MADKAT AND ME
C. L. Furlong
November 02, 2001
June 21, 2002
August 01, 2002
PG13 (some mild peril and angst at times)
A weirdo. A lunatic. A freak. Many things can be called to the insane jester's receptacle. But, is the acceptor really a mad kat? Times change and recipients do so also...
SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is the property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.
The continuation of my "Final Resistance" series, after a *long* break (during which I could feel my writing slowly rusting...). You may find this fic a tad different from my previous works, maybe even somewhat disappointing, as I've ventured in a kind of story not many times seen in SWAT Kats' fanfiction. I'd just like to state that I enjoyed myself writing it and I sincerely hope it's enjoyable for you too! There may be a few things you find odd in this story but bear in mind that, after all, this *is* a series of interconnected stories... Just pardon me for all the clichés and the "dry" jokes and puns I used... Especially for one in particular... Please, *do* let me know about your comments/questions/doubts about this story in order to do something better next time. Cheers to all of you, SWAT Kats' fans!
"Come join me (...) and MadKat will live again..." - MadKat in "Enter the MadKat"
MADKAT AND ME
With the alarm set to six o'clock a.m., the red numbers on the display of the alarm clock flickered rapidly and the previous eight changed to a nine. Chance turned off the alarm even before the clock turned to six o'clock a.m. He was already awake, lying on top of his bed only with his shorts dressed on. He stared at the ceiling, paws behind his head, chest heaving up and down tranquilly with each breath he took. Chance hadn't slept the last night. He had gone to bed early but his eyelids wouldn't shut down.
No. It wasn't the eyelids that were light like clouds. It was his brain. Today was the big day. He couldn't think of anything else but on it. Finally, the day had come. The day when he would be reunited with Jake again. Yes, Jake would come out of Alkatraz today. And he would be there to welcome him home.
Chance was happy, obviously. But, simultaneously, he was worried and puzzled. His stare into the ceiling wasn't a happy or a longing one. Oh, he longed to be with Jake again, no doubt about that. However, the actions of his friend had him troubled. Chance closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh.
"Why, Jake?" - he thought - "Why did you do it? Why did you say you were guilty? It wasn't your fault! Viper forced you to do so! So why did you want to go to Alkatraz? Was it because of..."
The brawny kat got out of bed and headed for the closet, opening the door and looking down on him on the mirror. The past two weeks had been some of the worst days in his life. Though he had visited Jake everyday, the vision of his diminishing stature was like a bullet through his brain. His heart pounded with grief every time he saw Jake entering the room and picking up the receiver. His mask was still on his face but the convict suit... The convict suit also shattered his heart to a thousand pieces every time he saw it... He couldn't believe his best friend was suffering so much while he was there, in luxurious accommodations. Okay, so the salvage yard wasn't exactly a five-star hotel but it was thousands of times more comfortable than a prison.
"I oughtta know... I've been inside the holding cells of the Enforcers when I was younger... I can't even bare to think how Alkatraz's cells look like... Crud, you must be suffering atrocities inside that overloaded prison... And all of it because of..." - he didn't end his train of though. He never did. The simple idea that *he* could be the actual cause for Jake being in Alkatraz was too overwhelming to even think about it.
He closed the closet and went downstairs, to the bathroom, for a cold shower. The cold water would get those nasty ideas off his mind. And then he'd put that warm smile that always characterized the tabby and he would dress his G-suit and hop aboard the TurboKat, setting course to Alkatraz Island.
It was about nine o'clock when Razor got out of the dressing room, already in his full SWAT Kat outfit. In his paws was his convict suit, neatly and conveniently folded. He went to the guard and delivered him his suit. Not a word of thank was heard. To be precise, the guard even looked to him with the same despise he would look to just another criminal. The prison's warden, Felson, came to Razor.
"Just for the record, I should have let you *and* your partner..." - he practically spat the word 'partner' - "... rot in here! But Commander Feral wanted you two out."
"He wouldn't admit it but I know he's behind this. He says the orders of the tribunal were to keep you arrested for a month and not longer. Hah! I don't know how you, criminals, managed to get Feral to pass to your side, but you won't fool me. Next time I get you and/or your partner here, the only way you'll leave this island is inside mortuary bags..."
Razor and Felson walked together to the front gate. Felson ordered the guards to open it and motioned Razor to the no one's land between the two walls that constituted the perimeter of Alkatraz.
"Unfortunately, I have to tell you to get out of my sight. But heed my words, SWAT Kat... Next time, you won't be so well treated..." - Felson said and headed back inside the prison's building. The gate closed behind him.
For some asphyxiating seconds, the outer gate, in front of Razor wouldn't open, making the SWAT Kat start having cold sweats. But, finally, the gate opened. Slowly opening a gap to his freedom.
With empty paws Razor stepped inside Alkatraz and with empty paws he crossed the gate to his freedom. It was a bright and sunny day, unlike any other he had seen for the past month. The doors closed heavily behind him. He looked back over his shoulder just in time to see them closing and clanging. He closed his eyes and turned his head away from that depressing sight, looking ahead of him.
There he was. Waiting for him.
Both toms stood upright, not letting the emotion reach their faces. Razor walked with renewed dignity towards T-Bone. When he reached the brawny tom, he saluted him. T-Bone responded in the same manner. Both toms lowered their arms and fell into attention, in a rigid military stance. Seconds later, they fell into each other's arms, in a powerful embrace capable of healing the deepest wounds each kat's souls could have. Powerful enough to defy the entire universe.
They were back and their bonds were tighter than ever.
They were a whole again...
Releasing a pleased sigh, Razor nuzzled himself against the rear seat of the TurboKat while the black jet fighter crossed the skies on its way back to the underground hangar.
"Been a while without feeling that seat, huh buddy?" - T-Bone asked, peering rapidly back at Razor.
"I never knew I'd miss this uncomfortable seat so much..." - the slim SWAT Kat said as he stared to the sky above and around him.
"So many times I've seen this sky and right now it's like the very first time I'm seeing it..." - Razor thought - "It's so beautiful... It's particularly green today... Green... The color of hope..."
The slim kat watched as a condensation cloud started to sketch out of the tip of the TurboKat's wings. He shivered slightly.
"Aren't we flying a little bit too high? It's really getting cold!" - Razor asked.
"Sorry. We fly faster at higher altitudes. I just can't wait to be back on the hangar, pal." - T-Bone responded as he pushed the control handle away from him, taking the jet fighter to lower altitudes.
"Hum... T-Bone... Could you do one of your stunts with the jet...? I swear I won't get mad at you..." - Razor asked the burly tom in front of him, who just flickered his ears, as though he didn't fully grasp what was being asked.
"Are you sure?"
"C'mon... I miss it..."
"How about a flip and a screw?" - T-Bone said, the corners of his lips twitching just a bit.
"Bring 'em on!"
T-Bone did so. He pulled the control handle towards his body and the jet hurtled upwards. Keeping the handle pulled to him, the jet completed a 180º flip. Razor could feel his body almost float free during the downfall until the jet was leveled. After leveling the jet, T-Bone banked the control handle to his right and the TurboKat rolled to the left. Keeping the handle in that position, the jet started to revolve around its longitudinal axis, in a tight spin.
The world around Razor was spinning so fast his brain could not make any sense out of the information it was receiving. In one second, Razor was seeing the green sky and bathed in bright sunshine. A second later, he was staring to the sea and immersed in the gloom of shadow.
"Oh, crud..." - Razor mumbled as the world around him started running out of his eyes even faster than it should. Simultaneously, even the bright light of the sun was becoming duller and darker by the moment. Razor shook his head but the feeling didn't fade out. - "Oh, crud... Not now..." - he whispered in a weak voice.
T-Bone didn't hear his partner but something told him something wasn't right. He compensated the momentum of the jet by pulling the control handle to the other side. The rudders reluctantly obeyed the command of the control handle and he managed to level the jet. Finally, he switched to hover mode, engaging the VTOL engines and decreasing the thrust of the rear ones. The brawny tom looked behind and took a look at his friend. Razor was pale like a ghost.
"Oh, no! I'm sorry, Razor! I shouldn't have done this stunt! You must still be weak from your imprisonment! I'm sorry!" - T-Bone apologized, the words coming out as a flood. Razor just shook his head.
"It's not... your fault... I asked... for it... I should... know better..." - he said in a weak voice.
"Let's just go home, okay?" - T-Bone proposed - "You all right?"
Razor didn't answer him. Instead, he just gave T-Bone a thumbs up. T-Bone turned on his seat and cut off the VTOL engines, firing the rear ones and heading directly to the Salvage Yard.
Minutes later, the black jet fighter came to a halt inside the underground hangar and T-Bone popped the canopy open, jumping to the ground. Razor got onto the wing.
"Can you hop down by yourself?" - T-Bone asked back at Razor.
"I'm not crippled, you know?" - the slim SWAT Kat said as he jumped and landed on all fours on the ground, every bone in his body popping with the strain of the fall. - "Guess I'm a tad out of shape, though..." - he muttered as he straightened up and headed for the lockers.
T-Bone was already there, taking off his helmet and mask and placing them inside his locker. Razor came by his side and did the same. T-Bone gulped. His looks were worse than he had expected. Besides a month-long beard that he already grew accustomed to from seeing the slim kat everyday when he went to visit him in Alkatraz, Jake's fur was a complete mess, the result of being an entire month under his mask.
That, however, was the least of Chance's worries. What preoccupied him the most were his eyes. Jake had one of them swollen. He'd been beaten again recently. Despite that, Chance could clearly see the rings round Jake's eyes. He could see he'd barely slept during the past month. Even more worrying was the empty and tired look on those eyes that, not too much time back, were lit up with vivacity.
"Guy, I'd give *anything* for a warm bath right now..." - Jake said as he undressed his G-suit. Chance glimpsed at Jake's arms. They were thinner like he had never seen them before. He could guess he barely ate in Alkatraz too.
"I can arrange for that." - Chance said as he clipped his belt. Passing an arm over Jake's shoulders he motioned the slim kat upstairs.
"Ch-Chance! I'm still in my G-suit!"
"Don't worry. The garage is closed and so is the front gate of the Salvage Yard. No one can get in." - he said as he nudged Jake upstairs.
"Well... If you say so..."
"I say so."
"Okay, We're upstairs. Now what?"
"Now just wait a minute and I'll have your bath ready."
"Huh? Chance, what..." - Jake started, surprised at Chance's actions, but the brawny tom had already disappeared from view. Jake took off the harnesses and dropped them on the small living-room table. He took a look around the place. Everything was in the same manner as he had left it a month back. There was little thing to change, anyway... - "No. Wait. The TV set is new! I wonder what happened to the former set..." - He grinned just a bit - "I think I can imagine..."
Jake headed for the garage, the upper part of his G-suit hanging behind him from his waist. His eyes analyzed the scantly illuminated room. There wasn't any car there to fix. He headed for the workbench and stared at the tools on top of it. He passed a paw over them.
"I never thought I'd miss these things so badly..." - he whispered.
"Hey, bud!" - he heard Chance calling from the living room - "Your bath awaits."
Jake jerked his head back at the origin of the sound before yelling - "Comin'..."
The slim kat turned around and tripped on a draining pipe, stumbling forward a few steps. He looked down to the iron pipe and his eyes widened suddenly. He stood there, with a transfixed look. He remembered one day, when he was in the yard of Alkatraz, in a corner, minding his own business. The next second, he remembered, there was a deadly silence. He looked up and saw three of his inmates coming to him, stepping out of the remainder of the prisoners that stood in the yard.
Sensing the impending confrontation, he had gotten himself up. Big mistake... The next moment he was feeling a sharp pain in the side of his torso, making him double over. Razor had looked up and seen what had hit him. In the paws of one of the prisoners, the burlier one, stood an iron rod.
"Time to settle an old score, SWAT Kat..." - he remembered the tom saying as he smacked the rod against his own left palm.
The slim kat nearly jumped, startled, when Chance placed a paw over his shoulder, pulling him out of his reverie. Jake looked back and gulped.
"Is everything okay?" - Chance asked. Jake turned his head away from the inquiring gaze of his burly friend and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He cleaned the few beads of perspiration that in the meantime had formed on his forehead and turned to face Chance.
"Yeah! Everything's fine..." - he said as he passed by Chance. The brawny kat looked as Jake passed by him and headed for the living room. Chance closed his eyes and heaved out a soft and sad sigh before following the slim kat. Jake was heading for the bathroom when Chance called him.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" - he said, cocking one eyebrow, the shade of a mocking grin appearing in the corner of his snout.
"Hum... To the bathroom? To take a shower?" - Jake asked back, not fully gripping the meaning of Chance's question.
"This way, if you care to follow me..." - Chance said, guiding Jake outside.
"Chance? Where the heck are you taking me?"
Jake rolled his eyes. - "Duh! I can see *that*! Why are you taking me to the yard?"
"I told you! Your bath awaits."
It was a pleasant and warm beginning of the afternoon, without the wraith of a breeze disturbing the air. The sun greeted both kats when they stepped outside the body shop, forcing them to narrow their eyes in order to protect them from the morning luminosity. As Jake's eyes grew accustomed to the new light conditions he saw something big and rounded on the ground. Something wooden. He widened his eyes in surprise and disbelief.
