Original SWAT Kats Story

Out

By One Small Monkey

  • 1 Chapter
  • 17,332 Words

Problems at home, problems at work, problems with ten-story creatures…ever have one of those weeks?

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Author's Notes:

out (second attempt)

It was closing in on the end of January, and MegaKat City was stuck in a seemingly non-stop cold wave. It hadn’t gotten above the freezing mark for the last week and a half, and the city’s inhabitants resignedly dug in, stayed indoors, and tried to remember what summer was like.

Jake hurried in out of the cold, shivering. He started to take his coat off, then decided against it – he was freezing. Sticking his hands in his coat pockets, he looked down at a stack of mail set to go out the following morning. He heard Chance yell his name from inside the garage, and he muttered an absent-minded “Yeah?” back in that direction.

Chance came into the lobby, wiping his greasy hands on a rag. “Hey, Marc called. He said he’s gonna come in today to get that end-o’-month stuff done, ’cause he’s got something comin’ up tomorrow.” He tossed the rag in a box, reached into a side pocket of his coveralls, and pulled out a wrench. “How was church?” When he didn’t get an answer, Chance looked over at Jake, who was still absorbed in the mail. “Hell-LO?” he said a bit louder.

“Hm?” Jake suddenly looked up. “Sorry…um, right, whatever.”

Chance’s lip curled up. “You got no idea what I just said, do you?”

“Guilty.” Jake smiled back crookedly.

“You OK?”

Jake shrugged. “I guess. Service kinda got me thinking.”

Chance twirled the wrench into the air and caught it. “That’ll teach ya.”

Shucking off his coat, Jake responded, “You could use some thinking, if you ask me.” He hung up his coat, then headed back towards his room, unbuttoning his one good shirt, as Chance headed back to the garage. Suddenly, Jake wheeled around and said, “You know, we don’t get out much as it is. Maybe you should come with me next week.”

Turning back to face him, Chance again tossed the wrench up and caught it. “You know the deal, Jake. I don’t make fun of your religion if you don’t try to convert me.”

“Chance, I’m not tryin’ to convert you – it’s just…aw, skip it.” He started unbuttoning his shirt again. “You up for soup?”

“Sounds good. Hey, what’d the priest talk about to get you all messed up?”

“Hm? Oh, the sermon. Um…sin.”

“What about it?”

Jake grinned. “He was against it,” he said, then ducked into the next room.

Chance stood there for a second, then shook his head and walked back into the next room, twirling his wrench again. He closed the hood of the Buick he had just finished, and was washing his hands when the phone rang. He quickly dried one hand on his leg and snagged the phone.

“Jake & Chance’s Repair & Salvage.”

“Chance? It’s Benny.” Buenaventura Rodriguez – Benny to everyone but the government – owned an auto body shop about half a mile from the garage. Mutual admiration of each other’s work had led Benny and Chance to start recommending customers to one another.

“What’s up, Benny?” asked Chance, sitting himself down on a wooden stool and drying his other hand. “Hot tip?”

“Possibly. Did some hood work for some kat yesterday, and it looked like he needed a new radiator big time. I gave him your name – keep a look out for a white Ford with a dragon on the hood.”

“And steam coming out from underneath it. Gotcha. Thanks, Benny.”

“What’s the score now?”

“I think you still owe me one…but who’s counting?”

“Sounds like you are. Maybe I need to whup your tail at some pool. You got any free time tomorrow? Oh, wait,” Benny went on before Chance could answer. “Tomorrow’s the big day, huh?”

“Big day? What’re ya talkin’ ’bout?”

“I thought tomorrow was the day your dad…you know.”

“Aw, for the love of Mike…” Chance buried his face in his hand.

“You didn’t forget, did you?”

“Yeah, but I was trying to.”

Benny didn’t say anything for a second. “So I take it you’re not going to the hearing.”

“Benny…” Chance lowered his voice. “The guy gives me the creeps.”

“He *is* your dad, though.”

“I know, I know. But ever since…besides, I couldn’t get away from here even if I wanted to, though. We’re up to our ears in busted cars.”

“Don’t start whinin’, now – there’ve been weeks without a single car in my place – you got no idea how cruddy *that* is.”

“Awright, already. Look, I gotta motor – Jake’s got soup on, and I ain’t eatin’ it cold.”

“Ten-four. See ya when I see ya.”

Chance hung up. He didn’t move for a minute, but instead just stared out into space, thinking. Finally, with a shudder, he got up and went out of the garage.

Jake had placed two steaming bowls of soup on the table, but he was deeply engrossed in a magazine. “Whatcha lookin’ at?” Chance asked. Startled, Jake looked up with a half-guilty look on his face. He started to answer, but then instead just handed the magazine over. Chance flipped to the cover first, keeping a finger on the page Jake was on. It was the current THIS WEEK, a news magazine they usually kept in the lobby for customers to peruse. Flipping back inside, Chance scrunched up his face – Jake hadn’t been reading an article. It was a two-page advertisement for Odyssey Air. Two kats in bathing suits sat looking out over the ocean, with palm trees and other typically tropical items around. The caption read, “Tired of winter? Escape to beautiful Katalina Island.”

Chance looked it over, then peered over the magazine at Jake. “So?”

“So nothing. Just daydreaming.”

Giving it another glance, Chance passed it back to Jake. “Nice. But we ain’t got the time or money to get out there.”

“I know. Like I said, just daydreaming.” He picked up his spoon and started in on his soup, and Chance did likewise.

“Soooo…you wanna tell me what’s buggin’ ya?” Chance asked after a time.

Jake looked up, his spoon almost to his mouth. “Oh. Well, a couple of things.” He took a sip, then went on. “One of the things the priest was talking about was venegance. You know, we’re supposed to forgive our enemies.”

“Yeah, and?”

“Well, he sort of used us as an example.”

Chance smiled a bit. “Really?”

“Yeah, a *bad* example.”

The smile vanished. “What?”

“Oh, he called us vigilantes, out for blood and our own glory, yada yada yada…”

Chance banged his fist against the table. “Darnit, Jake, we’re *not* like that!”

Jake smiled a bit. “Chance, you’re preaching to the choir – no pun intended. I know we’re not.”

“But you’re lettin’ it bother you…”

“N-no, not really.” He was about to say more, but Marc walked in at that moment. He put down his attache and started unzipping his anorak. “Heya. Jake, Chance said there’d be no problem if I came in today instead of tomorrow.”

“No, no problem,” agreed Jake. “Just make sure you do the billing – and if you can make a dent in the A/P…”

“Color it done, cap’n.”

“Big date tomorrow?” said Chance with a smirk.

“None o’ yer damn business, Furlong.” Marc had ducked his head and was picking up his attache, but even though they couldn’t see his face, both Jake and Chance could tell he was really embarassed. Chance started laughing.

“Woo! Is our li’l Marc gonna get him some lovin’ tomorrow?”

Defiantly, Marc responded, “Yeah, he is. And is our Chance gonna get *him* some lovin’ tomorrow?” He smiled. “Why, no, he’s not.”

“Ooooo…” said Chance.

Suddenly, Jake stood up and took his bowl to the sink. “I gotta go out – do some stuff – be back.” He quickly headed out the door.

Marc watched him go, a bit confused. “What’s gotten into him?”

“God, I think.”

“Ah – as long as it’s nothing major.” Marc shuffled out the door towards the office.

*****

Jake returned to the garage a couple of hours later. He walked over to the office and was all set to knock, but then changed his mind. Instead, he took off his jacket and went into the back to work on some missiles. He needed time to think.

Several hours later, he put down the soldering iron and shook his head. All this time and work hadn’t cleared his head. He went in to check on Chance’s progress in the garage, then walked over to the office and knocked on the door. Upon hearing Marc’s “Yeah?”, he took a deep breath and went in.

Marc was leaning over the postage meter. “Hiya. Billing’s done, and most of the A/P – just have to stamp it all.”

“Wow, that’s great!” Jake said happily.

Too happily. Marc looked up, with a worried look. “What’s the problem?”

“Could I…ask you a question?”

Marc smiled briefly. “Do I have to answer it?”

Jake closed the door, then sat down on the edge of the desk. “Look, it’s…about you.”

Rolling his chair back into position behind the desk, Marc leaned forward and asked, “I’m…I’m not fired, am I?” Jake rubbed his eyes, and Marc went on, earnestly, “Do go on and say whatever the heck you’re trying to say.”

Taking a quick breath, Jake faced Marc and said, “Well, at church today, the priest said some stuff that got me thinking.” Marc spun his finger, indicating Jake to go on. “It was a big sermon on sin – he touched on, you know, venegance, anger, and…you know, sexual sins.” Marc stared at Jake, so he went on. “He, you know, talked about adultery, fornication…and homosexuality.” Marc continued to stare blankly at Jake, so he leaned in a bit confidentially. “*You*…you’re gay, aren’t you?”

Marc sat staring for a few more seconds, then, in a flurry of action, leapt up, sending his chair flying behind him. He headed for the door, pushing past Jake, almost knocking him off the desk.

“What the heck…?” said Jake.

Marc spun around after opening the door. “Look, don’t *talk* to me, OK?” He grabbed his jacket off the rack and shoved open the front door, then suddenly stopped, staring.

“Great googly moogly,” he said quietly.

Jake hopped off the desk and came up behind him, staring out. All three of them had been holed up for the last several hours – Jake in his workshop, Chance in the garage, and Marc in the office – and none of them had so much as come up for air. They all had heard, but not really comprehended, that the weather was supposed to take a turn for the worse sometime soon.

And it had. More than a foot of snow had dumped down on MegaKat City, and it continued to fall fast. In fact, Marc couldn’t even see across the street.

“What’s goin’ on?” Chance emerged from the garage, his hands covered in grease. Then, taking a peek outside, he said, “Holy…”

Marc turned to face him, then Jake, then turned on his heel and went back in the office, slamming the door behind him.

“What’s all that about?” Chance asked.

Jake shook his head. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

*****

Jake was using the blowtorch when Marc knocked on the doorframe. “Is it safe?” he asked.

