"A GentleKat in Disguise"
Author: Robert Brown

Disclaimer: This story uses characters created and copyrighted by Hanna- Barbera (except where noted, in which case they were created and copyrighted by me or by another and I have permission to use them). The author hereby gives permission for this story to be downloaded and/or printed at 1 copy per user as long as (1) no changes to the story are made without my express written(not e-mailed) permission and (2) no attempt is made to profit from this story. If either or both rules are violated, it will be considered a violation of copyright law.

Author's Note: Hey everyone. Here's another fic from me that is intended to be a one-shot, but we all know it'll probably be anything but. Especially with how I plan to end this. But we'll see what happens. I hope you enjoy this little offering. I've liked this cartoon for a long while and had many ideas that I finally worked out into a cohesive outline. And for the record, any character marked with (new) is my own creation. Till next time everyone, Happy Reading!

Cast of Characters(in order of appearance)
Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs
Jake "Razor" Clawson
Ann Gora
Chance "T-Bone" Furlong
Lt. Comm. Steele
Lt. Felina Feral
Commander Feral
Mayor Manx
The GentleKat Bandit(new)


It was Friday night, well past quitting time for the majority of MegaKat City. If she had been like other kats, she would've been home over an hour ago, probably have dinner ready or grabbed some takeout on the way home, and be relaxing in front of the TV in anticipation of a long and lazy weekend. But if one thing could be said about Calico Briggs, she was definitely not like other kats.

This particular Friday night found the deputy mayor holed up in her office like most other Friday nights did. But instead of poring over the books, trying to find money that didn't exist to keep the city she loved so much out of the red, tonight she was dealing with a personal matter. In her paw was an invitation to a ball being held in nine days, one she wished she could desperately avoid. But her job made that wish an impossibility.

Mayor Manx was throwing this ball and had asked(insisted) that she attend. After all, MegaKat Towers had finally dodged attempts by deranged megalomaniacs trying to take over/destroy the city and had been declared completed. Even better, the mayor had managed to convince the foreign investors to lease the towers with a hefty bonus thrown in for his perseverance with all the times he had courted them. That money alone was enough to erase the debt he had racked up to build and rebuild the towers. When the first yearly payment was figured in, it actually gave the city a surplus for the first time that she could remember.

Callie sighed, tossing the invitation on her desk and watching as it skittered across the surface. The extra money would better be spent upgrading the admittedly dated Enforcer equipment, even Manx had to agree with that. Still, she couldn't really argue with his exuberance. It felt really good to not pull out her red pen for the first time in her tenure. And seeing both the mayor and deputy mayor smiling and partying would boost the city's morale and make the katizens feel safer. Perhaps the ball really wouldn't be so bad.

But that line of thinking led her to the reason she hated them in the first place. Early in her first term as deputy mayor, she had attended a number of parties such as this to network with the city's social elite. An unforgiving task at the best of times but a necessary one if she hoped to do her job effectively. She detested putting on airs, but for the greater good of the city she was sworn to help watch over, she would do it.

The problem came from the mostly single men that attended these events. For some reason, they viewed her choice to be alone as a desperate cry for male companionship. And more than one crossed the line from annoyance to harrassment. It wasn't that she couldn't take care of herself, but dealing with their unwanted advances made it impossible to enjoy her night.

There was no way around it. She needed a date. In a perfect world she would invite along one of the SWAT Kats. Not only would either of them be able to keep away even the most amorous of suitors, she would genuinely enjoy the company. Too bad Commander Feral and the Enforcers were providing the security. If a SWAT Kat came within fifty feet of the building, whether he was her date or not, the entire party and surrounding area would likely turn into an all out brawl. Not the kind of fun she was looking for.

She did have a couple of other options however. There were two toms that she could spend an enjoyable evening with, but fancy balls really didn't seem like their thing. No harm in asking though, and she did have to stop by the junkyard anyway to pick up a few things. She just hoped one of them would say yes before she was forced to resort to...drastic measures.

At the junkyard the next morning, Jake was up bright and early. Too bad the day didn't match his temperament; the sky was overcast and threatened rain but didn't seem to want to deliver anytime soon. As a result the humidity was uncomfortably high, matting his fur down all over his body. A good shower would help to remedy that, but there was something he had to do first.

Chance was still asleep, but he wouldn't stay that way for long. Once he got up, any chance Jake had to watch TV was gone. Nothing got between his friend and his Saturday morning cartoons. Jake had given up that fight a long time ago, back when they were still dormmates in Enforcer Academy. So if he wanted to get any information about the news, it had to be done now.

"Good morning MegaKat City," Ann Gora called from the TV screen, looking far more perky than anyone had a right to be this early in the morning. "I'm reporting to you live in front of the finally leased MegaKat Towers." A soft growling chuckle could be heard off camera and Jake found himself joining in. "In order to celebrate this unexpected and joyous occasion, Mayor Manx is holding a gala that everykat who's anykat will just have to attend or risk having their social status plummet to the level of a sewer rat. If you want to witness all the pomposity and circumstance, get here at least an hour before the party begins next Sunday night at nine pm. This is Ann Gora, reporting for Kat's Eye News."

Jake's chuckling only grew as a commercial came on. Ann was a true reporter, top notch work ethic and a direct attitude that he admired. She did have a sarcastic side, one that rarely made an appearance and only when she was forced to work the break-of-dawn broadcasts. But when it did, well it made getting up all the more worthwhile. The fact that she was one fine looking shekat didn't hurt either.

His mirth faded as he thought about her report. It was likely Callie would be forced into attending, something he was sure didn't sit well with her. "Poor Callie," he mused, rubbing his paws over his muzzle to help stay awake.

"Poor Callie indeed," Chance chuckled over his shoulder, making Jake jump two feet into the air. "Stuck in a room with all those rich snobs for hours and hours."

"Geez Chance, was that really necessary?" Jake asked, pressing his paw over his chest as if he could physically force his heart to slow down.

"Maybe not," Chance allowed as he headed for the kitchen, "but it was certainly funny!"

"Why do I even bother?" Jake wondered, slouching back down on the couch.

Chance laughed and tossed him a can of milk, one that Jake caught without even looking. "I've been asking you that since I've known you," he said, using a claw to punch two holes in the lid of his own can. "But at least you know how to loosen up. Any kat willing to put himself through that is way too uptight for my liking."

Jake smiled as he drunk from his can. "No arguments here. This may be one of the first times I'm glad that we're not active Enforcers anymore. You just know Feral would've loved to stick us with security detail."

"Yeah," Chance agreed, using the back of his arm to wipe away his milk mustache. "But now that you mention it, I'd love to show up at that ball just to tweak the commander's whiskers. Especially if we showed up in our other uniforms."

Jake cast a glance at the trapdoor that led to the concealed hangar and smirked. "Both him and Steele would cough up a hairball if the SWAT Kats crashed the party. But I don't think Callie would find it amusing. Or the mayor for that matter. Don't want to alienate what friends in high places we have."

"Oh don't get your tail in a bunch," Chance groused, plopping down next to Jake and snatching the remote out of his paw. "It's not like I'd be caught dead at one of those things anyhow. But give a kat some time to daydream, all right?"

Whatever Jake would've replied with was cut off by the sound of a bell ringing. "What do you know," Jake muttered as the bell rang again. "Two miracles in one day. Burke and Murray are actually early."

"I ain't dealing with them this early," Chance grumped, flicking through the channels for a cartoon that wasn't in reruns. "Don't they know Saturday morning is a sacred time?"

"Only to you Chance," Jake said, rolling his eyes as he forced himself up off the couch. "I'll start sifting through their latest load to see if we can use anything for our 'special projects'."

"I'll leave you to that," Chance muttered, settling down for a nice long session with the TV. Jake disappeared out the front door only to walk right back in. "You can't be telling me that they've got nothing for us," Chance asked in disbelief.

Jake just shook his head. "It's not them this time Chance. But come on, you won't believe what it is!"

