For a long time, neither of us spoke. Then Winterhawk sighed and
slammed the computer screen closed. "I was hoping I was wrong,"
he said, dejection creeping into his voice.
I nodded. "Yeah, me too. Somebody must've hit him pretty hard.
But why didn't they tell us about him at the clinic? Deaths aren't
that common that they wouldn't remember one. Especially not
one that happened two days ago."
'Hawk opened up the screen again. The words still hung there
as if mocking us:
DECEASED. "Transferred to General," he said.
"What do you suppose 'General' is?"
"Don't know," I told him. "Hospital, maybe? I think there's a
Redmond General Hospital somewhere in the Barrens."
"Yes, probably." He punched up the LTG directory on the computer
and after a moment, nodded. "Yes, here it is. 164th NE and 85th NE."
"If he was already dead, why did they take him there?" I asked.
'Hawk shrugged. "P'raps to do an autopsy. That clinic didn't
look equipped, and the cause of death was labeled Suspected."
He leaned back in the chair. "We're ignoring something important,
We're not even sure this is Tommy," he reminded me. "After
all, all we have is a number and some statistics. Some fairly
common statistics at that."
"Yeah, but what about the head wound?"
"Could have been a number of those, considering the apparent size
of that bar fight."
I thought about that. "So what now? Johnson wanted proof. I don't
think he's gonna take this as proof. If we can't even be sure
it's Tommy, then he's not gonna believe it either."
Winterhawk got up and started pacing around the area. "The way I see
it, we've a few options. One: we can go to Redmond General and
see if they've got Tommy on ice in the morgue. Two: we can try to
find another decker to break into General's system and see if they
can find out anything else. Or three: I can set up that ritual we
were talking about before."
"You mean the one for finding out where Tommy is, if that cap's
his?" At 'Hawk's nod, I got up. "What'd you do with my jacket?"
He pointed. "It's over there. Why?"
Without answering him, I crossed the room and retrieved my jacket,
which smelled heavily of smoke. I reached in the pocket, already
suspecting what I'd find. Or rather, what I wouldn't find. "That's
not gonna work," I told him.
"Cap's gone. Probably fell out of my pocket while we were fighting
that thing. If so, it's burned to a crisp by now."
'Hawk nodded. "Then that's that," he said with resignation. "No point
in worrying about it now. P'raps we can clean up a bit and go to the
hospital in the morning. Pretend we're long lost relatives or something.
We need to figure out a way to see that body. If it's really there at
all, I mean."
"I just don't get it," I said, dropping down into a nearby chair with
a loud sigh. "Why would you cover up somebody's death? Especially somebody
like Tommyunless Johnson really screwed up, he didn't have anything
anybody would want to cover up his death about. And why keep
them in a little room in the basement of an abandoned building?" I looked
up. "Do you think it could be Johnson's rival company involved somewhere?"
'Hawk spread his hands. "I don't know at this point. It seems a bit
unlikely, but then, so do quite a few things. If they wanted
Tommy, there would be several easier ways for them to get hold of him
without this elaborate ruse." He paused. "And besides, there were a number
of other patients as well." Standing up, he stretched. "I can't think
straight right now. It's almost four in the morning. Why don't we get some
sleep and we'll have another go at it in the morning. You're welcome to
the couch if you don't want to go home."
I thought about that and realized he was right. I was getting
tired. "Yeah, okay. In the morning." I looked around nervously again. "Are
you sure one of those things won't show up in here?"
"Not positive," he admitted. "But relatively sure."
"Did anybody ever tell you that you were very reassuring?" I asked him.
Without waiting for an answer, I threw myself down on the couch, sure
I wasn't going to sleep at all.
Next thing I knew, Winterhawk was waking me up. Hazy gray light shone
in through the apartment's open blinds. "Did you have any ideas while you
were asleep?" he asked, already pulling on the jacket of his suit. Apparently
he'd been awake awhile before he woke me.
"I don't even remember sleeping," I said groggily. "I gotta go home and
"Here," he said, handing me a hot cup of coffee. I accepted it gratefully.
Winterhawk might have had some weird habits, but his taste for real food
(including real coffee, not soykaf) was always appreciated. "Drink this first,
and then I'll drive you. You really must learn to drive a car one of these
days, old boy." He sat down with his own steaming coffee cup. "So what do you
thinkdecker or General?"
"General," I said instantly. "I don't want to get anybody else killed on
He nodded. "Yes, I agree. I think if we're a bit careful, we can do it
without anyone catching us. Let me finish up here, and then we'll go to your
place and then to General."
An hour and a half later, we were headed back toward Redmond General Hospital.
I was feeling much more like myself after a shower, some clean clothes, and a little
more breakfast, which we caught on the way at McHugh's because my refrigerator
was, as usual, empty except for three beers and the moldy remains of a sub
sandwich from a couple of weeks ago. I was wearing my spare armored jacket,
the one that didn't smell like a smokehouse. "So what exactly are we looking
for?" I asked Winterhawk as he guided the Americar into one of the few free
spaces in the hospital's parking lot.
