I had spun around, the Predator in my hand and aimed with the speed
of my wired reflexes, before 'Hawk even reacted. What I saw standing
at the end of the alley made me hold my fire.
There was an ork standing there. At least I think he was an
ork. He stood over two meters tall and almost as wide, his feet planted
authoritatively apart. His head was wrapped in a tattered red rag, and
he wore a black patch over one eye along with the usual collection of mismatched
street-person garb. Around his waist, tied like a sash, he wore what looked
like it had once long ago been a red evening gown. As I watched, he waved a
wicked-looking curved sword in our general direction. "Put yer hands up,
Mateys!" he yelled. "I won't be askin' ye agin!"
Well, I could never accuse Winterhawk of being slow on the uptake, and
this time was no exception. "Cap'n Jack!" he called. "How are you, you old
sea dog? Haven't seen you in years!"
The ork hesitated as I turned slightly to stare at 'Hawk. He gave me
a play along look and started walking forward.
The ork brandished his sword again as Winterhawk got within a few meters
of him. "Arr! I don't think I know ye, Matey," he said, but even from
where I was standing I could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
"Of course you do, Captain," Winterhawk assured him. "I'm Winterhawk. You and
I and Ocelot here used to be shipmates. You remember, back a few years ago?"
Cap'n Jack peered at Winterhawk through his (apparently) one good eye, then
swiveled his gaze up to check me out. I got a good look at him, too: ugly
as anything. I also didn't miss the characteristic glazed-over look of the
habitual chip user. If I had to guess, I'd say our Cap'n Jack had slotted one
too many. "Arr!" he said, his grimy face splitting into a wide, toothy grin. "Yeah!
Sure, I remember, Matey! You were that Limey I shipped out with on the
Jolly Roger!" He strode forward and clapped Winterhawk companionably on
the back, causing the mage to stagger forward and nearly fall over.
I stepped up, and Jack waved his sword at me again. Up closer, I could
see that the sword was nothing but a child's plaything, the kind of thing you'd find
in a toy-store pirate kit, carefully and lovingly taped up and repaired.
The way he held it, though, you'd have thought it was the finest and deadliest
of cutlasses. "Arrr!" Jack yelled at me, fishing around in his jacket until he
found an old broken tobacco pipe, which he stuck between his teeth. "Arr!"
"Arr." My reply had no conviction. Okay, so I wasn't an actor.
That was 'Hawk's job.
And he seemed to be taking to his role with aplomb. "Ocelot doesn't talk much,
old boy," he said. He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Old war wound, y'know."
Jack nodded with enthusiasm. "Oh, right, Matey!" he agreed. "Got a few o'
those meself." Carefully, he stowed his cutlass in his sash. He thought for
a moment, seeming to remember something. "Hey," he said suspiciously, "What
were ye doin' messin' with Meggie? No scurvy dogs is gonna mess with Meggie
while Cap'n Jack's around!"
'Hawk didn't miss a beat. "Oh, we weren't messing with anyone, Captain. We
were looking for you. Someone told us that you lived around here, and that
Meggie could help us find you."
"Arrr, is that so?" Jack demanded as I turned around to surreptitiously
check the alley behind me. The woman who was apparently Meggie was emerging
from her cardboard box. I guess she felt safer with Jack around. That answered
my question about how such a frail old lady could last on the streets: with a
protector like Jack, I'd give her better chances than some kids I knew. He
might be a chiphead, but street folks don't mess with orks that big, usually.
"They said they weren't going to hurt me, Jack," the old lady said, and
"And we weren't, of course," Winterhawk added. "We're not here to hurt
anybody. We're looking for one of your shipmates, Captain."
Cap'n Jack looked confused. "One o' my shipmates?"
"He went AWOL," I offered.
"My...er...matey is correct," Winterhawk said, shooting me a dirty look.
"We're looking for a chap named Tommy. We heard you might know him."
Meggie shuffled over next to Jack, clutching her threadbare shawl around
her against the cold of the night. "Tommy?" she asked.
"Yes, Tommy," Winterhawk said. "We need to find him. We've something very
important we need to tell him."
"He'she's not in trouble, is he?" Meggie pulled her shawl tighter
as if she was trying to fade into it and disappear.
"Well, now!" Cap'n Jack boomed. "We might know this Tommy matey. Maybe
we do, aye. But we don't often get a reunion of old shipmates like this,
do we? Come onlet's all go have some grog and talk about the old days,
and then we'll talk about old Tommy! Arrr!" He grinned, his yellowed fangs
glinting in the scant light. Grabbing Winterhawk with one hand and trying his
best to grab me with the other, he called, "C'mon, Meggie! We'll be havin'
a fine shindig, we will!"
I ducked out of Jack's grasp (he didn't seem to notice), stashed my
Predator, and faded back to talk to Meggie as we followed the ork and
Winterhawk out of the alley. She definitely seemed the saner of the pair.
"You do know Tommy, right?" I asked her. I didn't relish the idea of
following this raggedy duo around for who knew how long, only to find out
that they were delusional or something.
She nodded. "He stays here sometimes. He and Jackthey try to make
sure nothing bad happens to me, you know? It's hard for someone my age on the
"Yeah." I knew that all too well, and felt a twinge of shame for my gang
days. A lot of the gangers used to shake people like Meggie down for what little cred they
had. I never did, but that didn't mean I didn't know it was happening.
"Souhwhat's with Jack? Does he really think he's a pirate, or is
it just an act?" I kept my voice down so he wouldn't hear me; I didn't think
I had much to worry about, because he was busy regaling Winterhawk with tales of
the high seas. I could see by 'Hawk's posture that he was enjoying every minute
of it. Yeah, right.
She shrugged. "I'm...not sure. I think it might have been a bad BTL. He's been
like that ever since I've known him. That's been about a year now, I think. I
don't really keep track anymore."
I wanted to ask her some more questions, but about that time Jack remembered
our presence. "Arr, Mateys, come on up!" He had led us out of the alley and down
to another alley a couple of doors down. He pointed to a rickety-looking fire
escape. "Up we go, to Cap'n Jack's Bridge!"
Winterhawk looked dubiously at the aged ladder. "Are you sure that will hold
"Aye, it will!" He thumped 'Hawk on the back again, more gently this time. "If
it'll hold me, it'll hold a skinny fella the likes of you! Now up with ye!"
I guess 'Hawk couldn't come up with any more excuses why he shouldn't, so
he took hold of the ladder and began climbing. It creaked alarmingly under his
weight, but held. "Come on, come on! You next, me hearty!" Jack said to me.
I followed Winterhawk, picking my steps carefully. The ladder creaked even harder
with me on it than it had with Winterhawk, and when I felt the whole thing
rattle and groan as Jack added his ork bulk to the mix, I hurriedly finished the trip
to the top.
Surprisingly, we all reached the top without the fire escape pulling loose
from the building. It was three stories up; Winterhawk was already looking the
place over as I came up over the roofline. Jack followed momentarily, nearly
carrying Meggie. The old lady looked winded from the climb.
In the darkness, my low-light eyes picked up the shadowy forms of chimneys,
air vents, and the squat little roof-access shed on the other side of the
building. Junk had been piled up into a little fort near the side we were
currently occupying. Jack grinned. "Arr," he said. "Cap'n Jack's Bridge."
He headed over toward the pile of junk with all the swagger of a real pirate captain
in his domain.
He must have been very familiar with the area, because he saw the forms
rising from behind the junk before 'Hawk or I did. "ARRRR!" he yelled. "Down,
Mateys! We've been breach" His order ended in an inarticulate yell as a
bullet tore through his arm.