"You gotta be kidding!" - he said as he took one step back.
"This way, please! Your bath awaits you!" - Chance said, bowing to the slim kat. Jake saw the big vat filled with water and shook his head in disbelief.
"You just *have* to be kidding!"
"I'm deadly serious. Now get in."
"You know, you don't have to do this!" - Jake said as a small stream of tepid water ran down his features.
"I know. But I want to, anyway." - Chance stated as he poured the rest of the warm fluid inside the metallic jar he was holding over Jake's back - "Besides, this'll be the only way you'll take a bath here while the shower's drainage isn't fixed..."
"Though this *is* embarrassing, I *could* get used to this, you know?"
Chance just chuckled - "Yeah, I know you could get used to this but don't get any ideas, will you? You surely needed a bath! You smell like a horse you know?"
Jake just grinned - "Yeah, I know... I guess those icy water baths they gave us with the firehoses just wouldn't rid us of our smell."
"Firehoses?" - Chance thought as he scrubbed Jake's back with a cloth. He did it mechanically since he was now lost in his thoughts. Jake, on the other paw, was also lost in his reveries, triggered by one simple word.
"Smell. Smell. Why does that word gives me the creeps?" - he wondered.
He recalled one morning, when he was leaving the yard and heading for his cell. He'd been inside for only five days at that time. Jake remembered to have heard a rapid sniffing. He risked looking to the origin of that sound. He saw a well-built calico tom-kat. He was sniffing the air as though he had caught a familiar scent. Suddenly, the black, white and golden furred tom looked directly to him. Jake remembered how those green eyes sent him shivers down his spine though he didn't really understand why.
It was only five days later that the things happened. It was during the night. Razor was in his cell, curled in a ball on the cot. He wasn't asleep, though. He distinctly heard the soft footsteps becoming louder by the moment. He looked to the bars and saw a dark form appearing in front of them. A pale silvered ray of moonlight penetrated inside the cell from the tiny barred window and hit the form on his face, making his eyes glint a bright green, though the kat had remained immersed in gloom. He remembered hearing the sniffing again.
He heard the tom whispering something in a voice as loud as his breathing but he didn't make out what he had said. Jake remembered hearing the key being inserted in the lock and being turned, and the cell door being opened. He remembered he had gulped when the tom stepped inside his cell, his eyes glowing in the dark, reflecting the pale moonlight. He remembered the kat headed directly to him. He had gotten up and tried to escape but the kat pounced at him, pinning his already injured body against the rough filthy wall. He had tried to get away but the kat had held him tightly. Clearly, the tom was much stronger than he was. Again, he heard the sniffing sound.
"I know this scent..." - he remembered the kat hissing in a low voice - "Can it be...?" - He remembered the kat sniffing his face and neck, taking some deep breaths. He remembered the soft growl the tom gave out. - "Not Furlong..."
The next thing Jake remembered feeling was the overwhelming pressure of a fist being smacked on his gut, making him double over as he gasped some saliva and heaved out a muffled exclamation of pain.
"Pardon me, I made a mistake. I thought you were... or at least had been close to someone I know..." - his attacker whispered in a warm and melodious voice as he lifted the slim kat and tossed him against the wall behind his cot. The slim kat banged his head on the wall before falling on the mattress, breaking the rotten wood of the cot's frame and waking up his inmates. He still remembered the sound of the cell door being closed and locked while the world spun crazily before his eyes from the thump he received when he knocked his head against the wall.
"Jake!" - Chance called him, pulling the slim kat once more out of his daydream.
"Huh? Yeah, what is it? Sorry I was in another planet." - he babbled as he turned his head to face the worried mien of his partner.
"Yeah, so I've noticed! What were you thinking about?"
Jake lowered his head to his chest and lowered his eyelids - "Nothing interesting."
"Jake..." -Chance whispered a few minutes later. The bitter question was biting his lips to get out. Even now, as he scrubbed Jake's back with a cloth, heartbreakingly feeling each rib of his partner's diminishing stature, the question that had tortured him night after night was struggling to be voiced. - "Wh-why...?" - he stammered.
Jake closed his eyes and gulped. He had feared that question from the very moment he had forwarded his paws for Felina to cuff them. He remained silent. Chance stopped scrubbing Jake's back.
"Please, Jake... Tell me why..." - Chance whispered. Jake winced and remained silent.
"Was it... because of... me?" - the brawny tom asked softly, his eyes boring holes on Jake's back. However, his anguish was impossible to shroud.
Jake remained silent. Only his eyelids sealed tighter. Chance was in the brink of desperation.
"Please answer me, Jake... Was I the cause of your suffering?"
Jake winced once more with Chance's words.
"ANSWER ME, DAMN IT!" - Chance exploded in a despaired voice. Soon enough he regretted his outburst as he saw Jake curling into a shivering ball, his ears drooping and his tail tightly pressing around his hips. - "Jake... Jake, I'm sorry... I didn't mean to..."
"I don't know..." - Jake said in almost an inaudible tone. Chance wasn't even sure if his friend had spoken until he repeated his words in a stronger voice. - "I don't know... I just don't know..."
Gulping and closing his eyes for a single moment, Chance resumed washing his friend.
"Jenkins! Where's my whisky?"
"Right away, sir!" - the black-dressed butler responded as he headed with the drink to his master. - "Here it is, sir. I'm sorry to have made you wait!"
"'S all right..." - the brown-furred kat said as he grabbed the thick-walled crystal glass and drank a sip of the golden drink, making the ice cubes inside clink. The tom released a pleased sigh and rested the back of his head on the folded towel resting on the border of the jacuzzi, spreading his arms wide.
"Do you wish anything else, Mr. Ringtail?" - Jenkins asked.
"Yeah! Some privacy! Beat it!" - Leonard Ringtail ordered.
Ringtail surveyed the night skyline of Megakat City from the warm bubbling pool built in the protected balcony of his penthouse on Kat Empire Building. After his misguided actions years before, life had been good for Leonard Ringtail. Former television comedian, Lenny had suffered a serious nervous breakdown when his show had been canned and himself replaced by David Litterbin, a wannabe comedian by that time. The blow to his already exaggerated self was so strong he was considered insane and confined to Megakat Asylum.
But his revenge came soon enough though. Being arrested didn't stop him from terrorizing half the burg and the most important citizens of Megakat City. With the aid of the wraith of an ancient jester, he had managed to succeed in his plans of vengeance against the jester, knight, king and queen who had imprisoned him.
Ringtail closed his eyes and sighed. MadKat had been the most wonderful thing that had ever happened in his life. In more than one aspect.
"For the first time I've felt powerful enough to do anything! There were no limits or boundaries to my power. I could do anything!" - he thought. He sipped a bit more of his drink. - "But such power blinded me... Weren't it for the SWAT Kats and I'd probably have slaughtered half the town... Even so, MadKat had claimed his share of injured and dead..."
The brawny brown-furred tom raised from his watery resting site, dressing a robe and putting on a pair of slippers. Sipping another draught of whisky, he headed for the living room.
"However, MadKat also brought me wealth as I never knew... My books sold like water in the desert not only here in Megakat City but on the rest of Gaia... All continents were under my power, under my writing! 'MadKat and Me' sold millions of copies throughout the world! 'The MadKat Within' wasn't too far behind either. Taken together, these two books sold more than any other book in History with the exception of one. And, with that one I couldn't possibly compete."
Ringtail headed for a vault made of bulletproof glass five centimeters thick. He patted and caressed the safe. Deep inside stood a box from where protruded a spring covered by a marionette. Ringtail looked to the kat-in-the-box he had purchased long ago with the profits his first book, 'MadKat and Me', had given him. The same kat-in-the-box that had turned him into the all-powerful mad jester.
"Never again I shall join you, MadKat... You've brought me many things, some good but some utterly bad... As long as you're here, with me, the city is safe." - he said as he swallowed the rest of the drink in one draught and headed out of the living room, turning off the lights.
In the gloom of the darkened room, a small pair of eyes started glowing in a bright green color inside the glassy vault as a white toothy smile appeared below.
The red numbers flickered and the alarm clock on Chance's nightstand showed three o'clock in the morning. The tabby was asleep, judging by his heavy breathing. His slim friend, however, was fully awake. Jake had his paws behind his head and he stared at the ceiling, faintly illuminated by the pallid red flare of the alarm clock's display.
"I don't know... I just don't know..." - he thought, remembering his own words early that day. - "A plain lie. Of course I know..."
Jake's eyelids abated a bit and he stared down to his own chest, covered by the white sheet.
"Of course I know... And it's not because of you that I wanted to be arrested, Chance... It was because of me... In these last months I did things I've never done in my entire life... I've robbed and I've nearly killed you... Robbing the Labs for Viper still makes me feel ashamed but... That wasn't the reason... That wasn't the *true* reason...
The reason was my folly... Although I was pretending all the time to have turned your enemy, I was imprudent and I let things escape from my control... And, you paid a very high price for my clumsiness... You got whipped, beaten and, in the end, I nearly let you die...
How can you still be calling me a friend?"
Jake looked to the side, to the sleeping visage of his friend and sighed softly, smiling paternally just a hair.
"Just look at you... When you're sleeping, you don't seem like a fighter! You don't seem a tough guy! You look so defenseless..."
His smile disappeared - "How could have I been so blind? How could I not see that delivering you to the Metallikats would only result in tragedy? How could have I been so *stupid*? I've thrown you into an infuriated rattlesnake's pit and I childishly hoped you wouldn't get bitten! And after that, you were still willing to help me...
Having called the Enforcers to take you to Doc Konway was the least I could do... Even so, your arm had to be taken out and replaced. I don't even dare to think what would happen if Doc hadn't invented that tube thing... Fact is, my due wasn't paid up yet... I felt I owed you much more than just healing you, Chance... All the deception, all the suffering, all the dread I saw in your eyes... That can never be sufficiently compensated... I tried to make it up to you by the only way I could think of...
I'd have to punish myself in order to purge all the evil I felt I inflicted upon you... So I chose to be arrested and to go to Alkatraz... Well, though I'm still ashamed of what I did to you, I can't say I don't feel relieved from that burden... A month in Alkatraz was much more than I bargained for. That place... That place is hell... It makes me feel sorry for the kats that are forced to be there for years... Some of them until the end of their days... Like you, Fred..."
Jake looked up to the ceiling again. He remembered that fatidic night when one of his cellmates, the only one that had treated him decently, was brutally assassinated in front of him. In his weak state, Jake could only watch and despair as Fred was taken outside the cell and beaten to the death in the corridor. The poor tom never made a sound while he was pounded. He remembered the tom being thrown against the bars of the cell. Jake had grabbed his paw. Fred had whispered something before he fell limply on the floor, dead.
"I'll never forget your words, Fred..." - Jake said out in a low tone as he looked to Chance again - "No, I won't..." - the slim kat closed his eyes and turned to the other side.
"Every kat has a purpose in this world... You just have to find yours..." - Fred's last words echoed in Jake's mind.
"Every kat has a purpose... And mine is to stay with my brother and protect him from anything bad that could hurt him..." - Jake thought.
"That is my purpose... And, purpose is all..."
"I can't believe you're reading that..." - Chance said as he plopped down on the couch beside Jake.
"Reading what?" - Jake answered without taking his snout from the book he was reading.
"That... thing that I don't even dare to call literature."
"Well, well, that's a new facet!" - Jake said, finally closing the book and looking to Chance - "Chance Furlong, literature critic..." - he said pompously before shaking his head in a negative - "It doesn't fit you, sorry..."
"Well, I don't need to have much literacy to recognize what I would call 'litterature' - that's with two 't'..." - he said, smirking.
"Literature with two 't'..." - Jake repeated, pensively before grinning - "Heh, funny... What just do you have against Ringtail's books anyway?"
"What *don't* I have against his books, you'd better ask..."
"Aw, come on, they're all quite good!"
"Yeah... If you like a fantasy story..."
"Fantasy? Okay, okay, so his second book was a tad quaint..."
"A *tad*? Come on, it was all a bunch of lies! The only thing he got right was his name!" - Chance stated out loud.
"Come on, you're just jealous because he mischaracterized you in his first book." - Jake said, snickering and cocking one eyebrow.
"What?" - Chance cried out - "I'm certainly not..."
"Oh, yes, you are!"
"Oh, no, I'm not!"
"Oh, yes, you are!"
"Oh, no, I'm not!"
"Oh, no you're not!"
"Oh, yes, I am!"
"Oh, no you're not!"
"Cut that out, will you? I told you already I am!" - Chance shot out.
"Okay, you big bully... There's no need to get rough... If you say you are, you are..." - Jake acquiesced.
"Yeah, I am... And don't you forget that... that... HEY! WHAT AM I SAYING?" - Chance bellowed, understanding dawning on him. The tabby looked to Jake, who was grinning to him. - "Why, you little... You suckered me!"
"The oldest gag in the book... I can't believe you fell for it..." - Jake managed to say between the fits of laughter.
"Oh, yeah? Then how about if I just clean my paws on your face?" - Chance threatened as he approached his oil-clotted paws from Jake's face.
"You wouldn't!" - Jake said in disbelief as he poised the book and crawled to the end of the couch. Chance, however, continued his approach, a toothy grin plastered in his face. - "You wouldn't dare! I just took a bath minutes ago... Hey! HEY!"