Jake turned the blowtorch off and removed his visor. He tapped the missile with his claw. “I can guarantee *this* won’t blow up.” Swiveling his chair to face Marc, he went on, “*You*, on the other hand…”

“Yeah, well…sorry about that.” Marc kicked the door closed with his heel, then hopped up on an empty workspace opposite Jake. “it’s just… I don’t often have employers asking about my sex life.”

Crossing his arms, Jake said, “I seem to recall you saying you didn’t mind anyone asking about your private life.”

Marc rocked back and forth for a bit, then said, “Fair enough. You’ve always played it straight with me, so the least I could do is return the favor.” He sat up straighter, and looked defiantly at Jake. “All right, then – yes, I’m gay. *Now* am I fired?”

Jake picked up a screwdriver and sort of fiddled with it for a bit. Then, putting it down, he finally said, “No.”

Sitting on his hands, Marc pointed out, “You had to think about it, though.”

He was about to deny it, but Jake admitted, “Yeah.”

“Why? You’re not seriously thinking I’m gonna be some sort of security risk for the whole SwatKats thing, are you?”

“No, it’s just…”

“What? Against your beliefs?” Jake picked the screwdriver back up, which caused Marc to lose his temper. “For crying out loud, Jake, *what*?!”

Jake jabbed the screwdriver into the desktop. “Listen, this isn’t easy for me.”

“If you think this is a picnic in the park for *me*, Clawson, think again.”

“OK, then, yeah – it’s against my religion. This isn’t something I’ve come up against before, and it’s…it’s messing me up, OK?”

“You don’t think I’m checking you and Chance out while your tails are turned, do you?”

Jake looked really embarassed. “No, of course not.”

“Bad lie, Clawson. That *is* what you’re thinking.”

“It’s not. I’ve just got these…”

“If it helps you sleep tonight, you’re not my type.”

Kicking the side of the desk, Jake yelled, “Would you kindly shut up for a minute? If you’d stop joking around and give me a chance to explain here…”

Marc paused, his mouth half-open, then leaned back, lifted his feet up onto the workbench, and wrapped his arms around his knees. “Go ahead,” he said in a small voice.

“Thank you.” Jake tossed his feet up onto his work area next to the missile he was working on. “I’m a church-going kat – always have been. And they say what you are…what you do…is wrong.” Marc started to say something, but changed his mind. “I’ve never had to deal with this before.”

Marc looked sideways at Jake. “You’ve never known a gay kat before? Right.”

“Really.”

“Well, you probably met one, but…”

“Let’s not play word games, Marc. You know what I mean.”

Sighing, Marc said, “OK. So?”

“So, give me some time to think about this. I’ve got a lot of sorting out to do. But I’m trying, Marc, OK?”

Marc sat quietly, then answered, “That’s more than most kats would do. Thanks.”

“There’s just one problem, though.”

First looking confused, then crestfallen, Marc said, “Oh. Chance.”

“Bingo.”

Marc cast his eyes down at this feet. “Do you have to tell him?”

Jake looked pained. “Marc, he’s my partner.”

“And you tell him everything?”

“Yes! He’s my partner *and* my best friend. We’ve got a rule – no secrets.”

“So you think.”

“No, Marc, so I know. No secrets.”

Marc slipped his feet down off the workbench. “So…should I go tell him?”

“Not without me in the room.”

“What are you thinking will happen?” Marc said with a trace of concern.

“Nothing good. You handled it bad enough when I told you *I* knew.”

“Oh, that. Listen.” Marc leaned towards Jake in a confidential matter. “Look, I took me years to come to grips with this. I mean, I *knew* I couldn’t be gay. I mean, I didn’t…you know, *talk* like them, or look like them or anything like that…” Looking rather embarassed, he added, “This sounds kind of stupid now.”

Jake shrugged. “Yeah.”

“But there it is. How did…how did you find out?”

“Zeke called – wanted to know if your date was still on for tomorrow.”

Marc didn’t move for a second, then sighed. “Well, I guess I’d better go to another room and be stupid in there.”

Smiling, Jake said, “Why don’t you call Zeke – I’ll go talk to Chance.” They got up and headed out of the workshop. Marc watched Jake go in the garage, and gave an involuntary shudder. He dug into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, then walked to the phone and dialed. “Zeke?” A smile appeared on his face. “Hey. Look, is your car still busted? Shoot. Look, I’m at the garage, and with the snow coming down like it is, I don’t look like I can make it over to your place…” As quickly as it appeared, Marc’s smile vanished. “Zeke, I took my cycle over here. There’s no way I’m taking it out with the roads like they are…You think *I’m* happy about this?…No, you got it wrong, Zeke. If *you* really cared about *me*, you wouldn’t try to manipulate me like this…yeah, Zeke, manipulate. Look it up.” Marc hung up the phone rather violently, and stood there glaring.

“Greene!” Chance came in to the lobby. “What’s this about you goin’ homo on us?”

Marc smirked. “I went homo long before I met you guys.”

“So it’s true? Jake ain’t yanking my tail here?” Marc spread his hands out but made no other reply. Chance leaned against the counter. “Of all the…” He stood there for a minute, then straightened up. “Alright, then. You’re fired. I want you and your junk outta here by the end of the day.”

Crossing his arms, Marc continued to smile and say nothing.

“Something wrong with your ears, Greene? Get your tail outta here!”

“You’re not my employer.”

“I’m manager here!”

“*Co*-manager!” Marc yelled back.

“Don’t try to weasel out of this, Greene. You’re history.”

Marc ground his teeth, then growled, “Fine. Lemme type up a resignation.”

“Don’t bother.”

“No, I’ll bother.” He turned and went back into the office, emerging just over a minute later with a piece of paper. Chance held out his hand for it, but Marc shook his head. “Sorry – it’s for Jake. I’ll be back tomorrow for my stuff – if that’s OK with you.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked by Chance and headed into the garage. Marc waited until Jake emerged from under the VW, then handed the paper to him.

“Is this what I think it is?” Jake asked. Marc set his teeth and nodded. “Marc, I’m sorry.”

“Nah, it’s…I shoulda expected as much. He’s a li’l more important to your operation than I’ll ever be.” He kicked the VW’s front tire. “Look, I’ll be in tomorrow to get my stuff.”

Jake nodded, then said, “Wait – you’re not taking your cycle home, are you?”

“Nah, I’ll walk.”

“Marc, it’s horrible out there. I’ll take you home.”

Marc scratched at the hood absently, avoiding Jake’s eyes. “Nah, better not,” he said aloofly.

“You sure?”

“You think I’m too flimsy to make it home?”

Jake sighed. “No, Marc, I’m tryin’ to be nice here.”

Marc scrunched up his face. “I know – I’m sorry. See you tomorrow.” He turned around and walked out.

Jake watched him leave, then sighed and stood up and went out of the garage. He found Chance sprawled on the couch watching TV. He walked up to him, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Is he gone?” Chance took a swig of soda.

“Yeah.”

Swallowing, Chance said, “Good.”

Jake turned and went back to the garage. He knew when not to argue with Chance.

*****

As he had hoped, trudging home in the snow was working off a lot of Marc’s frustration. Unfortunately, it didn’t involve his brain a lot, and so he spent the majority of the trip home thinking about what he’d like to do to Chance. Once most of the juvenile revenge fantasies had played themselves out in his head, he sighed and took stock. He could probably make ends meet until he got another job – he had always managed to survive before. But he really liked working there, which is something he could never explain to his friends and family. He hated to admit it even to himself, but working at that garage – helping out the kats who were the SwatKats, even to that little degree – made him feel really important. Besides, despite his rather shaky employment history, Marc had never been fired from a job before. Even in hard times, he managed to make himself so indispensible that employers were extremely reluctant to let him go. Now that streak was broken, and never to be regained.

A black and white 4×4 pulled up alongside Marc, and the driver’s side window went down. There were, as expected, two Enforcers tnside, out on patrol. They both looked unexpectedly alike – both on the tall and thin side, with that air of superiority which only comes from being in the Enforcers for some time. The only noticeable difference between the two – and it was striking – was that the driver was tabby colored, and the passenger was snow white.

The driver leaned out his window a bit and smiled in a slightly condescending manner. “Whatcha doin’?”

Marc was in no mood for idle chit-chat, and working with Jake and Chance the last few months had made him even more anti-Enforcer than he was previously. He planted his feet, stood up straight, and bellowed “Brain surgery, *sir!*” in his best military manner.

The Enforcer glared at Marc. “You lookin’ for trouble, punk?”

Slowly, Marc shook his head. “Nah. But why don’t you give me your number? You know, in case I ever am?”

“Lessee how funny you are without any teeth.” The Enforcer threw open the door and started climbing out. Before he could get to his feet, a deep rumbling caused him to look up. The TurboKat flew overhead, not too far above them. The vibrations set the whole 4×4 to shaking. “Darn SwatKats!” yelled the Enforcer. He watched the plane disappear in the distance, then turned back to face Marc. He wasn’t there. Looking down, he saw his steps leading away into a shop.

“You wanna follow him?” his partner said.

“Nah, it’s freezin’ out here. Let’s get some coffee.” He got back into the 4×4 and peeled ou, sending snow flying behind him.

*****

T-Bone flew as fast as he dared, which in this case wasn’t very fast. Miss Briggs’ voice came over the radio.

“C’mon, you two, where *are* you?”

“Give us a break, Miss Briggs! We can’t see a thing in this storm! I’m flying on radar and compass alone here!”

“Well, hurry it up! The Enforcers are already here!”

T-Bone broke contact. “Heck, like we’re taking a sightseeing tour,” he growled.

Razor didn’t answer. The tension over Marc’s dismissal was evident, but it wasn’t brought up – it wouldn’t have been the proper time or place to discuss it, anyhow. But Razor wasn’t happy about it being there – he hoped it wouldn’t interfere with what they had to do.

“How’ll we know when we’re there?” Razor finally asked.

