Jason stepped out of Enforcer HQ and heard the bells of a nearby cathedral ring three o’clock. How would he kill seven hours of waiting for Felina to recover? And another, more important thing: how in MegaKat City would he manage to pick her up without a car? He was so stupid.
On top of that, he was completely and totally exhausted. The sun felt warm on his shoulders and he smiled droopily as he walked over to the bus stop on the corner. As he waited he loosened the buttons to his uniform and shirt collar and mussed his hair. When the bus came he dug through his pockets for loose change, and finding just enough, he inserted the fare with a resounding clink into the ticket dispenser. He reached for the transfer stub, then took a seat next to an old lady and in front of a she-kat with a kitten who was crying quietly.
Everyone on the bus had their story, and he thought to himself, for the first though not the last time in his life, that his now ranked among them for the bizarre and dysfunctional.
He hoped he’d get a better ending, though.
The grating vibrations and high moan of the bus lulled him to sleep, but he awoke at his stop and got off to transfer. Sometime around four he arrived at his own apartment, a pristine place in its own right, if small and in an unpleasant location.
He dozed awhile in his apartment, which was decorated very simply and attractively. His somewhat embarrassing hobby of cultivating bonsai trees was obvious upon entry. Yet his place was comfortable, in earthy colors and with more than one comfortable chair. He hoped Felina would like it when she saw it. Yet somehow he felt that it was possible she wouldn’t.
When he finished his nap he rolled over to see a scrap of paper on the couch next to him. It was a piece of his drawing, of the silhouetted figure. Somehow, it looked familiar. Somehow, it looked real. He got up, changed into a T shirt and jog shorts, and got out an outfit for dinner.
It would have to be cleaned.
And worse, it had a spaghetti sauce stain on the shirt.
But Jason wasn’t too worried. He folded the outfit and picked it up, and was about to leave when his eyes fell back to the couch and to the scrap. He picked it up again, and then put it in his pocket.
It was time to pay his grandfather a call
The door to Drey Whiskers’s Dry Cleaning Service swung on its hinges, slightly ajar. The proprietor was nowhere in sight when Jason entered, stained suits under his arm.
“Grandpa?” he called, peering through the steam in the little room.
“Jason? Is that you?” a voice replied. “Where have you been?”
Jason smiled and made his way to the front counter.
“A murder investigation, grandpa,” he said.
“So I’ve heard.”
Drey, a short, silver-furred, white-bearded old kat, removed the navy blue jumpsuit from the press and put it in a garment bag, then hung it on the rack with the other clothes. He turned off the press and turned on the fan, then made his way up to the counter to see what it was his grandson wanted of him.
“Of course. I still watch the news. It was a bit of a shock to learn that old Windbag would assign a rookie like you to such a sensitive case.” Drey waggled his finger at Jason for effect.
“You still haven’t congratulated me, you know,” Jason reminded him.
“Oh, right, the wings. I’m very proud.”
“The media is eating this up, you know. They say you and your partner there have something going on.”
“They say anything, you know that.”
“But in this case,” said Drey, taking the suit from Jason’s arm, “they were telling the truth.”
He shook out the suit, which was as long as he was tall. Drey was fairly diminutive in his own right, but this didn’t make him any less adept at either of his two careers – retired professor of forensic science or wise- cracking dry cleaning guru.
“What did you get on this? Mustard? The devil’s condiment, it is.”
Jason rolled his eyes.
“So how’s everything,” he asked.
“Buisness as usual,” Drey replied. “Haven’t seen any regulars in a while – where’s that friend of yours, how’s he been doing these days?”
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen him either…” Jason began. He had taken the piece of paper from his pocket and had begun to play with it.
“I see. Jealous, is he?”
Jason shook his head fervently. “That’s not like him.”
Jason went back to looking at the paper.
“And the investigation?”
“What about it?”
“Where are you in terms of solution? I’d like to think I taught you well enough to merit those wings and that degree.”
“This is a strange case, Gramps. I can’t really go into it.”
Drey raised an eyebrow. His brows were thick, the hairs on them almost an inch long. “Really?”
“I know you’re experienced and all, but, well, I also want to solve it myself,” Jason admitted.
“Ah. But you’re in a rut.”
Drey took out a can of some odd spray foam and began to shake it.
“You could say that.”
“Sure you can’t tell me?”
Jason flicked the paper around the countertop. It flew off on Drey’s side and landed in a wastebasket. He sank down to rest his chin on his paw.
“I just don’t get it. We have a mole who reeks like the sewer that attacks Felina Feral in the file room. He’s doing murders for some weird guy that stole this thing from a lab and is probably using it on the mole, and wanted to know what we have on him so he had him sneaking around in the file basement. Now the creep is on the move or something, and I don’t know where the mole is, or who he is, or where he’ll strike – and Feral officially has classified this case and taken us off it.”
Drey let out a long, low whistle.
“Slow down and organize your thoughts!” he said. “Sounds like you have all that you need, you just don’t realize it.”
