Title: House of Cards
Author(s): One Small Monkey
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: October 21, 2005 (revised)
Warnings: very mild profanity and “adult themes”
Disclaimer: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron,” its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
Summary: Even the SwatKats can use a helping hand…if they can find one.
Author’s Comments/Notes: Sorry it took so long (three years?!) to fix. Life has a way of interfering.
Chance walked into the garage, humming to himself. Three weeks! He and Benny had a friendly rivalry at the pool hall going, but Chance had found himself at the wrong end of a losing streak for the last three weeks. Finally, this evening, he had met Benny at the bar after work and, to his amazement, won, bringing the streak to a merciful end.
He headed towards the kitchen, but was surprised to see a light on in the office. Heading over in that direction, Chance spied Jake sitting in the office through the window. Chance reached for the door handle so he could brag about his victory, but something about the way Jake sat there looked…wrong. He had his head down, like he was reading something, but there wasn’t much in front of him. A very short letter, a few envelopes, two or three old work orders. The more Chance stood there, the more weirded out he started feeling. What’s up with Jake? Finally, Chance pushed the door open, and decided to defuse the feeling with a little levity.
“You done memorizing that desk, buddy?”
Jake barely moved. His eyes flicked up to where Chance was standing, then returned down to the desk. Chance could’ve sworn he heard Jake muttering or growling under his breath, too – something he wasn’t sure he’d ever heard him do before.
“Jake, you all right?”
Jake sort of shuddered and leaned back in his chair. “Chance, buddy, I’m sorry…it’s…well…it’s just not a good day, OK?”
“What’s not good about it?”
Putting on a feeble attempt at a smile, Jake said, “It’s nothing. Really.”
Chance shook his head. “Don’t pull that on me, Jake. Something’s up.” He got up, grabbed a soda from the small fridge in there, then sat down across the desk from Jake. “Talk.”
Jake stared into Chance’s eyes, then hung his head down. “It’s…I don’t know…everything, I guess.”
Chance smirked. “OK, gotcha. It’s nothing and it’s everything. Lemme guess. It’s something in between. Come on – talk to your partner here. You know the rule – no secrets.”
Jake said, “No secret, Chance. Really, it’s everything. It’s just…look.” He waved his hand over towards where the garage was. “We’ve got cars up the yin-yang to take care of.”
A half-frown appeared on Chance’s face. Since when was this new? “We’ll get to them when we get to them. You know that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jake began talking a bit faster. “And in between cracked engine blocks and failed master cylinders, we’ll go off and save the city in that plane of ours. What has it been…four times this week?”
Chance shrugged. “Yeah. Sounds right. You said it yourself – a vigilante’s work is never done.”
“Bingo. It’s never done.” Jake shook his head and narrowed his eyes. “I’m down to what? Four, five missiles? Any spare time I get the next six weeks, I’m going to have to make more…or else we’re stuck saving the city with our fire extinguishers.”
“Well, maybe next week, Dark Kat’ll be attacking us with fire monsters.” Chance tried on a goofy grin.
Jake narrowed his eyes further. “No jokes, Furlong, please. Not now.”
Immediately, Chance sobered up. “Sorry.”
“Then there’s this.” Jake pointed to the short letter that was sitting in front of him.
“What is it?”
“A little love note from the Enforcers. Seems it’s time to audit our books here at the salvage yard.”
“So? Take a look around, Chance.” He indicated the papers and files strewn around the office, the couch, the floor. “Think this’ll pass inspection?”
“Well, we’ll clean it up.”
“When? During all that spare time of ours?”
Chance thought for a minute. “Why don’t we can hire someone to take care of it? Temps work cheap, right?”
Jake half-laughed. “Yeah, I thought the same…but then I thought some more. How are we supposed to explain our sudden disappearances to this…paper pusher?” Jake faked waving to an imaginary person across from him. “Hey, if we’re not back by 5, lock up for us!”
Chance shrugged again. “You never know. We could make it work.”
Jake leaned back, put his head against the wall, and closed his eyes. “Buddy, listen, it’s easy to say ‘we could make it work’, but it’s a major pain in the tail making it work. And frankly, I’m sick of making it work. I don’t know if I can make it work by myself anymore…Don’t get me wrong.” He stopped and looked at Chance for a second. “I wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t here doing it with me. But how long can we keep this up?”
“As long as we have to.”
“Well, yeah, but I don’t want to have to anymore. Y’know how much we still owe for our ‘little incident’?”
“Nope.” Chance rubbed his eyes. “And I don’t think I want to.”
“Yeah, well, I know…and you’re right – you don’t want to know.” Jake sighed again and rubbed his eyes, sighed once more, and tried to keep his voice level. “I chose this life, Chance, and deep down, I don’t really regret it. But I don’t like living like this. It’s like – I dunno – I feel like my whole life is this house of cards. It’s still standing, but it ain’t steady at all. Just one small wind, and…” He waved his hand.
Chance looked more concerned, but said, “I don’t think it’s really all that bad, Jake.”
Jake opened his eyes and looked squarely at Chance. “When’s the last time either of us had a date?”
With a smile, Chance said, “Last week.”
Jake looked askance at his partner. “Taking Miss Briggs back to MegaKat City in the TurboKat doesn’t count as a date, buddy.”
Chance shrugged. “It does in my book.”
Jake leaned forward. “There you go…just riding in the same vehicle with her is a date to you. You don’t think that’s sort of pathetic?”
Chance wrinkled his brow. “And what about you, lover boy? Any hotties lined up for Saturday?”
Jake leaned back against the wall again. “No. There’s the point. If even a miracle happened, and I managed to find someone who wanted to go out with a third-rate mechanic, I couldn’t go anyway, ’cause we’re so busy. We’ve got – what – monsters in the streets, busted cars, a depleted missile stockpile, a mound of paperwork…and that’s Jake’s life, everybody.” He closed his eyes, and began rubbing his face.
Chance was about to reply when the phone rang. Jake opened his eyes and looked at Chance, who looked back at him. After three rings, Jake slowly said, “Aren’t you gonna get it?”
Chance kept his eyes on Jake, but reached over to grab the phone. “Yeah? Jake & Chance’s Repair & Salvage.”
“I was wondering when you were going to pick up,” said Miss Briggs. “Look, Chance, I know it’s really short notice, but Mayor Manx had the transmission on his limo go out on him. Would you be able to squeeze it in this evening?”
Chance glanced back at Jake one more time, then scratched the side of his head and sighed. “Look, I’m not sure I can. We’re really backed up here.”
Miss Briggs sort of gasped. “Oh, but I already told him it would be no problem!”
Chance growled, “Yeah, well, today it’s a problem. Trust me – I wouldn’t tell you that if it wasn’t.”
Miss Briggs put a little edge on her voice. “Well, what am I supposed to tell Mayor Manx?”
Tell him to get off his fat tail and walk, thought Chance. “Look, tell him we might be able to squeeze him in tomorrow. It’s just not gonna fly tonight.”
Chance could almost picture her leaning forward and putting her hand on her hip. “And what are you two so busy doing today? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
Chance had had enough. “Now, look here, you know we bend over backwards for you and hizonor every time you need somethin’. But tonight, we’re just over our heads here!”
Miss Briggs was a bit taken aback. “Well, all right. But what am I supposed to do until then?”
Chance growled back, “Beats me. Call Feral. Maybe he can stop polishin’ his medals long enough to fix Manx’s limo.” He slammed the phone down. “Crud!” He turned back to Jake, who was staring at him with large eyes. Chance thought for a second, then waved it away. “Aw, she had it coming.”
Jake shook his head. “Now I got you doing it.”
“No. That had nothin’ to do with you.” Chance’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Why don’t you take the evening off?”
Jake looked incredulous. “What! With us as far behind as we are!”
Chance shrugged. “We’re so far behind now, you taking the day off ain’t gonna make much difference. Besides, you let me run off and play pool today.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to give up your pool games with Bennie, Chance. You know that.”
“I know. But fair’s fair. I’ll take care of the cars. Go back to your room. Watch some TV or something. Get your mind back on track.”
Jake looked down for a minute. “I’m not sure it’d be any help.”
“Yeah, but could it be?”
Jake half-shrugged and drew a large breath. “It might. I’m willing to try anything at this point.” He looked up. “You sure you don’t mind?”
Chance smiled. “Are you kidding? If I know you, you’ll be back here in twenty minutes, tail between your legs.”
