"You know," Winterhawk said, "I'm inclined to believe the
"You mean about something weird going on in there?" I asked. At
his nod, I shrugged. "Maybe. Or maybe he's just a chiphead, or a drunk,
and he doesn't know what the hell he saw. Maybe Tommy checked in,
got treated, and then checked out the same night. That happens all
We had adjourned to a small bar a couple blocks from the clinic to
discuss our options. It was now well after midnight, and we weren't much
further along than we had been when we started. Currently, we were sitting
across from each other in a threadbare little booth in the back of
the bar; I was drinking beer, and 'Hawk was staring morosely into a large
cup of coffee. "So," he said, "How does that account for their never having
heard of him, and having no record of him in their computer?"
I sighed. "I dunno. Trust me, those places don't use state-of-the-art
computer equipment. They ain't got the money for it. Maybe they lost the
record. Maybe it never got entered in the first place. If they just slapped
a bandage on his head and sent him on his way, maybe they just let it go.
It happens. Or maybe the nurse who was there when Tommy checked in isn't the
same one we talked to."
"You sound a great deal as if you're trying to convince yourself, my friend,"
'Hawk said softly.
"Yeah, maybe I am." I sighed into my beer again. "But then again, the easy
answer's usually the right one."
"You're probably right. But p'raps it won't hurt anything if I take a little
look 'round that clinic, will it?"
I looked up at him. "You mean astrally?"
He smiled, raising an eyebrow at me. "No, silly. I thought I'd dress up like
a doctor and see how many operations I can perform before they kick me out. Of
course I mean astrally."
"Is that safe?"
"Why wouldn't it be? It'll probably be a bit miserable, since the background
count 'round places like hospitals and such is usually high, but no reason it
wouldn't be safe. Doesn't sound like they've got the money for astral security,
even if they needed it."
I downed the rest of my beer and slapped the glass down on the table, glad
to have a next step. "Okay, then. Let's do it. If Tommy's not in there, I say
we go home, get some sleep, and pick things up in the morning."
We went back to the car and 'Hawk settled himself comfortably in the shotgun
seat, while I sat in the driver's seat with my Predator ready to discourage
anybody who got too curious. "This shouldn't take long," 'Hawk said. "If I'm
not back in fifteen minutes or so, come in after me." Before I could ask
him if that was another of his jokes, he slumped over against the window.
It was actually only ten minutes or so before he came back, though it
seemed longer. I passed the time by tuning the car's old radio to a
semi-acceptable station and watching the occasional passerby shuffle past
the car. Everybody ignored it'Hawk had been right when he'd said that
this car, which he'd obtained on a run several months ago, would be a good
vehicle to get around in when we wanted to be unobtrusive. It was a
seven-year-old Ford Americar, painted nondescript beige and banged up in
several places. 'Hawk kept it in top running condition (or rather, his mechanic
did; I doubted whether he knew a dipstick from a driveshaft), but you'd
never know from looking at it. His other car, which he only drove when
we were going somewhere he could be reasonably sure was safe, was a little black
Chrysler-Nissan sportscar that looked as good as it ran. Me, I preferred bikes.
When I wasn't on runs, I got by just fine riding my Yamaha Rapier far too fast
and irresponsibly. It wasn't much for passengers, though, and 'Hawk had flatly
refused to get on it. It was the best thing around for losing pursuit.
'Hawk stirred and sat quickly upright, blinking a couple times to get his
senses back to where we mundanes lived. "Find anything?" I asked.
"I'm not certain..." he said slowly. "Possibly." He took a deep breath and
let it out, stretching out as much as he could in the small confines of the
car. "As I expected, the background count was quite high. Hard to tell what
was going on in there, with all the suffering and death. A lot of people have
died in that place."
"That's expected," I reminded him. "They must get a lot of gangers there, and
drunks, and O.D.'s and diseases."
"True," he agreed. "That didn't surprise me too much. There were only a few
people in beds; they had an examining room, where they were working over
someone I think was that ork boy who came in when we did, plus several other
people. Quite overworked, that was certain. I found a ward in the back with
several beds in it, but only three were occupied. I don't think any of the patients
was Tommy, although again it was hard to tell. One was a dwarf, I think; one
was an ork, and I'm reasonably sure the third was a human female, pregnant if
I don't miss my guess." He paused for a long moment, then looked at me, his
unnaturally-blue eyes glittering strangely. "That wasn't the odd part, though."