“Usual way – smoke, buildings gettin’ smashed, y’know.” T-Bone flew in silence awhile more, then said, “I think we’re there.” He took the TurboKat over to what looked like a small vapor trail coming up from the street, all but invisible against the heavy-falling snow. He clicked on the radio again. “We’re here. Where’s the fire?”

“Out, SwatKats,” responded Commander Feral.

“Out?”

“He’s right, guys,” came Miss Briggs’ exasperated voice over the radio. “The Enforcers beat these things pretty quick.”

T-Bone flew over the scene. It was rather hard to see, but they saw three ten-foot creatures lying in the snow face-down, and about thirty Enforcer 4×4’s parked in the vicinity.

“We don’t need you vigilantes here,” said Feral in his superior tone. “Go on home.”

Razor murmured, “May as well.”

T-Bone slammed his fist against the side of the plane, then took off for home much faster than they arrived.

*****

“How long you gonna be?” Shauna leaned against the steering wheel of her truck. The snow had finally let up, but it was still extremely cold, so Marc had asked his neighbor at his apartment complex to drive him in.

“About an hour, I think. Why don’t you come get me then?”

“Will do.”

Marc jumped out of her truck, and yelled “Thanks again!” over his shoulder as he went in the repair shop lobby. Peering into the garage proper, he saw Jake and Chance hard at work. He decided against drawing attention to himself, and without saying anything, went into the office and started sorting through his stuff.

He had almost finished when Jake walked in. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Marc shrugged. “Seemed like the best idea.”

“Probably.” Jake dropped heavily into the chair.

“How’s it going?”

“Tense.”

Marc put down the box he was holding. “Jake, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve…I’ve driven a wedge between you two.”

Jake waved away the apology. “If you didn’t bring this up. something else woulda. Don’t worry about it. Last night’s ‘mission’ didn’t help things any.”

“Oh, yeah – I saw you two fly over. What was that all about?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” Jake sighed. “Now, you wanna show me where you hid everything in here?”

Smiling slightly, Marc said, “Sure. Oh! I forgot – I’ve gotta make a call. Since my vacation’s off, it looks like I can go into Rosenberg & Thornburg tomorrow after all.” He reached for the phone, dialed a number, and waited for a bit. “Janice? Marc. Listen, could you tell Mr Sjendi I actually *will* be able to…What? Right now? Sure, I guess.” He looked up at Jake with a questioning look, then grasped the phone tighter. “Mr Sjendi? Janice said you wanted to talk to me right away.” Marc listened silently, then leaned down onto one elbow, covering his eyes with his other hand. “I’m…yes, sir, I understand. But can I ask why?…Oh. I see. Thank you very much.” He hung up the phone and straightened up.

“What is it?” asked Jake, but Marc seemed not to hear. He walked slowly by Jake, out the door, and into the garage. Jake followed, thoroughly confused.

“Furlong!” Marc yelled. Chance, who had been half-hidden under a hood, stood up and scowled. Marc marched right up to him, and although he was much shorter than Chance, he still managed to crane his neck and look him straight in the eye.

“Did Mr Sjendi call here today looking for me?”

Chance broke out into a grin. “Why, yes, he did,” he said, in an overly sweet tone.

“And you told him I didn’t work here anymore?” Chance crossed his arms and nodded, still smiling. “And I suppose you told him *why* I didn’t work here anymore?”

“Well, he asked.”

“I see.” Marc turned as if to go, but suddenly spun around and kicked Chance in the groin. Chance bent over double, and Marc caught him above the eye with his right fist.

Jake quickly jumped between the two – not to protect Chance, but rather to keep Marc from getting killed once Chance got his brain in gear. His timing was perfect – as soon as he was planted, he had his hands full as Chance tried to push Jake aside.

“You little *twerp*!” he growled.

“Thanks to you, now I’ve lost *both* my jobs!” Marc yelled back.

“It couldn’ta happened to a nicer kat,” Chance said with a small smile, checking his lip for blood.

Marc’s eyes got wide. “Gee, you’re awfully *cute* when you’re being condescending!”

With a snarl, Chance pushed Jake to the side and lunged forward. Marc grabbed Chance by the collar and fell backwards, attempting to throw Chance backwards. Chance ended up being even heavier than Marc was anticipating, and he succeeded only in landing himself on the floor, with Chance right next to him. Immediately springing to his knees, Chance began slamming Marc’s face with his fists. Jake dragged him off, but not before he managed a quick kick to Marc’s stomach.

Jake led Chance to the other side of the garage, and took a glance back at Marc. He had jumped to his feet, fists clenched, but he showed no sign of continuing the fight. He was bleeding pretty bad from the face, but otherwise seemed OK. “Marc, get back in the office,” Jake said in an even tone. Marc glared at Chance for a minute, then stormed out of the garage.

Suddenly, Jake grabbed Chance by his coveralls and shoved him violently into the garage doors, making them rattle with a loud clang. “Are you *insane*?” he yelled.

“Wh-what?”

“Look, I knew you weren’t the swiftest plane in formation, but I didn’t figure you to be *this* stupid!”

“What’re you talkin’ about?”

Jake lowered his voice to a low growl. “Listen, brainiac – outside your family, how many kats know we’re the SwatKats?” Releasing Chance’s right lapel, he held up one finger. “One. And you just cost him both his jobs.”

“So?”

“So! So now he’s gonna need money. And I hear those daytime talk shows pay pretty good.”

Chance didn’t answer for a minute. Finally he said, “He wouldn’t.”

“Why not? *I* would.”

“Tell him not to.”

Jake gave a short laugh. “Right. I don’t hold any weight with him. It’s not like I’m his *employer*, right?” Jake finally removed his left hand from Chance, and attempted to calm down. “Chance, what’s the matter with you? Whadja go and do that for?”

“He’s a homo.”

“So what? Chance, what if I told you *I* was gay?”

The look of horror in Chance’s eyes only lasted a moment. “But you’re not.”

“Yeah, right, but what if I *was*?”

“But you’re not,” Chance repeated stubbornly.

Jake stared at him for a bit, then turned around and walked out, muttering. When he entered the office, Marc was sitting at the desk, holding a wet paper towel next to his eye.

“Marc, believe me, I had *no* idea Chance had done that.”

Hanging his head, Marc said, “Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t worry about it.”

“Look, if you want to come back to work here…”

“And spend some more quality time with Chance? Good idea.”

“He’ll come around.” Jake wasn’t as sure of this as he sounded.

Marc stood up and started piling his stuff up. “Jake, if he ever *does* come around, call me. *Then* I’ll come back.” He picked the boxes up and started out the door, but he found the doorway blocked by a large kat that looked a lot like Chance, but wasn’t. He was larger, heavier, and certainly older. He looked at Jake and grinned.

“Jake!” he yelled.

“Mr Furlong!” Jake’s eyes were large. “Hi! I didn’t know you were…”

“Out? Today’s the magic day! Took a cab right over. Good to see you! Where’s Chance?”

“Chance? He’s in the garage.”

“Really? I didn’t see him in there.”

“Oh. I’ll go round him up.” Marc watched Jake head out the office, and saw him stop off to put a padlock on the back room. Apparently Mr Furlong wasn’t in on the whole SwatKats thing. He turned back to face him.

“And who might you be?” Mr Furlong asked.

“Nobody in particular.” Mr Furlong wasn’t sure how to respond to this, so Marc went on. “And you’re Chance’s father. Just back from…”

“Jail.”

“Ah.” Marc set his stuff down and sat back in the chair. “Nice place to visit…”

Mr Furlong laughed. “Funny kat!” he roared. “You look like death warmed over, kid. You been mixing it up?”

“Yeah. With your son.”

A smile appeared on Mr Furlong’s face. “Looks like he won.”

“He did.”

“You guys ain’t fightin’ over a girl, are ya?”

“Hardly.” Even Marc smiled. “I guess you could say it was over a guy.”

Mr Furlong looked worried. “Chance didn’t go homo on me while I was gone, did he?”

Marc’s smile broadened. “Chance? No.”

Jake came back in the office. “Chance must have gone on a parts run or something, Mr Furlong. I can’t think where else he might have gone. And, Marc, Shauna’s out front.” Marc nodded and picked his stuff back up.

“Your girlfriend?” asked Mr Furlong.

Marc started to answer, then instead turned to Jake. “Mail me my check,” he said, then walked out. Jake and Mr Furlong watched him head out.

“He’s an odd duck,” said Mr Furlong.

“Yeah,” was all Jake would say to that.

*****

Chance swirled what was left of his beer around its bottle, and absently watched the group of kats play pool. Chance wasn’t much of a drinker – ever since he had started in with the whole SwatKats thing, he considered himself always “on duty”, as it were. For this reason, he had pretty much given up drinking, except perhaps a beer while watching sports on TV on his days off. But today he was finishing off his third, and he sat quietly, wondering if he should order a fourth. He knew he was past his limit – the tip of his tail was getting warm. Luckily, his decision was made for him, as the kats that had been playing pool finished up, and he stood up to take his place at the table.

He had finished putting the balls in the rack when he heard a voice behind him. “Chance!”

Spinning around, Chance broke into a grin. “Hey, Benny! You up for a game?” He selected a cue stick and began chalking it.

“You betcha. Just lemme get prepared first.” Benny shook off his coat, blew on his cold fingers, and signalled the waitress to bring him his usual beer. “You wanna bump for break?”

“Nah, I got it.” Chance leaned over the table, took aim, and slammed his cue stick against the ball. The balls broke with a loud clatter, causing Benny to raise his eyebrows.

“Already six holes in the table, Chance – we don’t need a seventh!”

Chance sighed. “Yeah, I know – sorry.”

“You all right?”

“It…it’s just hasn’t been a good day.”

“How so?”

Leaning against the table, Chance said, “Aw, Jake and I are fightin’…”

“You and *Jake*?! I figgered you guys *never* fought!”

“Like I said, it ain’t been a good day.” Rubbing his face, he went on, “Look, I’d rather not talk about it just now.”

“I don’t hafta let you win, now, do I?” Benny grinned.

Chance grinned back. “Oh, I’ll win, all right, but there won’t be no ‘letting’ about it!”

