Tempo. A new drug on the streets. Supposedly, it allowed astral perception, as well as all the benefits of good old PCP crack. Beyond these things, Crimson had been unable to find much out about the drug. It was too early to know what the side-effects were, hiw addictive it was or whether it might just be a passing craze.
Nobody knew what would happen should someone already capable of astral perception were to ingest it. Not really something you wanted to mess around with.
The familiar tone of her commlink calling for attention distracted her from her thoughts. It was Arthur. By the look of things he had also called Suit and Colara. He must have found a job.
“Morning all.” He sounded much more cheerful than he ususally did at 10.00 am. Crimson took this to be a bad sign. The four had been a team for almost three years now and had come to rely on each other. This did not mean that things always went smoothly. Arthur still took some kind of perverse pleasure in making her uncomfortable. He never spent anywhere near that kind of energy winding up Suit or Colara.
“Morning Arthur.” she said as she braced herself for it.
“Guys, I’ve been approached with a job.” and with a broad grin “guess where we’re to meet the Johnson. You’ll love this one, Crimson.”
Could only really be one or two places if Arthur was this happy about it.
“A brothel?” she guessed.
“Ooh, so close, yet so far. No, we’ll be meeting Miz Johnson in Ticklers down in Boscombe.”
Not a brothel, but a strip joint. By all accounts, one of the slightly more reputable ones. She was very unsurprised to learn that Arthur was a regular there.
Determined not rise to his bait she asked calmly “What kind of time are we meeting her?”
“Guy said about eight. Here, maybe we can get there a bit early and you can give us a dance.”
“You couldn’t afford me, little man.” and she disconnected.
In the past three years, the team had built a reputation for themselves as a professional outfit. This had allowed Crimson to maintain her chosen lifestyle. The other three were more or less unchanged, as well. Suit was still inscrutable as ever, Colara, despite the money they made on their runs was still desperate to move out of the less salubrious part of town her house/garage was in. Crimson could sympathise, she had been in the same situation not too long ago. That was the main reason she had agreed to turn over the cash they had made from the sale of the C-12 to her after their first run.
Arthur, well, he was still Arthur. Metahumanity was known to have several basic needs. Arthur was the only person Crimson had ever who seemed to live on sleaze.
Still, they worked well together and watched each other’s backs.
He had been thrilled when she presented him with the combat axe she had had customised for him after he had saved her skin from the previous owner, a troll with a very bad attitude.
Crimson would have been willing to bet that “Bloody Mary” shared his bed, if she could be sure that Arthur actually slept.
There was not much to do until Colara picked her up to head to the meeting, so Crimson spent the day relaxing and reading.
At seven pm she donned her Actioneer business suit and went to meet Colara when she arrived in her van. She had already collected Suit and they swung by Arthur’s haunt.
Colara parked her van, imaginatively named “Vanessa”, up and they walked the short distance to Tickler’s.
Outside the neon-lit establishment two trolls in ill-fitting suits were employed to keep out the undesirables.
Arthur strode up and greeted them by name.”Benny! Pork! How you doing?”
“Arfer! Doing fine thanks. How bout you?” the troll called Pork patted the dwarf on the head. “Come on in.”
Benny looked at Arthur’s companions, stopped when he came to Crimson.
“You here for a job, love? Not sure about the costume. Might go down well with the corporate types.” He and Pork laughed as if he’d just made the best joke ever.
“Maybe, should be safe, if all staff here are eunuchs.”
At this point Arthur ushered the team in, before the bouncers figured out what that meant.
Inside, he made straight for the bar. The barkeep greeted him. “Artie, the usual? What can I get for your friends?” He looked as if he, too, was going to make a crack at Crimson’s expense but thought better of it when he caught the look on her face.
“Yeah, the usual, Jake, cheers. Listen we’re here to meet Miz Johnson.”
“Oh, right. Just a minute” and he disappeared through a door at the end of the bar.
He returned a moment later. “She says to go through, I’ll buzz you in.”
“In” turned out to be the changing rooms. Arthur looked like a kid who’s been given the keys to the candy store.
One of the women, dressed in an outfit that appeared to entirely out of lace approached them.
“This way please.”
Arthur recognised her. “Dae? You’re Miz Johnson? I had no idea you did some moonlighting.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’ll have more privacy in here.” she showed them into one of the champagne rooms.
“Please, have a seat.” After the team had complied, she produced three photographs. One was an aerial shot of some buildings, while the others showed two men.
The buildings appeared to be dilapidated, in a neglected area of the town, probably the Canford Barrens.
The two men were dressed identically in bowler hats, long johns and bracers, some form of gang colours, Crimson presumed.
Her presumption was confirmed when Miz Johnson identified the men. “This is Christian Ferdevoegel” she said pointing to one of the pictures “and this is Alec Littletree. They are lieutenants in gang known as ‘The Gentlemen’. Recently these two men have been spending money that is way beyond their means. The job, should you choose to accept, will be to tail these two, find out who their contacts are and where their money comes from. At this point you are not to engage them in person. This is a pure surveillance mission. It pays 5000 NewQuid, half up front.”