Chance looked between Jake and the TV a few times, trying to decide which one commanded more of his loyalty this morning. He forced himself to his feet after a long moment, if only because he knew that Jake wouldn't leave him alone until he did. "What is so important that you had to drag me out here?"

Jake pointed wordlessly at the car that was slowly driving toward their shack. Actually, calling it a car would be a compliment. It was old, really old. From what Jake knew it had come off the assembly line years before either he or Chance had even been born. In its heyday, that car was the one that everyone wanted and no one could afford. Now it looked like a rolling piece of rusted junk, good for nothing but its parts if even that. But somehow it was still moving, even if just barely.

"Wow," Chance muttered, sounding far from impressed. "An old hunk of junk in a junkyard. Who would've thought?"

"Classic hunk of junk," Jake corrected, watching as the engine sputtered and died just feet from their door. "Think we should make an offer for it? The parts might come in handy."

Chance folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe as the driver of the car struggled to open the door. "Make an offer? Yeah right. He should pay us for letting him dump it here."

"Isn't it a good thing I'm not dumping it then?" the driver asked, standing up and slamming the car door closed.

Jake and Chance could only stare in surprise. Not only was the driver not a he as Chance had assumed, but she was definitely a kat that they both knew well. The shekat who stepped out of the junker was wearing an open pink button-down blouse over a white tank top and a pair of blue jeans that had all seen better days. Her tawny hair was tied back in a ponytail and covered by a ratty yellow bandanna. Even though she wasn't wearing glasses, those bright green eyes couldn't belong to anyone else. "Callie?" they both gaped.

"Hey guys," she said, trying to shut the door normally but having to slam it closed with her shoulder. "So, what do you think?"

"What do we think?" Chance sputtered, looking between her and the bucket of rust next to her. "I think you're a lot prettier than our usual junk droppers."

"Very funny," Callie growled, shooting a withering glare at Chance. "My dad used to drive a car just like this so when I saw an ad in the paper I had to grab it. Of course I was hoping it would be in better condition than this, but with a car this classic you take what you can get."

"We can understand that," Jake said, elbowing Chance in the ribs. "We'll have to look it over before we can give you an estimate on how much it'll be to restore but--"

"Thanks for the offer Jake," she quickly cut in, "but I'm actually out to restore this myself from the ground up. I've already started on it as a matter-of-fact."

Hearing that, Chance couldn't help but give the car the once over. It looked like the car was barely holding itself together, but he could see where it had been worked on. "Not a bad jury-rigging," he said, using his paw to clear away some of the rust. "At the very least it'll keep this old heap moving."

"So glad you approve," Callie said dryly. "Meanwhile, I need to buy a few parts to get the project really started," she added, handing Jake a list. "Think you guys could help me out?"

He knew he risked annoying her, but Jake just had to ask, "A few? This list is longer than my arm!"

"Is that a problem?" she asked, pinning Jake with an amused gaze.

Jake quickly shook his head, ignoring Chance's laughter. "No, not at all! I'm just a little surprised is all. Most kats don't take this kind of stuff seriously. They think it'll take a few days or weeks with a minimum of trouble. And when it's harder than they thought, they give up without really trying. A lot of salvagable cars get ruined that way."

"I appreciate your concern Jake," she said, placing a paw on his arm and ruffling the fur there lightly. "But believe me, I know exactly what I'm getting into."

Jake blushed at the unexpected contact, looking away shyly. Chance, seeing the discomfort his friend was in, actually managed to hold his laughter in this time and merely cleared his throat to defuse the awkward situation. "Hop in," he said when he had their attention, gesturing to their pickup. "We keep the parts in this yard separated by model and make so we can take you right where you need to be."

"Yeah, thanks to my organization," Jake pointed out. "If you had your way everything would be in one big pile."

Callie smiled as the burly tom chased his friend around the truck a few times, threatening pain and agony. "When you boys are finished," she said, pulling open one of the doors and sliding over to the middle of the seat, "I'll be waiting."

Jake and Chance exchanged a glance before running over, each one eager to get in the driver's seat. Chance used his bulk to box Jake out, forcing the smaller kat around to the passenger's side. "Don't worry Callie," Chance said, starting the truck up. "I know the perfect--"

"No shortcuts Chance," Jake warned, cutting his friend off.

"But Jake--"

"No shortcuts!"

Chance grumbled something under his breath that probably wouldn't have been considered appropriate in polite company but said nothing else as he drove off to where he knew the parts would be located. It was at the back of the junkyard in a towering pile; there wasn't much demand for these parts. It had only taken about two minutes to drive there, but Chance just knew his shortcut would've shaved off fifteen seconds easy.

In her haste to get at the parts, Callie almost climbed over Jake to open the door. Jake quickly opened it for her and then just got out of her way. "Sorry Jake," she tossed over her shoulder as she passed him, running over to the pile and starting to sift through it.

Jake started over to give her some help, but a large paw clamped down on his shoulder to stop him. "Let her get them Jake," Chance said. "That way we can see if she can do this or not." Jake didn't like the idea too much, but decided it wasn't worth the effort to argue this time.

They both watched as she searched for the better part of an hour, building a small pile of parts off to the side. The first thing they noticed was that she was selecting more than one of each part she needed. Once she had at least two of everything on her list she sorted through the pile she'd made, looking carefully at each piece against the similar ones.

It was with a grudging respect that Chance acknowledged Callie was in fact choosing correctly. More than once he thought she'd fall into the trap of picking the part that looked new but was badly flawed in some way only to have her set it aside and select one that looked like junk yet was actually servicable. "Who woulda thunk it," he muttered as she put her selected parts into a box she had brought with her.

"So, did I pass?" she asked, wiping her paws on her jeans but not too concerned with how they were covered in oil and grease.

"With flying colors," Jake said, opening up the door for her and blushing when she shot him a thankful smile.

"You did all right," Chance grumbled, settling back into the driver's seat and taking off almost before Jake slid into his seat. "I guess maybe you just might be able to pull this off after all."

"High praise from you two," she said with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "So why so gruff with me Chance? Don't think a queen could fix a car as well as a tom?"

Chance lifted his paws defensively, but then had to grab the steering wheel before he crashed them. "Nothing like that," he insisted, trying to calm the agitation he had picked up in her voice. "It's just that Jake and I could've used the money to help pay off our debt to the Enforcers and get out of this junkyard."

Callie blushed, even though it was hard to tell under the grime that covered her cheeks. "Sorry, didn't mean to snap like that. I'm just under a lot of stress with this ball coming up next week. I really don't want to go, but Mayor Manx isn't taking no for an answer."

"No offense Callie, but sucks to be you," Chance laughed. "Like I was telling Jake earlier, I'd never be caught dead at one of those things. Any kat willing to put himself through that is way too uptight for my liking."

"Now isn't that a shame? And here I was hoping to invite one of my two favorite mechanics to help make the night more bearable. But if you're not interested, I guess I know who I'm going with."

Both Jake and Callie laughed at the expression on Chance's face; his mouth gaped so wide he resembled a goldfish. But their laughter stopped at Chance's next words. "Yeah well, Jake was saying the same thing."

Callie's face fell as Jake glared at Chance over her head. "Well, I guess I can't blame you," she said with a faint smile, reaching up to tuck a few wisps of hair back under her bandanna. "But I really hope one of you might change your mind."

"Tell you what Callie," Jake said, resisting the urge to growl at his friend, "we'll talk it over today and get back to you on it tomorrow. Would that be OK?"

Callie's grateful smile was answer enough for Jake, and he found himself blushing again. "I really appreciate it Jake," she said, rubbing her paw along his cheek lightly. She was going to say something else, but a commotion outside the truck caught her attention. "What the hell are they doing?"

Jake's eyes snapped forward and his paw found its way to his forehead. "Oh no! I forgot about them!" he groaned.

As the truck pulled to a stop, Callie shoved Jake out of the truck and approached two of the roughest looking toms she had ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, stalking up to them, her tail puffed out and rigidly straight.

