Rank and File
By Chella “Klawz” Reaves
Summary: A string of murders has feathers ruffled at Enforcer Headquarters. Can the SWAT Kats and Feral really work together on this case? And could Callie’s new boyfriend know more than he’s telling?
Date: Completed on October 31, 2002. It will need no updates.
Rating & Warning: PG-13 for violence. (Violence is mostly implied.)
Disclaimer: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron”, its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. and I have used them without permission. All concepts and characters not found in the show were created by me and I appreciate you asking permission or not using them! (I don’t bite unless provoked. ? )
Author’s Comments: This is the first fan-fiction I’ve written in several years (unless you count rpg-related fanfiction). The only reason I wrote it at all (since I don’t read much of it anymore unless a friend tells me I should) is because the idea hit me up-side the back of my head and dragged me off by my hair and made me write it. Unless another fanfic idea does that to me again, or unless I’m highly encouraged, it’s unlikely that I’ll write another for awhile. I do hope you enjoy it, and I hope you appreciate the fact that this story is as close to canon as I could make it. ?
Deputy Mayor Calico “Callie” Briggs hurried down the sidewalk towards City Hall. Her car was in the shop – second time this year – and she’d had her taxi drop her off a few blocks away in front of her dry cleaner’s so she could finally pick up that suit she’d had cleaned a month ago. Her schedule often had her working later than the hours the dry cleaner was open and she hadn’t had the opportunity to pick it up before now. So she had her suit slung over one shoulder in it’s plastic bag and her briefcase in the other hand.
You’d think that a woman in a bright pink dress-suit with a plastic bag ‘cape’ flapping in the breeze would be noticeable, but people keep walking right into me! Callie grumbled to herself and sidestepped another hurried pedestrian. Just to be safe, she looked ahead to make sure a super villain wasn’t terrorizing the nearby area, causing the katizens’ unseemly haste, but the lack of gunfire, screams, roars, and crumbling building materials reassured her.
Her sudden relaxation of her guard was immediately rewarded by someone smashing into her from behind. She had weak ankles, which couldn’t handle the sudden shift in her balance – definitely not in heels! – and she fell to the sidewalk. Callie’s briefcase dropped to the pavement and fell open, scattering documents. “Sorry!” the kat called over his shoulder, continuing on without a backward look.
“Ugh!” she groaned, hurrying to gather up the papers before they flew into traffic. Thankfully, the earlier rush had abated (Which means I’m late… not that the Mayor will notice, he never gets in until noon-ish anyway…), so the papers weren’t being trampled.
“Here, let me help.” Callie looked up, and a friendly-looking kat smiled down at her before he turned and began picking up the pages as well.
While his back was turned, Callie stole looks at him. He was of about average height and average build. His fur color was that grey-ish brown that was relatively common, and his hair color was a slightly darker brown. But his smile saved him from being just average. It turned his nondescript features into boyishly charming, and his grey eyes crinkled a little at the corners. He was about her age, and all-in-all, she thought he was rather attractive.
In the meantime, he’d gathered up the documents she’d lost and was now walking over to her. “Here you go, miss,” he said, and smiled.
Grateful, and a little interested, she beamed up at him as she stashed the papers into the case and snapped the latches closed again. “Thanks! They say you can judge how a day is going to go by how it starts off – so I assume today’s going to be horrible and I could use all the help I can get!”
He blinked a moment and then offered her his hand. “Glad I could help,” he peered closer at her as he helped her to her feet and smiled. “I’m going to sound like an idiot if I’m wrong but… you wouldn’t happen to be Deputy Mayor Briggs, would you?”
She grinned and picked up the dry cleaner bag, in a good mood, she quipped, “Depends on if you have a compliment or a complaint.”
He laughed and made a shy, boyish gesture of running his fingers through his hair. “Well… a compliment. You probably hear this all the time, but you’re prettier in person than on the news.”
He sounded like he meant it, and Callie tried not to blush. Deputy Mayors didn’t blush after all, they were always in control of their emotions. Okay, so she wasn’t always in control of her emotions, but she was too old to blush at a compliment. “You’re too kind,” she said, and hurriedly changed the subject before she could feel too awkward about her response. “You didn’t give me your name, though.”
“Grendel Burbank.” He seemed to note her glance at her watch and said, “I’m probably making you late for work, aren’t I?”
Callie gave him a guilty smile and diplomatically said, “Well, I was late already without having run into you.” She didn’t really want to be on her way just yet, though her practical- dependable side started reciting all the reasons why she should leave. You don’t know anything about him. You’ve got work to do. You’re never late – the receptionist will think you’re sick or something’s wrong and she’ll call the Mayor and Manx will get upset and likely walk a hole in his carpet as he jibbers with the responsibility of actually being the mayor for the day, and by the time you calm him down it’ll be tee-time and you’ll have wasted most of the day…
Ruthlessly, she countered herself with, Ah, but Grendel Burbank looks like a nice guy. He’s well groomed, his clothing is neat, clean and respectable. He sounds intelligent and he’s got a nice smile – how many guys have I run into in this city with anything approaching that combination? Well, okay, the SWAT Kats, but they’re not exactly dating material – as romantic as the idea is, I don’t think I’d stand to have a relationship with a guy who wore a mask all the time, and if the relationship progressed to the point where he let me in on his secret identity, I’d worry too much about him going off and saving the city – and offended if he didn’t share! And there are some of the lobbyists and reporters – but dating one of them would be a bad career move, since I’d be accused of favoritism or giving inside reports. And then there are some nice businessmen and Enforcers, but they’re both often workaholics and only one workaholic per relationship has a chance of working…
He smiled. “So I’m just making you more-late. How about I walk you to City Hall, then? One of the perks of my job is I rarely have to start at a specific time, so you won’t be making me late for anything.” He grinned at her to show his comment was in good humor, and she nodded and smiled back, adjusting the plastic dry cleaning bag over her shoulder as she reached for her briefcase. “Let me carry that for you,” he said, plucking the case out of her hand and making a fluid hand gesture to indicate she should lead the way.
Callie smiled and started towards City Hall. “What do you do, Mr. Burbank?”
“First off, call me Gren, please,” he grinned over at her. “Pretty ladies calling me ‘Mr. Burbank’ makes me feel like I’m in a doctor’s office. And I’m a freelance photographer.”
That means he’s consistently unemployed, her practical-sensible side muttered smugly. No it doesn’t. And it wouldn’t matter if it did. She responded and aloud she said, “Like landscapes or portraits?”
“Mostly portraits. And if I’m on the scene of Something Interesting (capital S, capital I), I take photos and sell them to one of the local newspapers. Not something I’d like to do full- time, though, so it’s mostly private commissions of modeling portfolios or family portraits and the like.”
“That sounds great. It’s not often that an artist gets to do what they like for a living.”
“Yeah, I guess I am lucky that way. How about you? What’s it like working with the Mayor?”
Callie laughed, trying not to let even a hint of scorn creep into it. It wasn’t that Mayor Manx was a bad mayor, he used to be quite a good one, in fact… until he lost is wife. After that, he buried himself in his golf hobby and simply hired competent Deputy Mayors to do his work for him. Callie herself was his sixth – none of the previous could handle the strain. One of them actually had a heart attack in the office and two others quit after contracting terrible ulcers. One would think that Manx would prefer to just retire, but the thought of that seemed to terrify him. Callie guessed that was because he’d have to go live in his mansion alone, rather than breaking his day into public appearances and golf. And she supposed she understood it, if she’d been in the same situation, she wasn’t sure she’d handle it much differently.
She realized that he was waiting for an answer and smiled over at him. “Well, if I didn’t like the job, I would certainly have moved on to another job or another city with the same job. Bossy women like myself need something to do, and running a city is one of them.”
Gren laughed. “Oh, I don’t think ‘bossy’ is the right word, here… Must be exciting, meeting all those people. Reporters like Ann Gora, great military men like Commander Feral – and the SWAT Kats.”
“I suppose so,” she said, looking thoughtfully at City Hall as they approached. “I never really thought of it like that. They’re just people, like you and myself.”
“I didn’t quite mean it in that way. Perhaps ‘interesting’ is more the word I meant. You come in contact with them almost daily. You must have gotten to know them on a more personal level…” His eyebrow lifted, a silent prod for her to share.
Callie shrugged, “Ann and I meet at some social functions. It’s difficult to have a more personal relationship – like being friends – because of her job, though. She can’t help but fish for more information if she smells a story. Commander Feral…” She paused to control her slight sneer, “He lives his job more-so than Ann. If his underwear isn’t strictly regulation, I’d be surprised.”
