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It wasn't much of a fight. It was over almost before it began. My wired reflexes kicked in as I whipped my stun baton from under my jacket and slammed it into the nearest ganger, feeling him jolt as the current shot through him. From beside me, Winterhawk formed a spell and flung it at two of the others; they dropped before they got near him. Far off, I heard the sound of running feet: the fifth guy in the window had decided life looked better elsewhere.

That left only the leader. I'd purposely saved him for last. He swung at me with his switchblade; I easily deflected the attack with the stun baton, then gathered up a handful of his shirt with my off hand, picking him up off the ground. He smelled like sweat and unwashed clothing. I could see fear in his eyes, but he was trying hard to hide it. "Put me down, drekhead!" he yelled while flailing his legs, which were currently a couple of inches off the sidewalk. "I'll kill you!" He let loose with a stream of obscenities and bad breath, both of which I ignored.

Winterhawk shook his head ruefully. "These chaps never learn, do they?"

"No, they're kinda stupid that way," I said, not taking my eyes off the ganger. I shook him to shut him up. "You don't get it, do you, asshole?" I said through my teeth. "Your guys are down. You got nobody. Either one of us could kill you before you can move. Now—you gonna give me any more shit, or am I gonna put you down and you're gonna run as fast as you can?"

He snarled at me; I recognized that as his way of telling me he'd cooperate. Picking him up a little higher, I tossed him a couple of meters away on his butt. He landed hard, took one look at the three downed gangers littering the sidewalk, and managed to complete a neural circuit for once in his life. He ran. He didn't bother to look back.

I turned to 'Hawk, indicating the two guys he'd dropped with his spell. "You didn't kill 'em, did you?"

He shook his head. "Simple sleep spell. They should be waking up with truly extraordinary headaches in an hour or two."

"Maybe we'd better not be here when they wake up, eh?" I stowed my stun baton back in its loop and looked around. Not a soul could be seen on the street now. "Come on. We scared everybody away." I started down the street. "Didn't want to be that conspicuous."

Winterhawk took one last look at the sprawled forms before turning to follow. "What exactly were we intended to do, then? Let them have their way with us?" He sounded disgusted.

"Nah, can't be helped," I told him. "Still don't like it, though." I picked up my pace a bit; 'Hawk did likewise, and after a few minutes we were well away from the aftermath of our little battle. As an indication of this, we began seeing people on the street again.

Not that it was helping much. The gangers didn't return, but we didn't have much success, either. After we had spent half an hour of trudging around asking questions with no luck, I was ready to try something else. This was getting us nowhere. I said as much to 'Hawk, stopping to lean against a nearby building and staring out into the gloom.

"You're not giving up yet?" he asked, looking a little surprised. "I was just starting to like it down here."

"Yeah, right," I said sourly. "So what do you want to do—just keep asking every bum we find? We might not even be in the right place."

"That's possible," he said, "But do you want to—hey! You there!" He pointed past me.

I turned to see an ork guy who looked like the usual down-on-his-luck resident of this area shuffling toward us. He appeared intent on his destination, and was doing his best to ignore us, but Winterhawk's salutation had apparently gotten his attention. 'Hawk looked at me, then made a quick head-gesture toward the guy. "Okay..." I muttered. "But it ain't gonna work."

The ork was looking like he was trying to decide whether to run. "Hey, man," I said, trying to sound conversational. "Maybe you can help us." I hope so. Even I'm gettin' sick of this place.

"Yyyeah?" the ork asked, his voice hesitant. 'Hawk and I looked way too well-dressed for the neighborhood, I knew. From my old Barrens days, I knew that guys dressed better than you usually spelled trouble. Especially if they were interested in you for some reason.

I pulled out the picture of Tommy. "You seen this guy? I hear he lives around here somewhere."

The ork looked at the picture, and I saw a quick flash of recognition cross his eyes before his features returned to their former noncommital state. "Uh...no. I don't know him." He made as if to move past us.

Winterhawk stepped in front of him, almost like an afterthought. Good thing, too. The thought of Winterhawk trying to physically stand up to an ork was a laugher. "Please," he said gently. "This gentleman is a friend of ours. We'd really like to find him. I can assure you, he's in no trouble." I guess he hadn't missed the look either.

The ork looked uncertain. His eyes moved up from the picture to 'Hawk's face, which was currently wearing an expression of innocent sincerity. "I—I don't want no trouble—"

"No trouble," I agreed. "We just need to find him, because we've got some important information we need to give him."

"If you know where he is, will you please tell us?" Winterhawk continued in the same soothing tone. "We're trying to get him out of some trouble. We're his friends."

The ork appeared to be calming down, convinced now that we weren't going to shove a knife between his ribs when he wasn't looking. "Maybe I know him," he said after a pause. "Maybe not." He looked up at us to see if we spoke the universal language of the streets.