Jake smiled back, stood up and put his hand on Chance’s shoulder. “Thanks, buddy. I won’t forget this.”
Chance laughed, putting his hand on Jake’s. “Yeah, like I’ll let ya!” He watched as Jake left the office, then let his smile disappear. He sat there glumly for a minute, then jumped up and headed back to the garage. He walked over to a half-rebuilt engine and yanked on the alternator. This ain’t good, he thought. Jake’s always been the strong one when I’ve been ready to blow. What the heck are we going to do if we both get down in the dumps?
Jake sifted through his CDs, finally settling on one of his favorites – the Atomic Zombie Mob. He slipped it into the boombox and pressed play, then jumped up into his hammock. The screaming guitars and drums hit him full-on, and he smiled a bit. After about twenty seconds, the smile faded. Jake jumped back down and stopped the disc, then jumped back up. He thought, I probably don’t need something that’s louder than my brain can think. My mind’s going like 200 mph here. What am I supposed to do to slow it down?
He jumped back into his hammock and took another deep breath. He thought, I read somewhere that when your brain gets all messed up, the trick is to not work too hard at thinking – to just let the thoughts come and go. He sat quietly for a minute. Thoughts came and went, all right, but none of them were pleasant or helpful – in fact, many of them were downright upsetting. After about a minute, he slapped the wall with his open palm, sending himself rocking slightly. Heck, what’s wrong with me? This isn’t anything I haven’t dealt with before.
He found this thought slightly comforting. Reaching below the hammock to his desk for a pad of paper and a pencil, Jake scribbled down:
1. This isn’t anything I haven’t dealt with before.
He sucked on the end of the pencil for a second, then wrote:
2. Things seem impossible…
A loud deep buzzing filled the air. Jake threw the pad and pencil against the wall with all his force. “No! No! No!” he yelled, but his body obeyed better than his mind – he was already out the door.
Razor leapt out of the TurboKat and skulked over to his locker. He yanked his helmet off, tossed it into the corner and announced, “Dibs on the shower.”
T-Bone came behind him at a respectable distance, nose wrinkled. “If you weren’t headed in, buddy, I’d throw you in.”
Wheeling around, Jake tossed his hands in the air. “Hey, just because I had to go down in the sewer, again, while you hung out in the TurboKat.” He started shucking off his gloves. “You know that guy I pulled out of the sewer?”
“Yeah – geez, what a moron. Heck, he had plentya time to hightail it outta there…”
“He was a photographer.”
“Oh! Shoulda guessed.” He walked over to his locker to pull out his coveralls. “You shoulda let him drown.”
Jake shook his head. “Yeah – that’d be just what my conscience needs. Besides, you know the paper would have a field day with that one.” He held up his hands to mimic a newspaper headline. “‘Swat Kat Refuses Aid to Press – Conspiracy Suggested’. So, instead he’ll probably get himself a promotion for getting the story of the month…and I’ll get…what?”
“A hot shower.”
“Some reward.” He peeled off his uniform, and kicked it across the floor with distaste. “Now I’ll have to wash this thing again.”
Chance leaned against his locker, trying to read Jake’s mood. “You feeling any better?”
Jake looked back at Chance and half-shrugged. “Sort of. It’s always better as long as we’re out on missions like this.”
“I dunno. No time to think about it, I guess. I’ll see how I feel after the shower.”
He shuffled off towards the bathroom, while Chance headed back to the garage. Nothing on the answering machine – cool, he thought. Then again, that means Miss Briggs didn’t call back. Of course, why should she? I did sort of tick her off. She’ll come around. Well, I’m pretty sure she will. He walked up to the Chrysler and picked up a socket wrench.
The first brake pad was already on when Jake came in. He was freshly scrubbed, but wearing a ripped T-shirt and jeans. “Hey, there, sharp dressed kat,” said Chance.
“Messy clothes for a messy mind,” said Jake. “Look, I’ve been thinking about that audit.”
“Ditto. First off, what are we going to do about all that paperwork?”
“Well, maybe you were right. Maybe we could advertise for someone…find someone to take care of the paperwork for us…someone we could take into our confidence here.” He shrugged. “Wouldn’t hurt to see who applies, in any case.”
A big grin played on Chance’s face. “So ya think ya might wanna use this?” He dug into his front pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, which he handed off to Jake. Jake unfolded it and read, “Wanted – parttime office clerk…what’s this?”
“Want ad. S’OK to call it into the Times?”
Jake didn’t move for a second, then smiled. “You bet. But you spelled ‘opportunity’ wrong.”
Chance crossed his arms. “Hey, as long as you’re in this funk, someone’s got to get some stuff done around here.”
“Well, thanks for stepping in. I’ll call it in tonight.” Jake high-fived Chance as he walked over to a beat-up Toyota. “You did save this one for me, I hope?”
“Well, you gotta have some fun.”
“Grbtlrbrntz…,” muttered Chance, coming into Jake’s workshop.
Jake looked up from his missile. “Another great interview, huh?”
Seating himself on the desk well away from the explosives, Chance spread his arms wide. “Megakat City’s huge. Somewhere out there, there’s gotta be a kat who can handle an easy paper pushin’ job…but she ain’t stopped by here yet, I can tell you that much.” He leaned closer to Jake, jerking a thumb behind him. “This last one wanted to know if she could have the next three weeks off.”
Jake looked confused. “But we haven’t even hired her yet.”
Chance nodded. “I know. I told her she can have every week off. And the guy before her needed help spelling his name right.”
“And the girl before him? The one you thought was so good-looking?”
Chance shook his head. “Dumb as a box of sticks.” Then he smiled, big. “But I got her phone number…you know, just in case.”
Jake smiled back. “That’s Chance, always thinking.”
“Yep. But, heck, Jake, we may as well forget about hiring anyone. I mean, forget about that whole confidence thing – we’re having enough problems now finding someone who can even do the job.”
“Hm. You want me to take this next interview? I could use a break from…this.” He made a face at the missile parts.
Chance waved him towards the door. “Be my guest. Just don’t get your hopes up. I don’t need you getting back here all depressed.”
Jake wiped his hands and walked to the front of the garage. Waiting there, absently looking out the window, was a smallish black kat in a poorly pressed sports shirt and jeans. Jake gave him the two-second lookover. Bookworm, computer geek, probably watches public TV. On the plus side, he probably doesn’t have any friends. Then again, he probably blabs any secrets he might come upon to what friends he had.
Turning around, the black kat smiled politely and held out his hand. “Mr Clawson, correct?” he asked. Jake nodded. “I’m Marcus Greene.” They shook hands, and Jake waved him into the office. Jake took his place at the desk, and tried to slip into businessman mode. He scanned the resume, then frowned. College degree? Office manager of Megakat Computers? This guy was obviously way overqualified. He’s probably thinking this was a much bigger position than it is. Well, no reason to string him along. Better just get rid of him. “You realize that this is just a part-time position?” he asked, peeking over the top of the paper.
Marcus nodded. “Yeah. Right now, I’m mainly doing freelance work where I can set my own hours, so I’m sort of looking for something to supplement that.”
Tilting his head a bit, Jake added, “…and the pay here isn’t that great.”
Cryptically, Marcus smiled and said, “Yeah, I figured as much.”
Jake paused for a few seconds. “Well, I’m sure you could handle the work…but I don’t really see why you’d want to work here. You could probably pull down a much better position than this with these credentials.”
Marcus answered, “Times’re tough, Mr Clawson. You take what work comes along. Besides, this location…appeals to me.”
Jake flipped the page over to look at his list of references. “What type of freelance work do you do?”
Marcus gave Jake a self-satisfied smile. “A couple of things. I do some bookkeeping for a law firm, and I do a little free-lance computer work out of my home.”
“Enough to keep you busy?”
“Not busy enough – that’s why I’m here.”
“I don’t wanna work you to death.”
Marcus politely laughed. “That’s no problem. I’ve got plenty of time for my hobbies.”
“Football, hunting?” asked Jake, mildly sarcastically.
Marcus recognized a dig when he heard on, but he played along. “No, gave those up. Um…I solve mysteries.”
Jake glanced up from the reference list, smiled, and offered, “Detective novels?”
Marcus shook his head. “No, real life mysteries.” He leaned forward a bit. “I recently solved a rather…unusual mystery.”
Jake continued looking over the resume, and said, absently, “Really?”
