11 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Meet Mr. Johnson
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Monday, April 13, 2071

2048 hours

    Numbers stepped out of Treehugger's Westwind and adjusted her robin's-egg blue skirt.  She looked around for the rest of her team.  Oswald loitered near the entrance to Elliot's, somehow looking rumpled in his suit.  Charles stood beside his Harley Scorpion and fixed his tie.  Treehugger got out of her car.  She ran a hand over the rear fender.  Her face grew pained.  "Poor baby.  I'll get you fixed up soon.  I promise."

    Numbers stepped away from the sports car.  Oswald joined her at her side.  "She's talking to it again," he said.

    "Maybe if you talked to your car, it'd run better."  Treehugger ran a finger around a bullet hole.

    "I do."

    "I meant talk nicely to her.  She doesn't need any more abuse."

    Oswald shook his head.  "I'm not getting into this tonight, TH.  Let's go.  I understand that the orange duck is good here."

    "Duck a l'orange," Numbers corrected.

    "That's what I said."  Oswald started walking to the door.

    "Who turns a duck orange?" Treehugger asked as she followed.

    "The French.  Coming guys?"

    Numbers hurried in her high heels to keep up.  Charles lingered a moment, checking the shadows for movement, before he caught up with the rest of the team.

    Inside, Numbers approached the host.  "We have reservations under Smirnov."

    The host eyed the group.  "Are you sure?"  He divided his attention between Oswald and Charles.

    Numbers smiled.  "They were made earlier this afternoon."

    The host turned his attention back to Numbers.  "This afternoon?"

    "Yes.  I know, a little late, but it's important.  A little impromptu celebration."  Numbers pulled Oswald into a hug.  "Big promotion and we need to do something special.  You wouldn't want to disappoint, would you?"

    "No," the host stammered.  He looked back down at the terminal.  "Smirnov, you said.  Private room.  Follow me, please."  He led the group towards the back.

    Treehugger leaned close to Numbers.  "Okay, I felt that.  Turned it on a bit much there."

    "The implant doesn't have a volume control."

    "Just don't be surprised if all the couples here have kids in nine months."

    The host opened the door to the private dining room.  "Here you go.  Are you expecting anyone else?"

    "One more," Numbers answered.  "Our boss.  It was his idea to come here."

    "I'll bring him back when he arrives."  The host left.

    Charles entered the room first.  He did a quick search, looking for potential trouble.  Numbers followed him in sending a short-range ping looking for active electronics.  Oswald walked in and sat down.  Treehugger followed Numbers' lead and did her own electronic search.

    "Clear," Charles announced.  He exmained the closest chair.  "This isn't going to hold."

    "Sorry, Charles," Numbers said.  She took a seat.  "Wasn't my choice."

    "Don't worry about.  I'll get the waiter to bring something sturdy."

    Treehugger sat down beside Numbers.  "It's nice.  Other than the chair thing and the host.  Going to slip him your number, er, Numbers?"

    "Please.  Anyone who only listens to me when I pour on the pheromones isn't worth my time."  Numbers sat down.

    Oswald pulled on his collar.  "I hate this sort of place.  Give me somewhere more relaxed."

    "I don't know, Oswald."  Treehugger glanced over at the mage.  "I think you look good in a tie.  You should dress up more often."

    "My old boss used to tell me that all the time, too."  Oswald took a sip of his water.  "Makes it hard to fit in certain circles."

    "We're not in that sort of circle now," Numbers said.  "I could help you shop.  Get you something that fits."

    Oswald leaned forward in his chair.  "Look, Johnsons expect a certain image from shadowrunners, a minimum amount of scruff.  Between you and Charles, we're running a scruff deficit.  I have to make up the difference, bring up the scruff factor."

    "Wait."  Treehugger set her water glass down.  "What about me?"

    "Engine grease is overkill."

    "Guys," Charles started, "look, this is bodyguard work.  We need to be able to fit in."

    "I thought the point of protecting someone was to make it obvious that we'd mess up anyone trying to harm our guarded body."

    Treehugger pointed at Charles.  "I'd think twice seeing Charles beside someone I was after, no matter what he was wearing."

    "You also need people hidden, so that threats can be taken down before they can get too close."  Charles leaned against the wall.  "It's an entire package."

    The door opened.  The host led a middle-aged human with light brown hair into the room.  The newcomer looked at the gathered shadowrunners.  He gave a nervous smile, then took a seat near the door.  "Hello."

    Numbers gave him a warm smile.  "Hello."  She turned to the host.  "Do you have any chairs that will support my friend?  He's worried he might break these ones and that'd just be a shame.  They're so nice looking."

    The host nodded.  "Let me take a look.  Your waiter will be here shortly."  He left, closing the door behind him.

    "Mr. Johnson, I presume," Oswald said.  "Relax.  We're here to help you, if the payment is enough."

    Johnson let out a long breath.  "You're the ones Ms Ganoush recommended?"

    Numbers nodded.  "We are.  She said you needed bodyguards."

    "If you want, we can wait to talk until after we order," Charles suggested.  "Some Johnsons prefer to have a glass of wine in hand before negotiating."

    "That'd be good."

    The waitress arrived with a chair for Charles.  She took orders for both meals and drink, then left.  Numbers waited a few seconds after the door closed then said, "Introductions might help."  She pointed over to Charles, who was trying to fit his legs under the table without knocking anything over.  "Charles, who has done numerous jobs like this without losing anyone.  Beside him is Oswald, our mage.  He has several spells that come in handy, including one to get you out of everyone's sight.  Beside me, Treehugger, or TH as we call her.  One of the best drivers around, can get you out of any sort of jam.  I'm Numbers, hacker.  We have all the bases covered."

    "So I've been told."  Johnson picked up his water glass.  "Ms Ganoush showed me your records with her."  He stopped talking as the waitress returned with the party's drinks.  Johnson took a long swallow of his wine before speaking again.  "I'll be straight with you.  I don't deal with shadowrunners.  I don't like shadowrunners."

    "I understand, Mr. Johnson.  We're not normal employees.  But we do have experience that most people can't get in a corporate environment."

    Johnson set down his wine.  "You don't sound like a runner to me.  Christ, you sound like you're in Marketing."

    "We all come different backgrounds, Mr. Johnson.  Part of the package deal."

    "I was expecting someone more like him."  Johnson pointed at Oswald.  "Dangerous."

    Oswald grinned.  "See?  Scruffy means dangerous.  I tried telling Numbers that."

    "Can you look corporate?"

    Numbers nodded.  "Definitely.  Any corporation you want, or just generic.  Getting the clothes will be added to our price tag."

    "Payment, yes."  Johnson shook his head.  "How much?"

    "That depends on what you need us for.  The more risk, the higher our price."

    "Maybe you can tell us more about the job," Charles said.

    Johnson sighed.  "I need you for three days this weekend.  I don't expect trouble."

    "Actually, you do."  Numbers set down her her wine.  "You wouldn't be hiring us if you didn't."  A knock came from the door.  Numbers paused to let the waitress bring in and pass out the orders.  Once she had left, the hacker continued, "Mr. Johnson, if it helps, think of us as contractors.  We can't price the project properly unless we have details.  I understand that you might not want to tell us everything.  If we refuse, we could spread the word about the job.  Not that we'd do anything like that, but you don't know us and have to take the possibility into consideration."

    Johnson levelled a stare at Numbers.  "You've done this from my side before, haven't you?"

    "No, sir, but I understand the thinking.  Trust is a rare commodity and too easily lost."

    "Tell us what you can, without the details," Oswald said.  "We can give you a ballpark price."  He began cutting into his duck a l'orange.

    "Okay."  Johnson steeled himself.  "The job is this coming weekend, starting Friday.  I need a small team to accompany me to a meeting in the city.  There's a possibility that a third party wants to disrupt the meeting, but I don't have a clue how.  I want to be escorted to and from the meeting with a small presence inside."

    Numbers looked over at Treehugger, who chewed her coq au vin as she mulled over the potential run.  "Forty thousand up front, plus expenses," the blonde rigger said.

    Johnson sputtered.  "Forty thousand?"

    "Total, for all three days," Treehugger explained.  "Expenses include clothing allowance, vehicle repairs, medical, and ammunition expended, if needed.  Considering the cost of getting a team from a company like Executive Protection Services or Lone Star, we're not that expensive."

    "I can supply the vehicle and weapons.  That should be enough for a discount.  Thirty thousand."

    Treehugger worked the math out in her head.  "Thirty-seven five.  We'll be with you the whole day.  We're losing opportunity costs as we focus on your job."

    "Thirty-four thousand.  I'll pay five thousand as retainer now, the rest when the job's done."

    The rigger looked over at her teammates.  "I think we can agree on that."

    "Good."  Johnson returned to his meal.

    Charles cleared his throat.  "Now that payment is covered, I'd like to hear more so I know what to expect."

    "The meeting is inter-corporate, supposed to last three days.  Location will be sent to me the day before it starts.  There's a possibility of outside interference, but the people involved are trying to keep as much as possible under wraps.  You'll pick me up at Federated-Boeing's facility in Everett.  I'll send the exact location for that on Thursday."

    "How many corporations are expected?" Oswald asked.

    Johnson shrugged.  "Again, I'm not privy to that right now."

    "They'll all have their own security teams?" Charles asked.


    "That's going to be a crowded meeting room," Treehugger said.

    "Not everyone needs to be inside."  Numbers took a sip of her wine.  "Might be helpful to keep part of the team outside.  Watch who and what comes near the meet."

    "If I had some drones, I could cover a larger area."  Treehugger looked over at Johnson.  "Can you supply any, even if it's a Crawler?"

    "I'll check.  I'll have all the equipment ready when you pick me up."

    Numbers smiled.  "Excellent.  I believe that takes care of business for now.  We should really enjoy this meal.  I doubt we'll be back here for some time."

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