Title: Beneath The Surface
Author: Michael Christman
Dear Reader: This is a redo of my original 'Beneath the Surface' with a few slight changes. The largest one being that instead of ten chapters it is now one thanks to my no longer having a cable modem instead of a crappy 56K modem that couldn't achieve 28K. I have also corrected a few errors and added some detail. Other than that it is the same story I had uploaded in October of 2001.
Commander Feral was not a happy kat the preliminary budget from city council had come out that afternoon and it appeared worse than expected. Budget cuts were going to be deeper than expected this year's Enforcer budget would be increasing by less than the rate of inflation. They would have to make due with fewer choppers, tanks jets and even kats. Labor costs were skyrocketing thanks to the new union contract so rookies would have to go considering they wouldn't have any equipment to operate made the decision somewhat easier.
Commander Feral looked around the administrative conference room. Lieutenant Commander Steele was looking at a page of numbers through his half moon glasses shaking his head. Next to him Captain Paul Cugarmann the union representative rubbed his eyes he had stopped protesting the cutting of officers when it became abundantly clear that there simply was no money to support them. On the other side of the table Lieutenant Commander John Winthrope the Enforcers chief of budget operations gazed out the window at the city hall clock tower. Several other kats had left for the moment the evening's coffee having taken its toll.
"Well Winthrope, do you think its possible to balance this monstrosity?" Feral asked his voice breaking the monotony of the white noise in the background. All present in the room looked at him.
"No," the balding kat rubbed his face, "there is simply an insufficient income to cover our expenses for the next fiscal year. Not with out cutting or eliminating some 'extras'"
"Such as what? We've cut everything to the bone. The city needs to cough up more money because we're getting screwed." Lieutenant Commander Steele harumphed.
"Enough Steele, blaming the city for your lack of administrative skills. . . "
"This has nothing to do with administrative abilities," Steele cut him off, "no one can run a modern Enforcer Army without the money."
Commander Feral had the urge to kill Lieutenant Steele right there for cutting him off like that. The only thing stopping him was the realization that for the first time he could remember Steele was right. "Yes I suppose that's true but this is what we have to work with. To balance the budget how many kats do we cut?"
"5000 Enforcers at least plus the equipment they would use should bring us in balance. If we eliminate programs like community block watch, gun safety courses and other extra activities we could move those Enforcers into beat patrols. A hiring freeze coupled with attrition will provide some more savings. That's as good as it gets, sorry." Lieutenant Commander Winthrope seemed almost too pleased to give the news.
"You call that good? But that's the way it is any other suggestions?" Asked Commander Feral.
One of the Enforcer Lieutenant Commanders who had just returned to the room gave a hopeful reply. "The mayor's budget conference tomorrow night. It will be one last chance to present our wish list to the mayor maybe he'll sign on to it." A few of the other lieutenant commanders nodded in agreement.
They had a point last year commander Feral managed to save a few vital programs over strenuous objections from the city budget planner who seemed more intent on amassing a large 'rainy day fund' that protecting the city from crime.
Commander Feral noticed Lieutenant Commander Steele nodding off his half moon glasses no longer present. "Steele!"
"Yes sir!" Steele momentarily startled shouted.
"You're going to the mayor's budget conference tomorrow night to argue for our wish list." Commander Feral told him with clarity. Steele's expression changed from shock to panic; Lieutenant Commander Winthrope's expression went from mild satisfaction to shock. "Seeing as how the budget is balanced for the next fiscal year, providing we don't get anything, and seeing that there is no further business to come before us the meeting is adjourned." Having no gavel commander Feral rapped his coffee cup on the table. "Lieutenant," he gestured to Steele, "you have the day off tomorrow, prepare for that conference and remember you have the fate of over 5000 Enforcers depending on you, don't screw it up." Commander Feral got up from his chair at the head of the table and walked out of the room toward his office.
Captain Cugarmann walked up behind Steele patting him on the back. "I never thought that I would be wishing good luck to a Steele, but good luck." He too exited the conference room.
Outside commander Feral's office Lieutenant Commander Winthrope was having a conniption fit. "How can you have him do something this important he's . . .he's . . .he's incompetent! You going I could understand even myself but he has not shown any kind of ability with finance, they will tear him apart."
"He is going because I ordered him to and besides he has connections at city hall and in the business community that you and I could only dream of. Now do you have any further problems with my selection, Winthrope?"
"Good, I'll see you in the morning." Feral turned into his office to pick up his coat and briefcase. He tried to arrange his papers in some form of order but just ended up tossing them into the briefcase. Silently he wondered if it was a good idea to send Steele there especially sense his reason for not wanting to go was that he had no desire to play "nice nice" with the city council. No he was certain it was a good idea Steele would be in his element there and if there was one thing Steele knew how to do it was schmooze.
Steele gathered up the reports given to him into his briefcase. This was promising to be a real pain in the ass that he wasn't looking forward to. He looked at the clock on his computer screen saver, it showed 3:10 AM. "I guess I'm going to get a hell of a lot of comp time." He put his coat on picked up a bag and his briefcase and turned off the lights in his office. He walked down the hall, to exchange good byes with Lieutenant Commander Pawdling who suggested they beg the mayor for more money.
"Good night Paul try to stay out of trouble tomorrow."
"I'll try to Jack. Say while you're here can you sign this card? It's for my aide, she's going to go on maternity leave." Pawdling pushed a card over his desk toward Steele.
Steele walked into the main office from the aide's office shifting the bag he was carrying from his left paw to under his right arm. He took the card in his left hand and looked at it. The card had a sleeping kitten in a cradle, stuffed bears and other toys surrounded it. Placing the card open on Pawdling's desk picked up a pen in his left hand and began to write only to have the card close on him.
"Here let me hold that for you." Pawdling opened the card and held it so it would stay open.
"Thanks," Steele finished writing then signed his name, "so dose she know if it's going to be a boy or girl?"
"I don't think they asked. Y'know it's a shame you can't come to the send-off party she'll miss you." Pawdling smiled and smacked Steele on the left shoulder momentarily knocking him off balance.
"Well I would have liked to have come but you know." Steele gestured toward Commander Feral's office.
"Say no more. I guess that I will see you tomorrow, oh wait, oh yeah it will be tomorrow when I see you again."
"Yes, well tomorrow then." Steele began to shuffle out of the office.
Steele walked up to the log out center and swiped his card through the card reader. The screen indicated that he was owed fifteen hours of comp time. "I can use eight of those for the work I'm going to miss." Steele entered the information into the computer then picked up his bags and turned to the elevator.
He pushed the call button and waited. In a few minutes the elevator doors slid open and Steele walked in pressing the sixth floor button where the connector to the parking garage was. The elevator doors slid shut and the elevator glided to the sixth floor where the garage was.
That accomplished he walked down the hallway to the Enforcer parking garage. The double glass doors slid open he turned left pushing the automatic door unlock and alarm deactivation on his key chain. His car's doors unlocked with a beep.
"Long time no see, Jack." A voice called out from the darkness.
Steele wheeled around dropping his bags and drawing his gun. "Who's there!"
The orange glow of a cigarette emerged from behind a column labeled 'EG-5,' "Oh come now, you don't know the kat that put you in the position you're in." Just then the sodium arc light above him lit revealing a heavyset kat in a dirty coat.
Steele holstered his gun, "Mickey what are you doing here?"
"Just taking in the sights" Mickey looked around the garage.
"In a parking garage? C'mon Mickey what's the real reason?"
Mickey stepped forward, "I need help with some; associates."
"Tell them to fill out a form that should keep them busy until the statute of limitations runs out on their crimes."
"That's not what I need Jack. I've got information. . ."
"If you want to turn in evidence see an officer. To do that you'll have to come back during normal business hours though."
"This is what I get for helping you get to where you are. Don't forget it was the kat-nip trade in this city that put you in that high and mighty seat of power and it's the people who are highest up that get hurt the most when they fall." Mickey tossed the butt of the cigarette he was smoking to the ground and twisted his shoe over it then turned and walked into the darkness.
Steele waited for the clang of a stairwell door before settling into the driver's seat of his car. He buckled the seat belt then started it. He drove through the mostly deserted parking garage to the exit gate. It swung up and he made a right turn onto the deserted street. Steele looked at the briefcase that sat on the passenger seat sighing. He hated to do this sort of work disliking the incestuous nature of city hall politics. Steele drove into the turn only lane to get on the expressway stopping for the light. His thoughts returned to his project. Organize a way to get more money for the Enforcers or be fired some choice. "Feral should really be the one to do this he has the family connections." Steele said aloud to himself as he entered the expressway heading for home.
Steele woke up around 10 AM as sunlight was beginning to parade across his face. He didn't really want to get up but that project would not get done by itself so he rolled out of bed. Steele waddled down the stairs to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Doing so he walked to his front door to pick up the day's newspaper. Fortunately it was right next to the door so he didn't feel too weird picking up the paper in his boxer shorts and a T-shirt. 'Budget Cuts Hit City Hard,' the bold print headline read. "Guess the news is out," Steele looked for public reaction that might bolster his case but found none. The city's finance director stated that the cuts were necessary to build up the city's rainy day fund to cover shortfalls in revenue during recessions without having to make extra cuts in city services.
He walked back to his kitchen got his coffee and a few donuts then retreated back upstairs to his office. He had a long day ahead of him.
"Finished at last." Steele said triumphantly printing out his report. He looked at the clock on the wall it read twenty-five to five, "Plenty of time to get cleaned up and out of here."
Steele pushed his car up to one hundred and twenty kilometers per hour the legal limit in Megakat City and set the cruise. He continued to go over the figures in his head not wanting to blow this. Steele slowed down through the central business district because of the traffic entering the freeway. Realizing the mistake of getting on the freeway when it was damn near rush hour Steele cursed hoping that the jam up would not be too severe.
It wasn't the traffic backlog sorted itself out and allowed a resumption of freeway speeds. Steele breathed a sigh of relief spotting his exit he departed the highway.
The posh neighborhood to the west of the central business district was at one time known as millionaires' row. A large number of wealthy individuals built opulent mansions back in the nineteenth century some were demolished to make way for skyscrapers but most were preserved as historic sites, consulates, and the mayor's mansion. Steele pulled into the driveway and was waved through by the guard. Pulling around to the back of the building he saw the city employees parking garage. He parked and entered the building.
The mayor's mansion was a monument to its master, Richard Manx. Pictures of him both young and old adorned the walls. The contrasts of young and old as well as slim and fat amused Steele.
"Which would you vote for on a stamp?" asked Valerie Pershia. She was the liaison for Parks and Recreation otherwise known as the easiest job in the city and the daughter of Mohammed Pershia the city's preeminent developer. "Young and slim or fat and old."
"He has changed hasn't he," Steele responded turning to Valerie, "Am I late for the meeting? I got caught in traffic."
"No your early, Manx is having dinner with his son and daughter, the others are just trickling in."
Steele and Valerie walked down to the lounge that was set up for the meeting. It was a blast from the past reminiscent of the bygone days of smoke filled rooms where city business used to be conducted. Over stuffed chairs were the main form of furniture interrupted occasionally by an ornate table or a large vase of palm fronds. The centerpiece of the room was a large marble fireplace with an oversized picture of Manx above it. In the back of the room a small wet bar was set up several kats were helping themselves to it including deputy mayor Briggs who was laughing with the city's boorish director of feline resources. Off in a corner the finance director the council president and the budget committee chair were talking quietly amongst themselves. This contrasted with the rest of the people in the room who were talking quite loudly. Steele walked up to the deputy mayor.
"Funny I didn't see you as a drinker deputy mayor." Steele said coolly.
"Are you kidding she's a lush." The resources director laughed.
"Bite me you bastard." Callie hit the director on the arm. "I deserve this." She motioned to the scotch, "Let me tell you nobody is happy about this budget." She took a drink, "Were going to start an informal session till mayor Manx gets here so hurry up and we'll start."
Steele got his drink and joined the group already in progress. The city's finance director was speaking, ". . . that makes this necessary. We see trends approaching that indicate that there is going to be a sharp downturn in the United States economy because frankly we've got nowhere else left to build. This economy has been running on rebuilding projects sense the revolution and they are running out. . . "
"That's what you said last year and the year before that. And nothing happened except that we have had to survive on budgets that aren't even keeping pace with inflation." A kat Steele didn't know said to a chorus of yeahs.
"Please just because we were off by a couple of years dose not invalidate the theory, it just means that we need more data to fine tune it. The rainy day fund. . ."
"Is a joke. C'mon Howard how much do you need?"
The kat spoke again. The finance director stirred uncomfortably in his seat he looked at the city council president and began. "If we have cash reserves equal to about ten percent of the city's fiscal year intake we should be able to weather roughly three years without having to make major cuts. We currently have about eight percent."
"Well we over at customs can't take much more of this we can barely inspect what's being imported now let alone if we have to do it with fewer guys." The kat spoke again.
"It's the same with the schools we're getting hurt." The Megakat city school's superintendent said pushing his glasses back.
Steele spoke up, "The Enforcers are in the same boat, are you sure we can't release some of the rainy day fund?"
The fat council president shook his head no, "The small cuts we make today will avoid bigger cuts in the future."
"Small my ass, we're going to have to get rid of over 5000 Enforcers to comply with this budget you're putting the city at risk." Steele held up the budget hitting it with his paw now it was Steele's turn to get a chorus of cheers.
"Lieutenant Commander I understand your being upset about this but think of how much worse it would be if it all came at once." The finance director said.
"Well couldn't we get more money from the feds. . ." Steele began but was interrupted by Callie.
"The feds you've got to be kidding, do you have any idea what it's like dealing with the federal government? Bend over and grab your ankles, oh and smile that makes it easier to take." Callie picked up the scotch that was sitting next to her and sipped again.
The moment of hope that the federal government might help was quickly extinguished. The city's finance director and its council president had won. However the sound of sonic booms shook them out of their doldrums. They all ran to the windows to see what was causing the racket.
"Oh great its that environmental terrorist again," Grumbled the city power and light director, "He better not blow up any power plants I don't have the money to keep rebuilding them."
"How do they keep getting these planes? Are they building them out of scrap?" Steele asked directing is question to no one in particular.
"I'll call the Enforcers." Someone said causing Steele to glance towards them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Callie exit the room and he followed.
He didn't have to follow very far. Callie had ducked into the next room. The room was dark but he could make out her shape against a window. Pulling out a triangular object out of her purse, "SWAT Kats can you hear me," she spoke into it.
"Yes Ms Briggs, what can we do?"
"T-Bone, that nut in the plane is back. And I don't think he's up to any good."
"Roger that, Ms. Briggs we're on our way."
Callie put the communicator back in her purse and began to walk toward the door.
Steele jumped back to avoid being seen then began walking as if he had just left the conference room. He ran into Callie who was now exiting the other room.
"Excuse me deputy mayor."
"Lieutenant, I didn't expect you to be here where are you going?"
"Oh . . . just to call my mother. . .She wanted to know if I was going to go to the family compound this weekend." Steele lied.
"Oh, sorry about running into you." Callie turned and walked back into the conference room.