"Aww, don't get yer fur in a knot," the short one said with a laugh, pulling the lever to make the bed of his truck go back down after unloading their junk on top of Callie's car. "Burke and me are just making our 'weekly delivery of work' to these two junk kats."

"But did you have to dump it right here?" Callie growled, shaking off Jake's attempts to hold her back.

"We're just performing our good deed for the day," the big one, Burke apparently, said sarcastically. "Ain't that right Murray? By leaving it here we make sure they don't pull any of their soft muscles walking to the piles of junk."

"So what about when we have to move it to where you're supposed to drop it off?" Chance challenged.

Burke and Murray laughed at Chance, making Jake have to hold him back. "Not our problem ex-flyboy," Murray sneered. "Besides, you already had that old junker here, we figured we'd just keep it all in one place for ya."

Callie forced herself to calm down and drew herself up to her full height. The effect was slightly diminshed by her clothes, but her bearing was enough to make all four toms take a step back. "That 'junker' as you call it was my car," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "If you know what's good for you, you'll clean it off right now."

"Sorry doll," Burke said, though not quite as confidently as he had been earlier. "Not part of the job description. We'll be leaving now so you can get the real junk kats to dig out your jalopy."

"I don't think you understand," Callie said through clenched teeth. "You are not leaving until you unbury my car and bring that pile of junk where it belongs. Am I making myself clear?"

"I don't know who you think you are, but we don't answer to you," Murray scoffed and headed for the truck with every intention on just driving away.

Callie ran to the door and slammed it on Murray's paws, making him jump back in surprise and pain. "I'm Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs," she said, grabbing him by his shirt and hauling him face-to-face with her. "So in reality, yes you do answer to me."

Murray thought the shekat in front of him was delusional, or a liar, until he took a really good look at her face. "Oh geez," he muttered, backpedalling so fast he almost landed on his tail. "We're sorry Miss Deputy Mayor ma'am," he said, quickly pulling the junk off her car.

"Yeah," Burke agreed, moving even faster than Murray. "We didn't know it was you."

Callie watched impassively as they worked to clean off her car, loading each piece back into their truck. When it was done she stalked over to them and poked her fingers into their chests. "Now you listen to me," she growled. "From now on, the two of you are going to dump your junk exactly where and when you are supposed to. If I hear of even one screw being out of place, it will be your last 'screw up' at this job. Are we clear?"

"Yes ma'am," they both said, looking down at their feet like naughty kittens.

"Now get out of here!" she yelled, sending them both scampering into their truck. She watched them drive off until she suddenly heard clapping behind her. She turned around to find Jake and Chance giving her their version of a proper golf clap. Although embarrassed by what she had just let them see, she played along with it and gave a curtsy.

Chance walked over and gave Callie a pat on the back that almost sent her to her knees. "Hey, if you ever need another job, we'll keep a place open for you here," he joked with her.

"I'll keep that in mind," she laughed, adjusting her bandanna. "I'd better get going while I still have some daylight to work with. Don't forget to call me tomorrow so I know what I'm doing."

Jake hurried up to her, a box held in his paws. "Don't forget these," he said, giving her the parts she'd picked.

Callie took the box with a thankful nod, letting her fingers linger on Jake's a moment longer than was necessary. "I almost did," she admitted, putting it in the trunk. "So how much do I owe?"

Chance glanced at Jake, asking him a silent question. Jake nodded and gave him the thumbs up. "Don't worry about it," Chance said. "We'll call it even after what you did for us with Burke and Murray." He held up his paw when he saw her about to refuse. "And we're not taking 'no' for an answer."

"Guess I have no choice then, do I?" Callie smiled, going up on her tiptoes to give a surprised Chance a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks you two. See you guys soon!"

"Bye Callie," Chance said dreamily, waving as she got in her car and drove away. He kept on waving even after she was well out of sight, at least until he got pounced on. "Jake?" he asked, trying to block his friend's blows. "Hey, what gives?"

Jake tried to pin Chance down but he was quickly thrown away. "Just because you stuck your foot in your mouth didn't mean you had to stick it in mine to!" he snarled.

Chance wondered what Jake was talking about until he remembered the conversation in the truck. "You didn't really think I was going to give you a free chance with her, did you? Looks like there's only one way to settle this."

"No way Chance," Jake said, stopping him in his tracks. "I'm not leaving something this important up to whoever can stomach the most chili peppers. Besides, I've got a little something I've been saving just for a situation like this."

A few hours later found T-Bone and Razor soaring toward the canyon where they had a training route set up. "So let me get this straight," T-Bone said, easing the TurboKat around to the beginning of the course, "you set up twenty gates and twenty targets along the route. If I fly through more gates than you blow up targets, I win?"

"Not quite," Razor said, punching up the jet's payload information on his weapons panel. "I've rigged a sensor at the starting line. Once we trip it, ten gates and ten targets will activate at random by turning red. Only who gets the most of the red ones wins. And to make things fair, I only have ten missiles loaded and you can't make a U-turn."

"Then what are we waiting for?" T-Bone yelled, excited by the challenge laid out in front of him. He blew past the starting line at full speed, keeping an eye out for the lighted gates. One was immediately on his left and he forced the TurboKat into a high-G bank in order to make it, just barely getting between the lighted flags.

He kept his attention focused on the course, paying no mind to the explosions going on around him as Razor launched his missiles. He had to win, he had to be the one to escort Callie to that ball. Two gates down. Now three. Now four! Ha! This was a piece of cake.

Five gates. Six gates. Seven! His mind wandered briefly to what Callie would be wearing that night and how hot she'd look in it. That alone would make being around all those stuffed shirts more bearable. His eyes just barely registered another lit gate approaching and he passed through it easily. That was eight, and the one coming up now would be nine. Just one more to go and he would at least force a tie.

But wait, why was the finish line ahead? He scanned around for a gate before the end, but there was nothing there. Did he miscount? He didn't think he'd missed one, but being even slightly distracted at these speeds....

"Looks like your luck's run out T-Bone," Razor laughed, targeting his tenth target and destroying it easily. "That's the game!"

"Where'd I miss one?" T-Bone asked, winging back over the canyon and peering down into the shadows. He could still faintly see the vapor lines the TurboKat had left and he followed it through the course. That's when he saw the trail curve around the eighth gate instead of going through it before heading on through the ninth gate. He must've missed it while he was thinking about Callie. "Crud!" he swore, slamming his fist on the canopy.

"Had your eyes on the prize before finishing the race?" Razor teased, hitting the button to deactivate the course. "Cheer up partner! At least this way you won't have to get fitted for a tux. Not that they come in your size anyway." T-Bone grumbled under his breath, turning the TurboKat into a barrel roll to try and shut Razor up. But only made him laugh all the harder.

The days before the ball passed by all too quickly as far as Jake was concerned. As he'd promised, he'd called Callie at her office first thing Sunday morning, only to realize she wasn't working that day and he had no other way to contact her. So he'd gotten in touch with her Monday morning instead. Both had tried to apologize for not realizing the mistake, ending up with both kats chuckling nervously.

When he'd told her that he would be the one escorting her, she'd sounded really happy about it. That's what his ears had told him at least. But it could have all been a case of hearing what you want to hear. Even now thinking about it, he could not be entirely sure. She'd told him that she'd be wearing an emerald green dress and that he should coordinate his tuxedo appropriately. He'd asked where he should have the limo pick her up when she insisted she'd take care of all that since she was asking him. She'd also ignored his blatant attempts at calling himself her escort and repeatedly referred to him as her date.

Now he found himself checking how he looked in the bathroom's dingy mirror, nervously smoothing out imaginary creases in his tuxedo. Even though he moaned and fussed at the fitting, he actually found the tuxedo rather comfortable. If it weren't for his daily job as a mechanic, he could see himself wearing it more often. Granted, he wouldn't have chosen a pale green shirt or darker green bowtie and cummerbund were it not for Callie's advice, but he had to admit it looked good.

