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Things were moving in slow motion again. I made a split-second decision, and 'Hawk made the same one. Together, we lurched up and dived into the van. The driver slammed the back door shut just as the samurai's grenade landed right where we had been. The explosion rocked the van on its suspension, creating a huge dent in the door and destroying the car that had been our cover.

The woman dropped into the driver's seat and immediately took off, the tires of the van squealing as she whipped it around and peeled off down a side street. "Stay down!" she yelled as another of the sniper's bullets shattered the van's rear window into a haze of tiny cracks.

"Yeah..." I muttered. My head was getting fuzzy from blood loss. 'Hawk had already passed out on the floor of the van. If this woman's aim was to kill us, I didn't think either of us was going to argue. My last conscious thought was to remember that I hadn't retrieved Tommy's ashes before we left.

When I awoke, I was lying on something soft in a dimly-lit room. I raised up a little bit and looked around—it looked like a flophouse room. "I'd lie back down if I were you," said a voice. The same female voice from the van.

I turned to look in the direction of the voice, and saw her sitting in a motheaten recliner next to a table, watching me. 'Hawk was in the other twin bed, unconscious or asleep. I couldn't tell. He had a blanket pulled up to his neck; I was missing my armored coat.

"Stubborn," the woman said. There was exasperation and a little approval in her voice. She looked to be in her mid-to-late thirties, a slight, wiry woman with shoulder-length brown hair and a face that was attractive but not quite pretty. She wore gray military-style pants, a white shirt, and a vest covered with pockets. An obviously armored longcoat was tossed over the room's only other chair. I saw that mine and 'Hawk's were there as well. "Feel better?"

I looked down at my leg. For the second time in this run it had been trashed, and for the second time it looked like it had never been injured, except for the blood on my pantleg. My hip didn't hurt either. I risked another glance at 'Hawk; his eyes were still closed. "What—? How—?"

"Same way your friend would have done it," she said. Her voice was brisk and businesslike, but with a hint of amusement. "By the way, that's kind of a secret, so I'd appreciate if you didn't spread it around."

"Uh...sure," I said, with no idea of what she was talking about. My thoughts were still having to fight their way through cotton candy to get out. I looked at her suspiciously. "Who are you, and why did you help us?"

She pointed. "Why don't we wait for your friend to wake up, so we don't have to go through this twice." I followed the line of her finger, and noticed that Winterhawk was stirring.

He opened his eyes, blinked a couple of times, and his gaze settled on me. "It's a good thing I'm an agnostic," he finally said, "Because if this was heaven, I'd be a bit disappointed."

"Do I look like an angel?" I asked him.

'Hawk just gave me a look and didn't answer. Spotting the woman, he said, "So, you're our savior. I don't believe we've been properly introduced." He sat up, pushing the blanket down, and looked at his bloody shirt and uninjured shoulder. "Seems I have more to thank you for than I'd thought."

The woman smiled. "Don't worry about it," she said. "Maybe you can help me out. That's why you're here, by the way." She offered her hand. "My name is Jean Wallace. I already know who you are—Winterhawk and Ocelot, shadowrunners."

"How did you know that?" I asked.

"I've been keeping tabs on you for the last day or so," she said. "Ever since I found out you were looking for a certain Tommy T."

We both stared at her. "How did you know about Tommy?" I demanded. Then I remembered something. "You said you were a friend. The ashes—"

"—weren't Tommy's," she finished. "Why don't you let me start at the beginning, okay? When I'm done, I hope we can work together."

"I'm afraid we don't take partners," 'Hawk said, almost apologetically.

"Wait until you hear my story," she said. "You might change your mind. You don't know what you're involved in."

She reached into other chair, under the armored coats, and came up with an old-fashioned briefcase. She put it in her lap but didn't open it yet. "I work for the Seattle Underground," she said. "Maybe you've heard of it?"