“Each?” Crimson wanted to know.
“5000 each?” Arthur exclaimed “that’s a l…” but was silenced when Crimson kicked him under the table. Hard.
You should never accept any amount of pay as good. Always question. Surely every runner knew that.
Crimson tried to recover the situation. “It’s ok. But we need to go to the Barrens, follow these guys around for god knows how long, probably need to grease a few wheels here and there. Still, I don’t have much planned in the near future. How about you guys?”
The other three nodded their assent.
“You’ve got yourself a deal, Miz Johnson.”
“Good. Here’s a number you can contact me on, if you find anything worthwhile.” And she transmitted a number to a disposable commlink as well as the advance payment.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work” Miz Johnson said as she left the room.
As Suit, Colara and Crimson rose to leave, Arthur said “you’ll have to excuse me as well, think I’ll stick around,then head to the Crashed Disc, see what I can find out. Sure you don’t want to hang around, Crimson? Could be fun.”
“Only if they have guys stripping.”
“Sorry, girls only here.” He didn’t sound too sorry.
A little disappointed: “I’ll pass then. See you later.”
Crimson said goodbye to Suit and Colara and called her sister, Jess. Jess still lived in Turlin Moor and usually had her ear to the ground. Maybe she had heard anything about the Gentlemen.
They arranged to meet at the Swan and Tomato as Crimson thought that Bones might have heard something and she could get changed there. She kept a set of spare clothes in her locker.
The Swan was relatively quiet. It was still quite early and no fights were scheduled. Nodding to a few regulars, Crimson headed into the back to her locker, showered and changed into clothes suitable for a night on the town.
She headed back into the main bar area, sat down at the bar and motioned for Bones to come over.
“What do you know about a gang called the gentlemen? More specifically, these two guys?” she showed the troll the pictures of the men.
“This a job?”
Bones scratched his chin. “Don’t know much. Seems that they’re quite new. Up and coming, I hear. Operate mainly out of the barrens and have got some connections in the slums. Seem to be branching out into Greater Portsmouth, as well. Not sure what kind of stuff they’re into. Mainly drug-peddling and protection rackets, I think.
Don’t recognise this guy” he said pointing at Ferdevoegel’s picture “but this one” he gestured at the other one “think I’ve seen him around. Thinks he’s some kind of bigshot, flashing cash everywhere. That’s about all I know.”
“Thanks, Bones. Need to run, anyhow.” Jess had just entered the dingy establishment.
The sisters shared a brief hug and headed out into the Tri-Town area.
The evening passed enjoyably. Jess had not heard of the gentlemen or the two men in question. For most of the evening, she talked about the new man in her life.
Crimson was somewhat dubious about this guy. Jess had a tendency to make very unfortunate choices in men and had got burned a few times. She hoped for her sister’s sake that this one was what Jess thought he was.
Around midnight they called it a night, said goodnight and headed home to bed.
The next morning, Crimson arrived at the Crashed Disc at eight. She suspected Arthur had not been to sleep and tha tshe would still find him here.
She did not particularly like Arthur’s local. Way too much neon and the clientele consisted mainly of tech-head freaks. Most of them were pleasant enough but Crimson found talking to them very trying. Her unfortunate tendency to upset machines was also a hindrance when it came to interacting with the denizens of the Disc.
Arthur was sitting at a table with several other reprobates that frequented the Disc. All of them had that rumpled look that suggested that they had not slept last night. This was diffcult to detect on Arthur as this appeared to be his natural state.
Arthur was tucking into his breakfast, which appeared to consist of a large mug of paint stripper, otherwise known as Joe’s vintage malt, and something charred and unidentifiable, which was probably a mercy.
He paused as she approached and looked up.
“Morning, Crimson. How bout you join us fer a bite to eat?”
Nobody had any right to sound this cheerful after a sleepless night and what Crimson conjectured was enough drink to put an awakened bear to sleep.
With a dubious look at his plate, she replied: “No thanks, no charcoal before noon.”
She sat and Arthur introduced her to his companions. One of them managed a polite nod. The others seemed to be on a different plane.
“So what you got?” Arthur wanted to know in between mouthfuls.
Crimson told him what she had learned from Bones. “How about you? Anything useful?”
“About the same. New gang, up and coming, bla bla. But I’ve asked my guys to keep their ears open and let me know if they hear anything. What do we do now?”
“Think we should wait for Colara and Suit. Maybe they’ve got something we can go on. I left a message on their commlink to meet us here.”
They waited for a while, but neither of their companions showed up.
“Best give them a call” Arthur suggetsed.
Crimson did as the dwarf said, but neither Suit nor Colara were answering their commlinks.
“Strange, still if they don’t show, we get to spend their share, right?”