“All right,” said Jason. “If we must do this…”
“It’s not a hypothetical situation anymore,” said Drey, setting the garments aside and dragging out the old dry-erase board and red marker. “This is real, and it just goes to show that I was right all along.”
“Don’t rub it in my face,” said Jason, and Drey tossed him the marker.
Jason hopped over the counter and walked up to the board.
“First item: the actual crime. Where and when and what.”
Jason wrote on the board: Good Ole Days Rest Home, near midnight, mass murder, destruction of crime scene. Ghetto Computers, near midnight, multiple murders, destruction.
“Now, special circumstances. What stood out?”
Next to Good Ole Days, Jason wrote: overrode lock, knew Enforcer code. Impressive mathematical reasoning. He drew a circle around the phrase “destruction of crime scene.” Then, next to Ghetto Computers, he wrote: ruptured hole in sewer line used to escape. Evidence of past criminal activity in basement includes strange device.
“You mentioned an attack in the file basement. Do you draw the inference of a mole from these attacks or from that one?”
Jason wrote: File basement, midday, attack on partner. Then he made a big equals sign and wrote: MOLE.
“Is there an established motive for these attacks?”
Jason wrote, accordingly: none, fear of discovery, Officer Feral in the way of obtaining info.
“Hm, do you have a suspect?”
Jason drew a smile-face that was frowning and had horns.
“He doesn’t have a name. He’s classified.”
“I see,” said Drey. “And the mole? No suspects? What do you know about him?”
Jason thought a minute.
Mole: Recent addition, knows codes, lacks security clearance, no known motive. Was in sewer.
“Now how do you know these things?”
Arrow to overrode locks, hiding in basement.
“What about ‘recent addition?’”
Intuition, long dry spell with (smile-face).
Smell on Officer Feral after attack.
Drey took the marker.
He wrote: Mole = sloppy rookie under (smile-face) control.
“That doesn’t say much,” conceded Jason.
“It’s not what the information is, but rather what one does with it that makes all the difference. Now: is there any connection to these? Tell the criminal’s story.”
Jason took the marker back.
Lived in basement building, stealing weapons/technology. Was able to kill detectives that tracked him. Recently acquired assistant, a.k.a. mole. Had to test him. Was in trouble of discovery. Escaped using technology. Had assistant kill discoverers. Wanted to know what we knew of him, where investigation was. Had mole in files.
“And so, what was he looking for?”
File on theft of device.
“Did you see this file? Could this ‘mole’ have found it?”
“You’re sure. Not even once you were done with it?”
Jason erased “No” and wrote: ?.
“You should have checked.”
“I had other orders.”
“And which was more important?”
“She was hurt.”
“She could hurt thirty seconds longer.”
“So what do we have here? You don’t know the mole’s identity, but do you know his next move? What do you suppose he would do if he had found the file? Would he try to bring it to his boss, or tell him?”
“What was in the file that might have inspired an action?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
The file was blank.
Drey shook with laughter.
“Feral said the real one was-”
“I know, I know. The city hall locked-up files.”
“Yeah. You knew about that?”
“It was only a bit better than a rumor.”
“If you don’t know where he is, then perhaps it’s time to find out who he is. Use your information, your intuition, and any other sources you have. And then, follow. Although he’s bound to strike again, isn’t he.”
Jason capped the marker.
“So basically, I’m back where I started.”
“But your head is a lot clearer.”
“And your suit is a lot cleaner.”
Jason whirled around in surprise.
“When did you -”
“Share my secrets? You must be kidding.” Drey handed him the clean suit in its bag. “And before you go out tonight, you might want to stop by young Whitepaws’s place and tell him that I still have his gray twills. Though I still say that they’d look better if I let them out.”
“Right,” said Jason, vaulting over the counter.
“Have a nice date – don’t break any hearts, that one looked to me like she’d break your face.”
Jason laughed and sauntered out, then remembered something. He stuck his head back through the door.
“Oh, and Gramps? She wants me to pick her up. When am I going to get that car you promised?”
“When I win the lottery,” Drey called back. “But if you’re desperate, there’s always Lavinia!”
“Lavinia” was a rusty tandem bike with the chain missing.
“I’ll just call a cab,” Jason called back dryly. “Who knows – you might be needing her yourself.”
Drey’s wheezy laugh followed his grandson out the door. One of these days, Jason would have his fabled vehicle, but until then, there were many a blouse to be ironed and pant leg to hem.
He shook his head and went back to work, wondering what would happen next. He only hoped that things weren’t as he suspected.
Jason walked down the street. It was nearing six in the evening and that meant that Derek would be off-duty soon. The last time the two had seen each other hadn’t ended all that happily, and Jason wanted to make amends, or at least figure out what the heck was wrong with his friend of four years.
Now that he thought about it, Derek had acted more than a little strangely that day. Jason remembered the vacant stare, the deranged-looking sneer, and the sopping-wet fur, fully covered by dry clothes.