Marcus leaned back. “Yes. My last project was determining the identities of the SwatKats.”
Looking back up at Marcus, Jake counted to five, then complimented himself on remaining calm…well, outwardly calm. He quietly took a breath, then leaned over the desk and said, “Let me get this straight. You figured out who the SwatKats are?”
Nodding, Marcus said, “Yeah.”
Jake paused, then asked, “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. Tell me – who are they?”
Marcus paused before saying , “I don’t think I should tell you that.” He leaned forward, bringing his head inches from Jake’s. He put his hands on the desk, still smiling, and continued in a very low voice. “For instance, say you’re one of the SwatKats. You wouldn’t want anyone going around and giving out that information, would you?”
Jake shook his head. “Well, no, I guess not But you…you figured this out? By yourself?”
Jake didn’t think Marcus’ smile could get any bigger, but he was wrong. Marcus leaned back, his proud smile threatening to consume his face. “All by my lonesome.”
“Who…hired you to do this?”
Marcus said, “Oh, it was just me. Like I said, it’s just a hobby. I was just curious. Kind of an intellectual exercise, simply for my own personal gratification. You know, just to see if I could do it. I don’t plan on publishing my findings or anything.”
Jake took a deep breath, then let it out. “Have you…confirmed your guess in any way? Like, have you met them? I mean, the ones you believe to be the SwatKats?”
“Yes, I have, in fact.” Suddenly, Marcus shook his head. “Well, to be honest, I’ve met one of them. And I hope to meet the other fairly soon.”
“Mm-hm.” Jake stood up. “Could you wait here a minute? I probably should introduce you to my partner here.” Unsteadily, he walked to the garage. “Hey, Chance!” Chance peered out from under a hood. “Could you…come here a minute?”
Uncertainly, Chance closed the hood and came into the lobby. Marcus stood up to greet him. “Hello, Mr Furlong. I’m Marcus Greene.” He held out his hand again.
Chance reached out, but, noticing how greasy his own hand was, pulled it away at the last second, and sort of waved. “Uh, good to meetcha, Marcus.”
“Mr Greene is interested in our part-time position here,” Jake said, too cheerfully, “and it seems he’s quite the detective. He’s solved all sorts of little mysteries…” Then, with as little emphasis as he could, he added, “…like finding out who the SwatKats are.” Chance wasn’t quite the actor Jake was. His eyes got really big, and his mouth slowly dropped open. Jake went on, “And he says he’s met one of them…isn’t that so, Mr Greene?”
Looking rather smug, Marcus admitted, “Well, actually, I’ve met both of them.”
Jake, pushing by Chance, strode over to Marcus and put his arm around his shoulder, leading him towards the exit. “Well, Marcus, I’m really happy you stopped by. I’m sure you’d make a great addition to our little place here, and we’ll be giving you a call either way by the end of the week.”
Marcus looked behind him, flabbergasted, but managed to blurt out, “It was really nice meeting you two,” before Jake half led, half pushed him out the door. Jake turned to Chance, and for a full minute, neither of them said anything. Finally, Jake swung his hand around, as if knocking over a house of cards, then walked back into the workshop.
Chance was one kat who rarely had any trouble focusing on his work. Until tonight, that is. It took him seven tries to balance one tire. He tried to keep his mind on the task at hand, but he kept looking out of the corner of his eye at Jake’s door. He wanted to talk this situation over with him, but having grown up with Jake, he could tell that Jake wasn’t in any mood to talk just yet.
Finally, he heard Jake exit the workshop, presumably headed towards his room. Chance washed his hands and then followed. When he got there, he expected to see Jake pacing back and forth, ready to hash this out. To Chance’s surprise, though, Jake had flopped on his stomach in his hammock, one leg hanging out, head on his arms, staring at nothing in particular. Chance looked at him for a few seconds, then jumped up and sat on his dresser – his usual spot when hanging out in this room. For a bit, neither one spoke, but Chance finally felt like he’d better say something.
“That don’t look all that comfortable,” he said.
“It’s not.” Jake continued staring into space, swinging idly. Chance waited for him to say something more, but after about a minute passed, it seemed clear he wasn’t going to. Chance decided to try again.
“So?” he ventured.
“So?” Jake echoed.
Chance, sick of fishing for conversation, shot back, “Yeah, so? So what the heck we gonna do here, Jake!” His heels pounded the side of the dresser. “Buy this loser off?”
Jake slowly turned his eyes towards Chance. “With what?”
“Heck, I dunno.” Chance furrowed his brow. “We’ll raise the money somehow. We can sell some stuff.”
“Like the TurboKat?”
Chance jumped off the dresser and stood next to Jake’s hammock, which put them pretty much eye to eye. He had tried to be nice here – after all, Jake had been having a really bad week. But now he’d gotten just a few too many smart-aleck comments from Jake. He took a deep breath, trying not to lose his temper. He peered into Jake’s eyes and said, in a low voice, “It’s nice to see you’re taking this so well.”
Jake sighed again, pulled his leg back into the hammock, and tried to bring himself back to the here and now. “Chance, I’m sorry. It’s just…well, to be honest, I’ve sort of been expecting something like this for a while.”
“Well, we’re out there fighting the bad guys a couple times a week. How long before Kat’s Eye News decides they’re gonna track us down?” Jake smirked. “I just thought it’d be Ann Gora at our door, not some dweeb.”
Chance crossed his arms. “Fine. If you’ve been expecting this to happen, you musta spent more time than me figurin’ out what the heck we’re s’posed to do.”
“Well, kinda sorta.”
“Good. Now tell me – what the heck are we s’posed to do?”
Jake rolled over onto his side. “Well, I can tell you this much – I don’t think we’ll be paying him off.”
Chance jumped back onto the dresser. “Oh?”
“For starters, as I said, we don’t have anything to pay him off with. Also, my guess is he doesn’t want to be paid off.” Jake made a vague gesture with his finger. “If he did, why’d he bother applying for the job?”
Scratching the back of his neck, Chance muttered, “You lost me.”
Jake sat up in the hammock, slowly, so as not to spill out onto the ground. He started ticking points off onto his fingers. “OK, let’s assume he’s after money. If he is, he sure seems to be going about it the wrong way.”
“Really? How should he go about it?”
“Well, why didn’t he…why didn’t he cut words out of newspapers, glue them to a note, and send it to us? Or give us an anonymous phone call?”
“Oh, come on, Jake!”
“No, I’m serious, buddy. I admit, I don’t know nothin’ about blackmail, except what I’ve learned from late-night TV shows. But still, why show up at our front door? Why introduce himself to us, tell us his name and everything? He certainly didn’t have to.”
“Why shouldn’t he? It’s not like we’d waste him right there in the lobby.”
“Sure, we know we wouldn’t do that, but how would he know that? We’ve heard plenty of talk show hosts say the Swat Kats are a couple of vigilantes who shoot things just for kicks. If you believe them, we’d have no problem wasting someone who tried to crash our little party.” Jake inclined his head towards the office. “And it’s not just that. Why give us a resume, with his address and phone number, and a list of references?”
Chance hesitated before saying, “All that info could be fake.”
Jake nodded, “Yeah, it could be…except it isn’t.” Jake jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “That may not have been Marcus Greene we saw this afternoon, but there is a Marcus Greene who held those jobs, who knows those people, and who went to those schools.”
“You know that for sure.” Chance sounded skeptical.
“I made a couple phone calls. Everything seems to pan out.”
Chance thought for a minute. “OK, then. Where does that leave us?”
“Well, it sort of leaves out the blackmail theory. No matter how I look at it, I just can’t make it stick.”
“Well, what’s this guy after, then?”
With a shrug, Jake said, “As far as I can tell, we’ll have to take it at face value. He came in because he wants a job.”
“A job! That’s it!”
“Sure, why not?”
“Heck, Jake, don’t take this wrong, but you don’t go up to the SwatKats and ask them for a job!”
“Marcus did. And why not?” Jake repeated, smirking. “We advertised, didn’t we?”
“Well, if a job is all he’s after, what’s with all the hints and sly looks?”
Jake scratched his head. “I’m not sure, but I’ve got a few guesses.”
Chance folded his arms. “All right, let’s hear ’em.”