Jake's protests were, however, in vain. In less than it takes to tell his dark orange fur was sullied with black pawprints. Chance snorted in amusement.
"Heh, makes me remember your survival week in boot camp... Only you had a bit more of gray and green in your face." - he snickered.
"Let's see how *you* look with this make-up, fur ball!" - Jake said as he snatched Chance's arms and hurtled his paws against Chance's face. However, the tabby's paws never reached his own face. Chance flexed his triceps and Jake couldn't maneuver the tabby's paws anymore since Chance was stronger and Jake hadn't recovered his full strength yet.
"I don't think so!" - Chance said with a smirk on his face.
"I still think so, though!" - Jake said as he let go of Chance's paws and patted the tabby's face with his own paws that he had sullied with the oil from Chance's. Chance was caught off guard and was only able to stop Jake after his face bore a few pawprints of oil.
"You dirty rat!" - Chance growled, grabbing Jake's arms and pinning the slim kat to the couch.
"Look who's talking! And, it's 'kat', not 'rat'."
"You'll stay dirty longer than I will!" - Chance said as he got off from the couch and shot to the bathroom.
"Oh, no I'm not!" - Jake said, running after him.
"In this case, yes, you will!" - Chance said as he closed the bathroom's door before Jake slammed on it. - "And I warn you that my bath will go on for hours! My fur is clotted because of the oil!"
"CHAAAANCE! I'll get ya for this, you dirty rat!"
"Look who's talking! And it's 'kat', not 'rat'." - Chance said from inside before laughing and opening the hot water tap of the shower.
"The board of directors is awaiting, Mr. Ringtail." - Miss Parilla said with her strong Persian accent, not taking her eyes off the computer screen and from the letter she was typing.
"Good morning, Sarsah. One of these nights I oughtta take you out for a drink." - Lenny said as he passed her desk and headed for the door on the other side of the room.
"It's a deal." - she said, still staring at the screen.
"It's settled then. The sarsaparillas are on me..." - he said, grinning, before getting in, leaving behind an infuriated Miss Parilla.
Ringtail was heading for a meeting with his editor and the board of directors of his two books' publishers. The Katze Verlag was one of the most famous and well-succeeded publishing houses not only in Megakat City but also in the rest of the planet. They'd started more than a century ago as simple booksellers in Elurope, the "old continent" as it was called. With time, they've conquered the old continent and spread their domain beyond its borders. Now they were one of the most respected editorial groups of the planet. They have conquered a status quo that enabled them to even be compared to the most respected scientific journals. A theory published in a book with the Katze Verlag stamp would almost instantaneously acquire the character of scientific law, such was the seriousness of their reputation.
Consequently, Ringtail couldn't have been happier or prouder when his manuscript of "MadKat and Me" was accepted by Maximilian Von Seibert himself, the all-mighty owner and patriarch of the publishing house. The old kat had greeted Ringtail into "their big family", as he called the group of writers, editors, revisers, translators and all of the kats that worked for the publishing house.
And, mostly thanks to the reputation of the publishers, Ringtail's books sold millions of copies throughout the world, granting some nice feathers for Ringtail's nest. Today, his editor had called him up to attend a meeting with him, the board of directors and Von Seibert himself. The brown-furred tom knew they meant serious business whenever the big cheese was called to join in a meeting.
Ringtail transposed the door and penetrated the office of the big top himself. The room was large, some fifty square meters in area. At the bottom stood a fireplace and over it a huge portrait of a beige-furred tom kat. Carved in a golden tag underneath the frame one could read "Heinrich Von Seibert", the name of the company's first president. To the left was a set of four tall windows, running almost from the floor up to the ceiling. In each of the windows there was a signet of Katze Verlag. In front of the windows there was a large dark desk. To Ringtail's right was a long table with five pairs of chairs on each side and another one on each end, one of them being larger than the other. Five chairs were occupied with kats dressed up in suits ranging from dark blue to pale brown. At the head of the table stood Von Seibert, a beige-furred tom in his late seventies. One of the kats rose up from a chair and headed directly to Ringtail.
"Mr. Ringtail, please come join us. We were expecting you." - Ted Twister, Ringtail's editor, said to him, offering his paw for a pawshake. Ringtail ignored his extended paw and headed directly to the table. He was tired of those formalities...
"Morning, Teddy. How's your wife and kids?" - he asked matter-of-factly as he passed by the gray-furred tom. He went to the table and addressed the kats present with another "good morning" before sitting down on a vacant chair. Ted joined them a moment later.
"Very well." - Von Seibert started - "Let's begin our reunion. Mr. Ringtail, I am a direct tom that always appreciated straightforwardness so I'll be going directly to the point." - the aging tom said in a clear tone.
The senior executive leaned back on his chair and his lips spread apart in a shade of a warm smile. Even so, a bead of perspiration ran down Ringtail's features as he saw Von Seibert's grayish blue eyes center and focus on his own.
The muffled sound of panting filled the space of their small weight room. Large drops of sweat poured from Jake's forehead and some of them dropped into his eyes, causing a burning feeling he was used to since long ago. He quickly swept the perspiration off his forehead with the back of his paw as he continued to run on the jogging machine. A few minutes later he turned the machine off. Having started his warm-up with some stretching exercises and having jogged a few hundred meters, Jake headed for the sets of dumbbells resting on their metallic support and chose a set of medium ones. Weighing them on his paws, he decided those were good for starters. With a dumbbell in each paw he started doing some alternate biceps curls. After three sets of ten reps each he started feeling his biceps stinging. Even so, he continued.
"That's not a good way to work out, bud." - someone said from Jake's right. - "What's up? Fell off your bed tonight?"
Jake turned his head to meet the bulk of Chance at the door, with a mug of coffee in his right paw. The slim kat lowered his arms and placed the dumbbells on their respective places on the support.
"Nah, I just wanted to get some practice, that's all." - he answered. Chance walked in and placed his mug on top of the TV set.
"Are you sure you want to practice already? You haven't regained your full muscle mass yet." - he said as he headed for his slim partner. He took Jake's right arm in his paws and passed his thumb over Jake's biceps, shaking his head. - "It's tensed still. Have you warmed up?"
Jake responded with an affirmative nod. - "Thoroughly. Ten minutes of stretching and half an hour of jogging. Besides, if I want to regain my former muscle mass, this is the only way!"
"You forced the muscle beyond its present capabilities. The 'no pain no gain' theory is false, Jake! You know that very well!" - Chance said as he massaged the sore muscle with his fingers - "What are you trying to do? Get yourself a muscular injury?"
"I'm fine, Chance! It's just a little stiff muscle! It's not the end of the world!"
"Yeah, you're on the right way to get yourself a cramp at best! Do you want to rip a sinew? Did you know that that hurts? A lot?"
"Aw, c'mon! I've fought against Dr. Viper, the Metallikats, aliens, sorcerers...! None of them had me down for long. You think some workout will?"
"I won't even answer that. All I'm asking you is that you don't overexert your muscles too much. The benefits you'll retrieve from doing so will be none!"
"And you think *I* don't know that? I know that *very* well, if you care to know. Fact is, time's passing by and I have to be in peak performance as soon as possible. What if the city's attacked while I'm still recovering? So far we've been lucky, nothing really happened that required the assistance of the SWAT Kats. But if..."
"If some greater evil comes, you'll be ready, whether you're at peak performance or not! And you won't achieve peak results by excessively forcing your muscles!" - Chance cut Jake off in mid-sentence. The tabby sighed and headed out of the room - "I see you're in a bad mood this morning. I'd better leave you alone for some time..."
"Chance, wait..." - Jake said a second later, grabbing Chance's arm from behind, stopping the tabby - "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be harsh on you... It's just that I... I... I want to put this behind my back, I want to be my old self again as soon as possible... Know what I mean? I want to jump, flip, run as I used to..." - Jake said, the shade of a smile dancing on his lips. Chance smiled back just a bit.
"Yes, I understand you. I'd be just as eager to regain my full abilities again. But the way you were doing it was not the proper way and it would take you much more time." - the big tabby stated, his eyes acquiring a soft look.
"Can you spot me now or do you have anything else to do?" - Jake asked softly. Chance just gave him a friendly slap on his back and motioned him to the bench, keeping an eye on the barbells support, already thinking about which one should he give to Jake.
Ringtail opened the door to his flat more by chance than by skill. On hearing the bang of the door against the wall, Jenkins came running to see what had happened. He found a Ringtail like he had never seen before.
"Sir? Is everything in order?" - the butler asked as he went to aid his master.
"In order?" - Ringtail repeated, looking at Jenkins as though he was staring into thin air. - "In order?"
"OUT! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! NOW! YOU'RE FIRED!" - Ringtail screamed. His eyes were nearly coruscating with what could only be called of rage. The besotted face Jenkins had was proof enough of his confusion.
"Am I speaking Siamese?" - Ringtail spat - "OUT!" - the brown-furred kat grabbed the coat-hanger, holding it high above his head before ramming it against the crystal bric-a-brac on top of the hall's table, shattering everything to pieces. The surprised - and now frightened - black-dressed kat had only time to run by Ringtail and dart out of the flat before Ringtail threw the coat-hanger against the door, closing it with an enormous racket.
Ringtail threw his paws to the hall table for support and peered at the mirror. What he saw was clearly the face of a very disturbed tom. His thorax expanded and contracted wildly as he drew air in and out of his lungs.
"Not again... This won't happen again... I won't let..." - he huffed out.
Heading to the bar, he grabbed himself a bottle of whisky, uncapped it and drank a generous portions of the golden liquid. Feeling the fluid burning his way down to his stomach, he put the bottle aside for a moment, staring at the wall, where he had a framed giant poster of the front cover of his first book. He remembered what he was told a few hours earlier and drank another draught. He puffed out an angry burst of air as his eyes narrowed until they were nothing more than thin slits before he roared an unearthly scream and threw the bottle against the poster, breaking both the recipient and the glass protection of the poster. An immense cacophony of shattered glass, broken wood and crumpled paper filled the room for some seconds. He looked at the back cover of the pack of three books Von Seibert had given him and growled.
"'The Mistress of the Earrings'? 'A story about the War of the Earring.'? 'One Earring to rule them all...'?" - Ringtail huffed out, staring at the books. They were thick. Thicker than anything he had ever written. - "It's this that they want me to write about? THIS?"
Ringtail threw the books to the room in front of him, blindly. Accidentally, the books hit the bulletproof safe and made the table where it stood wobble and fall. With a bump, the vault rolled a bit on the floor. Ringtail went to check if it had broken. He lifted the safe and a sigh of relief escaped his lips when he saw that the vault was still in one piece.
"Of course it's in one piece. It's bulletproof glass! It was made that way, made to resist most bumps."
The brown-furred brawny tom looked to the kat-in-the-box inside for some time, admiring the features of the marionette. It was striking the similarity between MadKat and himself, he thought. His expression acquired a grave tone.
"One Droll to rule them all, One Droll to find them, One Droll to bring them all and in the darkness bind them..."
A month had, in the meantime, passed by without anything worth of mention. That day, both Jake and Chance were at the dojo, sparring. Chance was amazed with his small partner's will power. He had not only regained his muscle mass entirely but he had also almost completely fully regained his speed and agility. His astuteness, however, was as acute as when he first met him at the Enforcers.
Chance gave one step to his left side, his right paw raised at his chest height and the left one crossed his torso, laying low slightly at his right. Jake stepped to his left too. His fists were balled, the left one laying at his chest height on his left flank and the right one slightly distended in front of him. The look on his face was rock hard. He was totally concentrated on the fight.
A drop of perspiration left Chance's forehead and trickled down his temple and his cheek, losing its way in the fabric of Chance's gi. Chance narrowed his eyes and jumped towards Jake. The slim kat seemed surprised but jumped forward on his paws just as Chance landed on the place where he had been not a moment ago also on his paws. Instead of rolling over to escape from Chance, Jake had used his paws to boost himself back to the place from where he'd jumped, hitting Chance on his chest with his feet and sending the tabby off the arena.
Chance rolled on the floor and stood up a few seconds later. His chest hurt and he rubbed the spot where Jake had hit him. Jake came to the border of the arena and placed his paws on his waist.
"Looks like I beat you!" - he said, half-victoriously, with a smile on his snout.
"I want a rematch! You cheated!" - Chance stated out as he headed for his slender friend.
"I don't have to cheat!" - Jake said, crossing his arms in front of his chest - "I'm just more agile than you! I don't have big muscles to slow me down!" - he said as he slapped the tabby's biceps.
"Oh, yeah? Wanna see what big guns are able to do?" - Chance challenged Jake.
"Bring 'em on, fly-tom!" - Jake dared, positioning himself at one of the sides of the mat. Chance did the same and the combat started.
Jake ran to Chance and attempted a flying kick. Chance rolled over forward and escaped Jake. When Jake landed, he launched himself against Chance again but was surprised by Chance, who had already hurtled himself towards the slim kat with his knee raised. Chance hit Jake on his gut and threw the slim kat back. Jake fell on his back on the floor but rolled away almost instantaneously. Chance had lunged to Jake but fell on the spot Jake had been not two seconds ago. Jake got up and flipped back until he was some five meters away from Chance. From there, he ran and jumped high on the air.
