Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Wolf and Raven s-32

Michael A. Stackpole

  Wolf and Raven

  ( Shadowrun - 32 )

  Michael A. Stackpole

  Michael A. Stackpole

  Wolf and Raven


  In my case, that includes surviving into my thirties

  I never thought I'd live long enough to be writing memoirs. Hell, I never thought I'd learn to write well enough to write memoirs. One of the things about associating with Doctor Raven is that you end up doing a lot of things you never thought possible.

  Anyway, the adventures I've written down here all took place back in the dawn of time-back a good six, eight years ago. Not very long in calendar days, but a lifetime when measured in physical therapy sessions and reconstructive surgery. Much of this will feel like ancient history to most of you.

  I'm hoping it will seem like that to me, too, one of these days.

  – Wolfgang Kies, Seattle, 2059

  Squeeze Play

  As the door shut behind me and the bar's natural atmosphere raped my nostrils, I had a sudden urge to remodel the place with a flame-thrower. From the outside the boarded-over windows and plywood framing for the weather-beaten door suggested someone had already tried that with "the Weed," as its denizens affectionately called the place. I had to agree with the name-nothing in here a load of Agent Orange wouldn't improve. The Weed was the kind of bar that aspired to be a dump when it grew up1.

  I'd not liked Ronnie Killstar when I'd spoken with him to set up this meeting. After seeing the place he chose, I liked him even less.Easy, Wolf, I reminded myself.Raven gave you this job because you 've got more control than Kid Stealth or Tom Electric. Don't let him down -you already owe him too much.

  Against my better judgment I crossed the short distance from the door to the bar. A small, Hispanic-looking bartender wandered over to where I'd elbowed in between two other patrons. His voice sounded like a ripsaw tearing into sheet steel. "Waddalya have?"

  I squinted against the burning smoke from my neighbor's Saskatchewan Corona Grande and shrugged. "What's on tap?"

  The bartender shook his head.

  "Great. Make it a double."

  1Oh, this is what a footnote is. Slick.

  He stared blankly at my attempt at humor. "Waddalya have?" he rasped in a gravel-croak.

  I glanced at the cooler. "Green RiverPale. No need for a glass."

  As he pulled the beer out of the cooler and brushed the ice off onto the floor, I pulled a roll of corp scrip from my pocket. He twisted the cap off and I started peeling bills off the roll. I slowed when I got near what the beer had to cost, then stopped when he started to move the bottle forward. He glanced up at me, shrugged, then gave me the drink. I could have used a credstick to pay, but in a place this archaic and seedy, crumpled paper seemed the way to go.

  I carried the drink toward the corner nearest the door. The beer tasted like his voice sounded, but cold, and I set it down quickly. I slid into a booth, then unzipped my leather jacket and settled in to observe the bar and its patrons. I kept the beer in my left hand while letting my right rest near the butt of my Beretta Viper 142.

  My new vantage point allowed me a fuller appreciation of the Weed's decor. The plastic baby doll heads and high-heeled shoes hanging from the ceiling somehow made sense seen within the larger context. Most of the light came from sputtering neon signs begging patrons to drink exotic brews the bar no longer stocked. Silvery tinsel and some flashing lights left behind during some long-ago Christmas mocked the moribund setting, but somehow brought gaiety to the expression of the plastic, safe-sex doll floating above a busted pinball machine.

  The place oozed atmosphere.

  I used my beer bottle to smear a six-legged piece of that atmosphere across the table.

  2Sure, the Beretta Viper 14 is old. So's gravity, but it still works. Nice thing about the Viper is that I have a bullet, I have a target, I pull the trigger, and the gun does all the math for the hit. And with the Viper, I never have batteries go dead on me in the middle of a firefight.

  About the only normal portion of the bar lay kitty-corner across the room from my position. Three jack-tables, the cocktail model, sat up against the wall. Only one wirehead was using the Weed's facilities. The trode halo circled her ebony brow, and the light from the unit's display washed in rainbow waves over her face, but she didn't notice. Whatever graphics were flashing across the screen were for outsider consumption only- she was jacked in deep and playing her own little games.