Gren laughed again and Callie grinned back. “As for the SWAT Kats… well, it’s hard to be friends with people who wear masks and you only see them when something chaotic is going on….”
“But you are friends?” he asked, tilting his head to the side and walking up the steps of City Hall with her.
Callie smiled. “Yes, I’d have to say that despite how unusual it is, we’re friends.”
He smiled and motioned to the front doors of the building. “Well, we’re here, Ms. Briggs. I’m sorry you’re late, but hopefully you didn’t find the company too distracting.”
“Call me Callie. And, no, the company was welcomed.”
Shyly, he handed her the briefcase and smiled. “Then maybe you could stand to share my company again? Say, for dinner sometime?”
Callie brushed her blonde hair out of her face and smiled back. “Yes, I’d like that. Why don’t you call me sometime and we’ll try to work out a time?” She fished around in her jacket pocket until she came up with a business card, which she handed to him. “If I weren’t so late, I’d give you my home number…”
He took the card and pocketed it with a smile. “I’ll call this afternoon sometime, then.”
“Looking forward to it, Gren. And thanks for the help earlier.” She gave him a little wave with her fingertips, her hands otherwise full, and slipped into the building.
She was right about one thing, and wrong about another. It did take her most of the day to calm down Mayor Manx. And she was wrong – deputy mayors did blush.
Gren called, and Callie had a wonderful time talking with him. She agreed to a date the following evening and he suggested one of the classier restaurants in the city. The conversation meandered for awhile and she thought it was one of the more interesting and amusing she’d had in years.
Eventually, the conversation made its way to slightly more serious topics. Gren asked, “So, if you don’t spend after-hours time with Commander Feral, Ann Gora, or the SWAT Kats, who do you spend time with?”
Callie laughed softly and looked down at the speech she was editing for the mayor during the conversation. “Occasionally some of my college girlfriends and I will go out for drinks and a movie. I date sometimes. There are the office parties… But I suppose that’s not what you really mean. I’m afraid that my job makes it difficult for relationships like that to develop, and my college girlfriends are workaholics like myself.” She put a smile in her voice, to make it clear that she had no real regrets.
“Surely there can be friendship without having to go to the movies or have drinks or spend a lot of time with someone. You mentioned earlier that you considered yourself friends with the SWAT Kats, and you don’t see them as often as it seems like, right?”
“That’s true,” Callie mused. “Then, I suppose I’d have to say I’m friends with Dr. Sinian – the museum curator. She’s a very pleasant person to be around and I very much respect her intelligence. Whenever I see her at public functions I seek her out so I’ll have someone intelligent to speak to.”
When she didn’t continue, Gren gently prodded her again. “And no one else? You’ve only mentioned women so far…” there was a teasing note to his voice, “Are we males unfit for your friendship? Are we only useful in the dating sense?”
Callie laughed and shook her head, even though she knew he wouldn’t see it. “You know that’s not true! Let’s see…” Her eyes fell on her desk calendar and she was reminded that she had to pick up her car today. She laughed. “Well, I just noticed I’m supposed to pick up my car today at the garage. I think of the mechanics there as my friends. Though…” she looked at the clock and frowned, “I think they’ll gladly renounce it if I’m late. And it’s going to be impossible to find a cab at this hour!”
Gren chuckled. “No worries on that. I have a car, and if you can suffer me playing knight-errant for you again, I can swing by and take you there.” Callie thanked him and he said he would be there in a few minutes. “Just look for the red car.” They hung up and Callie gathered her things together and went downstairs to wait.
It was only a few minutes later when a sleek and sporty red car pulled up and Gren hopped out. “Your chariot, m’lady,” he quipped. Callie was impressed, though she tried not to show it. She hadn’t thought Gren was quite that successful.
“Nice car, Gren,” she said, as she climbed inside. She pretended to look him over and said, “Hmm.. you appear to have all your arms and legs attached…”
Gren laughed as he pulled away from the curb. “Yeah, it would have cost me an arm and a leg, but I know someone and they got me a great deal. Which garage are we going to?” Callie gave him the directions. “No sweat, the Red Herring and I will get you there before you’ve had time to settle in.”
She gave a little gurgle of laughter. “The Red Herring? You named your car?”
He looked over and gave her a pattern-card expression of good-humored sheepishness. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“But why the Red Herring?”
Gren shrugged, smiling faintly. “Well, the car is very red, and I love fish. Put it down to my sense of humor and my stomach.” He slanted a look at her as if to see her reaction, but Callie only continued to laugh as they pulled into the garage’s lot.
They climbed out and Callie noticed an eager blond kat in the garage coveralls hurry on out to meet her. “Miss Briggs!” he said, then did a double-take at the car and shot what seemed to be a suspicious look at Gren.
“Hi Chance! This is Gren Burbank. He gave me a ride here.”
Gren gave Chance a considering look and said, “And I’ll be taking her out to dinner tomorrow.”
Callie blinked at the smooth delivery of the line. It was almost like a gauntlet was thrown down. And by the way Chance bristled at it, he thought so too. Thankfully, Chance’s shorter, slimmer partner Jake ambled out, using a rag to wipe his hands. “Hi Miss Briggs!” His dark, canny eyes slid over to Gren and Chance, who were giving each other a stare-down. “Who’s your friend with the nice car?”
Gren broke eye contact with Chance and grinned over at Jake. “Like ‘er? Great gas mileage and a dream to drive.”
Jake gave Chance a quelling look before he said anything. “Looks great. If it ever gives you trouble you know where to come. Chance and I love working on great looking cars. Speaking of, Miss Briggs, yours is ready.”
Callie gave Jake a look that she hoped silently conveyed her heart-felt, sincere thanks for diverting Gren and Chance. He smiled shyly back and lead the way into the garage. Callie followed him, wondering why the two had set up each other’s hackles. She told herself it was probably because of some guy thing she wouldn’t understand, decided that was rational, and let it go.
Chance Furlong eyed the other kat warily. Gren Burbank gave him a cool look in return. The moment Callie’s back was turned, Gren’s cheerful facade fell away. Chance would bet that this was the real face Gren Burbank wore. Cold, calculating and smug.
“I don’t suppose you have any… objections to me dating Callie…?” Burbank asked, crossing his arms over his chest and shifting his weight – this whole posture said, But if you do, what are you going to do about it anyway?
Objections? Of course he had objections! There was no way this smooth, smug SOB should be allowed near Callie! But… he couldn’t say that. Callie was a grown woman and could take care of herself. Chance fought down his natural reaction and didn’t speak until the fur on his arms had stopped bristling. Affecting a nonchalance he didn’t feel, Chance shrugged and smiled. “Hey man, she’s not my little sister.”
Gren narrowed his eyes and frowned suspiciously. “You seemed to have a problem with it a few minutes ago.”
Chance twisted his red cap backwards and shoved his hands into his back pockets. “I thought you were someone I didn’t like when you first showed up…” Chance drawled, letting his eyelids droop in a lazy manner. “Knew a guy, once, who looked a bit like you. Treated his girlfriend like she wasn’t worth anything. Told him that if I saw him again, he’d have to re-learn how to walk… Took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t you.” He paused, inwardly surprised that he’d just said the truth.
Burbank gave Chance a long, considering look. Then he shrugged and gave one of his friendly, happy-go-lucky grins. “Hey man, I understand. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of your friend Miss Briggs.”
Chance was saved from having to make a reply by the arrival of Callie and Jake. She thanked them for working on her car and Gren for driving her, and soon left. Burbank followed immediately after.
Jake waited for the dust to settle and then looked over at Chance, raising an eyebrow. “What was that all about?”
Chance suddenly felt sheepish for his reaction. “He just.. rubbed me the wrong way, Jake.” He shrugged and went into the garage’s living room and plopped in front of the TV. He hunted half-heartedly for the remote. Just where did he stash it last time?
Jake followed him in and leaned over the back of the couch. Calmly, the orange-brown kat plucked the elusive remote from between two couch cushions, but didn’t offer it to his partner. “If this is about him dating Callie… you should know better. It’s not like you ever asked her out.”
Chance growled in response and reached for the remote. Jake snatched it away and crossed his arms. “Look, Chance, you’re my best friend – probably the best I ever had – and that entitles me to tell you when you’re acting like a jealous jerk. If you and Callie were dating, I can see why you’d get your fur ruffled, but you have no reason to get mad.”
The room was silent for a moment, and Chance didn’t look back at his friend. Instead, he slumped over to lean against the arm of the couch. “Look… Jake… It’s not that. You know that I know Callie and I’d never work. I like her. I admit I’m even over-protective of her…” He let his explanation drift off.