“Well, first off, let’s pretend he’s being nice.” Jake held up his hand to Chance. “I know, I know – you don’t think he was all that nice, and, frankly, neither do I. But still – look at it this way. Marcus apparently knows we’re the SwatKats, and from the want ad, he also knows that we need a clerk in our garage here. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that whoever we hire has got to be someone we can trust.”
“I know. We’ve been over this.”
“Yeah, from our point of view. But look at it from Marcus’ for a second. Should he just say to me during our interview – ‘Hey, by the way, I know you guys are the SwatKats, but don’t sweat it, I won’t tell anyone’? Maybe this was just his way of letting us know that he knows.”
Chance thought for a minute, then shifted position on the dresser. “I’m not sure I’m buying it.”
“I’m not sure I am, either. But it’s the best theory I’ve got right now.”
“Well, it’s possible, I guess.” Chance banged his heels against the dresser a couple more times, head hung down, lost in thought.
Jake smiled wickedly. “OK, then, try this one on for size. He’s trying to make sure we hire him.”
Chance looked up. “How? By ticking us both off?”
“No, by hinting that he’ll tell the world about us if we don’t hire him.”
Chance tilted his head a bit. “Oh, so now you think he is blackmailin’ us?”
Jake shrugged. “I don’t know, buddy. I’m just tossing ideas out. What’s your theory?”
“Me?” Chance thought for a second, then tossed up his hands. “Heck, I dunno what to think.”
“Well, whatever Marc’s reasons were, he did what he did, and now we’ve got to figure out what to do.”
Sighing, Chance said, “Well, what do you think we should do?”
Jake paused for a few seconds before saying, “I say we hire him.”
“Jake, you’re not serious.”
“Why not? He’s the only qualified kat we had come through our door the last three days.”
As Jake expected, Chance looked very doubtful. “Well, maybe so, but do we actually want him working here? And how do we know we can trust him?”
Jake said, “I think he showed us we could.” Seeing Chance’s blank look, Jake went on, “You know, by giving us all this information on himself.”
“Perhaps, but it hardly means we should put our lives in his hands, Jake.”
Jake shrugged. “Well, if you want to get right down to it, our so-called lives are in his hands right now, aren’t they? Besides, we said that when we hired someone, we were gonna have to take them into our confidence, right? It looks like we can just skip over that part.”
“Hm.” Chance thought about that for a minute. “So…now what? Call him up and tell him he’s hired?”
Jake said, “Well, sure.” He lay back down and swung for a minute in deep thought. “You know, this might not prove to be so bad – sort of admitting someone into our circle here.”
Chance rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Jake. If you want to make some new friends, fine. But let’s lay off on giving him a key to the TurboKat until we know him a bit better, all right?”
The phone rang. Jake leaned down and grabbed it off the wall.
“H’lo? Hey, Kate… Nah, just got off, really – what’s up?… Lunch tomorrow?” Jake glanced at Chance, who half-shook his head. “Ummm…no, doesn’t look good. We have, oh, five hundred cars or so to get done by last week, if y’know what I mean. Sorry ’bout that… Yeah, maybe by next month, we’ll be caught up enough… OK… yeah, say hi to Mom…” Jake, out of the corner of his eye, caught Chance waving franticly. “Oh, and Chance says hi… uh-huh. See ya.”
Jake hung the phone up and shook his head. “Can’t even squeeze in lunch with my sister. Some life.” He jumped out of the hammock and stretched a bit. “Ah, well. Tomorrow morning, I’ll give Marcus a call. But you’re right – we’ll probably have to feel him out a bit. Gotta crawl before you can walk.”
Chance smiled a bit. “Deep. Who said that?”
Jake shrugged. “Some dead kat, I think.” He looked at his watch. “You know what? I think I’ll take another crack at the Mazda.”
“Buddy, it’s after nine o’clock!”
Jake turned around at his door. “Yeah, I know…but with the state I’ve been in, I’d better take advantage of any burst of energy I get. You go on to bed.”
Chance thought for a second, then rolled his eyes again. “Who are we kidding? Neither of us is getting any sleep tonight. Come on, I’ll keep you company.”
Marcus came out of the office and met Jake and Chance, both with arms crossed, right by the door.
“Well?” asked Chance.
“I thought I wanted a challenge, but…” Marcus glanced back at the door. “Whew. I think I can manage it…” He held up a finger. “…if you let me work full-time until I catch up.”
With a glance over at Chance, Jake answered, “I think we can swing that, Mr Greene. How long do you expect that to take?”
“Ten, eleven months.” Seeing Jake’s eyes open wide, he grinned. “Seven, eight weeks tops. From here on out, just Marc, please.”
Jake looked over at Chance, then back at Marc. “Uh…Marc…we have the Enforcers coming in to audit this place four weeks from tomorrow.”
Marc leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms, frowning. “Well, that changes things a bit, doesn’t it?” He thought for a second. “Any problem paying me overtime?”
Again, Jake and Chance exchanged glances. “If we have to,” said Jake.
“Oh, you’ll have to…if you want this done. You realize you have a stack of invoices to send out about yay high?” He held his thumb and forefinger about three inches apart.
“It’s not like they’re gonna get paid, anyway,” muttered Chance.
“Yeah, you might want to save that part ’til last, Marc,” agreed Jake.
Marc raised his eyebrows and waited for either of the twosome to say something else. When they didn’t, he ventured, “Um, I’m guessing that at this job there’s some stuff I shouldn’t ask about. Is this one of those things?”
Jake shrugged. “It’s just not important.”
“Getting paid is not important,” said Marc, wondering what was going on. After a pause, Marc sighed and said, “Hokey dokey. So how do you want this done?”
Frowning, Jake said, “Well, the accounts payable haven’t been sent out in…heck, two months? If you can take care of that first…”
Marc shook his head. “It’ll be murder trying to balance the books before I can find anything.”
Waving his hands around, Jake said, “Then whatever. Make it as close to organized as you can make it.”
Marc reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “There’s some things I’m going to need.”
This time, the look between Jake and Chance lasted longer, and it was Chance who spoke. “What things, exactly?”
“Relax, sir, no company car or anything. Just some basic office supplies – files, labels, pens and a typewriter.”
Chance narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong with the typewriter in there?”
“Oh, nothing at all – except it needs a ribbon, it keeps shredding the paper, and it has no N key.”
Jake nodded. “I think we can shell out for those, Marc.”
“Also, as I go through all these bills and parts orders, if I run into any… ‘miscellaneous expenses’…” Marc inclined his head towards the door that led to the hangar. “…you’ll let me know?”
Jake shrugged. “Of course.”
“Cool. One more thing. Could I borrow the tow truck to get this stuff? I don’t think I can get back here on my cycle balancing a typewriter on my lap.” Jake dug into his pocket, withdrew a pack of keys and handed them to Marc. “Thanks. Back in a bit.” Marc spun around and headed out the door.
Jake walked back to the garage, but stopped when he noticed Chance wasn’t behind him. Turning back, he saw Chance back in the same place he left him, staring at the door after Marc. “Chance?” he asked.
Chance blinked twice and turned to face Jake. “I still dunno about that kat, Jake.”
“I know. Let’s not go over this again.” Jake went back into the garage, this time followed by Chance.
As Joke went back down under the Mazda, Chance opened the hood of a Volkswagen. After taking the air filter out, Chance stared at it in his hands for a second, then turned towards the Mazda.
Jake rolled from under the vehicle and looked up at Chance.
“What are we s’posed to do if Marc can’t keep his trap shut?”
“Fire him, I guess.”
“Well, obviously. But then, y’know, it’ll be too late. Everyone’ll know. What do we do then?”
Jake shrugged. “I always thought we could write a book.”
“Yeah,” said Jake, a little more excitedly. “We write one of those tell-all books, go on all the talk shows, make a million bucks, pay off Feral, pack up the TurboKat, and move to an island somewhere.” He reached into the toolbox on the floor.
“Oh.” Chance went in the back, got a new air filter, and put it in the car. He was screwing the lid back on the housing when he turned back to Jake. “So why th’heck haven’t we done that yet?”
“‘Cause I can’t write worth crud.” Jake found the socket he was looking for, put it on the end of his wrench, then shoved himself back under the car. “Besides,” he said from under there, “our typewriter doesn’t have an N key.”
Chance changed position on the sofa yet again, then finally reached over and turned the TV off. Something’s really wrong, he thought. I can’t even get into Fraidy Cat. He turned to see Marc emerge from the office, rubbing his eyes.
“What time is it?” Marc asked.