  I caught the scent of dead flowers all mixed up into a noxious blend that made the Weed smell worse and was trendy enough to cost 150 nuyen a milliliter. The stink came to me about a second and a half before I heard the click of Ronnie Killstar's wrist spur. Large as life, or at least as large as he could muster, the pasty-faced street samurai slid into the booth across from me. The jaundiced light from the bar skittered across the razored edge of the curved metal blade jutting out from his right wrist, and a red light glowed in his eyes.

  He sneered at me. "You ought to get your eyes done. I can bull's-eye a rat's ass at a thousand meters in the pitch dark. I saw you come in and I saw you sit down. I can see in here plain as day."

  That being the case, I saw no reason to mention he'd just wiped the sleeve of his white jacket through cockroach paste. I sniffed at the air. "I don't need eyes to find you."

  Two large men slipped from in back where Ronnie had been waiting and stood on either side of our booth. They were both built like those smiling Buddha-type statues you find down the coast in Tokyo West, 'cept these two wore more clothes, didn't smile, and didn't look like they'd give you good luck if you rubbed their bellies. Still, if they were hanging around with Ronnie it meant they had to be losers-which also explained why they looked so much at home in the Weed.

  His intimidation batteries in place and ready to fire, Ronnie reinforced his sneer. "I didn't figure the great Dr. Raven would trust Wolfgang Kies with an assignment of this importance."

  I smiled. "TM."


  I smiled more broadly. "I said, 'TM.' You forgot to add the trademark to the phrase, 'the Great Dr. Raven.' " I shook my head ruefully. "That's why he sent me. You've got no manners and no sense of propriety. You wouldn't expect him to come to a place like this, would you?"

  Clearly, any space in Ronnie's monosynaptic brain devoted to humor was overloaded by my effort. His eyes flashed on and off as he got angry and his concentration broke. Suddenly, with a metallic snap that sounded like a pistol being cocked, a twenty-five-centimeter icepick blade shot out from between the middle and ring fingers on his right hand and he lunged forward. The tip touched my throat right above the silver wolf's-head totem I wear and drew a single drop of blood.

  "I don't need your static, you drekling! Raven sent word that he wanted to make a deal with La Plante, not the other way around. We're not doing you a favor-it's you that wants one from us." Killstar's dark eyes narrowed. "I want Raven!"

  With great effort I killed the urge to lunge forward and bite his face off. I swallowed hard and felt the icepick brush against my Adam's apple. "I wanted La Plante. I would suggest we're even."

  I forced my eyes open and got the surprise reaction I expected as Ronnie looked into them for the first time. With the anger rising in me I knew they'd gone from green to silver-that change is not all that rare. Ronnie got an added treat, though, as a dark circle surrounded each iris with a Killer Ring.Your augmented eyes may let you see in the dark, but they can't do this. It's something you've got to have inside -it's not an option you get to tack on aftermarket.

  Ronnie leaned back, but left the stinger extended. "Maybe we are even. What are you offering Mr. La Plante?"

  I ignored the question as a droplet of sweat burned into th
e pinprick at my throat. "I want proof she's still alive."

  The punk snapped his fingers and one of the Buddha brothers produced a portacomp and slipped a small optical disk into the unit. I took it from him and hit the Play button. The LCD screen flickered to life and I saw Moira Alianha standing calmly before a wall screen trideo display. She moved back and forth in front of it, and I concentrated on how her long black hair trailed out and through the image. If they'd recorded her moving before a blank screen, then masked in a recent program to make me think she was still alive, the process would have broken down on those fine details.

  It looked clean to me, but I didn't want to give Ronnie the satisfaction of knowing I thought he'd done something right. "A simchip would have been better."

  It was an effort for him to roll his cybereyes to heaven. "And we could have brought her here with a brass band and an army of grunges3, but we don't think we're going to recover our overhead on this one. Satisfied?"

  I tapped the Disconnect and pocketed the device. "She's alive."