And for the first time that day, things actually seemed to be going Chance’s way – he actually was one ball away from beating Benny, who usually won most of their matches. He was lining up his final shot when, once again, he heard voices addressing him.

“Well, if it isn’t the little Enforcer who *couldn’t*!” said one.

“Whadda ya mean, ‘little’?” said another, and they both laughed.

Chance gripped his cue stick tighter and closed his eyes, but didn’t turn around.

“Some Enforcer. Can’t fly, can’t fight, and can’t even hear.”

Ever so slowly, Chance straightened up, turned around and smiled. As he expected, it was Lts Harker and Palanado – in fact, the same two Enforcers who had accosted Marc on his way home the previous day. Jake & Chance attended Enforcer Academy at the same time as these two, and, like Jake & Chance, they had become rather inseparable over the years. However, Jake & Chance never did like them much – they were a bit too smug and by-the-book for their liking. And ever since Jake and Chance got kicked off the force, those two had taken to harrassing Jake and Chance every time they happened to run into each other. Jake usually ended up playing peacemaker, leading Chance away before things could turn ugly.

“You’re making three big mistakes, boys.” He leaned his cue stick against his shoulder , and began ticking them off his fingers. “One, you’re hasslin’ me when I’ve had a really crummy day. Two, you’re hasslin’ me when I’ve got a big stick in my hands. And three, you’re hasslin’ me when my partner’s not here to keep me from doing something stupid.”

Lt Palanado adopted a confused look. “Partner? What do you suppose he means by ‘partner’?”

Lt Harker shrugged. “I dunno. What kinda ‘partners’ are you two these days?”

Chance narrowed his eyes. “It’s kinda hard to explain. But if you wanna go outside for a bit, maybe I can clear it up for ya.”

“Chance, let’s not make trouble here,” Benny warned.

Without turning around, Chance said, “I ain’t making trouble, Benny. These two made it by opening their fat mouths.” He tossed his cue stick back on the cue table and followed them out the door.

*****

Jake was poring through some files in the lobby when he heard Chance come in. “Where th’heck you been? Your dad was here…” Jake stole a glance up and stopped talking.

Chance wiped some snow and blood off of his face. “I don’t wanna hear it.”

Jake tossed the file he was holding down in disgust. “Don’t tell me – lemme guess. You went to the Triangle Club down the street and did some bashing.”

Sitting down heavily on the couch, Chance wearily said, “Jake…”

“Chance, what’s gotten into you?”

Chance, who had been cleaning his face and head up, suddenly hung his head. “Do we have to talk about this now?”

“Yeah, we do. Let’s have it out. Two fist-fights in the last twenty-four hours? Chance, I stopped pulling you out of fights…what…ten years ago?” Jake paused, but Chance just sat there, head hanging down. “Chance, I’m having a real problem dealing with you…like, on *any* level here. How’re s’posed to be a team if we’re like this?”

Chance suddenly looked up. “You sure it’s all me?”

Jake started to answer, then stopped to think. Finally he said, “Maybe not. Maybe I’m changing, too. But as we’re changing, let’s not lose sight of each other.” He leaned forward and stuck out his hand. “Still friends?”

Chance looked at Jake’s hand with a “Yeah, right” look on his face, and said, “Jake…”

“No, really, Chance. I…I need to hear it from you. Still friends?”

Slowly and confusedly, Chance reached out and shook his hand. “Yeah, still friends.”

Jake grasped the hand, tight. Then he stood up and walked out, leaving the files sitting on the table. Chance sat there for some time, thinking.

*****

Chance was one of those kats who, no matter what was going on, never seemed to have much trouble getting sleep. In fact, most late-night stake-outs fell to Jake, because Chance had a bad tendency to nod off. The last night was different, though. The last few days – and especially the previous evening’s conversation with Jake – kept rolling through his head. It was morning, but Chance lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. When had things gone wrong? When he found out Marc…no, wait, back when Benny reminded him that his dad’s parole was coming up. Then Marc. Then work. Then his dad actually getting out. Then those Enforcer creeps…and Jake. What was up with that? Jake was acting really weird lately. Yeah, maybe I haven’t been the easiest guy to get along with the last week, he thought, but still…and wanting a handshake? That’s not like him.

Chance stole a glance at the clock. Heck, he was late getting up…and all those cars promised by today. He jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. He jumped in the shower, and winced as the hot water hit his face. While checking his injuries over, he thought, Jake’s right – I’m too old to be gettin’ into that kind of scrape. I shouldn’t let this stuff get to me like it is. As he rinsed off, he remembered something their drill instructor back at the Academy had said during basic training …what was it? “All your life you’ve been told that you’re a unique individual, but there comes a time when you’ve got to keep your individuality down to benefit the force.” Well, now I’m on a force of two – a force that’s better than *their* force’ll ever be. And if I’ve gotta be a good little kat in order to keep the force strong, then, darnit, a good little kat’s what I’m gonna be.

After getting dressed, he bounded into the lobby, his new-found determination driving him on. “Jake? Jake?” He saw a scribbled note taped to the fridge – the one sure spot Chance would look. “Had to take care of a couple things – back after lunch.” Chance read the note, confused. What kinda things did he have to take care of?

*****

Jake was clearly out of his element. He had his one good shirt on again, which didn’t seem quite good enough for this place. He didn’t know anyone here, either. And, to make matters worse, he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say.

Finally, the receptionist turned his way. “May I help you, sir?”

“Um, yeah, could I see Mr Sjendi, please?”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“Uh, no.” Jake shifted his weight to his other foot. “But it’s kinda important.”

Janice tapped her pen on the desk. “Can I ask what you want to see Mr Sjendi about? Perhaps there’s someone else you can talk to.”

“It’s…it’s about Marc Greene.”

“He no longer works here, you know.”

“I know. If I could just see Mr Sjendi…”

Thinking it over for a second, she picked up the phone. “Can I have your name, please?”

“Clawson. Jake Clawson.”

She nodded and spoke into the phone. “Mr Sjendi? There’s a Jake Clawson here to see you – no, he doesn’t have an appointment, but he says it’s about Marc Greene, and it’s important.” She listened, then told Jake, “He can give you about five minutes. Will that be enough?” Jake nodded violently, and she said, “I’ll show him in.” and hung up the phone.

“Won’t you follow me, please,” she said, and led Jake through a maze of desks, copiers, and whatnot until they arrived at large double doors at the rear end of the office. She opened one and led him in. “Jake Clawson to see you, Mr Sjendi,” she said, then walked out, closing the door behind her.

Mr Sjendi’s office was large, and his desk was large, but they didn’t seem that way to Jake, because Mr Sjendi himself was so large. Jake figured this kat probably had half a foot on Chance – in every direction. His size frightened Jake, but his calm demeanor and small smile helped put him at ease.

“Mr Sjendi? Hi, I’m Jake Clawson.” Mr Sjendi half-stood, and more or less swallowed Jake’s hand into his.

“Won’t you please sit down?” Mr Sjendi said quietly. Jake took a sett across from him and thought about how to begin.

“I came to see you about one of your employees…well, I guess, ex-employees. Marc Greene.” Mr Sjendi nodded slightly to indicate Jake to go on. “Could I…might I ask why he was let go?”

Mr Sjendi put his hands together on his desk. “I don’t know if I care to go into that.”

Jake sat up, a little flustered. “I’m sorry, I’m going about this all wrong. I probably should have said that I’m his…I *was* his boss…his employer…at the salvage yard.”

Again giving a small smile, Mr Sjendi said, “Ah. So you’re *that* Jake.” Growing more serious, he went on, “Then, Mr Clawson, I don’t see why you’re asking me this. You should be aware of why I let Mr Greene go.”

“I…I think I am. But I want to hear it from you, just to be clear.”

Shrugging his massive shoulders, Mr Sjendi said, “Very well. I received a report from your establishment, from a Mr… Furlong, I believe.” Jake nodded. “He said that Mr Greene was a homosexual, and that he was making unwanted advances on other employees there.”

Jake, through clenched teeth, growled, “He said *that*?!”

“In effect. Mr Furlong’s language was somewhat more… common.”

“Listen, outside of…this, how would you describe Marc…Mr Greene…as an employee?”

Mr Sjendi leaned back and grew thoughtful. After a rather considerable pause, he said, “Exemplary.” He inclined his head a bit. “A little odd, perhaps, but…”

“I thought so. He was pretty much the same at our place.” Leaning forward, Jake went on in a rush, “Mr Sjendi, if I gave you my assurance that Marc did *not* make any advances on any employees, would you consider taking him back?”

Raising an eyebrow, Mr Sjendi said, “This Mr Furlong seemed rather sure that Mr Greene had done so.”

Jake shook his head. “There’s only three kats there – me, Chance…Mr Furlong…and Marc. I can assure you he never… made any advances on me. And I can guarantee you he never did so to Mr Furlong, either.”

“You are…quite sure about this? Then why would Mr Furlong say that he had?”

Jake sighed and looked down. “I’m afraid Mr Furlong and Mr Greene…shall I say, weren’t getting along too well? Either Chance or Marc had to go…” Jake shrugged. “…and Chance is part owner.”

“I see.”

“So…would you consider taking him back?” Jake looked back up with a rather hangdog expression.

Mr Sjendi leaned back in his large chair, closed his eyes, and put his left hand to his mouth. After another lenghty pause, he put his hand down and looked at Jake. “Have him give me a call.”

Jake breathed a large sigh of relief. “Thank you very much. I…I felt sort of responsible for this whole mess.”

“Well, you intrigued me, Mr Clawson. Most employers wouldn’t bother going to bat for a former employee.” As an afterthought, he added, “Of course, good clerks are hard to find.”

“Tell me about it.”

*****

Jake heard music coming from inside apartment 207 as he walked up, so he made sure to knock loudly.

Marc opened the door, and his red eyes opened wide. “Jake! Hey!”

“Hey yourself. Can I come in?”

Marc let him in, waved him to a chair, then collapsed onto the sofa, leaning behind to turn the music down. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Obviously not.” This was only Jake’s second time ever in Marc’s apartment, but even he could see a change. Marc was almost pathologically neat, but today the place could have used a good straightening-up. “Whatcha up to?”