That was a silly question, and I was sure she knew it. The Underground was one of the more successful of Seattle's "alternative" datafaxes—you know, the ones that aren't afraid to get out there and get dirty, and who will usually publish controversial stories long before the mainstream media will even admit that they exist. They had a reputation for being uncompromising, sometimes a little unethical in their information-gathering (but that kind of went with the territory for the kind of stories they did), and tenacious in their pursuit of anything that might be trying to screw over the "little guy."

"You're a reporter?" 'Hawk asked.

She nodded. "But don't worry—I'm not looking for you guys. I know how shadowrunners get around reporters. But I've never revealed a source, and I'm not about to start now."

"Source for what?" I said. My paranoia radar was going off like crazy. The last thing we wanted was some muckraking reporter snooping in our business.

"Let me continue," she said, not seeming to mind that we didn't trust her. Guess that went with the territory too. "But first, do you mind if I ask what your interest is in Tommy? I don't need anything specific, but I'd like to know why two shadowrunners are looking for a street guy."

"We were...hired to locate him," 'Hawk said carefully. "Our employer is concerned about his whereabouts."

"Why did you think he was dead?" Jean Wallace asked.

"Because it said so in the hospital records," Winterhawk said. "Then we found out he'd been sent to be cremated."

"Do you believe he's dead?" she asked.

Both of us shook our heads. "No," 'Hawk said. "But what's your interest in Tommy? I'd hardly think he's newsworthy."

Jean sighed. "Let me start by telling you that I told you a small lie back there in the van. I'm not really a friend of Tommy's. I wouldn't know him if he came up and bit me. It's not Tommy in particular that I'm looking for, but people like him. People who disappear without a trace after checking into various small clinics around the Redmond Barrens."

"You mean there's more of 'em?" I asked, and then remembered the words of the bum outside the 85th Street Clinic. Something about how Tommy was the second person he'd heard of who'd checked in and not been seen again.

She nodded. "Yes. Several, in fact. I've got records on fifteen over the past month, and I'm sure there've been more before that." She paused. "I just recently got some new information that gave me the missing piece I needed."

"What missing piece?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

She looked hard at us. "Before I tell you, I want to know something. You want to find Tommy, right? Dead or alive."

'Hawk nodded. "Yes. If he's dead, we need to prove that to our employer."

"Okay, then," she said. "If I give you what I have, then I'm working with you on this until it's done. Deal?"

Winterhawk gave her an odd look. "Why would you want to work with us?" he asked. "Seems that you've got the information you need to get the job done on your own, whatever that might be."

"Yes, I do," she agreed. "But I don't have the firepower. This is turning out to be a lot bigger than I thought it was, and I think we're all in danger, judging by the attack you experienced today. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve, but nothing tough enough to deal with opposition of this level. Between the three of us, maybe we can get it done."

"Obviously you're a magician," 'Hawk said, "Or you have a friend who is." He indicated his shoulder and my leg with a glance.

She nodded. "Sorceror adept. I know a few spells, but that's it. Healing's one I learned early on," she added with a grin. "But my power is pretty limited. I try to keep it a secret, use it as my ace in the hole. I've got some wires so I'm faster than a normal person, and I'm decent with a gun, but I'm just one person. I'm a snoop, not a fighter." Pausing, she looked hard at us. "So here's the deal. You agree to work with me, and I'll share what I've found with you. I might even be able to get you a cut on what I sell the story for, but I can't promise that."

"This information that you've found," Winterhawk said. "Where did you find it?"

"Inside the Simmons Funeral Home," she said. "I sneaked in last night and had a look around. And before you ask, no, you won't be able to sneak in and get the same information. It's hardcopy. These guys were taking no chances."

'Hawk looked at me, and I shrugged. I didn't like it, but it didn't look like we had much choice. "All right," he said to her. "We're partners for the duration. Now what's this information you've got?"

She opened the briefcase and withdrew an old-fashioned folder with several sheets of paper sticking out of it. "Take a look at this," she said, handing over the folder. "I think you'll find it interesting."

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