"What was?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
"Well, when I finished checking out the clinic, I decided to take a bit of
a look 'round the immediate vicinity. I wanted to see if there was anything
odd about the chaps sitting out in front, that kind of thing."
He shook his head. "No, they were just as I expected them to be. But I found
another place that had the same feel as the clinicdeath and despair."
"Doesn't this whole neighborhood have that feeling?" I asked him.
He nodded impatiently. "Yes, but not the same flavor. It's hard to
explain to a mundaneforgive mebut the feel is different
between the neighborhood and the clinic. More diffuse. And there was another
place, not too far from the clinic and below it, that had the same
sort of feeling to it. Not as bad, not nearly so. But it was there, if one was
to look for it."
I thought about that for a moment. "You sure you didn't just get your sense
of direction mixed up?" I finally asked. "You said it was hard to see anything
He shrugged, sighed. "I don't know. It's possible. But it might be worth
checking out. Perhaps if we get closer, I'll be able to discern it better."
I opened the car door. "Okay, let's check it out, then." We switched places
and drove down closer to the clinic, looking for a likely spot to stop.
"There's an alley that runs the entire length of the block behind these
buildings," Winterhawk said. "I saw it when I was looking around outside. It
didn't look occupied. Let's try parking there." Without waiting for an answer,
he drove the car down to the end of the block, turned left, and then made
another quick left into the alley. The car's headlights showed swirling mist,
a cat running from one side of the alley to the other, and nothing else. The
alleyway was bordered on one side by the block's buildings, and on the other
side by a tall but rickety-looking wooden fence. Winterhawk stopped the car
behind an overflowing dumpster about three doors down from the clinic. "I'll try
it from here and see if I can pinpoint it any further," he said, and zonked
This time, he was back in less than two minutes. He pointed at the building
next door to the clinic, across from the smaller alley that ran perpendicular
to the one where we were currently parked. "Whatever it is, if it's anything,
it's in there," he said. "It's too dark to see anything, but the feelings of
death and despair are coming from below us."
"Basement?" I asked.
"Maybe. It would make sense."
"Nobody alive in there?"
He shook his head. "No one. There are a couple of people up on the second
floor, but they're asleep or unconscious. Probably squatters."
I nodded. "If they got in, we can get in, then. Want to check it out?"
Winterhawk sighed. "No. But we probably should anyway. My feeling about Tommy
is coming back again."
"Yeah, I hear you," I said dejectedly. "Now I'm starting to get it too."
I got my binoculars and my grapple gun out of the trunk of the car, stowing
the gun in my jacket and using the binocs to check out the building. It
wasn't hard to see where the squatters had gotten in: one of the boards on a
second-floor window facing the large alley was swinging gently in the slight
breeze. It would have been a lot harder to spot if I hadn't been looking for
it. I pointed it out to 'Hawk, who nodded. Using my grapple gun, I was soon on
the roof directly above the window, with 'Hawk right behind me using his levitation
spell. "Showoff," I muttered under my breath at him as he floated by. He just
grinned at me.
The board swung easily aside, revealing a hole that took a bit of doing for
me to push myself through. 'Hawk's slimmer form had no trouble. Switching to
low-light vision, I saw that we were standing in an empty room, the whole thing
covered over with a thin layer of dust and grime. Obviously not used for a long
time. "Where are the people?" I whispered to 'Hawk.
"Not sure," he whispered back. "I think they're in the next room to the
I nodded, moving on silent feet to the door. I looked both ways into the hall,
monowhip in hand. The hall was empty. Motioning for 'Hawk to stay where
he was, I sneaked down the hall, pushed open the next door slightly, and looked
This room looked occupied. There were a couple of crates in the middle of
the floor, an old chair, some food wrappers, and a huddled pile of bodies covered
with a thin blanket. Looked like two kids and an older one, human or elf. I switched
over to thermo vision: they were warm, alive. Fast asleep. I closed the door quietly
behind me and went back to where 'Hawk waited. He looked at me inquiringly.
I shook my head. "They won't bother us," I told him. "Come onlet's go."
