Winterhawk stared at the screenfuls of gibberish flashing merrily
by on his computer and sighed. "Any other ideas?" he asked, pushing
the chair back from the desk with more force than was probably
I shook my head. I was sitting on the sofa in 'Hawk's downtown
Seattle apartment, my feet up on his coffee table, wishing for a beer.
"Not a bloody thing," he said, disgusted. He popped the chip out
of the slot and glared at it as if that would cause it to give up its
information. "I hate to say it, old boy, but I think we need to invite
someone else to our little party. Someone who can talk to computers
better than we can."
I nodded reluctantly, seeing our profit margin decreasing. I'd never
worked with a decker before. So far, on the jobs 'Hawk and I had done,
we hadn't needed to. "Wonder how much they'll charge."
"I wouldn't think it would be too much, considering that all they have
to do is decrypt a chip for us. We're not even asking for them to
access the Matrix. However, we have a problem. I don't know any deckers.
At least not around here. Do you?"
I started to answer that I didn't either, and then we both looked
at each other, pointing at each other at exactly the same time. "Harry,"
we said in unison.
'Hawk was already punching the fixer's number into the phone on the
desk. "About time he earned his keep," he muttered. Tapping his finger
impatiently, he waited. I got up and came over to the desk, looking over
his shoulder. "I wonder if he's" I began.
An image appeared on the video screen. "Yeah, whaddya want?" the
image said gruffly.
Harry was a damned good fixer. A lot of people in the know said he
was right up there with the best of Seattle. I believed that, and so far
he hadn't given us any reason not to. That didn't mean he was easy to
get along with, though. His rough-looking features, balding head, and
deceptively placid brown eyes dominated the screen, but behind him in the
dimness I could see the vague form of another person in the room. A female
person. As usual, Harry had company. And he was always grumpy when he and his
company got interrupted.
"Harry!" 'Hawk said brightly. I was never quite sure whether 'Hawk liked
Harry, or Harry liked 'Hawk; they spent too much time insulting each other
to tell. "Ah, forgive meHarry and friend."
"Shaddup," Harry said. "What do ya want?"
"All right then." 'Hawk shrugged, smiling nastily. "We'll skip the
pleasantries. We need a decker."
"A decker." Harry shifted position. I grinned as I caught him pulling
up the sheet a little more. "Okay, when? And how good?"
"We've got a chip with some encrypted files on it. We need to have
a look at them. Tonight, if possible."
Harry thought about that a minute. "Okay, that doesn't sound too tough.
Tonight'll cost ya more, though."
I sighed, leaning over so I could be seen in the phone's video pickup.
"It always does, Harry. Just get us a name, okay?"
"Sheesh," Harry said, with an elaborate shrug. "You young punks today don't
know nothin' about biz. Ya want everything now, and ya want it cheap. Ya"
"The name, Harry," 'Hawk reminded him. "Pleasantries later, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll call ya back in half an hour. Unless that's too long for
you bigshots to wait." Without waiting for us to answer, Harry broke the connection.
I flopped back down on the couch and pulled the old Seahawks cap out of my
jacket pocket. "You think this is Tommy's?"
'Hawk shrugged. "This is Seattle. A Seahawks cap isn't exactly
uncommon 'round here."
"Yeah, but after that guy said he saw Tommy go in there, and not come
out, it's giving me the creeps."
"I'm with you on that one," Winterhawk admitted, getting up to come over
and drop into the chair opposite the couch. "If we had the time, I could
work up a little ritualif that was Tommy's cap, it would likely lead
us right to him."
"And if it isn't?"
"Then we'll have spent several hours and two or three thousand nuyen's
worth of magical supplies to find a tramp who lives in a dumpster with
three cats and a bottle of Old Soy Rotgut."
I grinned. "Why don't we wait awhile, then."
We amused ourselves for the next twenty minutes until Harry called back
by idly watching the trideo. It was getting really late now; the only things
on were informational programming, a deadly dull documentary about Native
American beadwork, an old 2-D movie on the Nostalgia channel (in black and
white, yethow did our ancestors ever watch this stuff?), and
a bunch of ten-year-old sitcoms. 'Hawk was impatiently flipping from channel
to channel when the phone rang.
As we expected, it was Harry. He was dressed now, and his female companion
was nowhere to be seen. "Okay," he said. "I got a decker for ya. Not
top-flight, but you said you didn't need that. Think he'll do the job, and
he works pretty cheap."
"Sounds like just what we're looking for," 'Hawk said. "And fast, too."
Harry ignored him. "Okay. Here comes the address." An address flashed on
the bottom of the screen; 'Hawk hit the button to save it. I noted that it
was somewhere in Everett. "His name's Scuzzy."
"Scuzzy?" Winterhawk said, raising an eyebrow. "Are we discussing
personality here, or personal hygiene habits?"
"He's expectin' ya," Harry said, continuing to ignore 'Hawk. "I told him
you'd be there in an hour, so ya better get goin'." Once again, he broke the
connection before we could say anything else.
Winterhawk looked at me. "Scuzzy?"