In the other hemisphere of his brain, he thought about the case. He reasoned that Drey’s assumption, if correct, pointed toward either a rookie, possibly from his class, or a disgruntled paper-sorter.
Still, whoever it was had to be pretty sick. What in MegaKat City could motivate somekat to wander past the lair of a twisted criminal mastermind, and then, on top of that, decide to join forces with him? The idea struck Jason that perhaps the mole wasn’t acting by choice. After all, this “Secret” did own a mind control device. And he had killed detectives before – who was to say that he hadn’t extracted the Enforcer codes from them? Which, of course, meant that perhaps he had been wrong about the mole concept. Perhaps he had made the whole thing up. Drawn conclusions from a faulty inference. This guy didn’t seem to need any help, and there wasn’t an Enforcer who’d help him like that. On top of all that, this guy was, after all, a stealth killer – which meant he might well have had an ordinary kat down in the files, snooping.
He wasn’t back to square one, he was at ground zero. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nil. Absolutely NO clue whatsoever.
Maybe this was just the rookie “self-doubt” complex that Derek had told him to watch out for. If that was true, he thought, then he should have listened to him. Derek had once explained – in his most infamous “Mr. Enforcer” lecture – that Enforcers had more obstacles to overcome than simply criminals and supervillains. They had also to overcome themselves.
“When an Enforcer begins his career he has himself and his duty. To function in both, he must remove himself when performing his duty, and remove his duty when simply himself.”
Jason was only now pondering over what that meant. He wasn’t the psych major that Derek was; in fact, he mostly dismissed the things that Derek liked to say as “a bunch of psychobabble crud.”
But maybe, just maybe, he should have listened.
He remembered, as he walked the streets of Manx Park, the day in Millie’s when then-Cadet Whitepaws had delivered that speech. He had been sitting at the counter, absentmindedly stirring his espresso and staring through the statistics on the sports page, on a whim to see if they made a 3-d picture. Derek had been sitting next to him, doing the same thing, but looking a good deal more thoughtful and brooding.
There had been a new waitress on duty that morning, and it was she who had incited that speech by making the mistake of asking him what was on his mind. To the dismay and groans of the cafe patrons, he told her – and everyone who couldn’t avoid listening – in full detail.
Jason snickered as he remembered the ending to the tale.
“We must be sure to keep the elements of the whole kat as one, yet to separate them as must needs be done,” Derek had said.
“Hey, that rhymes,” Scotty supplied.
Derek growled at him.
“I was only trying to help,” said Scotty. “I didna know you’d get all burnt up about it.”
“So are you saying that you should be macho sometimes, gentle others, thoughtful mostly, and deducing at others?” asked Tawny.
That was the moment when Jason had started liking her.
“Why yes, that’s exactly right,” Derek had said enthusiastically.
And Scotty burst into laughter.
“That sounds exactly like my cousin!” he said between chuckles.
“Some days, he thinks he’s a spaceman named Mervin Altoonian – he acts all brave and macho. Then other days, say he loses something, he calls himself ‘Sherlock Homely’ and starts snooping around.”
Scotty’s words were barely decipherable through his crowing.
“Multiple Personality Disorder is not a laughing matter,” Derek said with a sneer.
“But that’s what he does! Come to think of it, so do you.”
Here Jason had joined the conversation.
“You sit around all mopey, you goof off with me, you study like hell, you drink like a horse and then you turn philosopher.”
“I only meant…”
“We all know what you meant,” said Scotty, “…M.P.D.”
The other patrons teased him for weeks after he stormed out in a huff. Jason wondered as he walked whether Derek had ever actually forgiven him as he’d claimed to. He also wondered if Derek might have had the right idea, after all.
But that was a stupid thought and he banished it, having reached Derek’s brownstone, and having only a short time to talk before he had to get ready for his date.
Derek was not home.
There was no other possible explanation for Jason’s knocking four times without a response.
“Derek?” he called for what seemed like the fiftieth time.
There was no answer. Jason turned away from the door.
Where could his friend be?
He walked with his head down – right into an ivory tomkat with an armful of mail. The tomkat let out a startled yell and dropped his stack of papers.
“Don’t kill me!” he shouted.
Jason jumped – then laughed.
“I won’t – here, let me get those for you.”
The kat heaved a sigh of relief.
“I thought you were the tom from 5B – you know, the psycho.”
“The psycho? You’re talking about my best friend!”
The tom grabbed all of his papers away from Jason.
“Then you’re nuts, too!”
He dashed into his room.
Jason scratched his head. Something very weird was going on. And the guy dropped a paper. Jason looked at it. It read: I have your file, it’s in my office – come pick it up.
Probably wasn’t that important.
Jason remembered the note Feral had given him earlier – now, that was important. He thought to himself, “What did I do with it?”
And a realization entered his mind.
If the mole had got to the file, he would have found it missing. On any other day, his search would have ended there. But not this one.
Because Jason knew he’d left Feral’s note there.
Which meant the mole would be after the file…
Or after the Deputy Mayor.
Jason ran out the door, on a course for City Hall.
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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.