Marc tossed an arm over his forehead. “Heck, Jake, I dunno. So much has gone down the last few days. It’s like I had to create an in-box for my life, and every single problem I get just gets tossed in there. Hopefully, one day, I’ll get everything out.”

“What’s on top?”

“Easy. Getting a job. Which means updating my resume and printing up about five hundred copies. But first, I’m taking a day off to listen to blues music and feel sorry for myself. I think I’m allowed.”

“Maybe, but what if you still have a job?”

Marc didn’t answer for a minute. “What?” he finally said.

Jake grinned. “I stopped by Sjendi, Thornburg & Rosen- berg on the way here, and talked to Mr Sjendi. He says to give him a call tomorrow.”

Again, Marc just lay there, not speaking, and Jake suddenly wondered if he had done something he shouldn’t have. But Marc finally spoke, in a very quiet voice. “Jake, it’s been so long since something good’s happened to me…I forget what to say.”

The grin reappeared on Jake’s face. “‘Thank you’ will work.”

Slowly, Marc sat up, rubbed his face, took a deep breath, then let it out. “Thank you, Jake. I mean that.”

“Forget it. You up for lunch? My treat.”

Marc let the hint of a smile play on his face. “No mongo peppers?”

Jake laughed. “No mongo peppers.”

“Then you’re on. Lemme grab my coat – and wash my face.”

A minute or so later, they were out the door. Marc pulled his coat tighter around him. “Geez! It’s freezing out here.”

“Well, at least it’s not snowing anymore.” They hustled into Jake’s Trans Am. While letting the engine warm up, Jake asked, “So, where to?”

“Somewhere cheap.”

“It’s cool – I’ve got money.”

“Yeah, I know, but I figure I owe you enough for one day. How ’bout… I dunno…there’s some good spots at the mall.”

Jake shrugged. “Fine.” He pulled out of his parking spot and headed out onto the street.

The foodcourt at the mall wasn’t busy at all, and Jake and Marc stood staring at the multitude of restaurants. Jake turned to Marc. “It’s your call. Anything good?”

“The Chinese place – but I know you don’t go for that. Umm…the barbecue place is pretty good.”

Jake reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, and pulled some bills from that. Handing them to Marc, he said, “Here, you go get what you want – I’ll meet you back here.”

“Thanks, Dad!” said Marc in a goofy voice, then headed to get in line at the Chinese place. Jake shook his head, then headed over to the barbecue joint. There was no line there, but after placing his order, Jake was told that his order would “take some time”. Resignedly, he took his soda back to the table. Marc joined him there a few minutes later.

“Not hungry?” he asked. “Oh, wait, I forgot – they tend to take their time with orders. Sorry about that.”

“No problem.”

Marc broke his chopsticks apart and began rubbing them together. “Can I ask you something?” Jake, sipping his soda, nodded. “Please don’t think I’m…being ungrateful…or whatever, but, you know…why’d you do that? Talking to my boss, I mean?”

Jake put his drink down and shrugged. “I felt kinda responsible for you losing the job in the first place.”

“Well, heck, Jake, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Yeah, but Chance *is* my partner, so when he…” Jake moved his hand around, looking for a proper term.

“Starts stuff?” offered Marc.

“…starts stuff, thank you…I feel…duty-bound to do something about it. Besides, he wouldn’t have found out if I hadn’t stuck my nose into your life.”

Marc waved that away. “C’mon, Jake…you had every right to ask. I mean, heck, I know pretty much every detail of your life – it’s only fair you know something about mine.” Marc took a bite of his eggroll, then said, “Besides, I thought *you* were the one I had to worry about.”

“Worry about me? What’d you mean?”

“Well, look, I know Chance’s pretty set in his ways, but I figured that *you’re* the one that goes to church every week, so…” Marc took a look at Jake, who had a faroff look on his face. “You still with me?”

Jake jerked his eyes back to Marc. “Yeah, just thinking.”

“If you’d rather not talk about this…”

“No, it’s just…ever since I was a kitten, I went to church, and I believed everything they taught me. But now I find myself…you know, questioning things.”

Marc shrugged. “A little healthy cynicism never hurt nobody.”

Jake went on excitedly. “Really? Even when one’s faith is involved? I mean, doesn’t faith mean accepting things completely?”

“Hm.”

“I don’t feel right about saying that I’m a member of my faith, but that I don’t agree with this, that and the other. It…it doesn’t seem right. It’s like saying, ‘I’m a vegetarian, but I do eat chicken sometimes.’ To me, you either are or you aren’t. And I’d like to think I *am*. Because I believe. I really do. But then…”

“Geez, Jake, I hope I didn’t cause some sort of crisis of faith in you.”

“No, it’s not just you and..all that. There’s other things, too – minor things, I guess, compared to the big picture, but I still can’t bring myself to…accept. And I feel I should.”

“Even if it means going against everything you feel?”

“Exactly…and I wonder what’s right, y’know?”

“Well, thanks for stickin’ by me, Jake. ‘Cause, your…hobby aside, I still think you’re a darn interesting kat, and those are the kats I want as my friends.”

“Chance, too?”

Marc stopped with his food halfway to his mouth, then put his chopsticks down. “To tell the truth, yeah, Chance is pretty interesting, too – in a different way. But I’d say we got us a wee little problem keeping us from being friends – namely, he thinks I’m the devil’s spawn.”

A voice came over the intercom. “Jake? Your order’s ready. Jake?”

Marc leaned in and muttered, “Razor? Your order’s ready. Razor?”

Jake rolled his eyes, then got up to get his food, making a quick detour to grab some napkins – this meal was looking to be messy. When he came back, Marc was looking at a magazine that someone had left behind.

“Whatcha reading?”

“Ummm…SPORTSWEEK.”

“The Catamounts gonna win?”

“Dunno. Haven’t gotten past this.” Marc held up the magazine to a two- page foldout. Jake gave a small start of recognition. It was that same advertisement for Odyssey Air, with the palm trees and the vacationers.

“You thinkin’ of going?” asked Jake.

“Nah, can’t afford it.” Marc put the magazine down and gave it another glance. “But that kat in the green swimsuit is pretty darn cute.” He looked up at Jake with a wicked grin, but seeing Jake’s reaction, he quickly turned his attention to his fried rice.

*****

The fire was green. And very very cold. Jake was tied to a rope, which stretched several meters above the pit, but the numbing cold still dug into him. Somewhere down the corridor, he heard the sound of DarkKat’s insane laughter. Jake wasn’t sure how he had gotten here, but he knew he had to get out. He tried to work free of the knots, but suddenly, he felt himself slipping, falling into the fire.

Jake stared, without comprehending, at the ceiling for about fifteen seconds. Finally, he drew a big breath. I thought I was done having nightmares, he thought. But slowly he became aware of some things – OK, it was a dream, but he really *did* feel a pain in his back. And he *did* feel cold. Glancing down, he saw his blanket on the floor. Grimly, he started shifting himself in his hammock to pick it up. As he did so, a sharp pain shot through his stomach. Immediately, he stopped, and instead curled himself into a fetal position, trying to calm his stomach down.

Jake had no idea how much later it was when Chance poked his head in. “Hey, you gonna get up this morning?” Suddenly his face went serious. “Jeez, Jake, are you OK?” Jake didn’t have the strength to answer – he just shook his head.

Chance walked over to Jake and stood over him. “What’s the problem?”

Hoarsely, Jake managed to say, “Stomach.”

“You look awful. Anything I can do?” Jake started to answer, but then just pointed at the blanket on the floor. “Oh, yeah,” said Chance, who picked it up and spread it over him. “You want one of mine, too?” Jake nodded slowly, and Chance hustled back out the door, returning a bit later with a comforter, which he tossed on top of Jake. In his other hand he held a glass of ginger ale, which he set on Jake’s dresser, where he could reach it.

“Here. You’re…you’re not gonna…?”

Jake smiled weakly and shook his head.

“Good. Otherwise I’d take my blanket back. You get better, you hear? I ain’t working on all them trucks myself.” Chance smiled, then left. Jake smiled a bit. It seemed a sick kat could turn even Chance into a mother hen.

Chance headed into the garage. Well, looks like I’m on my own for a while. And if I’m gonna be that good little kat like I promised, here’s a good place to start. He rubbed his hands together and pointed at the pick-up in the first bay. “You,” Chance announced, “are my first victim.”

It was coming around noon time when Chance first heard someone rumbling around the front of the shop. After washing his hands, he walked out of the garage and spied a grey kat pacing through the lobby. He was middling size, dressed in a business suit and a scowl to match. Before Chance could say anything, he whirled around and pointed at him. “What’s your name?” he said accusingly.

Eyebrows arched, Chance said, “Furlong. Chance Furlong.”

“Good. That’s one. Where’s the other one? Jake?”

With a toss of the head, Chance indicated the back of the shop. “Sick in bed. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Oh, no – you’re not getting off that easy. Bring him out here.”

“Jake? Trust me, sir, he’s sick.”

The kat flopped down on the couch. “Listen here. I’m not leaving until I talk to both of you. Clear?”

Chance started to get angry, but remembering his promise, shurgged and headed back towads Jake’s room. Jake had his eyes closed, but he opened them as Chance entered.

“You feeling any better?” Chance asked with concern.

Jake smiled a bit, and help us his hand, his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.

“Good. Cause there’s this guy up front who won’t leave until you talk to him.”

Jake looked concerned. “Who is he? What’s he want?”

“NFI, buddy. He’s just hopping mad – says he’s gotta talk to both of us.”

Sighing resignedly, Jake tried to sit up. “You wanna help me outta here?” Chance aided Jake in getting to the floor, then watched as he shed his sweatpants and tossed on some coveralls. “You didn’t steal his girlfriend, did you?”

Chance leaned against the doorway. “I wish.”

Jake glanced at himself in the mirror, started to push his fur into place, then waved the mirror away. “Screw it. Let’s go.” Slowly, Jake made his way into the lobby and sat heavily into a chair. Chance jumped up and sat on the counter.