Arthur’s eyes lit up at this suggestion.
“So, what’s the plan?” he asked.
Cimson thought about it. “I guess our best bet is to check out the safehouses in the Barrens and go from there.”
“Suits me. When do you want to do this?”
“Late afternoon, early evening would be best. That way we can sneak in under cover of darkness later on, if we have to.”
“K. That’ll give me time to pick up some of my gear. Meet you back here at 4.00?”
“If I have to.” she said with a smile.
Outside the Disc, she looked at the time. Plenty of time for a run back to her apartment, a light lunch, shower, change and get back here in time.
Back at her place, she looked through her wardrobe. She didn’t really own much that was suitable for a trip into the Barrens. But then, anything short of full body armour was unsuitable.
She decided on one of her Urban explorer jumpsuits, this one coloured in earth tones. Relatively inconspicuous, while still affording adequate protection.
Neither of them had any means transport, so they took public transportation to the edge of the Canford Barrens. It meant walking from here. Maybe skulking. People who drew attention to themselves here did not last very long.
The first building on the photographs was the old grammar school, near the Heath. It was the closer of the two locations and they should be able to get a good vantage point on the Heath.
They had tried to build on the Heath, but then the Matrix crashes put an end to that project and Canford as a feasible place to live in general.
Arthur and Crimson made their way through the crumbling skeletons of half-finished tenements and onto a ridge on the Heath proper.
From there they could see that the majority of the Gentlemen were clustered around the southern end of the complex, around a building that seemed to have been the assembly hall.
The gangers appeared relaxed, just hanging around. No sign of much activity at all. Aside from hassling a tramp who strayed too close to their turf, they appeared content to stand or sit about drinking, smoking and generally lazing about.
After a while, the two watchers were about to give up, when one of the men, Christian, left the building and headed to what used to be the bike sheds. He had a parcel under his arm.
When he exited the shed, he did so on a monocycle. Crimson swore. No way could they follow that. They had become reliant on Colara to drive pretty much everywhere. Unless.. “Arthur, wake up. Can you follow him astrally, see where he goes, what he does?”
Arthur, who had been dozing off replied “Sure, just keep good watch while I’m gone.”
and he closed his eyes and his body went limp as his spirit left to follow the ganger.
For the next half an hour, Crimson watched the former school and waited for Arthur to return. Then she heard a noise nearby. See turned slowly and saw several creatures size of a spaniel coming out of the undergrowth. A pack of devil weasels. The awakening had taken the weasel, an aggressive animal by nature anyway, grew it made it even meaner and had caused them to hunt in packs.
They did not ususally attack metahumans, but you never knew how hungry they were.
Very slowly, Crimson got up and grabbed Arthur’s collar, then backed away slowly, dragging Arthur’s body along with her.
It was at this point that Arthur returned to his body. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was being moved away from a pack of mean-looking mustelids.
“What the..?” he exclaimed
“Shut up.” Crimson hissed at him. “Let’s just keep moving away slowly, ok? Remember I don’t have to outrun them, just you.”
She continued backing away from the weasels. They watched the elf and the dwarf go with way too bright eyes, evidently that they were more trouble than they were worth and scurried off back into the brush.
“Close” Crimson muttered “Did you find out where he went?”
“Sure did. Nothing particularly useful here, though. He visited several bars around the university campus, Jumping Monkeys, Spikey Unicorn, Sticky Vicky’s and the Green Lantern. Seemed like he was peddling drugs to the students. Didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. Went about it in a half-assed manner. Like he didn’t need to be doing it.”
“I suppose that’s at least something” Crimson mused “maybe his drug-peddiling is a cover for where his cash is really coming from. Let’s check put this other building and see what we’ve got then.”
They made for the gang’s second safehouse, this one a low-rise apartment building. The picture was more or less the same. The Gentlemen seemed to be loafing about, not really up to much.
Crimson was starting to get frustrated. “This is going nowhere. Let’s see if we can’t find any other denizens around here. Maybe they know something.”
A brief search found a tramp asleep in a newspaper cocoon in a nearby building.
Arthur prodded him gently.
The filth-encrusted man leapt up, instantly alert.
“What the hell do you want?”
Crimson decided this was more like Arthur’s sort of person and let him do the talking.
The dwarf produced a hip flask and offered it to the transient. “Have a pull on this, friend”
The hobo took the offered flask, twisted the cap off and drained it in one go. “Ahh, haven’t had a good vintage like that in years.”
The ‘Vintage’ was all of two days old, Crimson guessed.
“Now what do you want?” the man asked, now a little less suspicious.
“What do you know about your neighbours, over in that building?” Arthur gestured at the low-rise.
“Them. Unpleasant lot. Very touchy. Just got slightly too close and they knocked out a tooth. See?” and he revealed his gums, which, indeed, had a few teeth missing. Although whether that was due to violence or poor hygiene was anybody’s guess.