“Ah – no wonder I’m starving. Any place around here deliver?”
“No. The steak place down the street does take-out. Menu’s up there on the wall.”
“Thanks.” Marc picked up the phone and dialed. “Yeah, I’d like to get an order for take-out…ummmmmmm…the shish kabobs…and could I get those without meat? Yeah, no meat…no, that’s it…fifteen minutes? OK, thanks.” He hung up the phone.
Chance stared at him. Veggie kabobs? This guy’s weirder than I thought. He picked up a magazine as Marc sat down across from him.
“Where’s Jake?” Marc asked.
“Emergency tow.” Suddenly, he tossed the magazine back onto the table and leaned towards Marc. “Listen, what’s this all about?”
“What’s what all about?”
“You. I mean, what th’heck are you doing here? You’ve never been back there, have you?” he asked, pointing back towards the Turbokat. Seeing Marc shake his head, he looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “See, that seems awfully weird. You go to all this trouble to track us down, but then you don’t bother to look around once you’re here?”
Marc shrugged. “You’re paying me to do your paperwork, not gawk at your plane. You know, when you get down to it, this is just a job.”
Chance countered, “No, washin’ dishes at that steak house is a job. This is something else.”
Marc put his hands behind his head and smiled. “Well, yeah, I guess. It’s a job, and it’s something else.”
“So what’s your game, then?”
Leaning forward, Marc said, “Mr. Furlong…” he began, waiting for the response, “Call me Chance.” When he didn’t get it, he went on. “…Tell me about my life.”
“Tell me what you know about my life.”
Chance furrowed his brow. “Uh…you’re a college kat, you work in computers…” He paused, then shrugged. “I guess that’s all I know.”
“And almost all there is to know. My life hasn’t exactly been one huge slab of adventure.”
Chance bared his teeth and growled, “I see. So you’re out to be honorary SwatKat.”
Marc held up his hands. “Huh-uh. Not even close. Look, I have trouble making paper airplanes fly. And all I know about missiles is that they’re long, skinny and made of metal. That’s your territory, not mine.”
Looking confused, Chance said, “So, then why’re you here?”
Once again, Marc shrugged. “I wanted a second job, so I perused the want ads. I saw your ad in the paper, and when I saw where it was…” He smiled. “I thought it was too good to pass up.”
“So you already knew who we were when you say the ad?” demanded Chance. When Marc nodded, Chance said, “How’d you know that, anyhow?”
“A lot of research, some educated guesses, a little dumb luck. I went back through every news story I could get my hands on, watched every bit of TV coverage I could on you guys. I started noticing this running theme. You seem to have this…love/hate relationship with the Enforcers.” Chance made a face as Marc continued, “So I figured – wait a second. Maybe these guys were Enforcer pilots at one point. I checked some public records, and narrowed it down to you two.”
“You make it sound easy.”
Marc looked smug. “Well, it took a lot of time. In any event, once I had it in my head that it could be you two, I swung by the place to get a peek.”
“And you could tell just by looking,” threw in Chance sarcastically.
“No, not really,” said Marc, either oblivious or impervious to the sarcasm. “But two kats – one small and wiry, and one bigger and stocky – that fit well enough. Then, a few months later, I see this ad in the paper.” Marc smiled. “How could I not come in and apply?”
“So you’re not looking to…join on?”
Marc sat quietly for a second before answering. “Mr. Furlong, I like what you guys do. You kick tail when the Enforcers can’t, which appears to be most of the time. I…support your cause, you might say. So I figure, anything I can do to help out, y’know? Luckily, you wanted a bookkeeper, not a pinch-SwatKat. I can do one, but not the other.” He stood up and stretched. “I’ll help out you out wherever you need me to. Just don’t go asking me to fly your plane or anything. I can’t. I’m not the hero type. Not that you couldn’t tell that just by looking.” He looked up at the clock. “Better get my food…and when I get back, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll let you show me your shiny plane. Deal?”
Chance thought about getting angry, but decided against it. He smirked. “Deal.” He watched him walk out, and shook his head, thinking, I just don’t get this kat. He leaned over and turned the TV back on, just in time to catch the previews for next week.
Jake came downstairs, and found Chance already sitting on the counter, sipping coffee from his Scaredy Cat mug.
“You’re up early,” said Chance, kicking his heels lightly against the cabinet.
Jake smirked. “I forget. Does that make you ‘pot’ or ‘kettle’?” He grabbed his coffee mug and looked around. “And Marc’s not in yet? That’s not good.”
“He never went home.” Jake looked up, and Chance went on. “Well, he did. Like, fifteen minutes ago. He’s off to get spiffed up for the auditors.”
Jake shook his head as he poured his coffee. “Nobody should feel less awake than I do now.”
“So, no sleep last night?”
“You have to ask?”
Chance leaned closer. “You… doing all right?”
Jake shrugged as he took his first sip. “I guess. You ever just want the whole mess to be over?” Chance’s eyes opened wider. “You know, you get so tired, you just want an ending… even if it’s not the ending you want. You know what I’m saying?”
Putting his mug to the side, Chance regarded his partner for a second. “No.”
“You know, either way, it’ll be all over today, and – you know, at this point, I’d rather they just find out than go through another day like this.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Nah, just tired.” Jake threw back the rest of his coffee, then tossed the mug into the sink. “Did he finish?”
“I dunno. I asked him, and he said kinda.”
“Hey, I’m just repeating what he said.” Chance leapt off the counter. They headed out towards the garage, but ran into Marc as he was coming in. Chance let out a chuckle.
“Hey, check out Mr. What-a-Difference-a-Day-Makes here.”
Marc adjusted his tie. “No harm in trying to impress the top brass, is there?”
“You’ll do better to impress them with the files,” Jake said pointedly. “Are they set?”
“That’s what Chance said you said. Now tell me what the heck it means.”
“It means kinda,” repeated Marc, hotly. “They’re as close to being in order as I could possibly make them. You know what you gave me to work with.”
“And you knew what you were getting yourself into when you agreed to take the job,” answered Jake, just as hotly. “If you couldn’t handle it, you should have said so, and we would have found someone else who could.” He pushed by Marc into the garage, followed by Chance.
In hushed tones, Chance asked, “Um, Jake, was that such a good idea?”
Jake tore open the hood of the Chevrolet that they’d been trying to diagnose for the last week. “Chance, at this point, I’m just getting ideas, and I can’t tell whether they’re good or not. So I’m trying them all.”
Chance leaned against the car. “Sounds dangerous.”
Jake narrowed his eyes at his partner. “Since when did you shy away from danger? And if you’re not too busy resting your tail, how about lending a hand here?”
Chance widened his eyes, but decided not to make a bad situation worse. “Sure thing.” Geez, he thought, as he grabbed his socket wrench. I never thought I’d end up being the peacemaker of the group.
It was several hours of non-stop work later that Marc peeked his head into the garage. “Jake, Chance, you want to step in here, please?”
They glanced at each other, then headed to the sink to wash up.
“Do me a favor, Chance – let me do the talking,” said Jake, reaching for the soap.
Chance half-smiled. “Don’t worry.”
When they entered the office, Marc introduced them to Lt Aubrey Fellini and Sgt Michael Sakai, the auditors from the Enforcers. Lt Fellini stood just an inch or so below Jake, and although Sgt Sakai was about the same height, he seemed shorter – probably because the lieutenant outranked him. Although Jake and Chance hadn’t met either of them before, both of them felt as though they had. Even with their limited contact with the Enforcers hierarchy, Jake and Chance ran into countless numbers of these kats – smartly dressed in uniform, unfailing polite, and so “by the book” as to make Chance sick. Jake, on the other hand, had always found them rather amusing. Just not today.
Lt Fellini, as they both expected, didn’t waste much time with pleasantries. “We’ve pretty much found out what we wanted to know from Mr Greene here.” Chance glanced over at Marc quickly, but he was looking at Lt Fellini with an undecipherable look on his face. She continued, “However, we do have several questions for you.”
Jake stood a bit straighter. “What would you like to know, Lieutenant?”
Sgt Sakai reached over onto the desk, picked up a file, and showed it to Jake. “There seem to be a lot of purchases under what you categorize as ‘Miscellaneous Parts’.”