Jake waited patiently a few moments before asking, “Then why did you bristle up?”
The blond kat sighed and shrugged. “You know that girl I told you about?”
His friend laughed. “Which one?”
Chance gave him a small smile. “Katie Felis, the one I almost married before I joined the Force.”
Jake walked over and sat on the coffee table, facing his friend. “Yeah, the pretty blonde. I remember meeting her – she was the one who joined up a few years after we did, right?”
The other nodded and rubbed a finger under the band on his cap, thinking and remembering. “Told you how my rookie year I was called out because her new boyfriend mistook her for a punching bag, right? Seems she told him that she was going to join up and he didn’t think much of her independent thinking.”
Jake nodded slowly. “Yeah… I remember. We were rooming at the base then and you came in, calmly punched a hole through the wall and then started shouting.” Jake gave his friend a slight smile. “I think everyone in the barracks knew after that. I remember thinking that it was lucky that you kept yourself more or less calm until after you checked him into the brink and didn’t let that punch go through the guy’s face.”
“Not that I didn’t think about it,” Chance said, not quite smirking.
“So seeing a blonde friend with another guy triggered the memory or what?” Jake asked, eyebrows raised.
The burly kat shook his head. “You know me better than that, right? No, Burbank kinda looks like the guy… Though a lot of people look like that guy. When I referred to the story, he didn’t seem to recognize it as his own, though. And his name wasn’t Burbank either.”
“Maybe you should look up Katie Felis again, Chance. She might know where her ex is. It’ll make you feel better to know that the real guy is in Timbuktu or wherever.”
“Yeah.. Maybe I will.”
A fat folder landed on his desk and Commander Ulysses Feral turned a baleful eye towards the origin of it. His niece glared back.
“Commander,” Feral corrected her.
“Commander, I need to bring this to your attention. Over the past five years, at least twenty Enforcers have been killed or turned up missing -”
“Surely more than that, Lieutenant,” Feral raised one of his bushy black eyebrows at his niece. She gave him another dark look.
“If I may continue, Sir.” Feral nodded, inwardly amused, pleased that his attempts at nettling her weren’t overly breaking her stride. “Sir, these deaths were not in the line of duty, all are unsolved, and all were killed in the same manner.”
“And the missing? You know our job is a rough one. Some of the first terms just don’t understand the work and danger involved. Rather than going through the nasty process of resigning their position through the normal channels, some of them would rather go AWOL and move to another city to get out of it. You know it’s happened more than once. What makes you think the disappearances and the murders are related?”
“Sir, the ones who have disappeared have all been third or even fourth term Enforcers. There are other disappearances that I’m not counting since they are from first termers, though I think some of them may be related too. None of their family knows how to contact them, and almost all of them were reported as Missing Persons by their friends, family, or even landlords. Their apartments are sometimes ransacked in similar patterns to the houses of the murdered Enforcers, and this is why I think they’re related.”
“And why are you bringing it to my attention?” Strictly speaking, after all, it wasn’t his job to worry about cases. He was simply to co-ordinate his forces and lead them on the field.
“Sir, I brought it to Steele and he refused to have anything to do with it.” Felina’s dark eyes snapped with repressed fury.
“You’re personally involved, Lieutenant,” Feral observed coolly.
Felina paused and took a slow breath. “… Yes sir, I am. I’ve known several of this madman’s victims.”
The way his niece’s jaw was set, her lips thinned, and her strong fingered hands clenched, Feral knew there was more to it than she just ‘knew’ them, but he also knew better than to ask if they were friends, or even more than friends. He didn’t want to think of his niece as old enough to date, it was hard enough for him to reconcile with himself her being on the Force at all. It was a pity that little girls had to grow up sometime.
“I’ll forward the file to the FBI, Lieutenant. They may have similar cases on file.” Feral finally said.
“Already done, sir. They advised me that they had a series of murders like these…” she paused then continued, “…which culminated in the murder of a high-ranking city government official.”
Feral raised his eyebrow. “Are you implying that I might be in danger that’s more than I can handle, Lieutenant?”
“No sir, I’m implying the mayor is.”
Jake Clawson walked into the living room area of the garage just in time to see Chance set down the phone receiver. “Ah, did you call Officer Felis?” He asked cheerfully. Chance turned a blank face towards his friend and Jake noticed he was pale under his fur and his ears were drooped with distress. “What’s wrong, Chance?”
The blond kat didn’t respond immediately and Jake felt the pit of his stomach drop with dread. “She’s…. dead, Jake.”
“Dead??” Jake cried, shocked.
Chance’s eyes were round with his own shock and distress, not quite focusing on anything. “Murdered… Two years ago.”
The slimmer kat just stared back at his friend, too surprised to think of any sort of appropriate response.
Like Chance was a machine warming up, he began speaking faster and faster, finally leaping up in frustration and anger. “… I knew that I hadn’t been keeping in contact, but I thought her family would have told me… Two years… Two years! I bet it was that guy! What’s his name?? Argh!” He thrust his hands into his hair and tugged.
“Chance! Calm down, buddy, calm down!” Jake was uneasy to see his friend in that state. “You need more facts before you can start throwing out theories like that!”
Chance glared at his friend. “You weren’t there, Jake! You didn’t see the look that monster gave Katie when we cuffed him and put him in the patrol car!”
Jake gritted his teeth and responded as calmly as he could. “No, I wasn’t. But it’s been five years since that happened, if he was going to try something, he would have tried it before two years ago!”
“….Maybe,” Chance replied, finally. His fists were clenched and the muscles in his forearms were flexing as he tried to calm himself down. Jake waited, inwardly worrying. Chance let his head fall forward in defeat. “…I wasn’t there to protect her.” He turned bleak eyes to his friend. “The woman I might have been married to right now is dead, and I didn’t know. I never kept in touch. Maybe I could have stopped it…”
“There are probably dozens of close friends that either of us hasn’t contacted in awhile, Chance. It’s not our fault if something happened to them since the last time we’ve spoken to ’em. Even if we’d been there, we might not have been able to do a thing. You can’t torture yourself with ‘may haves’ and ‘maybes’. The best we can do is try to find out who did this to her.”
The other was silent for a few minutes, and Jake heard his heart pounding in his ears. He wasn’t sure what he’d say if Chance continued to be doubtful. Finally, the blond kat sighed. “You’re right… So we’ll have to get copies of the report.”
“Right. Perhaps we can contact Lt. Feral and have her give us the file.”
“And if not, we can always sneak in and steal them,” Chance smirked.
Jake eyed his friend warily. “Yes. We can, but only if necessary.”
Unlike most katizens, Jake Clawson and Chance Furlong had a way to easily cut through Red Tape. They were the SWAT Kats, a pair of highly trained vigilantes who took the skies in their jet, the Turbokat, or to the Cyclotrons – their low-riding motorcycle-like street units – when trouble threatened. Though definitely not publicly accepted by the Enforcers, they had enough support from the Mayor’s office (mostly coming from Deputy Mayor Briggs) that they were ‘suffered’ to operate.
“So if we get caught, the worst that can happen is Callie bails us out,” Jake grinned, pulling on his mask. Chance grunted in response as he adjusted his own mask.
His voice always became a shade grittier and rougher whenever he donned his mask as T-bone, but Jake-now-Razor thought he detected an extra bit of harshness this time. Razor certainly hoped that they could find Felina and convince her to release the files.
The SWAT Kats took to their Cyclotrons and to the street. Within minutes they had made their way to Enforcer Headquarters and pulled their vehicles into a dark and unused alley nearby with barely a purr of an engine to betray them. Without verbally consulting each other, they began piling junk on top of the Cyclotrons. It wasn’t likely that anyone would find them and try to ride off with them, but it was possible – and they’d run foul of the security systems Razor had installed. Non-lethal, but it wouldn’t do to have too many questions raised.
They made use of the nearby fire-escape and took it to the top of that building. Using their Glovatrixes, the SWAT Kats fired grappling hooks to a ledge next to the jet runway. They swung over the chasm made by the two tall buildings to Enforcer Headquarters and climbed their way to the concrete.
The whole trip had taken them almost a half hour and both were panting with the effort. Sitting on the deserted heli-pad, Razor looked over at his partner and wheezed, “Maybe we should have tried to get the files as private citizens first…” T-Bone glared without heat at his friend. Razor shrugged and grinned faintly, “Then again, what’s a little midnight walk?”