I put my hand in my pocket, and when I pulled it out, a twenty-nuyen note was sticking out from between my fingers. "You look a little dry, buddy," I said. "You look like you could use something to make your night a little better." Silently, I held the money out so it was obvious it was meant for him. "You know this guy, though, you gotta tell me his name. So we know you're on the level."

The ork nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know him. Lotsa people around here know him. His name's Tommy." He looked up again. "You sure he ain't in trouble?"

Winterhawk shook his head. "No, he isn't in trouble. And we're trying to help him stay out of trouble, if you'll help us."

"Okay," he said, reaching for the money. "He hangs out with Meggie and Cap'n Jack. Down about three more blocks. There's an alley there, next door to an old deli that's closed now. I ain't seen him for a few days, though."

I handed him the money. "And this Meggie and Cap'n Jack are down there?"

"I dunno if they are now. But that's where they hang." He shuffled nervously back and forth from foot to foot. "Can I go now?"

"Yeah," I said. "Thanks a lot. You might have just helped him out of a jam."

The ork nodded quickly and moved off as fast as he thought he could get away with without being too obvious about it.

Winterhawk watched the ork leave. "See?" he asked. "Told you we'd find something."

I shrugged. "We ain't found anything yet. He might have lied, you know." Pushing myself off the building where I was leaning, I added, "Come on, let's go. Maybe we can find this Meggie and Cap'n Jack and Tommy'll be with 'em."

"And maybe I'll ascend the Throne of England," 'Hawk muttered, moving to follow me.

I grinned. "Well, Your Majesty, the faster we find 'em, the faster we can go home."

"You have a point there," he said, picking up his pace.

The alley was right where the ork had described it. It was a wide alley, flanked on one side by a broken-down abandoned brick building, and on the other side by the burned-out husk of what had once been a deli. The deli's glass was long missing, the hole where its former display window had been boarded up and painted over with years' worth of graffiti. The only indication of its previous function was the faded "BE NST IN'S DE I" sign above the door. The alley extended back into darkness and shadow.

I switched to low-light vision and scanned the area, but saw no sign of life. I did see, though, that the alley ended about twenty meters back in a high brick wall with razor wire on top. Both sides were littered with dumpsters, trash, cardboard boxes, and other rubbish, piled high against the walls. "Want to take a look?" I whispered to Winterhawk.

He nodded, moving to the wall outside the alley, where he carefully sat down against the building. I kept an eye on him as his posture slumped. It never failed to weird me out when he did this, but I knew that his astral scouting had saved our butts more times than I could count, so I made sure that nobody bothered him while he did it.

In a few seconds, he was back. "There are two people in the alley," he reported, "Along with assorted rats, a cat or two, and innumerable bugs. I didn't count them."

"What about the two people?"

"Oh, yes. Well, one of them looked comatose. Alcohol or chip-stupor, I'll wager. The other one was huddled up inside a box. Probably one of the local squatters."

"You think either one of them could be this Meggie or Cap'n Jack? Or Tommy?"

He shrugged. "How should I know? Why don't we just go find out?"

Slowly, we entered the alley. My low-light eyes picked out the shapes of the piled garbage; I knew 'Hawk was seeing the same thing. Silently, he pointed out the locations of the two occupants of the alley: one was far back on the right side, the other one closer, on the left. I kept one hand in my pocket, ready to draw my Predator.

Winterhawk moved forward, bending to pick up the handle of a broken mop, and carefully moved aside the trash over the first form. I came up behind him and looked. It was an old guy, human, curled up in a ball, his arms wrapped tightly around a nearly-empty bottle of cheap liquor. As Winterhawk moved the old cardboard box off him, he stirred, muttered something unintelligible, and rolled away from us.

I looked at 'Hawk, shrugged, and pointed down toward where he'd indicated the other occupant was. We silently moved down the alley. A cat jumped out from behind a dumpster and ran past us; I almost drew my Predator, but caught myself and relaxed, grinning nervously back at Winterhawk. "Cat," I mouthed. He nodded, moving past me toward a large cardboard box.

The box was about a meter and a half on a side, carefully hidden beneath piles of trash except for a large piece of cardboard pulled over its opening. As I stood back, hand still on the Predator in my pocket, Winterhawk pulled aside the cardboard and looked inside the box.

"D...don't hurt me," came a soft, frightened voice from inside. "I'm just an old lady. I don't have any money. Please..." The figure in the box tried to huddle up into an even smaller ball.

'Hawk stepped aside a little, revealing a human woman cowering in the box. She wore several layers of clothing, her head covered by a ragged stocking cap. I guessed she was somewhere in her 60s, though it was hard to tell.

"Please..." she said, turning her head to face us. Her fearful eyes glittered in the darkness.

"Don't worry, dear lady," Winterhawk said gently. "We mean you no harm. We—"

"All right, ye scurvy dogs—HOLD IT RIGHT THAR!" came a booming voice from behind us. "Stay right whar ye are, if ye want to be keepin' yer heads!!"

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