After combing his fur for the tenth time, he forced himself to take a step back and a deep breath. He looked as good as he was going to; now he was just trying to stall for more time. "You can do this," he told his reflection and immediately winced at how unsure he sounded. "You can do this," he repeated, forcing himself to believe it.

He left the bathroom and walked downstairs, hoping that Chance wasn't around to avoid a confrontation. No such luck. "Hey Jake," Chance called from the kitchen, "too bad you got suckered into this. You're missing out on my famous five alarm chili. Though with your stomach, maybe that's a good thing."

Jake could hear the tension in his friend's voice but chose not to call him on it. "See if you can save a bowl for me Chance," he said instead. "These kind of parties never have that much to eat. Takes away from all the preening and schmoozing."

Chance laughed at that thought, but it rang hollow in both their ears. "Go on, get out of here," he said, shooing Jake out the door. "And don't you dare try to get out of it early. We both know she deserves better."

"The only way I'll leave like that is if you need me," he said, patting the pocket where he kept his communicator. "Protecting the city does come first after all."

Chance grunted, turning back to a pot full of bubbling chili. "Don't worry, I won't call on you unless I'm sure I can't handle it myself," he promised. "Now get before I kick your tail all the way to the front gates. Your ride's gonna be here soon." As soon as Chance said that, a limousine's horn was heard. "Correction, your ride's here."

Jake swallowed nervously and waved to Chance with a confidence he did not feel. He walked as quickly as he dared down the main path, avoiding stray pieces of junk that blew across the walkway. The driver was waiting by the limousine's back door with a patience that only came from training and practice. But even that didn't stop the small sneer that came to the kat's lips at the idea of having to pick up a junkkat. Jake noticed the look and simply stared back as he slid into the seat. He continued to stare, refusing to blink, until the driver slammed the door shut. Jake felt a little smug from forcing the other kat to back down, something he wasn't able to make Chance do very often.

The driver pulled away and headed down the freeway into the city proper, going a little faster than Jake would have liked but nothing like Chance would have done. He glanced through the snacks and beverages that were stocked in the limo but, finding nothing he recognized, decided to hold off on trying anything just in case he made a bad choice.

With nothing else to occupy him, his mind began to wander. This was not a good idea. He was going to make a fool out of himself tonight. And worse, he was going to embarrass Callie. This could be the end of her career, and it would be all his fault. He had to get the driver to turn around before he reached Callie's building.

But that in itself caused a problem. If he left now, he'd be standing her up. That might not affect her professional life, but it would certainly impact her personally. He might never see her again, and if he did it would not be pleasant. But did the repercussions of not following through at this late time outweigh the damage he might do by showing up.

Before he could reach a decision, it was taken out of his paws. "Hi Jake," Callie said as she slipped in the open car door. "You're looking good tonight."

Jake jumped, not having realized that they had arrived at her home. "Oh, hey Callie," he said, sliding over to give her room on the seat.

Callie's smile fell when she saw Jake's expression. "What's wrong?" she asked as the car started up to take them to the ball. "You seem like you're thinking about something important."

He met her worried gaze nervously, fiddling with a loose thread on his jacket. She had really gone all out for this. Her hair was freshly styled, falling straighter down her back than normal. A dark green eyeshadow set off her bright green eyes, making them seem to glitter. A light blush dusted her cheeks, staining them a soft pink. Her lips were a deep red by contrast, reminding him for just a moment of her ancestor Queen Callista.

A white coat hung loosely around her shoulders, allowing him only a brief view of the dress she was wearing underneath it. All he could really see was its color, emerald green as promised. The coat ended a few inches above her knees so her dress had to be even shorter than that. She crossed her legs as he watched, one knee resting comfortably on top of the other. Pointed green shoes with low heels completed her ensemble.

Callie's smile returned in full force and even grew a little as she watched him check her out. "If he thinks I look good now," she thought impishly, "wait till he sees this."

She deftly unbuttoned her coat and shrugged it off, laying it on the seat next to her. The dress was held up by a single, wide shoulder strap that flowed into a scooped neckline so low that it was a bit past daring. The bodice was fitted to her form but still loose enough to allow her to breathe. The hem of the skirt was a few inches above her knee on one side but ran up diagonally to above mid-thigh on the other side. And it was no coincidence that both her bared shoulder and nearly bared hip were on the side that Jake could currently see.

The dress she had chosen was not completely appropriate for the event they were about to attend, but for the first time Callie didn't really care. When she heard that Jake was going to be her date, she felt like the choice of what to wear had been taken out of her paws. If Chance had been her escort, she knew she would've chosen something far more conservative. But to be honest, it was Jake's eye she really wanted to catch. And it looked like she had succeeded with flying colors.

She tried to act nonchalant as Jake fumbled with his words, trying to pay her a compliment without it coming out wrong. Taking pity on the poor kat, she started a conversation consisting of mainly small talk and beliefs about the upcoming ball. It seemed to work, allowing him to relax and even join into the conversation with an amount of wit that mildly surprised her.

Jake sighed in relief as the conversation paused. When Callie had first taken off her coat, he'd had to double take to make sure he wasn't seeing things. He'd barely managed to keep his powers of speech, and only because how he'd seen her dress at the junkyard. Knowing she could dress down like that had softened the blow of seeing her dressed up just enough that he hadn't melted into a pile of furry goo on the floor of the limo.

But she hadn't noticed. Or if she did, she was very good at hiding it. Either way he was glad they were now talking about subjects that were much safer than the thoughts that had been running through his head when he had first seen her. Although he wasn't quite sure why she was inching closer to him as the conversation picked back up.

Callie was only paying minimal attention to what she was discussing with Jake, a skill learned from meeting after boring meeting with Mayor Manx. More important than what Jake said with his mouth was what he was saying with his body. As she scooted toward him little by little, he looked distinctly nervous but was not moving away. That emboldened her to lean more in his direction, strictly to hear him better of course since he was talking so low. That was what she would tell him anyway if he cared to ask.

Jake swallowed hard as Callie's new position allowed him to get an eyeful of her cleavage. Surely she had to know what kind of view she was giving him. But then maybe she did. Slowly, so slowly that he hadn't noticed it, their conversation had progressed from simple small talk to a light flirtation, one that she had initiated. His brain nearly locked up at that thought. Why would a beautiful shekat like her have any interest in flirting with him. Or even better, why would she have any interest in him at all? But the proof before him was undeniable.

A soft smile touched Callie's red lips when she saw the light go on in his eyes. He'd finally figured it out, had he? It was a lucky thing that he had; she didn't know what more she could do to get the point across short of actually throwing herself at him there on the seat. She wasn't ready to take things to that extreme...yet. She lifted her paw and reached out to him, moving slowly so as not to startle him anymore than he already was.

But before she could place her paw on his arm the limousine stopped, signalling their arrival. Jake hopped out of the car faster than she had ever seen him move while she sat there pouting and gnashing her teeth. So close, she had been so close! And now it looked like she had scared him off. She wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he was halfway back to the junkyard by now. What a night this was turning out to be.

"Callie? You coming?"

Hearing Jake's voice made her turn to face him. She had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't even notice that Jake had opened up her door and was waiting patiently to help her out of the car, his paw extended like a true gentlekat. Feeling her cheeks heat up so much that she knew it was visible even through her fur and the blush she was wearing, she placed her paw in his. "Sorry," she apologized.

Jake managed a cool smile that he hoped hid the beads of sweat he could feel trickling down his neck. "You didn't think I was going to run out on you, did you?" he asked, supporting her as she stood.

Callie was so busy marvelling at the quiet strength he possessed that she nearly missed his question. "Never gave it a second thought," she said, a too-bright smile on her face.

"Don't worry," he said, tucking her paw into the crook of his arm. "I said I'd be here for you tonight and I'm not about to go back on my word."

As they walked up the stairs, he couldn't help but notice that many of the other kats gathered around were looking at her, the males admiring and the females envious. "We haven't even gone inside and I think I've already found the belle of the ball," he whispered just loud enough so that she could hear it.