Chance had, in the meantime, gotten up and only saw Jake when he was already at the zenith of his jump. Jake was about to fall with all his weight on top of Chance's chest. There wasn't time to escape. Chance narrowed his eyes and instead of crossing his forearms in front of his chest to protect himself, he lay them down by his flanks, completely exposing his chest. Jake widened his eyes in surprise but the hit was inevitable now. He knew that he'd most likely break Chance's sternum with this kick but the impact was unavoidable now.
The impact was tremendous. Jake calculated that such kick would be enough not only to crush someone's chest but also enough to send him flying back a few meters. None of these things happened to Chance. He not only took the whole impact but he also stood his ground, not moving one inch. Jake was so astonished he didn't even notice that Chance had grabbed his ankle in the meantime. The tabby took Jake off him and grabbed the slim kat by his arms, tightening his grip on them until it hurt.
"Ch-Chance... Chance, you're breaking my arms!" - Jake complained with his teeth clenched and the face distorted by the grimace of pain. A second later, Chance released his slim friend and Jake lay down on the ground, rubbing his arms. He'd surely have them bruised for several days. - "What was that for?"
"You can be faster and more agile than me, but I'm still stronger than you, don't forget that. Agility and speed are of no use if you get caught. Only brute force will help you in such case." - Chance said to the fallen kat. Jake looked up at Chance with almost a frightened look. But he understood what the tabby did. He had just taught him a valuable life lesson. If Jake admired his friend already, he started admiring him even more now.
"But a cunning, fast and agile tom can still stand his ground when he gets caught... if he has a strong pal on his side..." - Jake said, getting up from the floor - "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." - Chance said, rubbing his chest matter-of-factly. But the acute pain on his sternum was proof enough of the opposite.
Both toms left the arena and were heading upstairs, to their rez-de-chaussé. To do that, they had to pass through the hangar. The giant screen was on and tuned on MBC. The face of Ann Gora filled part of the screen.
"According to Enforcers' statements, a series of mysterious disappearings have been reported during this month with this being just the latest." - the reporter said. Chance cocked his head back at the screen.
"Whoa, wait a sec, bud. I wanna listen to this." - the tabby said as he turned to face the huge monitor. Jake stopped in the middle of his climb and looked back too, grabbing the stair with one paw.
"Mr. Von Seibert, owner of Katze Verlag, one of the most respected and renowned publishing companies in the planet, is reported missing from his cottage on the outskirts of Megakat City, where the millionaire was allegedly spending a few days of vacation. The Enforcers are scarce on news but as far as this reporter has been able to find out, the crime had some immensely brutal aspects. Ann Gora, Katseye News."
The face of Ann was substituted by that of another kat and the broadcast continued from the studios.
"As Ann said, the case of Maximilian Von Seibert was merely the latest. Several other kats have disappeared during this month, the most prominent of whom were Ted Twister and Kathleen Campbell. Both belonged to the board of directors of the publishing house Katze Verlag."
"A bit of a coincidence, wouldn't you say, bud?" - Jake, that, in the meantime, had joined Chance, asked his burly partner.
"You can say that again..."
"DUH! Lamest of jokes, Jake! I think we oughtta do a little research of our own. Whaddya say?"
"I say let's hit it!" - Jake said as he headed for the lockers. Chance's paw grabbing his collar, however, stopped him.
"Not so fast, fly-tom. I think we're gonna have to use a slightly different approach this time." - Chance said, rubbing his chin with his free paw.
"A different approach? What kind of approach?" - Jake asked as confusion filled his features.
It was about two in the morning when the vegetation outside Von Seibert's country house bent over to the flogging winds of the VTOL engines of the TurboKat as the black jet silently landed on the prairie in front of the cottage. The canopy slid back and two figures clad in dark blue jumped out of the plane, sneaking their way as two bluish shadows towards the darkened house. They crouched near the white picket fence that had a gray tone at the starlight. In fact, Selena wasn't shining that night and all the light came from the stars shining on a black background.
T-Bone and Razor jumped the fence and headed for the lateral of the house, where they pressed themselves against the wood of the walls. Their hears flicked and swerved from one side to the other, as their eyes did. There wasn't a sound besides that of the crickets. T-Bone peered around the corner and then signaled Razor to come with him.
"I can't believe the Enforcers left the crime scene!" - T-Bone commented, lurking at the window - "There's not even a sentinel!"
"Leaving a sentinel for what? There's nothing here to be protected!" - Razor said.
"That's what *we'll* see... Locked..." - T-Bone said as he tried the door. A few moments later, T-Bone had the door opened. - "Come on."
"How'd you do that?" - Razor asked, astonished.
"Professional secret." - he said as he turned on the light on his helmet. A dim ray of golden light poured into the house.
"I didn't know you were a professional housebreaker!" - Razor said, almost with a tinge of repudiation on his voice.
"There are many things about me you don't know." - T-Bone answered as he searched the hall with his light.
"Like what?" - Razor queried. His curiosity was nagging him now. As soon as he vocalized his question, he expected T-Bone to say 'Curiosity killed the kat' but the tabby remained silent, ignoring his last question.
"There." - T-Bone said, pointing to the living room - "Ann said the crime had some streaks of brutality... She didn't know the half of it..."
Razor came to T-Bone and peered inside the living room. The light on his helmet swerved from side to side and he was able to see the furniture all turned upside down, as though a tornado had passed through the room.
"Just because the furniture..." - Razor started but T-Bone turned off his lamp. - "Why..."
"Turn off yours and you'll see why I think the crime was extremely brutal."
Razor did so and the room returned to the arms of darkness once again. Well, not quite once again. In the walls, huge blots of a phosphorescent greenish-yellow glow cast a very pale light on the room. The walls were nearly covered with them.
"What the..." - Razor said, admired.
"It's luminol. The Enforcers use it whenever they suspect of brutal murders but actually find no or little blood on the crime scene. The colorant reacts when it finds the iron of the blood and sticks to it. When the room is darkened, the phosphorescent colorant glows, revealing the blood spots in the exact places where they'd been before they have been cleaned by the murderer."
"It's... It's everywhere... The poor guy must have had all his blood spattered on this room..." - Razor said, his eyes growing wider with a fascinated repugnancy.
"I'll say..." - T-Bone commented and stepped inside the eerie room. He stood in the middle of the pieces of furniture and looked around. Razor joined him a moment later.
"You know, it's funny..." - Razor stated, a few minutes later.
"It's something that causes amusement, laughter or surprise." - Razor answered as he inspected the floor. T-Bone rolled his eyes under the mask.
"You're inspired today, bud..."
"Thanks. Have you noticed that there's a lot of luminol and, therefore, blood, on the walls but none on the floor?"
"Now that you mention it... yeah... There's nothing on the floor." - T-Bone acquiesced.
"Any chance they didn't apply it on the ground?" - Razor asked, stroking his chin.
"I don't think so. It's standard procedure... Once they find the plausible scene of the crime, they spray it all with luminol. Walls, floor, ceiling, furniture... Everything..." - T-Bone explained.
"How come you know so much about this luminol stuff?" - Razor asked.
"Call it a field of interest..." - T-Bone answered evasively.
"Mr. T-Bone, literary critic, housebreaker and forensics detective..." - Razor mumbled - "Seems like there's really a lot about you I don't know..."
T-Bone just smiled. Then he snapped his fingers. - "Of course! That's it!"
"What is it?"
"It's a pronoun used on the third person of singular or plural. But that doesn't matter now." - Chance grinned to himself imagining Razor's eyes rolling behind his mask. - "Seriously, now. The luminol is all on the walls. What does this mean to you?"
"That you did an assonance?"
T-Bone looked up and sighed. It seemed the 'bad jokes battle' was there to endure.
"And that this is all but a set-up. That's something I've been thinking of for a while now." - Razor finished.
"Precisely... The criminal kidnapped Von Seibert and left this fake clue behind for the Enforcers to think the old kat was dead..." - T-Bone vocalized his thoughts.
"Three questions, then. Where did the criminal get that much blood, how did he clean it all up if the walls are coated with fabric and what makes you think it was another guy that did this and not Von Seibert himself?" - Razor asked back as he turned on his helmet's light, letting the beam spurting from it hit the walls.
"Elementary, my dear Razor..." - T-Bone commented as he crouched and examined the floor in front of him, his snout nearly touching the floor.
"DUH! Wanna a pipe and a violin, Sherlock? "
T-Bone straightened up and started mimicking that he was playing the violin. Razor slapped himself on the forehead.
"The criminal didn't have to throw blood at the walls, Razor. The trick of the luminol is the iron of the blood, not blood itself. It reacts with anything that has the same iron atoms present in the blood. So, the criminal would just need to throw a liquid containing iron to the walls."
"News flash for you, Sherlock: iron is not soluble on water!" - Razor said as he peered at the furniture of the room.
"Forget how small atoms are? These coated walls would act as sponges and all the iron present in such a solution would be stuck on it." - T-Bone explained - "As for cleaning up the mess he left after him, he didn't have to, as the solution I think he threw was translucent as water..."
"Diluted hemoglobin. It's just as translucent as water. And, it would produce the effect we see..." - T-Bone stated - "As for thinking that Von Seibert was not responsible for his own disappearing, check out the furniture."
"I got it. It's too heavy to be turned upside down by an old tom." - Razor said.
"You got it." - T-Bone stated and crossed his arms in front of his chest - "Case closed."
"Not quite, Sherlock... There's still one question that needs to be answered. Probably the most important of all. Who did this?"
"That is quite obvious now, wouldn't you say so? Come here. Observe this."
Razor went to T-Bone and peered down on where the tabby was pointing. He saw three claw marks ripping the wood of the floor.
"Could have been Von Seibert that made those claw marks." - Razor said, looking up to T-Bone.
"No! I said *observe* it, not look at it." - T-Bone insisted. Razor crouched and examined the claw marks. There were traces of a green stuff in two of them.
"What's this slimy thing?" - Razor asked.
"I think it's a slime mold, a single-celled organism that spreads like a fungus and inhabits shady and moist places." - T-Bone explained.
"A what?" - Razor asked, surprised - "How do you know that?"
"I think I remember having heard of this stuff in my Biology classes in high school... I remember the teacher showed us a time-lapse movie showing a yellowish slimy stuff growing and spreading like a root of a plant, only it wasn't a root but a slime mold instead... The image remained, I guess..." - T-Bone answered - "Besides, notice how deep the claw marks are. You think an old tom like Von Seibert would have claws strong enough to do such deep claw marks?"
"So, who took the old tom?" - Razor asked, puzzled.
"Who else? Dr. Viper! Who would have enough resources to make a batch of diluted hemoglobin, enough strength to carve these deep claw marks and live in dirty enough places to have slime mold on his feet?" - T-Bone stated.
"Viper! You're right... But, what's his motive?"
"Beats me... I'm not a detective, you know?" - the big tabby shrugged.
"Well, we have a suspect. Now all we have to do is check up the other sites and see if we can dig up some clues. Maybe the disappearances of the three kats from that publishing company are connected."
"Yeah, I guess we'd better hit the road... There's not much more we can check here... It's obvious that Viper didn't leave any other evidences..."
Silently as shadows, the two SWAT Kats left the house and jumped on board the TurboKat after releasing the canopy. With a hiss, the jet ascended in the dark skies and flew away to the city.
Watching the black jet leave, hidden in the shadows, stood a pair of eyes. A white toothy smile spread on the dark face and a hiss was heard.
"Good... Everything goessssss according to planned..."
Still covered by the darkness of the moonless night, the black jet fighter hovered above an apartment building, like a dark bird of prey readying itself to swipe at its prey.
"Are you sure this is the place, Razor? I mean, I don't wanna sneak into somebody else's apartment, especially at this hour of the night!" - T-Bone asked as he landed the TurboKat on the flat rooftop of the building.
"Trust me. I know what I'm doing." - Razor soothed the tabby.
Both toms left the TurboKat via bomb bay doors and walked to the edge of the rooftop. They fired a grappling hook each at the banister and jumped out of the roof. Rappelling down the side of the building they soon reached the floor and the apartment where Ted Twister lived. They peered at the large window that opened to the balcony. They saw a she-kat standing in the living room.
"Crud! You didn't tell me he was married, Razor!" - T-Bone hissed as he lowered his head, hiding it under the balusters of the balcony.
"You didn't ask! You just asked for their addresses!" - Razor hissed back.
"Let's get outta here!" - T-Bone ordered as he reeled himself up.
"Hey! You're not the boss of me!" - Razor retorted as he reeled himself up too. Once they reached the top of the apartment building, they released the grappling hooks and discussed what they should do next.
"Where did this Ted Twister disappeared anyway?" - T-Bone asked.
"The newscaster said it was at the entrance of his apartment." - Razor recalled. T-Bone stroked his chin for a few moments.
"Aren't the corridors monitored by surveillance cameras?" - he asked, to what Razor nodded an affirmative - "Then our next sortie is to the surveillance room."
"Roger that." - Razor acknowledged and they penetrated the building from the roof's door. Again, T-Bone's abilities enabled them to break in without major delays.
"You gotta teach me that stuff one of these days..." - Razor said as he followed his burly partner.