Steele walked in the opposite direction to the public rest rooms. Entering the tom-kats room he bolted to the sink to look at his reflection in the mirror. An evil smile crossed his lips. Deputy mayor Briggs was in league with the SWAT Kats that was complicity to their crimes. She could be removed from office for that offense. It took brains, brawn and balls to be mayor and Manx lacked all three Callie, however, had all three in spades. But without Callie, Mayor Manx would rapidly lose any respectability that he had and would lose to a challenger. "And I'll be that challenger. It'll be Mayor Steele after this next election cycle."
The SWAT Kats caught up with the nut who was once again attempting to send Megakat City back to preindustrial times by destroying factories on the east bank of the Megakat River.
"You two again?"
"Funny we were going to say the same thing about you, you nutcase." T-Bone said to the lunatic. Several Enforcer helicopters began to come into view.
"Well it's getting a little crowded for me. I'll be seeing you." The nut turned his jet toward Megakat Mountains and flew off.
"Crud he's faster than before." Said Razor. "T-Bone follow him."
T-Bone followed, "Hey Razor, if this guy is so big on the environment why dose he fly around in a jet that punches holes in the ozone layer?"
"How should I know T-Bone? Do I look like a screwball? Hold her steady I've nearly got him." Razor shot twin Turboblades that clipped kaptain kooks wings sending him Earthward. "Bingo! Give mother Earth a big kiss from me." The nut parachuted down to the ground only to be captured by the Enforcers.
"Looks like the Enforcers finally got their kat." T-Bone said as the Enforcers cuffed and dragged the nut into a cruiser.
"First time for every thing."
In the mayor's mansion the excitement had died down and the conversation had slipped from business to more pleasant topics. The kats had again broken off into smaller groups the city council president, the budget committee chair, and the financial director had formed one group that talked quietly in the corner. Callie the feline resources director and two others were talking about hiring more minorities and females to the upper levels of city government. Other groups covered other topics. Steele entered the room.
"Where have you been we were going to send out a search party?" Valerie slinked up from behind holding a screwdriver in each paw. "I have heard you like these." She handed Steele the drink.
"Thanks." He said upon receipt of the drink. "What happened while I was gone?"
"That nut got shot down by the SWAT Kats and captured by the Enforcers I don't think that he was able to cause much damage."
"SWAT Kats huh, well I'm going to see to it that they..."
"Hallo everybody," Mayor Manx entered the room flanked by his daughter and mayoral counsel Vance Forester. Everyone, not already standing, stood up, "I'm certainly happy that you have all made it." The mayor and his daughter were working the crowd receiving accolades from the assorted directors and liaisons. His counsel however gravitated off to the finance director's little group.
Mayor Manx sat in his chair and Callie began to brief him. Marilyn Manx walked over to Steele and smiled. "Are we still on for tonight?"
"Of course, though I may be a little late getting there."
"No problem as long as you show, hon." She left the room as Callie brought the meeting to order.
The next few hours dragged along slowly. Each liaison attempted to get the city to spend more money on their particular program and each time the request was shot down by the finance director and his cohorts who were backed up by a somewhat nervous mayoral counsel. Mayor Manx to his credit did authorize some spending increases over strenuous objections and Steele was able to get his spending increase; the Enforcer's budget would at least keep up with inflation if nothing else.
The meeting broke at a quarter past eleven after most people were too tired to fight any more. Steele grabbed his coat preparing to leave when Valerie stopped him.
"Jack, congratulations you got your increase."
"Thanks, I guess you got your increase as well."
"Yes we'll be fully funded for the next year. It's good to have a mayor who likes golf. Oh Jack before I forget a group of us are going to Christopher's for drinks. Do you want to come?"
"I'd like to but I have something I've got to do. Sorry."
"Oh," Valerie looked a little dejected, "well we'll be there to last call if you want to come, you're welcome." She started out after Callie and a few others.
Steele mashed a cigarette into an ashtray lit a second cigarette then laid back in Marilyn Manx's bed. She smiled back at him, "Is something wrong you don't seem to be yourself tonight?"
"It's this damn budget, I can't get it out of my mind."
"You got your budget increase. Doesn't that mean you accomplished what you set out to do?"
"We needed more. We're going to have to cut out a lot of extra programs if we want to protect the city effectively." Steele took another drag on his cigarette then breathed out the smoke. "What really hurts is that the education programs are going to have to be cut. We won't be able to go into classrooms and warn against kat-nip and other drugs, mark my words were going to see real trouble in a few years."
Marilyn pulled herself over to Steele running her claws through his chest hair, "Poor kitten, is there anything I can do?"
"Just keep this up."
The telephone's ring brought them back to the real world. "Crap, not now you stupid phone." Marilyn cursed at it. It rang again and then a third time. "I guess I had better get it." Marilyn got up to get the phone wrapping a robe around herself. The phone rang a fourth time then the answering machine picked up.
The sound of the council president was urgent, "Marilyn, if your there pick up. Forester is not holding up under the pressure we're going to have to eliminate hi. . ." Marilyn picking up the receiver cut off the message. She hissed something quietly into the receiver enough to tell Steele that something was up.
A couple of minutes later Marilyn returned to the bedroom with two drinks.
"What was that about?" Steele asked wondering if he really wanted to know.
"Oh nothing important, the council president just wanted some advice from my consulting firm." Marilyn poured on the charm.
"On eliminating Forester? What's really up?" Steele looked a little suspicious of the kat that he had fallen in love with.
"Forester has been a problem between the executive and the legislature we're trying to smooth over the differences. Would you like another drink?"
Steele rummaged through a converted dumpster that 'Goodwill' had put out for clothing donations. He ripped open garbage bags full of clothes finding several suitable shirts and a halfway decent pair of shoes but no pants seemed to fit him properly and no one had the courtesy to donate a belt. Steele ripped open another bag, it had more clothes including shorts in his size, "Well at least if I find a pair of pants I won't have to go commando."
"C'mon kids let's drop this off then we can go." A female voice sounded from outside the dumpster. Steele pressed himself against the steel wall of the dumpster as the sound of footsteps came closer. The inside of the dumpster flooded with light as one of the covers was lifted.
A garbage bag landed next to him and the lid closed leaving Steele in the dark. His eyes readjusted to the light that filtered through the cracks above. Tearing into the bag revealed what he had been looking for, pants.
Steele lifted the lid of the dumpster and peered out. Seeing no one he slithered out of his hiding place. Steele glanced around wondering what his next move would be. He put his hands in his pockets feeling something that he had not expected to be there, a dollar coin.
This was not going to be much help after all a dollar just did not go very far anymore. Steele looked at the silver coin, "What am I going to do with this it's not even enough for bus fare." Steele looked back up then at the window of the convenience store. It was plastered with posters advertising the store's wares and the Megakat Lottery.
Steele focused on the poster that read, 'Play Instants Today' on it was a charicature of a kat grinning really dopey as he carried a huge pile of money. "Like that would ever happen but what else am I going to do with this?" Steele looked at the coin again. He walked into the store.
Steele walked out of the store with five one-dollar coins in his pocket. At least now he had bus fare and he knew where to go. The bus stop was more like a bench with a sign that indicated route numbers and whether the bus was a local or an express. Steele sat on the bench watching the other passengers embark and disembark the buses. These were low-income people who worked in various low paying service jobs.
Wearing jeans and a T-shirt and one day's worth of beard growth he fit in well with the crowd getting on the bus. They were working poor and they paid little attention to the kat who only the day before was the forth most powerful in the city. He dropped two dollar coins in the control box where the others had swiped their Megakat Area Rapid Transit Association (MARTA) cards. Steele sat in an open seat and blankly stared out the window. Steele sighed, hand-me-down clothes and a bad shave were not going to keep his pursers at bay for long. He knew that he would need money, transportation, weapons and help. The tangible items he knew he could obtain it was the help that would be difficult to get a hold of.
The fact was Steele did not have many friends that he could trust. His business community associates would turn him in, in a second after all he was of no use to them without being able to pull strings for them. He was of equally low value to his Enforcer associates. At least you can miss three credit card payments before they come to put you in jail Steele thought.
His thoughts began to wander again this time to when he was a lower ranking Enforcer officer at a drug bust. The house they busted into was filthy mangy dogs walked in and out, syringes and vials some broken littered the floor and in the basement a hydroponics lab was growing some fine kat-nip. Upstairs the house was the shelter of the residents of the house whoever they might be on a given night. Right now they were face first on the floor being read their rights as several kittens wailed while watching their parents being arrested.
Steele shook his head, he was not sure why he had thought of that scene it could have been at any of a hundred or so places he raided over his years in the Enforcers. That was another piece of the puzzle he did not understand, he had a visceral hatred of kat-nip he did not want anything to do with it yet his use of it was responsible for him being in his current situation even though he could not remember using it or meeting with Vance Forester.
"One hundred fortieth and Jefferson." The bus intercom squawked.
"My stop." Steele said to himself as he got up from his seat and meandered to the bus's back door.
Steele glanced back as the bus drove off emitting a cloud of black smoke. No turning back now he thought to himself as he began to walk toward his destination.
His destination was a self-storage facility about a half a block from the bus stop. Steele entered his code into the gate
Steele walked between the rows of storage lockers coming to his own. He unlocked the combination lock and lifted the corrugated metal door. He gazed at the car, a black Cavalier. It had been in storage for over ten years though Steele had taken it out from time to time to keep it maintained. He reached under the car feeling his way to the magnetic box that held the spare keys. Finding his keys Steele stood up to unlock the car door. It opened with a click.
Steele sat in the seat and ran his hands over the steering wheel. He leaned back exhaling, "I wonder if this thing will still start?"
He turned the ignition key. The car coughed and came to life emitting a massive cloud of blue smoke. The oil pressure gauge was pegged at zero for a few seconds then spiked into the 'H' zone before settling slightly below the 'H'. Steele reacquainted himself to a manual transmission, "Well its either pull out or die of carbon monoxide poisoning."
Steele's house was a lovely three story High Victorian model situated on a shady tree lined lane, that would retail for about $350,000. The Enforcers were using the opportunity to have an open house. Enforcers doing presumably nothing loitered about as Lieutenant Feral walked in. She was summoned by her uncle who was somewhere among the multitude of kats in the house. She walked up to a group of kats that were sitting on Steele's furniture, watching Steel's TV and eating Steele's doughnuts. "Do any of you know where the commander is?" She asked.
"Upstairs in one of the rooms." One of the Enforcers said without looking up to see who he was talking to.
"Thanks." She turned and walked up the stairs to the second floor. More Enforcers milled about upstairs some were looking in a specific room. Felina muscled her way up to the door and peered inside.
Her uncle was in Steele's office along with several other Enforcers who were crowding around something that Felina could not see. Another group was trying unsuccessfully to open a gun safe. "Uncle did you want to see me?"
Commander Feral turned toward her and smiled. "Felina," he placed an arm around her shoulder, "I know that you have been bucking for promotion for some time now. So I wondered if you would like to investigate to see if there are any other people attached to Steele and Forester." He gave her some papers.
"Uh sure uncle." Felina looked through the papers.
"Commander! she has something." One of the Enforcers in the room shouted.
Commander Feral and several other kats crowded around a short round she-kat dressed in gypsy clothes. She wore strands of pearls and jewels and her face was so made up it looked like a circus clown exploded.
"What do you see madam Zelda?" Asked the Enforcer.
"I see that the master of this house is confused, he dose not understand the situation he is in. He is searching for answers to questions he dose not know."
"What a load of crap," Felina mumbled to herself.
"I have lost the connection." Madam Zelda opened her eyes.
Commander!" An Enforcer from downstairs rushed up, "Steele escaped!"
"What!" Commander Feral's happy mood disappeared "How!"
"He apparently walked off when the guard went to get a candy bar, sir."
"Appapababababa." Commander Feral sputtered then calmed himself. "How long has he been missing?"
"Four hours sir. They noticed when a nurse went in to check in on Steele."
"Four hours, four hours! He just wandered off and has been loose for four hours."
"I'm afraid so sir."
"Madam Zelda, can you find where Steele is or is going?" A colonel asked the psychic.
Madam Zelda looked as if she had gone into another trance, "I see. . . trees, water."
"That narrows it down," Felina mumbled.
"He searches for something but is blocked and he cannot reach it. That is all."
"Well we should be able to find him in no time then." Felina mumbled sarcastically.
Madam Zelda walked up to Felina who towered over her by 30 cm. "You are disturbing the energy of this room." She turned and walked out of the room followed by several high ranking Enforcers. Commander Feral stayed behind the room was decidedly less crowded now.
"Uncle you don't really believe that nonsense do you?"
"She comes highly recommended." Feral handed Felina a newspaper, "She helped the federal Multi-Jurisdictionals with some of their cases."
Felina opened the newspaper, "The Megakat Enquirer?" She leafed through the paper, "'Psychic helps solve missing person case,' I can't believe that you are allowing this."
"Sir?" one of the kats who was trying to break into Steele's gun safe interrupted, "we can't get in. The safe has too complex a mechanism to get around. We'll need Charley to open it." The kat referred to The Enforcer's 70-year-old safecracker who was off today to go to the doctor.
"What about the people Charley was training to take over his position?" Commander Feral asked.
"They were. . ."
"Let me guess, laid off." Commander Feral finished the sentence.
Feral sighed as he sat down in the swivel chair behind Steele's desk. He and Felina watched as the Enforcers who had been working on the safe filed out. In the empty room Commander Feral shook his head, "We had him Felina, we had him. Now we don't and it's all the fault of this damn budget crunch."
"Don't worry uncle if you give me full control over this case I'll solve it and wipe out this black mark on the Enforcers."
Commander Feral turned to his niece again, "Granted, get Steele and you'll get your promotion." He got up from the chair and put his arm around Felina's shoulder, "Let's get out of here you have been running up too much overtime." They both left the office turning the lights out behind them
The house was deserted and they locked up Commander Feral walked over to an Enforcer cruiser parked outside. "I want you to watch this house like a hawk, include regular patrols around the perimeter."
"Yes sir." The Enforcer in the cruiser saluted.
Steele watched from the far bank of the Little Megakat River with binoculars as Enforcers began to leave his house to go home. When only one car was left Steele figured it would be safe to go in and get the stuff he needed. He turned the key to ignition and the car came to life without blowing a great cloud of blue smoke this time.
Steele drove down the service road to the main road. At the main road he turned over the river then took the Metroparks parkway to a convenient courtesy parking lot almost directly below where his house was. It was almost dark in a few minutes he would climb up the bank though the thicket of trees that grew on the riverbank. He would emerge right into his backyard get the keys to the back door get the things he needed and split all within fifteen minutes or less.
The sun set making it sufficiently dark for Steele to creep into the trees. He waited at the edge of the tree line and watched as the Enforcer charged with guarding the house made a patrol around the perimeter. If he followed standard Enforcer procedure it would be one half-hour before he would do so again. Once inside Steele would be safe Enforcer Procedure also did not allow Enforcers to stay in a crime scene unless gathering information.
