Chapter 3, part 2
Ocelot made his way back out through the bar quickly, dodging waitpeople and customers with practiced ease, his mind on what had just happened back there. Close to 300K each for a snatch-and-grab? Who was Johnson kidding? Or worse--what did he know and wasn’t telling about what they were going to meet when they got there?
Three hundred thousand nuyen, or damned close. Even their last money run hadn’t offered that much up front, and they’d come closer than they ever had to getting killed that time. So now here was Johnson, agreeing without batting an eye to what Ocelot was sure was a ridiculous sum. He’d named it mainly because the whole business was making him nervous, and Johnson’s refusal would have been his excuse to bail out. But no...he was in it now. He’d taken the guy’s money, so he was in it.
And what was ‘Hawk doing here? Ocelot had been shocked to see his old friend and former teammate breeze in like that. In fact, of any of his old teammates, Winterhawk had been the last one he’d expected to see. He knew ‘Hawk had finally left to go back to his “real” home, living the life of ease on his estate outside London, teaching at the University, being an English country gentleman. He’d done the one thing that none of the rest of them could do--he’d left the shadow life behind him and become fully legitimate. Even though Ocelot hadn’t seen him for those two years, he knew ‘Hawk must be doing all right--the suit was testament to that. The mage had always been a sharp dresser, but now he looked like some kind of hotshot media producer or something. Why give that up to go back to breaking into buildings and stealing mysterious prototype cube things? It didn’t fit.
And further, what about those other two--Fang and Striker? Where did they fit into this? He’d never heard of them, which was making his paranoia radar go off like crazy.
He got to the door, finally, and stepped out into the cold, damp air of Seattle in autumn. Winterhawk was leaning on the wall outside, a short way down from the door. He was wearing the wool coat now, buttoned up against the chill of the night, with his ever-present black umbrella hanging over one arm. He smiled when he saw Ocelot and pushed himself off the wall. “It was quite a surprise to see you in there,” he said.
“Yeah. You too,” Ocelot said. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you retired.”
“I’d thought the same of you,” Winterhawk pointed out.
The mage nodded. “Harry.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out, consulted it, then put it back. It took Ocelot a moment to realize what it was: an old-fashioned pocket-watch. “We have somewhat over two hours before we have to be at the airport,” he said. “I think we have some catching up to do.”
Ocelot nodded. “I need to get my gear before we go. You got a car here?”
“Came in a cab,” Winterhawk said. “Have you finally learned to drive after all these years?” It had always been a running joke between Ocelot and the rest of the team that he had never learned to drive a four-wheeled vehicle, though he was a highly skilled motorcyclist.
“Yeah. But we don’t have to drive.” He touched a button on a little card in his pocket and a few moments later, a limousine pulled up in front of the bar. The rigger inside opened the door to the back without getting out of the car.
Winterhawk looked it over. “Hardly your style,” he finally pronounced.
“No,” Ocelot agreed. “But it’s armored, and at least this way we can get around without people bothering us.” He made an after-you gesture and Winterhawk climbed into the back of the limo. Once he too was in, the door closed silently and the car merged smoothly back into traffic. “My place,” Ocelot told the rigger, and she nodded.
Once they were moving, Ocelot turned back to Winterhawk, who had settled back into the soft leather upholstery of the seat like he belonged there. “What are you really doing here?” he asked.
Winterhawk looked at him strangely. “What do you mean?”
“You haven’t been doing this since our last run, have you?”
“Of course not,” he said. “I retired. Been teaching freshmen how to summon spirits and whatnot.”
“So what brings you out of retirement?” Ocelot pressed. “What did Harry tell you to get you to do this?”
The mage shrugged. “Needed a change of pace.” He smiled. “Maybe Aubrey just wanted to get me out of the house for awhile.”
“No, he didn’t,” Ocelot said seriously.
The smile disappeared. “Yes, you’re right about that. He was against it, of course. But I was bored. I must admit, I was ready to tell Harry what he could do with his offer, but he made it sound appealing. I figured I’d get a free trip over here out of it, and if I didn’t like it, I’d hang about awhile and sightsee, then catch a plane home.”
“So why didn’t you?”
Winterhawk was looking out the smoked window. “I don’t know. Maybe it was the money. That was quite a bit of bargaining you did in there. I was going to ask for ten a day plus a hundred on completion.”
“Come on, ‘Hawk. You don’t need the money and you know it.”
“Quite right,” he admitted, still staring out at the Seattle streets. The neighborhood they were passing through was not one where a limousine looked as if it belonged. “I guess p’raps I’m just in it for the excitement.”
Ocelot was getting nervous again, and sometimes when he got nervous his reflexes took over before his mind had fully worked through his plan of action. From somewhere within his jacket, he whipped out a small stun baton. With the speed of his jacked-to-the-hilt reflexes, he brought it to Winterhawk’s neck. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to prove to himself, but he had to see how the mage would react.
Winterhawk didn’t react, except to slowly turn his head and look into Ocelot’s eyes. Almost disinterestedly, his gaze moved down to the stun baton, then back up to Ocelot. His voice taking on a slight dangerous edge, he said, “What’s this about?”
Ocelot withdrew the baton and put it back in his jacket and sighed. “You’re slipping. You’ve been out of this too long. That’s what I was worried about.”
The mage settled back into his seat. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ve picked up a few useful tricks here and there since we last saw each other. But I’d advise you not to do that again.”
Ocelot didn’t answer that. For a long time, both of them were silent as the limousine floated smoothly down the wet rutted streets of Seattle. Ocelot wasn’t sure what to think: ‘Hawk seemed confident enough; he didn’t know too many other people who didn’t even flinch when somebody threatened them with a stun gun to the neck. But he had admitted that he hadn’t done anything even remotely like shadowrunning in the past two years, and Ocelot knew how easy it was to lose your edge if you didn’t keep up with it. Hell, he was afraid he’d lost his own edge, since the little jobs he’d taken a few times since he’d quit hadn’t even taxed his abilities. If he, who spent most of his life keeping himself in shape and ready for action (even if he hadn’t known until now what the action was), how was Winterhawk going to stand up to an all-out firefight? “Hey,” he finally said, searching for a safe topic where he could probe for some more information.
“What did you think of those other two?”
“The shaman and the troll, you mean.”
“She’s a shaman?”
Winterhawk turned back to him again. “Sure. Couldn’t you tell?”
He shrugged. “I thought she might be, but I wasn’t sure. What totem?”
“Don’t know. Didn’t show up when I assensed her. She was wearing some kind of medallion around her neck, but she was handling it so much I couldn’t see what it was.”
“You assensed her? When?”
Winterhawk looked at him like he had just asked why one put one’s socks on before one’s shoes. “From outside. Before I went in. And you say I’m slipping.” Again, he shrugged. “Didn’t pick you up, though. I think I finished up before you got in. Surprised the hell out of me to see you in there.”
Ocelot decided to let that go by unanswered. “But what do you think of them?” he pressed.
“They’re kids. Amateurs. Or bloody good actors,” Winterhawk said instantly.
Ocelot smiled a bit to himself. Maybe ‘Hawk wasn’t slipping as bad as he thought. At least he seemed to have his perceptions firmly in place. “That’s what I thought too.”
“For top talent, they certainly spent a lot of time at that meeting fidgeting in their chairs,” the mage continued. “And I didn’t see much power there. He’s got some cyberware, of course, and she seems to be a decent enough shaman, but nowhere near my power level. Not to mention, she couldn’t have been more than about twenty. Him, I couldn’t tell. I never was any good at determining troll ages.”
“So you think this is a setup?” Ocelot asked quickly. Even if he wasn’t sure of Winterhawk’s battle prowess anymore, he still respected his friend’s judgment more than almost anyone’s.
Winterhawk paused before answering. “I’m not sure,” he said, almost to himself. “It doesn’t feel like a setup. It feels--well, wrong, somehow--but not like a setup.”
“So you’re going through with it.”
“Sure. Why not? We ought to be able to handle those two if they decide to jump us, don’t you think?”
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah, I think so. But let’s keep an eye out, just in case.” Glancing up at their surroundings, he said, “We’re almost here. I just need to go get my stuff.”
The area was not one of the better parts of Seattle. The limousine pulled up in front of a tiny detached structure, one of several of what looked like rundown little rental units. “Fallen on hard times?” Winterhawk asked, a bit sarcastically, as he regarded the small building with distaste.
Ocelot got out of the car, and after a moment, Winterhawk followed. “You know what I bring with me to things like this,” Ocelot said. “You really think I want to try hiding them in a hotel room?” Pulling a mag-key from his pocket, he opened the door and went inside as the rigger pulled the limousine around the corner and out of sight from the street.
Together, they entered a small, threadbare one-bedroom apartment. There was very little sign of habitation in the place, just the simple, utilitarian furniture of a cheap by-the-week rental. Ocelot quickly and efficiently gathered up two duffel bags and tossed them on the bed, then grabbed his longcoat off the single hanger in the bedroom closet. It was apparent he had packed before going to the meet. “You did bring some stuff with you?” Ocelot asked, eyeing Winterhawk’s high-class but unarmored threads.
“Of course I did,” the mage said. He sounded mildly insulted at the insinuation.
“What did you bring? Guns?”
“Just my H&K. If I’m shooting at things, we’re all in trouble. You know that.”
Ocelot had to concede that one. Winterhawk had never been a fantastic shot; he’d never needed to be. If he hadn’t been practicing for this long, chances are he’d be more of a danger to his own team than to the enemy if he had to resort to firepower. “Armor?”