“Mmph,” was all the response he got. T-Bone pushed himself to his feet and strode to the exit next to the hangar doors. “Let’s see if I remember where they hid the key…”
Though it was unlikely that an unfriendly force would have the gall to land on the Enforcer Headquarters’ own top-story runway, there was enough risk to warrant locking the hangar doors when not in use and the exit for those who didn’t leave or arrive in a jet. T-bone ran his hand along the bricks, searching for the loose one behind which lay the key. After a few seconds his fingers touched the right one; it wobbled under his probe. He smirked and pushed it on its hinge until the key on its hook was revealed.
“Still got that magic touch,” he said smugly as he unlocked the metal door. It swung open without a squeak or squeal to betray them. T-Bone replaced the key as Razor silently slipped inside to make sure no insomniac pilot was cooing over his jet.
“Clear,” he said under his breath, memory taking over as he lead the way through the unmanned hangar and to the stairs. The pair crept downstairs until they reached Lt. Feral’s office. They exchanged glances and listened at the door.
An ear twitching, T-Bone murmured, “I think someone’s in there.”
“Knock?” Razor whispered in return. T-Bone nodded and knocked.
Instead of a husky female voice inviting them to step inside, the door swung inward violently and a tall shadow stood in the doorway. It was a Feral alright. But it was the Commander, rather than the Lieutenant. The eyes of the SWAT Kats widened behind their masks in surprise.
The three stared at each other before Commander Feral broke the silence. “A bit late for a business call….” He glared at them, apparently struggling with himself before he gave a grunt. “Might as well come inside. Close the door after yourselves.”
T-Bone and Razor swapped shocked looks before doing as bidden, too stunned to do anything but. Feral had taken that moment to seat himself behind his niece’s desk and give them both a basilisk’s stare. “Not all Ferals are insomniacs – the Lieutenant went to bed an hour ago. What do you want?”
After a moment to recover, T-Bone stepped forward. “We were going to ask her if she would give us a file on a murder…” He paused, gaze dropping from Feral’s to his fists. “An Enforcer I knew as a kid.”
Feral’s heavy eyebrows drew together quickly and he frowned deeply. “Then I assume you’re working with my niece on that case of hers.”
“Case?” Razor asked. “The Lieutenant is investigating Officer Felis’s murder?”
The Commander’s frown deepened even further and his strong fingers flexed on the desktop. “…Among others. I take it you two weren’t aware that we’ve suffered similar murders for the last few years.” He glared back up at them. “I suppose you two would only break in later to steal it, so I might as well give you my copy of the files.”
The jaws of the two SWAT Kats dropped, but no sound came from their mouths. They were struck dumb, but quick as always, Razor recovered first. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.. sir.. but why are you helping us?”
Feral fixed Razor with a gimlet eye and held the look long enough to make Razor shift his balance uneasily. “When you read the file, you’ll understand. You’re just lucky I came to retrieve this file tonight or it would have been days before you’d gotten a hold of it.” He smirked faintly, a mixture of pride and disapproval. “You should actually be thankful it was me you met. I’m afraid my niece is taking this case personally and might not have let you work on it with her. She wants to get this guy herself.”
“I know the feeling,” T-Bone growled softly.
“No, you’re not taking it as personally as she is, vigilante,” Feral said, musing out-loud more than to them. “She refused the help of the FBI on this.” He stared at T-Bone. “At least you brought in your partner on this. I think the only reason Felina came to me on this was because Steele threatened to report her for spending too much time on a case that she wasn’t assigned to, so she came to me to assign her to it.”
The SWAT Kats exchanged glances. This was much bigger than they’d ever thought. Feral stood and handed Razor a thick manila folder. “Here..” he growled, “I don’t know how you got in, but I’m sure you can find a back way out. Now, go… And report into me if you find anything…” he added gruffly. They nodded, restrained the salute that came automatically to the situation, and left.
Leaving was much easier than entering, and they were soon clearing debris from their Cyclotrons. Neither had spoken more than a word each since their unusual ‘interview’ with Feral. By silent consent, they held their tongues until they’d safely returned to their hangar.
Razor removed his helmet and gave T-Bone a sidelong glance as they carefully checked the vehicles to make sure they were being properly stowed. He was silent and inward focused. The helpless rage seemed to have left him to be replaced with a cooler anger. “One of us should read it while the other cooks dinner,” T-Bone said, finally, pulling off his mask and unzipping his uniform.
“You cook; I’ll read,” Razor said, following T-Bone’s example and switching into his coveralls and stowing his uniform in his locker. Jake picked up the file on his way upstairs.
A half hour later, Chance dished up their dinner as Jake carefully read over the reports in the file. The two usually ordered out, but Jake understood Chance’s need to keep things ‘private’ that night. They were so well known at the local delivery places that they usually sent cute girls to bring the food, since Chance tipped them extra. Chance wasn’t in the mood for idle flirting and Jake wasn’t particularly in the mood to see the disappointed looks on the delivery girl’s face. So while neither of them were likely to be moonlighting as a restaurant chef, Chance was by far the better cook and Jake the one who read the dry reports more easily.
Chance turned his chair backwards and started shoveling the food into his mouth. “Anything?” he grunted around a mouthful.
“I only finished reading the overviews, not the separate case files, but there’s definitely a pattern there.”
“Mm. Figure out why Feral said we’d understand why he gave it to us?” Chance raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think it was out of the kindness of his heart, if you know what I’m sayin’.”
“It wasn’t, really. Part of this guy’s pattern, as established in another city, is that he works his way up the ranks, taking out the best of each Enforcer rank until he gets to the top.”
Chance snorted. “So Feral was worried this guy was going to pop him so he wanted us to catch him first?”
“More to the point, Lieutenant Feral,” Jake clarified. “He must have felt she was too close to the case, told her to go to bed and forget about it, and then later realized that before he’d be a target, his niece would.”
“Huh. Figures the only reason he’d give us the file is if the Lieutenant was in danger.”
“Hey, at least he did…” Jake trailed off, reading further into the report. Then he blanched. “That’s not all – before this guy bugged out of his last city, he offed the mayor and deputy mayor…”
Chance’s fork clattered to his plate. “Callie.”
Callie smiled over at Gren across the table the next night. “So, how long have you been in the city?”
Gren’s eyes stopped roving around the restaurant and he returned her smile. “Oh, long enough, I’d suppose,” he responded evasively.
Her smile faltered a bit as she tried to come up with an appropriate response, but luckily was saved one by the arrival of the waiter.
“Are the lady and gentleman ready to order?” he asked politely, as if reading from the script of the epitome of ‘expensive restaurant’.
Callie turned a bright, relieved smile upon him for his unwittingly saving her from an uncomfortable moment and gave him her order. Gren tossed her a look that was, of all things, disapproving and made his own order. The waiter quietly took their menus and went to the kitchen without a backward glance.
“You really shouldn’t do that, Callie…” Gren said softly, eyes following the waiter.
She blinked, sitting up a little straighter and feeling her earrings swish past her cheeks at the sudden movement. “I… do what?” Honestly confused, she waited for his response.
“Flirt with him…” Gren looked back at her, frowning faintly.
Callie blinked again. “I’m sorry, did you say flirting with him?” A thread of incredulousness creeping into her voice.
Gren studied her expression for a moment before responding, with one of his faint smiles. “I beg your pardon, Callie. I must have misinterpreted the smile.” His expression was still closed and disapproving.
Callie tried to control her expression to reveal none of her thoughts. Why do I feel as if I just walked into a very bad date..?
Felina Feral had come into work the day after she’d brought up the case with her uncle. She noticed that the file he had sent back to her was gone and wondered if her uncle had actually recollected it. She had wondered throughout the day whether that was a good or bad sign and eventually decided that since he hadn’t said anything to her, it must be a good sign that he wasn’t going to try to restrict her movements.
Well, good, she thought darkly as she started to close down for the night. If he had any idea of what I’m planning, he’d skin me alive and use my hide as an example to the rookies.
Felina had two residences, really. A small, almost closet sized room at Enforcer Headquarters, where she usually slept, and an apartment that her father insisted she get. Since her father, a rather prominent lawyer in another city, was paying the bill and it made him feel better to think that she stayed there, she let him do so. Instead of going to her room, she was going to be staying at her apartment for the next few nights. She knew quite well that she was a target, and she was hoping to trap the serial killer by encouraging him to come to her. It was an inconvenience, and she wouldn’t be getting much sleep the next few weeks or months – however long it took – but she thought it’d be worth it.