As the guard went back to his patrol car Steele leapt from his position and quickly moved to the back porch. He quickly located the loose brick that hid the spare key to the back door. As Steele pushed the brick back into place he heard a sound that stopped him cold; the bark of his dog, Sourochrio.
"Bow!" It said.
"Shut up you stupid dog." Steele hissed at him.
"Bow!" It said again.
Steele leapt to the back door quickly unlocking it. He darted in the door closed it behind him and locked the bolt. Sourochrio lost interest in him and settled back on the ground in front of his house. Seconds later the guard walked around the corner. He flashed his light along the tree line. "Nothin' there. You must have heard an animal." He said to the dog then took one more look around the area before retiring back to the car.
Steele breathed a sigh of relief then picked up a flashlight. He crept slowly through the house gathering what he needed stopping in his office to open his safe. He spun the dial and opened it without a moment's hesitation. Inside the safe were a number of full auto machine guns including Galils, FALs and M-16s. He picked one of the M-16s and slung it around his shoulder. He also felt his way along the top shelf for a sidearm finding his Sig-Sauer P 220. Steele looked at the metallic gray pistol then again began feeling the top shelf this time looking for extra magazines and ammunition. Finding both he pocketed them. He opened the action of the pistol and seeing that it was empty placed it in his waistband.
"One more thing." He said to himself as he crouched down to open the cash box. He grabbed ten thousand dollars in neatly wrapped bundles of ten one hundred dollar bills each and an assortment of miscellaneous cash. Finishing that Steele closed the safe and spun the dial. He peeked out the window to see if the guard was still in the car out front. Seeing that he was, Steele crept back outside carefully locking the door behind him.
An old kat gently turned the dial and listened to the tumblers inside. Around him were both Commander and Felina Feral the guard who watched the house overnight and a couple of other Enforcers. "That's it." He pronounced as he stopped turning the dial and depressed the handle. The door opened silently.
"Good work Charlie." Commander Feral said as Charlie slowly stood back up. "Now let's take a look at what we have here." Commander Feral opened the door wider to reveal the contents of the safe. "Looks like one is missing." One of the Enforcers pointed to a gap in the middle of the M-16s.
"What do you think it was?" Commander Feral asked.
"It's hard to say exactly probably an M-16 of some sort."
"What could have happened to it?" Felina asked.
"It could have been removed for repair or sale or he could have taken it last night."
"Impossible I was here all night I would have seen anyone's footprints in the dew unless," the guard hesitated, "when the dog barked."
"What happened last night?"
"Shortly after you left, Commander, I heard the dog bark. I went to investigate what the disturbance was but nothing was out there. I thought the dog might have seen an animal and went back to the car. He must have been in the house by the time I got back there."
"We don't know that for sure but I want that safe cleared out and inventoried. Then match all serial codes against insurance papers if anything is missing from this safe I want an all points bulletin put out to gun shows, pawn shops anywhere he might sell that thing." The assembled Enforcers saluted and busied themselves with the task. Commander Feral turned to his niece, "Felina will you accompany me in the hallway?"
She did so asking, "What makes you so sure that Steele is going to try to sell the gun uncle?"
"He didn't take the magazine that was sitting in front of the where the gun was. If he were intending to use it he would have taken it."
"So we have to sit back and wait for him to make a stupid move that shouldn't take too long."
Commander Feral lead a group of six out of town majors seeking promotion to Lieutenant Colonel down a hallway in the Enforcer headquarters building. "As future leaders you will face many challenges but none are as fierce as the one we are going to encounter now. Commander Feral stopped at a door turned the handle and pushed the sign on the door read 'Press Room.'
The room that normally would hold reporters from Megakat City's three broadcast news shows and two major newspapers and the occasional free-lancer was packed with reporters. All newspapers in the city were represented even the alternative ones, National wire services and broadcasters were also in attendance. Even international press made an appearance.
Commander Feral stepped up to the podium and waited for the crowd to quiet and his trainees to sit at a table that had been provided for them. The room was uncomfortably warm with the heat of both camera strobe lights and bodies. "Thank you for appearing here today. I have a prepared statement then I will take questions pertaining to the case."
Commander Feral left the pressroom looking pale and weak. "That's how _not_ to handle the press." He slumped slightly.
"Do you want a drink Commander?" One of the trainees asked.
"What's the strongest thing you've got?"
"I can't believe Steele would actually do this." Chance watched a night newscast that was going wall to wall with the Steele case. "Steele wouldn't last too long in prison. Not with that nice blonde hair." Chance ran his fingers through his hair.
"Oh thop it." Jake who was half dressed in his flight suit lisped mocking a limp wrist.
"Helloooooo Friscoooooo! perhaps we should get him some soap on a rope." Chance intoned and they both had a good laugh at Steele's expense.
"Let's cut this out it's beginning to disturb me." Jake finished his transformation into Razor.
"All right all right." Chance relented as he finished putting on his own uniform. "What's on the agenda for tonight?"
"A regular patrol around the city, try to keep the bad guys in check. Maybe look for Steele."
Steele fumbled with the key to the motel room looking up as the Turbokat flew over head. He dropped his key in an irrational moment of panic. It was silly for him to worry as the Turbokat flew off harmlessly. Embarrassed Steele picked up the key and unlocked the door.
He walked into the room shutting the door behind him. He tossed the roolbag onto the bed. In his other paw he carried a plastic shopping bag filled with hair dyes. "First a shower and shave."
After a shower and shave Steele began to color his hair turning it from blonde to a light brown. He watched an all news channel run a news story on him as he let the hair dye set in. He smiled, as crazy as his plan was it was actually working. The Enforcers were spreading themselves thin making it difficult to put any kind of pressure in any one area. "Standard Enforcer procedure," Steele said aloud to himself, "they won't change it even though they don't have the resources to keep up or the fact that they are chasing someone who knows their every move."
Felina stretched as she glanced at the clock on the wall it read five after six she had been off for over an hour. She hated to have to quit when in the middle of something but she was not getting paid to sit here on her own time. The day had been profitable she had learned more than she really thought she would care to learn about why Steele acted the way he did but it did not explain his actions of late.
Felina packed up the voluminous amount of material that Steele himself collected over the years. Steele's home office was now a storeroom for both his professional files and his personal ones. Felina put aside all of these taking a moment to look at a small stoneware figure that Steele had placed on his desk. It was a kat in fishing gear apparently soaked, cheek ruffs weighed down with water and hip waders full; he held up an incredibly tiny fish. Written on the pedestal were the words "world's greatest dad".
Felina shook her head, the statue was what a child might give to a father that liked fishing on father's day. It was the circumstances that made it seem gruesome. Steele was not like an ordinary 'son of wealth' officer. They, like her, for the most part made up the ranks of the prestigious 'defense' Enforcers whose job was primarily to defend the city from external threats. Steele however rose up through the ranks of the city's vice squads racking up several citations for his roles in major kat-nip busts. Before that he had been a psychologist who had provided important character profiles on two serial killer cases. He was also an apparently loving husband and father who doted on his family.
Steele apparently felt the need to catalog almost everything about himself. The files he collected included legal papers, newspaper clippings, diaries, photo albums even miscellaneous scriblings. If her uncle had wanted her to get into Steele's head Steele left all the tools needed to do so.
His early life was not well represented apparently most of the information was destroyed when he left the country at age thirteen to refugee in Germany. When he did come back to attend collage he picked a fight with his father over his carrier choice but it was a personal decision not his choice of majors that caused Leslie Steele to sever relations with his son.
Jack Steele was not immune to the temptations of the flesh. He meet a young she-kat at an anime showing and they were smitten with each other. Unfortunately because of a lack of quality control on contraceptives or simple bad luck his new girlfriend became pregnant.
Leslie Steele cared little that his son was involved with a lower class female but when she became pregnant he ordered his son to end the relationship and force the girl to terminate the pregnancy or at least pay her off. The elder Steele worried that the family fortune would in part fall into the hands of an undeserving family. What his son did shocked and angered him. Jack Steele refused to do as told and then he had the audacity to ask her to marry him. Leslie Steele promised to cut off Jack if he went through with his plan and he did so, though the threat was largely empty as Jack had a sizable trust fund from his grandfather that was loaded with hard assets.
College life would remain easy for Steele. He and his wife could live off the income from his trust fund without the need to do much work. The bulk of the income came from small scale logging in Northern Idaho where they also liked to vacation. Their vacations were seemingly normal fishing, panning for gold, and running around in the woods shooting at other couples with paintballs. Page after page of notes and pictures told the same story he was nothing if not a loving father and husband.
He was also highly intelligent. Steele passed the requirements for a master's degree in psychology in five years. He went into private practice after graduating and was contracted twice to help solve serial murderer cases. He worked out of his home as a psychologist until his again pregnant wife and son were killed by a driver who was high on kat-nip.
Steele was driving the car and suffered no major injuries however his wife and son were both seated on the passenger side when hit by the truck driving junkie. The other kat so high at the time continued to try moving forward completely unaware that he was immobilized by Steele's car. He continued revving the engine until it blew up. His lame excuse for the tragedy was that he was trying to flee from monsters.
After his family's death he quit his private practice and joined the Enforcers. His involvement in officer training courses during collage allowed him to enter the Enforcers at the rank of Lieutenant. As an Enforcer he received only one major disciplinary hearing, that having to do with the shooting death of a suspect. The suspect was none other than the recently early released kat who had only a year and a half before killed Steele's family. Steele contended that he acted in self-defense and denied knowing it was that kat until after he was able to check his ID. The disciplinary board, having no evidence to instigate any further action against Steele, dropped the charges against him.
Steele rose throughout the ranks very rapidly after that. He became the youngest lieutenant commander in the country mostly on the heels of tough actions against kat-nip smuggling. His desire to purge the city of the illicit trade often involved coming in close contact with some very shady characters that operated in areas of the city that even Enforcers did not like to go. Steele named no names, uncharacteristic for the kat who had almost a maniacal need to write things down, but he did describe the locations of where he went.
Steele's willingness to work with such unsavory people was troubling to Felina whose strait as an arrow law enforcement ethics were imparted on her by her uncle. However Steele's results were tremendous; he was responsible for almost shutting down the worldwide kat-nip trade when his expertise was used to capture six drug czars in South America and Asia. For a short period of time afterward kat-nip could not be bought at any price and Steele got a promotion to Lieutenant Commander.
Unfortunately as he moved further up the ranks he moved further from being able to control a tight crime-fighting unit. Steele, who proved to be a brilliant tactician unfortunately had no vision for strategic thinking. Even so he was maturing in his position becoming less visible to the media while still creating policy initiatives.
He did not appear to have any intentions of ever hurting the Enforcers through his actions. Instead he really believed that he was a better leader. He certainly was more progressive than a lot of other Enforcer brass. He was a leader in getting more female Enforcers into higher ranks, and was quite interested in independent thought from his subordinates.
After packing the materials away in the room that had been set aside for it Felina paused by the light switch then picked up a nearby phone and dialed Enforcer headquarters. The phone rang a couple of times before someone answered, "Testing."
"Hi this is Lieutenant Feral, is Scott still there?"
"No he went home. Is there anything I can help you with Lieutenant?" The voice on the other end of the line asked.
"Yeah Uh, have Lieutenant Commander Steele's toxicology tests come back yet?"
"Let me see," the kat at the other end shuffled some papers, "here it is do you want me to read it to you?"
"No, I'm late enough as it is I'll just get it tomorrow."
"Suit yourself it'll be here."
Felina released the line then hung up the phone.
"You're in early," Scott Salem leaned back in his chair and smiled, "studying to be a drone for this place."
"Ha Ha at least I studied. How did you become a doctor with all the partying you did?" Felina tossed a barb back.
"Moi? As I recall it was you who kept leading me astray."
Felina tossed a balled up piece of paper at him that he bobbled and dropped on the floor. "Very funny," She became more serious, "but really what's the word on Steele? Was he on something that would cause him to murder someone?"
"Steele had some interesting drug combinations in his system. Alcohol, Dolyephmorphane which is a sleeping drug and kat-nip. Theoretically the alcohol and Dolyephmorphane should have killed him but the shock to his system may have kept him alive."
"I know Kat-nip is illegal and alcohol is legal but what about Dolyephmorphane? Felina asked as she looked at the report.
"It's a prescription sleeping drug used to cure extremely bad cases of insomnia."
"Was Steele on it?"
"If he were we would have a record of it, a prescription drug like that would have to be registered. There is a whole bunch of equipment that can not be operated when on that drug. A simple call to a pharmacist will give you that answer"
"What about the kat-nip would it cause him to kill Vance Forester?"
"It might, a kat on kat-nip can do a lot of strange things. Funny thing about kat-nip is that not every kat is affected the same way. Some have extremely violent reactions others more subdued mellow reactions while others have little reaction. That is why we have those legalize kat-nip people around, some people just are not that badly affected and can use it with out too much of a problem."
"Is Steele one of those?"
"Steele is a special case." Scott pulled another paper out this on had nineteen paired strips one pair looked like an X and Y. The third pair of strips were circled and blown up for greater detail. "Do you know what this is."
"Feline chromosomes, so what."
"You were paying attention in class. These are Steele's, take a look at chromosome number three."
"What about it?"
"Part of the genetic structure controls one's susceptibility to kat-nip."
"So Steele did do it because he was high."
"Are you kidding? With this abnormality Steele could walk through a field of kat-nip and not be affected. He inherited resistance from both his parents. If Steele killed Vance Forester it wasn't because he was high on kat-nip."
Felina twitched Scott had said something that she had felt from when she started investigating. That was the word 'if'. She had thought it but no one had said it. Everyone presumed Steele was guilty and had not bothered to hypothesize if he were not guilty.
The waning minutes of sunlight cast long shadows over Megakat City but in the crevices of Little Bangkat it was already dark. The immigrant community that made up most of the population were closing up their shops. They cared little for the nighttime revelers who came out after dark. For that matter neither did Steele but it was necessary sometimes to dirty one's hands for a greater good.
For that greater good Steele was about to enter the Il Repute Club. Being early in the evening the line to get in was still short. The bouncers were checking the ID's of anyone who looked younger than eight-teen years old. This gave Steele a moment of pause, even though he was thirty-six and had little reason to fear search, he had no ID. It had been confiscated by the Enforcers not that it would have mattered he could not exactly flash his name around without arousing suspicion.
The bouncer took one look at Steele and let him in. Steele breathed a sigh of relief inside the club. It was as he remembered it, loud music, gaudy decorations, scantily clad wait staff, businesskats, upper-class kids, exotic dancers and the ever present metal detectors.
No longer being an Enforcer had its drawbacks, Steele stepped up to the gun check counter. He unholstered his weapon ejected the magazine and gave both to the clerk. The clerk locked them both in a locker then handed the key to Steele. Steele deposited the key in a coat pocket and walked through the metal detector to wait for Mickey.
Commander Feral sat quietly reading a book of forgotten lore when he heard his doorbell ring. Grumbling he got up and walked to the door. "Felina," he said with surprise, "why are you dressed so trashy?"
"I need your help." She said as she walked through the door.
"For what exactly?" Commander Feral said more subdued.
"Do you still have those leather outfits daddy sent you last year?"
