15 Minutes

Gary 2.4

So it turned out everyone was pretty pissed off with me for pulling the drones after the Hughes hit and getting out of there. Jimmy thought I should have stuck around more, Pierre wanted me dead, Ghost was probably laughing his smug elven laugh at us somewhere, T-Bear had disappeared and Mr. Johnson- well he wasn’t too pleased either. It seemed the only one left who hadn’t declared their intention to hurt me in some way was Lanche but that wasn’t much comfort. Still we had to find him sooner than later as he had Mr. Hughes’ body still stuffed in the man’s car and was being pursued by Doc Wagons.

I sent Lanche a message letting him know he was being followed and that he should ditch the body and car. He didn’t reply- he was probably in the Badlands where there was no matrix signal, either that or he was dead, or wanted me dead. Regardless I wouldn’t be hearing from him any time soon so I returned to scanning the drone camera feeds. I was switching between watching the live feeds I had active; one showed Pierre hurtling away from Cal’s on his bike while the other watched Jimmy sat immobile at the bar inside. The third drone was next to me in the car plugged in and recharging. I flicked through the files it had stored on it and watched the recording of ‘the incident’ showing Pierre blowing our cover (and Hughes’ ballsack) all over the highway. Then the recording stopped. It resumed with a shot of Jimmy, Ghost and myself sat in Cal’s, the time on the recording placed the video as being twenty minutes in the past but the memories of the conversation were still swirling in my head. I played back a snippet with audio:

“We are a team” Jimmy said “And we are paid to control situations like this. Not run away at the first sign of trouble – a stone went through the greenhouse window and you bolted, like a child. Difference here, Gary is that our friends are out there with no eyes-on, no tech support, and a lot of very angry greenhouse owners coming after them”

I was such an idiot! Why did I cut the drones!? The only way these guys were going to trust me was if I upped my game and stopped acting like such a newbie. It was difficult- father had sent me to the best schools in Seattle, I had the common accent trained out of me by elocution classes and had spent my life attending corporate events and parties with the elite of society. I stood out like a sore thumb amid the slums and grimy streets I found myself these past weeks. I never thought it would feel like this- all those hours spent watching the old Runners on the ‘net, practicing on the firing range or in the dojo never prepared me for the fear: the fear of failure, the fear of being caught, the fear of death.

Mr Johnson was counting on me, without my skills this team would be going nowhere, but without this team I couldn’t achieve my dream. We needed each other and we had to work together. As I sat there in my car, parked down the street from Cal’s I started to think. How could I improve? How could I do better? I wasn’t going to fit in with these people, that was for sure- our cultures were worlds apart and I wasn’t about to lower myself to those standards of living. The rain was hammering against the windshield but the sickly neon sign of Cal’s was still visible through the haze, bright reflections dancing in puddles on the dark street. No one was out at this hour, except me and my drones. My drones. That was it- my way in. The only thing keeping me alive and in this group was my ability to command these drones. I had to make them better to make myself better and solidify my position in the group. I had a few ideas but nothing solid, I’d need to start designing as soon as the Dunning-Kruger job was over.

As I thought about this, my gaze drifted to the pict-feed in the corner of my vision. Jimmy sat alone at Cal’s, nursing a beer. Jimmy had told me to get out of the bar and get away while Pierre was there or my life was in danger, but now the Frenchman had left and by the look of the other vid feed he had entered some sort of seedy bordello. The drug addict was unlikely to leave before morning so I was probably safe for now. Even so as I stepped out of my car I made sure my new pistols were loose in their holsters. Just in case.

