[ Main ] [ Magespace ] [ Updates ] [ Fiction ] [ Character ] [ Campaign ] [ Commentary ]

"You think we're gonna find Tommy in here?" I asked Winterhawk.

We stood in front of the 85th Street Clinic, which was right where the dwarf bartender had said it would be. One of the few places that was still obviously open at this hour of the night, the clinic was a little storefront outfit flanked on one side by a long alley and on the other side by a gutted laundromat. Across the alley was a defunct restaurant with boarded-up windows.

Winterhawk shrugged, sighed. "I'm afraid I'll still have to go with my original assessment—I think we're going to find out he's dead, and he never made it to the clinic at all. I hope I'm wrong." He spoke quietly, to avoid being overheard by the collection of individuals currently sitting in front of the clinic. There were about ten people there, all of them dressed in scruffy street style, sitting with their backs up against the clinic's front. One of them had a banjo, and was coaxing horribly out of tune melodies from it while occasionally casting hopeful glances at the broken-down hat on the sidewalk in front of him. The other street people ignored him. I wished I could.

We'd been standing outside for a few minutes now, just checking the place out. It was very crowded inside, the few seats that were in the waiting room occupied by gang members with knife and gunshot wounds, an ork woman who looked heavily pregnant, three ork children who were clinging to her, and several other people in various stages of illness and injury. "Busy place," 'Hawk commented.

I nodded. "Yeah. I was lucky when I ran with the Predators—we had a street shaman who'd fix us up for a few nuyen or a little ganja, if he liked you. But most folks depend on places like this. You don't think the big hospitals would have anything to do with people like this who can't pay, do you?"

'Hawk shrugged. "Just making conversation. Do you want to try to shoulder our way in there and see if we can find our man Tommy?"

"Yeah, guess we'd better. It may take awhile before anybody'll talk to us, though." I started toward the clinic's door when I heard a voice.

"Hey," it repeated. I turned around, as did Winterhawk, to see a middle-aged human guy in an ill-fitting overcoat trying to get our attention.

"What?" I asked, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. I was pretty sure we were going to get hit up for nuyen, liquor, chips, or some combination of the above.

"You lookin' for Tommy T?" the guy said under his breath. "I heard ya say 'Tommy.'"

Winterhawk nodded. "Yes, we are. Why? Do you know where he is?"

"Yer in the right place," the man said. "Saw Tommy go in here a couple nights ago. Looked like he banged up his head good. Think he was drunk, too."

"You saw him go in there?" I asked, pointing toward the clinic door. A couple of the bums sitting out front, apparently disgusted with the slowness of service, got up and shuffled off into the night.

"Yeah, that's what I said." The guy nodded. "Ain't seen him since then, though. They prob'ly fixed him up and sent him on his way."

I handed the guy ten nuyen. "Thanks, buddy," I said. He nodded and shuffled off back to his place against the building, pushing his way in between two of his friends who had taken advantage of the extra space. I looked at 'Hawk. "I guess we're in the right place," I told him.

He nodded. "And it sounds like I wasn't right after all. Glad to hear it. Shall we?"

Together, we pushed our way into the waiting room of the clinic.

Once inside, the crowding was worse than it looked from the street. The waiting room extended back from where you could see through the window, the walls lined with cheap plastic chairs where the people waiting for the doctors sat. The stench of urine, vomit, liquor, unwashed bodies, and disinfectant was incredible. "Is this really worth it?" Winterhawk said from behind me, through clenched teeth.

"Shh," I said, reluctant to take too deep a breath to reply to him. "Sooner we find out, the sooner we can get the hell out of here." I pushed my way forward, stepping over children playing on the dirty floor and drunks laid out in the aisleways, trying hard to ignore the hands of the desperate people plucking at my jacket as I went by. I wasn't sure, but I think many of the people thought 'Hawk and I were doctors, because we weren't dressed like street people.