Arthur seemed to feel sorry for the guy, because he made a few small gestures and the tramp leaped back, his gums suddenly more healthy and even his skin had taken on a slightly more healthy glow.
“What the..? Did you…? Thanks, I feel better than I have in years.”
“Don’t mention it” Arthur replied and produced the pictures of their quarries “you seen these two guys around?”
The tramp squinted at the pictures. “Yeah seen ‘em. Not very often, mind. Now and then. Here, the gang has another hideout around here somewhere. Seems that’s the place where these two hang out mostly.”
“Thanks, buddy. Take it easy.” and the runners left the man’s abode and headed back towards the school in order to talk with some of the locals there.
They found some of the locals in a basement of an abandoned shop, which, judging by the smell, was used as living area, kitchen and latrine by its inhabitants.
Several people, who life had evidently dealt a very poor hand, were clustered around a burning barrel.
A little off to one side, one man drew attention by wearing a relatively clean suit. Indeed, his entire appearance, seemed to be a lot tidier than the other denizens’.
Crimson and Arthur decided to approach this individual for information.
As they got closer, Crimson’s naturally keen eyes adapted to the gloom and she saw that the man’s suit coat showed paint marks and she could see brush strokes on his “shirt”.
Arthur seemed not to have noticed and as they approached, the man turned round.
“Ah customers, welcome. Have a look around. See anythinig you like?” he said in a very cheery voice.
Arthur played along with this ‘shopkeeper’ “I don’t know. What’s good today?”
The man hesitated, a little unsure what it was he was supposed to be peddling. He then recovered his composure, picked up a bent piece of metal and said “This is very popular today.” He held up what seemed to be an old concrete reinforcing rod.
“Hmm, not quite what we’re looking for” Arthur declined the rod “we’re really after some information about those fellows inhabiting the old school, especailly these two men.” He showed the pictures.
“Ah yes. I know them. Fellow enterpreneurs, I’ll have you know. Don’t have much to do with them, they’re in a different line of business and I can’t say that I much approve of their business practices. Bunch of thugs to be brutally honest. These two chaps appear to quite important. I see them around the old school occasionally.
The man rambled on for a bit and it was clear that he was not only hopelessly insane, he also did not have much useful information to share.
Arthur and Crimson said their goodbyes. “Let us know when you have new stock” Crimson said as they left the basement.
“Will do.” the insane tramp waved cheerfully.
Outside, Crimson turned to Arthur. “Poor bastard. What do we do now? Have a look in the school?”
Arthur shrugged “I’m more or less out of ideas. Let me see if I can get anything on the Matrix. That’s if I can get a connection in this place.”
As it turned out he could and he found old blueprints of the school. There was a maintenance tunnel that ran from the main school building to the one the Gentlemen had made their own.
Sneaking on to the premises proved to be easier than they had anticipated. The Gentlemen weren’t particularly alert and they found the maintenance tunnel easily. Arthur made short work of the lock using his autopicker. The exit grate turned out not to be locked and the runners emerged into a shower room.
After having a quick look and listen, they made their way towards the assembly hall, where the gang seemed to be hanging out.
They had almost reached the stairs leading to the balcony overlooking the hall when they heard footsteps and voices of at least three men. Not wanting to attract attention to themselves, they ducked into a janitorial closet. Crimson looked through the vent in the door and saw three men dressd in the ganger’s uniform of long johns, bracers and bowler hats.
They seemed relaxed and were talking among themselves. “Man, can you believe Christian? Totally up the bosses arse” one of them was saying.
“Course he is” another replied as they passed the closet “what with his sales numbers so down.”
They then turned a corner and were out of earshot.
Crimson and Arthur left their hiding place and crept up the stairs. At the top, they concealed themselves behind the railings and watched the gang.
“What was that all about?” Arthur whispered.
“Seems that Christian isn’t doing so well with his drug sales. Yet he still appears to have plenty of cash. Where’s that coming from?”
Arthur shrugged and they continued watching in silence. Nothing further happened and Arthur was getting impatient.
“This is a big fat waste of time. Let’s go.”
Crimson was inclined to agree and they sneaked out of the school.
They were running out of ideas, fast. “Think the only thing left is to hit the bars and talk to a few of Christian’s customers” suggested Crimson.
Arthur’s eyes lit up again as she mentioned the word ‘bars’. “Now that’s a plan with no drawbacks.” he agreed happily.
They made their way out of the Barrens and into the Tri-town district where the bars were found. Th closest one was Jumping Monkeys, so they made for that bar first. It was another one of the soulless chain bars that catered to students. Predictable decor and a very limited but cheap range of drinks.
The place was still busy; it was just past midnight.
They mingled with the students. “Keep your eyes open for anyone looking stoned.” Crimson instructed her partner. “Maybe you can step out into the Astral. See who can see you.”
It wasn’t hard to spot who was on Tempo. Three people, all students by their appearance sat at a table, looking very at ease. They were a male elf and two girls, one elven, the other human.
