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    Having given up on the early morning attempt to make sense out of my life, I went to the convenience store to pick up more coffee and cat food. Then I tried to go back to sleep without much success, woke up from a vague doze to the sound of the phone ringing. From Scott's half of the conversation, I gathered that Winters wanted us to help us with a bust scheduled for that evening—an informant had tipped them to a meeting of the remaining tong leaders, and with one of the Wuxia still missing, she wanted us along as backup. Sure, why not.
    I've started opening the newspaper with a certain amount of anxiety these days, but no new murders were announced. The headline was the latest Kennedy scandal, and the article on our recent activities was strictly factual in nature, rather than the gush of praise we've gotten used to over the past few months, a couple of paragraphs on the front page, the rest buried in a back section. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually; they're getting used to having us around. Ms. Shapiro's column, on the other hand, attacked us (again) for the huge amount of damage done to the city since our arrival. And someone, maybe at the hospital, had made her day by passing along a choice tidbit from Hans' interrogation of the Wuxia: "You have to understand, all of us are your fault." The fact that she knows nothing with which she can back this up is apparently not her concern. Misuse of government funds, threats to the general populace, all-around incompetence... the usual crap. Can't wait for the next edition of her show. She's promising a big surprise and far more damning information than she has presented to date. I'm starting to agree with Lucky's opinion of this woman.
    Continuing my survey, I found another article mentioning that legal action is still moving forward against reputed Mafioso Vincent Guiliani, who has regained intermittent consciousness. His lawyer has already arranged for him to be moved from the hospital (under bail, mind you) and out to his house on the Cape, where he will remain under the care of his private physician. Looked like it was going to be a great day.
    Lucky, I gathered, was still with Chandler, and Hans was already out, having finished his morning workout and gone hunting for Blood Boards. I set the paper aside and poured a third cup of coffee, headed downstairs. Funny how those four hours of sleep hadn't done the trick.
    "Hey, Needle." Scott turned what I presumed was currently his head in my direction.
    "Should I wait for another cup of coffee?" he inquired politely, assessing my tone of voice. He's always polite. Always cheerful. Should ask Dr. Scott how he did it.
    "No, what's up?"
    "I just thought you might like to know that the guy we think is responsible for killing everybody who was involved in Lucky's case, used to work for SysGen as a biophysicist."
    "Oh," I said carefully. That was disturbing news on a number of levels. For one thing, it suggested one very, very ugly (if somewhat incredible) hypothesis as to how the killings were being done by a man in a mental hospital. And this sudden evidence of a connection between my creators and Ellis' murder went a long way toward resurrecting my initial fear that he had been killed because of what I told him. There wasn't time to investigate it just then. We headed over to the station to see about Winters' request for assistance.
    "So, um, how much do the police know about, er, you?" Scott asked me somewhat gingerly on the way. He must have figured out by now just how touchy I can be on the subject. "And SysGen."
    "Reilly knows everything. No one else knows anything, as far as I know."
    "Ah. I was going to say, we should probably tell Winters."
    "I would really rather not do that." In fact, the thought brought me rather too close to panic. What if they killed her, too? What if she was already one of them?
    "It's kind of hard to explain that I know SysGen is important if I don't explain why I know SysGen is important," he pointed out logically.
    "Let me think about it," I evaded.
    "OK," he sighed.
    Winters met us in her office, her usual briskly competent self. Avoid authority. "What's up?"
    "You were looking for people to go along on that bust?" Scott inquired.
    She nodded, settled back into her chair and gestured for the two of us to be seated. "We're figuring things out, looks like there's going to be some kind of organization of the people who are going to try and rehash this. We have one covert operative who has figured out most of what's going on, but there's going to be a meeting tonight, around six o'clock. We don't know whether they've got any variants or not, I'd like have as many of you there as possible to make sure that we get everyone. Swoop in, clear the place out, that's that. The people you put away the other night already eliminated a lot of the upper management. This is the middle management making their move, and if we can eliminate them the whole situation becomes a hell of a lot easier to control."
    "OK," Scott agreed. It did make sense.
    "I mean, we could just go in with a standard SWAT team, but having you guys along is major extra firepower. And do you believe they buried you on page fourteen? I'm pissed!" she added.
    "As long as they're not trashing us, I'm happy," I shrugged, noting the photo of Ms. Shapiro on the wall, which was apparently seeing heavy duty as a throwing knife target.
    "She's allowed to freely express her opinion, I'm allowed to freely express mine," she grinned wickedly, noting my glance.
    "I suppose she doesn't ever come around here for an interview, or something?"
    Winters laughed. "No, I don't think she operates on a level that gets anywhere near to facts. They might get in the way of her opinions."
    "She usually knows what happened, she just doesn't know why." And no, I have no idea why I was standing there defending the woman. She's a disgrace to her profession at best, and I suspect she could easily become dangerous, given the proper situation.
    "Oh, we've got officers—you tracked down this—you knew Washington was going to be the next target, not sure how but you knew. Hess is still in the hospital."
    Hess had been guarding Washington. "Mind if we go talk to him?"
    "Fine, but we've got the fourth person, Mark Berault. He's part of Lankowski, Berault, Glass, and Jones. We've got police with him right now, I don't know whether you want to talk to him or not."
    "Eventually, yeah." As the only target still living, he might be able to shed some light on Mr. Javelin's means and motives.
    "Have you figured out what...?" she started to ask with a puzzled look. "I still haven't gotten any word back from Lancaster on what those chemicals are, but I'm willing to bet that as soon as we get the coroner's report on the one that Hess shot we're going to find the same chemical byproducts in her system."
    "I have a hunch on that," I told her. "We'll see if it checks out." Javelin had worked for SysGen. I'm willing to bet that if they tested me they'd find the same stuff in my blood. Lancaster is about a three-hour flight away; if nothing else happened, I figured, I might even make it down this afternoon.
    "All right, do whatever you feel is necessary."
    "Six o'clock tonight, then."
    "Yes, it should be really simple—swoop in, disarm 'em, lock 'em up. We can get them on a whole bunch of conspiracy charges, and it's a move, in any case, before they get a chance to organize themselves."
    "We'll meet you here beforehand?"
    "Yes. Try to be here around five-fifteen, five-thirty."
    "Will do." We left her office and I glanced at Scott. "Shall we go talk to Hess?"
    I swear he chirps. And I'll admit to a bit of envy. I've had enough of these damn mood swings over the past couple of weeks; it's like I've gone from being depressed all the time to being really depressed some of the time and weirdly... not exactly happy but sort of "up" the rest of the time, even though I'm pretty sure I don't have any reason for it. It's almost more like a chemical lift than a normal mood, or what's been passing for normal since February, and it's actually starting to worry me a little. Like I needed something else to be worried about.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson