Ghetto Computers was a red-brown smear of broken glass, circuitry, and feline parts. Jason and Felina gagged at the sight of it when they entered. The stench was unbelievable, a cross between death and excrement, and they could see both flowing in rivers down the wall, across the floor.
“This is disgusting,” said Jason, and he saw that Felina was about to vomit. He pulled her hair back from her face and averted his eyes.
When she was done Jason snapped his fingers for a towel, and an ever- prepared E-kat was over in seconds. Felina wiped the corners of her mouth, nodded a thank you to the E-kat, and stood up straight, ready to do her job. Jason watched her with a raised eyebrow as she went to each technician, demanding their reports.
He himself donned a breathing mask and wading boots before entering.
Derek had done a number on this place.
The walls were streaked black from the explosions of each and every stolen PC. Jason ran his eyes through the charred remnants and detected the bullet that had caused the destruction. He pulled on a rubber glove and extracted it with a specialized pair of tweezers, putting it into a plastic bag. He handed the bag to the E-kat to be tagged and filed.
Then suddenly it occurred to him. If this crime was related to the one before, then it stood to reason that the place might be rigged to blow!
“Has anyone checked the basement?” he demanded.
“No one can stand it,” replied a technician, who was scraping a mat of scalp fur from the wall. “The stink is so bad down there. But we ran a check for a gas leak and it ran negative.”
“Why, what happened?” Felina demanded. She made her way through the pools of matter and towards the basement door. Spatters arced their way across it, leaving a gentle parabola of umber dots. Felina reached a paw down to the knob, grasping it.
“Don’t go down there – don’t open that!” yelped the E-kat.
Felina turned the knob and pushed open the door. A foul stench rose up from the belly of the building.
“YUCK!” Felina gasped, and pulled the door shut again. “That’s disgusting!”
An E-kat tossed her a gas mask.
“Will this help?” he asked.
She pulled it on over her head. It pinched around the ears.
“Sure,” she said, through the muffle of the filter. She gestured for Jason to join her.
The two Enforcers stood before the door to the basement. Felina’s paw was still on the round brass knob. Slowly and with resignation she turned it, pushing the door ever so slightly ajar. The rest of the kats in the room began to gag, but the masks kept back the stench.
Jason switched on his mask’s head lamp. The light shone down the stairs and into a field of blackness. The pair squinted against the dark as they made their way cautiously down the stairs, the junior officer in the lead. The steps creaked beneath their feet. Some E-kats donned gas masks and crowded the door, watching them intently as they entered the place where but one kat had gone before – and lived.
“Creepy,” Jason commented, looking about.
The walls were cement, blue gray, cracked. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling like a dead hippie’s beaded curtain, caked with dust and the cocoon- graves of the spiders’ victims. The light reflected dull from them, dispersed and dimmed, the lumens lowered. Jason stepped lower, down another stair. He swung his head to the opposite direction – and saw everything he needed to know.
Behind the thick sheets of spider-silk and the crumbling layer of concrete stood a wall of bricks, and beyond that, the sewer line, ruptured, spilling its vileness into the room. A rat, caught in the unexpected lack of darkness, stood up on its hind legs, squealed, and scurried away. Jason stepped down off the last step and into the sepia septic sludge.
“No, don’t!” Felina snapped as he stepped, and he whirled around to her, only to catch her off guard. The temporary blindness she experienced caused her to misstep and fall face-forward to the ground. She caught herself elbow-deep in the stuff.
“JASON!” she screamed, and two E-Kats clambered down the stairs to help her. They lifted her to her feet and tweezered off her long gloves, to which, fortunately, the slime-reach had been confined.
“Never look at someone with your headlamp on – and don’t go walking in that crud!”
Jason, this time, kept his face to the wall. He walked towards the chasmic opening and looked around at it, finally climbing inside of it.
“Where are you going?” Felina demanded, pulling on another pair of rubber gloves. Her words were jumbled.
“What?” Jason called back, but his voice was lost in the tunnel.
He looked both ways like a child at an intersection, wondering which way whoever had gone. It was impossible to tell. Either way led to an unending labyrinth of tunnels, any of which this monster could have taken – or even still be in. Hopeless. He turned to leave the tunnel, examining the blast scars on the exit. This was a thick wall. Whatever had been used on it had possessed some advanced ballistic technology. He didn’t know where to get that sort of weapon outside of the Enforcer factories. His suspicions and intuition began to formulate an idea.
Felina was wading towards him. He didn’t see her as he was looking at the walls. Power outlets – where were they? Not submerged, as this was a basement – and the fuse box – it was just as he suspected.
He saw her and she held her arm up to shield her eyes.
“Who lived down here?” he asked.
“I said, ‘Who lived down here?’”
Jason tore off the mask in frustration.
“Someone lived down here,” he pronounced. Then the stench hit him, and he nearly collapsed. Felina caught him by the arm and dragged him to the stairs, where the E-kats helped the two up to the main floor, whose disgusting disarray had been diminished by that of the sewer-basement. The spattered door was shut behind them, and Jason gasped for air, only to be graced by the stink of death. He staggered outside.
Felina was close behind him as he slumped down gagging on the stoop amid a throng of flash-bulb armed photojournalists.
“You all right?” she demanded as he nodded, still catching his breath.
He gulped. “I think… somekat… was making weapons down there.”
“Weapons?!” shrieked a reporter, and the crowd began to roar.
An Enforcer she-kat with light hair blew on her whistle. “Back off!” she shouted, and Felina dragged Jason back into the building by his ear.
Inside, she pushed a gas mask under his nose and strapped it around his head, then threw a switch on his unit.
“Com link,” she explained. “Old model.”
“Ah,” said Jason, but before he could express his relief, she pushed him backwards toward the wall.
“You just leaked your ‘insight’ to the press!” she roared.
“But it’s true!” he protested. “Honest!”
“That doesn’t matter – it’s in the papers now.”
“That may be just what we want.”
Felina was getting sick of him, and rapidly. She had difficulty dealing with those whose minds worked differently from hers, especially when their mode of expression dealt only in ambiguities.
“Felina, listen. I think that we’re dealing with more than one creep in this investigation. I think this was their base. Look at it! I mean, stacks and stacks of circuitry – and access to stolen technology. *Something* blew a pretty decent sized hole in the wall down there, but it’s far gone now. Our toms are on the run.”
“Listen to you? I mean, listen to you! Your ideas are crazy!”
“We may be dealing with a mole.”
“Right. Look, the guy at the retirement home – he had the access code for the lock, and for the video surveillance. Or did he? I mean, did he just have the Enforcer override?”
“An alarm would have gone off.”
“A silent alarm – and if the crime took place after hours, which it did, there’s no guarantee that the kat on duty was awake to see it.”
“So let’s say we check the records, and there was a silent alarm that did, in fact, go off. What evidence do we have that he was involved here? I still don’t see any correlation.”
“That is left to Intel. What do we have on this place? Does anybody have the file? Besides, think about it. How many stealth killers do we have in this city? Come on, let’s wrap this thing up. There are some questions I’d like your uncle to answer.”
Felina looked at Jason, studying him. He seemed completely convinced that he was right. His brow was furrowed and his eyes serious. She put her paw on his shoulder.
“Hey, you’re the one who specialized in investigation,” she said, and he smiled broadly behind the mask.
“All right, everybody, wrap up,” he announced. “But just to be sure, I want somebody down in the basement. That’s right. Filter that stuff out, I don’t care how you do it, but if you find ANYTHING down there, I want it on my desk within the hour!”
“On your desk?”
“It’ll find me.”
The pair walked out the door.
* * *
Calico Briggs could feel the tension in the air as she sat across the desk from her would-be boss, the mayor of MegaKat City. His eyes shifted, somewhat furtively, back and forth from her to the kat seated beside her. David Cole was his name. He was dressed head-to-toe in designer clothes, a fact which betrayed his moneyed status. His parents were the wealthiest kats in the entire city, and had paid his way through law school. In fact they had also paid for his three houses, four cars, and, although Mayor Manx didn’t want to admit it, this interview.
David was certainly handsome, that was certain. His looks mirrored his purchased credentials. His fur was neatly trimmed, his eyes a cool blue, and his jaw finely chiseled. One could tell that, aside from the mansions and beach houses of the MegaKat elite, the gym was his favorite place to while away the hours.
In his blue silk suit he defined the term “she-kat’s tom.” Absolutely nothing about him was out of place; he had no errant strands of hair or unsightly creases at his elbows. His tie was worn perfectly straight and the collar of his shirt was starched stiff.
And yet… there was something about him which greatly unnerved the aging mayor. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he had narrowed it down to one of three possibilities. The first was the extreme confidence with which he had come to this, the final interview. The kat must have felt that he had already secured the nomination.
The second possibility, which sprang quite readily to mind, was the way Mr. Cole liked to flaunt his money. He often arrived to work in a jaguar convertible – a different color every day. When the mayor’s limousine was late, Mr. Cole whipped out his cellular phone and before the mayor had time to tell him that that wouldn’t be necessary, a sleek black helicopter landed in front of them. Inside, the mayor found that the floor slid away to reveal a Jacuzzi, and that in the center, there was a holographic television to watch on the trip. Not only that, but Mr. Cole had even procured wine of a most excellent vintage, and served it to him in a crystal goblet. While that had been a pleasant experience, to be sure, the mayor couldn’t help but think that in some way, this kat had no understanding of the value of a dollar or a hard day’s work.
And the third possibility, and the most likely, was that Mr. Cole never stopped smiling. He never did. Not even when he corrected the thousandth kat as to the proper way to address him – “Your lordship, Mr. David Cole”. Not even when the paparazzi swooped down in hanggliders to snap his picture, or veered in front of his limousines to get him to stop for some candid shots. Never.
So here he sat, his lordship, Mr. David Cole, arms folded, knees together, slightly relaxed in the mauve plush chair provided for him. He looked over at Callie with a trace of a twinkle in his eye. He had always had a weakness for her, the one girl he could never have. It didn’t matter to him that she wasn’t “rich.” No, he would show her the time of her life anyway, up in the air on one of his luxury jets – or, if she preferred, on the ocean on the pleasure deck of one of his yachts.
Callie herself was feeling just as confident. The mayor had taken quite a shine to her. The times she had accompanied him on trips had been some of the most enjoyable moments in Manx’s life, although not in Callie’s. She was obviously as capable as Rogers had been. On top of that, she was certainly a good deal more attractive.
The mayor liked Callie. She was attentive and confident, as well as aesthetically pleasing. Her practice speeches were remarkable. Unlike David Cole, she was willing to take over Manx’s appointments without even a day’s notice – and she still managed to look good when she showed up to work at 4:30 in the morning so that the mayor might have his speech written before he teed off.
This morning, Callie was wearing blue, just as her opponent was. Hers was a soft chiffon dress with matching pumps. The dress had a bateau neckline that emphasized the delicate beauty of her neck and shoulders. The hem was at her ankles, and the drape of the dress allowed it to dip farther in the back. She wore her hair down – another attribute of her of which Manx was especially fond. He was a sucker for blondes.
Oh, but such was the mayor’s dilemma! If he chose David Cole as his deputy mayor, the rich Cole family might contribute to his campaign. He would be guaranteed to win elections until he died of old age or Alzheimer’s or whatnot. And he would have private jets, private yachts, private mansions all to himself – tax-free gifts that he would die to have. Perhaps even… his own “galf carse”! And yet – he would have to do his work himself. He would have to write his speeches himself, draw up the budget himself, approve ordinances himself, attend events himself – all of this was beyond horrible and certainly not what he had in mind.
And yet, if he did not choose David Cole, he would lose the family’s support. He would not have the private luxuries or the bahaman vacations. He would not have the expensive electoral campaign, replete with television spots and 50 foot billboards. But he would have Callie.
She was an asset in myriad ways. Lovely, devoted, brilliant, and a hundred times more talented than Cole. She was the logical choice, but it was a sacrifice play. He couldn’t form the words to state his decision. He couldn’t even tell what it actually was.
“Mayor Manx?” Callie asked at length. “Are you all right?”
The mayor sighed and looked at her weakly.
“Of course he’s all right, he’s just gathering his strength. Why, he’s as fit as a fiddle, aren’t you, old boy?” laughed Cole.
The mayor looked over to Cole.
“I give up. I can’t make this decis-iann,” he said.
“It’s simple, chum. But then, you must be exhausted. Perhaps lunch will find you feeling more loquacious – my treat,” he offered, rising.
“Mr. Cole -” Callie began, but he silenced her with a gesture, and offered her a paw out of the chair. She took it and rose, but he refused to release her. The mayor stood up from his chair, watching them.
“Miss Briggs,” Cole purred, and bent to kiss her paw. Her eyes narrowed as she watched his lips lower – and then the phone rang.
She turned away and withdrew her paw. His lips missed their target as she lifted the receiver to her ear.
“Mayor’s office, Calico Briggs speaking… urgent? Surely… an hour? make that two… the mayor is busy…”
Cole had recovered and was now leaning over her, his face next to hers as she spoke into the phone.
“You said Commander Feral is in a meeting now, and that will take him an hour. Then he can wait another. The mayor – …yes, that is what I said. we will see you then.”
Cole had taken the end of Callie’s tail and was holding it up beneath his nose. When she looked at him he smiled and kissed it. She set down the receiver abruptly.
“Mr. Cole.” She pulled her tail out of his grip. “We have two hours for lunch, and then we are to travel to Enforcer headquarters. The mayor has been requested to meet with the commander regarding the matter of the recent murders.”
“Oh, how ghastly! And after eating – surely, those rough fellows have no consideration.”
Callie turned to the mayor, ignoring Cole’s remark.
“Shall we, Mayor Manx?”
The mayor smiled.
Callie and the mayor left the room, with Cole following close behind, cel phone in hand, making a reservation for lunch that only he could ever have obtained – or so he had become very fond of saying.
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Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.