Sticks continued...

"I do not know this word ironic" Sticks said simply, "But I listen carefully to everything you say. I also listen to what you do not say. You do not say how much you will pay for this job. I have responsibilities, Senor. I cannot take a job like this for your good will even if you give me 25% of it up front. That is the first point." Continuing to look very directly at the sweating older man, he then said. "The second is you will find I do not have a..... generosity of words. If I say it, I mean it. Since you work with accounting perhaps you can tell me which a poor man who drives a cab all day would most like to have, your 5 nuyen tip or the 80 to 85 nuyen he can get in kickback from the 'leggers if you have a good liver or kidney? This is, of course, if you can get past the Halloweeners who wait for you outside."

As the impact of the young man's words hit home, Gillian sputtered, "But...but it's the middle of the afternoon....."

"A time when sharks do not swim? No, Senor. Sharks must swim to breathe. They are always moving. Always looking for slow fat fish." As the older man turned to look out the front of the store he saw a pair of gangers loitering across the street.

"My God! It''s like a battle zone! How do I.....what do we do?"

"We finish our conversation, Senor. You offer me a sum for returning your son. You slot your cred stick to Senor Lisama for 110 nuyen. He keeps 10 nuyen and holds the rest until I pick it up. Then I call a man I know who drives a cab. He will take us to your home. There you will produce a certified stick for 25% of the reward you offer for your son's safe return." "One final thing, Senor. You mention seeing I have honor. This is true. It is called shadowrunning, but I do not hide in shadows or run from the light. If you fear your wife knowing what I am doing, perhaps you should find another to work for you. I am not ashamed of what I am or what I do. If I need information from your wife about your son, she must understand that I am working to reunite your family. And" he said getting very, very quiet, "if the story you have told me is not true, if there is more here than you have sense of honor will see justice for that too."

"So," he said in a more conversational tone, "How much is your son worth to you?"

Gillian looked at Sticks for a long time, trying to evaluate what he'd just heard. "I can't put a price on my son. Like I said, I'd pay anything. I'd walk out there right now stark naked for those...Halloweeners if it meant he would be safe again with his mother." He tried to get a hold of himself before he got too worked up.

"I do apologize if I made it sound like I was ashamed. It's just that my wife is very sensitive right now. I guess I should keep her in the know. I'm just running on empty right now." He took a deep then continued. "I hope I won't insult you with an offer of 8,000 nuyen, plus any extra expenses. I'll pay you half now if you want. And I'd be more than happy to compensate you for getting out of the area. I hope it won't be too much trouble for you. As soon as we get to my home, if my wife's not there. I'll call her to come home to meet you. I'm sure that it would only be logical for you to want to talk to you."

Sticks watched his hands for a moment, thinking...

"Very well", the young man said after reaching a decision. "I am sorry if I have added to your pain, but it would have been wrong to take your money and not have taken the tools to do the job. Here those tools are the data that will let me find your son. Until we are safely at your home, I ask that you do what I say when I say it, without question. It is the only safe way for us to move through the shark waters, yes?"

When Gillian nodded, Sticks signaled the shop owner over.

"Senor......Gerry. May I use your cell phone?" As the shop keeper produced his flip phone, Sticks said. "My client would like to leave 100 nuyen for me. I told him you would hold that amount for 10 percent. Is that all right?" At Gerry's smiling nod Sticks dialed the cell phone as Gillian handed his credstick over.

"Thomas?...Sticks..... I'm at L's..... Need transport.................yeah and you could use a brain implant too..............You wish............So you start the day a little early. Hey, look. Bring my black bag too, would ya?......... Ask my father, he'll give it to you....yeah, biz, so don't take all day.......Pumpkins......Yeah?.... He did? Sounds like a case of Itachi no saigobe.....that's right, 'a weasel's final fart'......You ought to read more, but I'll explain it later. Hurry up."

As he was about to hand back the phone, the young man asked, "Could I use this for a few days, S....Gerry? I can pay...."

"Well...yes, I suppose so, just be sure to bring it back." the shop owner said.

