Chapter 4, part 1

Chicago, 31 October 20xx, 06:47

“So here we are,” Winterhawk said cheerfully, putting his suit jacket back on and smoothing out his trouser-creases. The two hours’ sleep he’d gotten on the plane had apparently been sufficient to revitalize him.

“Yeah,” Ocelot said, not sounding nearly so cheerful. “Here we are.”

“What now?” Paul asked, looking around. He could see out the window that they had landed at a large commercial airport, but the plane had taxied to a small private hangar much like the one they had left. The sky outside was slate gray, slowly lightening with the rising of the sun.

The door leading to the cockpit opened to reveal the dwarf rigger. “Chicago,” she said unnecessarily. “End of the line.” She smiled grimly at them. “Good luck with whatever you’re doin’. I’ll be here when you get back.” At her tap of a button on her console, the door leading to the outside world opened, and a small set of steps automatically lowered into place.

“What about transportation?” Ocelot asked her.

The dwarf shrugged. “That’s your department. They just told me to get you here and wait for you to come back in no more than 72 hours. Other than that, I don’t know what’s goin’ on.”

“So-how are we s’posed to get around?” Paul asked as the four disembarked and looked around them. The terminals of some of the commercial airlines were visible in the distance.

“Hold on,” Winterhawk said. “I’ll be back.” Without further explanation, he strode off in the direction of the terminals, his coat flapping behind him in the wind.

Marika looked at Ocelot quizzically, but he only shrugged. “I dunno what he’s doing. We’d better wait for him, though.”

They didn’t have to wait long. In about fifteen minutes, a mid-sized, nondescript-looking gray van pulled up in front of the terminal, and the mage got out. “Transportation has arrived,” he announced, indicating the van with a flourish.

“Where’d you get that?” Paul asked suspiciously.

“Rental agency, dear boy,” the Brit said, tapping the troll on his massive shoulder with the umbrella he still carried. “Now, unless you enjoy airports more than I do, I suggest we get our things together and be on our way.” He headed toward the plane before Paul could think of anything to say.

In only a few minutes, they were on the road. It had not taken them long to stow their gear in the back of the van; in fact, it had taken them longer to determine who was going to drive the thing. Marika assumed that Winterhawk would drive it since he had rented it, but he declined at once when she made the suggestion, saying that he preferred the front passenger seat where he could keep an eye on things. Paul was right out, since the driver’s seat wasn’t designed for his oversized frame. Ocelot declined as well, though he didn’t say why. This left Marika to the task. Since she couldn’t think of a graceful way to opt out, she was elected.

“I guess we’d better find a place to stay first,” Ocelot said when they were situated inside and rolling out of the airport onto the freeway. “I was hoping we might get a look at the place before it got light out, but it would look suspicious now. We should go in at night.” He glanced around at the others to see if anyone objected to that; no one did. “I think we could all use a day’s rest, too. We’ve all been up late, and we need to be at our best when we go in.”

Winterhawk shrugged. “You’re probably right. Going in there by day would be suicidal.”

“Anybody want breakfast?” Paul asked, and Marika chuckled. Paul was always hungry, no matter what the situation.

In the end, they decided to stop and grab a quick breakfast at a convenient drive-through joint, then cruise around until they found a likely-looking place to stay. The only one of the four who had ever been to Chicago was Winterhawk, and even he hadn’t been there in many years. He protested when Ocelot directed Marika to drive into the less-desirable ends of town that they passed, and protested further when she pulled the van into the parking lot of a ratty-looking two-story motel on a questionable side street at Ocelot’s request. “You want us to stay here?” he demanded. “I think you enjoy this sort of place. I really do. Squalor is in your blood.”

“Come on, ‘Hawk,” Ocelot said patiently. “You know as well as I do we’d be damn suspicious if we tried to check into the Ritz with this kind of artillery. And I’m sure as hell not leavin’ it in the van. I’m afraid we’re kind of stuck.” He smiled. “But cheer up-it’s only for a couple of days.” Pointing over toward a glassed-in enclosure that read “ ANAG R” and “VACA CY” in spotty neon letters, he said, “You guys wait here. I’ll get us a couple of rooms.”

“Order us up something from room service while you’re about it,” the mage said sourly, leaning back in his seat and staring morosely out the window. When Ocelot had disappeared into the glass enclosure (an ork man in a tank top could be seen coming out from the back somewhere to meet him), Winterhawk twisted around in his seat and regarded Marika and Paul. “So,” he said, “are we having fun yet?”

“Huh?” Paul said, staring at him.

“That’s what I thought,” Winterhawk agreed. He sighed and smiled at them, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “I’m afraid I slept through most of the introductions, so p’raps you might enlighten me as to what I missed. I got your names, but that’s about it.” His alert blue gaze settled on Marika. “I know you’re a shaman. That much is obvious.” He looked her up and down. “Let’s see-Dog, I’d say. Right?”

She nodded. “How did you know?”

“The necklace is a dead giveaway,” he said, pointing to her Dog amulet. She’d forgotten about it; at his mention of it, she brought her hand up and squeezed it protectively. Winterhawk then turned to Paul. “And you-well, I saw some of your arsenal, so I’ll hazard a guess that you’re good with guns.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I do all right.”

“I’m sure you do,” the mage said agreeably. Marika watched him cast a quick glance over toward the manager’s office, where Ocelot and the ork man could be seen engaging in some sort of animated conversation. Then he returned his attention to her and Paul. “And you two have worked together before. That’s obvious too. But something’s odd here, and I’m trying to put my finger on it. You two are quite young to have the reputation you supposedly have; that’s part of it.”

Marika met his gaze, though it wasn’t easy. “We started young,” she said in a tone that she hoped didn’t invite further inquiry.

“Very young, I’ll wager,” the mage mused. “Been on a lot of jobs, have you?”

“Yeah,” Paul said in his what’s-it-to-you tone. “Enough of ‘em.”

Winterhawk raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, I’m not trying to pry,” he assured them. “But if you may have to trust your life to somebody, it’s nice to know a bit about them, that’s all.”

Marika nodded. That made sense to her. “We’ll be all right,” she said. “We won’t let you down, don’t worry.”

“Coming from a Dog shaman, I won’t,” Winterhawk said, smiling a bit.

“We don’t know much about you either,” Paul pointed out.

Marika steeled herself, hoping the mage wouldn’t get angry at her brother’s presumption, but he just chuckled a little. “Touche, my friend, and p’raps it’s best it remain that way, from both ends. Safer that way. Suffice it to say that I’m a mage who likes to hit things hard so they don’t get up and plug me in the back when I’m not looking.” He paused and glanced up again. “Ah-looks like Ocelot’s coming back with the keys to our charming accommodations.”

Their “charming accommodations,” on inspection, were considerably less than charming. Ocelot had managed to finagle, by means of a small bribe, two rooms next door to each other on the second floor of the two-story structure. The rooms were furnished identically with two double beds, small rickety tables with two chairs, and bathrooms that looked like they might have been cleaned as recently as last year. “My,” Winterhawk commented as he noted the suspicious stain on the carpet near the bathroom door, “You’ve certainly outdone yourself this time, my friend.”

“Oh, put a sock in it,” Ocelot said, feigning irritation. To Marika, he said, “I guess you two’ll be sharing, and I’ll stay here with ‘Hawk. If he’ll shut up,” he added. “Let’s just rest up today, and tonight we’ll do the job. Maybe we won’t have to stay here another day after all.”

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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.