The kat hadn’t calmed down a bit. “You’re Jake?” Jake nodded once. “Good. Now that you’re both here, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve figured out your little scheme here.”

Chance started. Here we go again, he thought, but Jake held up a hand to him. “Can you explain, please?” he asked.

“You call the place Jake & Chance’s Repair and Salvage. That’s because first you pretend to repair the car, then you come salvage it when it breaks down completely!”

Jake didn’t blink, but instead picked up a pad of paper and a pen. “What’s your name?”

“Roberts. Richard Roberts.”

While scribbling that down, Jake asked, “And what’s wrong with your car?”

“It’s ruined, that’s what wrong with it!”

“Can you be more specific?”

“You yahoos did some work on my BMW a couple months ago, and now it’s on MegaKat City Highway, completely busted.”

“And you’re sure that’s our fault?” asked Chance, trying to keep calm.

Turning to face Chance, Mr Roberts said, “It ran perfect up until then!”

Chance folded his arms. “You always bring cars that run perfect in to get repaired?”

Mr Roberts shook a finger at Chance. “Listen, you…”

“Chance, please. Mr Roberts, what kind of car was it again?”

“BMW.”

“How old?”

“Two years.”

“What did we do to it?”

“I told you – you ruined it!”

Jake was too tired to rise to the bait. “Exactly what did you bring it in for?”

“Brake work.”

“On a two-year-old BMW?”

“You monkeys said it had a defective caliper, and that’s what you fixed.”

“Wait a second, ” said Chance, trying not to sound excited. “You don’t have a maroon BMW, do ya?”

“I *did*, until you ruined it!”

Chance ignored that. He figured if Jake could, so could he. “Jake, I remember this one. He had those cruddy brakes in there for some reason. We gave him new pads and all, but he didn’t want the master cylinder replaced.”

For the first time, Mr Roberts seemed less self-assured than before. “What are you talking about?”

“Your car needed a new master cylinder, but you didn’t wanna spring for it – you said we were trying to rip you off.”

“That’s ridiculous – I’d never say something like that.”

You have ever since you walked in, thought Chance, but not out loud. He thought for a second, then snapped his fingers. “I made a note on the work order.”

Jake smiled to himself – thanks, Marc, for making us do that, he thought. Paperwork at the salvage yard was kind of slapdash until they got audited a few months back, after which Marc had made them get everything in writing.

“You have a receipt, Mr Roberts?” asked Jake. Mr Roberts handed him a small slip of paper, which Jake gave a cursory glance to. “This is the credit card recepit. Do you have the work order?”

“That’s what you gave me.”

“We always staple the credit card receipt to the work order,” stated Chance.

“You callin’ me a liar?”

Jake again waved Chance down. “We might have forgot. We’ll have to track down your paperwork.”

“Great. What am I supposed to do ’til then?!”

“Take the bus,” suggested Chance.

Mr Roberts reached into the inner pocket of his sports coat and withdrew a business card. He tossed it over to Chance, snapping, “Can you read that?”

Chance peered at the card. “Richard Roberts, Attorney at Law. Yeah?”

“You know what that means?”

“Yeah, it means you make more than I do.”

Turning back to face Jake, Mr Roberts said, “I’m heading back to my office to prepare some paperwork. Either you fix my car, or I’m slapping your tails with a lawsuit. Understood?”

“Yes,” said Jake non-committally. He watched Mr Roberts storm out, then dragged himself to his feet. He shuffled back into his room, and shed his coveralls, leaving them in a heap on the floor. As he was putting his sweatpants back on, Chance came in.

“What’re we gonna do, Jake?”

“I’m gonna go to sleep. I dunno what you’re gonna do.” Jake crawled under the covers and closed his eyes. Chance stood there staring at him for a minute, then went back into the garage. Jake opened one eye, and, seeing Chance gone, reached down towards his desk for his phone.

*****

The battle was over, and Chance had emerged victorious. He only felt a smattering of satisfaction, though, as he slammed the hood of the Jeep shut. Glancing at the cruddy clock they had gotten for free from the spark plug company, he was surprised to find it was almost eight o’clock. Sighing, he washed his hands and went back in the lobby. He was even more surprised to see Jake sitting there, flipping through some paperwork.

“Hey! You all better?”

“I’m tougher than you think.” Jake smiled.

“Good. I don’t like the idea of having to run missions on my own.”

“Probably one of those twenty-four hour things. Just remind me not to go that barbecue place in the mall anymore.”

“Done. You find that sleazoid’s papers?”

“Nah. But it’ll turn up.”

Chance scratched his head. “You sound awfully sure.”

Jake shrugged. “There’s stuff where it helps to be worried about it, and there’s stuff where it don’t.”

“If you say so.”

“I say so. And speaking of worrying about stuff, your dad’ll be over tomorrow at four.”

“Aw, Jake!”

“Don’t ‘Aw Jake’ me. You can’t keep ditchin’ him, you know.”

“I know, but…he gives me the creeps, Jake.”

“Tell *him* that, buddy, not me. May as well have it out with him.” Chance shuffled his feet but didn’t answer. Jake decided to change the topic.

*****

Jake was handing the keys back to a customer when Mr Furlong came in.

“Jake! Chance around?”

“He’s in the garage, Mr Furlong. Lemme round him up for you.” Jake thanked the customer, then stuck his head in the garage. “Chance! Your dad’s here.”

Chance emerged from under the hood of a truck, rolled his eyes, then washed his hands and came into the lobby.

“Chance!” bellowed Mr Furlong.

“Hey,” was all Chance said. There was an uncomfortable pause as Jake walked back out from the office. “Um, look, you…you wanna go somewhere…grab a drink?”

“Fine! Fine!” Mr Furlong said, too enthusiasticly.

“‘K. Jake, page me if, y’know, ya need anythin’.” Jake half- saluted as the two Furlongs headed out the door. He watched them go and shook his head.

Chance walked over to his truck and hoisted himself inside. Mr Furlong’s eyebrows went up, and hs smiled. “Yours?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Chance smiled back. “Can’t afford it, but, y’know.” Mr Furlong got in beside him, and they drove over to It’l Do. Chance led his father in, gave half-waves to the few people he recognized, then took a booth in the back.

Almost immediately, Marlene came over. “Hey, gorgeous,” she said to Chance. “You gonna behave today?”

Chance gave her a crooked smile. “What’ll ya do if I don’t?”

“You don’t wanna find out. Can I get you something?”

“Yeah,” said Chance, pointing to his father.

Mr Furlong sized Marlene up. “You got McKenna? Dark?”

“You bet. Regular for you, babe?”

“After last time, yeah, I’d better.”

“On the way.” Marlene headed back to the bar, and Mr Furlong watched her go.

“Nice. You two…?”

Chance waved that away. “Hardly.”

“Your loss. She’s lookin’ good.” Reluctantly, he stopped staring at her and turned his eyes back to Chance. “So, whatcha been up to?”

“Up to?”

“Yeah. The last three years. You never wrote…”

“Aw, Dad, I’m no good at writin’ – you know that.”

“Well, you coulda stopped by once or twice.” Chance traced a design on the table and didn’t answer. “So whatcha been up to?” Mr Furlong repeated.

Chance shrugged. “I guess you know about me ‘n’ Jake getting kicked off the force.”

“Yeah, Tad told me.” Figgers, thought Chance. His brother always had a big mouth. Inwardly he shook his head. He shouldn’t think like that. It was news, after all, and his dad woulda found out sooner or later.

Mr Furlong had gone on. “To tell the truth, son, I’m kinda…well, disappointed. I was bankin’ on you followin’ the Furlong tradition of being an Enforcer.”

Chance was ready for this, but he was surprised how upset it made him. “Yeah, well, I figgered I’d continue the new Furlong tradition.”

“Huh?”

“Y’know – getting kicked *off* the Enforcers. Of course, I didn’t punch out my commanding officer or nuttin’, but…”

“Hey, hey!” Mr Furlong was getting upset. Luckily, Marlene returned at that moment.

“OK – one McKenna Dark…” She set down an open bottle and glass in front of Mr Furlong. “…and one Sheboygan Special.” She placed another bottle and a frosted glass in front of Chance. “Enjoy, you two.” She headed back to the bar.

Mr Furlong watched as Chance opened the bottle with his claw, and slowly poured the dark brown beverage into his glass. “Sheboygan Special? What kind of beer is that?”

Chance gave a quick grin. “Root.”

“You’re drinking *root* beer?”

After emptying the last of the bottle into the glass, Chance looked up at his father, confused. “I always drink this here.” Not entirely true, but close enough to being true.

“Not tonight, you’re not,” said Mr Furlong with a smile. He flagged down Marlene as she walked by. “Bring my boy here a McKenna Dark.”

Before Marlene could answer, Chance broke in. “No. Don’t bother, Marlene.”

“All right, then – what kind do you want?”

“I want this,” growled Chance, pointing at his glass. “Which is why I ordered it.”

“I can’t believe you’re drinking root beer, son!”

Glancing up, Chance caught Marlene’s worried frown, and he struggled to keep ihs voice level. “Dad, I’m not gonna argue with you about what I’m drinking, OK? Thanks, Marlene.” She walked off, with several quick glances back at their booth.

Resignedly, Mr Furlong took a swig of his beer. “So, since you got kicked out, what keeps you busy?” he asked after swallowing.

“The shop mainly. Jake ‘n’ me got stuck there ’til we pay off what we owe.”

“Owe?”

“For slammin’ into Enforcer HQ.”

“Nice shot.”

“Thanks.”

“How much?”

Chance tasted his root beer, then chugged a bit more. “How much what?” he finally asked.

“Do you owe.”

“I dunno. That’s Jake’s department. A lot.”

“That’s a raw deal. Dontcha get the itch to get back in the cockpit?”

Chance half-shrugged, doing his best to appear non-chalant, but he saw his father eyeing him. “What?” he asked.

“What’re you hiding?”

Chance sat up straighter. “What do you mean?”