Callie had to bite back a purr when she felt Jake's warm breath on her sensitive ear. She had to grip his arm a little more tightly as the sensation and his words combined to nearly rob her knees of strength for a step or two. What an effect he had on her, and he wasn't even trying! So lightheaded was she that she didn't notice the kat that had moved in front of them, barring their path, until she had bumped into him.

Lieutenant Commander Steele was not in a good mood. His first day back in MegaKat City in over a year, thanks to Commander Feral's special remedial field training, and he was stuck doing door security for a bunch of overpriced and overfed snobs. He hadn't had so many kats look down their muzzle at him since he was in school, and liked it less now than he had then. And now he had to deal with a pair of party crashers. "What are you doing here Clawson?" he demanded in his smug way. "As far as I know, ex-Enforcers are most certainly not on the guest list."

"Steele," Jake spat like the name itself tasted bad.

"Don't you take that tone with me," Steele snapped. Here was the perfect kat to unleash all his pent up frustration on. After all, with his history there was no way Feral would ever believe him. "Now I don't know what you think you're doing here, but you and your floozy had better just go back to that shack you call home and do your business there."

Jake's claws sprang out of their sheaths, poised to gouge Steele's eyes out. How dare he refer to Callie as a floozy! By the time he was done with him, he'd never walk straight again for the rest of his life! But just as he was about to pounce, not caring about all the other Enforcers watching the exchange between them with growing interest, Callie stopped him by laying a gentle paw on his arm. "I'll take care of this," she murmured, a hard but playful look in her green eyes.

She sashayed past him right up to Steele, a sultry smile on her lips. "Well I sure don't want to cause any trouble officer," she purred in a husky, Southern accent that had the fur of any male in earshot prickling. "I mean, I am new to this city and all. Jakey here said he'd show me a good time tonight. How was I supposed to know that this was a private party?"

Steele did everything he could to maintain a professional demeanor. Too bad all that crumbled like a sand castle caught in a wave the second she ran her finger down his chest. "I-I'm sure t-this was all just a s-simple misunderstanding, m-ma'am," he stuttered, feeling the fur at the back of his neck become damp with sweat.

Callie hmmed softly, playing with the buttons on his uniform. "You're not going to throw us in jail are you?" she pleaded softly, tilting her face up close to his. "I'd be ever so grateful if this little incident could be just...forgotten."

A glint appeared in Steele's eyes as he considered the possibilities of what this shekat was offering. "I think that could be arranged," he said, straightening his uniform. "Perhaps you should give me your address so that I can come visit when this is all over and you could show me how grateful you are."

"I think that could be arranged," she said, parroting his words back to him. "But you don't really need my address. After all sugar, I'm not that hard to find."

"Oh is that so?"

"Mm hmm. In fact," she added, walking her fingers up to the collar of his uniform. "I insist you come see me tomorrow morning."

"Morning?" Steele asked, not getting the response he wanted. "Wouldn't it be better for me to visit at night?"

Callie shook her head coyly, curling her fingers around his tie. Then her expression hardened and she yanked on his tie, nearly dropping him to his knees from the unexpected move. "I don't see punks like you after hours," she snarled in her regular voice.

Steele's irises narrowed to pinpoints as he finally figured out who he was dealing with. "Deputy Mayor Briggs!" he gasped in surprise, trying to straighten up and salute but prevented from doing so by her grip on him. "I didn't mean.... I thought...."

"Oh I know exactly what you were thinking," she growled, pushing him away to land on his backside. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear to you Steele," she said, standing over him and making him lean back. "If you have any interest in keeping your job, you will be at my office at eight AM sharp with a long, well-written, apology. If you're even one second late, don't bother ever showing up at a government building again. You got that?"

"Loud and clear ma'am," Steele answered, completely humiliated.

She gave Steele a curt nod, stepping back and allowing the chastened kat to scramble back to his feet. She turned back to Jake and took his arm in her paws. "Ready?" she asked, her voice sweet and gentle once more.

Jake just nodded, more than a little impressed by what he'd just seen. "Since when could you act like that?" he asked, holding the doors open for her.

Callie chuckled under her breath. "Why sir," she purred in that same accent, pleased when she saw Jake shiver at the sound of it, "what made you think I was acting? The truth is," she continued normally, letting him off the hook for now, "I was born and raised in the South. No matter how much time I spend in the city, I can never completely get rid of the accent. Nor would I want to."

Jake chuckled himself then. He was about to commment, but he was interrupted by a familiar shekat stepping in front of them. "Deputy Mayor!" Felina said, snapping a sharp salute to her. "Can I have a word with you?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?" Callie asked, her voice a little icy as she expected some kind of rebuke coming.

Hearing that in her voice, Felina quickly held up her paws. "On behalf of me and some of the other Enforcers, I'd like to thank you for putting that snivelling excuse for a lieutenant commander in his place. We've all wanted to do that since we got back, but it's not easy to speak up to someone who can and will fire you. Why my uncle puts up with him I'll never know."

Callie relaxed when she realized what Felina was saying. "I'm afraid he's the only one who can answer that. But if you ever find out, feel free to let me know."

"Of course ma'am," Felina said, saluting her again as she stepped aside, allowing them to enter the waiting elevator. "I hope you both enjoy your night."

"Count on it," she whispered so that Felina could hear, getting a shocked look from the female Enforcer. "Now then," she said, turning to Jake as they rode up to where the ballroom was located, "what was it you were about to say?"

"Oh, nothing much," Jake said, watching the numbers in the elevator move. "I just find myself wanting to know more about who you are apart from being Deputy Mayor Briggs."

Callie smiled warmly at him, that playful glint back in her eyes. "There's plenty more I'd be willing to share with you Jake. But of course, you would have to be willing to do the same with me." She would've pursued it further, but the elevator doors were opening and she didn't want to embarrass him needlessly.

Jake was grateful for the distraction as he led her to their assigned table and pulled out her chair for her, but not for the next one that showed up. "What are you doing here Clawson?" Commander Feral bellowed, clamping a large paw on Jake's shoulder as Jake sat down.

Callie was back on her feet in a second, facing down the much larger kat. "Give it a rest Feral," she snapped. "Jake is my date and he has every right to be here. I just went through this with Steele at the door; ask your niece if you don't believe me and maybe you can join him in my office tomorrow morning."

"Easy there Ms. Briggs," Feral rumbled, not backing down but releasing Jake's shoulder. "I've got no problem with Clawson being here, since he has a reason to be. At least he's not a hothead like Furlong. If you'd had the bad idea to bring him instead, I'd have to station a couple Enforcers here to make sure he didn't turn this party into a riot."

Callie accepted his reason and sat down, but Jake wanted to have a little fun with his former superior. "Oh, you mean like you almost did at the Academy back when I was still a trainee?" he asked.

Feral growled at Jake, but as soon as he saw Callie's look of interest he knew he couldn't get out of it without some sort of explanation. "I wouldn't exactly call it a riot," he grumbled. "And it wasn't a party either."

"Do tell," Callie said, ignoring Feral and looking right at Jake.

"It was during the last weeks of the year," Jake said, enjoying the fact that he had Feral squirming a little bit too much. "As Commander, it was his duty to warn us about the dangers of becoming Enforcers for real and not to think we were invulnerable just because we had passed all our classes. He had done this for many years now, but this particular year he had forgotten his note cards."

"I did not forget them," Feral insisted sourly. "Someone replaced them with blanks."

"Whatever," Jake said like he had heard this excuse many times before. Because he had. "Anyway, instead of trying to cover for himself and faking it, he let loose with some of the most inventive curses I've ever heard. And he kept it up for a good five minutes before realizing he was on an open mike."

"Not my finest moment," Feral allowed. Then, with a smirk, he added, "But I did notice a lot of attendees taking notes for the first time that I was speaking in front of them."

"I know I certainly did. Best lesson you ever gave."