She wasn’t just interested in cuffing him for the sake of protecting other Enforcers. No, it was mostly personal. One of the murdered female Enforcers, Sara, was her first partner in the Force and one of the murdered male Enforcers, Charles, was an off and on boyfriend. There were a half a dozen other Enforcers that she’d had good working relationships with, and even friendships. But she was fighting for Sara and Charles.
Felina drove herself to her apartment, did a thorough search to make sure the murderer hadn’t already arrived. Then she sat herself in a chair and began cleaning her gun – and waited.
Chance hadn’t slept well that night, and was a little jumpy all day. The only reason he wasn’t calling Callie and warning her was because Jake reasoned that they didn’t have to worry unless the Ferals were attacked, since it would be against the serial killer’s pattern to jump ahead in order. Chance admitted that the Ferals were good, but Chance didn’t think that the murderer could necessarily be counted on to stay in his previous pattern.
But there was no reason to scare her when it was unlikely that he killer would change his pattern.. so Chance agreed to at least wait a few days.
For Chance, the afternoon seemed to drag on, filled with visions of Katie and Callie being tortured and murdered by someone who looked a lot like Gren Burbank. Chance’s teeth were beginning to hurt from all the frustrated.. and helpless.. grinding he did.
Dinner was wonderful. The meal was, anyway. The dinner conversation was stilted and uncomfortable. Callie adjusted her glasses as she noticed that Gren was giving all the males in the room dark, challenging looks.
Inside, Callie cringed. He couldn’t possibly be this possessive of her already, could he? Why did she always seem to attract the weirdoes? Though she supposed even with his over-protectiveness, he was still less creepy than the PastMaster…
Gren looked back over at her and Callie managed a faltering smile. After a moment, he returned it with his usual shy, boyish grin. “Sorry I’ve been… Ah, anxious tonight.” Callie made no comment, but did raise her eyebrow slightly. He almost seemed to blush. “Could I maybe make it up to you? I make great cookies…”
His eyes pleaded with hers, and she felt herself cave. “Sure…” feeling cautious, she added, “I have all the materials at my place…” She dropped the hint subtly and saw his expression close as he thought about it. There was no way she was going to be entirely at his mercy at his place.
After a moment he nodded and smiled, though it looked a little strained. “Sounds perfect.”
Commander Feral called his niece’s quarters, and frowned when she didn’t answer within a few rings. He hung up. She was probably working out. He’d call back in a half hour.
Callie and Gren drove back in silence, riding in his beautiful red sports car. He parked in her guest parking space in the basement and they took the elevator up to her floor, making the occasional comment, but otherwise quiet. Callie noticed that Gren seemed to be anxious. His fists clenched and his eyes kept darting around as if looking for witnesses. It made her nervous.
Callie unlocked her apartment door and waved Gren inside. His eyes surveyed the room and he nodded, as if to himself, and walked inside. She opened the closet and hung her light jacket inside of it, wondering just what she would do if he started acting… odd… again.
She heard a soft, dark laugh directly behind her. Callie started to turn and saw a strong, brownish-grey colored hand close over her face with a rag that smelt sickly sweet. The fumes made her dizzy and she barely managed to utter a protest as another hand closed around her arm, bruising tight. Callie swayed and slipped into darkness, barely making out a grinning face before succumbing to unconsciousness.
It was about ten o’clock and Felina had cleaned both of her blasters. One she hid; the other sat in her lap, her hand hovering over it, fingers surprisingly still. Her dark eyes stared straight ahead into the darkened room, eyes having adjusted to the lack of light, and every shadowed form in the room memorized.
She knew he would strike soon, but it didn’t follow that he’d necessarily strike that night. But some sixth sense told her he would, and she was ready. She tried to keep her muscles relaxed, but her emotional state kept her body tensing up.
Felina was impatient. She’d never been particularly patient, and in this case, she was even less so. But she tried to control herself. The hours were torturously long, and if her mind hadn’t been filled with the gruesome crime scene photos, she probably would have decided to just go back to her room at Headquarters and rethink her plan.
Charles… Sara… Felina closed her eyes a moment, to make sure her eyes weren’t traitorous enough to shed a tear that she could ill-afford.
Her eyes flew open a second later, having heard a soft, muffled click. She scanned the darkened room, looking for a hint of movement – the slightest change in the shadowy shapes. She kept her breathing even and her pose relaxed, though her mind was screaming that someone was in the room.
If it weren’t for that sixth sense, she would have put it off to an over active imagination – but she never had a particularly over active imagination at all. Her fingers slowly slid over the handle of the gun and her finger found the trigger. Her thumb touched the safety, but she didn’t remove it. She was sure his hearing was as good as hers and he’d notice the sound.
So they waited, playing a game of who would break first. Felina felt a sweat droplet slide down her temple and she belatedly realized it would have made more sense for her to have at least brought in a back-up officer. No one, not even her uncle, knew she was there. Very few people knew she would even be in danger…
He gave a soft chuckle that raised the hair on the back of her neck. It was the first confirmation that she wasn’t simply overreacting. She grimaced when she realized she couldn’t even figure out the general direction he was in. She should have left the blinds open – but that would have revealed her position more clearly.
“So…” his voice whispered from that unidentifiable position in the room. “The Lieutenant is prepared. Excellent…” The barely restrained glee in his voice frightened her more than knowing she was in the room with him. She didn’t bother to respond. “C’mon Felina…” His voice was like a caress as he lingered over her name. “Come after me.”
She didn’t rise to the bait, though she sensed his voice was coming closer. More beads of sweat formed on her forehead and between her shoulder blades. Her heart pounded in her ears, and still she heard the metallic click as she removed the safety on her gun.
He laughed, and she noted an edge of insanity to it. “Predictable. But that’s alright, Felina… You failed, you know. I already have the Deputy Mayor. She was ridiculously easy to bag. Your uncle will be allowed to see your broken body before I kill him. And the mayor…” He laughed. “I don’t see how you let him rule over you all. He’s an incompetent fool and will be the easiest of all…” His voice was very close, and she still couldn’t make him out in the gloom. “Make your move, Enforcer.”
A finger stroked its way down her gun arm and with a yell of revulsion, she swung her arm through the air, hoping to club him with the back of her fist or with the gun. She was rewarded with a soft exhalation of air as she hit him in the chest and as she shoved herself out of her seat, she oriented in that direction.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” she yelled in her best Enforcer manner. Partly she did so, hoping it would scare him, another part hoped that neighbors would overhear and call for help – but mostly it was because she was so frightened she needed the confidence hearing herself say that gave her.
He laughed, and it sounded as if he were beside her. A finger stroking her jaw confirmed this as she instinctively shoved herself away, yelling in anger and in fear. A stray ray of light slid between the blinds and glinted off the blade of a knife and Felina tasted bile in the back of her throat.
The murderer always disfigured his victims while they were still alive, before finishing it off by slitting their throats on their beds. She could never forgive herself if her uncle had to look at crime scene photos of herself, mutilated and posed on her bed, with her Enforcer uniform neatly folded at the foot, and her badge placed in an open palm. It would kill him.
Felina saw a shadow move to the left and fired, hearing him drop to the floor and the bullet embed itself in the wall. She tried to control her breathing so it came smooth and silent, otherwise she might drown out the sounds of his subtle movements. She bit her lip and tasted blood and winced, hoping it wasn’t foreshadowing.
“‘Lina, ‘Lina, ‘Lina… Won’t you dance with me?” He asked in an off-key manner to the tune of a childhood nursery song. Before she could react with another shot, he tackled her and the momentum knocked them into the chair, which in turn toppled over. The impact inadvertently made her fire another shot, this time into the ceiling, and knocked most of the breath out of her lungs. Felina gasped for air and fought her attacker, who was trying to grab her gun.
“Won’t you -” he puffed, wrestling with her and trying to pin her strong arms to the floor, “Enforcers ever learn? Don’t – Mess – With – Me!” He put a knee on her left forearm, pinning it, and struggled with her right. He cuffed her across the face and she grunted with pain. He didn’t succeed in taking the gun away from her, but he did manage to knock it out of her grip.
She gave a wordless yell, hoping something had encouraged the neighbors to call the Enforcers. The apartment wasn’t exactly in the slums, so someone should have done so, but, then again, there were plenty of cases where people in better neighborhoods did nothing – not even call the Enforcers – when they knew something was happening.
She writhed and bucked under him, hoping to throw him off, but though he didn’t weigh much more than she did, nor was he any taller or stronger, he had the leverage she lacked, and her legs were still tangled in the chair. She tried to claw at his eyes and arms, she tried to bring up her knee and force him over her body, but whatever Felina did, he managed to keep her down, and if the dark laugh he made was any indication, he found her attempts amusing.
