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"You know," Winterhawk said, "I'm inclined to believe the chap."

"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 the time."

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."

"Was there?"

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 clinic—death 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 mundane—forgive me—but 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 around there—"

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 out again.

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 right."

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 in.

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 on—let'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 of ghosts.

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 out.

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.

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