“I’ll take responsibility for that, Sergeant,” explained Jake. “Mr Furlong and I tend to work rather long hours in the garage, which doesn’t leave much time for paperwork. We finally hired Mr. Greene here to take care of it for us a few weeks ago. Up until that time, we simply tried to get our paperwork done whenever we had a free moment. But when we actually got around to taking care of our bills, we found invoices for parts where we sometimes couldn’t even recall which vehicle we had purchased it for. That’s why so many of those bills ended up lumped into that category there.”
Lt Fellini tilted her head slightly. “Hm. I guess I could see that.” Jake let out his breath. “But of course, this won’t be acceptable next time around.”
“Oh, no,” agreed Jake. “Don’t worry. Now that Mr Greene’s on board, we should be able to keep on top of it.”
“Well, that’s that. There’s just one more thing then.” She leaned against the desk and bored a look through Jake. “Why is this place losing so much money?”
Jake and Chance looked at each other, then back at Lt Fellini. Cautiously, Jake hazarded, “I was under the impression that this garage wasn’t designed as a money-making enterprise.”
“It wasn’t,” agreed Lt Fellini. “But there’s a difference between not really showing a profit, and losing a bundle, which is what you two are doing.” Lt Fellini picked up a file and fingered through it. “And the money certainly isn’t going to your paychecks, as a goodly portion of those are going to fix the damage you caused to the Enforcer’s building.” She looked up. “So where is the money going?”
Jake gritted his teeth. “It’s not going anywhere,” he said, not quite growling.
Lt Fellini put the file down and crossed her arms. “Would you care to explain?”
“The money isn’t going out because it’s never coming in.” He suddenly seemed to make up his mind. “Will you two kindly come with me?” He turned on his heel and headed back towards the garage. Lt Fellini and Sgt Sakai came after him, followed closely by Chance and Marc, who both looked more confused than the other two.
Jake pointed to the luxury car in the closest bay. “This vehicle is in for a tune-up and brake job, for which we won’t get paid.” He pointed to the Mazda. “This car keeps conking out for no apparent reason. After working for a week, we may have finally found the problem, and, with any luck, we’ll soon have it fixed, for which we won’t get paid.” He turned outside and pointed to the Dodge. “This one just needs an oil change, for which we won’t get paid.”
Sgt Sakai interrupted before Jake could find another car to point at. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying this – we’re fixing cars, but we’re not going to get paid for any of them.”
“You personally, you mean,” said Lt Fellini.
“Us personally, yes, and the garage generally.”
Again, Lt Fellini crossed her arms. “Would you care to elaborate?”
“I can explain in one word, Lieutenant – perqs. That Dodge belongs to a sergeant for the Enforcers. The Mazda belongs to some kid of a captain. And that smooth baby in bay one is Commander Feral’s.”
“And they’re not paying for these repairs?”
“Like I said, Lieutenant, perqs. They don’t feel the need to even sign the work order. They just drop them off, tell you what’s wrong with them, and they’re gone.”
“Why aren’t you filling out invoices and submitting them to their departments?” demanded Sgt Sakai.
“Tried that,” said Jake shortly.
“And nothing. The invoices went out, and they were ignored. A few wrote back – requesting the signed work order. Usually there was none. If, by some miracle, there was one, we’d send them a copy. Then they’d claim they never got it, and request another one.” Jake paused for breath. “Chance and I were spending more time tracking down the deadbeats than we ever did fixing vehicles. We finally figured, hey, to heck with it – the money’s pretty much staying in the Enforcer organization, anyhow.”
“This needs to stop as of now,” demanded Lt Fellini. “You two are not to perform any work on any vehicle without a signed work order.”
“Fair enough, Lieutenant. Can you help back it up?”
“Back it up? How do you mean?”
“Can we get enough authority here to tell someone with three bars across his shoulders that we aren’t going to change his oil because he hasn’t signed the work order?”
Lt Fellini turned to Sgt Sakai, then back to Jake. “I don’t see any reason why not. You should be able to do that right now.”
Jake leaned against the Chevy. “Whether I should or should not be able to do something isn’t at issue here, Lieutenant. It’s whether or not I’m able to. You’re an Enforcer – you should know that.”
Chance winced, and even Marc got a queasy feeling. Jake may have crossed a line with that last comment.
Lt Fellini leaned in towards him. “I do not need you, Mr. Clawson, to tell me what I should and should not know as an Enforcer.”
Jake sighed. “You’re right. I apologize.” He looked down. “It… has not been a good couple of weeks.”
Lt Fellini stood up straight. “Well, we’ll let it pass this time. I’ll give you a clean audit, with notation of the stipulation that you’d best clean up your parts orders from here on out. Fair enough?”
Jake looked up and smiled. “Lieutenant, that’s more than fair. Thank you very much.” They shook hands all around, and Lt Fellini and Sgt Sakai drove off.
“We did it!” yelled Chance, offering high fives to Jake and Marc, then turned specifically to Jake. “…despite your little speech there. And you told me to keep my cool!”
Jake smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
Marc, who still looked confused, asked, “Um, how much of that speech was true?”
Chance shrugged. “Oh, most of it. We lose most of the money on unpaid invoices, not on the plane and stuff.”
“Well, all’s well that ends well, I suppose,” said Jake in a tired voice. Then he smiled. “But party time tonight. Pizza’s on me, gentlemen.”
Marc finally returned the smiles. “So it’s OK if I go home and sleep off the last few weeks?”
Chance pointed at him. “Consider it an order, Greene. See you tonight – six o’clock.”
Wearily, Marc walked over to his motorcycle, started it up, and gave a wave to Jake and Chance before riding off into the street. Once he got home, he managed to get his tie and shoes off before completely succumbing to exhaustion. Curling up on his couch in the living room, he fell asleep immediately, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
It wasn’t until five that Marc felt rested enough to crawl up into a sitting position. He took a quick shower, and began getting dressed. Halfway through, he realized he was putting on his work clothes. I don’t think they want to see me in nice clothes today, he thought, pulling them back off again. Once attired in a more party-appropriate t-shirt and jeans, he stopped by the kitchen to load a six-pack of beer into his backpack. Slinging it over his shoulder, he headed out, leapt on his motorcycle, and drove off humming to himself.
Upon entering the garage, he couldn’t find any trace of either Jake or Chance. Well, maybe they were out on a mission. “Hello?” he said, rather loudly. Vaguely, he heard something coming from upstairs. He dropped his backpack to the floor as he considered – he never had gone upstairs, figuring that to be their personal area. But then he wondered – well, maybe the party’s up there. He walked up the stairs and found Jake and Chance in the first room he glanced into. Chance was sitting on a dresser, head downcast, but Marc was more surprised at Jake. He was lying on his back on his hammock, arms crossed. Even Marc could see he’d been crying.
“Um…” Marc said uncertainly. “Is everything OK?”
Chance glanced over at him. “Jake’s sister called. His ma’s in the hospital. Heart attack.”
“Geez. I’m sorry, Jake.” Jake nodded slightly, and Marc went on, “Anything I can do?”
Answering for him, Chance said, “Nah, but thanks. We just gotta figure out what we gotta do now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jake’s family lives in Selinda.”
“Can’t you just drive down there?”
“Well, yeah, but I don’t know if Jake should be on his own. That’s a long drive, and he’s a bit… upset.”
Jake felt a bit strange being talked about as if he weren’t there, but he still hadn’t mastered himself enough to say anything for himself.
“Can’t you both go down?”
“No way. First off, we’re too backed up here. Secondly, someone’s gotta stay with the TurboKat in case… y’know.”
“Oh, right. Didn’t think of that.” Marc leaned against the wall, thinking. “Did you want me to drive you down, Jake?”
Jake looked over at him, but again it was Chance who answered. “Don’t ya have yer other jobs to get to?”
Marc shook his head. “Not really. I took an extra five days off, in case there were other things I had to clean up for you guys.” This wasn’t entirely true. Marc had actually been looking forward to taking a few days off after the audit, but it seemed wrong to bring that up. “I still have a few freelance pieces, but next project isn’t due ’til next month.”
Chance looked over at Jake. He really didn’t get good vibes from this kat, but he wasn’t sure there was any other option.
Jake sat up slowly, then rubbed his face and sighed. “I can room and board you, but can’t pay you,” he said quietly.
“Sounds more than fair. How long were you…?” Marc didn’t know exactly how to ask that, and Jake of course didn’t know the answer.
“Once I’m down there, you can head back up if you want.”