Ten minutes later an ancient Checker Limo pulled up outside of the front door. As the young man and his charge stepped out onto the sidewalk a nasal voice sang out, "Well, well. What have we here?" As Gillian turned towards the sound of the voice he saw from the corner of his eye, Sticks turning the other way. The pair of teenagers in the black and orange leathers, with the wicked looking knives in their hands hesitated at the double of Stick's asp batons telescoping to their full size. Thinking "I can't believe this is happening in broad daylight" Gillian turned to see another pair of blademen had also stopped their approach from the other direction.

"Get in the cab, right now!" Sticks said as the passenger door swung open.

Gillian jumped in and then looked up with alarm as the door shut behind him. Keeping down while sneaking a peek, the frightened accountant observed the tableau of the young man he had just hired waiting calmly for an attack from four larger men with knives. As the seconds dragged on he realized that it was the attackers who were afraid to initiate the violence. He watched, amazed, as Sticks slowly collapsed his baton and returned them to his pockets. When the gangers still did not attack, Gillian began to understand where the young man's reputation had come from. Without saying a word or seeming to hurry, Sticks opened the door and climbed in after Gillian.

"That was.........amazing. They didn't even say anything!" The balding man said as the cab pulled away.

"After what he did Mick the mouth, I ain't surprised they kept quiet. Why that ork had more operations......." The cab driver began, but Sticks quickly interrupted saying: "Thomas, this gentlemen will give you an address. He has had some difficulty and would appreciate a nice QUIET ride home, Wakaru mas?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sharrupa u face. I get it. Drag me outta bed..."

"Nani sono Kagimata. Oe suru hodo busu da yo" Sticks observed in Japanese.

"I look like shit BECAUSE you woke me up you inconsiderate son of a slitch. 'Get my bag, I got pumpkin trouble' I didn't have time to set up my do or nothing. Man I gotta spend the whole fragging day lookin like I just got hit with 10,000 volts all because........"

"What was that address?" Sticks asked loudly.

After Gillian gave the address the ride to the suburbs proceeded in silence.

They arrived at Gillian's highrise building in Tacoma. Moving on some level of professional instinct, the pudgy man slotted 75 nuyen for Thomas and looked to Sticks to see if that was enough. The Escrimador just nodded and waited for him to vacate the cab.

After a quick bantor that Gillian seemed to pick up on about half, Sticks followed the man through the lobby of the Williamson Estates. The front doorman seemed to give Gillian a worried look which the former dismissed with a swift motion. "No cause for alarm, Dan. The man is with me, he is here to help with the investigation of my son. If Sticks should need anything from now on, give it to him no questions asked." The older man leaned in close, obviously more confident in his own element. "No questions."

The doorman, a rather tall ork dressed in a fine suit and sunglasses, nodded curtly. "Yes sir, Mr Gillian. I hope he is more useful than the bloody rent-a-Star." The ork had a thick Welsh accent, betraying his heritage. With fluid motion he held the door open, nodding respectfully to Mr Gillian and to Sticks.

Once in the elevator, Gillian pressed the button for the top floor. "Dan's a very good man. Helped me out of a spot of trouble one night downtown. Quite resourceful. If you do end up needing anything, don't hesitate to ask. He's the head of security for the building."

"And he is the doorman too?" Sticks asked skeptically.

The elevator announced floor 122. "It is the strangest thing, but he says he can get a better feel of the building from there." He shrugged and moved through the doors to his penthouse. "I don't understand it, but I do respect the man."

Sticks followed Gillian warely, taking in everything with each step he took. Smells, lighting, positions of all objects. He allowed Gillian to carry on the small talk for a few moments more. Then the older man asked, "Well, my wife isn't home so I'll call her if you'd like. Otherwise, where would you like to start?

"If you could show me where your son sleeps..." Sticks asked.

"His room is right here" the accountant said as he hastily opened the door to a child's room. Before entering Sticks stood in the door way for a moment. He was fighting a losing battle with his sense of wonder over the quantity and quality of the child's toys. Because he did not want to appear unprofessional, he turned to the corper and said "May I have some time to look around? I wish to think and see what I can see."

"Yes, yes, of course. I'll call my wife and...."

"Please, Senor. Before disturbing your wife, could you take a paper and pen and write down as much as you can remember of what you told the Lone Star. I know this is hard, but you may have thought of some little thing that they did not ask about or some small clue that can be of help. If I have any questions I will ask you."

"Oh, ok. I'll....I'll try to put everything down. Do you think you can...." As the emotions of the moment threatened to overwhelm the father, Sticks departed from the professional reserve he had been maintaining.