“Oh my poor ‘Lina. Must be so frustrating for you. Now just sit back and let me do my work…”
Felina felt a prick of a needle in her arm and a trill of alarm raced down her spine. Another yell of fear escaped her and she fought even harder, wincing as she felt the needle rake along her arm as she caught him off-guard. Patiently, he held her down and waited for the sedative to take effect.
Within minutes, her limbs felt like lead and she couldn’t manage to struggle anymore. She slipped into some sort of paralyzed awareness. She could see and hear, but couldn’t move or speak. She panted softly and decided to hoard her strength. Perhaps he hadn’t been able to give her a full dose and she could fight him off when it really mattered…
There was a knock at the door and someone shouted through it, “Are you alright? Open up!”
The kat laughed softly and patted her cheek. “Don’t worry, darlin’. I won’t let them interrupt us.” He pushed himself to a standing position, smoothed down his clothes and went to the door.
Felina couldn’t see the door from where she lay, and though she tried desperately to yell or move, she couldn’t. Fear filled her eyes, but she didn’t let herself tear up. If she could have set her jaw with determination, she would have.
She strained her ears and heard them at the door, “Sorry about the noise, I came home and I guess I somehow turned on the tv. It took me forever to find the remote to turn down the volume! I thought I was going to have to unplug the thing!” There was a murmuring and the murderer laughed in a particularly light-hearted manner. “Yeah, I can completely understand that you called the Enforcers! This is so embarrassing! Well, good-night!”
The door was closed firmly and the killer strode back into the darkened room. He seemed to consider before picking up her arms and dragging her into the bedroom. “This was actually sort of fun, Felina. A worthy opponent.” He hoisted her on the bed and began to arrange her limbs so that her ankles were crossed and her arms were outstretched, as if she were an angel in flight.
“Now,” he whispered, and she heard a soft ‘shhik’ of a knife being drawn out of its sheath. “Let’s get to work, shall we?”
Commander Feral paced his office. He’d called her room in Headquarters and she hadn’t answered. The same for her office. He had even called the in-station gym, but the night-duty clerk said that he hadn’t seen her at all that night.
His worried eyes fell on a letter from his brother, and Feral remembered that he’d insisted his daughter get her own apartment in the city so she wouldn’t be tempted to bring her work home with her. Feral knew his niece rarely used it, but perhaps she’d gone there to think.
Feral flipped through his Rolodex until he found the number for the apartment and called. It rang several times with no answer. He was about to give up and hang up when the phone clicked. “Felina?” he asked.
The other end of the line was silent, and he could just barely make out the sound of someone breathing. “Felina?” he asked again, the hair on the back of his neck prickled. The person on the other end listened, and there was a whisper of a laugh. Feral gripped the phone, not allowing himself to breathe. The phone was set down with a clatter, as if it were merely dropped onto the receiver. The line went dead and the Commander felt as if his heart had stopped with it.
Quickly, he mashed down the hook on the phone and waited a second, then he called down to the front desk. “Enforcer HeadQuarters – front desk. Sergeant Chester speaking.”
“Sergeant – This is the Commander. I need you to send some cars to an address – ready for it?”
Sergeant Chester stammered that he was and Feral barked the address as he gathered up his gun and holster and slung it over his shoulders. “Sir!” Chester said after imputing it into his computer, “That address just received a call not ten minutes ago about sounds of gunshots and a woman screaming. Then a few minutes later they called back to say it was just a tv…” The way he trailed off it was if he were pondering implying that Feral should also call it off, because it was obviously a mistake.
“That’s exactly why you need to send cars,” Feral ground out. He faltered a second and said in another tone, “…And send an ambulance. There may be an officer down.” He hung up before the Sergeant could waste even a second more of his time and rushed for the elevator.
Razor watched the back of his partner’s head as T-Bone scanned the ground and the Enforcer frequencies for trouble. He’d noticed that his friend had been jumpy all day, and he’d finally insisted on going on patrol.
Privately, Razor thought it was just going to be a waste of jet fuel, but he didn’t protest, even though salvaging it was tedious at best, and difficult as well as tedious at worst. T-Bone obviously needed an outlet for his frustrations, and if flying through the city’s artificial canyons helped him, Razor wasn’t going to complain.
Lost in his musings, Razor didn’t realize something significant had come in over the Enforcer bands until T-Bone gunned the engines and pulled his precious TurboKat in a tight U-turn. Razor yelped and grabbed for a hand hold as he waited for the G-forces to settle some. “What is it, T-Bone?”
“Just tuned into an Enforcer band that called some cars and an ambulance. They said something about an officer being down.”
“Think it’s our case?”
“Feral just called for his chopper, so yeah, I think so.” By the time they’d finished the exchange, they had found the building in question. The base of it was surrounded by squad cars with their flashing lights and an ambulance was just arriving. Razor looked at his radar, “Chopper incoming.”
A spurt of static prevented T-Bone from replying as they were hailed. “SWAT Kats,” Feral said, his voice harsh with emotion. “If you want to make yourselves useful, land that bird and join me on the roof.”
“What do you think, T-bone?”
He grunted in response. “I’m landing the bird.” He guided the jet to a nearby rooftop and the two climbed out. Razor pressed a button on his GloveaTrix and the canopy closed and locked. It’d take people far too long to break into it, if someone even tried while they were gone.
The space between the two buildings only required that the SWAT Kats get a good running start before jumping the gap, and they were at Feral’s side by the time the chopper blades had ceased whirling.
“Follow me,” the commander grunted, clutching his walking stick and his stray hand reaching up to where his holster must have been under his jacket. He patted it as if to reassure himself.
The SWAT Kats gave each other a worried look and hoped it wasn’t as serious as it felt like. It had to be case related, they knew, or Feral wouldn’t have invited them to look. But from the way Feral was grinding his teeth, it sounded as if Felina was the one in trouble.. but surely not – didn’t she have a room at headquarters?
They trooped down the stairs with Feral, followed by someone who appeared to be an Enforcer medic and two other Enforcers. The door to the apartment was already open and Feral shoved aside some grey looking rookies.
Feeling even more apprehensive, the two vigilantes followed Feral into the bedroom. They went white under their fur, seeing Lieutenant Feral posed in a typical way the serial killer posed his victims. Her face was covered in blood, her Enforcer uniform was carefully folded at the foot of her bed, and as a photographer took a photo of the scene, the flash glinted off the badge in her hand.
Razor tried to control the queasiness in his stomach as Feral bellowed for the photographer to take one last shot before he brought in the medic who hovered by the bed with his kit. The photographer obliged and escaped out of the bedroom to photograph the rest of the apartment.
The medic checked her heartbeat as a rookie called feebly from the doorway. “I already did that, sir. She’s alive and her heart’s goin’ strong… otherwise the photographer would have let the medic do his thing.. Sir…”
Feral and the SWAT Kats looked at the medic for confirmation. He nodded and looked over the wounds. “Nothing here’s going to kill her, though she should get into a hospital fast before she loses too much more blood…” He forced open an eye and shined a penlight into it and he continued after noticing the reaction. “She’s been drugged, so she’ll need to go through de-tox in case she has a bad reaction to it, but her pulse is good. …” He paused and looked up at them, gaze slipping from Feral to the vigilantes, eyeing them curiously. “It seems as if he made cuts that would bleed a lot and look very bad, but didn’t go for anything serious.”
“I don’t think he had enough time,” Feral growled softly, but seemed to relax slightly.
“He might come after her in the hospital, Commander,” Razor found himself saying, surprising himself a little. “I think he’s altering his pattern to cause the most uproar possible.”
Feral nodded shortly, as if uncomfortable hearing sound advice from vigilantes he professed to dislike so much. “I’ll post guards on her room.” To the room in general he said, “Get her to the hospital.”
Paramedics who had been waiting for a few moments in the hall rolled their stretcher into the room and started to transfer her to it. Felina began to struggle and Feral place a restraining hand on her shoulder. “Get a hold of yourself, Lieutenant!” The voice was soft, though, filled with an uncle’s love.
“Uncle…?” was the thin whisper of sound from his niece. Everyone instinctively fell silent, not making a move in case the sound of their clothes rustling drowned out her words. “Uncle, they have Briggs…” She lapsed into silence and closed her eyes. With a nod from the Commander, the paramedics rushed her out of the room.
Razor felt as if a ball of ice had been deposited in his stomach and Feral twitched as if to grab the phone, but his policing instincts told him not to destroy potential evidence. Feral whirled to the SWAT Kats and barked, “Go!” He pointed to the door and neither vigilante misunderstood what he meant.