"Yes, why?" Commander Feral now wondered what his niece wanted.
"I need you to escort me to Little Bangkat."
"What! Forget it! Uh-uh no way am I going down to Little Bangkat there are weirdoes down there!" Commander Feral stepped back shacking his head.
"Please uncle. I don't want to go down there alone and I have a lead that may lead to Steele's capture."
"Forget it Felina there is no way your going to talk me into it."
"I can't believe you talked me into this." Commander Feral stepped out of Felina's car wearing a studded leather cap, vest and pants. "I mean look at me, what am I supposed to do if someone comes up and asks me out?"
"You're being silly uncle no one will bother you and if they do just politely decline. You'll find that the people down here are like most everyone else just trying to make their way in the world." Her face turned from smiling to serious, "now lock the doors."
Felina walked out of the parking lot followed by Commander Feral. "How far away is this place?" he asked.
"It's a couple of blocks down the street and will you stop fidgeting you're only drawing attention to yourself." They both stopped to wait for a light to change.
"Have you considered GEHA?" (Pronounced GAY-ha. Ed) A short she-kat tried to give a pamphlet to Commander Feral.
Commander Feral jumped behind Felina, "No I like girls!"
Felina rolled her eyes, "That's the government employees' health association and we're already in it." The light changed and Felina dragged her still rattled uncle to the other side of the street. "Do you have to embarrass me like that?"
Commander Feral said nothing, merely looking down at his feet.
"Now we only have about half a block to go, try to act normal." Felina cautioned her uncle.
"It is kind of hard to act normal dressed like this Felina." Commander Feral grumbled.
They walked silently to the beginning of the now longer line. The sky had turned dark during their drive down and was a now black the street was lit by what streetlights that were working and the display lights from the buildings. A few beggars worked the crowd trying to get some change for another drink or hit of kat-nip.
Commander Feral felt his flesh crawl. He normally would not go to this kind of area on a bet let alone at the request of his niece yet here he was smack dab in the middle of it. The line of kats he was with included everything from coat and tie businesskats to garishly appointed oddities that generally inhabited the area at night.
The line moved quickly past the burly bouncers who were allowing people in on the basis adhering to the fire code. Once inside the club Feral and Felina checked their guns at the counter and proceeded through the metal detectors.
The club was far more crowded than when Steele passed through earlier. Commander Feral and Felina gazed at the crowd wondering how they were going to find Steele.
"There must be at least a thousand kats here Felina, how are we going to find Steele in this mess." Feral shook his head, a look of surprise, then anger crossed his face, "This isn't your father's idea of a joke is it Felina?"
"What are you talking about? We're here to look for Steele." Felina was astonished that her uncle thought so little of her.
"Well there isn't anyone here but weirdoes let's go." Commander Feral turned to leave but instead ended up looking directly at one of the club employees.
"The She-kat was a tall leggy blonde in a taunt leather top. The top left nothing to the imagination reveling that she wore two nipple rings. The she-kat had numerous other piercings as well including the ears, nose, eyebrows and naval Commander Feral could only guess at what else was pierced. "How can I fulfill your every fantasy?" The she-kat purred.
"Do you pay your taxes?" Commander Feral asked.
"Y-Yes." She answered the sultry voice replaced by a more normal one.
"Then you all ready have."
Felina hit him in the ribs, "We're looking for a tom-kat."
"Oh you want a taste of the wild side." The she-kat said the sultry voice returning.
A look of horror came over Commander Feral's face, "No! We. . ." Felina elbowed him in the ribs again.
"We're actually looking for this tom-kat." Felina displayed a picture of Steele who looked like a mental case, "He's a little mentally unstable and may have wandered down here. We're worried that he might be lost or hurt."
The She-kat took the picture and looked at it then gave it back to Felina. She started in her normal voice again, "Sorry but we can't keep track of every patron that comes in here. If you want I can take you up to see the manager maybe he can help you out. He's up stairs. Follow me." The she-kat began walking and Commander Feral and Felina followed her.
"Where did you get that picture of Steele that looks like he was institutionalized?" Commander Feral whispered to his niece.
"I blew up his drivers license photo."
Steele sans license sat at the bar drinking non-alcoholic drinks hoping that Mickey would arrive soon. He soon saw the tubby kat waddle through the throngs of people wearing the same dirty coat that he always wore. In fact, he was wearing what Steele had come to expect him to. A suit jacket a couple sizes too small, a white shirt open at the top button to let his whole neck through and a gaudy tie with a stain that Steele determined was gravy. It looked like a Rush Limbaugh Tie (TM) had thrown up on itself.
Mickey spotted Steele, "Jack good to see you, ya look different, lose some weight?"
"Very funny Mickey can you help me?"
"That depends, first let's see if we can find a more out of the way place to talk."
The manager's office was up three flights of stairs it overlooked the main floor of the club hundreds of kats milled about below. The walls were covered video monitors that displayed scenes from around the building and outside. Another wall had numerous missing person flyers and photographs. In the middle of the room was a desk behind that in a swivel chair sat an averaged sized kat with slicked back hair pulled into a ponytail. He looked at the photo of Steele and then looked up at Commander Feral and Felina. "And you want me to help you find this guy. And how exactly am I supposed to do that? Listen I'm sympathetic with your case but take a look at the wall over there. All those are kats that people are looking for and most of them don't want to be found, it would be bad for business if that were to change. So unless you have another reason to be searching for him I'm afraid there is not much I can do."
Felina and Commander Feral both displayed their badges, "We're searching for Jack Edward Steele, a suspect wanted for the murder of Vance Forester." Felina leaned forward, "Now do you think you might be able to help us?"
"So what is it exactly that you need Jack?" Mickey said as he positioned himself behind the table to better view the nearly naked she-kats that danced behind the glass.
Steele tried not to look at the dancers and concentrate on what he needed. "I need information, any information that you can dig up on the kat-nip trade in this city will be helpful. I know that it is behind what is going on here."
"Ah information, it's a wonderful thing to have but it doesn't grow on trees y'know." Steele dropped a bundle of ten one hundred dollar bills on the table Mickey's eyes lit up. "It's not cheap either," Steele dropped another bundle on the table. "I might be able to look something up someday," Steele dropped another bundle on the table. "I may have heard of. . . ." another bundle dropped on the table, ". . . something you may need." Steele dropped a fifth bundle on the table, "There is some information circulating around it may be of some use to you. I'll get it check its authenticity with my sources and get back to you." Mickey said as he picked up the five thousand dollars from the table. He got up from the table pocketing the money, "Stay well Jack I hope that you make it through this."
Steele walked out of the private room back towards the main hall. He melted back into the crowd attempting to leave the club's main floor. Unfortunately bouncers were combing the area looking for someone. Steele was not going to stay around and find out who that was
In the foyer Steele came face to face with a bouncer who gave him a once over then waved him through. Steele gave his number back to the clerk and retrieved his pistol holstered it then retreated into the dark of Little Bangkat.
"This is a humiliation," Commander Feral growled as he threw down the morning paper Its headline read 'More cuts to Enforcers'. "Briggs, I want to protest this formally."
"Is that why you're bellowing in my office Feral," Callie held a glass tumbler filled with ice and a brown liquid to her forehead. "I don't like it any more than you do but the council writes the budget not the mayor it's just the way things are.
"But their reasoning is out of whack Deputy Mayor just because Steele went bad doesn't mean that all Enforcers should suffer."
There is nothing I can do Feral." Callie shrugged, "The mayor did all he could the council rejected it."
"The council," Feral spat, "Is the biggest bunch of crooks in this city." Commander Feral turned to the door then back at Deputy Mayor Briggs. "Trust me we're going to regret this budget." Commander Feral left.
Callie tipped the glass back draining the drink, "I know we will."
"What happened in there Uncle?" Felina asked though her uncle's steamed expression spoke volumes.
"Nothing, nothing at all," Commander Feral grumbled, "She said she couldn't do anything to help us. God this is a nightmare, the city council thinks that Steele is endemic of the Enforcers and they have decided to punish us by withholding more money.
"What will that mean uncle?"
"It means that we will have to lay off a lot of Enforcers but that is not the worst of it, I did some checking, you are going to be in that group."
A look of horror came over Felina's face, "I'm going to be laid off?"
"There's no way around it you're simply too new to dodge this bullet." Commander Feral looked down at the floor, "I'm going to plead with the city council to restore the money but I can't see it happening. Right now you have to catch Steele if we get him maybe the council will relent otherwise come October first, you're going to be looking for a new job." Commander Feral left Felina with her thoughts.
Looking for a new job wouldn't be all that difficult the Washingtom Enforcers already had a position waiting for her with a promotion. Her father being a powerful congresskat would only smooth the transition. Washingtom was nice and it would be nice to be closer to her parents who found it necessary to spend more and more time in the national capital. She however loved Megakat City, with its warm climate, sandy beaches and resident chaos. "Guilty or not I'm going to have to find him."
Commander Feral strode into the fortieth floor conference room holding several reports. Seated around the table were the rest of the Lieutenant Commanders, Steele's chair was notably empty. He sat down and passed out the papers he was carrying. He rapped his coffee mug on the table to bring the meeting to order, "We seem to have a severe problem the city council has cut the increase that we were to have received. They cited official corruption and the Steele case in particular as reasons for doing this. I believe that if we catch Steele we might be able to get some of that back."
"How are we going to do that?" One of the Lieutenant Commanders asked.
"I intend to put every available resource into the hunt for Steele including the liquidation of the metal salvage yard. If you will look at report two you will find the results of an environmental study. It details the large amount of recyclable materials stored there. Enough to ensure that we have the money to provide for a thorough kathunt. The land will then be sold to the Megakat City port authority for future airport expansions. The two caretakers will be terminated."
"Now hold on just a minute," Captain Cugarmann leapt to life, "those two mechanics are Enforcers under the protection of the current contract. I know for a fact that they are not yet ready to be laid off and have committed no such actions to warrant termination of employment."
Feral frowned his chance to rid himself of the two hotshots was not going to go according to plan. "What would you have them do Captain let them sit there and pick their toes while an airport expansion blooms around them?"
"Reinstate them as pilots we're going to need all the help we can get looking for Steele."
Feral turned to Lt. Comdr. Ozon "Do you think that you can have them reinstated at their former ranks Lieutenant?"
Lt. Comdr. Ozon looked as if she had sat on something unpleasant turned to Feral, "Yes, I can it will take a little time though." She shot a glance to Lt. Comdr. Winthrope.
"Uh, sir," Winthrope began do you think it's wise to sell all of the scrap metal and the yard. I mean we can use the parts from salvage to make repairs on equipment and the yard itself is quite a distance from the airport. . ."
Commander Feral cut him off, "It's not your place to question the plan just to ensure that the money is brought in, understand?"
"Good, Cugarmann you are going to accompany me to the salvage yard to inform Clawson and Furlong of their new status. I also want Burke and Murry to follow us and begin immediate liquidation of the yard. Is there any other matter that needs to come before the committee, no, good." Commander Feral rapped his mug on the table and the assembled kats got up to do their assigned business.
Jake looked shocked Chance looked ill but both feigned joy at the news that they would be reinstated to their old positions. Commander Feral decided to take a look around the yard to access a proper amount to charge for the salvage yard and Cugarmann followed him. Burke and Murry busied themselves with the task of loading up recyclable materials not wanting to incur Feral's wrath by fighting with Jake and Chance.
"Listen Jake," Chance said as they retreated back into the garage to work on a car, "It's not as though I wouldn't have loved to have become an Enforcer again a couple of years ago but what are we going to do about being the SWAT Kats? Once this yard goes so do they and someone is bound to figure out why especially when they start digging around for an airport expansion."
"Don't think I haven't been thinking the exact same thing Chance, were going to be in for some serious explaining when that news comes out."
Feral's expedition made it impossible to fly out on patrol or otherwise do anything in the hangar. On the other hand they did have plenty of time to work on a backlog of cars brought in for repairs. Around five in the afternoon Feral returned with their union president they both greedily rubbed their hands with anticipation.
"I think that those old runways are still in good condition there will be a lot of patching but this old Air Force base could easily be refurbished as a remote terminal. Don't you think Captain?"
"Certainly, what do you think we should ask for it Commander four or five hundred?"
"I think we'll ask for five hundred if they talk us down we can still function for about one quarter of a year."
"Four or five hundred what?" Chance asked.
"If you must pry into business that is not your business we are discussing the selling price of this plot of land, in millions of dollars." Commander Feral said as he and Captain Cugarmann both got into Commander Feral's car.
"I wouldn't worry about it guys in a few weeks you're going to be back at your old jobs and away from this salvage yard." Captain Cugarmann said as Feral drove off.
The former Lieutenant Commander Steele drove by a Little Bangkat apartment block. He looked up to the second floor far right window. Illuminated by a desk lamp was an 'X' made of tape. Steele smiled so Mickey was unoriginal when it came to making up signals but it meant that he had something and that was good news for Steele. He pushed his foot down on the accelerator his money was beginning to run low but this would call for a celebratory dinner.
The next morning Steele sat on a bench over looking a small lake at the Megakat Zoo. The lake sat in a shaded glen towered over by evergreen trees. Behind him the hill was held back by a retaining wall made of stone. Steele had purchased a hot dog and was tossing the leftover pieces of bun to the mallard ducks that swam around in the lake.
The temperature was quite warm and Steele wore a light jacket over a green T-shirt sunglasses shaded his eyes from the sun and provided some camouflage.
"Feeding the birds Jack?" Mickey walked up the pathway toward Steele.
Steele noticed he was not wearing his tie and guessed he had eaten it. "Did you find something out?"
"Let's keep moving around Jack I don't want to be in any one particular spot knowing this." The two of them began walking and Mickey began to speak again, "You were correct about there being a link to the kat-nip trade here. It has gotten its fingers into every facet of the city government. I'm talking the Enforcers, City Hall, customs; these people aren't just smuggling that stuff in there just bringing it in right on the docks. It's getting to where the smugglers can't make a dishonest buck."
"Do you mean that the whole city government is involved, Feral, Manx, Briggs who knows who else?"
"Feral and Briggs are too honest and Manx wouldn't go for it either. Its lower ranking people and they saw you as a convenient foil but you must have come too close to something and became more of a liability than you were worth, Forester too. That's why you were both to be liquidated, but you survived."
"But no one will believe me. They still have all the aces." They both stopped walking to look at a gorilla exhibit.
"Could you imagine intelligent life evolving from that?" Mickey changed subjects.
"What about the nip coming in?" Steele tried to steer him back to the previous topic of conversation.
Valerie Pershia yawned as she stared out the window of her office. It was a nice day too nice to be cooped up inside unfortunately that was where she was. She turned back toward the desk picking up a pen to twirl. The pen fell to the floor and she bent to pick it up. Then her phone rang. Picking it up she said in a cheery voice, "department of parks and recreation budget office this is Valerie."
"Val it's Jack I need your help."
Valerie nearly choked when she heard his voice, "Jack are you crazy what are you doing?" She got up from her desk to lock the door.
"I need to know if I can trust you?"
"Trust me to what?"