Mr Furlong pointed his finger at Chance. “A-ha, a-ha, there! You were always bad at keeping stuff from me. What’s the game?”

Sitting back and crossing his arms, Chance shook his head. “No game. Me and Chance and one thousand busted cars, with a stray chopper or plane here ‘n’ there to keep us on our toes.”

“You can’t be satisfied with that.”

“Don’t have much choice, do I?”

“Hmph. My son the philosopher.”

“Just tryin’ to be practical.”

“You’re in a dead end at that shop. I can get you hooked up somewhere else.”

“You ain’t listenin’, Dad. I gotta pay back the Enforcers.”

“You can make a lot more than you’re makin’ there!”

Chance didn’t like where this was going. “Nah, don’t worry ’bout it.”

“You’ll be eighty before you get out.”

Angrily, Chance leaned in. “Listen, I’d rather live like that than go sellin’ nip and pops to high schoolers.”

“Don’t act so mighty. If I didn’t do it, you know someone else would.”

“Well, maybe you should *let* someone else.” Chance stood up, tossed a few bills on the table, and turned to leave.

“You’re gonna be working at that shop the rest of yer life!” warned Mr Furlong.

Chance managed a grin as he put on his coat. “Well, then, you’ll know where to find me, won’t ya?” He spun back around and stormed out.

*****

Coming back into the shop’s lobby, Chance ran into the last kat in the world he wanted to see at that moment. Marc looked up from the counter, set his face, and walked over to Chance. Before Chance could say anything, Marc more or less threw a file folder at him.

“The original’s in the safe,” he said, and walked out the door. Chance watched him leave, confused, then opened the file folder. Inside were twelve copies of an invoice, in Chance’s handwriting, for repairs on a maroon BMW for one Richard Roberts. Chance stared at them for a minute, then headed for the back.

Jake finished screwing on a face plate, then looked up. “You’re back early.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Chance tossed the folder on the desk next to Jake.

“I guess you ran into Marc.”

“He just left.” Chance was too tired to get as angry as he normally would have. He leaned in the doorway, putting his hands on the top of the door frame. “Jake, don’t go goin’ behind my back like that. It ain’t right.”

“Sorry.”

“Now you’re lyin’. You ain’t sorry.”

Jake considered. “No, I guess I’m not.”

“You didn’t offer him his job back, did ya?”

“No.” Jake threw his feet up on the desk. “But maybe I shoulda.”

“Jake!”

“No, I’m serious. Listen, after all he’s done?” Jake indicated the file folder. “At least consider it? For me?”

Chance sighed. “Look, Jake, I made myself a promise a bit ago that I was gonna be a good li’l kat for the sake of the team, and frankly it ain’t helpin’. Life keeps gettin’ worse. And you know how I feel…about Marc, I mean. But I ain’t goin’ back on my word.” He rubbed his face. “OK, for you, Jake, I’ll consider it, OK?”

“That’s probably more than I deserve. Thanks.” Jake picked up the folder, looked at it a minute, then smiled and put it back down. “How’s your dad?”

“Still a jerk.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah, but I should talk. At least he’ll speak to me.”

“Hm.” Jake thought about his father for a second, then shook himself back to earth. “Well, enough about our cruddy families. You up for pizza.”

“Dumb question.”

“Yeah, thought so. What say we take the night off?”

“Geez, can’t remember the last time we did that.”

“Which means it’s about time we did. Whatcha wanna do? Video games? Rent some movies?”

Chance considered. “Well, there’s a couple flicks I wouldn’t mind seein’, but I’d rather watch you get your tail whupped in Frantic Flyer.”

“Dream on!” Jake reached for the phone to call in the pizza order.

*****

Marc pulled the door open and entered the lobby, a paper bag under his arm. He headed to the back, where Jake sat absently flipping through channels. “Hey.”

“Hey bakatcha. What’s in the bag?”

“Dinner.”

“Dinner? You kidding?”

“Unless it’s too early.”

After a glance at the clock, which showed five o’clock, Jake shook his head, and accepted a package from Marc. “Whatcha get?”

“Sandwiches. Ham n cheese for you, meatloaf for Chance, and something called Veggie Delight for me.”

Jake grinned, his sandwich half-unwrapped. “Veggie Delight?”

“I know. I ain’t holdin’ my breath.” Marc took a large bite anyway.

Examining his food critically, Jake asked, “You didn’t lick Chance’s sandwich, did you?”

Marc snapped his fingers. “Now why didn’t *I* think of that?”

“Think of what?” Chance came in from the garage.

“Sabotaging your sandwich. Hope you like meatloaf.” Marc tossed the wrapped sandwich to Chance as he joined them. Chance sat down next to Jake, opened his food, took a bite, then nodded.

“OK,” started Jake. “As they say in movies, we all know why we’ve been gathered here tonight.” Both Chance and Marc nodded. “All right, then. Let’s make our positions clear. Marc, you want to come back to work here?” Again Marc bobbed his head. “Right. I think my position’s clear, too. I think Marc’s a big part of what goes on around here, and his past work and the effort he puts in more than make up for any… personality quirks…he may have.” Jake turned to Chance, waiting.

Chance leaned back on the sofa and looked over at Marc. After a pause, he leaned forward, ticking off his points on his fingers as he went. “All right. Point one. Jake’s right – you’ve worked your tail off here, ever since we brought you aboard for that audit. Point two. I was outta line talkin’ smack about you to your boss. I shouldn’ta done that. Point three. You swung first, but I prolly didn’t hafta pummel ya so bad. Sorry ’bout that. Point four. You helped get that Roberts creep off our backs. Thanks for that. Point five. You brought me a pretty darn good sandwich. Thanks for that.” He paused, took a bite, then looked back up at Marc.

“Point six. You’re a homo.” Marc half-flinched, but remained staring at Chance, who was silent for a few seconds. “I ain’t gonna lie. I got a really really *really* big problem with that.” Again Marc simply stared at Chance, who stared back. Finally, Chance pointed at Marc. “Now, listen, I don’t wanna hear a *peep* about you and your…’friends’. Clear?” Marc didn’t answer, but nodded once, barely. “All right, then. You’re back on.” Chance got up and headed for the back. Marc watched him go.

“Congratualtions,” said Jake. Marc slowly looked over at him, then half- shrugged. Jake, a bit confused, said, “You don’t look too happy about it.”

Marc shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“This. The whole thing. I mean, to save my job, I didn’t say a word. But you go ‘n’ figured it out, you tell him, he fires me, we rassle a bit, but now I’m back on board, under what stipulation?” He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. “That I don’t say anything. Geez, Jake, that’s what I was doing *before*!”

“You sayin’ I shouldn’ta told him.” Jake was a bit defensive.

“Nah, that ain’t it, it just seems like…I dunno. A lot of wasted effort, y’know?”

Jake was reminded of something he read when he was a kitten. “Red Queen’s Race?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah, kinda. There had to be a better way, though…one that didn’t involve me ‘n’ Chance getting at each other’s throats, one where I didn’t have to get both my jobs back…and what the *heck* is that noise?” Slowly, over the last minute or so, a muffled pounding sound had gotten louder.

“Y’know, I was about to ask you that.” Jake jumped up, and nearly ran right into Chance coming out of the bathroom.

“What th’ heck’s that noise?”

“No clue.” Jake and Chance ran towards the front door, with Marc trailing behind. They had almost reached the door when the alarm went off. Pulling up short, Jake and Chance looked at each other, then ran back to answer it. Marc watched them go, then opened the door and peeked out.

“What’s up, Miss Briggs?” asked Chance.

“Viper, *again*. Looks like he got the formula right this time.”

“Gotcha. Where’re ya at?”

“The warehouse district.”

Jake and Chance looked at each other, then turned to see Marc flying back in. He was really excited, and held his arms out wide to indicate the size of something.

“We’ll be right there.” Chance broke contact.

“You’re *already* there!” Marc yelled. “He’s right down the street!” Jake and Chance ran to their locker and starting throwing on their uniforms. They jumped into the TurboKat, and as T-Bone warmed up the engine, Razor yelled, “Get your tail outta here!” Marc just watched as the plane shoved off.

The thudding sound was getting louder and louder, but Marc stood rooted to the spot, chewing on a claw. Decide! he screamed to himself. Finally, he ran to Chance’s locker and started rifling around.

*****

As soon as they cleared the garage, they saw it. T-Bone said, “Your turn. Name it.”

“Hmmm…monkey. Gorilla, probably.”

“Sure looks like it. What’s that make it?”

“Eight-five, my favor.”

The gorilla had the two characteristics of most of Dr Viper’s creations. It was very large – just over four stories tall – and it was very very mad.

“Think he ever makes any *nice* monsters?” asked Razor as they did a fly-by to get a better look.

“Yeah, but those ‘uns prolly stay home. How you thinking of takin’ him out?”

“Straight blast, solar plexus. Take ‘er straight down the road here.”

“Roger.” T-Bone maneuvered the TurboKat to fly straight down the street, at about the monster’s chest level. Razor sat patiently, then pressed the trigger, and watched as the missile flew out. Razor pulled the plane up, and Razor turned around trying to survey the damage.

“How’s it look?”

“Made him madder, that’s about it,” Razor said. He was a bit bummed, but he would have been rather surprised to take it out in one shot. “Any other ideas?”

“Ywah, how ’bout them fire things?”

“Fire things?”

“Y’know, those missiles ya got that spread that fire goo all over…”

“Oh, the napalm ones? Haven’t tried those in combat yet.”

“Is there a better time?”

“Nah, let’s make it now. Gimme another approach, and pronto – the thing’s almost on our block.”

“Roger that.” Once more T-Bone set the plane to fly straight down the street, and Razor sent the napalm missile flying. He heard the impact, and saw a flash of light behind him. When T-Bone turned the plane around, both he and Razor uttered a less-than-polite word. The creatures was now on fire, and blindly racing forward towards the garage.