“Mind if we join you?” Crimson gestured at the empty seats next to them.
The man tried to focus on her, finally succeeded and smiled brightly.
“Sure thing, grab a seat.”
His female companions did not seem as enthusiastic about letting her join them, but said nothing.
He leaned closer to her to be heard over the background noise. “You a student? Don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”
“Sure, but I don’t get out very much.”
“Oh, ok. What’s your subject?”
“Finance and Marketing in Extraterritorial enclaves” Crimson improvised. PoBoMet U was mainly a business orientated establishment and she hoped that he was too drugged to question the made-up subject.
He didn’t seem to notice. “What brings you out tonight?”
“I was hoping to meet Christian here. Need to buy something off him. Do you know him?”
“Chris? Sure thing. But you’ve missed him. Best bet is to be here early in the evening.”
Crimson made a show of being disappointed. “Shame. I was really hoping to score some Tempo off him.”
“Tempo?” he leaned even closer. With what he evidently thought was a winning smile “Listen I’ve still got a bit left. Could share with you of you like.”
“Really? That’d be cool.”
He reached into his pocket and produced a small amount of white powder.
“There you go. Just stick a bit of that on your tongue.”
She took it and made a show of taking it as instructed, but managed to palm it and transfer it to her pocket.
“Not bad eh?” The student commented.
“Yeah good stuff.” she replied as she took the lead from their behaviour.
After some time spent mainly laughing mindlessly and staring at things, the students rose to leave.
“We’re about to move on. Care to join us?” The young man said suggestively.
Crimson considered it, looked at him appraisingly. Nothing special and she did have a job to do.
“Thanks, not tonight. Will probably come back tomorrow though. Might see you then.”
He shrugged and said “Maybe, have a good night.”
Arthur, who had been quiet the whole time, spoke up “What a dork.” he muttered. “What next?”
“Damned if I know” Crimson replied
“How about I phone Dae and report our progress. Maybe she’s got some ideas.” Arthur suggested.
“Sounds good. Otherwise we’ll come back tomorrow and try and collar Christian or hope that Colara and Suit pick up their damn phones. They’d be very useful to have around.”
They left Jumping Monkeys and Arthur tried the number Miz Johnson had given them. He got through to a voicemail and left a message detailing their progress.
After he’d finished he turned to Crimson. “How bout a swift one down the Disc?”
Crimson gave him a look. “No thanks, think I’ll turn in. Catch you later.” and she headed home, while Arthur went to his home away from home.
Crimson met Arthur in his favourite haunt the following morning. Whether the dwarf had spent the entire night there or actually caught some sleep was anyone’s guess.
She was just about to sit down on one the seat that looked the least sticky, when her commlink bleeped. It was Colara.
“Where the hell have you been?” Crimson wanted to know, “we’ve been trying to get hold of you for nearly a day.”
“Sorry, one of the drones needed attention and I had my head in there nearly all day and left my commlink in the other room. What’s going on?”
“We really need you and your drones for this surveillance job, Arthur and I have done all we can without, but have run out of ideas. We’re in the Disc.”
“Be there in twenty.”
No sooner had Crimson disconnected when her ‘link rang again. Suit this time.
“Got your messages. Where are you?”
“The Disc. Where’ve you been, anyway?”
“Busy. See you in a bit.” He disconnected.
Despite working with him for three years now, Crimson could still not figure Suit out. At times he was introvert to the point of being laconic, at others he seemed to share Arthur’s love of life. Arthur, for that matter, was happily emptying his second mug of bathtub whiskey since Crimson had arrived. Someone, somewhere might have known how many had preceded but Crimson guessed she was not looking at that person.
“S’up?” he inquired.
“Colara and Suit have finally picked up their commlinks. Should be here soon.”
“Plenty of time for another then” and he lifted his mug and gestured a the barkeep to fill it up.
“Here, you should have one, as well. Will wake you up a bit” he told Crimson, knowing exactly what her answer would be. He wasn’t disappointed.
After a short while, someone spoke up just behind them. “So what’s the plan?”
They both jumped.
“Dammit, Suit. Will you stop creeping around like that.” Arthur told the newcomer after he finished coughing up the whiskey that had taken a wrong turn in his throat.
“Let’s wait until Colara gets here. Then we won;t have to gi over this twice.” Crimson suggested.
They did not have to wait long until they heard the noise of Vanessa’s engine. It stopped and Colara walked into the bar. She seemed to be in good spirits.
“Finally ironed out the bugs my kit was having.” she said with a meaningful look at Crimson.
“Hey,” she protested, “not my fault I don;t get on with machines. Besides, I barely touched them.”
“Barely is too much in your case, Crimson” Colara said, but she was smiling.
“Where are we at?”
Crimson and Arthur recounted their mostly fruitless pursuit of Christian Ferdevoegel the previous day. Crimson then outlined the plan she’d been working on.