"Meet me at the clock bridge in the Megakat City Center at noon, come alone." He hung up.
"Jack, Jack?" Valerie stared at the telephone receiver, "In guess I am going to get to go out today."
"The Megakat City Center was a fashionable upscale mall. It used to be the city's main train station until the jet airplane brought about the decline of passenger rail. The rail lines that used to come into the downtown were severed during the war and the station languished as a white elephant and a tax shelter. Downtown redevelopment breathed new life into the old building now it was what it was.
The Clock Bridge was the focal point of the mall. So named because it was a second level bridge spanning a large open court on either side of the railings were clocks. A large number of people milled about in the area most of them were in business suits or trendy clothes save for an occasional mall-rat skipping school.
Valerie Pershia scanned the area looking for Steele but could not find him. She turned to leave when she ran into a tom-kat, "Oh, excuse me I didn't mean to. . .Jack?" She gasped as she placed the face of the figure. "Where were you I thought you wanted to meet here at. . .?"
"I had to make sure that there wasn't anyone following you, just a precaution." He began walking eyeing the crowd nervously. "Would you like to get something to eat?"
Steele and Valerie retreated to an Italian restaurant for lunch and a chance to catch up on almost a lifetime's worth of history. For the better part of their kittenhood they were inseparable partly out of necessity due to there being no other children their ages that they could play with. They were either too old to play with the younger kids or only old enough to be beaten up by the older kids.
". . . then there was that time when the older kids came to play keep away with, oh God I don't even remember what it was, but they were merciless. At least until you showed up and gallantly tried to make them stop." Valerie recalled old times.
"As I recall I got the shit pounded out of me for doing that." Steele smiled slightly.
"But you did give that sonovabitch Billy Gates a sock in the gut he wouldn't forget for a long time. What ever happened to him?"
"I think he became the head of a bank then was indicted for securities fraud and sent to prison, serves the prick right I think."
Their conversation was interrupted by a waiter, "Your salad ma'am," he set the plate in front of her. "Your soup sir," he placed the bowl in front of Steele. "Your entrees will be ready in a few minutes."
They thanked him and he left. There was an awkward moment of silence as they began to eat finally Valerie spoke, "Do you want some soup with your pepper?"
"Huh, oh I like it spicy," Steele set down the pepper shaker and picked up a spoon to taste the soup wincing as he realized how spicy it was. "Perfect. I suppose you are wondering why I asked if you would come out."
"The thought crossed my mind."
"Do you think I'm a murderer?"
"I don't know, the evidence that seems to indicate that you are but that's not the Jack Steele I know."
They both hushed as the waiter brought their meals out.
After the waiter left again Steele began again, "I'm not the one who did it I swear it but if I'm going to capture the guilty I need your help."
"What can I do I don't know anything about Enforcer work?"
"You don't need to, what I need is for you to keep tabs on Marilyn Manx, the City council President and whoever they meet with. At least as much as you can they are involved in a plot to smuggle kat-nip into the city and I got too close to it."
"I don't know if I can it seems so. . ."
As she spoke Steele covered his right hand with his left and set his chin on top of them both. He sighed then interrupted her, "I understand your reluctance. Just by sitting here you are an accessory to murder I wanted to gage whether you'd help me or not. If you wish you may call the Enforcers when we are through."
Valerie looked down at her spaghetti, "I'll help you any way I can Jack."
"Thank you." He smiled.
"Where have you been staying Jack and how much money do you have left? "
"Mostly in motels around the highways. I guess I have a few thousand left." Steele lied he had barely a thousand dollars left.
"You can stay with me I have an apartment downtown. It would cut down on your expenses."
"Do you realize that sheltering a know fugitive is a felony equitable with the crimes that the harbored fugitive is sought for?"
"Yes but if that kat isn't guilty then I wouldn't have to worry, would I?"
Finally realizing that he could trust Valerie, Steele smiled, "I guess you wouldn't."
Finishing their meal Steele and Valerie paid and left the restaurant reentering the mall traffic. "I'll probably have to work late tonight but I'll make an excuse to be home by six. I assume you have a car if you've been traveling around like you have so you can use my spare garage key. It'll let you come and go as you please." Elizabeth turned her head to the right then without warning changed the subject, "Jack would you mind holding my purse, I really have to pee." With that she forced her purse into his paws and disappeared.
Steele sighed haven't done this in quite a while, he thought to himself. He turned his head to the right and nearly died; two Enforcers, one older and one younger, were walking right towards him.
"Excuse me sir have you seen this kat?" He held up a picture of Steele before he changed his hair color and shaved his cheek ruffs.
Steele was mortified not only was he staring at a picture of himself but they blew up his drivers license photo. "Uh, no I haven't seen him," Steele shook his head and looked back up at the Enforcers the younger one looked at him very closely.
"Thank you sir, have a nice day," the older Enforcer touched the brim of his hat and began to walk away the younger Enforcer followed still eyeing Steele. The older kat stopped to question another shopper while the younger one still kept an eye on Steele.
"Hi Jack I'm back," Valerie bounced back from where she had disappeared off to.
"Kiss me Val," Steele said almost under his breath.
"Just do it, please"
"Okay," she latched onto Steele like a wet T-shirt.
Steele glanced at the two Enforcers still with the other kat the younger kat had stopped staring at him apparently convinced that they had just conversed with an unlucky husband or boyfriend who got caught holding a purse.
"All right, all right," Steele pulled away from Valerie.
"I thought you wanted me to kiss you."
"You didn't have to slip me tongue," Steele gasped. Still he wanted to impress the younger Enforcer so he offered her his arm, which she took. Arm in arm they walked past the two Enforcers toward the mall exit.
Chance watched as another load of scrap metal crashed in to the bed of Burke and Murry's truck. The metal salvage yard was huge but even still a good sized area had been stripped clean of debris. The crash of a final load and the revving of the truck's motor indicated that Burke and Murry were about to leave. Not soon enough, Chance thought to himself. The truck lumbered down a partially cleared runway until it reached the dirt at the end where it kicked up a cloud of dust before joining the main road.
Jake jumped down from the cab of the magnetic crane and surveyed the damages. "Feral's sure trying to clean this place out."
"How long is it going to be till the end of the tunnel is exposed?"
"A couple of days maybe a week it depends on how many speed bumps we encounter," Jake dusted off his hands, "what ever the case we're in for some trouble buddy. You think we're going to be able to do the SWAT Kats thing if we're living in the suburbs?"
"Yeah really, even if we find a neighbor hood that wouldn't be suspicious of two guys living together they might get agitated if we parked the jet in our driveway."
They both got into their tow truck, Chance at the wheel, and drove to the garage. Jake looked at his watch it read ten to six, "You feel like doing anything SWAT Katy tonight Chance?"
Chance sighed, "yeah we might as well it may be one of our last chances to do so."
Steele locked the door to his car then surveyed the inside of the parking garage. It was quiet save for the din of traffic on the streets around the building and the hum of fans that circulated air in the structure preventing the buildup of noxious and explosive gasses. Even with the fans the smell of moisture and rot permeated the garage. Steele made his way to the vestibule that separated the main building from its attendant garage where Valerie waited.
"Hi Jack did you get in the garage O.K. with the keycard?" She asked leading him into the main building.
"Sure did, it worked like a charm." They both walked to a bank of elevators Steele pressed the call button a set of doors opened within seconds. "Now I know I'm in first class."
The elevator doors opened on the designated floor Steele and Valerie walked into the hallway. "The place is really a co-op, I got an apartment that looks out over the downtown. There weren't any apartments with a riverside view and I like the one I've got better anyway."
They rounded a corner as Valerie finished talking, she flattened her ears and made a coiled stance as if ready to pounce. She grabbed a florescent tube light then hurled it at a wall. It broke open with a loud report. Valerie took off back down the hall toward the elevators grabbing a stunned Steele as she passed by.
Valerie pushed open the fire escape door then turned her head to look at it, "Look at the door Jack," she said quietly.
Steele did so just before he heard an angry voice calling out, "Damn it I'll get you kids!" he rounded the corner only to look at Steel and Valerie who were both looking at the closing fire escape door. "I'm sorry Ms. Pershia did you see some kids go by here?" he opened the fire escape door and peered down hoping to hear something which of course wasn't there to begin with.
"Are you OK Bob?" Valerie asked the flustered maintenance kat.
"It's those kids again always breaking lights," he walked back down the hallway muttering to himself.
Steele looked at his hostess, "You really haven't changed have you?"
Steele looked out a large plate glass window that overlooked the city skyline. The sun was setting over the ocean casting the city in an eerie twilight. Steele looked at the downtown buildings most specifically at the Steele building. Glancing near the top he tried to see if the lights were on in his father's office.
'Don't trust anyone not even your own father,' was what his father had taught him after he promised to catch him if he jumped off the diving board of the family pool then just allowed him to flail helplessly in the deep end of the pool until his older brother Fritz finally swam over to drag him to the side. Those words were his guiding principles when associating with high society. He knew that someone's word was only as good as the dirt you had on them.
This was different, at every turn Valerie had the opportunity to turn him in yet did not do so and had taken him into her home at great personal risk to herself. If only I had a few more allies like her Steele thought to himself. He returned his glance to the window overlooking downtown. The sun had set a little lower casting the buildings in a darker shade even still it was possible to make out a plane flying nearby, the Turbokat.
Steele smiled to himself, the SWAT Kats were champions of virtue they should be able to help him. If he could only reach them; shaking his head he turned back to gaze into the room to see Valerie bringing out a couple of soft drink cans and glasses.
"Do you want a drink this is all I really have so I hope you like Kitty Cola." Valerie said as she placed the glasses and cans on coasters.
"That's fine," there was not much enthusiasm in Steele's voice.
"You sound despondent Jack." She said as she poured the drinks into the glasses
"Having a murder charge hanging over your head can do that to you." Steele picked up the glass and took a sip. For the next few minutes there was an awkward silence as they both looked at the floor or walls or anything but each other.
Breaking the silence Valerie spoke, "tomorrow I'm going to meet with the deputy mayor to discuss the parks and recreation budget. I believe she thinks that we're getting too much money in relation to the rest of the city departments."
Steele came alive when he heard 'deputy mayor' spoken he had forgotten that she had a communicator to reach the SWAT Kats. Deciding to remain cool Steele kept the conversation on topic, "Yeah I guess the city needs more golf courses."
"Oh not you too, it's bad enough having to justify them to the media and the deputy mayor." Valerie ran her fingers through her dark hair, "and to think it's the city council that put them there." She got up from the couch and stretched, "well Jack I'm going to get some sleep I've got to get up early to prepare for that meeting with the deputy mayor."
"Uh Val," Steele hesitated for a moment, "where am I going to crash tonight?"
"Oh, I almost forgot," she opened a linen closet to get pillows and blankets. "You can crash just about anywhere. There's only two bedrooms and I use the one as a home office but there's a fold out bed in that one or you can just pick a couch. I've got a whole bunch because the a lot of my friends in the city government like to crash here after getting drunk so they don't have to rent a room or chance driving home."
Steele woke up when the day's light was too bright for him to continue sleeping. He had decided to take his chances sleeping on a couch rather than accept the offer of a warm bed from Val. Her need to meet with the deputy mayor and his need to figure out how to get the deputy mayor's communicator were mutually incompatible anyway.
Steele walked into the kitchen finding a note held on the refrigerator. He pulled it off and the magnet unceremoniously dropped to the floor.
I have left for work but feel free to eat what you want. There's cereal or you can cook something up. I'll be back by 6:00, I hope.
She had even put a smiley face at the end. Always the goof, Steele thought to himself. Espionage more than breakfast weighed on Steele's mind but it made no sense to go out on an empty stomach
Steele had driven by Callie's new house several times over the course of the day waiting for her to come home. He was beginning to wonder if she was going to do so at all when the familiar green car turned the corner and cruised up the street. It pulled into her driveway disappearing into the cleverly hidden garage. "She's home," Steele said aloud to himself.
Steele stole out of his car and crossed the street on foot keeping close watch on the house. He darted up the fence line knowing that there was no cover to be had and if he were seen he was dead. Fortunately for him he was not seen and was able to hide behind some bushes that had been planted soon after the house was built but were now dying. He gulped as Callie opened a window and pressed himself against the wall of the house. In side he could hear Callie's voice and that of a male kat, the Feline Resources director. "Shit just what I needed another kat," Steele said aloud then shut up when he realized he was almost under an open window.
Callie and the Feline Resources director either did not hear or choose to ignore Steele's expression. They continued their own conversation on cuts to the city workforce. The barking of the neighbor's Scottie dog however brought about their attention.
The dog was barking at Steele but Callie did not know this as she ran out from the kitchen still carrying her trademark purse. "Shut up you son-of -a-bitch!" she yelled at the annoying dog hurling a chunk of sod for good measure. The piece of sod missed the stupid dog by a meter but he moved behind his own house for added protection. "That damn thing keeps me up half the night," Callie fumed, "one of these days I'm going to leave some anti-freeze out for him."
"Now that's a way to endear yourself to the voters." The director put his arm around her shoulder, "c'mon let's go inside and work on these layoff schedules."
"All right but I want to change into something more comfortable first. I've been in this business suit all day."
Steele heard them open then close a screen door then drop something heavy. Their voices faded as they moved further into the house. Steele crept around the outside to the screen door. Peering in he saw what he was hoping to see Callie's purse. Carefully he tiptoed over to it grabbed it and hid back out of sight. Rifling through it he found the triangular communicator. Steele replaced the purse on the table and carefully opened the screen door letting himself out. Sighing he looked at the communicator realizing that he did not carefully shut the screen door. It closed behind him with a loud 'thwack'.
Callie who had changed into a red sweat suit and tennis shoes was walking down the stairs when she heard the door closing. "What was that?" she asked rhetorically to the Feline Resources director.
"I don't know," he said as he watched her pull a .38 from a bureau drawer and cocked it. He followed her into the kitchen not wanting to get caught in any crossfire.
Callie rounded the corner that lead to the alcove where the screen door leading outside was. Pointing the gun in that very direction Callie made the startling discovery that no one was there just a closed screen door. No intruder, nothing out of place. "Do you think we forgot to close the door," Callie asked her companion?
"I thought we did but I could be wrong," he answered as they both heard the sound of a car starting.
"Well let's get back to work we've got a lot of kats to cut." Callie slipped the gun into the waistband of her sweat pants, it promptly fell down to the floor through her pant leg.
Steele jumped into his car as quickly as he could dropping the communicator on the passenger side seat. He jammed the key into the ignition switch and pulled out rapidly but not enough to squeal the tires. The mission was a success he had captured the communicator without compromising himself now all he had to do was get the SWAT Kats to go along with him.
Steele paused his car waiting for the light to change he knew where to meet the SWAT Kats, Fort Megakat Park. Steele practiced his Callie impersonation as he began driving again. He drove onto the cloverleaf for the Ronald Reagan outerbelt west knowing he was going to have to make up one hell of a story.
Jake and Chance were settling in for a rented disaster flick when the klaxon began to sound. Chance got to the phone first, "Yes Ms. Briggs what can we do for you?"