Razor started screaming, “Take us in, take us in!” in a less-than-explanatory manner, but T-Bone understood, and sent the plane flying at full speed. Razor sent a missile flying a bit earlier than he normally would, but time was of the essence – the creature had entered the lot. The missile hit the creature on its flank, pushing him away from the front of the garage, but he spun halfway around, and landed on the back of the building, crushing it and then lying still.

Razor didn’t say anything as T-Bone hovered over the back of the garage, using the extinguishers to put out the blaze. The plane landed, and they both got out and verified that the creature was indeed dead, ignoring the slight snow that had started.

“Where th’heck we gonna sleep tonight?” asked T-Bone.

Razor didn’t answer, but instead asked, “Did Marc get out?”

T-Bone was about to answer when a government car drove up, and Miss Briggs jumped out. “Are you guys OK?”

“Well, yeah…”

“There…there wasn’t anyone inside here, was there?”

Slowly, Razor shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, good.” She shuddered slightly, then looked at the SwatKats critically. “What were you guys doing down here, anyhow?”

T-Bone started to answer, but Razor, speaking louder, talked over him. “You know you’ve been telling us about this place and what great guys these two were, so, y’know, we stopped by to see if we could get some parts from them.”

Miss Briggs smiled. “It’s nice to know my opinion carries some weight with you two.”

Suddenly, a large black pick-up pulled up alongside Miss Briggs’ car, and Marc jumped out. “Wow, are Jake ‘n’ Chance gonna be ticked when they see *this*!”

“Hey, you work here with them, don’t you? Mike, isn’t it?” asked Miss Briggs.

“Marc,” he corrected. “Yeah, good thing they were out on delivery. But heck! Now they’ll probably think this is *my* fault.”

Quickly, Razor said, “We were just telling Miss Briggs here about how we were just here looking for parts.”

Marc’s eyes got wide, then he nodded. “Yeah, it was a real honor. But I kinda forgot to ask you something while you were here.” He reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a small spiral notebook and a pen. “Do you think I could get your autographs real quick?” He handed the pen and the open notebook to Razor.

T-Bone watched as Razor looked at the book for a second, then smile slightly. Razor scribbled in it quickly, then handed it over to T-Bone. T-Bone saw the words, “Should I pick you up somewhere?” written on the top of the page. Razor had written “Selinda” underneath before signing his name. T-Bone nodded, then added “Bring clothes” under Razor’s name. He then closed the book, and handed it and the pen back to Marc. “Here ya go.”

“Gee, thanks – you guys are the best. Well, I better scoot – I still have a bunch of deliveries to make.” He hopped back into Chance’s truck and drove off.

Razor watched him leave, a small smile on his face. Then he shook his head and said, “We’d better be off, too. It’s nothing but clean-up now.”

“And ‘we’ll let the Enforcers handle that’,” said T-Bone, in his best Cmndr Feral voice.

They jumped back into the TurboKat and took off. Miss Briggs waved as she watched them leave, feeling somehow that she had missed something.

*****

Razor jerked awake, then tried to stretch. Darn it, he thought, I never thought I’d have to *sleep* in this plane.

“You up?” asked T-Bone from the front.

“Close enough,” murmured Razor. He suddenly realized that he couldn’t see outside. “Snow’s really coming down, huh?”

“Yeah. Hey, Razor?”

“Yeah.”

“Um…what about our stuff?”

“What about it?”

“I mean, yeah, we got the TurboKat and the Cyclotron and everything here, but…ain’t there a lot of stuff back home that’s…”

“Incrimidating?”

“Yeah – like all your missiles and parts and stuff. Won’t the Enforcers find it when they pick up the body?”

Razor grinned. “You don’t notice much, do you?”

“Huh?”

“When Marc drove off, did you see what was in the bed?”

“N-no…”

“Well, he had a tarp over it, so I couldn’t be sure, but it sure was big. And heavy. My guess is, it was my missile parts.”

“Hm.”

“That’s probably why he’s taking so long. With all that stuff in back, he’s probably driving *really* cautious.”

“Hey, you never answered my other question.”

“What question’s that?”

“Where we gonna sleep tonight? I mean, we’re out in the cold now.”

“Oh. Well, I got my credit card – we can grab a hotel room.”

“Hm. But what about tomorrow night, and the night after that? You can’t afford that.”

Razor shook his head. “I dunno. We’ll worry about that when we get to it. I’m sure the Enforcers’ll rebuild the place.”

“Yeah, but not in two days – you know how slow they do everything.”

“Hm.” Razor leaned back and thought. His thoughts were interupted by a gloved hand rubbing against the cockpit window. “That’ll be Marc.”

“That *better* be Marc,” clarified T-Bone, but it indeed was. T-Bone opened the cockpit, and he and Razor winced at the cold wind.

“Hey,” said Marc.

“Hey bakatcha,” Razor grinned. “Thanks for meeting us.”

“No problem. Catch.” He tossed a bundle onto each of their laps. Razor unfolded his – a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. T-Bone’s had the same, except the items were both larger and rattier.

“Uh, sorry, um, T-Bone, but I think that’s all I have that’ll fit you.”

“No, that’s cool.” Marc walked back to the truck, and T-Bone gritted his teeth, yanked off his flight suit, and threw on the ripped up clothes. Then he and Jake ran to the truck. Jake got in on the passenger side, and Chance jumped in the driver’s seat, slamming the door shut. “Holy moley, it’s cold!” he yelped.

Marc, stuck in the middle of the seat, said, “I got some sweatshirts here, but I don’t know if they’ll fit you.”

Chance grabbed the one on top gratefully. “I don’t care if it’s tighter’n Spandex!” He threw it on, and it almost *was* that tight. Jake pulled one on too, as Chance started backing the truck up.

“The plane be OK here tonight?” Marc asked.

“Yeah, it should be – nobody comes to this place no more.”

“Oh,” said Marc, as if he had just thought of it, although he probably hadn’t, “if you two need a place to stay tonight, you can crash at my place.”

Jake tried to catch Chance’s expression, but he couldn’t quite see past Marc. “Is your place big enough for that?”

“Well, Chance can have the couch, and I think I have a place for this.” Marc reached under the seat and pulled something out.

“Hey, my hammock!”

“Uh-huh. Just grabbing your clothes, I figured I’d swing by and see if I could salvage anything before the Enforcers came to clean up. I don’t know how this ended up near the top, but I managed to yank it out. It *does* smell kinda like burnt monkey, though…”

“I’ll live.” Jake leaned forward to get a better view of Chance, who was about to pull onto the freeway. “So?” he asked.

Chance glanced over at Marc, then looked back at the road. “Is it a big couch?”

“Enh,” was all Marc would say.

After a pause, Chance shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

*****

Jake tried again to get comfortable, finally settling on his back, his arm across his eyes. They had managed to get the hammock strung between two doorknobs. Jake was used to several blankets both below and above him, not just a sheet below and one thin blanket on top. Marc had turned the heat up to compensate, but it still took a lot of getting used to.

Chance, in just his sweatpants, was finally crawling into the sleeping bag on the couch. Halfway in, he said, “Hey, Jake.”

Jake moved his arm to peek at him. “What?”

“This…” He didn’t say anything else, but Jake figured out where he was headed by the uneasiness in his voice.

“What, Chance? You think he’s gonna try something on us tonight?”

“Yeah, well, what if he does?”

“If it’s bothering you, Furlong, you can always sleep outside.” Marc, wearing green flannel pajams that were too big, leaned in the doorway.

Chance whirled around. “Geez, Marc, I was *kidding*!”

“Ah. Sorry. You need anything else?”

“Don’t think so,” said Jake. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Night.” He padded off to bed, and Chance at last got into the sleeping bag.

“So,” Chance asked, “what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?”

“One – talk to the Enforcers, see how long before we get our place back. Two – see if there’s anything we can salvage from the salvage yard…if that makes any sense. Three – see about getting us some place to live until we get our place back.”

“Sounds like a fun day.”

“Do we have any others? The front of the shop looked all right, and we may have to get back to working on our backlog.”

Chance’s response was cut off by a knocking sound. Jake and Chance looked at each other, as the knocking got louder. Finally, Jake muttered, “Oh, fine!”, tossed back the blanket, lowered himself to the ground, and yanked the front door open. Standing there was a tall greyish-white kat who, despite being done up in several layers of clothing, still looked really skinny.

“Oh!” he said. “Is…is Jake here?”

Jake heard Marc shuffling behind him, so he simply stepped aside and let Marc take his position. “Yes?” asked Marc, none too politely.

“Oh, Marc! I…I heard on the news that there was a monster attack down by the warehouses…and it looked like your place, and…and I just got so *worried*…”

“I’m fine, Zeke,” Marc said shortly.

“Oh, good.” Zeke sighed, then looked at Marc. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Shrugging, Marc moved slightly so Zeke could see inside. “Zeke…” Marc pointed to each in turn. “Jake and Chance, my bosses. Jake and Chance…” Marc turned back. “Zeke, my ex-boyfriend.” He slammed the door and started back for his bedroom.

“Geez, Marc, that was kinda harsh,” said Chance.

Marc stared, then shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. But, y’know, I didn’t need him. I just…I was more in love with having a boyfriend than with him, y’know?”

“Kinda,” said Jake.

“You know, I just thought – am I better off with him in or out of my life? I chose out.” He shuffled out, with a quick “Night all” over his shoulder.

Chance rolled over, and after a few seconds, said, “Jake?”

“Hmn?” Jake said sleepily.

“I still don’t know about that kat.”

*****

Like everything else I write, this story was inspired by actual events. However, as DJ Clawson best put it, this story also inspired actual events. My apologies go out to those I stole from, and those who I inadvertently karmicly caused problems to. I beg special pardon from the city of Denver (who got 18 inches of snow after I wrote that MegaKat City did), the guy who turned around just a bit slower than Chance did (although there were no fisticuffs), to the woman who came out to her co-workers and lost her job (but, as far as I can tell, these two incidents were not in any way related), and to myself for giving myself food poisoning (it was pizza, not barbecue). Quick shout out to my bro (who actually had, word for word, one of the conversations set down here) and the rest of my family and friends, who, for whatever reason, continue to support me in ridiculous endeavors such as this.

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