Jimmy turned on his seat slightly, as he saw me enter. Cal and Jimmy exchanged glances, “Mr. Steele, come and take a seat” he said as I got nearer. He had never called me that before. I walked over cautiously and pulled up a dirty stool next to the man.
“So…Pierre’s gone then” I asked.
Jimmy nodded, “For now, gone to sleep off a nasty downer, I shouldn’t wonder. Celeste will keep him out of our way, until morning at least,” he paused, “Can I get you a drink?”
Wow. I never thought he’d actually buy me one, usually happy to take advantage of my open tabs but to repay the notion… he still had the ¥8,000 I had lent him for the casino job, maybe he hadn’t lost it all as I thought and was instead buying me a drink with my own money. How thoughtful.
Jimmy sighed, “I think we got off on the wrong foot…” he held out a hand, “James”
“Gary” I replied as I watched ¥9,000 transfer into my account from his, more than I had given in the first place. 1K was pocket money but the gesture was worth millions.
“Interest” Jimmy said with a smile. There was a look in his eyes, a sort of smile which spoke of apologies and hope.
“So…drink?” Jimmy repeated. I nodded and Cal brought us over our usual poison. Jimmy had clearly been thinking the same as me, teamwork and trust were keys to our success. It was nice to finally be able to have a proper conversation with him, with anyone for that matter. The last few weeks had been made up of manly grunts, one liners and threats. All very uncouth and uncivilised and not at all to my liking.

We talked.
The way team mates should; as equals. No point scoring, no derision.

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Jimmy 2.4 (continued)
The House On The Hill

Jimmy sat alone at the end of the bar.
A half empty beer bottle rolled from palm to palm slowly; the ritual humiliation of having its label, its tribal colours, systematically stripped from its brown, lithe body was nearing completion. His thumb nail etched down the glass again, carving another deep furrow into the condensation–soaked paper.
At its side, an ashtray sat; a mass grave of stubbed butts and crumpled, torched skins. Those already committed to this fate were joined a second later by another fallen comrade, whose corpse was jabbed roughly into the grave’s glass bottom, then corkscrewed into a concertinaed mess.
The bottle rose to his lips and he took a small sip, before placing it silently back on the bar, amidst the discarded shreds of its own clothing.
He stared at at intently in an attempt to drown out the background noise of the bar. Cal’s other patrons were, largely, leaving him alone, which was good. He still wore the suit he had chosen to play his role in the casino earlier, and as such, looked rather out of place amongst the bikers, vagrants, and low-lifes that usually frequented the establishment.

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Pierre 2.4
The long drive home

As the bike sped into the night I looked back to see Lanche force the body of mister Hughes into his car and drive off. What was he thinking?
I’d taken a few corners and lost sight of him when my comlink signaled a call. Probably Lanche, I thought as I brought the incoming call up in my vision; what the fuck…
The kid? Did he have a death wish or something?
“What the fuck do you want?” I answered.
“Um… Sorry” came the stuttered reply
“You pull your drones leaving us blind then come calling on me like nothing is wrong, I’m going to kill you; you fuck”
“But I just… Lanche has gone off with the body”
“Don’t bring Lanche in to this; you fuck; Lanche can take care of himself”
“Well.. I’m heading to Cal’s” His stammering voice was starting to irritate me
“Fine I’ll kill you there” I cut the call off. Was this Kid really that fume?

As I refocused on the road four bikes pulled up around me; the lime green of the riders jackets matching that of my hair and coat.
Fuck. Ancients.
That’s all I need.

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Jimmy 2.4
The More Things Change...

He sat in silence.
Staring out of the taxi at Seattle’s streets as they raced passed; tall, glass structures and clean, tree-lined streets gave way to garish flashes of neon, filling the window before streaking away, leaving nothing but a retinal memory that they were ever present at all, only to be replaced by the next seconds later. Soon, even those would drop away, replaced by bordered up windows, and a burning trash can on every corner.

Jimmy had spent much of his life operating, by turns, in the higher echelons of the city, being paid to pretend he was born into that world, or had worked his way up to deserving to be there in his own right, only to complete his objective and head back down the social ladder to the dock-side bars, and speak-easies he was more commonly found in.
The irony of this journey, passing him by on the other side of the window, was not lost on him nor was the equally ironic point that, once again, it was Lanche who had pulled him from another world, back into the crushing disappointment of his own life, into the middle of catastrophe.