Feral broke out in a large laugh that rumbled through the general murmur of the room. "I have to admit I've missed that wit Clawson," he said, clapping Jake heavily on his shoulder. "Most recruits nowadays are little more than yeskats, only doing what they think will put them in my favor. You and your date have a good night tonight, I've got rounds to make."

Jake waited until he was out of earshot before leaning toward Callie and whispering, "Chance will never believe this."

Callie giggled, knowing it was true. "I'll have to make sure to back you up then," she promised with a wink.

"Ah Callie!" Mayor Manx said, popping up behind them. His sudden appearance made Jake and Callie jump and lean away from each other like two teenagers caught by an overbearing father.

"Mayor Manx!" Callie said quickly, pasting on a wide smile for his benefit.

Manx ran his paws down his expensively tailored tuxedo, flicking off a piece of lint that only he could see. "So good of you to make it tonight. Really wouldn't be the same without you." His eyes roved around the table, picking out the kats he knew or knew had money to spare and he made careful mental notes about schmoozing them up later, after they were at least a little inebriated. Then he caught sight of Jake and noticed how close he and Callie were sitting. "So who is this, hmm?"

"Mayor, I'd like to introduce Jake Clawson, my date for the evening," Callie said.

Clawson? There was something vaguely familiar about that name, Manx was sure of it. "What do you do my boy?" he asked, shaking Jake's paw warmly.

Jake looked at Callie for help, but she just shrugged. "I...help run the scrapyard on the outskirts of town," he said, injecting as much pride into his voice as he could.

Manx' smile cooled by a few degrees when he realized that Jake was not a possible contribution connection. Then he finally made the connection that his mind had been searching for. "Ah yes, Callie has spoken very highly of the work you and your partner do on her automobile," he said, ever the perfect politician. "I'll have to send some work your way the next time one of my own fine cars breaks down. But now if you'll excuse me," he said hurriedly, walking away before he even finished his thought.

Callie breathed a sigh of relief as he left, thankful that the night had not been ruined by one of Manx' careless comments. Then she noticed the looks of distaste many of the kats at their table were sending Jake's way and her fur bristled. She knew many of them through the course of her work and had a number of personal barbs ready to chop them down to size.

Jake noticed that look and cut her off before she could jeopardize her social standing. "You'd be amazed at the type of business we get at the scrapyard," he said in what he hoped was a conversational tone. "Why just the other day we had to do an emergency repair for the new owners of this building."

Callie whirled on Jake, angry that he had interrupted her when all she had been about to do was stick up for him. Then she realized what he was up to and was a bit ashamed she hadn't thought of it first. "Really?" she asked, keeping up her end of the conversation.

"It was lucky we were able to get to them so promptly or the deal might have fallen through again," Jake said, glad that Callie had caught on. He quickly warmed to his topic, telling her, and the others at the table by extension, about some of the more famous kats they'd rescued at one time or another. He made a point of emphasizing how the efforts of kats like him kept the city running smoothly for every other kat out there.

When dinner was served, he was ready to let the conversation drop in favor of enjoying his meal. But some of the other kats at the table began asking him questions, though a bit hesitantly. He could have ignored them; no one would have blamed him. But he answered them politely and honestly, gratified to see that they were willing to set aside their initial impressions of him and really listen to what he was saying.

Callie, however, was decidedly less happy. Oh she was impressed that Jake had been able to turn the table to his favor, but not when it included the ladies, and she used the term loosely. They were eyeing Jake in a very predatory way, much like a piece of meat. A few of them were known to have a very loose view of their marriage vows, and Callie was not about to let any of them get their hooks into her Jake.

Her Jake? That was a rather scary, albeit very thrilling, thought. Her Jake. The more she thought it, the better she liked it. But it would probably be a good idea to make her claim on him as plain as she could, she realized. And the hired orchestra choosing that moment to play a waltz was just what she needed. "I'm sorry," she said, interrupting an involved discussion on the recycling of old car parts that she might have otherwise found useful in her new hobby, "but I believe my date owes me a dance. If you'll excuse us."

"By all means," the kat who Jake had been talking to said, turning back to his own lukewarm meal. Callie smiled in return and grabbed Jake's paw, lacing her fingers with his as she dragged him toward the dance floor. She could feel the piercing gazes of the shekats at the table following them, boring into her back. But instead of bothering her, she fairly reveled in them.

"That was rather abrupt," Jake teased as they joined the dancers already on the floor. He wasn't oblivious to the looks he was even now getting from the shekats, and he knew it was bothering Callie. What he didn't know was whether she had "saved" him out of friendship or out of jealousy, and he was running out of reasons to discount the latter.

Callie chose not to answer him. Instead she flowed gracefully into the rhythm of the waltz. She loved to dance, but it was a pleasure that was usually denied her. Jake's movements were a little rigid at first, but as he gained confidence in himself the steps and turns came much more naturally to him. It was a rare pleasure to dance with someone that both knew what he was doing and wasn't trying to talk her ear off. The purr she had been holding back would be denied no longer and it welled up from deep in her chest.

Jake nearly missed a step when he both felt and heard Callie start to purr, recovering himself and getting back on rhythm before anyone noticed. While not exactly experienced in these matters, he knew that a purr like this could never be faked. It both soothed and excited him, a fact that made him clutch Callie just a little tighter. For the first time in his life, he was glad his mother had forced those dancing lessons on him.

When the waltz was over, Callie was sure that Jake would want to sit down and even started walking back to their table. But he surprised her by pulling her back into his arms and positioning them for the beginning of the next dance. Her shock must have been obvious on her face because his own face fell and he started to back away. Now it was her turn to pull him to her, letting him know that surprise did not equal denial.

He led her through a tango more intricate than she thought she was capable of. But with him as her partner she flew through the steps, giving herself over to the music fully. She was vaguely aware of the other dancers leaving the floor to give her and Jake the full run of it. By the time he dipped her low to the ground to end the dance, her heart was racing for more than one reason.

Jake's was as well, beating out a sharp rhythm against his ribcage. The tango was a passionate dance, one fueled by desire and chemistry between the pair. He had never felt chemistry like this with anyone before; he was sure the electricity between them could be seen in the air. With how she was looking at him, especially the way she was licking her bottom lip, he didn't think he could stop himself from kissing her. Even with every eye in the ballroom on them, he knew he was going to do it.

Just as he was about to make good on his thoughts, something she looked quite eager for herself, a horrible screech sounded from the speakers arranged around the ceiling. The sound nearly made him drop Callie, but she kept her grip on him to keep herself off the ground. "We should...head back to our seats," he said as he brought her back to her feet.

"Uhh...right," Callie said, slightly dazed. Her eyes flashed angrily as they landed on the sound techie who had caused the noise. The whole time Jake walked her back to her seat she was thinking of ways to make him pay.

Jake was distracted too, but by something far different. An Enforcer he didn't recognize had taken up position rather close to their seats. That in itself wasn't too odd since Callie was the deputy mayor, but this kat seemed a little too twitchy, his paw continuously patting his sidearm. Every single instinct that had been honed from being both Enforcer and SWAT Kat made him keep that kat in his field of vision at all times. It was then that he also noticed most of the Enforcers who had been downstairs were now in the ballroom as well. Again, standard procedure, but it left him feeling on edge.

With the sound check done, the first speaker of the evening made his way to the podium. It was someone that Jake was vaguely familiar with, a low- level politician who had a knack for speeches. He had truthfully heard some pretty good things about him and under other circumstances would be looking forward to hearing him. But he had to keep his attention on the Enforcer who was now shifting his weight from one foot to the other anxiously.

Before the speaker reached the front, he was cut off by an impeccably dressed kat. All of the toms in attendance tonight were wearing tuxedos, but this kat took it to the extreme with top hat, tails, cane, and all. Jake couldn't hear what this kat was saying, but somehow he convinced the speaker to return to his table. "Good evening ladies and gentlekats," he said in a cultured accent as he reached the microphone. "I am sorry for the abrupt change in plans, but I assure you it is quite necessary.