“As we’re out of leads, I suggest that we head back to the old school and see what we can pick up. Colara, we’ll be needing your plane and some way of planting your smaller bugs in there. We should be able to acquire some long johns, bracers and a bowler hat and Suit can have a nose around inside and plant the bugs.” Suit just nodded.
“Good”, Crimson went on “Colara, have you got face recognition software that you can load into the bug to make them follow our two guys.” The bug in question was a centipede-shaped thing about two inches long.
“Nothing easier than that” Colara saod and busied herself making the appropriate adjustments.
“Suit,” Crimson addressed him again “Arthur managed to find some old blueprints of the school. There’s and old maintenance tunnel that leads into the main building. We took that last time and had no problems. From there it’s pretty straightforward to get into the assembly hall. That’s probably the best place to plant the bugs, but I’ll leave the details up to you.”
Arthur spoke up “And if you need to hide, there’s a closet halfway up the corridor. Me’n Crimson had a moment in there.” he leered at her. Arthur was good at leering. He got a flat, unfriendly look in return. She was getting good at those, as well. Still, looking hard at the grinning dwarf, Crimson asked “Any questions?”
The others shook their heads. “Let’s head out then.”
Arthur settled his tab and they piled into Vanessa. Colara piloted the van to the Barrens and they found an empty garage near the old school that the Gentlemen used as headquarters.
“Everybody happy with what we’re doing?” Crimson asked.
“Sure,” Colara was already readying her drones. Suit, dressed in the style of the Gentlemen, nodded and crept off towards the maintenance tunnel.
“Arthur how about you have a nose about in the astral and I’ll head over to that rise and see what I can see from there.” Crimson instructed and started walking up the hill. “Right you are” Arthur replied, sat down and went limp as he left his body to explore the astral space.
Crimson had just taken up her position overlooking the school when Arthur returned to his body and reported his findings to the team via commlink. “Pretty much the same as last time. Guys are just loafing about, not doing much. There is a guy in what appears to some kind of office though. Crimson should be able to get a look at him. One other thing: Tempo has an astral presence. Don’t know if it’s important, but something to bear in mind. Not sure why I didn;t notice it before though.”
Crimson engaged the vision magnification in her lenses and scanned for the man in the office. He was a corpulent man, sitting at a desk in the office, with his hat in front of him on the desk. He was chewing on a cigar and counting something in the safe.
“We’ve got an incoming vehicle” Colara reported “Fancy looking, too. Two guys…, wait three. One of them’s our man, Alec.”
Alec was dressed in the Gentlemen’s uniform with a long coat in addition. Some kind of lieutenant’s garb, Crimson guessed. The other two were obviously bodyguards.
“Suit, are you in yet? We need the bug to head to the office, my guess is Alec’ll be heading there.”
“Yeah I’m in. Bug’s on it’s way. I placed the other one in the main hall. Should be able to see and hear everything in there. Hang on I’ve got a guy coming over.”
“Crimson held her breath as she listened in on the conversation. She hoped Suit’s cover hadn’t been blown. She needn’t have worried. The ganger had only come over to invite a fellow gang member to a game of dice. Suit was good. He slotted right into the role.
Time to check on the bug’s progress.
“Colara, how are you doing. Got to the office yet?”
“Almost… yeah I’m there”
Not too soon either, as Alec had swept straight through the assembly hall and to the office.
Through the bug’s microphone the team eavesdropped on the conversation in the office.
“Alec,” the fat man, who appeared to be the boss said “good to see you. What can I do for you?”
“I need another case” Alec replied.
“Another one? We’ll have to get some more soon, good work” the boss reached into the safe and produced a small briefcase. “There you go. Same as always.”
“Thanks. I’ll get right back onto my buyers.” and he turned to leave, but not before Colara managed to pilot the bug into his pocket. Crimson could have sworn that she saw the little drone somersault into the coat pocket. Colara was obviously enjoying herself.
“Right guys, time to head out and follow him wherever he goes. Meet you back at the garage. Colara can you get your plane to follow him to make sure.” Crimson spoke into her commlink as she made for the van. When she got there Suit had already left the school. It seemed like he’d simply walked out of the front door. Crimson was again surprised how easily Suit fitted into any given situation.
“Let’s go” she said as she climbed into the van. Colara started the engine and they followed the spy drone that was following Alec Littletree’s car.
He had left his bodyguards at the school, a fact that they were obviously not too happy about, but would make shadowing him that much easier. Alec drove straight to Turlin Moor and Crimson could not help a frown as they passed the signs that had promised such a bright future for the area not that long ago. They followed the ganger to a low-rise appartment building that was still in decent repair. He parked his car and went inside, into one of the appartments. Through the bug the watchers could see that the placed was lived in, but looked like it was only inhabited some of the time. Alec threw his coat onto a hook and went about changing into a different set of clothes, much to Arthur’s disgust. The clothes he changed into looked quite upmarket. “Think we may have to swing by my place and fetch a change of clothes for me, so I can follow him where he’s going. I think we’ll stand out if we follow him dressed as we are” Crimson said. “Keep that plane on him Colara so we can head him off later.”