  Ronnie smiled like a gambler holding four of a kind. "Mister La Plante has a client who has offered us a great deal of money for Moira Alianha with her maidenhead intact. How can Raven make it worth our while to turn her over to him instead?"

  I tried to suppress the wince, but the additional construction on either side of Ronnie's smile showed me I'd failed. Dr. Raven lost no love on Etienne La Plante, but recovering Moira and returning her to Tir Tairngire meant he had to suppress his feelings and deal with the man. As Ronnie's smile cooled into a smug look of superiority, I decided Kid Stealth might have been right in the first place: bring the whole crew in and take La Plante's crime empire apart.

  3Yeah, I know grunge is fairly vulgar slang for ork, but the term applied to the orks who worked for La Plante. I think he found stupid ones, then fed them paint chips to dull down any native intelligence they had. Since he used them mostly as mobile weapon transport and trigger fingers, brains weren't vital. As we used to joke, to work for La Plante, you took an intelligence test: if you failed you were in.

  "It won't guarantee we save the girl," Doc had told him.

  "Yeah," said the Kid, "but it'll feel gigabytes better than helping that slime."

  I rested my elbows on the table and steepled my fingers. "I have been authorized to offer you the Fujiwara shipping schedule for the next six months in return for the girl. We can make the exchange tonight."

  For all often seconds Ronnie got that divine-revelation look on his face. Suddenly he realized how big a game he was involved in, and how small a player in it he was. Then his eyes hooded over as the little maggot figured out how important Moira Alianha had to be for the Doctor to offer that kind of hot-byte data for her. A thought shot off on the wrong branch of his neural network and he began to believe in his own importance.

  He scoffed at the offer and began to ease himself out of the booth. "Maybe. I'll talk to La Plante and let you know. You can wait here until then."

  My right leg swept out and hooked up between his legs. I drew my knee up, jerking him and his squishy parts against the edge of the table. That knocked the wind out of him and caused him to jackknife forward. I grabbed a handful of his stringy blond hair with my left hand and tucked the barrel of my Viper in his left ear.

  A Killer Ring stare kept the karma twins at bay.

  "That was a wrong answer, Ronnie." I eared the hammer back on the Viper 14 even though that was unnecessary on the double-action pistol. "Mr. La Plante, I know you'd not be who you are if you let an idiot like this conduct your negotiations for you without keeping tabs on him. I'd guess you've bugged Yin and Yang here, unless you tricked this dolt into carrying a set of ears on himself."

  A glint of gold from the cloisonne orchid pin on Ronnie's lapel had given him away. "Very good, Mr. La Plante. Your gang's trademark pin is a listening device. I salute your foresight. I suggest your chauffeur pull the limo around so we can discuss things in private, say, in five minutes. We'll take a spin around the block and then you'll drop me back here. If not, I'm going to decorate the Weed's ceiling with something that'll add some real color."

  The Coors clock on the wall ticked off four and a half minutes before the door opened. The Chauffeur4, dressed in a spiffy uniform with creases sharp enough to cut like razors, nodded to me. I patted Ronnie patronizingly on the head. "We'll have to do this again some time, when I have more time to play."

  Whatever Ronnie replied, it wasn't very polite and I put it down to his discomfort as I leaned heavily on his head while working my way out of the booth. The twin pillars of Eastern wisdom let me pass, and I made it to the doorway unmolested.

  I handed the Viper to The Chauffeur and stepped into the street. The white Mitsubishi Nightsky stretch limo looked as out of place on the litter-strewn street as a wharf rat in the mayor's office, but that didn't stop it from being there. I waited as The Chauffeur scanned me with whatever he had for eyes behind those dark glasses of his, then smiled and entered the limo's dark interior.

  Having grown up among the concrete alleys of Seattle, I thought of class as something you escaped from during the day. Despite my absolute loathing of anything and everything Etienne La Plante did and was, I

  4I've always thought The Chauffeur was a dumb street name. Usually, in street names, you want something that suggests you're on top, like Tiger or King Cobra or something slick like that. Wolf, maybe, even. But The Chauffeur? I guess he liked it because he thought it made him sound like he was going places. still had to admit he looked classy. His double-breasted suit was cut from cloth of silver, yet-if possible-did not look ostentatious or flashy. His wavy white hair had been perfectly cut and combed, giving me the impression that I'd stepped into a boardroom for a long-planned meeting.

