We were back in the car again. "So I guess we figure out where this
Simmons is, and go there," I said.
'Hawk nodded, maneuvering the Americar back into the stream of late-morning
traffic. "We'd better hurry, too. If they've already cremated him, it
will be difficult to get Mr. Johnson to accept our proof that he's dead."
I leaned back in my seat with a sigh, looking out the window at the dingy
scenery. It was an ugly day, overcast and just barely raining. "I was sorta
hoping we'd find him alive," I said.
"So was I," Winterhawk said. "Shame how he died, too. I was expecting
something a bit morewell significant."
"You mean, like Johnson's rival company kidnapped him, checked out
what they'd done to him, then dumped him in an alley somewhere?" I asked.
"Something like that," 'Hawk agreed. "To die from a bop on the head
that you got during an idiotic bar fight..." he trailed off, shaking his
"I got news for you, 'Hawk," I said. "It happens all the time. You
just don't hear about it, that's all. People die in stupid ways every day.
Especially in places like that."
"I suppose they do," he said, and fell silent.
As we headed for a dataterminal where we could look up this "Simmons" place,
I continued to watch the scenery go by. There was something wrong with this
whole thing, and I couldn't put my finger on it. "'Hawk?"
"If Tommy's dead, then what was with the fire elemental?"
"What do you mean?" The car was on autopilot now, so he turned to face
"Well..." I spoke slowly, forming my thoughts as I went. "If Tommy's dead
and nobody cares about him, then why would somebody send a fire elemental,
and a tough one if what you say is true, just to try to kill us when we're
checking into his whereabouts?"
"I think that may be the important question to ask," Winterhawk said after
a pause. "Along with, 'Why did the clinic claim he never came in?' and 'Why
was his body stored in the basement of an abandoned building before being
transferred to a hospital?'"
We stopped quickly at a public dataterminal and looked up our destination.
Simmons Funeral Home was located in one of the nicer ends of Redmond, which
wasn't saying much. Noting the address, we climbed back in the car and
headed off again. "Hey," I said, "Maybe we should call ahead. If he's
scheduled to be cremated, maybe we can describe him and tell them that there's
been a mistake."
"We could do that," Winterhawk said. "It might even be a good idea.
But given the questions we have, are you sure you want to do it?" He punched
the coordinates into the car's autopilot and turned back around toward me.
"I'm just paranoid enough to think that might cause them to move him up
on the list a bit."
"If he's even there," I muttered. "I'm beginning to think he doesn't exist."
I sighed, settling back to stare out into nothingness again until we arrived.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the Americar's side mirror
on my side. "You know," I said, "I don't think you're the only one who's
"Why do you say that?" 'Hawk asked.
I cocked my head toward the mirror. "There's a green van back there that I'd
swear is following us. I've seen it two or three times, but I figured it was
just a coincidence."
Winterhawk surreptitiously checked the rearview mirror. "Hard to say," he
said. "It's quite busy around here. But let's find out." He took the car
off autopilot and made a right turn onto a side street. After a moment, the
van followed, as did a couple of other cars. But when he made another right
a block or two down, the van went on by. I got a quick glance at the driver
through the window; just enough to tell that it was a human-sized person and
that he wasn't looking toward us.
I shrugged. "False alarm, I guess. But keep an eye out."
Winterhawk nodded. I noticed that he didn't put the car back on autopilot, and
that he checked the mirrors about as often as I did.
We arrived at Simmons fifteen minutes later. It was a low,
squat tan building set back from a scraggly-looking lawn. A sign in the middle
of the lawn proclaimed that it was "Simmons Funeral Home, for your Eternal
Rest." Both the sign and the building looked like they had seen better
days twenty years ago. I could see why this place was where they took the
folks who couldn't afford any better treatment. "Park down the street,"
I said. "Let's not announce to the world that we're here." 'Hawk did as
directed, parking the car about a block away.