They drove down to Crimson’s appartment building and she hurried in to retrieve a dress more suited to where Alec may be going. Alec, meanwhile was moving, toward the Tri-town area, where they could intercept his path.
“Arthur’s eyes lit up as Crimson returned with her dress. “You getting changed in here?” he wanted to know. “Yes, but you’ll be standing outside. Out!” she commanded. Arthur made a disgruntled face but complied. A few minutes later he was let back in and they moved to intercept Alec’s car. “Hope one of you got that recorded” Arthur said, nodding at Crimson.
They drove to the Tri-town, where Alec had stopped. He was walking towards a cafe named Bruno’s. Crimson had never heard of it, though she was usually quite good at keeping abreast of where to eat or drink and where not to. It looked like another chain franchise that had a shelf-life of six months.
She got out of the van and followed Alec into the cafe. He was sitting in a booth near the back. She selected one close by, sat down and ordered something unpronouncible that turned out to be a milky coffee. Alec was checking his watch, but he didn’t have to wait long before a large black man with dread locks and gang tattoos entered the cafe. He looked very out of place, but headed straight to Alec’s booth and sat down.
“You got the stuff?” he demanded.
“Same as always” Alec replied and slid the case over to him with his foot.
“Good. Here’s your payment.” the man produced a stack of cred sticks, which Alec pocketed quickly. “Pleasure doing business with you.” he picked up the case and left.
Alec stayed a while and finished his drink. Arthur spoke through the commlink. “Got a good look at the guy. I recognise his tattoos. Gang called the Ragers. Mainly orcs and trolls, from the Barrens as well. We got a few good pictures. Will call Dae and see if that’s enough on Alec.”
As Alec rose to go, Crimson paid as well and left the cafe. Exiting Bruno’s, Alec made straight for his car. Crimson was about to walk over to the van when she noticed a group of six men on the other side of the street watching Alec. She recognised one of them. Tony Falaci. Tony was part of the PoBoMet family and he and Crimson had met. He was relatively small fry and had tried to better himself when he tried to pay her to take a dive in a high stakes fight. Crimson had told him where to go. Luckily for her his actions had not been sanctioned by the Family and she only gained Tony’s enmity. Still, it wouldn’t do to let him spot her, so she bent down to adjust her shoe strap. Tony’s gaze went past her, paused briefly on her, although that may just have to admire the view, then continued to Alec, whom the mafia goons promptly followed.
As Crimson climbed back into the van, Arthur said: “Just got off the blower to Dae. She says that we’re good on Alec. Just need to find out what the other one’s up to now.”
Crimson checked the time. Somewhat early to hit the student bars, but they were out of other leads. The student bars turned out to be a complete waste of time, although Arthur seemed to be of different opinion, especially when one of the Arts students asked Crimson if she would do some live modelling for his course. “I’ll think about it” she said and took the guy’s number. “If you do, I think I’ll enroll” Arthur told her enthusiastically.
They left the bars somewhat disillusioned. Colara came up with an idea. “How about I get into the traffic guidance grid and try to track his unicycle? Can’t be that many about and we got the registration.”
Crimson slapped her forehead “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Cause you were too busy making eyes at the college boys” Arthur said, still with the same grin he’d been wearing since the bar.
“What’s this?” Colara, who had missed the episode, wanted to know.
“I’m sure Arthur will tell you in great detail later. Can you find Christian’s ‘cycle?” Crimson replied.
“Already got it. He’s parked outside a B&B called Debbie’s, over Broadstone way.”
“Alright let’s head over there.”
They did. Debbie’s was a somewhat rundown semi-detached house in a middle-class part of town. Several cars, as well as the unicycle were parked outside.
“Suit, can you get in there to see what he’s up to.” Suit, who had obviously had the same idea was already in his chameleon suit and he was donning his gecko tape gloves to climb up the outside of the building. Without a word he slipped out of the van and went round the back of the building.
It was not long before he reported back. “He’s in there with a woman. They’re well… Anyway I’m in the next room and I can hear them from here.”
Arthur got up. “This I have to check out for myself.” Before he Crimson could stop him, the dwarf had got out the van and walked up to the receptionist just visible through the open door of the B&B.
Through her ‘link Crimson could follow what was going on. Arthur was putting on a show of being an obnoxious drunk wanting a room. But then he was an obnoxious drunk. Crimson was very surprised when the receptionist refrained from calling the police and gave him a room key. Sh then proceeded to show him the room. This happened to be the one Suit had hidden in. Luckily, he had followed the exchange and was ready to hide under the bed as the receptionist showed Arthur to the room.
She left and Suit emerged from his hiding place somewhat unhappy about the dwarf’s antics.
Together they waited for the couple next door to conclude their business, but failed to glean much useful information from the talk after. The woman only wished Alec “Good luck tonight and be careful.” as he left.