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Jimmy 2.3 (conclusion)
Hughes (part 3)

Part 3

The staircase which ascended to the private gaming tables was guarded by a large man in a dark suit. He had his unfeasibly thick arms crossed as they approached, but as soon as a successful I.D check had been completed on Cohagen, retinal scan from four metres – impressive tech, he stepped to one side, his arms dropping as he stood to attention “Good evening, sir”, he said formally, bowing forwards slightly.
“Is everyone here?”
“Not yet, sir. We’re still waiting for one or two players”
The casino owner nodded, “Not to worry…I’m sure they’ll be here soon” he concluded, turning from the guard and trotting quickly up the carpeted stairs. Jimmy followed, offering the black clad figure a momentary smile as he passed.

Before he was half way up the steps, he felt something wash over him. Not an unpleasant feeling; not painful or disorientating, just…a feeling. An awareness that something had changed. He had been in casinos like this before and knew the sensation to be a magical ward. It seemed the high rollers tables were guarded from magical interference. Not a stupid policy, but it was going to make his job harder…casting illusions on Hughes’ cards would have been the easiest route to him betting high and losing big, but that was no longer an option; an illusion of that nature would require too much force, he’d never sneak it past the ward…there were other methods though, there were always other methods.

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Jimmy 2.3 (continued)
Hughes (part 2)

“Same again?” The girl asked as he took up a spot at the bar.
“Please,” he responded with a warm smile, giving a slight nod – impressed she had remembered; high class place, he re-confirmed in his mind. Or a quiet night…
He casually watched as she moved from the spirits to the fridge, to the ice box, letting his mind empty for a moment, as she poured the various liquids into the glass with a practiced ease and grace; not wasting a single drop, not needing the measures to judge her quantities, taking time and care to mix them, ensure the blend was to her standards. An artisan.

“You’re out of practice”

The voice broke his fixation and he slowly, almost sluggishly, returned to the present, turning and blinking in the direction of the voice, “Pardon?” he asked, his brow furrowing slightly as he found the old man who had exchanged nods with him earlier had moved up the bar to take the seat next to him.
“I said; You’re out of practice. You lost a couple of hands there you weren’t expecting to…you know, amidst all the ones you threw, and purposefully bet low on”
Before Jimmy could respond, the drink was put down in front of him, “Hope you enjoy it” the girl smiled, “I’m sure I will” he replied, putting some Nuyen into her hand, more than enough to cover the drink. Taking a long sip, he let the mixed flavours of vodka and kahlúa work their way around his mouth before swallowing slowly. No point denying it, the old timer had him pegged. “Well…blackjack isn’t really my game” he confessed with a shrug.
“Don’t sell yourself short” the man chuckled, “That was quite a performance for those kids. And left enough in their wallet that they enjoyed being played…a lot of folks don’t do that anymore…just fleece the rookies and move on”
Jimmy took another sip, “Yeah, well…then the Casino gets angry; costing them clients as well as winnings”
The man gave a knowing smile, clearly impressed by the answer. “Play poker much?”
“I’ve been known to dabble”
Getting off his stool, the man stood next to Jimmy, “We’re having a game later tonight; tell you what…I’ll keep an eye on you for the next hour or two, if I think you’re up to it, I’ll have someone come over and tell you when we’re starting; I’d like to see you there”
“Where?”
The man pointed across the casino, up the staircase at the far side at the high-rollers area, “Be interesting to have a new face there…and I like your style,” then turning to the girl behind the bar he called, “Kelly, his next drink is on me, ok?”
“Yes, Mr. Cohagen” she said, curtsying slightly, the action accompanied by her hands nervously seeking out creases in the front of her uniform and trying to convince them to move on.
Jimmy raised an eyebrow as Cohagen leaned in and said in a conspiratorial tone, “The perks of having your own casino” then ambled off.

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Jimmy 2.3
Hughes (Part 1)

Good Carpet.

He shifted his weight back and forth slightly and took a moment to enjoy the luxuriant spring of the weave beneath his feet. It was an odd association, even he would admit, but the quality of a casino’s carpet told you a lot about the establishment itself. For example, under him was a carpet which looked brand new, despite the Red Dragon having been open for almost five years – vibrant, communist red spread out, unironically, before him in what a more clichéd mind would call a temple of capitalism. A place where money was spent on nothing…on hope: the hope of success.

The American Dream.