A voice that barely sounded like Callie's came over the speaker, "Dr. Viper is causing problems in Fort Megakat Park, Uh, guys."
"Ms. Briggs are you all right you don't sound normal?" Chance sounded worried.
The Callie like voice called back, "I've got a slight cold, please hurry."
"C'mon Jake let's get going." Chance shouted to his partner.
It took the Turbokat only minutes to get from the salvage yard to Fort Megakat Park. There was evidence of neither Dr. Viper nor Callie so the SWAT Kats put the Turbokat down in a clearing. Both jumped out glovatrix at the ready for any nasty surprise that might be lurking about. "Ms. Briggs," both T-Bone and Razor called out, "where are you?"
"I'm over here, guys," the raspy Callie voice called out.
T-Bone and Razor kept their glovatrix trained forward heading in the direction the voice came from. It was dark out and the trees were not helping matters any but they did manage to find the voice.
"That's far enough!" an eerily familiar voice called out. The flare of a cigarette lighter igniting a cigarette lit up the area revealing who was standing there.
"Steele!" T-Bone growled, "what's the matter your daddy not able to spring you on a murder charge! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't bring you in right now!"
The orange glow of embers from the cigarette cooled and Steele exhaled the smoke, "because I have a .45 pointed strait at you and chances are I'll hit at least one of you before I'm immobilized. However I'm a reasonable kat. In order to show you my amiability I'll turn over my sidearm." Steele ejected the magazine, emptied the chamber and tossed the pistol to the SWAT Kats he then tossed the magazine to them. "Now I'm unarmed if you want to take me in you can but you are champions of justice and virtue and I believe that you would not let a greater crime go unpunished."
"We're listening." Razor's interest was raised.
"There is a conspiracy in this city to facilitate the importation of kat-nip into not just the city but the entire country as well. The conspirators are among the highest levels of business, politics and military in the city."
"Are you saying that Mayor Manx, Ms. Briggs and Commander Feral are involved and you are taking the fall for it?" Razor asked.
"No, Manx, Briggs and Feral are out of the loop. That's the beauty of it, they've kept the highest levels out. There have always been corrupt Enforcers and government and business people and the lower levels can pass under the radar more easily."
"Then how did you get involved especially with the murder of Vance Forester?" T-Bone queried.
"I was their patsy, a useful conduit of information about the economic troubles that the Enforcers were going through. Commander Feral and I were always wondering how they knew exactly where to cut to affect the most damage. They were getting it strait from me. A lot of good Enforcers took it on the chin because I was in bed with Marilyn Manx. Three years ago the money to rebuild damage to the new Enforcer building was held up causing two good pilots their jobs. It's not like it was even their fault but the internal affairs board concluded that they were too incorruptible to be trusted so they followed Commander Feral's recommendation and were shipped of to the Salvage yard to pay for the building."
Any lingering doubts that the SWAT Kats had about whether to trust Steele were tossed out right then. They were both certain that he was not privy to their secret identities and the city's financial troubles seemed to correspond with heightened drug traffic. "All right Steele you twisted our arms we'll help but what exactly will we be helping you do?" Razor asked still unsure what Steele wanted them to do.
"I'll pass the information to you and you'll tail the ships and planes that might be coming into the city's air and sea lanes with the kat-nip." Steele smashed his cigarette butt under his heel.
"And what happens if you get caught Steele, are you going to squeal?" T-Bone asked though his tone was more relaxed.
"I don't know who you are and if I'm caught with your communicator then the heat is off deputy mayor Briggs and don't think Feral doesn't have suspicions about her. For your concerns it's a win-win proposition."
"All right Steele here's a communicator it's only a temporary but it will work till I can make a permanent one." Razor tossed a cylindrical object to Steele who caught it and looked it over. "Now just return Callie's communicator and we're settled."
"Consider it done." Steele picked out another cigarette and lit it.
T-Bone tossed the pistol and then the magazine back to Steele, "you really shouldn't smoke those y'know Steele, they're bad for your health."
It was after midnight before Steele was at the door of Valerie's apartment. After passing through the door he felt as if he should have decided to just sleep on a park bench.
Valerie ran over to him as he closed the door hugging him before launching into a tirade. "Where the Hell have you been Jack I've been worried sick about you and I didn't even have a way of reaching you! It's not as if I could go to the Enforcers either," She put her thumb and forefinger out like a telephone, "'hello yes I'm trying to find Jack Edward Steele. You probably know him, wanted for murder and all. Yea, he's been staying with me and now he's missing, yes I can hold.' What do you have to say for yourself?"
"That you've got our emergency calls down to a science." Was his sheepish reply.
"Don't joke with me buster you're in hot water."
"It was necessary for me to be out late I had some people I needed to meet with whose identities are best left unknown."
"Marty and Jeff."
"Who the Hell are they?"
"It's a secret."
"All right fine have your secrets. Now that I know you're safe I can get some sleep." Valerie walked off toward her bedroom closing the door softly behind her.
Steele looked down he hated having to lie to her especially after she was nice enough to hide him out. However it was better at this time to keep his players from knowing one another at least then if one were caught the others were still unimplicated. Steele sat on the couch with a sigh spotting a thick copy of the revised budget for Megakat City. Steele perked up, "hello what do we have here?" he said to himself.
The book was chock full of goodies; the entire budget line item by line item with every decrease in spending amendment marked by who the councilkat was who offered it. The same names kept popping up, the council president and the finance committee chair had the most amendments to their names but there were a plethora of others as well, more than half the city council.
The next morning Steele was still reading the book. He was unable to put it down believing that something of value could be gleamed from every cut in a line item. While not exactly true Steele did learn some valuable lessons in creative accounting. Like how to make surpluses to look like shortfalls and how to hide the revenue once it was stolen away.
It was this that gave Steele pause the one part of the city budget that never received any real cuts was the parks and recreation department. While it was plausible that the city council simply did not want to fight with Mayor Manx over cutting what was undoubtedly his favorite part of the budget; Steele was sure that the real reason was much deeper. The part of the P&R budget that had the greatest growth was a line item labeled 'Special Projects'. The 'special projects' were not delineated but the increase in funding was massive both in percentages and real dollars and the increases were amended and pushed through by the council president himself.
While there were other suspicious increases in the budget it was the involvement of the parks and recreation department that most disturbed Steele. For the first time he wondered if it was wise to accept Valerie's hospitality perhaps she was involved in the plot and was conveniently feeding him the wrong information, perhaps they believe that he might be more useful out than in jail. Steele's mind went into overdrive conjuring up plots against him until reality set in, ask her what the 'special projects' are and gage her reaction.
As if on cue Valerie walked out of her bedroom looking disheveled, "who put the morning so close to bedtime?"
"Good Morning sunshine," Steele said sarcastically looking up from the budget.
"What's so good about it, it's a workday." She looked at him through half closed eyes and saw that he was still dressed in what he had wandered in with last night. "Did you even sleep last night Jack?"
"No, I was reading your copy of the city budget, quite fascinating actually; I'd recommend it to anyone."
"Anyone with a sleep disorder, that thing would put a caffeine factory to sleep."
"Oh I though it was pretty insightful. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Shoot." Valerie said as she began brewing a pot of coffee.
"What are 'special projects'?"
"In the Parks and Recreation department there's a line item for 'special projects' but no further breakdown. What are they?"
"Valerie sat down beside Steele to look at the budget. "Oh, those are for unexpected expenses that come up. It's mostly used for the renovation of historical buildings, construction of pathways, or street renamings. They're usually one-time expenditures. Why?"
"I was just curious. Could you get me a list of these special projects for this year?"
"Yeah no problem, I'm not sure what you would do with them though."
I'm just following a hunch, Steele thought to himself.
"He could not have just fallen off the Earth, Felina." Commander Feral paced agitated as he waited for the elevator doors to open to take him to the executive level of the Enforcer building. His agitation was high because his niece had made no further progress in the investigation.
"It's not that easy uncle, Steele's trail has been cold and is getting colder. Unless he trips up and reveals himself we may not be able to catch him. Keep in mind that he may have all ready fled the country."
"I don't care where he is find him! I've got the entire Enforcer budget tied up in this mess and I'm not going to let his fancy footwork drag it all down."
"With all due respect uncle, without clues to go on we're pretty much helpless to do anything except keep the case open."
The elevator doors opened and Commander Feral got in Felina stayed at a marked distance. "That won't be good enough for the city council." The doors slid shut and the elevator began its ascent leaving Felina to her thoughts.
"Hey Felina I have some news for you." Scott from the lab ran a slow jog toward her.
"Steele's called you and wants to surrender?"
"Not quite but I have some interesting toxicology reports from Vance Forester."
"During the time he supposedly had a shoot-out with Lieutenant Commander Steele he had enough Dolyephmorphane in him to insure that he wasn't up to blinking much less shooting someone. I'm preparing a press release that I want Commander Feral to look over before I release it."
"Don't release it, in fact don't let my unc...er Commander Feral see it. Just sit on it."
"Just a hunch. Steele has a reason for running and I'm starting to think that it has less to do with us than somebody else."
The Parks and Recreation budget office was extremely busy toward the end of the fiscal year. Many kats who were freed from the constraints of wearing a suit and tie wore casual clothing as they emptied files and escorted stacks of papers to be sent to shredding. Most of the kats seemed more interested in office gossip or eating from the potluck lunch that had been brought in to commemorate the day.
Valerie picked her way through the stacks of boxes labeled 'shred' that lay about the floor. Her destination was the special funds office where the director's secretary was talking to another he-kat. She reached the door of the office and said, "knock knock."
"The secretary looked up and smiled, "Hi Val, what brings you down here, have you meet my husband, Gary? He was an aide to Lieutenant Commander Steele before he murdered that guy."
Valerie smiled and nodded politely to the somewhat sad looking kat. What I'm really here for is a listing of the special projects for this year. Do we even still have it?"
"Oh yeah they're over in those boxes. What do you need them for?"
"Just a year end tally for the city council." It wasn't much of an excuse but it was all Valerie could think of.
"Odd Frank is having lunch with the Council President I wonder why he didn't just do it himself?"
"You know executives leave it for the little guys to do." An office worker who stuck his head in the door interrupted their conversation. "Mary it happened again," he said to the secretary.
Mary sighed, "I'll take care of it, you can take whatever you need don't worry about bringing it back it's being sent for destruction anyway." With that Mary left the office to take care of the unnamed problem.
Valerie began to look through the boxes searching for any kind of list that might be useful to Steele. While doing this she also decided to talk to Gary, "So what have you been doing since Lt. Comdr. Steele was arrested?"
Gary came to life when he realized he was being spoken to. Oh they have me working with another Lt. Comdr. but I was more of a fifth wheel and when the Lt. Comdr. left for lunch with the City Council President I came over here to see if my wife wanted to go to lunch."
The words lunch and city council president lodged in Valerie's mind. She decided to probe a little further, "You know I used to know Jack Steele back when we were barely teenagers. What's he like today?" She decided not to inform Gary of her current relationship with the subject in question.
"A lot of people didn't like him but I always thought he was a good guy. I mean ten, eleven years ago he gave me my first job working as a secretary in his psychiatry practice. He folded it after his family was killed in a car accident and joined the Enforcers. When he made Lieutenant Commander I applied for the job almost as a joke I wanted to see if he'd still know me."
"I take it he did." Valerie said as she located a partial list of special projects.
"Yeah he did and he offered me the job on the spot. Jack was a good guy but Commander Feral disliked him and a lot of people hated him with a passion. I don't know what he did to people to make them hate him like that but some actually were happy to be rid of him, they actually said that." Gary looked almost emotionally drained from speaking.
"Do you think he did it?" Valerie asked seeking some kind of confirmation on whether or not Gary might be a possible ally.
"No." Was his one word reply.
Steele too was pursuing a hunch as he climbed the steps to the Megakat City Main Public Library carrying a plastic bag. He paused looking up at the impressive building constructed when libraries were temples of learning. The entranceway was segmented with massive columns topped with ionic scrolls above them chiseled into the stone was a quotation, "A tyrant fears a kat armed with knowledge more than any other." The author of the quote's name was obscured by a tree. Steele drank in his surroundings, repositioned the bag then began walking again.
Steele walked through the great doors feeling a blast of cool air rush over him as he entered the foyer. Though it was mid September Megakat City was still hot and the air conditioning was a refreshing contrast to the late summer heat. The library workers paid him scant attention as he walked past them toward the public computer labs.
Steele situated himself into a typing chair in front of an older lesser used computer. He removed a box from the bag he was carrying. It read 'remote' and had some cartoonish computers linked together by a stylized lightning bolt it was also marked down to under four dollars plus tax. Steele opened the box removing a silver disk he carefully placed the disk into the computer's drive and it began to install itself.
'Please Register first and get a free T-shirt,' the program stopped to tell Steele. "No" Steele clicked and the program began to install itself again. "I hope that the Christmas card you sent me last year is an indication that you are still alive Zeke," Steele said silently to himself.
'Upload finished,' the computer dinged. 'Enter host IP address,' Steele did so, 'enter recipient IP address,' Steele thought for a moment then entered the numbers. 'Recipient found.' Steele looked at the window with the target computer's screen in it, "God Bless you Zeke don't ever go a changing." He clicked on the e-mail icon, 'Please enter name and password,' Steele did so then once through the formalities he checked his mail. 'Sorry you don't have any new mail,' the program shown a mailbox with a frowny face Steele then checked his in box. "Liar," Steele said quietly as he looked over his new messages, "I see the Enforcers have been busy reading my mail."
Steele found the messages he was looking for a mining company interested in silver deposits on land he owned in Idaho. "Let's make things interesting." Steele copied the message then exited the program he was running. He created an anonymous e-mail account attached the message to it and sent it to his father. "That should give them enough headaches to last a life time." Steele smiled as he placed the silver disk back into its sleeve and then placed it back in the box wrapping that in the plastic bag. Turning back to the computer Steele dragged the 'Remote' to its destruction, 'Do you want to uninstall this program?' "Yes," said Steele he then reset the computer.
The phone on Commander Feral's desk began ringing its electronic buzz. Commander Feral picked up the receiver, "This is Feral what is it?"
"Sir this is Stephens from technical we've been monitoring Lieutenant Commander Steele's electronic mail. Shortly ago he activated a long dormant account from a small town in northern Idaho. We may have a new lead because he owns land up there, a lot of it too. He could easily hide out there if he had any kind of outdoors ability."
"Steele's too rich to have the ability to survive outdoors he may be able to run but he can't hide," smiling Commander Feral released the line. He pressed the intercom button and called out to his secretary, "Robin please page Lieutenant Feral."
Felina's stomach growled in anticipation as she stood in line at Katzenberger's Deli not far from Enforcer Headquarters. The smell of sandwiches being prepared was making her mouth water. Her heart sank as her pager began to beep, it sank further when she looked at the number and saw that it was her uncle paging her. Reluctantly she gave up her place in line hoping that there would be some doughnuts to swipe before she had to meet her uncle.