"I'm a bad teacher." - T-Bone responded as they started to climb down the flights of stairs. Their bare feet made absolutely no sound on the ground. - "Can you do anything about the surveillance cameras?"
"It's already taken care of." - Razor answered as he pressed a button on his glovatrix. A strong electromagnetic disturbance radiated from the glove-like device and momentarily deactivated the surveillance cameras.
Both toms moved fast like the wind so that the disturbance would be seen as just another apparatus malfunction. They reached the first floor where the surveillance room was lodged. Literally walking on their tiptoes now, the SWAT Kats approached the door. It was just a crack open and T-Bone opened it a bit more, peering inside. He saw a video-wall with many b/w TV screens. In front of them stood a desk and, over the desk, stood the dormant form of a surveillance guard.
"Do you have something to help our friend having sweet dreams, Razor?" - T-Bone whispered.
Razor walked in, not making any audible sound. The slim kat approached the sleeping guard from behind. Moments later, he called T-Bone aloud, for the tabby's dismay. T-Bone's heart nearly fell to his feet when he heard his name.
"What are you doing? Have you gone mad?" - T-Bone hissed, stepping inside the room.
"C'mon, T-Bone! He's out cold, like you told me to do!" - Razor said and turned around to the archives. T-Bone went to the fallen guard and looked to him. It seemed impossible that he was just sleeping.
"What did you do to him?" - T-Bone asked - "Is he dead?"
"No, he's just unconscious. Worst that could happen to him is waking up with one helluva headache." - Razor explained.
"How'd you do that?" - T-Bone asked, surprised.
"Professional secret." - Razor responded as he searched for the tape dating fifteen days back.
"I didn't know you were a professional executioner!"
"I'm not!" - Razor snapped back at T-Bone - "Look at this." - he took off of his G-suit a chain with a small medal in the end. T-Bone looked at the medal. - "It's the medal I received when I won my first national martial arts contest. I was ten years old back then. I think I had enough time to learn how to do these tricks, don't you?"
"Whoa! I have a potential killer for best friend!" - T-Bone exclaimed.
"And, you don't know the half of it, pal..." - the slim kat said before turning to search the files again - "Ah, there's the tape."
"Can we chance seeing it here?" - T-Bone asked.
"Obviously! I'm not walking home with a security tape in my paws!" - Razor stated as he inserted the tape in the slot of the video player.
"Actually, you'd be flying home with a videotape in your paws..." - the tabby muttered as the scenes ran wildly on the screen.
"The attack must have come either when he was leaving his apartment for work or later when he returned from work. That, the newscaster didn't say. Well, there he goes... It's not when he left the apartment. Let's forward the tape to... say... six o'clock."
A few moments later, Razor saw the numbers on the left lower corner approach six o'clock and played the tape at its normal speed. It didn't take them much time when they saw the editor's head appearing on the screen and heading for the door of his apartment. He paused there for a moment, searching for his keys. Then, suddenly, the screen filled with static.
"What was that?" - T-Bone asked.
"I dunno... It all happened too fast. Let's watch it again." - Razor said as he rewound the tape. T-Bone looked back at the fallen guard with some concern - "Don't worry. He won't wake up for a couple of hours. There! I think I saw something..."
The slim kat rewound the tape again and played it frame by frame this time. In the frame just before the screen became immersed in static, they saw a blurred form.
"I'd say it looks like a paw..." - T-Bone noted.
"No doubt about that." - Razor froze the image and the blurred form of a clawed paw could be seen. - "Look at the joints... Look at the shape of the paw..." - Razor observed - "What does it look to you?"
"It seems a bit of... skinny. Skeletal-like..."
"There's only one kat in this city I know has paws like that... The PastMaster!" - Razor deduced.
"The PastMaster? You're implying that he kidnapped Twister?"
"That's exactly what I'm thinking about..."
"But, with what purpose?" - T-Bone asked, puzzled. He expected that Viper had kidnapped the editor as well.
"That transcends me... I'm not a detective, you know?"
"Okay, that kills my theory that the disappearances are somehow connected..." - T-Bone said, crossing his arms in front of his chest - "Now what?"
"Now I suggest that we hit the sack... It's late and a good sleep would only be good for us. I'll just rewind the tape and put it back on its place. Then we can go." - Razor proposed.
Minutes later, the TurboKat lifted off the rooftop of the apartment building and soared the dark skies towards the Salvage Yard. From one of the side alleys of the building, a single eye followed the bluish backwash of the jet fighter.
"Yes... Everything goes like clockwork..."
The sun came up surprisingly fast for the two toms sleeping at the salvage yard. Just as soon as the first beams of clarity hit the slimmer one on his face, he started moaning.
"Huh! Morning already...?" - he mumbled - "Seems I've just slept a couple of hours..." - he said as he sat up and stretched, yawning silently. Tired eyes looked to the alarm clock on Chance's nightstand. It was just six o'clock in the morning. - "Whaddyaknow? I'm not really that far from the truth..."
Jake got out of bed and looked down on Chance. The burly tom was still asleep, snoring a bit. He smiled, feeling tempted to give him a smart wake up call but decided to let the tabby sleep a few more minutes. The slender kat left the room and after taking a shower and shaving, he went to their kitchenette to prepare breakfast. When he was done eating, he heard a loud thump coming from the floor above him, followed by a pack of insults. He could only grin when he saw Chance coming into the kitchen ten minutes later rubbing his lower back right over his tail.
"Hey, bud! Fell off of bed?" - Jake teased.
"Literally..." - Chance grumbled as he opened the refrigerator and peered inside - "I should ask that question back to you! What are you doing up so early?"
"How many times did I tell you?" - Chance said as he closed the fridge's door - "We need shutters on the first floor windows! Especially those turned to the East!"
"Anyway, I'm glad I'm up. We still have time to try and put together all the pieces we managed to gather last night before we open the garage." - Jake said as he got a sheet of paper from a notepad and a pen - "Well... What do we know for sure?"
"Von Seibert and Ted Twister were kidnapped." - Chance said as he sat down wit a mug of coffee in front of him. Jake wrote that down.
"Yes... That's for sure... And they both belonged to the board of directors of Katze Verlag..." - Jake added as he noted that down too.
"Von Seibert was taken by Viper and..." - Chance started but Jake cut him in mid-sentence.
"No, no, no! We're not sure about that..."
"All the evidence point at him! I mean, the hemoglobin, the scratches on the floor, the slime mold..." - Chance pointed as Jake wrote it all down.
"Yes, I know that they point at him. I'm also convinced that it was Viper but... I think we need something more substantial than just that..."
"You're not implying that the PastMaster is behind both abductions..." - the tabby asked.
"I'm not sure if that's such a nonsense... I mean, it's quite obvious that Twister was taken by that gnome!" - Jake responded.
"Now, wait a second! We just saw the image of a paw! And it was a bit blurred! That doesn't prove it was the PastMaster!" - Chance answered back. Jake scratched his head with the top of the pen.
"You've got a point there... Fact is, we have no substantial clue that truly points either to snake-puss or to little red skull..." - Jake concluded.
"Riiight..." - Chance sighed - "So what do you suggest we do now?"
"I'm not sure..."
"I say we pay the good doctor a visit! We get there, crash the place and pound old snake-puss until he tells us where he hid Von Seibert!"
"I say we're in a good mood this morning! Easy, big guy! You'll get your paws on Viper! Eventually, that is! Then again, on the other paw... That might not be such a bad idea! We could play a good scare on Viper if we put a squeeze on him..."
"I knew you'd see it my way..." - Chance said almost without thinking. Only after he said it, he remembered where he heard those words before. - "Katanya..." - he sighed as a shadow cast over his eyes. He suddenly got up and clenched his teeth. - "Let's kick some tail! I've been too much time inactive!"
The big tabby ran to the underground hangar, immediately followed by his slim partner. The TurboKat was in the air minutes later, its course set to Megakat Swamps.
"You still remember where Viper's lab was?" - T-Bone asked as he maneuvered his Jet Ski around the aerial roots of a mangrove.
"Sure I remember! Even if I didn't, the glovatrix doesn't make mistakes!" - Razor answered as he scanned the display on his glovatrix.
"Except for that time in the caves..." - T-Bone commented on the sly.
"Hey, I heard that! I told you already! Those bats all together *seemed* like a big warm-blooded object, okay?" - Razor retorted. After contouring another mangrove-plot they found the giant tree that housed Doctor Viper's lab. - "See? What did I tell you?"
"Show time..." - T-Bone hissed.
They turned off the engines of their Jet Skis and the small red transports took them silently to the base of the tree. With feline gracefulness, they jumped out of the Jet Skis and started climbing up the nodulous and writhed tree. The whole swamp was suddenly too silent, almost as if the animals were sensing some impending confrontation. In less time than it takes to tell, the twosome reached the balcony of the tree-lab. Razor went for one of the windows and tried to lurk inside but the glasses were so dirty he couldn't see a thing.
"Let's try the front door..." - Razor said as he headed for it.
"You want me to break it?" - T-Bone offered. Razor tried the door.
"No need. It's unlocked." - he said. T-Bone's shoulders dropped in frustration.
Both SWAT Kats entered the darkened realms of Viper's laboratory. Viper had done a little remodeling since last they've paid the good doctor a visit. At least, the workbenches, though still made out of vines, weren't as crude or knotty as they remembered them to be.
"Well, well... Looks like Viper's been out for shopping... Look at this! A Cray-XMP supercomputer!" - Razor said, almost drooling over the machine.
"You want me to break it?" - T-Bone offered his services again, cocking his ears.
"Are you kidding? This is the fastest you can get these days! That Bill Crates dude is still light-years away from this technology!"
"Yeah, sure. You're telling me that MacroHard Enterprises hasn't got a big box like this? Right..."
"I'm telling you, this isn't available in the market... It's for military use only!"
"So Viper's moved from robbing the Biochemical Labs to shopping in Pumadyne! Nice shift..." - T-Bone commented as his eyes roamed through the darkened room.
"Speaking of whom, where's the big lizard, anyway? He should've greeted us by now!" - Razor said, stroking his chin.
"What'ssss all this shouting? We'll have no trouble here!" - Viper said as he appeared from behind a door with a vial filled with a green liquid on one paw and an Erlenmeyer half-filled with a purple fluid on the other.
T-Bone snapped his head back and lunged to the green kat, clenching him against the wall. The big tabby grabbed Viper by his lab coat and tossed him onto the lab bench. Viper rolled on the bench and fell on the floor on the other side, spilling the liquids on top of his head.
"I think that's enough for now, big guy!" - Razor said, placing a paw in front of T-Bone. T-Bone powered down and Razor went to the lab bench. Viper was still out of sight. - "Okay, Viper. Come out from under the table. What did you do to Von Seibert, you scum snake?"
The only audible sound both toms heard was a low hissing that increased steadily as the seconds passed by. Slowly, Viper straightened up. The fluids from the vials he was holding were oozing from the top of his head and down his features. The snake-kat's snout was wrinkled as a savage sneer spread over his mouth, making the razor-sharp fangs visible.
"Hey, T-Bone! Look at it! Doesn't it remind you that character from 'I Was a Teenage Mutant Alligator - Part Nine and a Half'?" - Razor queried, tugging at the tabby's sleeve.
"That horror flick we watched the other day, remember?"
"Correction: that *you* watched the other day! It was so boring I fell asleep after the first scene..." - T-Bone stated out.
Meanwhile, Viper's looks only gotten worse. His eyes acquired a bright golden glow and he moved on from hissing to snarling.
"A entire month shut up in thissss lab, doing resssssearch... Now *lossssst*!" - Viper hissed angrily as he finished straightening up. Razor took a step back.
"Where's Von Seibert?" - Razor asked again.
"Why don't you try at his publishing housssse? Do you think I bring him in my POCKET?" - Viper roared out as he took a step towards the vigilantes.
"You don't fool us, you scum snake!" - T-Bone intervened - "We know it was you at Von Seibert's cottage! Now hand the old kat over!"
"The only thing I'll be handing you over are my claws on your throatssss!" - Viper menaced, jumping on top of the lab bench.
"Hum, T-Bone, I think Viper isn't responsible for Von Seibert's disappearance..." - Razor said as he nudged T-Bone to the door. T-Bone looked at the saliva oozing from Viper's lower jaw.
"Hum, I'm with you, Razor. It seems that Viper is innocent, after all... Now, I strongly suggest that we vacate our current location at once!" - T-Bone proposed, taking one step back.
And so they did. They turned on their heels and ran out of Viper's lab just as the good doctor had lunged towards the twosome. When Viper came to the balcony, both T-Bone and Razor were getting away in their Jet Skis.
"AND IF I EVER CATCH YOU AGAIN IN MY LAB I'LL RIP YOU TO SHREDSSS!" - the snake-kat bellowed, roaring when he finished the sentence in order to emphasize his words. When the vigilantes were finally out of sight he looked down on his stained lab coat and passed a paw over his face.
"Now I'm gonna have to take a bath to get thisss crud off me... Blassst those SSSWAT Katsss!"
"Now, that mission was a complete bust!" - Chance complained as he finished dressing his overalls.
"What would you expect? We busted in his lab, wrecked the place and beat the guy up! I'd be just like him if I were in his place..." - Jake said as he headed for the upper level - "And that's not even the worst! Now we know Viper didn't kidnap Von Seibert!"