"If I did not think I could, I would not be here," he said laying a hand on the man's shoulder. "But I cannot do this without your help. You must be strong for your family. For your wife and for your son. You must keep doing your best. Save your tears for another time."

Nodding as he straightened up, the older man took a deep breath and went off into the dining room. Sticks watched the man depart and sadly shook his head. You cannot fail here, pendejho.The young man thought to himself. He has the look of papa. The look of loss. Of a drowning man. He is not strong enough for bad news, so you must make it good. Breathing an orasyon for inspiration, the young man dropped to his knees and studied the room, Look with the eyes of a child he thought, See the room as he does. If there is a clue, this is the way you will find it.

As he crawled around the room on his knees, Sticks found the smaller perspective helping. The ceiling and the upper half of the room receded into inaccessibility, while the floor and areas under the furniture of the room came into sharper focus.

I must see if the one with the medical skills can work with the computer, Sticks thought as he recognized the prominent position of the desktop unit. I think the magic man must forswear the matrix, but perhaps the other can ferret secrets out of the box. Sadly, a skill I do not have, but it may be needed. If I am to succeed here I will need more skills than I have. I will need many sources of data....hmmmm....perhaps I should have one of the others that the corper has hired talk to the security man. He may have wisdom to keep in touch with his building by acting as doorman, but his job is to guard against people like me. He might be more open with another..... I wonder if the star tried to trace the boy magically. If not, perhaps the magic man from the british bar could find something. Another possibility I should discuss with Senor Gillian.... KINTAMA! I wish I knew more....

After a half hour of peering under furniture and going through drawers, Sticks placed a dozen crayon covered sheets in his black gym bag and went out to check on Gillian.

He found the older man jotting down his account of the night. When Gillian passed him the paper, Sticks set about trying to come up with more answers. There was mention of a Lone Star Lt and some officers coming by to gather information. This same Lt promised a mage detective would be to the penthouse. Only later there was a call to the Gillian house that all the necessary information had been gathered...the mage would not be needed.

In the midst of his study, Gillian mentioned the meeting tonight. "Do you think we should contact the others?"

"Yes." Sticks replied, "The sooner we get moving on this the faster we will be done. Now, you say these lone-stars took down information. Did they ask where your son played, who is friends were, who he sat next to in school?"

When he saw that the accountant was staring blankly at his hands, the young man gave a small sigh and asked "Senor Gillian, have you eaten anything today?"

Without looking up, the older man shook his head.

"How would you like a nice omelet? You can talk to me while we prepare it." the Escrimador said as he helped his client over to the telecomm. "First you should call your wife and ask her to come home. You can explain that you have hired someone to get your son back and that he has some questions he would like to ask. All right?"

"Uh, yes. Yes. I'll call her now." The older man said as he faced the screen. After several minutes of searching, he remembered his sister-in-law's number and punched it in without activating the screen. When he got his wife on the line he picked up the hand set for privacy.

"Hello. Yes, it's me. I'm at home. I've..uh...hired some people to try to find Tommy........I've tried that. They keep giving me the run around. I........I know, but I've got to do something more ..................................................yes. Yes. You're right, it is my fault. If I had........"

As the older man began softly sobbing, Sticks took the handset from him and guided him to a chair. "Mrs. Gillian? Please come home immediately. I have some questions about your son and your husband needs you.........Does it really matter who I am?" the young man said as he replaced the handset in the cradle.

Leaving the older man for a few moments, Sticks went through the cabinets in the kitchen. Finding a large frying pan, sharp knife and cutting board he began his prep work for cooking. When everything had been washed and was ready to go, he turned back to the accountant. He is so much like papa, the younger man thought with a sigh. I must keep him active or his own thoughts will tear him to pieces. I wonder if his wife is doing any better.

"Senior. I will need some help here. Please get me some egg sub and any flavored soya you would like in your omelet."

After a few seconds the corper blew his nose and went to the refrigerator. "I don't have egg sub, but will these do?" Gillian asked as he brought out some genuine Grade AAA eggs. Momentarily stunned at actual hen fruit, Sticks deadpanned "Welllllll if that's all you've got, I suppose we can make do...." causing the older man to smile for the first time since coming home.