The nurse's desk was at the back of the waiting room. She sat behind a counter and what looked like an armored glass partition with a small hole through which she could converse with whoever was on the other side. She looked up as we approached: a small, haggard-looking human woman who looked like she hadn't slept in three days. "Yes?" she asked methodically.

Winterhawk stepped forward, flashing her his most charming smile. "We're looking for one of your patients," he said. "We've come to visit him."

The nurse looked confused. "One of our patients? We don't have visiting hours here, Mr—?"

"Hawke. Mr. Hawke," the mage said smoothly. "Surely you must, since I'm certain our information is correct." He took a piece of paper from his pocket (I could see it was a dry-cleaning ticket, but she couldn't), consulted it, and returned it to his pocket. "Yes. A gentleman who goes by the name of Tommy T. Human chap, early twenties. I understand he checked in here two days ago."

"Sir, I—"

Winterhawk affected a bit of impatience. "Please, Nurse. Would you check for us? We're very interested in visiting dear Tommy. We have a very important piece of information we must deliver to him. Vitally important."

The nurse sighed. "All right, Mr. Hawke. If you'll wait a moment, I'll check our records. Please take a seat." She motioned behind us. "I need to take care of this first."

We both turned around to see an ork kid of about fifteen with a hole blown in his arm, staggering up behind us. As we stepped aside, he collapsed. Since I was closest, I caught him and lowered him the rest of the way to the floor, then followed Winterhawk over to the other side of the room as the nurse called for an orderly to come and get the kid.

"I was hoping we wouldn't have to wait," he said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

I nodded, settling in. I wondered if 'Hawk suspected just how long we'd probably be standing here. I didn't know how long either of us was going to be able to take the heat and the stench. The place had a fan, but it looked like it hadn't been in working order since before the Awakening.

It turned out it was only about twenty minutes before the nurse caught our attention and motioned us back over. When we had returned to her desk, she spread her arms in confusion. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hawke," she said, sounding truly apologetic, "But there's no Tommy T here. I've no record of anyone by that name being treated here."

Winterhawk looked perplexed. "It would only have been two or three days ago. I understand he had a head wound." He took out Tommy's picture and held it up. "This is what he looks like. Perhaps his record was misplaced?"

The nurse shook her head. "Sorry, sir. I looked through all the records of check-ins within the last week using the parameters you gave me—name, race, approximate age. The closest I could find was a nineteen-year-old human, but he had a broken arm. And he's a Latino, not a Caucasian. I'm sorry, sir, but there's nothing in the computer." She looked pointedly out at the waiting room. "I'm sorry to do this, but I'm afraid I can't spend any more time with you right now. I have a lot of work to do. If you want to stay, you might be able to talk to one of the doctors, but it will probably be several hours."

I shook my head. "No, can't right now. We'll come back tomorrow. Thanks." I motioned for 'Hawk to follow me, and together we headed out of the clinic as quickly as we could without looking suspicious.

Once outside, both of us took deep breaths. The air wasn't great out here, but it was a hell of a lot better than the air in there. "Why did you have us leave so quickly?" 'Hawk asked. "P'raps we could have spoken with the doctors—"

I shook my head. "Tomorrow, if we need to. I know places like that. They're gonna be swamped all night. We'll be lucky if we get to see the doctors, let alone talk to them. Unless you want to be a patient..."

Winterhawk shook his head vigorously. "No thank you. So what now?"

"Hey, did you find Tommy?" The street guy who'd talked to us before we went in was back, standing behind us with his hands in his pockets.

"Nope," I told him. "They said he was never in there."

"That's bullshit," the guy said, a surprising amount of vehemence in his voice. "Sure he was in there. I saw him go in myself. They say he was never in there?"

"They have no record of him in their computer," Winterhawk said. "They claim they never saw him."

The guy looked nervously back and forth between the two of us. "Ya know," he said very quietly, "I think somethin' weird's goin' on in that place. Don't know what. But Tommy's the second guy I heard of gone in there and ain't come out."

[ [