“Of course. I hardly think--”
“Helmet?” Ocelot cut him off.
Winterhawk stopped in mid-huff. “Helmet?”
“You did bring a helmet?”
The mage shook his head. “Nope. Don’t even know what I did with the bloody thing. Aubrey probably buried it when I wasn’t looking. I was lucky to find the duster.”
Ocelot sighed and shook his head, but couldn’t help a little smile to himself. How very like Winterhawk to remember the wardrobe and forget vital pieces of his armor. Maybe he hadn’t changed too much after all. “I guess we have a detour, then,” he said, shrugging on the longcoat and then hefting the two bags. He locked the door and went around the corner to the limo, where he tossed the duffels in the trunk. “Where do you need to go?”
The mage leaned forward in his seat and gave the rigger the name of a high-end hotel near Downtown, then settled back. Ocelot smiled again: that too was like Winterhawk. He never willingly spent time in squalid surroundings, though Ocelot could remember their holing up in some pretty crummy joints during their careers.
They arrived at the hotel, where the limousine looked much more like it belonged than it had at Ocelot’s place. He told the rigger to wait at the loading zone, then followed Winterhawk up to a spacious room on the twentieth floor. The mage, too, had packed before heading to the meet: two leather suitcases, one large and one smaller, sat near the end of the bed, and a garment bag was carefully hung in the closet next to the familiar black leather duster. Ocelot noted with some amusement that it looked like ‘Hawk had had the thing cleaned and fixed up to where it looked like new.
The mage gathered everything together at the foot of the bed, then looked up at the ceiling. “That’s all, Freddie,” he said. “You can go now.”
When nothing happened, Ocelot said, “Huh?”
Winterhawk turned back around, picking up the larger of the two suitcases and laying it on the bed so he could open it. “Freddie’s an air elemental,” he said. “Quite a powerful one, really. He’d do quite a job on this room if anyone tried to open this without my permission.” Pulling the suitcase open, he moved aside some carefully-folded shirts to reveal a sword. Ocelot’s eyes widened a bit at the sight: the thing was beautiful, all black, even the blade. The hilt was wrapped in dark blue leather, with a blue gem was set in its pommel. It bore a faint resemblance to the magical blade Winterhawk had never been without when he had been part of the team, but it was larger, more impressive looking, a little eerie.
Winterhawk caught Ocelot looking at it, and smiled. “Yes, it’s a new one. Much better than the old one. And I’m quite good with it, too, so you needn’t worry about rescuing me from close-order combat. Not right away, anyway.” He grinned, as usual twitting himself as much as the others did for his lack of physical strength that kept him at a distance in most combats. He put the shirts back in place and closed up the suitcase. “The H&K’s in there, too, so that’s why I left Freddie to look after it.”
“Why Freddie?” Ocelot asked, immediately regretting the question.
“Oh, I name them all after people in old bands I like,” Winterhawk said, picking up the garment bag. “That one’s for Freddie Mercury.”
Ocelot thought about asking who that was, but changed his mind. He knew from experience not to get him started.
“I’ve a lot of them that I use regularly. The earth elemental’s Ringo. He’s the ugly one.” ‘Hawk chuckled as if he thought that was amusing; Ocelot didn’t get it and didn’t ask. “Say, you can either help me with this stuff, or we can call the bellman,” the mage continued. He picked up the suitcase with the sword in it in his other hand, leaving the second suitcase and the longcoat still to go. “Whichever you like.”
With a sigh, Ocelot lifted the suitcase and slung the duster over his arm. “Don’t you ever travel light?”
“This is travelling light, old boy,” Winterhawk said cheerfully. “You should see what I pared this down from.” He snapped off the light and left the room before Ocelot could answer.
With all their gear now safely in the trunk of the limo, they quickly completed the errand of getting Winterhawk a helmet (a call to Harry facilitated this; he was as amused at the mage’s forgetfulness as Ocelot was) and headed off for the airport. “You sure you still want to do this?” Ocelot asked as they approached the entrance to Sea-Tac. “Not too late to give back the money and back out.”
Winterhawk nodded. “I’m sure.”
“This whole thing sounds fishy, you know. Too easy.”
Again, the mage nodded. “Right again.”
Ocelot glanced over at him, noticing for the first time that he had faint dark circles under his eyes, and a slight but noticeable slump to his posture. “You look tired.”
“You just arrived today?”
Winterhawk nodded. “This morning.”
Ocelot considered the difference in time zones. “So you’re about 8 hours ahead. No wonder.”
Again, he nodded. “I’ll sleep on the plane,” he said. “It’ll take a few hours to get to Chicago.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Ocelot told him. “You better not be wiped out when we get there. I think we’re gonna need everything on this one.”
“Good to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t believe our dear Mr. Johnson,” Winterhawk murmured, and subsided into silence.
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.