The game then commenced in earnest as Sticks called for one or another substitute product only to be confronted with the real thing. Mushrooms, real dairy cheese, Onions, Ham. Gillian seemed distracted from his grief as he produced each item with a flourish and the young man from the barrens feigned disappointment over having to work with food products that he rarely saw and could never afford. While he sliced and diced and worked the skillet, Sticks slipped in questions about young Tommy. Without realizing he was doing it, Gillian talked of the child's love of Soccer, Tommy's ability to draw, both in video medium and with crayons and paper, and of his fascination with Dinosaurs. By listening carefully and probing carefully, the Escrimador developed a more complete picture of his target while simultaneously getting the older man to eat. Just as with papa, the young man thought, happy memories keep the man running, guilt and helplessness cause the machine to stop. I hope I can get his wife to support him and accept his support. These people need each other in this trouble, and I need more info.

It wasn't long before She came home. The two men had actually been talking rather comfortably when Mrs. Gillian screamed onto the scene. "What in the hell is going on? I will not be bossed around by some hired thug who my spineless husband can't stand up to!"The voice was shrill to put it nicely. Sticks was expecting the usual frame that would accompany such a voice, when the not portly figure of a very shapely blonde rounded the corner into the kitchen.

Thomas moved from his stool at the kitchen counter to intercept his wife's assault. "Now honey, give me a moment to explain what I..."

"I'll do no such thing!" She stopped just long enough to give Sticks an imperious look before continuing. "Just who the hell do you think you are, talking to me in such a fashion? I'll have you dragged off by security and deposited into the nearest refuse burner, then I'll call..."

"ENOUGH!!!" The voice not only shocked the woman to silence, but Sticks had been half prepared to draw his asp before he saw that it was Mr Gillian. "You will not talk to this man like that. He was willing to come all the way over here based on my good word to help us find our Darren."

He walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She stood at 5'9", nearly eye level with the her husband. "I know what you're going through, but we need to go through this together."

Sticks turned from the two as they embraced. He could still hear her sobbing apologies as he left the kitchen for the living room. A few minutes later, he heard the door to the kitchen open. Quickly he stood from his seat and faced Mrs. Gillian.

"I'm very sorry for my behavior, Mr Sticks. These past seven days have been some of the hardest in my life." She approached him and held out a hand. Feeling that this was the best way to accept the woman's apology, the Escrimador took it.

"Sticks." When she looked at him questioningly, "You can just call me Sticks, Senora Gillian."

"Sahara, you can call me Sahara." She looked back as Mr Gillian came through the kitchen door. "And you better call him Thomas or Tom." When it looked like Sticks was going to put up an argument she gave the filipino a hard look. Holding up her hand she finished, "This is not open for discussion. If you're working for us, you don't want to get our egos getting bigger than they already are."

The ice broken, the three sat down in the living room. Sahara proved to be as valuable a source of support for her husband as she was a source of information for Sticks. Indeed, she had been the last to see Darren before his abduction. In fact, she had sent him upstairs to prepare for bed not more than twenty minutes before she followed him. That meant that the crime had taken place in the span of twenty minutes. The rest of the evening (-ooc- 2:30 + trip to G home + 30 minutes in room + cook and eat eggs= 3:45 or 4:00 afternoon, IMHO, timelord) was spent having the couple show Sticks the layout of the penthouse. As far as the Escrimador could tell, there were only two points of entry: Through a skylight in the hallway leading to the child's bedroom, and through crawl space in the closet of the master bedroom. Whoever came in, would have probably taken the skylight window...or the front door if possible... Sticks made a conscious effort not to discount anything.

While Sahara tried her hand at reconstructing everything she had discussed with the lone star detective, her husband watched Sticks climb up through the skylight and begin investigating the roof. With a sudden thought he excused himself and went into his bedroom. Several minutes later he returned with a preoccuppied look on his face. Seeing the younger man climbing back down from the roof he asked "Did you find anything?"

"No Senor....uh Tom", the Escrimador replied. "I am sorry, but there were no details that seemed unreasonable to me." Noticing Gillian's look of confusion, Stick said "To find what is wrong, you look for what does not have a reason to be there. If I see 5 members of a gang and then I see a ganger from another group, there is something unreasonable. The 1 or the 5 must be out of place because they do not belong together. There is no reason to see both in the same place. So it is when searching for clues. What does not have a good reason to be in the picture is a clue. Sadly, I did not find anything that is not reasonable."