“All right, cool. Let me go home and get some things. I’ll meet you back here in about… half an hour?” Seeing Jake nod, Marc smiled slightly. “Great. See ya in a bit.” He dashed out the door, and they heard him fly down the steps.
Chance looked up at Jake. “You think this is a good idea?”
Jake glanced up, confused. “What?”
“Hooking up with him?”
Again Jake sighed. “It’s the only decent idea we came up with. C’mon – help me pack.”
Marc maneuvered the pick-up onto the highway and settled into the fast lane. Once there, he stole another glance at Jake, who continued staring out the window without moving or making a sound. Twice Marc made a move to turn on the radio, and stopped himself. Finally, he worked up the nerve to ask Jake, “You mind if I turn this on?” Jake glanced over, shrugged slightly, and turned back to his window. Taking that as tacit approval, Marc turned on the radio, switching stations ’til he found one he liked. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in time to the song, but soon grew uneasy with Jake sitting silently beside him. When “Love Me Always” came on, Marc made a less-than-polite noise with his mouth and switched the radio off.
After a few seconds in silence, Marc glanced over at Jake again. “Did you want to… talk?”
Jake glanced back at Marc, then shook his head once. “No.”
After a pause, Jake said, “Look, it’s a long story.”
Marc pointed at a sign as they passed it. “Selinda – 94 miles”, it read. “Looks like we’ve got time,” noted Marc.
“Marc, no,” said Jake, a bit too sharply. Realizing what that must have sounded like, Jake said, “Sorry. I… look. For the last few years, Chance and I haven’t told anybody anything about anything. For survival.”
“So I have a hard time just saying, OK, this guy’s cool, I can tell him everything. Even if you are.”
Shrugging, Marc said, “That’s cool.”
“I mean, heck, I don’t know anything about you.”
“I don’t have any secrets,” said Marc, a bit defensively. “What do you want to know?”
Jake sighed. “Nothing. I guess. Never mind.” He resumed looking out the window, but soon spoke again. “I guess I should at least give you the overview. In all your… research, did you find out why we’re at the salvage yard?”
“Yeah. Something about damage to Enforcers HQ.”
“Yeah, I’m sure the official report said we hot-dogged our planes into it.”
Jake turned to face Marc, arms crossed. “If we were such hot dogs, would we still have a TurboKat to fly?”
“Hm. Point taken.”
“Chance an’ me had DarkKat in our sights, and Feral tried to call us off. He wanted the glory for himself, as usual. We ended up bumping wings, and down we came.” Jake grinned, slightly. “So now we’re mechanics, paying off the world’s largest debt.”
“You bet, bummer. But, y’know, at least they unwittingly gave us access to the materials and everything to build the TurboKat. Anyway, my father… Retired Lt Col Clawson…”
“Yeah, ouch. Let’s just say he wasn’t too pleased with our reassignment. He sort of…”
“Disowned you?” offered Marc.
“Nnnooo,” said Jake, uncertainly. “Not really. But we don’t talk anymore. I talk to my mother and my sister, but all sort of behind my father’s back.”
“They’re cool with you being a Swat Kat?”
Jake snorted. “You kidding? They don’t know.”
Marc glanced over at Jake. “What?”
“They’d be worried sick.”
“You mean, you haven’t even told your mother about this?” asked Marc incredulously.
“Look. When Chance and me started this, we had no idea who we could trust, so we decided we weren’t going to trust anybody. We figured if our family didn’t know, there was no way they’d be put in jeopardy for knowing. The last thing we wanted was to have Dark Kat or someone take my mom hostage. So nobody knows.”
Marc stared at the road for a while and thought. “So the only one who does know…” he said quietly.
“Is you,” finished Jake. “Congratulations. Feel special?”
After a short pause, Marc shrugged. “A bit too special,” he mumbled.
“What was that?”
“It’s… see, I never thought of it like… ah, skip it.”
Marc tapped his fingers on the steering wheel for a minute, trying to organize his thoughts. “When I saw you guys on TV, kicking monster tail from here to next Sunday, I thought, you know, cool. I understood what you were doing – flying under the radar, so to speak, to get something done that really needed to be done. Curiosity eventually got the best of me, so I did some digging to find out who you were. But it was just for me, you know? I sort of laughed in my sleeve, but that’s it.”
“Never even told your mother?” said Jake, with a small smirk.
Marc knew a slam when he heard one, but he was happy Jake was at least talking again. Glancing over at Jake and smiling, Marc said, “Mom’s not a fan of yours. But I guess that’s the way with secrets. For some reason, I feel like I should be… y’know, like the last person in line for them. I desperately want to know, but then I feel nobody else should know.”
“That’s probably true of lots of kats.”
“Yeah, I guess. So, no, I didn’t tell anyone. Anyway, when I saw your want ad, I thought, hey, here’s a way I can help out. I thought about it, and figured whoever you hired had to be in on it…”
“And so I brought that little bit to the table, and now… I dunno. I guessed I thought you’d be grateful at what I could do.”
“We are,” said Jake, a bit miffed.
“Yeah, I know, but I never really thought about how… I was intruding into your lives. Sort of forcing your confidence. Sorry about that.”
Jake sighed. “Well, like you said, we were going to have to let someone in – may as well be someone who already knew, right?”
“It’s kinda surprising no one else has found out.”
“Yeah, that’s what I told Chance.”
“Maybe everyone likes what you do, and they’re scared of messing up a good thing.”
“Not everyone’s a Swat Kat fan,” Jake pointed out. “You think Dark Kat would have access to the same information you do, and it’s not like he’s slow on the uptake.”
“Hm.” Marc considered this information for a minute. “Well, I’d like to think this makes me smarter than him. But I guess all you can do is hope he doesn’t come a-knockin’.”
“Well, just so you know why it looks like we’re not getting a lot of sleep.”
They sat in silence for a minute, then Marc hazarded starting the conversation again. “So, just your parents and your sister. She younger than you?”
Jake shook his head. “Older. Got an older brother, too – Leon. We… never got along.”
“He sort of… well, it’s hard to explain. My father never exactly told us that he expected both his sons to become Enforcers, but the idea was still sort of… there. Unspoken, y’know? But Leon wasn’t really cut out to be an Enforcer. He went into advertising. My father never said much, but I knew he was kind of…”
Jake paused, and Marc hazarded, “Disappointed?”
“Well, I guess. He didn’t exactly say, ‘You should have been an Enforcer’, but he was never really all that impressed with what Leon did. And Leon’s done real good for himself – he’s got his own agency, he’s married, house in the suburbs, whole deal. No kits yet, but I’m sure they’re coming. I used to feel bad for him, though, ’cause my father never really seemed to appreciate how well he’s done. I sort of ended up the default favorite son, just because I actually went through with the Enforcers training.”
“You mean, you joined the Enforcers just because your father wanted you to?”
“Oh, heck, no. I always wanted to be an Enforcer. Chance and me… heck, we were playing Enforcers in our backyards ever since I can remember.” Jake paused, thinking of the wooden “guns” he and Chance had made way back when. “But once we got kicked out, my father sort of transferred his allegiance over toward Leon. I guess he figures Leon might not be an Enforcer, but at least he’s not a failure.” Sighing, Jake added, “Actually, that was sort of the silver lining of the whole thing. Leon’s done really well, and at least my father appreciates that now. But now Leon acts… superior. Like he’s laughing at me for not doing as well as he has.”
“It’s not a race,” pointed out Marc.
“It is to him.”
“Is your sister married?”
“Kate? Nah. She should be, though – she’ll make someone a kick-ass wife.” Jake smiled a bit for the first time since that afternoon. “You seeing anyone?”
Marc looked uncomfortable. “Um, kinda.”
Jake glanced over at him. He really doubted that last statement was true, but he decided to let him have his little fantasy.
Marc pulled up in front of the Clawson house and whistled softly. It was quite large, and even in the fading light, he could make out the immaculately manicured landscaping. Jake sighed, opened the passenger door, and started getting out of the truck. He glanced over at Marc as he opened his door, too. Pausing with one leg out of the truck, Jake said, “You don’t have to come in.”
Marc shot a strange look over to Jake. “You know, most kats are more polite with strangers in their midst.”
It took Jake a second to understand what Marc was talking about, then he had to consider whether it was a good idea. Finally, he nodded once, and finished getting out of the truck. He waited for Marc to join him on the sidewalk, then began the long trek up the front walk. When they reached the door, Jake drew in his breath, then rang the bell. Marc looked at the nervous kat next to him. This was the guy who took on Dark Kat once a week?