"You see," he continued, "this celebration must now unfortunately come to an end." He allowed a few moments for shocked murmurs to subside before holding up his paw. "It just would not do to allow this revelry to continue now that you are all my hostages. If you will all cooperate," he said, raising his voice to be heard over the cries of surprise and outrage, "I promise this will go quickly and painlessly, except for your bottom lines, of course."

By the time he had stopped speaking, Feral had leapt forward and had his gun in the kat's face. "You must be the GentleKat Bandit," Feral growled. "You have a lot of nerve coming here like this."

"Ah, Commander Feral," the Bandit said genially, completely unfazed as he stared down the much bigger kat. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I have heard quite a few good things about you."

Feral brushed aside the attempt at flattery and tightened his finger on the trigger. "Don't make any sudden moves," he ordered amidst the sound of a few dozen guns being drawn to back him up. "Me and my Enforcers have you surrounded."

"Nothing is at it seems Commander," The Bandit said. He raised his paws slowly, an all too knowing smirk on his face. He casually snapped his fingers, the sound echoing around the room because of the microphone. Feral had the impression that something was happening behind him but didn't want to take his attention off the kat in front of him. It was only when he felt the muzzle of a gun at the back of his neck that he realized what was going on.

Feral let his gun be taken as he was forcefully turned around and confronted with his worst nightmare. Fully two-thirds of his "Enforcers" had turned their guns on their fellows, covering them while they were divested of their weapons. Most of them complied with little more than a glare, though Steele didn't even do that. Felina, however, was a different story. She had one of her attackers in a chicken wing crossface, using his body as a shield so as to not let anyone get a line of sight on her. If she could only make it to the door....

"I suggest you tell your niece to stand down," the Bandit said rather conversationally, though the pressure of the gun at Feral's neck increased. "Or else she might find herself down one uncle."

It sickened him, but he had no choice. "Stand down Felina," he yelled.

Felina spared a glance at her uncle, pausing when she saw his predicament. That slight pause was enough for two of the traitors to grab her and wrestle her to the ground. She resisted as much as she could, but she was being held much too securely. "Just wait 'til I get free!" she snarled, snapping her teeth at them as they tied a gag around her face.

"Tie her up," the Bandit said, dismissing them with a wave of his hand. He deftly reached into Feral's uniform and removed his walkie talkie. "I'm sorry to say there will be no chopper backup this time," he said brightly, motioning for Feral to be moved over to where the real Enforcers were being watched. "Now that that unpleasantness has been taken care of, we may move on to more urgent business."

He turned his attention to the table that had been assigned to the Deputy Mayor only to find that both her and her date's seat were empty, the kat he had assigned to look over them prone on the floor, unconscious and missing his weapon. He spun and pointed at two groups of his kats. "You there," he said, barely restraining his anger, "find them before she can summon the SWAT Kats to her aid! And change out of those ridiculous uniforms while you're at it."

"Summon the SWAT Kats?" Manx asked, yelping as a few guns were trained on him. "Wh-Whatever do you mean?"

"Oh come now Mayor," the Bandit said, pulling out a chair to sit beside Manx, his demeanor calm and collected once more. "The SWAT Kats always show up when Ms. Briggs is in danger. It only stands to reason that she has some device to contact them when needed."

"The SWAT Kats will save us," some brave but safely anonymous soul shouted.

A sneer darkened the GentleKat Bandit's face before he forced it away. "My dear lady," he drawled lazily, "I hope you are wrong. For your sakes that is. After all, if they do show up, we will have to move from the quick and painless plan A to the much nastier and, dare I say, more fatal plan B." That proclamation quieted the room in an instant as they all let it sink in. "Now then," he continued as if he had not threatened the deaths of every kat in the room, "who shall be the first to give us your banking information, hmm?"

Outside the ballroom, Callie stumbled along behind Jake, barely keeping her feet in her heels as he dragged her around. "Jake!" she hissed, nearly falling again.

"I'm sorry Callie," he said in a harder voice than she was used to hearing from him, though it still sounded somehow familiar. His mind was hard at work trying to find ways to get out. The elevators were guarded. The offices were way too high off the ground to make use of the windows. Making matters worse, the hallways were being patrolled by kats in combat fatigues. Mercenaries most likely.

Footsteps ahead made him stop suddenly and pull Callie into the first room he could find: a not yet completely furnished office. He closed the door softly behind them, not wanting to give away their position. "There has to be a way out of this," he muttered, more to himself than to her. "Just give me a few minutes to think of one."

"No need for that," Callie said, pulling her communicator from her purse like she'd been trying to do since they'd escaped the ballroom. "I have the only answer we need right here." Jake saw what she had in her hand and leapt to stop her, but not before she had pressed the button.

The two mercenaries Jake had heard were walking right by the room the moment Jake's communicator went off. They kicked open the door and rushed inside only to be dropped by a flying kick to both their jaws. With a heavy sigh, Jake pulled his communicator from his pocket and switched it off, not daring to look back at Callie as he checked the unconscious kats for pulses. "T-Bone here Ms. Briggs," he heard his partner's voice sound behind him.

"Hello T-Bone," Callie said, her voice trembling with repressed emotions that Jake didn't want to identify. "Or maybe I should call you Chance? That is your name, right? After all, Jake's own communicator went off when I activated mine. Or maybe I should call him Razor?"

"Aww crud!" T-Bone yelled. A few curses were muttered too low to hear, but the general feeling got across clearly.

"We'll deal with it later T-Bone," Jake said, pulling off his tuxedo piece by piece. "You need to get here fast. Someone called the GentleKat Bandit has taken over the building. I need you here to help me free the hostages before someone gets hurt."

T-Bone was silent for a few seconds. "I thought the Enforcers were doing security there," he said finally.

"They were, until over half of them turned out to be mercs. At least that's what they seem to be."

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

"I'll take care of who I can in the meantime. Razor out." Once he was down to his underwear, he pulled the uniform off one of the unconscious mercs. It would be a loose fit but he hoped it would fool the others long enough to take them out.

The silence behind him was unnerving; he still couldn't bring himself to turn around and face Callie. "I know you're confused," he said slowly, more to fill the quiet than to actually talk.

"Confused doesn't quite cover it Jake," she hissed, watching as he struggled into the mercenary's uniform. "Both you and Chance have a lot of explaining to do after all this is over."

Jake picked up his tuxedo's jacket and used a claw to cut out a triangular piece of the lining to make a servicable mask. "We'll answer all your questions once this is over," he promised, slicing out eyeholes and tying it over his head. "Although I'm not even sure you'll even want to see us again after this is all over. Hell, you might even turn us into Feral after what we've done--"

His self-pitying rambling was cut off when Callie forcefully spun him around and gave his lips something better to do. Namely, kissing hers. Jake's knees turned to jelly from the sensation of her lips pressed to his and then to water when she started to purr into the kiss. A part of his mind that was still functioning told him that she must be stronger than she looked to hold him up like she was, then promptly decided it didn't really care.

Callie pulled away from the kiss slowly, opening her eyes to look at Jake's. She nearly giggled at his dreamy expression but stifled it knowing that it would break the mood. "That's a down payment for what else we're going to do later," she said, taking the merc's hat from him and plopping it down on his head. "Now go on Razor, go save the day like the SWAT Kats always do."

He nodded dumbly, feeling so much heat in his cheeks he was sure she could see him blushing through it. He staggered to the door, opening it into his face before managing to slip around it without hurting himself further. "You...umm...might want to find something to tie them up with," he suggested, closing the door behind him.

Callie was already at work pulling the cords from the office's window blinds. She made quick work of trussing up the kat that Razor had stolen the uniform from and was moving on to deal with the other one when she noticed something. This kat was female and right about her size. "Do I have the guts?" she wondered, looking between the kat and the door.