Returning to the living room, Sticks took several minutes reading Sahara's account. Not only did the woman have a vivid and detailed memory, but she recorded everything including her opinions of the investigators. Sticks was reading Mrs. Gillian's account for the third time went the intercom buzzed.


"Mrs. Gillian, I have a messenger from Lankersham & Donovan down here with a package. He needs your husband's thumb print and retinal scan. Shall I send him up?"

"Tom, are you expecting something from the office?" Sahara called out.

"Hmm? Oh, yes." The accountant replied as he re-entered the room.

"All right, Dan, send him up."

As the woman closed the intercom connection, Sticks asked: "Did you have any deliveries like this just before your son dissappeared?"

"You mean from Dan's work?" Sahara asked.

"Any deliveries where a stranger came to your door?"

"Wellll....... no, not that I can think of..... My GOD! That seems so long ago!...." Seeing the woman sag as the realization hit her, Sticks went to get her a glass of water. As he returned, her husband answered the knock on the door.

Sahara looked up gratefully as she finished the drink and took a deep breath to compose herself. At that point, with some gravity, Mr Gillian returned to the room and removing a certified credstick from the security envelope the messenger had delivered, inserted it into a port-a-reader. After showing the Escrimador that the mini-comps screen read 4,000, he handed the young man the credstick and said "I know we agreed on 25% but you may need some expense money. Please use the difference for that and I will reimburse you when final payment is made."

With equal gravity the young man took the credstick and said, "I have taken your pay. You now have my oath. I will find your son. May I have a moment alone?"

Struck dumb by the intensity of this declaration and request, the couple wordlessly retreated to the bedroom.

Sticks removed his jacket and began preparing himself for battle. After a moment of silence to clear his mind from all distractions he touched the antig-antig at his neck. The silver medallion was small but highly detailed. On the front it had a triangle whose sides were escrima sticks and whose base was a Bonifacio bolo knife. A closed fist was inscribed in the center of the triangle and around the perimeter of the disk were the words gilas, hangin, kidlat. As his fingers traced the Tagalog words for spirit, wind and lightning, Sticks silently recited the orayson that had been used in his family for generations. The warrior's prayer of dedication combined with the feel of the amulet of protection, gave the young Filipino a sense of concentration and inner peace which his father had taught him was called dakip-diwa. This "warrior mind" increased his power (hangin) and speed (kidlat) while reducing any hesitation (gilas). As he always did before facing danger, he turned the medallion over and felt the Spanish script of the single stanza inscribed there. It was the core of his family orayson. "With my mind and my heart, I cherish the knowledge my instructor has given to me, for it is my life in combat."

Reaching into his bag Sticks then pulled out a complicated set of leather and elastic straps attached to an empty holster. Removing his hardwood Escrima sticks from the gym bag, he placed them through two loops in the straps and setting them diagonally across his back, put his arms through the loops of the shoulder holster. When the rig was situated comfortably, he checked his two spare clips of ammo and slid them into the snap down holders under his right arm. He pulled the Ares Predator II, removed the clip, checked the action, reloaded the weapon, safed it and placed it in the holster. After inserting ballistic pads into the front and back of his jacket, he put the garment on. He made very sure that the hardwood sticks were comfortably sitting beneath the concealed Velcro flap on his left shoulder so that he could draw the sticks without removing his coat. He placed one throwing knife in the sheath sewn into his left sleeve and the other in the sheath behind his jacket's collar. He hooked the springblade's sheath on the belt on his right side and slipped a pair of power bars, his credsticks, a tube of super-glue and the monofilament reel into an inside pocket. Carefully folding Darren's drawings, he placed them and Senor Lisama's flip phone into the other inside pocket. Finally, Sticks patted the jacket's outer pockets for the reassuring shape of his asp collapsing batons.

With a last moment of reverence, Sticks took the clean red bandanna from the bag. Carefully, he folded the putong until it was a one inch strip which he tied around his temples. With the symbol of valor and mastery in place, a symbol that he had fought in seven patayan (death matches) to earn, he completed the ritual of preparation by repeating the last line of his orayson: My fighting spirit and soul arise to the heavens, for they are unconquerable. With a single deep breath the Escrimador thought, Now! Now I am ready to do some biz.

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