The entrance to Simmons Funeral Home (for your Eternal Rest) was through
two elaborate doors that looked like wood but weren't. Up closer, the place
appeared even dingier than it had from a distance. It was trying to be
elegant and dignified, but succeeded only in looking threadbare and a
bit desperate. Inside, there was a reception area carpeted in deep but well-worn
mauve which had faded and was now more of an institutional gray. There
were a couple of pastoral prints hung on the walls, two chairs that
matched each other but not the carpet, and a reception desk which was currently
'Hawk looked at me and shrugged. I pointed toward the door leading out
of the lobby.
We were met by a middle-aged dwarf man in a suit who was coming down
the hallway. He looked a little surprised to see us. "May I help you?" he asked,
his tone low and hushed.
"Perhaps you can," 'Hawk said. As the dwarf walked us back out to the
reception area, Winterhawk explained about Tommy and the reason why we believed
he was here. "We're hoping," he concluded, "that we're not too late. We'd like
to give him a proper burial."
"Yes, of course I understand," the dwarf said. "Come with me." He led
us back through the door and into an office that was furnished marginally more
nicely than the rest of the place. After consulting a computer on his desk,
he shook his head, a rueful expression on his bearded face. "I'm sorry, gentlemen,"
he said, "but your friend's body has already been cremated. This morning, in
fact. We received his body early this morning." He gave a description that matched
Tommy exactly. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I wish there was something I could
do, but I'm afraid it's out of my hands now."
Winterhawk sighed, glancing at me. "We appreciate your help," he said. "Perhaps
we could take custody of the ashes...you know, to make sure he's treated properly."
"Of course," the dwarf said. "No one else has come forward to claim them, so
normally we just place them in a facility maintained by the city. If you'll just
wait here, I'll see what I can do."
After the dwarf was gone, I whispered, "Do you believe him?"
'Hawk shrugged. "I'm not sure. I'm still convinced something is strange, but
we can't do anything about it right now. Once we have the ashes, I may be able
to determine something about them. The operative word is may. Other than
that, perhaps we should come back tonight and pay this place a visit when they're
closed. We'll look far too suspicious if we ask to see their facilities."
I nodded. The door opened and the dwarf came back in, this time carrying a
small, vaguely cylindrical metal container about the size of a two-liter bottle.
He put it down on the desk and pulled a datapad from his pocket. "If
you'll just sign here," he said, offering the datapad to us.
'Hawk took it and scrawled a signature (one that looked nothing like his own) on
it. "So..." he said, faking sadness, "This is our friend Tommy?"
The dwarf nodded, doing a great job of maintaining his professional
funeral-director demeanor. "Yes, sir. Again, I'm sorry. If we'd known"
"Yes, yes, that's fine," Winterhawk said. "We didn't find out until not long
ago ourselves. If you don't mind, we'll just take Tommy and make sure he's
properly cared for."
I reached out for the urn, and the dwarf handed it to me. We said our
goodbyes and left the funeral home. The dwarf didn't follow us out to the
I waited until we were outside before speaking. Holding up the urn, I said,
"This isn't Tommy. I'll bet you anything it isn't."
"I won't take that bet," 'Hawk said, "Because I agree with you. But we seem to
be out of clues at this point. If this isn't Tommy, then where is he?"
We were approaching the car. The light rain that had been falling had slacked
off a bit, so the air was just uncomfortably misty. The sky was still a uniform
slate gray that never failed to depressed me. Idly, my gaze roamed over the
car. 'Hawk hadn't had it washed in awhile; there was no point, really, with all
the rain. Since it hadn't been raining hard, the dirt on the car had just been
rearranged by the light rain we had had.
Winterhawk was approaching the driver's side door when my glance fell on the
hood. There were smudges in the dirt right up by where the hood opened. I was
sure they hadn't been there before. My mind spun quickly, almost subconsciously
trying to figure out what this was trying to tell me--
Then I had it. My eyes widened in fear.
"'Hawk!" I yelled. "Don't touch the car! It's been--"
And then the car exploded.