They pushed past the Enforcers and up the stairs. They leapt across the gap between the two buildings and scrambled into the TurboKat within a minute. T-Bone gunned the engine and they had started to take off by the time Feral and his fellow Enforcers had flung open the roof’s door.
Neither wasted breath on speech. The buildings flew by in a blur as they whisked their way to the building Callie lived in. The TurboKat was quickly, but carefully landed and abandoned as they kicked open the door to the stairwell and took the stairs to Callie’s floor in leaps. Had they been less physically adept, they probably would have broken bones in their haste.
By the time they made it to Callie’s floor, they were puffing with exertion. Her front door was open and the lights were on. They threw themselves through the door, just in time to see Gren Burbank swagger out of the bedroom.
Razor remembered T-Bone’s theory that Burbank and the murderer were the same and felt as if time had slowed. He turned, reaching to restrain T-Bone, but his friend was across the room, grabbing Burbank by the collar and shoving him against the wall. The moment Razor heard the thud of the other kat’s body against the surface, time returned to normal. “T-Bone!” he shouted, rushing forward to prevent T-Bone from doing Burbank serious harm before he could speak.
He looked into the bedroom and noticed that the bed was empty. And that meant… what? Razor looked back at Burbank as T-Bone growled, “Where’s Callie?”
Burbank turned mild eyes on them both and didn’t answer. Razor sensed T-Bone tensing up for a punch and was about to restrain him when he noticed a bloody mark on Burbank’s sleeve. “T-Bone, wait!” Razor grabbed Burbank’s arm and shoved the sleeve up to reveal a puncture mark. “He’s been drugged…”
Burbank nodded in response to Razor’s announcement and seemed to drift off a moment. T-Bone visibly restrained himself from shaking the other kat as they waited. “Killer’s got ‘er…” He tried to give them a stern look. “Grendel Burbank…. FBI… step off my case, vigilante…” He drifted off again, apparently victim to the drug.
T-Bone looked over at Razor, who interpreted it correctly as a request for him to find the badge. Razor fished through Burbank’s pockets and did indeed come up with an FBI badge. The two looked at each other with an expression of helplessness. Where did they look next? Should they go to protect Feral? Or the Mayor?
Feral made it up to the roof in time to see the SWAT Kats take off, and started to move towards the chopper when he changed his mind. “Take the chopper and go protect the Mayor. I’m going to ride with the Lieutenant.”
The Enforcers with him made hurried salutes and dashed towards the chopper; Feral turned back and rushed to the elevator. He fidgeted as he rode it to the lobby, and just managed to catch up because the medics were having trouble with the stretcher. He rushed up and helped them with the legs and announced he was riding with his niece. They nodded and closed the door behind him.
Feral reached out and held his niece’s hand. He reassured himself that head wounds bled a lot, just as the medic had said. So wrapped up in his worries, he didn’t notice when only one paramedic got into the ambulance and drove off towards the hospital.
The sirens blared and the vehicle roared through traffic, darting between cars and trucks with even more of a recklessness than such vehicles usually did. After a few minutes, Feral realized they were getting into thinner traffic, which didn’t compute since the area around any of the hospitals was usually congested even this late at night. He looked up and peered through the windshield and didn’t immediately recognize the area they were in.
Feral didn’t have time to formulate a query because the medic turned his head and gave a demented little laugh. “Oh, Commander! I’m very pleased I predicted your movements so well! I suppose if you’d gone after the SWAT Kats I would have had to end the Lieutenant’s life in a less dramatic way. But rest assured you’ll both go down together!”
The Commander growled and started out of his seat. The driver – the murderer – spun the steering wheel so that Feral stumbled and had to brace his hands against the walls of the vehicle in order not to land on his niece. “Tut tut, Commander! No fair distracting the driver. Don’t make me do that again.”
Feral glared towards the killer and met his cold eyes in the rear-view mirror. His blood chilled at the absolute hatred in his gaze. “We’re headed for the bridge. Then I’m going to drive this ambulance off and the two of you…” he made a whistling sound and took one hand off the wheel to make a diving motion. “Take a bath.”
The SWAT Kats helped Burbank to the couch and crouched next to him. Burbank’s eyes slid from one to the other and he laughed softly. His voice was low as he began to speak. “Been working this case for seven years…. Always wondered what the victims felt like when that drug was in their system… I wondered if they saw colors or had trouble focusing…”
His eyes looked up into theirs and bored holes into them. Very softly he said, “Now you tell me.”
Burbank lunged at them, a hand seemingly producing syringes from nowhere. Razor, caught by surprise was jabbed by one and stumbled back over a table. T-Bone just barely avoided receiving one himself. “Sure-shot??” he asked, not daring to move his eyes from Burbank with the remaining syringe and the wild eyes.
Burbank laughed. “Oh, he’ll live. But I gave him enough of a dose that he’ll be no help.”
Confused, T-Bone crouched, ready to leap or dodge as necessary. “I thought you were FBI.”
Burbank’s eyebrows shot up. “But I am! Oh! This…!” he said, taking in the room with a sweep of his arm, but referring to his actions. “Well, I couldn’t let my little brother take the fall himself…”
T-Bone choked and Burbank laughed. “That was my reaction too! I spent years in the Academy studying to take down murderers, but I was ignoring my family. My little brother. He lived for my attention.” He paused, seemingly sad for a moment. “I suppose he thought that starting his own murder spree was the only way to get my attention…. I didn’t even get the case until he’d already been doing it for years!”
Burbank made a feint with the syringe and T-Bone jumped back. “So you figured it out and decided to help?” He asked, playing for time.
“Not at first… no. But I didn’t tell my superiors what I suspected. It took me awhile to figure out why he did it. He killed law enforcement officials to prove how good he was. To prove they couldn’t match him – working his way up the ranks and then starting over in a new city. He did it to impress me! So that when I brought him down I’d be famous! …I love my little brother. He was doing it all for me.”
T-Bone still didn’t understand, nor did he think he could if Burbank tried more. He lunged for the arm with the syringe and was rewarded with a kick in the stomach. He stumbled back, doubling over slightly, but not taking his eyes off the weapon.
“You don’t get it, do you?” Burbank closed in. “Partly.. this is all your fault, you know. The SWAT Kats are what made this game of my brother’s so dangerous. I’ve seen the records – he was no match for you…” With a laugh, Burbank shrugged. “But I am.”
T-Bone circled until he reached where Razor had collapsed. He touched his shoulder and whispered, “You okay, Little Buddy?” Razor groaned faintly in response.
“It’ll take at least another twenty minutes for that dose to wear off enough for him to be able to talk,” Burbank informed him. “Then again, he’s such a shrimp that it could be an hour before the toxin flushes itself out of his system.”
T-Bone growled. He looked closer at Burbank and finally realized that this wasn’t the guy who hurt Katie. He wasn’t the ex-boyfriend and he wasn’t her murderer. However, he did know where Callie was. And if she was still alive. “What about Miss Briggs?”
“The Deputy Mayor?” Burbank asked, his eyebrows raising as if he were surprised for the first time. “In the other bedroom, of course. I had to make it look real until I could catch you two off your guard, and I couldn’t do that if one of you was slugging me in the gut and the other was checking on the divine Miss Briggs.”
“You think you’re so smart, Burbank. But you forgot about the FBI,” T-Bone hazarded. He got a laugh in response.
“No, I didn’t. I was legitimately assigned to protect Miss Briggs without her knowledge. Though, you’re right… there are times I suspected that they were on to me… But I checked over everyone that I or Callie came into contact with. No one knew enough to have been fellow agents, and we weren’t shadowed. No, the Enforcers are too busy fishing the Ferals out of the bay by now and protecting the roly-poly little mayor of yours to wonder what became of the Deputy Mayor and the SWAT Kats. And by that time I’ll have finished with you three and my brother and I will move on to another city. And this time we’ll work as a team… Just like he always wanted.”
“Whuzza matter, Commander?” Felina said softly, softly enough that Feral had to lean forward to hear it.
“How are you feeling?” he rumbled as softly as he could, hoping the growl of the ambulance’s engine masked his words and his niece’s.
“I’ll be alright in a minute… though the cuts sting…” The strength was returning to her voice, and her uncle and commander took her word for it.
“We might have to swim in a moment. I’m going to undo your straps, alright?”
Felina nodded, setting her jaw and craned her blood-caked head back to look at the driver. The ‘medic’ seemed intent on threading his way through the traffic approaching the bridge, and wasn’t watching them closely. Feral carefully unbuckled the straps that kept Felina bound to the stretcher, but had the sense enough to let the straps look as if they were still attached. He stroked the hair out of his niece’s face and turned a stony look towards the front of the vehicle.