The door opened, and a medium-sized brown kat in a shirt and tie looked out. He glanced over at Marc uncertainly, then over at Jake, at which point he smiled a rather unpleasant smile.
“Hello, Leon,” said Jake.
“Jake. Lose your job at the dump?”
Jake was determined not to let his composure slip in front of Marc. “No, still there. This is Marc, our bookkeeper.” Marc held out his hand, and Leon shook it automatically. “Is Kate here?”
“Y-yeah, but I’m not sure she wants to see you.”
“Well, let’s just find out.” He sort of pushed his way past Leon into the house. Leon just said, “Hey!” but didn’t make much move to stop him. He followed him into the house, leaving Marc to let himself in and close the door behind him.
“Jake!” Kate spotted her younger brother before Leon could move. She quickly stepped over and engulfed Jake in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.” Pulling away from Jake a bit, she said, “I wasn’t sure you’d make it.”
“It took a little doing, but it all worked out,” said Jake, smiling a bit. His smile dropped as the door to the kitchen opened and Col Clawson walked out. Marc was somewhat surprised. For some reason, he was expecting a small, wizened old kat. Instead, Col Clawson towered over everyone else in the house, despite stooping slightly and using a large aluminum cane. He was dressed immaculately, and frowned upon seeing his youngest son there in his living room.
“Jacob,” Col Clawson said authoritatively. Jake stood up straighter and looked over at his father, who went on, “Why are you here?”
“Kate told me what had happened, sir,” said Jake simply.
“It was unnecessary for you to come,” said Col Clawson.
Jake said, uncertainly, “I just wanted to see her – make sure she’s all right.”
“I believe we are more than capable of seeing to her well-being. In fact, seeing you will probably simply upset her.” Jake started to speak again, but Col Clawson immediately began speaking again. “After all, your post is back in MegaKat City, at the salvage yard. She will probably be quite worried if she sees that you have deserted your post. And the last thing she needs now is something to fret about.”
Jake stared at his father for a few seconds, then, to Marc’s surprise, let his shoulders drop. “You’re right, sir. As usual. I’m sorry – I’ll head back.” He turned back to Kate and said, “Good to see you again,” and gave her another long hug. Jake nodded to Leon, then jerked his head at Marc, indicating for them to leave.
After shepherding Marc out the door and closing it behind them, Jake marched over to the driver side door of the pickup. He held up his hand, and Marc pulled out the keys, preparing to toss them over. “Um, you OK to drive?” he asked hesitantly.
“Pretty sure,” said Jake. Marc unlocked his door, then tossed the keys to Jake. Once Jake got in the truck, he smirked a bit. “I should be fine. We’re not going that far, anyway.”
“Just to a hotel back by the highway.” Jake started the truck and drove back out into the street. “We’ll head back in the morning. After I see my Ma.”
“Oh.” Marc looked out the window, trying to process this. Finally he asked, “Aren’t you… worried that maybe your father will be there when you visit?
“He won’t be. He has his big weekly staff meeting tomorrow morning, and he hasn’t missed that in twenty years.”
“Oh,” said Marc again, and again Marc let that sink in before going on. “So, are you gonna call around to find out which hospital she’s in?”
“She’s at St Gertrude’s.”
“How do you know?”
“Kate told me while I was hugging her goodbye.”
Marc smiled. “Didn’t know you Clawson kids were so sneaky.”
Jake smirked back. “Unexpected benefit of having a military family.”
Marc flipped through the long-outdated Sportsweek and yawned. It hadn’t been a good night. His longish nap the previous day, sleeping in an unfamiliar hotel room, sharing a room with his boss – all of these had conspired to keep Marc tossing and turning through the night. As he resignedly began reading about the Catamounts’ latest draft picks, he hoped Jake wouldn’t be too long with his mother. He was looking forward to the drive back, and the possibility of perhaps dozing in the passenger seat on the trip.
Marc looked up and spied who was speaking. He put the magazine aside, got up and said, “Hi. Leon, right?”
Leon indicated the hospital room door with his chin. “Don’t tell me. Jake’s in there with Ma.”
“Yeah,” admitted Marc.
“I can’t believe it. After what Dad said to him?”
Marc didn’t really feel like putting himself in the middle of a family squabble, but he did feel a slight sense of duty to his employer. “Well, she is his mother. Why wouldn’t he want to see her?”
Leon looked down his nose at Marc. “Look, Marc, you don’t get it. Jake’s caused a lot of problems in our family, and it’s probably best if he doesn’t make things any worse than he has.”
Again, Marc hesitated before speaking, but finally, loyalty won out. “Well,” he began, a bit hesitantly. “Jake sort of filled me in. And it kind of sounds like you’re the one that doesn’t understand.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Leon,” Marc said, then paused. He wasn’t sure how much he should say. “Look, Jake likes you. He’s… proud of you – what you’ve done with your ad agency and all.”
Leon seemed a bit taken aback. “He told you about the agency?”
“Of course. He said that one of the only positive things to come out of the plane crash was that finally your father started appreciating all the things you’ve done.” Marc paused for a second to let that sink in, then went on. “Look, I don’t know Jake all that well. But so far, he seems like a great kat. I’d hate to think you’re shutting him out just because your father is playing favorites.”
“Well, that’s all good and fine, but…” Leon stopped when the door to the room opened. Jake came out, jaw set and eyes somewhat misty. After closing the door, he spotted Leon and made an attempt to get control of himself.
Marc quickly found an exit. “I’m… gonna get some coffee. You want any?” Both Jake and Leon shook their heads, and Marc scurried down the hall, leaving Jake and Leon staring at each other.
“So you came anyway,” said Leon simply.
Jake nodded. “Well, I… don’t always do what Dad says, y’know.”
Leon regarded his brother for a bit. “How is she?”
“Real weak. But OK, I think.”
“She’s probably worn out.” Leon sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t go in and see her now.”
“Leon, she’ll want to see you.”
“I know. But I can wait.” He sat down in the chair Marc had vacated, looked up at Jake, then looked down at the floor. “Um, if Dad asks, I didn’t see you here.”
Jake, a bit surprised, took a bit of time to say, “Thanks.” While trying to decide what else to say, he heard – and felt – a buzzing coming from his hip. He pulled his phone from his belt and read the page. “911” read the display, and he frowned. SwatKat emergency.
“What is it?” asked Leon.
Jake groaned, “Problem at home. I gotta motor. Look, keep an eye on Ma for me, K? And you’ll…?”
Leon nodded. “I’ll keep you posted.”
“Thanks.” Jake shot his brother a smile, then took off at a sprint down the hallway.
Marc tried not to guess how fast Jake was driving, and he willed himself not to look over towards the speedometer. “There’s no way you can get back to MegaKat City in time,” he said.
Jake, his eyes on the road, murmured, “No need to. T-Bone’s gonna pick me up.”
Marc’s eyebrows went up. He had never heard Jake refer to his partner as “T-Bone” before. “Where?”
“This old farm out in the middle of nowhere. It’s about a mile off the highway – no one lives there anymore.”
“Oh.” After a pause, Marc asked, “How was your mother doing?”
“Worn out, but OK.” Jake weaved around a semi, then went on. “She’ll probably be in the hospital another few days, and in bed for a bit longer, but other than that…”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Yeah.” Jake maneuvered the truck off the highway and began driving away from civilization.
“So how’s this going to work?” asked Marc.
“T-Bone’s bringing along my flight suit. I’ll do a quick change, then off we’ll go.”
“And I… drive back to the yard?”
“Sorry,” murmured Jake. “I keep thinking you know how everything works.”
Marc shrugged, a bit ashamed. “I’m working on it.”
Jake drove up to an old barn just as the TurboKat pulled up over the northern horizon. Jake skidded the truck to a halt, and quickly leapt out. The plane came to a landing in a fallow field, and Jake immediately leapt up and began throwing on his flightsuit. In about fifteen seconds, Razor was ready. He slapped a control, and the cockpit closed. The TurboKat lifted up slowly, then turned slightly. Razor gave Marc a small wave just before the plane shot off to the north. Marc got in behind the wheel of the truck, but then stopped and watched the vapor trails dissipate for a minute. Finally, Marc shook his head, smiled and started the truck, hoping he could remember the way back to the highway.
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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.