"Yeah, you're right... That scum-snake was innocent all along... Darn! I was so sure it had been Viper to take the old tom!" - Chance stated out.
"We better get this business running, Chance! This sortie took us more than I've expected... It's already past nine!"
"I just hope there's not much to do today. After this bust I'm not feeling much motivated to work." - the burly tom went for the garage door and opened it. The bright light of the morning blinded him for a moment. When he got used to the bright luminosity, he widened his eyes in disbelief from the vision he had in front of him. - "Crud!"
In front of him was a line of cars as far as the eye could reach.
The day passed very slowly for the two mechanics. They've never had such a clientele during their time there, in the Salvage Yard. It seemed as if the Holy Kats were playing tricks on both of them. Closing the garage well after eight o'clock in the afternoon and after a fast shower, Chance plopped down on the sofa for a well-deserved rest.
"What about dinner, hotshot?" - Jake asked as he headed for the shower.
"Not me today, bud. How about if we just order a pizza?" - Chance asked from the sofa.
"Soothes me. Tuna topping?" - Jake asked back.
"But *no* anchovies!"
"I'll go make the order."
A few minutes later, Jake came out from the bathroom wearing a pair of jeans and scrubbing his hair with a towel. He sat down on the couch beside Chance, letting the towel hang from his neck and over his shoulders. Chance examined his partner's torso.
"You're starting to look like your old self, bud."
"Yeah! I noticed. - "Jake flexed his right biceps - "Couldn't have done it without your help, Chance! Thanks!"
"Anytime, bud!" - Chance said. He laid his head down on the couch's headrest and stared up - "So, what's your idea?"
"Oh, that... Well, I didn't have much time to set my thoughts in order... But, since Viper didn't do it, my only guess is that the PastMaster kidnapped both Twister *and* Von Seibert." - Jake answered as he scrubbed his hair a bit more.
"Here we go again... We're not sure whether it was the PastMaster..."
"C'mon, Chance! Who else would have a paw like that?"
"Then why didn't he just zap the surveillance camera with his watch?"
"I dunno! He must have wanted to save his energy, maybe!"
"And, most important of all, *why* would a sorcerer kidnap one of the head-editors of Katze Verlag?" - Chance asked.
"Those are very pertinent questions, Chance, but I don't know the answer for them. We'll have to investigate this case further!"
"And, what about that other directress, that Kathleen Campbell? We have to check her too!"
"Maybe we still have some spunk left after dinner to check her place for clues. Right now, all I can think of is eating and resting." - Jake said as he leaned back on the sofa.
"I drink to that!" - Chance commented and sipped a draught of milk from the can he brought from the freezer.
"Hey! I want one too!" - Jake complained.
"So get your tail off the couch and get yourself one!"
Jake was meaning to get up when he saw something flying from his left, towards his face. By sheer reflex, he caught the unknown object with his right paw before it could hit him in the face. It turned out to be cold. He was grabbing a can of milk.
"Thought you might want one..." - Chance said, a smile spreading on his snout. Jake just smiled back as he shook his head.
Both toms spent the following minutes in silence, savoring their drinks. The pizza came a bit later and they ate it accompanied of two other cans of milk.
"Guy, that was good!" - Jake said after drinking the last drop of milk. With one paw, he crushed the can and threw it to the paper basket near the TV table.
"Like they use to say, hunger is the best sauce. But it was damn good!" - Chance corroborated - "So? About that Campbell gal? Do we still have some energy left?"
"You know, rappelling down a skyscraper in the middle of the night after having such a wonderful meal is *not* my ideal of fun! But, since it's gotta be done..."
"And since what's gotta be done has a lot of strength..." - Chance said.
"Let's do it! I just need to make a little research on the InterWeb first. But prior to that..." - Jake went to the hangar and, moments later, he returned with his glovatrix. He headed for the office at the garage.
"What are you doing?" - the tabby queried after placing himself behind Jake.
"I'm trying to find out where she lives." - the slim kat explained - "I'm trying to access the database on Katze Verlag."
"Can you do it from here?" - Chance wondered.
"Not with just these resources. But with a little aid from the glovatrix..." - Jake plugged a couple of wires coming from his glovatrix on a same amount of spare USB doors in the back of the computer. He pressed a button on the glovatrix and a small display appeared on the side of the glove-like apparatus. A series of numbers started flashing on the display for a few minutes.
"And, Jake?" - Chance asked, impatiently.
"Give it time... There are thousands of possible combinations for this six numbers password. There! I'm in! Now... Let's learn some more about you, Miss Campbell..." - Jake stated out, interlacing his fingers and making them pop - "Well, well, I'm sorry *Mrs.* Campbell... Didn't know you weren't single anymore..." - the slim kat commented.
"Thrilled as you may be with Mrs. Campbell file, just write down her address and let's *go*!" - Chance urged.
"Okay, okay... I'm disconnected already. Let's hit!"
"This is just great! Another bummer!" - T-Bone said as he jumped down from the TurboKat. Razor fell in a steady pace behind the tabby.
"At least the house was deserted. That was a good thing. It made things easier on us." - Razor replied.
"Yeah, but we haven't found a single clue as to either her whereabouts or *who* took her!" - T-Bone stated out, retrieving his helmet and mask and ramming them inside his locker.
"Well, the place was deserted. And seemed deserted for quite some time... At least a month, judging by the amount of dust covering the furniture..." - Razor said as he undressed his G-suit.
"I still don't get you." - Chance said, shaking his head a bit.
"Mrs. Campbell disappeared at least a month ago and the house's been empty for at least a month... But, she's married... So, where's her husband?"
"Got it! So it was a double kidnapping!" - Chance reasoned after closing his locker's door with a clang.
"It appears so..."
"Okay! What would the PastMaster do with a directress of Katze Verlag and her husband?" - Chance asked as he climbed up the stairs.
Jake shrugged - "Your guess is as good as mine..."
"But knowing that doesn't take us out of this uncertainty. We still know nothing as to both Von Seibert's and Twister's whereabouts!" - Chance complained.
"Buddy, I'm not thinking any more about that tonight. For such a calm night, I sure am pooped. All I want now is some well-deserved rest." - Jake said as he sat on the couch and stretched out to grab a book standing on the table beside it. Chance sat down beside Jake.
"I can't believe you're still reading that thing..." - the tabby said as he turned on the TV set and zapped through the channels with the remote.
"I told you already! I like Ringtail's style." - the slim kat responded, his eyes glued on the pages.
"There really *are* tastes for everything in this world..." - Chance retorted, shaking his head slightly in a negative.
"You know, many kats must think like you do, Chance."
"Well, according to the bookseller where I bought this book, he told me I had been the only kat in this city that had actually purchased one of these. He was returning every single copy of "Free MadKat" to the publishing-house 'cause they weren't selling. He also told me his fellow booksellers were having the same problem and were returning all of Ringtail's books as well." - Jake explained.
Chance let out a low appreciative whistle - "Guy, Ringtail must be mad! After two gigantic hits, a gigantic failure!"
"Yeah... Well, the publishing-company is also to blame, really! Look at this cover!" - Jake closed the book and showed the front cover to Chance - "Isn't it abhorrent?"
Chance looked at the almost incomprehensible mix of surrealism and art deco design slapped on the front cover. It really wasn't that appealing. Though we all know one mustn't judge a book by its cover, it's also true that the front cover is the first part of the book to be "eaten" by the eyes, so a good-looking cover, most of the times, helps a lot. However, something caught Chance's attention: the seal of the publishing company. Like a bolt, Chance snatched the book from Jake's paws.
"Hey! What's the big idea?"
Chance didn't answer. He looked for the book's credits on the first pages and searched, once he found them. Without a word, Chance dropped the book on the couch and got up, heading for the table beside the sofa.
Jake just stared agape as Chance rummaged through the books stacked in a pile under the table. The tabby was looking for Ringtail's other two books, "MadKat and Me" and "The MadKat Within". He examined the credits on them both when he found the objects of his search.
"Chance? What's gotten into you?" - Jake finally managed to ask, dumbfounded with the brawny kat's behavior. The tabby didn't answer. Instead, he went to the office at the garage and turned on the computer, accessing the InterWeb. Jake positioned himself behind Chance seconds later and observed as a list appeared on the monitor.
"What *exactly* are you doing?" - the slim kat queried.
"Curiosity killed the kat, Jake, didn't you know?" - Chance answered, not taking his eyes from the screen. He selected an item from the list - "I'm trying to crack this case..."
"Mind sharing your thoughts with me?" - Jake asked.
"Not yet. When I see my suspicion confirmed, I'll tell you everything... But, if I'm proved right, we've got not only a suspect, but also the crime's mobile, the modus operandi and, perhaps, the victims still intact..."
"Megakat Post? Why are you accessing Megakat Post's netsite?" - Jake questioned.
"I'm looking for a particular article... If I only could remember the exact date... I'll use the site's search engine..."
As soon as Chance finished his sentence, he typed a word in the box of the search engine that made Jake cock one eyebrow.
"Him?" - he uttered, in puzzlement - "Wait a minute! You could be right!" - Jake whispered, understanding descending upon him - "You could be damn right!"
Another list filled the screen, though smaller than the first one. Chance selected another item and seconds later, the headlines of a newspaper article shone out from the screen.
"Bingo!" - Chance stated out, smacking his clenched fist on top of the table, causing the computer itself to jump a few millimeters in the air - "I was right! He bought it!"
"Hey! That's my saying!" - Jake complained.
"Sue me... At last, things are starting to make some sense." - Chance said. Both toms stared blankly at the screen for a few moments.
"It's so obvious... The only kat who really had a motive... This wraps it all up!" - Jake concluded.
"Yep... We've got our kat..." - Chance stretched and yawned - "But now I'm falling apart... Today's been a rough day for both of us."
Jake yawned too - "You're right... But I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight. At least, after having cracked this case! I'm more than eager to get my paws on that guy!"
"Me too! But I don't feel like apprehending him tonight. We're tired and this guy will put up quite a fight... Remember last time?"
"How could I ever forget..." - Jake whispered, rubbing his left fist.
"Besides, he probably is unaware of our recent knowledge. We can get the drop on him anytime. Don't worry!" - the tabby said, placing a soothing paw on Jake's shoulder. Jake acquiesced and they left the garage, heading upstairs, for a well-deserved night of sleep. Despite the exhilaration he was feeling, Jake soon fell asleep. Chance, however, took a bit more of time falling asleep.
"Get your rest, bud. You're gonna need it for tomorrow... It'll be your first fight since you got out of Alkatraz... Just do what you can, buddy. Don't exaggerate! You don't have to prove me anything..."
The brown brawny kat turned around in his bed. His deep sleep had suddenly become light and restless, as if a premonition had suddenly shone up in the darkness of his dreams. Ringtail revolved around restlessly. The creased sheets entangled around his chest, tightening their grip around him. His paws were grabbing the white tentacles around his torso. With a loud and sudden gasp for air, Ringtail sat up like a bolt on his bed. A sound of torn fabric was heard for a few seconds and shreds of white fell next to his flanks.
He placed a paw on his face and gasped for air for a few moments before trying to get his bearings. The room was still dark. It was night yet. He looked at the window. The sky was still dark but the growing red flare of dawn was becoming more and more evident by the moment. It was moments before the dawn, the coldest hour of the day. The city was silent, still.
Ringtail closed his eyes and soaked in a deep breath. What was that woke him up so sudden and frighteningly? He passed a paw over his hair and heaved out a sigh of relief. The brawny kat opened his eyes and stared at the window again. The flare was becoming brighter and the skies were acquiring a range of colors varying from purple to blood red. He covered his eyes with his paw to protect them from the impending sunrise.
The sun came up but he never blinked. His face was still bathed in shadow, though the clarity spread throughout his room. Ringtail cocked an eyebrow and rubbed his eyes with his fists, in order to get the sleep out of them. But he was still immersed in shadow when he opened his eyes. Only then, when the sleepiness and the confusion abandoned his brain completely did he notice the reason for the shadow cast upon him.
He widened his eyes in fright. Two menacing silhouettes were at the window, blocking the sun. With the reddish flare behind darkening their features, the forms looked like the demons from his dreams. They were back from the gone to haunt him.
The forms flexed their legs and jumped towards the window, shattering the glasses into a million pieces. The shadow left Ringtail's face and the bright rays of the rising sun hit him in the face with all their might as a rain of glass debris reflected the same rays in an eddy of twinkling light around the dark clad forms.
Ringtail crept back on the bed, trying to get away from the approaching forms. Soon enough, the wall stopped him cold in his tracks.
"Deploy Mini Spider Missile!" - the smaller one said.
Something shot out from the figure's arm and headed directly towards Ringtail. He still tried to avoid the incoming projectile but he suddenly felt himself immobile, bound by numerous threads that entangled around his body, like the white tentacles of his sheets tried to do so only minutes ago. He looked above, towards his captors and gasped. The bigger one was bending over him. He felt a strong paw grabbing him by his collar and, the next moment, starting with a jolt, he felt being flung into the air with an astonishing ease.