Felina licked the powder off her fingers before she entered Commander Feral's office. He greeted her with an uncharacteristically good mood. "Felina, Steele has made a few ripples today it seems he has activated his e-mail from a small northern Idaho town called Four Widows it's the closest town to a large plot of land he owns. We theorize that he's going to hide out in that land. We're going to cooperate with the local Enforcers on this matter they don't have the resources that we have available. You're to go up there and insure that everything is ready for a wide scale sweep of the territory."
"Uncle are you sure this is a wise idea we have no definitive proof that he even is in northern Idaho. I'm the lead investigator I'm needed..." Commander Feral cut her statement short.
"Yes you are the lead investigator now you're going to investigate a lead in Idaho, understood lieutenant!" Commander Feral said in no uncertain terms.
"Get tickets immediately to fly into Spokate, Washingtom and make arrangements to rent a car."
"And one more thing fly coach and rent something cheap, please."
A load of scrap metal crashed onto the back of Burke and Murry's truck. Normally after getting a full load they would have taken off quickly in order to create a dust cloud that would settle over Jake and Chance. Chance was always glad to see Burke and Murry leave called out to them, "Hey hairballs you're full why don't ya get your tails out of here?"
Jake climbed down from the cab of the crane and began to walk toward his partner. "Hey Chance let's not get into a fight over noting o-k?"
Chance however wanted to push the envelope a little further. He climbed onto the running board of the truck to taunt the two some more. "Hey I said why don't ya leave."
Inside the truck Burke and Murry were more interested in the news report coming over the radio than Chance. Murry turned to Chance and politely told him to, "Shut the fuck up."
Jake restrained Chance then turned to Murry, "Really now what is the hold up?"
"Oh you want to get involved too, huh?"
"Just indulge me, why haven't you left we've got more scrap to move?"
"There's a news conference on Steele coming up," Murry said, "I think they captured him up in the woods in Idaho."
Jake and Chance looked at each other, "Idaho?"
The news report cut in with its traditional ominous sounding theme.
"This is Katseye news with a special report. Jonathan Edward Steele the youngest son of billionaire developer Leslie H. Steele III is reported to be hiding out in the forests of northern Idaho. Jonathan, better know as Jack, Steele was the second highest ranking Enforcer in Megakat city until his arrest for the murder of mayoral counsel Vance Forester." The screen showed muted pictures of Steele talking while the voice over played. "In a few minutes Enforcer Commander Ulysses Feral will be making an important announcement concerning the status of the investigation. As you can see he is now entering the pressroom now."
The screen now showed Commander Feral entering the room he was conferring with an aide. Stepping up to the podium Commander Feral stopped to survey the press corps the room it was again packed. He sighed and took a drink of water as he waited for the room to quiet. "Thank you for coming today I am sure that we all know why were here so I will skip the formalities. Around twelve-thirty PM today an e-mail account opened by Lieutenant Commander Steele was activated and used. We were able to track the transmission to a small town in northern Idaho where we believe Lieutenant Commander Steele is hiding. Contact has already been made with the local authorities and a representative is currently on the way to meet in person." Commander Feral conveniently left out that it was his niece that was the representative. "We hope that through mutual cooperation we can bring Lieutenant Commander Steele to justice. Now I will answer any questions that you might have." Commander Feral pointed to a larger than average sized he-kat.
"Thank you commander, Thomas Suddes from the Megakat Times. Are you certain that Lieutenant Commander Steele is really in northern Idaho?"
"I can say with some degree of certainty that Lieutenant Commander Steele is in Idaho."
"No, I'm right here." Steele sat back on a couch watching the press conference on television from the safety of Valerie's apartment. The assembled reporters asked questions about the investigation then drifted off to more mundane questions like budgeting and staffing problems soon after the press conference broke and regularly scheduled programming, already in progress began. "They interrupted 'All my Kittens' for that, where are their priorities?" A smile crossed Steele's lips.
A couple of hours after the press conference Steele heard the sounds of a key opening a lock. "She's baaaack," Steele smiled to himself. He stretched as she walked in the door, "what's new?"
"I heard that you were in northern Idaho, how was it?"
"Beautiful country I don't know why I hadn't been up there for so long."
"So how'd you do it, I mean make them think you were in Idaho instead of here?"
"I used a remote program to temporarily take over a public computer up there from a public computer down here. I logged off after they traced it to the computer in Idaho. I basically have sent them on a wild goose chase I also have sent my father up there to help give them some headaches."
"You're bad you know that. Oh by the way her is that list of special projects you wanted I saved it from a file to be shredded it's only partial though." Elizabeth turned to the kitchen to get a drink.
Steele looked at the listings he noticed some familiarity with the addresses of the 'special projects', "Hey Valerie what are you planning on doing tomorrow?"
"It's Saturday I plan on sleeping in."
"Would you like to go house hunting?"
Felina was not happy as she crossed the border from Washingtom State into Idaho. The flight was bad, the roads were bad, the car was hardly able to maintain freeway speeds and to make matters worse the fast food restaurant gave her the wrong order. Worst of all, the trip still had over two and a half hours to go. She pressed to accelerator down hoping to coax a little more speed from the little car.
A little more than two and a half hours later Felina found the town of Four Widows. The town looked nondescript, a few ruined houses on its outskirts where transplants from the coast had built homes only to be run out when war started their homes were burned down to keep them from coming back and a welcome sign that someone had painted a swastika on, though the idiot who painted it drew the arms bent to the left instead of the right. Homey place this is where I want to raise my kittens, Felina thought to herself.
The local fleabag motel's sign read vacancy and Felina drove in turning off the car's headlights and engine. "Hi I need a room for what's left of the night," Felina dropped her bags at the front desk of the Motel.
The clerk, a grizzled old kat in a plaid shirt, rose up from the chair he was sitting in. "A'yuh we got rooms, what'll ya need?" She had obviously hit his area of expertise.
"Single occupancy will be fine."
"All I got's is a double. A bunch a feller's rented most of the rest. That do?"
"Yes it will be fine." Felina just wanted to sleep.
"I'll only charge ya for single occupancy since you're alone so you'd better be alone."
"Fine with me."
"That'll be $29.99, how ya payin'"
Felina gave him her Enforcer expense credit card. The clerk looked at her picture on the card then at her then back at the picture before running it through the reader. Felina faked a smile she was sure she bore little resemblance to the picture right now. The card went through and printed out the receipts.
"Sign at the 'X'," the old clerk told Felina. She did so then picked up her bags. The clerk gave her the key, "Your room is twenty-nine, it's upstairs." He opened the door for her, "This is the first time in years that I've had full occupancy."
"Why so many tonight, you having a convention?" Felina joked.
"Naw something about silver up on the old Steele place. You have a good night Miss."
Felina woke as sun light washed over her face. Groaning she turned over wishing the night to last longer so she could sleep more. A knocking at her door forced her to get up though. It's probably the front desk clerk checking to see if I'm alone, she thought. "I'm coming, I'm coming."
Opening the door with a jerk she came face to face or more accurately considering her stooped posture face to chest with the local sheriff. He was a barrel chested kat in an Enforcer colonel uniform complete with tie. Over the uniform he wore a brown leather bomber jacket with a star pinned to it. On his head he wore a large cowboy type hat that he removed when he spoke to her, "excuse me ma'am, I'm looking a Ms. Feral."
"I'm her, er she, er whatever that's who I am." Felina stammered still half conscious.
"Oh did you not get your wake up call? When you didn't show up at eight we wondered what happened to you."
Wake up call, damn you forgot about that Felina. "I'm sorry I got in late last night and must have slept through it. I'll be ready in a little bit."
"We'll be at the station, I believe you already have the address," he placed his hat back on his head and tipped it politely.
Entering the Four Widows Enforcer station was like a trip into a distant time. Apart from a few advanced computers the office bore none of the trappings of Enforcer headquarters in Megakat City. The headquarters building was housed in an old two-story brick building that looked as if it were crumbling slowly into dust. The inside was no better, cracked plaster on the walls was obscured partly by file cabinets and loose papers that were tacked up. Except in sensitive areas no air-conditioning was present open windows and fans provided cooling.
"Sheriff?" Felina called to the kat who was conferring with another lower ranking kat.
The sheriff turned to her, "oh good you're here," he turned back to the lower ranking kat, "just deal with it." Turning back to Felina, "are you ready to go up to the cabin?"
"Yes I am."
"Great I'll get the keys and we'll be off."
Felina and the sheriff rode for almost a half hour out of town on what best could be described as a road that had been paved at one time. The SUV took the potholes that Felina felt would have swallowed her poor rental in stride. On either side of the road tall old growth forests stretched as far as the eye could see punctuated occasionally by houses and cabins. Apart from these few dwellings some not occupied year round the area was wilderness a perfect hiding place for someone on the run. What bothered Felina besides the rough road was that she did not believe that Steele was hiding out here.
The sheriff droned on about various groups that lived up in the hills, both rightists and leftists. "We'll have trouble getting permission to search their land, for one they're not too friendly when it comes to Enforcers searching for stuff and secondly if they're actively helping out the Lieutenant Commander they'll have an easy time hiding him."
"Here's the driveway to the cabin." The sheriff pulled off the main road and onto the driveway. Steele's driveway, or what was supposed to be Steele's driveway, looked exactly like the rest of the forest. The SUV weaved in-between trees and bounced over a corduroy road before emerging in a clearing. "This is the Lieutenant Commander's cabin Lieutenant Feral."
Steele's cabin was bigger than the average cabin out this far from town but still modest in size compared to what Felina had expected. Clutching the court order to search the premises Felina looked at the stout door, "We're going to have to break it down."
"Not really." The sheriff said matter-of-factly.
"Then how are we going to get in?"
"The key," the sheriff held up the key then proceeded to unlock the door, "he gave it to me ten years ago and told me to look after the place."
"Wait a minute you've had the key to get in this place for ten years and you didn't come up here to check to see if he was here?" Felina howled in protest forgetting that she didn't even think Steele was up here.
"It wasn't my call to invade another kat's property without the authorization of the courts he told me to check on the property to make sure it wasn't vandalized that is what I did it wasn't my job to go snooping in his private property. That my dear is something that you big city Enforcers do not understand and that kind of thinking is why I have every political ideology under the sun living up here in compounds. So if you think you are going to come up here and run roughshod over the rights of these people you're in for a world of hurt. We respect each other's right to privacy and it shows," the sheriff pointed to the outside of the cabin, "tell me what would happen to a building that had been abandoned for ten years in Megakat City?"
Felina looked at the sheriff in stunned amazement no one ever talked to her like that and she did not like it. Unfortunately being a Feral here carried little weight so Felina bit her tongue. Wordlessly she stepped through the door after the sheriff to look at the world Steele left behind.
"I had no idea that the city council president lived in a historic home especially one that has over 2.7 million dollars in restoration." Steele said before he slurped up the last of his fountain drink. At least half of the incomplete list that Valerie had procured for him had special projects that were hardly special.
"We should go to the media and tell them. Tell them everything then allow the Enforcers to arrest them." Valerie shook her head with disgust.
"No I have no credibility and frankly you're my accessory so your credibility is shoot as well. Until we break this by getting the bigwigs with their drugs we don't stand a chance." Steele looked at his watch then tried to coax some more drink out of the cup.
"Do you have to be somewhere Jack?"
"No but if I'm correct, five...four...three...two...one...cue my father!"
Felina and the sheriff both stepped out the front door onto the porch of Steel's cabin to watch dull gray helicopters with a silver 'S' logo land in the clearing. The sheriff looked somewhat perplexed but Felina knew this symbol and the trouble it meant, Leslie Steele.
Kats were now jumping out of the helicopters yelling and carrying equipment. One kat carried a step stool and placed it below the back door of the newest and sleekest of the helicopters. The door opened and out stepped the skeletal figure dressed in a neatly pressed double breasted suit as if the concept of active wear had been completely lost on him.
"What are you doing here Steele?" Felina yelled over the helicopter motor that was slowly winding down, "this is an Enforcer investigation."
"An Enforcer investigation that is taking place on my private property. I ask you to be quick about concluding it so that I can begin logging and mining as soon as possible." The gray-haired kat spoke as he looked at a map of the area pointing at a specific area.
"Have you lost your mind? This isn't your land it's your son's and after victim's restitution it's Vanessa Forester's land."
"Oh it was Vanessa Forester's land until I bought it from her. I convinced her that the amount of taxes she would have to pay would be prohibitive and that the only logical recourse would be to sell it to me."
"There's enough silver in the ground under this land to pay the taxes a thousand times over." The sheriff crossed his arms over his chest.
"And what was she to do dig here with a pick-ax in hopes to mine it? Silver mining requires much heavy equipment that I can provide, not some penniless widow." Leslie turned to his assembled crew, "now I want you to begin preparing for the evacuation of lumber. I want this area clear cut so that we can begin strip mining within a week."
"You can't be serious, you're going to tear the countryside apart for some silver?" The sheriff was mortified.
"Not just some silver, over two billion dollars worth."
"Fine if you want your damn silver here it is," the sheriff reached into his pocket grabbed some change and tossed it at Leslie Steele's feet, "thirty pieces all for you." The sheriff turned toward the SUV, "c'mon lieutenant there's nothing more we can do here."
Felina looked at Leslie Steele as he stared perplexed at the sheriff now stalking toward the SUV. She turned and followed catching up with him as he was getting into the vehicle. "Now what do we do?" She asked not sure of the response.
"We get a court order to cease and desist all further action on the property. I'm sure we can get a local judge to do that, Steele will just appeal it to a higher court and will probably win."
"Then why bother?" Felina asked him as he started the SUV and began to drive away from the site.
Because if Steele starts clear cutting timber he going to bring out every environmental group and they're going to bring out every media outlet with them. It's going to be a damn three ring circus up here and that is going to scare off the lieutenant commander."
Steele and Valerie continued checking down the list of projects. While some were legitimate others were obviously money pits designed to hide budget surpluses. As the day wore on it was obvious who in the city council was on the receiving end of the largess.
Another frame of fallout from their little quest was the number of private sector individuals involved. They ranged from titans of industry to small time shop owners their only plausible connection was their dipping into the special funds portion of the budget.
"This is sick, I have given this city the best years of my life and this is what I get." Steele declared angrily, fury burned in the pit of his stomach as he pulled away from a Little Bangkat community center notorious for being a kat-nip hangout.
Valerie looked down at her feet, she too felt betrayed by the city that employed her. "So now what do we do?" She asked as she looked back up at him.
Steele made a right turn down a familiar street and looked up at the window of a familiar apartment noticing an 'X' made of tape in the window, "we wait," a said as they drove off.
"What the Hell is this?" Leslie Steele looked at the court papers ordering him to stand down any attempts to begin logging.
"It's a court order signed by US district court judge Claude Brenner to allow us to do our investigation without any interference from you, Mr. Steele." The sheriff said to Leslie Steele.
Leslie looked at the papers again then tore them in two and dropped them on the ground. "Fine you have your fun but I'm calling my lawyers and they will have this overturned soon enough. All right guys let's pack up."
"I can't believe it was that easy," Felina said to the sheriff as Steele and his cohorts packed up and got into their helicopters.
"It wasn't he knew he was beaten at this time he'll be back with reinforcements, so we had better hurry."
