the spot before it was occupied by someone else. By means of pantomime more than anything else, he was able to order a beer (which he did not intend to drink). When the ork returned with the mug and set it down, the mage slipped a palmed 50-nuyen note across the bar. “I’m looking for a chap named Harry,” he said, leaning forward and forming the words carefully so he would be understood. “Sometimes employs people for odd jobs. You know the type.” He smiled disarmingly at the ork.
The bartender digested that for a moment, then a swift look of fear, followed by suspicion, crossed his face.” Don’t know anybody like that,” he said quickly, starting to turn away.
Winterhawk reached out and grabbed his arm firmly. This time, a hundred-nuyen note stuck up from where his hand gripped. “Come on, old boy,” he said gently. “You know how this works. Harry’s an old friend of ours, and we want to look him up and say hello.”
The ork turned back around, efficiently squirreling the money away. “Listen, bub,” he said. “Maybe I know this Harry and maybe I don’t. But if you got any brains, you won’t mess with him. That’s if I really know him.”
Winterhawk considered. “Well, if you knew him, you’d be right,” he finally admitted. “All we really want to do is find someone who’s had contact with him recently. Somebody who can get hold of him. We seem to have lost his number.”
The ork paused. “I ain’t got his number.” He looked the mage up and down. “You don’t look like the type Harry deals with.”
“Well, he doesn’t deal with us in places like this,” Winterhawk said a bit contemptuously. “Not anymore, at any rate. So can you point me to someone who might be of help?”
The bartender was about to answer when Winterhawk felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned to see who the intruder was, and found himself looking down at a small human man, unshaven and poorly dressed, wearing a ratty armored jacket and an old Seahawks baseball cap on backward. “Hey,” said the little man.
“What?” Winterhawk asked impatiently. Unseen behind him, the ork bartender shrugged and returned to his work. If the Limey decided to ignore him, he’d just made a hundred and fifty nuyen for no work. If he didn’t, then they’d talk later. Either way, he had customers to serve.
“You Winterhawk?” the man asked, his gaze darting nervously around.
Winterhawk stared at him, unable to hide all his surprise at being addressed by name in this place where he hadn’t even known he would be until an hour ago. “Possibly,” he said in a carefully neutral tone. “Why?”
“I can’t talk to no possibly,” the man said, fidgeting. “You Winterhawk or not?”
The mage took a deep breath. “All right. Yes. I am. How did you know my name?”
“Here,” the man said, shoving something into his hand. “This is for you.”
Automatically, Winterhawk readied a spell to keep the man in his place if he decided to bolt before he was ready to let him go. The man didn’t move, however, as the mage looked down at what he’d been given. It was a simsense chip with no label. “What’s this?”
The guy shook his head. “No, I don’t know nothin’. Somebody gave me this, told me somebody named Winterhawk would be in looking for somebody named Harry, and I should give it to him. That’s all I know.”
“What did this person look like?”
Confusion washed across the man’s rough features. “I--dunno. I don’t remember what he looked like.”
It was obvious he was telling the truth. Winterhawk would have liked to have been able to assense him, but it would have been extremely unwise to leave his body in this hostile environment. Casting a quick glance around for Ocelot, he turned his attention back to the man. “When was this?”
“A few minutes ago, I think. I dunno. Can I go now?”
There really wasn’t much else that could be done with him, short of taking him into the back room and grilling him until he spilled his guts. Winterhawk was pretty sure, though, that this man didn’t have any guts to spill. Something was going on here, and now all he wanted to do was get out of this armpit of a bar. “Fine,” he said. “Go.” Without another word, the little man scuttled off and was soon lost in the tide of patrons.
“Who was that?” Ocelot asked from behind him.
Winterhawk jumped, just a bit. “Don’t sneak up on people like that,” he said irritably.
“Sorry,” Ocelot said as if he was anything but. “Find out anything?”
“Possibly. Enough to say let’s get out of here and discuss it, unless you found anything useful to the contrary.”
“Nope. I found a couple of runner-types who knew Harry, but they haven’t seen him for a couple weeks. No help. They didn’t even have the number we have.”
Winterhawk was already heading for the door. Ocelot followed him, and after a moment they were out in the chilly air. With the door closed, the sound level was almost tolerable, and the smell was a lot better.
“Okay,” Ocelot said. “What did you mean by ‘Possibly’?”
Winterhawk pulled the simsense chip from his inner jacket pocket. “Chap in there gave me this.”
“A sim? What’s that got to do with anything? You sure he didn’t think you were a producer or something?”
The mage looked hard at him. “He knew me by name. He said someone had been in and given him this to give to me.” He paused, then said, “You know, I’ll lay you odds that if he’d blundered into you first, it would have been you this mysterious stranger had asked for.”
“What are you saying?” Ocelot asked slowly.
“I don’t know yet. Perhaps we should go somewhere and take a look at this chip.”
“What about the guy who gave it to you? Why didn’t you hang on to him?”
Winterhawk shrugged. “He wouldn’t have been able to tell us anything. Claimed he doesn’t remember what the fellow who gave him the chip looks like. I believe him.”
“So--” Ocelot said, “You think this is about Harry?”
“I don’t know. Let’s go look at this and find out.”
Copyright ©1996 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.