"Game's over, Ringtail! Where are they?" - the gruff voice of T-Bone shot throughout the room. Even though Ringtail could see the features of his attackers clearly now, it still took him some moments to make the connection.
"SWAT Kats? What the heck are you doing in my place?" - Ringtail asked, nervously.
"Enough small talk, Ringtail!" - Razor growled, pointing the three barrels of his glovatrix to the brown kat's flank - "Where are Von Seibert and Ted Twister? We know you're holding them captive."
"W-who? What the heck are you talking ab...Oof!" - Ringtail never finished his sentence as T-Bone rammed him against the wall.
"We won't ask you again. *Where are they*? - the tabby snarled.
"I-I don't know what you're talking about! I swear!" - Ringtail blabbered. T-Bone threw him to his bed.
"We're tired of this game, Ringtail." - Razor sighed - "We know everything. How you kidnapped Von Seibert and Twister, how you planted all those fake clues... We even know the purpose of such crimes."
"You're insane! I have nothing to do with..."
"It's a shame you blame others for your own mistakes, Ringtail." - T-Bone cut him off.
"Getting even on your editor and his boss won't make you sell more books, Ringtail." - the tabby concluded.
"That's it!" - Razor said, snapping his fingers - "His motive wasn't only vengeance! His main purpose was the oldest one in the book: greed!" - Razor turned to Ringtail - "Isn't it so, Ringtail? You kidnapped Von Seibert and Twister pretending you were Viper and the PastMaster so that later MadKat would show up and miraculously save the editor and his boss from the clutches of those villains. Meanwhile, you'd ask for a large ransom for Von Seibert and Twister. That money would be paid off and mysteriously disappear while you'd come as MadKat, pretending to save Von Seibert and Twister. That would be a great propaganda for your book "Free MadKat" and rivers of money would flow again to your doorstep as the book sold like water in the desert. You'd get even at Von Seibert and Twister, keep the money of their ransom, advertise your book and collect the profits from the sells of it... Isn't that it, Ringtail?" - Razor concluded. Ringtail narrowed his eyes.
"That's right! Those bozos can't even recognize a good piece of work when they see one. They informed me that my latest book wasn't selling, that not as much as ten books out of ten thousands were sold out. All because of them! All because of those "The Mistress of the Earrings" books!" - Ringtail snarled out.
"'The Mistress of the Earrings'? Don't tell me you were pretending to kidnap the author as well?" - the big tabby asked.
"Of course not! That would be a publicity stunt that would increase the sells of his books at least tenfold! I'm not that stupid!" - Ringtail retorted.
"Where are Von Seibert and Ted Twister?" - Razor queried once more.
"Why don't you find out for yourselves?" - Ringtail defied. Razor pointed his glovatrix to the brown kat's face.
"'Cause you're gonna tell us right now!"
"I think not, SWAT Kat..."
Suddenly, a red and yellow tentacle shot out from Ringtail's left flank and rammed against Razor's gut, throwing him back and making him fire a missile towards Ringtail. Razor was thrown out of the window and initiated a free fall from the penthouse of Kat Empire Building. The cold air rushing through his facial fur took away the initial dizziness from the tentacle's impact and he showed enough presence of mind to deploy the delta backpack instead of firing a grappling hook, which most certainly would have dislocated his shoulder joint when it stopped the fall.
Meanwhile, the missile hurtled towards Ringtail and was about to strike him when the brown kat disappeared in a cloud of yellow smoke. The missile impacted the wall and exploded, opening a hole on the wall. On the other side, slightly singed and frightened but alive and well were Von Seibert and Ted Twister, tied up and gagged. T-Bone ran to the captives but Ringtail reappeared in front of the tabby. His right paw turned into a giant maul. T-Bone didn't have time to prevent the impact and was thrown back to the wall by it. Recovering fast enough to surprise Ringtail, T-Bone flung himself towards the brown-furred kat, tackling him at the waist and bringing him down. But the edge T-Bone had won over Ringtail soon ended when Ringtail turned his whole body into a giant snake, that promptly wrapped around the tabby's body and slowly started squeezing the air out of T-Bone's lungs.
Razor swished through the broken window and found T-Bone wrestling the red and yellow snake. He also located the captives. In a split-second decision, he retrieved a Mini Turboblade from his glovatrix and ran over to Von Seibert and Twister, cutting the ropes that bound them.
"Get out! Now! Call the Enforcers!" - Razor ordered. Twister placed one of Von Seibert's arms over his shoulders and gladly stumbled their way out of that nuts' place. Just as soon as the duo had left the penthouse, Razor's attention was drawn back towards T-Bone. The tabby was almost blue from lack of breathing.
"When facing a snake, go for its head." - Razor thought. And so he did. He lunged towards the snake and fired a Mini Turboblade that grazed the snake's snout. The animal let go of its prey, curling into a living ball. T-Bone coughed a few times before he could regain his breath.
"Th-Thanks, Razor... You saved my life..." - T-Bone whispered between coughs.
"Save the mushy stuff for later, Teeb. We've got a clown to catch." - Razor said as he stood up, facing the snake. T-Bone promptly stood up by his side.
The serpent had turned into a yellowish living mass. Then, Ringtail started emerging from the mass as the ball shrank. A toothy maniacal smile appeared on his face and his eyes were suddenly green and pupil-less, glowing with a fire of their own.
"How can he do this? He hasn't transformed into MadKat yet!" - T-Bone wondered.
"How can you be so sure of it, SWAT Kat?" - Ringtail asked. In the next second, his clothes started changing. The red and yellow colors that characterized the mad jester started appearing from various spots on Ringtail's body, growing in size until they all fused into one. It wasn't Ringtail anymore, but MadKat, that stood in front of them. - "Surprised, T-Bonehead?"
"MadKat!" - both SWAT Kats stated out in unison.
"Looks like we meet again, SWAT Kats... Would it surprise you if I said that this was predestined to happen?" - MadKat asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I don't believe in fate!" - T-Bone snarled as he lunged towards MadKat. The jester simply disappeared in a cloud of yellow smoke. The tabby passed through it and knocked his snout against the wall.
From behind Razor came MadKat's voice - "You thought you'd have learnt by now... You can't catch me!"
Razor turned around but a giant red and yellow ball stroke him and sent him next to T-Bone. MadKat cachinnated at the sight of the twosome sitting on the ground.
"Now?" - T-Bone whispered.
"NOW!" - Razor cried out.
Both toms aimed their glovatrixes and shot a Mini Turboblade each. The projectiles met their targets, cutting off the small spherical bells that adorned MadKat's cap. A bloodcurdling scream followed, coming from the mad jester. T-Bone waited no longer and fired a second Mini Turboblade, aimed at the last bell, cutting it from the fool's cap. MadKat bellowed even louder as though in profound pain, clutching his head.
"My cap! Look what you've done to my CAP!" - MadKat roared, wheezing in after each sentence. The insane fool staggered towards them but T-Bone's incoming fist stopped MadKat cold in his tracks. MadKat fell over his tail, wheezing as though he had a hundred years. T-Bone went over to him and, with a ripping sound, torn the fool's cap off. With a flare, MadKat abandoned Ringtail's body, who remained unconscious on the ground.
"Good going, T-Bone!" - Razor congratulated his partner, giving him a friendly slap on the back - "Lets tie him up."
"Sure!" - T-Bone responded as he inspected the cap. - "It's amazing that all his powers are stored inside this cap... It's almost unbelievable."
"Yeah... Astonishing how such a puny-looking thing can bring so much harm to katkind..." - Razor said as he finished rolling Ringtail into a Mini Spider Missile. He slapped his paws when he finished and placed a foot on top of Ringtail's chest, which was slowly coming around.
"Wha... What happened... here?" - he asked.
"Ringtail, you're under arrest for the kidnapping of Maximilian Von Seibert and Ted Twister." - Razor stated out, placing his paws on his hips.
All of a sudden, the door of the penthouse was thrown off its hinges and Feral and half a dozen of his kats broke in, cocking and aiming their blasters.
"Here's the cavalry..." - Razor said, smirking.
"Late as usual..." - T-Bone completed, also giving Feral a mocking grin. Feral just gave his son a reproachful look.
"We received an urgent call from Ted Twister, saying his and Von Seibert's kidnapper was Leonard Ringtail." - Feral said as he approached the three kats.
"Well, Ringtail did it, all right. But not without a little edge from MadKat." - Razor said.
"That's right, Commander." - T-Bone responded - "The ghost with the most itself..."
"You see, Ringtail's last book has been a bust. After two best-sellers, Ringtail couldn't conceive the idea of one of his books being a failure. So he blamed the president of the publishing-house and his editor for the lousy results his book was having. He decided to kidnap them and ask for a large ransom in return. Then he would 'save' Von Seibert and Twister in a publicity stunt capable of making his book sell even on Selena. In order to confuse the Enforcers and us, he planted false evidences in the crime scenes." - Razor explained.
"That's right, Feral." - T-Bone continued from where Razor stopped - "Ringtail, or rather, MadKat, used his powers to become Doctor Viper and the PastMaster. Disguised as Viper, he kidnapped Von Seibert and made the crime look brutal by spraying diluted hemoglobin on the walls of Von Seibert's living room on his cottage. After applying the luminol, it glowed nearly everywhere. He even left some claw marks on the floor with slime mold on them, so that we'd think it had been Viper that had taken the old kat."
"As for Ted Twister, he disguised himself as the PastMaster. In order to terminate the surveillance cameras that monitored the corridors of Twister's apartment building, he had to knock one of them out, leaving the blurred image of a skeletal paw to be found by whoever checked the security tapes." - Razor proceeded - "It was all quite ingenious... It had us fooled for some time..."
"Wait a minute... Whatever happened to Mrs. Campbell and her husband? I only saw Von Seibert and Twister tied up back there!" - T-Bone asked.
"You're right, T-Bone! We forgot all about them!" - Razor acquiesced.
"Aren't you, by any chance, referring to Mrs. Katherine Campbell, assistant-director of Katze Verlag that was reported missing nearly a month ago?" - Feral asked. Both SWAT Kats gave an affirmative answer in unison. - "Well, I should inform you that Mrs. Campbell showed up two days ago and she has nothing to do with this case."
"How's that, Feral? She was connected to Von Seibert and Twister! They all belonged to the board of directors of Katze Verlag!" - T-Bone retorted.
"Not to mention that she was personally responsible for the marketing strategy of "The Mistress of the Earrings"..." - Razor concluded.
"I reiterate that she has nothing to do with this case. You see, she pretended to have been abducted and murdered so that her husband could receive her *substantial* life insurance. After that, he would disappear from circulation and meet her, so that they'd get to spend the money in some paradisiacal place. What she didn't account for was that her husband had an extramarital affair with a young twenty year-old she-kat. When he missed their rendezvous by fifteen days, she decided to sell him out and came to us, telling the entire plot they've conjured together. I *obviously* didn't have any other choice but to place her under arrest immediately... How stupid can a kat be...?" - Feral explained.
"Unbelievable..." - both SWAT Kats said, simultaneously.
"I... have to say that you did a good job this time, SWAT Kats... So, I won't press any charges against you, since you helped capture Ringtail." - Feral said as two of his kats took Ringtail away.
"Helped? This time, we handed it to you wrapped in a gift package, Feral... all that was missing was a bow..." - Razor said, sardonically.
"You'd better keep this safe too, Feral." - T-Bone said as he showed the rag on his paws.
"And just what is that?" - he asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"MadKat's cap." - T-Bone informed - "Amazing how all his powers are trapped here. Without the bells it's quite harmless though..." - T-Bone took off his helmet and put the torn rag on top of his head - "How do I look?"
"Like an idiot!" - both Razor and Feral said, in unison. T-Bone just grinned. He knew they'd say that.
"You should consider changing your outfit so that it would match the cap!" - Razor taunted.
"Don't take it off, SWAT Kat! You look better with it on!" - Feral said.
"Yeah... Well, fun's over, bud. Let's... Huh?" - Razor looked at the tabby and his eyes widened in terror - "Holy Kats..."
"What? What is it, Razor?" - T-Bone asked.
"Take it off! Take it off, fast!" - Razor ordered.
"What? The cap? Why?"
"It has bells again! A moment ago there weren't any and the next moment the bells were back! Take it off before it's too..."
But Razor never got to finish his sentence. A brilliant flare filled the room for a few seconds, but it was bright enough to blind everyone in there for a few moments. When Razor regained his vision, the show in front of him was more terrible than he could imagine.
"Oh, no..." - the slim SWAT Kat whispered.
"Guess, I'm game again, gentlekats..." - MadKat cackled. - "Why don't we... expand... our views a little?" - he said. The next second, MadKat started swelling like a cake with too much baking soda in it... A sickening yellow and red cake...
"We've got to get out of here before he crushes us against the walls!" - Feral roared.
"Wait a minute..." - Razor asked. He sighed and pointed his glovatrix at the red and yellow wall expanding towards him. - "I hate to do this, buddy..."
The slender SWAT Kat shot a Mini Turboblade towards MadKat. The cutter pinched the red and yellow swelling wall and MadKat started to lose the air like a balloon. When he reached smaller dimensions, Razor and Feral had to duck in order to escape from the crazy flight MadKat was doing, unable to contain the loss of air. When finally all the air was out, MadKat dropped on the floor, like an empty balloon.