The former Lieutenant Commander Steele watched Valerie feed the ducks pieces of hot dog bun as he paced back and forth waiting for Mickey. Steele's angst was not just do to the waiting but to his own situation. He was running low on money Valerie's kindness had spared him some cash and allowed him to extend the amount of time he would have to investigate. Unfortunately he would not be able to stay in Megakat City forever. If he did so sooner or later he was going to be caught and when that happened he did not want to take Valerie down with him.
Steele looked up to see Mickey sauntering down the path toward him stuffing his face with peanuts. He looked back at Valerie who was feeding the last of the hot dog bun to the greedy ducks around her then he began to walk toward Mickey. Pointing to Mickey's bag of peanuts, "I see you're putting my money to good use."
"I hope you're referring to the information I have," Mickey said.
"Why, is it hot?" Steele said as Valerie walked up beside him and interlocked her arm with his. Mickey looked at Valerie then back at Steele, "she's a friend," Steele reassured him.
"It's hot all right. A freighter called the Prince of Katzakstan is coming in tonight with a load of nip. One hundred tons of powder will be directly loaded onto the docks for distribution throughout the country."
"One hundred tons, are the bigshots going to be there?" Steele winced.
"I can't say for certain but probably not they don't come out unless there is a reason. Want a peanut?" Mickey shook the nearly empty bag in a way reminiscent of a beggar shaking a tin cup.
"Oh, sure, thanks," Steele reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of one hundred dollar bills carefully folded them over and placed them in the bag removing a peanut in the process. Mickey then wandered off.
"Who was that, Jack?" Valerie asked as she hugged Steele's arm.
"Some things you're just better off not knowing." Steele said as he popped the peanut into his mouth.
Felina was ready for a drink. She had spent the majority of the day getting her uncle to agree to spare some helicopters and Enforcers to augment Idaho's meager forces. Doing that was harder than pulling teeth without anesthesia because Commander Feral was displeased with having to dilute his own meager resources any farther. Felina grumbled about this as she walked to Four Widow's only establishment licensed to serve liquor.
It was a quaint place reminiscent of the old west with a solid oak bar decorated by various liquor bottles and a string of fairy lights from a Christmas tree. Patrons were scattered about on various barstools, at tables or in booths and a smoky haze permiated the room leaving Felina to realize that having a smoking section in an open air room was like having a peeing section in a swimming pool. Felina did not want to worry about environmental conditions in the room instead she wanted to forget that there was a Steele family at all. As she peered into the room Felina was sure that this place would offer little comfort despite mind numbing intoxicants. For included among the regular patrons were Leslie Steele and his gang of thugs.
"Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" Steele asked a pretty waitress.
"Sure," she replied.
"How about for twenty-five?" He said with no emotion.
"No what kind of girl do you take me for?" She answered back disgusted.
"We've all ready established that, we're just haggling over price now."
The pretty waitress turned her back to the rich kat who laughed with his thugs.
"You know Mr. Steele, solicitation for prostitution is a crime and I could have you arrested." Felina said hoping to put a little fear into him.
Leslie remained cold, "And what jury would convict me, it would be your word against mine."
"You can't just throw your money around and bully people Mr. Steele."
"Oh but you can throw around your government agent title and stop me from conducting legal business on my property. My lawyers will have the appellate court assembled within a couple of days and that order will be overturned." Leslie tapped the table with his index finger to emphasize his point.
"Just stay out of our hair Steele." Felina said dryly.
"When this is over it will be you who will be staying out of my hair."
The Megacat salvage yard was rapidly being cleared out. The former Al-tuna airbase was reemerging to some of its former glory. To Jake and Chance though it was a nightmare come true. "What the heck is Feral doing? We can't keep up like this." Chance whined as he surveyed the yard noting how uncomfortably close the cleared area was to the entrance to the tunnel.
"Feral's actions are unusual. He asked for double the load of recyclables today and tomorrow." Jake said as he dumped another load into the back of Burke and Murry's truck.
Both Jake and Chance glanced at the flashing light in their truck indicating that they had an incoming message. "I'll check it out," said Chance as he slipped down to the ground.
"SWAT Kats message service, how may I help you?" Chance playfully said.
"Uh do I have the right number?" The voice of Steele came over the intercom.
"Yeah Steele what do you need?"
"I need to meet with you guys in Fort Megakat Park where we meet last time."
Chance hesitated, "what for?"
"I'd rather discuss that there."
The line went dead Chance winked then hung up the radio receiver. He walked back to Jake who was still filling the bed of Burke and Murry's truck. "Hey Jake, there's some.. uh 'steel' in.. uh Fort Megakat Park we need to pick up. We ought to uh.. 'fly' over there and get it"
Jake looked at Chance for a second then nodded. He shut down the crane he was operating to walk over to Burke and Murry's truck. "Hey guys," he shouted over the motor, "last load, let's call it quits for tonight."
Murry looked at Jake shook his head in disbelief then put the truck in gear and drove off.
"All right Chance we won't have to deal with them till tomorrow morning.
Steele held a hand over his face to protect it from blowing leaves and debris that was being stirred up from the hovering Turbokat. He held it there until T-Bone lowered the Turbokat's engines to a low idle
Both T-Bone and Razor leapt from the Turbokat to where Steele was standing. "What do you want Steele?" They both asked in unison.
"There is a freighter called the Prince of Katzakstan coming in a little later tonight it's loaded with 100 tons of powdered kat-nip. I need you guys to capture the shipment and the people letting it in and hold them for the Enforcers. The perpetrators will rat out the higher ups in order to save their own hides. Then I should be free and clear." Steele may not have believed how stupid his plan really was.
"Are you nuts just how are we supposed to know where this stuff is located? One Hundred tons on a freighter is nothing." T-Bone said as he crossed his arms.
"They're not going to let that stuff sit in the boat for any length of time. It will be the first thing they offload. Their plan will be to get the nip out and away a quickly as possible. The customs agents will be on the take so they won't do anything, the only innocents will likely be the stevedores and even then we can't be certain."
"Are you going to be there Steele?" Razor asked.
"There's no point in me going. I need them to confess not pin the blame on me."
The SWAT Kats looked down upon Megakat harbor. The Prince of Katzakstan entered port earlier than they expected but it docked right at the correct pier.
Dock 16D capped off the longest pier in Megakat harbor. At the very end of it were oil tank farms, before them were warehouses holding goods from all over the country and world. A few railroad flatcars stood on sidings awaiting some form of cargo to be loaded nearby three tractor trailer trucks idled.
"Are we nuts Razor?" T-Bone asked his partner as they flew over the harbor area trying to look nonchalant.
Razor looked up from his monitor, "I don't know T-Bone maybe we are." Razor resumed monitoring the bugs he placed around where the Prince of Katzakstan had docked. The bugs were now beginning to bear fruit. Ground crews were unloading several large shipping crates from the holds in the ship. "Time to move in T-Bone!" Razor exclaimed.
The Turbokat flew fast and low over the pier. Razor unleashed two octopus missiles that caught two kats off guard pinning them to a nearby warehouse. The other kats panicked or began to reach for their weapons as the Turbokat flew over. Several of the armed kats began to futility fire shots at the now passed by Turbokat in an effort to protect their cargo.
The Turbokat passed by again and again dropped two octopus missiles that caught two more bad guys. The unarmed kats had fled or taken refuge realizing that their 'package' was not going to be delivered. One of the unarmed kats pressed himself against one of the containers furiously pressing buttons on a keypad.
"Let's get out of here, now!" He shouted as the keypad began a thirty second countdown. All the kats ran as fast as they could to get away from the containers.
"Razor they're running away we can get them!" T-Bone exclaimed pushing the Turbokat lower toward the ground.
"T-Bone," Razor said as he looked at his monitor, "Pull out we've got to get out of here."
"What, we have them," T-Bone was incredulous.
"We've lost, that shipment is rigged to blow."
T-Bone turned the Turbokat hard just before the shipping container exploded in a fireball. Its two companions exploded as well, in smaller explosions. The result was scattered burning debris in the water, on the pier on the roofs of warehouses and on the top of the oil storage tanks nearby.
T-Bone watched as burning wood dropped down on the top of the tanks near an uncovered vent, "oh nuts."
The tank blew when fire reached the fumes that were venting from the tank. Debris scattered though out the area setting other tanks on fire. Soon the entire end of the pier was engulfed. The tankfarm was obliterated, several warehouses were burning, burning chemicals were floating on the water, one of the cargo cranes fell over from the force of the blast onto the Prince of Katzakstan causing many of the containers to spill into the water. The crane's operator fell from the bridge of the crane into the water below. The crew of the Prince of Katzakstan rescued him before the burning oil reached him but the ship was rapidly sinking.
Debris and heat from the fireball buffeted the Turbokat as well.
"We had better rescue the crew of that ship buddy," T-Bone said as the ship slowly sank toward the bow driving part of the crew ahead of the oily burning water. The bridge was high enough to remain above the waterline but smoke and fumes would overcome them soon.
"Roger that buddy," Razor replied as the Turbokat began to hover, "deploy spider missile." The spider missile captured the majority of the crew at the bow of the ship and raised them safely above the flames. Two, however, remained in danger, "deploy grappling hooks." The line landed near the two sea-kats who immediately jumped onto them. The Turbokat pulled away to the safety of pier 17 where the two kats holding the grappling hook jumped off when the ground was close enough. The kats in the spider missile's web had to wait until it lowered to the ground to be freed from the metal 'webbing' all, however, agreed that the ride was better than the alternative.
"All right we need to get the crew trapped on the bridge," T-Bone began.
"Hold it right there SWAT Kats the Enforcers can handle it from here." The familiar refrain from Commander Feral sounded in their headphones. Six Enforcer helicopters flew in to investigate the disturbance, three to rescue the crew trapped on the bridge and three including Commander Feral to harass the Turbokat.
"Fine Commander we were just leaving." T-Bone said to Commander Feral.
"Not so fast you two hotshots. You're responsible for the destruction of not only all of dock 16D but a freighter and its cargo."
"Listen Feral those containers we're rigged to explode it just went a little wild."
"A little wild you destroyed one of the most significant docks in this harbor and I'm going to make sure that you two pay for this the rest of your nine lives."
"Yeah whatever Feral we'll write you a check." T-Bone said sarcastically as he turned the Turbokat away from the Enforcer helicopters and flew away quickly gaining top speed.
"After them!" Commander Feral commanded to his pilot.
"Sir, we're almost out of fuel and with the rationing we won't be able to go out again tonight.
Commander Feral sighed, "very well return to headquarters. Great, first Steele now this."
"Damn it!" Steele cursed as he watched the news reports filter in detailing the fiasco. Several crewmembers of the Prince of Katzakstan were treated for smoke inhalation and the crane operator was treated for his fall. Two customs agents were missing though the Enforcers were not commenting on any speculation regarding their whereabouts. Further details went on about the loss of the Prince of Katzakstan and its cargo as well as the loss of goods contained in the warehouses and tank farms. The reports were the same on all stations no reports of kat-nip no arrests just destruction.
Steele sighed, laid his head on a throw pillow and pulled a blanket up to his chest. He had overplayed his cards and now was left with nothing to go on. He sighed as he muted the TV, which was now showing live pictures from the scene. "There's nothing left for me to do now," he said to no one in particular.
Steele sat up again turning off the TV as he did so. "I had better pack up my things and get going." Steele said, again to no one in particular. Steele dressed gathered his things and prepared to leave pausing for a moment outside Valerie's bedroom door.
The door was slightly ajar and Steele pushed it quietly. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness in the room Steele could see the faint outline of Valerie curled in her bed. Her breathing was quiet and she occupied one half of the bed as if she were expecting a partner.
Steele started to speak, to tell her that he was going to leave but his voice caught in his throat. Shacking his head he stepped back into the hallway closing the door behind him.
Steele sighed as he walked into the kitchen ripped a piece of paper off a pad picked up a pen and wrote:
By the time you read this you will have known what has happened to my plan. Without this evidence I can no longer afford to continue my fight to clear my name. One has to know when to fight and when to flee, it's time for me to go.
I am leaving to hide out in the mountains. I will mail you back your keycard from somewhere along the way. I just want you to know that everything I have done I have done because I believed it to be the right choice. I hope that I have not hurt you in any way.
Steele pause and read the note again then added the word "love" just above his name. Then he left.
Felina surveyed the Enforcers assembled before her. They were a mixture of local Idaho and Transferred Megakat City Enforcers who were now milling about waiting for clear direction.
"All right folks," Felina looked down at the papers she was carrying, "the subject we are after is Jack Edward Steele, male, age 36, medium build, height 180cm, weight 64kg. Subject is believed to be armed and potentially dangerous. We will be conducting a low level ground search mostly on foot, there will also be several helicopter units that will fly support and communications missions. Our objective is to capture Steele alive but if worse comes to worse and he resists and acts in a dangerous or threatening manner you may shoot to kill." Felina paused for a moment then spoke again, "We have permission from most local landowners but there are a few areas we cannot go into. For a briefing on that sheriff Jackson please begin." Felina turned to the sheriff.
"Yes thank you lieutenant," the sheriff removed his hat and then began again, "As Lieutenant Feral stated there are a few properties that we will not be allowed to enter and you should all be aware of them or you may unwittingly step onto them. Most importantly do not step onto the Four Widows Military Reservation. The restricted areas are outlined in red on your maps so let's all be careful out there." He and Felina both turned and walked to a waiting helicopter.
"Do you think we will find him this way?" Felina asked over the increasing sound of the helicopter engine and rotor blades.
"If he's here we'll find him," the sheriff said confidently.
If he's here Felina though to herself. "What if he's in one of the restricted areas sheriff?"
Chance was flipping through the morning news shows getting the take on the destruction of the ship and docks.
Jake walked into the office "What did old sourpuss say to the media?" Jake asked referring to Commander Feral.
"That we should get a medal for our heroism in rescuing the crew of that freighter and that we are an asset above and beyond mortal kats," Chance joked.
"He's a saint among kats," Jake cast his eyes skyward, "but seriously I did some tests on the residue, Steele was right it had traces of kat-nip in it. It was probably powderized so it added to the explosion."
Chance let out a low whistle, "so Steele was telling the truth. Now what?"
At that moment the Katseye News Program began to play their catchy special update theme. "This is Ann Gora Katseye News with this special update. A body has been discovered amongst he ruins of dock 16D. Enforcer reports indicate that it was a homeless kat who sought shelter among the tankfarms and was caught when a massive fireball erupted. Commander Feral has stated in a report that the SWAT Kats are responsible for this tragedy but his office has made no further comments regarding the issue, stay tuned to Katseye News for further updates." Katseye News began its catchy theme again before returning to regularly scheduled programming.
Jake turned to Chance, "now, we're screwed."
Steele loaded the last of the supplies he purchased into the trunk of his car. He looked up at the beautiful blue sky and yellow sun. He paused to look at the distant city skyline where only the very tops of the tallest buildings were visible over the horizon. Steele closed his eyes as he closed the lid of the trunk, he would never see Megakat City Again.
TO BE CONTINUED