We made our way downstairs, moving as quietly as we could. The stairs
creaked despite my best efforts to be silent, so Winterhawk cast his levitation
spell again and floated down to the ground floor. Just as well, since he didn't
have my stealth skills.
Once downstairs, it didn't take long to check the place out. There were
several doors, all of them unlocked except one. Strangely for such a dilapidated
abandoned building, this door's flimsy lock had been replaced with a new
and formidable-looking maglock. I looked at the lock, then up at Winterhawk.
"You don't have any lockpicking skills you didn't tell me about, do you?"
He shook his head.
"Me neither. I hate to blow the lock"
"Let's wait and see if anyone comes over here," 'Hawk said. "They'll
undoubtedly have a key. Perhaps we can persuade them to lend it to us."
I couldn't think of anything else to do, so cursing our lack of thiefly
skills, I settled down around the corner from the door with Winterhawk to
wait. I amused myself by speculating about how many kids would want to be
shadowrunners like in the trids if they knew how much of shadowrunning was
just sitting around waiting for something to happen.
It was nearly an hour before anybody showed up; I was beginning to lose
feeling in my legs, wondering if the whole thing was worth it, when the
door to the outside opened. A skinny guy in a lab coat looked furtively
back and forth, then quickly drew out a key, and unlocked the door to the
downstairs area. When he dropped the key back in the pocket of his coat,
Winterhawk was already casting his spell. The guy slipped through the doorway
and closed the door, never looking backward. If he had, he would have seen
his maglock key floating lazily down the hall and into Winterhawk's waiting
hands. "What if he misses the key?" I asked him, standing up and stretching
out my cramped legs.
'Hawk shrugged. "Let's see if the door locks automatically. If it does,
I doubt if he'll miss it when he leaves."
I went down the hall and checked the lock; it did lock automatically. Returning
to my spot, I sat down to wait again.
The guy wasn't down there long. Only a few minutes passed before we heard
him coming up the stairs. Luck was with us: he opened the door and closed it
behind him without ever looking for the key. When he had left the building
and closed the exterior door, we were ready to go. Quietly, we made our
way to the door and opened it with the key, slipping through like a pair
It was pitch dark once we closed the door. We were standing on a stairway
that led downward, as expected. I fumbled around until I found a light switch,
which I flipped. A single naked bulb shown dully from the ceiling about halfway
down the stairs.
There was another door at the bottom. This one wasn't locked. I drew my
Predator, holding it ready with my right hand while I turned the doorknob with my
left. 'Hawk pressed back against the wall, ready for something to come flying
Nothing did. Behind the door was a large room, about five meters on a side.
Another naked light bulb lit the room when I turned it on, revealing a desk
with a dataterminal, a chair, and two beds (more like gurneys, actually). There
was no other furniture in the room. I looked at 'Hawk and shrugged, but he
was already moving into the room.
We examined the area as quickly as we could, each of us casting occasional
glances toward the door as if we expected someone to burst in on us any minute.
"Look here," Winterhawk said from where he was looking at the gurney. I came
over, and he pointed out straps attached to the top and bottom ends. "Looks like
they held someone here against their will," he said, lifting one to look at it more
closely. "These are quite tough."
I nodded. "What about the computer?"
We moved to the desk and flipped on the computer. It looked like a standard
dataterminal, except that it didn't appear to be hooked up to the Matrix. I was
about to turn away when I spotted the chip hiding behind an old coffee cup. 'Hawk
slotted the chip, but when he tried to access its contents, all we saw on the screen
was a garbled mess. "Encrypted?" I asked, looking at the door again.
He shrugged. "How should I know? Maybe we botched it up. We can find out later,"
he added, sticking the chip in his pocket. "I don't think there's much more to
find here." He stood up and glanced at the door. "We'd best get out of here before
our friend returns."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," I said, disappointed. I didn't know what I was
hoping to find down here, but whatever it was, we hadn't found it. I was preparing
to follow 'Hawk to the door when I caught sight of something out of the corner of
my eye: something pushed under the desk. "Wait a second," I said, ducking
down to pick up the item. When I saw what it was, I held it up where 'Hawk could
see it. "I think things just got more interesting," I told him quietly.
I was holding a battered, dirty Seattle Seahawks cap. One that looked very
much like the one Tommy T was wearing in his picture.