"Darn..." - the mad jester said and mended the hole in his body with some adhesive before he retrieved a pump from underneath him and started pumping with one arm.
"What just happened here?" - Ringtail asked. He had managed to run from his captors when he felt the entire building trembling. He looked at MadKat and his eyes widened. - "Who... Who is he?"
"It's my partner, you bastard!" - Razor said, pouncing at Ringtail, teeth clenched - "You'd better tell me a fast way to exorcise that mad ghost out of him or *you'll* need an exorcism... For the next five lives!"
"Y-your partner? Then we should have no problem! He's a good guy, isn't he?" - Ringtail blabbered.
"What do you mean? And be fast!"
"I mean, what MadKat does is exalt one's playful wishes. Basically, MadKat makes us play. There's just something that makes him different from us... He always takes his plays *too* far..."
"You mean, the giant MadKat, the giant ball, the giant octopus, the giant building..."
"They were just my favorite toys when I was a kitten..." - Ringtail concluded - "If your partner's a nice guy, then he must have had a nice kittenhood, so he must be quite harmless..."
"Damn it, we're in a bigger danger than when *you* were MadKat!" - Jake said, despaired.
"Why?" - both Feral and Ringtail asked simultaneously.
"Don't you know that T-Bone only plays rough? He's gonna wreck the entire city if we don't do something!"
"Finally! I'm inflated!" - MadKat said - "Now, who wants to play with me?"
The impact against the wall was huge, drawing all the air off of Razor and Feral's lungs. Both kats were sitting on the floor, their backs against the wall. They watched as MadKat shrank his right arm to its normal size again.
"Commander!" - one enforcer called - "What do we do with Ringtail?"
"Get him out of here! Throw him in the slammer. The rest of you aim your blasters at MadKat and fire at will!" - Feral ordered. The enforcers obeyed and aimed their guns at the mad jester.
"Are you nuts?" - Razor snarled - "Don't you remember that's T-Bone there?" - he then proceeded in a whisper - "Your *son*, for crying out loud!"
"FIRE!" - the leader screamed and every enforcer opened fire. The blasts caught MadKat, throwing him back a few meters but didn't even make a scratch on him.
"Why don't we take this game *outside*?" - MadKat said as he got up to his feet. Just as soon as he finished his sentence, he disappeared in a cloud of yellow smoke.
"Where did he go?" - Feral asked to no one in particular.
"Outside, like he said... But where?" - Razor said. Suddenly, he heard a familiar noise. - "Oh, no! The *jet*!
Razor and Feral went to the balcony. The noise of the jet's engines warming up got louder. Razor jumped to the rooftop and saw MadKat on the pilot's seat of the TurboKat.
"I always wanted to have a jet to play with!" - the insane fool snickered. He maxed the jet up and the TurboKat started running towards Razor.
"Razor! Get out of the way or you'll be crushed!" - Feral bellowed but Razor remained in his place.
The jet gained momentum by the second and ran over the place where Razor was standing. Feral covered his head with his arm as the jet passed just a few feet over his head. A whirlpool of dashing wind flogged him with dirt. When the rush of air passed, he looked to the TurboKat, flying towards the city. He turned around and jumped on top of the roof, counting to see the SWAT Kat's squished remains. He was more than surprised when he found absolutely nothing on the roof. He reached for his radio.
"This is Feral. Is there any corpse on the floor in front of Kat Empire Building?" - he asked. The negative answer came only seconds later. - "Then what the..." - he mumbled. Suddenly, he widened his eyes and looked in the direction of the jet - "No! It can't be!" - he pressed a button on his radio again - "This is Feral! I need chopper backup! On the double!"
The impact had been stronger than he had expected but he managed his intent anyway. The only thing was that his arms were terribly numb now as Razor hung free on one of the rear landing gears of the TurboKat. His slim body wavered as a flag in a strong wind. He was grabbing the landing gear with all his might but it had started slipping ever since the beginning and now he was clutching the cold iron with his claws.
"If I fall now, I'm dead! I just hope MadKat isn't like T-Bone and don't do any stunts..."
Clenching his teeth, Razor threw his right arm up and grabbed the landing gear a few centimeters above his former position. Slowly, he started climbing up the landing gear.
"I'm gonna have to squeeze myself through the opening. I just hope MadKat doesn't remember to pull the gears up."
With an anguished effort, Razor managed to climb up the landing gear but when he tried to pass through the opening, he realized he'd have to drop his backpack if he wanted to penetrate the jet. And, that's just what he did. He climbed aboard the jet but his work wasn't done yet. He still had to squeeze himself between the pieces of machinery in his way to the bomb bay, the only place down below with some room.
"Why didn't we build a *large* flying ship like we saw on all those cartoons during our kittenhood?" - he grunted as he finally reached the bomb bay. - "Now I'm going to have to sneak inside the cockpit... I'm just glad MadKat doesn't know what's about to happen to him..."
Little did Razor know that MadKat was already aware of his presence on board the black jet fighter. The passive defense systems had fired their alarms just as soon as he had set one foot on board the TurboKat. Using the little knowledge he managed to rip off from T-Bone when he possessed him, he knew just what to do.
"I hope you like a roller-coaster ride, SWAT Kat!" - he said to himself before he laughed. Pulling the control stick towards him, he sent the jet up in a steep climb.
Razor fell from his stand and rolled to the back of the compartment. When the jet leveled, he fell forward, landing hard on a pile of Buzz-saw Missiles. The jet was sent down on a crazy spiral and Razor was thrown to the front of the compartment. His body hurt from all those bumps. The jet leveled again and he was thrown back to the ground. Razor shook his head in order to make the dizziness go away and sat up on what he thought to be the floor of the bomb bay. He looked down and saw that, instead, he was sitting in a strange-looking missile. It had yellow and red colors and a sort of masked smiley at the front. He gulped.
"I just can't resist firing a MadKat Missile! BOMBS AWAY!" - MadKat cackled.
The bomb bay door opened and the missile fell through the opening, with Razor on top of it. After all his efforts, he was out of the jet, again. The missile fired away and Razor had to clutch the missile with all his strength in order not to fall.
"What am I gonna do now?" - he thought - "If I let go, I'm dead! If I stick with it, I'm dead too! Perhaps if I... It's a long shot but what have I got to lose... Besides my head, that is?"
Razor pulled the tip of the missile up and slowly started diverting the missile from its course. With an extreme effort, he managed to make the missile make a 180º turn.
"I have to synchronize this perfectly... Else, I'm doomed..." - he mumbled. He targeted the TurboKat's right wing.
"What is that moron trying to do? Hit his own jet?" - Feral said, from his helicopter, as he peered through the binoculars.
The maneuver was perfect. The MadKat Missile was going to hit the jet's right wing... hadn't it been for MadKat banking the control handle to the left, which made the jet bank to the right, avoiding the missile. However, that was exactly what Razor had expected MadKat to do. He jumped from the missile and landed on the left wing. He clutched to the wing with all his strength, his claws ripping the metal.
"What the...?" - MadKat babbled, dumbfounded - "Is there no stopping you, SWAT Kat? Well, I've had enough of you already!"
"I don't think so, MadKat!" - Razor said, through clenched teeth.
He aimed his glovatrix to the canopy and fired a Mini Blowtorch Missile against it. The missile shattered the glass of the canopy to a thousand pieces. Mad Kat covered his face with his left arm and decreased the throttle. Razor smiled. The three targets were right in front of him. Taking profit of the slowing jet, he covered the few meters that separated him and MadKat and activated the buzz saw on his glovatrix. In less than a second, he cut two of the three bells that adorned MadKat's cap.
MadKat roared out in agony, still unable to control the knifing pain the loss of the bells gave him. He clutched his head in an anguished gesture, making the jet wobble from side to side. Razor lost his stand and fell off the TurboKat. Out of despair, he fired his grappling hook towards the jet. The grappler attached to the wing and the jet's momentum dragged Razor with it.
The SWAT Kat managed to reel himself onto the jet's wing once more. The jet was rapidly losing altitude as it raced forward, towards Megakat Beach. MadKat was still trying to control himself and had the control handle jammed. Razor could do nothing to control the descending jet.
"Wretched SWAT Kat!" - MadKat hissed through clenched teeth - "I'll rip you to shreds!"
"I don't think we'll have time for that..." - Razor informed - "I hate to jump ship so early but, hey! Happy vapor trails, bud!"
MadKat watched as Razor jumped off the wing. Only then did he realize the jet was dropping altitude fast. He saw the sand approach with an astonishing speed. The mad jester still tried to pull the control stick towards him but the rudders didn't obey.
"C'mon, you crazy machine! Point your stupid nose up!" - he snarled but the jet didn't obey him.
Razor fell on the sand and rolled a good couple of meters before he steadied himself. He watched the TurboKat go down and slide on the sand, spattering the sediment everywhere and leaving behind a large groove. The black jet finally came to a halt a few yards ahead of him. The nose cone was partially buried in the sand and the tail hung up high in the air. The right wing was also partially buried in the sand and the left was stranded up high in the air.
The slim SWAT Kat ran towards the jet. When he reached it, he searched for MadKat. He was still inside the cockpit and he appeared to have blacked out. Razor approached the still yellow and red form with caution. He climbed up on the right wing and got inside the cockpit.
"T-Bone?" - he asked. No answer came to him. He got closer.
All of a sudden, tentacle-like projections darted off MadKat's form and wrapped around Razor, rising him up high and then throwing him far away over the sand. Razor knocked flat on the sediment and rolled a bit before stopping. He lifted his torso on one arm and looked towards the jet. MadKat was projecting himself out of the cockpit in a huge red and yellow flowing arch and landed in the form of a pouring paste near the SWAT Kat. MadKat emerged from the pool formed in front of the fallen SWAT Kat. His left arm snaked around Razor's neck and lifted the SWAT Kat in the air.
"Our game ends now, SWAT Kat..." - MadKat said. His face bore T-Bone's features, the most prominent of them all was his grin. His right arm turned slowly into a shiny sharp pointy blade that he aimed at Razor's heart.
A drop of perspiration ran down Razor's facial fur and got lost on the red and yellow entanglement that was firmly wrapped around his throat. He had his teeth tightly clenched and his brows furrowed under his mask.
"There's still time for one more play!" - he snarled and threw his left arm up, grabbing the last bell still hanging on MadKat's cap and tugged at it, trying to rip it from the cap, which made the insane jester *very* angry.
"You wretched kat..." - he growled as he dug his blade-transformed arm into Razor scapular joint.
Razor felt the blazing ache and let out a cry of pain as he simultaneously pulled his arm back, ripping the last bell from the fool's cap. Assaulted by an indescribable torment, MadKat let go of Razor and clutched his head. Razor fell on his back. He saw the blade leaving his chest, a trail of red droplets thrown in the air. To Razor it seemed like an eternity before the sand hit his back. A teardrop left his eye and was taken away by a gust of wind. He didn't know what hurt more, if his wound or the fact that *T-Bone* did it.
MadKat also fell on his back over the sand, contorting himself in spasms as he was being extracted from his recipient. With a flare, T-Bone was finally rid of the mad jester's spirit.
Razor tried to sit up on the sand, clutching his upper left chest, over the wound, with his right paw. He opened his left paw. The shiny sphere was there. Suddenly, the bell became dull and rusty and, in the next second, turned to dust. Razor stood up and went to T-Bone, who was still lying on the sand, contorting himself in spasms.
"Buddy? Buddy, are you okay?" - Razor asked. The tabby didn't answer. Instead, he punched Razor in the face, making the slim kat fall on his injured side. A short yelp of pain came out of Razor's mouth.
"Where's... the cap...? I want... the cap..." - T-Bone said, wheezing in aloud after each word as he tried to get up from the ground. Razor's astonishment rapidly turned into anger and he jumped on top of T-Bone's chest.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" - he said, punching T-Bone's face with his right arm - "THAT'S ENOUGH! I WANT T-BONE BACK! LEAVE HIM ALONE! I WANT MY T-BONE BACK! I WANT THE T-BONE I KNOW BACK!" - he bellowed, always punching the tabby's face. Finally, the tabby quieted down. Razor dropped his head and stopped the punching. - "I want my buddy back..."
A tear dropped from his eyes and hit T-Bone on his face. The big tabby blinked and shook his head, trying to get the darkness off his field of vision. He regretted that action soon enough.
"Ooooh, my aching head..."
"T-Bone? Is it really you this time?" - Razor asked.
"Of course it's me! Who would you expect to be, Miss Universe?"
Razor smiled. That was T-Bone, all right.
"What are you doing on top of my chest?" - the tabby queried.
"Oops! Sorry!" - Razor said as he got off T-Bone. The tabby got up and stroked his face.
"Why is my jaw aching so much?"
"Hum, trust me, you... don't wanna know..." - Razor evasively said. T-Bone looked down on Razor and finally saw the blood dyeing Razor's G-suit.
"Holy Kats! How'd you get that wound?" - he asked, concerned.
"It's a long story... But don't worry, it's not much deep... Nothing a couple a' weeks of rest won't heal, I'm sure." - he started walking away and T-Bone followed him.
"What are we doing in the beach? Where's Feral, and Ringtail, and..." T-Bone asked, speeding up his pace so that he could accompany the slim kat.