The sea of crimson, however, was not uninterrupted. Woven in the deepest black, every few feet, was the Chinese symbol for Luck. A wry smirk passed over his face as he pondered how many clients, customers, addicts stopped to ask who that luck was directed at; them, or the House.
In summary: a carpet which looked this good after five years was of very high quality. It extended out ahead of Jimmy as far as he could see…he couldn’t even guess how much the expanse would cost. It had also been shampooed regularly enough to stop the filth of Seattle’s streets embedding itself into the fabric – again, a costly enterprise on this scale.

This wasn’t a surprise.

Security had screamed of a high class place. No Orcs or Trolls in sight. Many casinos opted for the vulgar display of power as you arrived to ensure trouble was kept to a minimum. The Red Dragon had chosen a far more subtle route – the two gentlemen who had greeted Jimmy as he had entered had been more machine than man. Top grade augments ran through their entire bodies; serious funding had gone into making them the weapons they were….perhaps they were ex-military, or maybe they had worked for someone with real power. Either way, he didn’t let his mind perambulate on what they did with cheats here.

He put a cigarette between his lips and lit it, toking quickly for a few seconds to suck the fire in. Filling his lungs with the hot air, he took a few steps forwards and leaned onto a chrome-topped, glass-sided safety rail and panned his icy blue gaze around the Dragon.

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Gary 2.3
Shit gets real

The rest of the crew were keen on exploiting Hughes’ misfortune. Being the second hardest target on the list to hit, having a momentary weakness was a massive opportunity we couldn’t afford to waste. 

We got to work hammering out a plan. Jimmy would infiltrate the casino where Hughes would likely go to calm his nerves and re-assert his masculinity. Jimmy would use this aggression against Hughes and allow the man to build up a large pot of winnings before subtly manipulating the outcomes of the game so that Hughes lost big. When this happens Jimmy could use his empathic magic to alter Hughes’ perception of events- bring him from the elated highs of victory to the deepest depths of despair in seconds. Affecting the man in this way is sure to have lasting ramifications on Dunning-Kruger’s performance. 

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Pierre 2.3
"I'm going to kill that kid"

It was early when I headed to cal’s.
Too early for my tastes, but the rookie had said he’d found something on the net we needed to see.
Lanche and Jimmy were there already but no sign of the rookie…
Idiot. Getting me out of bed when he’s not even here to tell me why.
I bring one of the bottles of whisky I got on the kid’s tab last night to the table and 4 glasses. He’d show up at some point I guess.
We’re about halfway through the bottle when the kid finally shows up, beaming a grin like the fucking Cheshire cat.
‘This had better be worth it, rookie’ I growled.
Turns out it was. The kid had found some web article on how Hughes had been making a lot of bad business moves of late, getting irate with the staff in the office and on the shipping floor, even hinted at the fact he could be having woman trouble with his trophy bride.
I can almost see the gears in Jimmy’s head start turning. June had always been the brains, but Jimmy could be just as creative and this kid seamed to have some smarts too.
I offered the kid a glass of whisky on me, you’ve got to reward good work after all, and settled back to let the brains do their work.

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Gary 2.2
The Heist

So after digging around and doing a little research, I managed to pull up a list of the names of the major players in Dunning-Kruger. Looking through it, Deaton seemed the easiest target what with him being the BTL head.

We sent Ghost after Deaton who said he’d sneak into his apartment and plant some incriminating evidence using a high-level BTL which Lanche managed to secure for us.

Meanwhile Lanche himself headed down to the docks to meet up with a gang called the Ragers to hopefully stir up some (false) shit about DK being racist. If the politigang take the bait, hopefully we can sit back and watch the fireworks.

While waiting for the Deaton hit and the Ragers ploy to come to fruition, we chatted and drank at Cal’s. I had forgotten to close my tab the night before and the bastards had run up hundreds of Nuyen before I managed to have a quiet word with Cal asking him to close the tab surreptitiously. I’m going to have to be more careful around these alcoholics- they prey on every little mistake I make. I guess that’s why they’re such successful Shadowrunners.

Then an interesting little story popped up on my news feed. It seems that Marcus Hughes has had a bit of bad luck lately regarding his wife, Jenna Halton and some dodgy business decisions which has cost DK money. Now may a good time to strike and break the man’s spirit…

TBC

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