  I settled into a velvet seat so comfortable I could have died happy in it, especially if the woman seated next to La Plante gave me another one of her I-want-to-have-your-baby-or-at-least-try-hard-at-it smiles. In the armrest at my left hand sat a frosted mug of beer-the half-empty bottle next to it proclaimed it to be Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve.

  Very good, Etienne. My favorite. Is it true that you bought the brewery because you heard one of Raven's men loved the stuff?

  La Plante refrained from offering me his right hand, but I didn't mind. If there was any flesh and blood left to it, the silver carapace hid it completely. I noticed, as he picked up his own mug of beer, that the hand articulated perfectly, but thenhe could afford perfection. I'd not heard of any assassination attempts against him, so I had to assume he had voluntarily maimed himself.

  "I would apologize, Mr. Kies, for my underling's actions but, you understand, that was a test." He shrugged wearily. "After the bad blood between Dr. Raven and myself, you can hardly forgive my being suspicious."

  I gave him a quick smile that I broadened as I looked at his companion. "You can call me Wolf." I directed the comment more to the woman than La Plante and waited a half-second for a similar offer of intimacy from the crime boss or, more specifically,her. I continued when he ignored me-she was just being coy, I could tell. "When Dr. Raven was informed that you had become the custodian for Ms. Alianha and was called upon by her elven guardians to get her back, he was forced to make some choices. I am sure you can understand that that negotiation was not the most popular course of action suggested." La Plante nodded sagely. "Former employees can be so, ah, vindictive, can't they?"

  Sure, especially when you try to plant them in the harbor with their feet bound in a block of cement. No one would have figured Kid Stealth would blow off his own legs to escape that little death trap, but he did and survived. When your time comes, the timekeeper will be wearing shiny new legs and will move faster than even you remember.

  "You heard our offer. You get the Fujiwara shipment schedules for the next six months in return for the girl. We'll burn you a chip. We can do the exchange tonight."

  La Plante's nonchalant expression remained rooted on his face. "You have a decker
good enough to get into Fujiwara that quickly? We're talking layers of protection-psychotropic 1C, defensive and offensive knowbots, expert constructs, you name it. Enough ice to give anyone a case of terminal frostbite."

  I smiled confidently. "This decker is so hot the only way to stop her is to dunk her in liquid nitrogen and hit her with a hammer. We'll get the schedule for you."

  He hid his excitement at the offer well. "How do I know the data will be good?"

  I sat up straight. "You have Dr. Raven's word on it."

  Where Ronnie Killstar would have answered with some inane barb, La Plante just nodded. "Very well." He leaned over and whispered something in the redhead's ear. As she reached over and picked up my mug, he spoke. "You've not tried your beer. I assure you it has not been tampered with."

  She sipped and returned the mug to its place on the armrest. As she licked her lips I felt an urge to procreate, then counted to ten-no, fifteen-to regain control. "Sorry," I said, and smiled, "but after the Weed, drinking in here just wouldn't be the same. You understand." For her benefit I added, "Maybe another time…"

  The door opened again. La Plante's chauffeur hovered by the door with my gun in hand. "Tonight, Mr. Kies, at warehouse building 18b, on the docks. We will give you the southern and western approaches. I would prefer this to be an intimate gathering."

  "My feelings exactly. You bring a dozen of your grunges and I'll consider it even." I succeeded in getting myself perched on the edge of the seat. "And leave Ronnie at home…"

  La Plante waved my last remark off with a silvery flourish of his right hand. "Do not concern yourself with him. He has been assigned new duty. He'll be feeding fish for the foreseeable future."

  The Chauffeur handed me the pistol, then swung the door shut. I smiled at him and his plastic mask of servitude cracked. "Someday, Wolf, it will come down to you and me. I'll make it quick. I want you to know that."