He mounted his unicycle and drove off, monitored by Colara via the traffic grid. He seemed to be heading for the Barrens. The woman left shortly afterwards and got into one of the cars. Colara was running the ID on the car when Suit and Arthur returned. “Damn, it’s registered to the PMC. She’s a cop.”
“Think he’s a narc?” Arthur mused.
“Possibly. Let’s keep on his tail, see what his move is tonight.” Crimson said.
They tailed him back to the Barrens and they parked up in the abandoned garage. As they left Vanessa to take up their positions, the man from Bruno’s and nine other toughs came into the garage. He strode up to Crimson. “We’ve seen you. Poking your nose into our business.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” she replied calmly “Our business is with those fellows over there.” she nodded at the school.
“Whatever.” the Rager said with a sneer “just tell the Don to keep out of our affairs.
Crimson nearly laughed. He thought they were with the mafia. “Sure. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.”
The ganger was clearly surprised. He obviously had been expecting more opposition, maybe a fight ”... good. Make sure you do.” He turned and left, his posse of mooks in tow.
Suit had changed into his ganger’s disguise. “I’ll have a look around, see what’s going on inside.” he said as he left the garage.
The Gentlemen were obviously more alert and apprehensive than before. Whether that had anything to do with the black van parked round the back or not remained to be seen. Even so, Suit had no problems gaining access to the building. Inside he mingled with the rest of the gang and managed to learn that they were resupplying with Tempo that night. He had not been in the school long when the head of the gang appeared and designated three other gangers to accompany him.
Christian was not among those selected. The four Gentlemen exited the building, climbed into the waiting van and left the old school compound. Colara sent her spy drone after them to keep an eye on them. After a few minutes, Christian left for his ‘cycle and followed the van. A short while after that Colara started Vanessa and followed him.
The Gentlemen’s van drove up Gravel Hill and joined the A31 east. The 31 became the M27 after the New Forest and the van continued towards Greater Portsmouth, unaware that it had company. They finally entered the Greater Portsmouth and wound their way through to the docks. As the team got clsoer to the docks, Arthur and Crimson began to feel unwell. The harbour and dock area was so polluted it had twisted and perverted the astral space.
The Gentlemen approached a large warehouse compound, which, as Colara found out on the Matrix was owned by KondOrchid, AA company originating in South America but had since branched out to Asia. The van was waved through. Christian had pulled up nearby and was skulking towards a building dressed in a chameleon suit. Suit, in similar attire moved to the other side of the building and started to scale it. On the roof, he saw Christian attach himself to a zipline and drop into the compound. Arthur who had been nosing around in the astral spoke through the commlink “Watch yourself, Suit. There are three very powerful spirits in there. I can also see several sentry drones. I’ll guide you through.”
On Arthur’s cue, Suit followed Christian into the compound, dodging the drones and spirits. Christian had crept to a position where he could see the Gentlemen meeting with some Asian-looking men.
Crimson looked at Arthur “Think we’ve got enough? Seems like you were right. He is a narc. Give Miz Johnson a call, see if she’s happy with the work.”
Arthur did as he was asked. Miz Johnson was happy with their work, but not their revelation that Christian was a cop. “A cop!?” she swore. “Listen I’ll pay you 10,000 NewQuid to take him out.” Crimson looked at the team. They didn’t seem very keen. Ignoring them she took over the call “12,000 and you’ve got a deal.” Miz Johnson wavered a little. “You need to make your mind up quick, the window’s closing.” Crimson reminded her. “Alright 12,000 it is.” she disconnected.
“Suit get back here” Crimson told him, “we need to take Christian out.”
“Understood. Think I’ll drop a flashbang on my way out, then cut the zipline. Let the Corporates deal with him. How does that sound?” he asked
“Good plan. Difficult to get back to us then.”
Suit did as he had suggested. On his way back up the zipline he threw a flashbang grenade at Christian and swung to safety, then cut the line.
Christian ran for the zipline, pursued by the guards, spirits and sentry drones. His face turned to one of dismay as he realised that his escape route had been destroyed, just before he was gunned down by concentrated gunfire.
Suit made it back to the van. “Got some proof for Miz Johnson that he’s been taken care of.”
Miz Johnson was indeed pleased with the result and did not hesitate to transfer the outstanding payment to the team.
As they headed back to the PoBoMet, Colara said: “I’ve spoofed Vanessa’s trail in the Control grid. Will be even harder to track us now. Especially considering that he was killed on extraterritorial ground. For some reason I don’t think KondOrchid will be too keen to clear up that particular murder.”
The extra payment seemed to have soothed her conscience somewhat. Crimson was still a little surprised at how reluctant Arthur had looked when Miz Johnson suggested taking out Christian. But he looked more appeased now, as well.
Crimson was pleased with the job. Apart from a few minor hitches, the team had worked well again and this would mean an enhanced reputation and more work in the future.