“Almost hee-rrre!” The murderer chirped. “I hope you two enjoy cold baths!” He laughed shrilly at his own ‘joke’ and gave the ambulance gas as they accelerated up the slight incline.
“Be prepared, Lieutenant,” Feral muttered under his breath. He had his gun still, but he hadn’t thought of using it until then. Before then he realized that if he shot the driver, Felina would be left to the mercy of Fate whether she survived. But now with her strength and consciousness returning, she could be counted on to make sure she was safe.
Feral reached inside his jacket and pulled his gun out. “I hate to leave you here – wait, what am I saying, I’m enjoying this!” The kat laughed maniacally as he reached for a bar to use to wedge down the gas pedal and while his head was turned, Feral shot at the glass of the windshield.
The windshield cobwebbed except for a bullet hole in the center. The murderer looked up and shrieked in anger at not being able to see anything. “I’ll go with you if I have to, but one way or another you’re going in that bay!” he screeched and wrenched at the steering wheel.
Commander Feral threw himself on the driver, both of them struggling for control. “Commander! Look out!” Felina cried.
Feral looked up to see the street was canted at an odd angle and realized they were going to flip just an instant before they began to roll. He shoved himself away from the driver and grabbed for something to hold on to as he noticed his niece flinging herself off the stretcher.
There was a loud screeching of metal, the cracking of glass, and he heard screams that he weren’t entirely sure he wasn’t making. The ambulance rolled a few times, flinging the occupants and objects inside against each other. The ambulance stopped rolling and simply skid on its side for several dozen yards. Feral could just see out of a side window that they were approaching the barrier. Within a heartbeat of that awareness, he felt them collide with it and he hoped fervently that the guardrails would hold the weight…
T-Bone felt the dull thump of his pulse in his ears as he thought furiously. He could do nothing for the Ferals at the moment. Callie and Razor were technically okay, or Burbank would have bragged about it, and he even implied that the Mayor wasn’t even a target. So his priority was to make sure he didn’t feel the sting of the syringe and to take Burbank down.
He needed to get Burbank off-balance. His weak spot… “Your brother has already been captured, Burbank.”
The other kat’s eyes narrowed. “No. He’s too good for that.”
“Why do you think we didn’t bring Feral with us, huh? He was too busy taking your little brother, the failure, to jail. Feral was too good. You underestimated us all.”
“No,” Burbank growled, lashing out in anger rather than with forethought and planning. “You’re lying!”
“I saw Feral leading him off in cuffs. He was whimpering like a whipped child,” T-Bone jeered, putting himself more under control as Burbank lost his.
“You gave it all up, Burbank. You don’t even have the glory of capturing your brother, now. You’re going to wind up in a cell on Al-Kat-Traz and you can comfort your brother as he cries into his pillow every night.”
With an inarticulate yowl, Burbank threw himself at T-Bone. And T-Bone – stronger, under control and prepared – was ready. He grabbed Burbank by the collar and by his wrist and shook it until the syringe fell to the floor. He dragged him close and growled softly.
“The first time I met you I told you that you looked like someone I didn’t like, and that if you hurt Callie, I’d hurt you.” He drew back a fist. “You should have listened.” He took satisfaction in the bewildered expression on Burbank’s face just before his fist connected with his chin. The FBI agent went out like a light.
T-Bone firmly tied Grendle’s hands behind his back and left him slumped against the wall. He then went over to Razor and helped him to the couch.
“Check on Callie,” Razor advised in a groggy sort of voice.
“Will do, buddy,” T-bone replied and searched the apartment until he found the second bedroom. Callie was carefully placed on the middle of her bed, her hands folded over her stomach and her long hair spread out over the pillow. Her glasses were on her nightstand and it looked, more than anything, as if she’d simply taken an afternoon nap and hadn’t yet woken up.
He sat on the edge of her bed and checked her arms for puncture wounds. His brow furrowed until he noticed a rag that smelled of chloroform laying next to her. He carefully touched the side of her face. “Callie?” he asked softly.
Her eyelashes fluttered. “Mmm?” She started to sit up, but fell back. “Ooohh… I feel ill..”
“It’s the chloroform. Are you okay? He didn’t hurt you, did he?” His jaw clenched in anger. T-Bone turned on a light so she could see.
“Oh, T-Bone… where’s Razor? And… and Gren…?” She looked confused and he winced, hoping she hadn’t fallen in love with Burbank.
As gently as possible he said, “Razor is alright… Burbank… he’s the one who did this to you.” Her eyebrows shot up and she fumbled for her glasses. “I’m afraid he and his brother have been murdering Enforcers… And you were his next target.”
It took her a moment to process the information, and T-Bone watched her expression reflect her inner turmoil. Finally she nodded. “But you’ve got him.” He nodded.
“And his brother?”
“That’s up to Feral.”
Thankfully, the guardrail held. Feral shoved his way to the front of the vehicle again and grabbed the unconscious kat and began to drag him out of the window with him. “Felina?” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Coming, Commander!” she responded, managing to kick open the back doors and climb out herself.
Cars were few on the bridge at the hour of the night, but those few that were on it had stopped and concerned katizens rushed to help. “Anyone with a cell phone call the Enforcers!” Felina ordered, sitting down on the road, being still too much under the drug to do much else.
Feral in the meantime pushed the murderer over onto his stomach and read him his rights automatically as he cuffed him. The fact that the perp was unconscious didn’t much matter to him. He’d have the rights re-read to him when he returned to the conscious world, but it was the procedure that mattered at the moment.
Faint sirens in the distance announced back up on its way, and Feral walked over to his niece. He sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Commander…” she began.
Feral smiled and corrected her. “Uncle.”
Two weeks passed before the Mayor was calm enough to make a speech on the matter – something on which he insisted. He had somehow convinced Miss Briggs to use her influence over the SWAT Kats to ensure they showed up for the award ceremony.
Feral had to attend because both it would have been his job to anyway, and because he was getting a medal as well. Miss Briggs looked over at him and gave him a look of approval, which surprised him. He shifted uncomfortably next to the podium and slanted a glance to the SWAT Kats. If anything, they looked more uncomfortable than he did, so he hid a smirk.
The shorter one, Razor, noticed his look and gave him a quiet nod of respect. Seemingly by accident, he nudged his friend, who looked over. T-Bone was looking grim until his eyes met Feral’s. Then he gave Feral a wolfish smile – one warrior to another. Feral was surprised to feel himself returning it.
Feral couldn’t help remembering the insistence of the fallen FBI Agent that he had met the SWAT Kats without their masks. Though many people questioned him, he just repeated in a mortified sort of way that he couldn’t remember them, but he did remember that T-Bone had made it clear that he had. One of his former fellow agents taunted Burbank that the SWAT Kat had done so only to have the question torment him through all the years he’d be locked away in prison. After that, Burbank became hysterically insistent that he knew… He just had to retrace his steps… Everyone had vetoed the idea, knowing Burbank was wily enough that he might escape. Burbank then suggested hypnosis. Feral had been present at the time and firmly rejected the idea. “He’ll try to use it as a bargaining chip and the only place it’d be useful is in this city – and I refuse to sell out the SWAT Kats for this monster.”
His attention was brought back to the present by a sharp elbow from his niece. As he made his way to the podium to be presented with his medal, he thought, I don’t like that these vigilantes are operating in my city. But if they’re the wild card that keeps monsters like these from achieving their goals… I’ll learn to tolerate them… Feral looked over the crowds of civilians and began his acceptance speech while the SWAT Kats silently slipped away.
T-Bone stood at the foot stone of the grave. Razor waited with the cyclotrons just out of hearing distance. T-Bone removed his helmet, and after a moment, his mask.
“Katie. I’m sorry we never… Well, I’m sorry I wasn’t mature enough to love you properly when I had you. But I’m glad we were friends even after we broke up. I’m sorry that I didn’t make an effort to stay in touch with you… I guess… I still wasn’t mature enough to love you properly. But I was proud of you, always.” He laughed softly and looked at his feet. “I mean, you were obviously good enough for this guy to target you. And… I guess I’m glad that I helped take him down. It doesn’t make up for my neglect but… I hope you could have been proud of me too. ‘Bye Katie…”
He replaced his mask and helmet and walked up the hill to meet his friend, leaving a small bunch of flowers on the plot. The flowers’ white petals fluttered in the breeze caused by the departing Cyclotrons of the SWAT Kats.
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