I shrugged. "C'mon. Bring the chip and let's get going." I shoved the cap
back in my pocket and headed for the door.
The address Harry had given us was in the Pinehurst area of Everett. It was
a lower-class, decaying-looking neighborhood, but not nearly as bad as where
we'd been earlier in the evening. This looked like the kind of place where
low-wage worker types lived: they couldn't afford much, but at least they were
going to take care of what they could afford. The actual address was
a three-story, nondescript apartment building; Scuzzy's place was on the top
floor. We had to park a couple blocks down the street.
"I wonder what a chap named Scuzzy looks like," 'Hawk commented as we
headed up the stairs to the third floor. I didn't answer him. I thought it
was best that way.
My knock on the door brought a filtered "Jus' sec!" from somewhere inside
the apartment. I looked up above the door and saw a tiny camera lens, set into
something that looked like a bullet hole, and pointed it out to 'Hawk.
The door opened in about a minute to reveal a tall, gangly young human with an even
taller shock of bleached-blond hair that stood nearly straight up. His pale face was
skinny and angular, his blue eyes sizing us up from behind old-fashioned round
wire-rimmed glasses. He was dressed in jeans, a Cyberpope sweatshirt with the sleeves
ripped off, and fingerless leather gloves. Two shiny datajacks in his right temple
caught the scant light from inside the apartment. "You guys come from Georgie?"
he asked, his voice clipped and a little strained, like he was on too much
"Harry," I told him.
He grinned. "Good. Can't let the wrong guys in, y'know." Without further
greeting, he turned and hurried back into the apartment. I looked at Winterhawk,
who shrugged, and together we followed him in.
The apartment looked like an electrician's nightmare. Every square centimeter
of space was covered with cannibalized cyberdecks, wires, tools, more wires,
display screens, and a whole bunch of other stuff with functions I couldn't
identify. There were narrow walkways through the junk, and exactly one chair
that wasn't covered with it. Surprisingly enough given the occupant's name,
though, the place was cluttered but neat. There were no piles of dust, old
food wrappers, odd odors (except for a faint ozone smell), or any other signs
of squalor in the apartment, and even Scuzzy's clothes looked clean and relatively
unwrinkled. Scuzzy plopped himself down in the chair. "Okay," he said, "What'cha
Winterhawk gave him the chip. "This is encrypted. We need to know what the
Scuzzy took the chip, held it up and inspected it, then slotted it in his
deck. "Anything in particular I should look for?"
"Anything to do with a guy named Tommy, or Tommy T," I told him. "If he was
there, what happened to him, that kind of thing."
"You got it," Scuzzy said. "Have aoh. I guess you can't," he said, grinning
sheepishly. "Uh, just hang out for a minute and I'll see what I can find." He
plugged the wire from his deck into his datajack and leaned back in his chair,
eyes glazed and fingers flashing.
I pointed at him, "You look like that when you're astral, you know," I teased.
"I do not," he said, mock-indignantly. "My fingers don't move at all."
I just grinned, busying myself looking around the apartment. It wasn't a big
place, but it looked even smaller with all the junk. I couldn't see any evidence
of things like a bed, or a bathroom, or a refrigerator. The light was very
dim in here; the only illumination came from the light of a streetlamp outside
the window, and a small halogen lamp on the desk next to Scuzzy's deck.
"How long d'you think this'll take?" I whispered to 'Hawk.
"Only a couple more minutes," Scuzzy answered. A pause, and then, "I can
hear you guys, y'know." Another pause. "Just a second...there! Got it!" Scuzzy
yanked the cable out of his datajack, inserted another chip into the chip-slot,
and hit a button on the deck. After a moment, he pulled out both chips and
handed them to us. "There ya go," he said. "The black one's the unencrypted
"Did you find anything?" I asked.
Scuzzy nodded. "Some pretty nasty encryption on there. Looks like
hospital records. Transfers and stuff. No reference to anybody named Tommy
T, but looks like they've got patient records on there. You know, age, sex,
race, stuff like that. Maybe he's there. You can look now. It's all right
there to see." He leaned back in his chair. "Piece o' cake."
"How much do we owe you?" Winterhawk asked, carefully stowing the two chips
in an inner pocket of his coat.
Scuzzy shrugged. "Wasn't much of a job. Say two-fifty?"
I pulled out my credstick and dialed up that amount, handed it to him. "Say,"
Winterhawk said, "If you don't mind my asking"
"What?" Scuzzy polished the plug on his deck's wire and set it gently down
on the desk in front of him, then ran a hand through his hair.
"I'm just curious as to why you call yourself 'Scuzzy'. If you'll forgive
my saying so, you don't look particularly like a 'Scuzzy.'"
The decker grinned. "Everybody asks me that. Maybe I should change my name.
Nobody gets it anymore. It's archaic. You knowold-century stuff. Computer
interface. It's" he stopped, his blue eyes going wide as he stared past us.
He pointed at something with a shaking finger, what little color he had in his
face draining away. "What the hell?"
Winterhawk and I spun, our eyes widening as well as we saw what was taking
form in the small apartment.