While Callie pondered her decision, Razor moved stealthily through the hallways. He had managed to put the kiss out of his mind for the moment, focusing solely on the task at hand. So far he had managed to knock out a few pairs of patrolkats as well as the ones guarding the elevators; he didn't give them a chance to use their weapons and they didn't have the hand-to-hand training he did. He'd had a thought or two of riding down and taking care of any mercs waiting at the bottom, but they might be wary of someone coming down unannounced. It would be a good way to get shot.

A radio clipped to his belt crackled to life. "Team 2, report!" a voice he recognized as the GentleKat Bandit's even through the static. Razor hoped that he had not taken out Team 2 yet, but when no answer was forthcoming to even repeated commands, he knew there would be trouble. The failure to answer by teams 4 and 10 just confirmed that fact. "All teams, fall back to the ballroom," he heard the Bandit order. "Plan B is in effect."

"That cannot be good," Razor muttered, walking as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself. He had to restrain himself from thinning their opponents further; the numbers were not in his favor and getting worse by the second.

The GentleKat Bandit waited patiently for all of his forces to arrive. When it was obvious all of the conscious ones were here, he fought hard not to frown. A quick count now told him that his kats were just outnumbered by the actual Enforcers. From the corner of his eye he could see that Commander Feral was coming to the same conclusion. He had to act now and decisively.

"Right," he said, clapping his hands smartly. "While this night has not progressed as smoothly as I may have liked, I find that I have acquired enough money and valuables to be comfortable for some time." He patted the satchel at his side as he considered his next words carefully. "Unfortunately, due to the actions of a certain few, I am now forced to place plan B into effect. Money is no longer my top priority, survival is."

He raised his paw with the thumb pointing up and held it out in front of him. Every merc in the room trained his or her gun on an Enforcer and cocked the hammer. "While it has been mostly pleasant, I'm afraid this is where I bid you all goodbye," he said, getting ready to give the thumbs-down.

"Not yet you don't," Razor yelled, leaping from the crowd behind the Bandit. In a flash, he had his arm wrapped around the Bandit's throat and the gun he carried poking into the criminal's back. "Let everyone go," Razor growled harshly.

The Bandit tugged a little on Razor's arm to get a little more air through his windpipe. "Razor, I presume?" he gasped out, wincing when the gun was pressed harder against him. "It appears you have me dead to rights, doesn't it? The smart thing for me to do would be to surrender.

"But wait," he continued, and Razor flinched at the laughter in his voice. "I remember there being a ruckus of some kind when you thought you had just injured a couple kats. So you want to know what I think? You cannot stomach killing, can you?" From the way he could feel the gun tremble, he knew he had guessed correctly. "I also think you had better be the one to give up now. Or would you rather have the blood of these innocent kats on your paws?"

Razor gripped and re-gripped the gun he held, his sweat making the metal slick. His mind raced to find another solution, but from how the mercs were looking at him he knew they'd love nothing more than to start a bloodbath. With a strangled curse he threw the gun down and pushed the Bandit forward.

Two mercs quickly grabbed him and threw him against the wall, holding him there by his shoulders. The Bandit turned to face him with that ever present smirk. "As much as I'm sure some kats here would just love to see who you are under that mask, I don't want to give your partner the opportunity to cause any more mischief. Kill him now."

Every single gun held by a merc pointed at Razor's face. Except for one that is, and that one found its way under the GentleKat Bandit's chin. "You may be able to say that about him," Callie said, knocking the merc's hat she was wearing off her head so he could see just who he was dealing with, "but I bet you aren't that sure about me, now are you? After all, if you know anything about me at all, you know I never bluff."

A hint of fear entered the Bandit's eyes, one that he could not completely quell. "My greatest caper," he muttered, his eyes closing, "ruined by a single unexpected factor: Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs."

The mercenaries, who had been prepared for possible interference by the SWAT Kats, exchanged confused glances as they waited for someone to step forward and take charge. Seeing this, Razor tackled the two nearest him and struggled to knock them out. Another merc had had enough and readied himself to kill the SWAT Kat only to be knocked out by one of Feral's heavy punches.

"Let's take them!" Felina called, rallying the Enforcers and even some of the guests into fighting back. As she drove a knee into a merc's stomach, she saw the tips of two tails disappear under tables. One of them belonged to Mayor Manx, the other looked like Steele's. She snorted in disgust at the display of cowardice, grabbing another merc by her head, kicking her legs out and dropping her in a DDT.

Despite the chaos that surrounded them, Callie kept all her attention focused squarely on the Bandit. It gratified her in some way to see him sweating, knowing that she had broken his unflappable composure. She forced his head back further with the gun, actually smiling when she heard the beginnings of a whimper from him.

One particularly desperate mercenary had grabbed an elderly kat and was using her as a living shield. His shots were wild, sending the other kats diving for the floor. He backed up, trying to put a wall behind him so that no one could sneak up on him, but he ended up back against the windows, a mistake he discovered when the glass shattered next to him.

T-Bone had been watching from the TurboKat, waiting for the right moment to make his presence known. It seemed for a moment like he wouldn't have to; things looked well in hand. But once that one kat started firing crazily, he opened the cockpit and shot a zipline through the window, sliding down it and kicking the gun out of the kat's hand in one motion.

The flying glass made Callie turn her head for just a second, but it was enough for the Bandit to strike out with a backhanded slap, knocking the gun away from his throat and Callie to the ground. "This isn't over," he sneered down at her, his cultured accent lost in the roughness of his voice. "Mark my words Deputy Mayor. Before the year is over, MegaKat City will need to hold a special election to find your replacement!"

Callie dove dazedly for the gun and lifted it to point at the Bandit, but he had already slipped away in all the confusion. She pressed her paw to the temple where she'd been struck, feeling it throb painfully. She just knew it was going to leave a big bruise by morning.

"Are you all right?" Felina asked, kneeling next to her and brushing Callie's hair aside to see if she was bleeding.

"I've had worse," she said, leaning on Felina for support as she stood. She looked around, noticing how quiet it had gotten. Every single mercenary was unconscious or otherwise subdued, but there was no sign of the Bandit.

"Is she all right?" Feral asked, picking his way through the milling kats toward his niece and the deputy mayor.

Callie winced when she rolled her eyes. "Like I told her, I've had worse."

Feral grunted under his breath and looked around. "I heard what he threatened you with," he said, barely moving his lips so no one who couldn't hear him would know he was talking to them. "Normally I'd call it sour grapes, but he was able to position his operatives within my Enforcers completely undetected. There's no telling how high the corruption goes."

"What exactly are you getting at Commander," Callie snapped, not in the mood to play games.

Feral sighed, knowing how they were both going to react to his words. "Until we catch him, I'm placing you under round-the-clock guard. And since I'm not sure who to trust at this point, I have very few choices open to me. Felina, you're it."

"I don't need a babysitter," Callie snarled, refusing to show any weakness despite the fact that her vision swam slightly.

"Fine with me," Felina snarled as well. "I'm not cut out to be a babysitter."

Feral towered over them both, using his imposing size to its fullest advantage. "This is not up for discussion," he said firmly. "While I can't order you around Ms. Briggs, if you don't agree to this I can promise you'll have a full twelve kat guard whenever you even want to go to the bathroom."

"That's blackmail!" both Felina and Callie yelled, but they yelled to Feral's retreating back.

"My uncle is a stubborn kat," Felina huffed.

"Speaking of stubborn kats," Callie said, looking around for either Razor or T-Bone. But just like the Bandit, both had disappeared without a trace. "Oh no," she growled, marching toward the doors, "you are not getting away from me!"

Felina hurried after her. Despite her personal feelings on the matter, she knew her uncle would make her life intolerable if she refused this order. She caught up to Callie just before the elevator closed, squeezing between the doors. Callie jabbed the lobby button with unneeded force, almost jamming it. Felina looked at her for a moment before just shaking her head. "You know, you look scarier than my uncle right now," she quipped. She had hoped to get a laugh at the joke, but all Callie did was smile. Felina couldn't help but think that that smile made her look even scarier.