He didn't answer until he'd stopped the car and we were walking toward the
building. "I think we should try to sneak into the morgue if we can."
"Can't we just pretend to be relatives?"
'Hawk shook his head. "Too easy. They're bound to check records, even
at a place like this. Besides, if something dodgy is going on, do you
want to announce our presence?"
I mulled that over. "But how are we gonna get into the morgue without
somebody stopping us? I don't think it's exactly a stop on the tour they give
to school kids."
We were getting close to the door now. "Just look like you know what you're
doing," he said under his breath. "And stay in sight." He pointed toward a large
panel van parked nearby, out of sight of the hospital employees entering through
the employee entrance about ten meters away. We ducked behind the van, and 'Hawk
made a small gesture at me. When I looked down, I appeared to be dressed in
hospital whites. I'd seen his mask spell before, so it didn't surprise me.
"Do I look like me?" I asked him.
"Not quite. You look like an orderly with dark brown hair." He repeated the
gesture, and for a moment he shimmered. When his form resolved again, it was
that of a gray-haired, distinguished looking middle-aged man in a suit and a
white lab coat.
"How come you get to be the doctor?" I asked, half-teasingly.
He grinned. "My spell." Motioning me ahead of him, he said, "Let's go. Let
me do the talking if anybody bothers us."
We joined the small stream of hospital personnel entering through two
wide swinging doors marked "HOSPITAL STAFF ONLY". The door opened on a
long hallway; the various workers followed the hallway to the end, where it
split off in two directions. Randomly, we picked one and followed a little
knot of nurses and orderlies, all the time surreptitiously looking around
for some kind of map or directory.
Redmond General was a very busy hospitalthat was clear early on. The
halls were full of more nurses and orderlies, doctors, bathrobe-clad patients
walking up and down the halls, visitors, and custodial people. The whole place
had the vague smell of disinfectant covering up other smells that were just
slightly unpleasant, but not bad enough to really notice. The place had seven
floors, but by silent agreement we confined our search to the ground floor,
since morgues were usually located in a basement level. Everybody pretty much
ignored us, so I guessed 'Hawk's spell must be working.
Eventually, trying not to look like we were lost, we found a bank of
elevators near the main nurses' station. I looked at 'Hawk, and he nodded.
Nonchalantly, he pushed the arrow and we waited for the
doors to open. A troll orderly sauntered up, talking to an ork nurse. When
the elevator door opened, we waited for the car's passengers to exit, then
stepped in. The ork and the troll followed us, talking animatedly about
the recent Urban Brawl match. 'Hawk pushed the "B" button, shrugging
slightly at me as if to say, any better ideas? I shook my head. The
elevator started to move.
"Hey," the troll orderly said, looking up from his conversation to grin
at me, his huge tusks polished to a dull sheen. "I ain't seen you around
here before. You new?"
Before I could answer, Winterhawk smiled at the troll. "He's my assistant,"
he said. "I'm afraid he doesn't speak any English." My eyes widened a bit:
he spoke in what sounded to me like a perfect German accent, all traces
of his normal British one gone.
The ork nurse spoke up. "I haven't seen you before either, Doctor"
"Stein. This is Hans," he added, indicating me. He smiled benevolently
at the ork. "We're doing some consulting, but I'm afraid we've lost our way."
"I'll say," the troll said as the nurse returned the smile. "Ain't nothin'
down here but the laundry supply and the morgue."
Winterhawk nodded. "Then we did lose our way." He paused a moment, considering.
"Does there happen to be a restroom down there as well?"
The nurse nodded. "It's not much of one, though. The morgue workers use
The elevator stopped, and the doors opened onto a dim corridor. Winterhawk
nodded. "Nonetheless, it will serve." He looked a bit embarrassed. "Too much
coffee on the plane, I think. If you'll show us the way, and excuse us"
The ork nurse pointed the way to the restroom, a dark door on the right
side of the hallway. At the end of the hall, I could see at door marked MORGUE.
The two headed off in the opposite direction, and I was seized with sudden
certainty that they weren't down here to get laundry supplies. Their giggles
when they thought we were no longer listening confirmed my theory.
I grinned at 'Hawk as he dropped the spell. "So now I don't even get to
speak English, huh?"
He shrugged, looking innocent. "It was all I could think of. Should we
duck into the loo and wait for them to leave?"
"Nah." I shook my head, glancing back down the corridor. "I think they'll
be here awhile, but I don't think they'll be any trouble."
"All right, then. Let's hope this is the end of our search." He started
toward the morgue door. "Coming?"
I sighed and started after him. Yeah, right. This was the end, and I was
gonna sprout wings and fly away. Things were never that easy.