Sean Matts was ready to call the latest meeting to order, as soon as everybody arrived. He ran a hand through his hair while he waited. A third of them were already there. Ryan Spencer sat in the first row, a big man, mostly muscle. Sean smiled as he nodded to the quietly intense man, aware that for the past couple of years, Ryan had been trying to emulate him. But to be able to imitate Sean exactly, he would have had to experience the things that Sean had. He didn't wish that on any of his friends. "How are you doing today, Sean?" Ryan asked.
"Fine," Sean replied. "You?"
Sean nodded. Beside Ryan was his brother, Tyler. They were almost exact opposites. Whereas Ryan was large, Tyler was smaller, almost slight. Ryan was blond-haired, blue-eyed; Tyler was brown-haired, brown-eyed. Even Tyler's attitude was opposite of Ryan's. Whereas Ryan was trying to be grim, Tyler was jocular a good portion of the time. He rarely took anything seriously.
Though he was not as much of a jokester as Jay Wayne and Ruben Dicéron. Nobody had a right to be joking around as often as they did. And regrettably, he and Jay were practically inseparable.
Sean glanced around again at the garage. The rest of the members had finally arrived on the scene and had taken their seats. He waited a few more moments, then took his feet off of the desk. "All right, people, let's quiet it down a little," he said to stop the nonessential talking. He opened up a folder that lay next to him on his desk. "All right. Our first order of business is. . . ." Sean's voice trailed off as Brian Michaels, sitting in the back, raised his hand. Brian hadn't initially had the same fire as many of the others at the restart, but he had been taking the whole business more seriously over the past couple of years, and had been quite a help. He was still a big kidder, though. He always had a shock of blond hair that fell over his eyes and he ambled along in an unconcerned gait the majority of the time. "Yes, Brian?"
Brian stood. "Actually, Sean, I have a little something I'd kind of like to discuss with you."
Brian looked distinctly uncomfortable as the gazes of most of the Checkwolf members landed on him. "Uh, outside. If possible."
"Why not ask me earlier?"
"I kinda forgot."
"All right," Sean said, planting his hands on his desk and standing. Brian walked out the door. Sean wondered what Brian wanted. A while back, he had been talking to Sean about being promoted within the organization. His goal was Sean's position, but more realistically he was shooting for Ryan's or Tyler's. The problem for him, though, was that his initial hesitancy a couple of years before had all but put him out of the running for the time being; the high positions were very stable. Since Sean had pointed that out to him a few months before, Brian had been trying other avenues, to help Sean raise their awareness in the public's eyes.
The other members began talking amongst themselves again as Sean headed for the front. The garage had two doors: the large, main door and the smaller, side door. Sean's desk was in the back, facing the front so he would know when anyone entered. He glanced back at the members, then opened the side door and stepped out. Brian stood about ten feet away, pulling bark off of a tree. Sean shut the door behind him.
"What's up, Brian?" Sean asked.
Brian grinned. "Sorry, Sean. I meant to bring this up to you earlier, but I forgot."
Sean waved his hand. "No problem."
Brian nodded. "A funny thing happened to me yesterday . . . ," he began.
Suddenly, Sean heard a screech of tires from the nearby street. Both he and Brian looked in that direction. A car came roaring down the street. Almost faster than he could think, Sean heard gunshots. "Brian, get down!" Sean yelled as he dove for the ground. Scant seconds later, the car was gone.
Sean pulled himself to his feet, still staring after the car, shaken by what he had seen. "You okay, Brian?" he asked as he turned his head toward Brian. His mouth dropped open in shock. Brian lay on the ground, blood seeping from his chest. Two of the three bullets had done no damage, one harmlessly scoring a tree and the other embedding itself in the garage. But the third had killed Brian Michaels.
"Brian!" Sean exclaimed as he ran toward the body, already knowing that he was dead.
The others began bursting from the garage. Their questions and statements overlapping.
"We heard gunshots . . . ."
"Sean, are you okay?'
"We heard a car and a gun . . . ."
The members quieted down when they saw that Brian was dead. Tears seeped from eyes. A couple of members walked away from the area. Brian had many good friends. "Call the police. Call an ambulance," Sean said. Within a few minutes, vehicles pulled up to the Checkwolf base. Sean backed away from the body and let the medics do their job. The reaction on their faces confirmed Sean's diagnosis.
"Sean, are you okay?" Kendra Daly, an officer with whom Sean was friends, asked him.
"Not really, no," Sean said.
"Can you answer some questions?" she asked.
Sean took a deep breath. "Yeah." He glanced at the other members, all in varying degrees of shock and grief. He caught Ryan's gaze. Ryan's eyes flicked to the two detectives, then he nodded. Sean turned back to the detectives. "Let's go over here," he suggested, gesturing to the other side of the garage.
"I still don't believe it!" Scott Spencer exclaimed.
Sean lowered himself slowly into his chair and pulled himself forward, leaning on the desk. "What, exactly, don't you believe?" Sean questioned. The detectives had finally finished with their canvas only minutes before and Daly had given Sean an unofficial idea of what they thought they were looking at; Sean had earned that much, at least. However, now Sean had to deal with the repercussions of what he had learned.
Scott had a disgusted look on his face. Scott had been Brian's best friend; they had been through a lot together. Currently he was extremely angry, not just at Brian's murderers, but at the police as well. And when Scott got angry, it was best to just stay out of his way. After all, if his cousin, Ryan, was a big man, Scott was huge, being an amateur bodybuilder in his spare time. "You know what I mean!" Scott exclaimed, barely controlling his anger. "How could they think that it was just some random shooting? Are they crazy?"
"Now, calm down, Scott . . . ," Sean began.
"Why? Why should I calm down?" Scott asked. His eyes began watering. "My best friend was just killed. And you want me to calm down?" he raged on. "Forget it!" he yelled. He spun around and stormed out of the garage.
Sean sighed. He looked around the garage. Most of the members had stuck around after talking to the detectives. The others had been closer friends of Brian and had returned home quietly to grieve, except Scott, who had also returned home, but less quietly. It wasn't that they weren't all friends of Brian, or that they didn't all have to grieve. Of course, they were, and they would have to. But, as in all things, some were closer than others.
"Scott brought up a good point, Sean," a low voice from beside Sean stated. Sean was startled, but he showed no outward signs of that. He looked up at Ryan's imposing bulk.
"What point was that?" he asked.
Ryan lowered himself to his haunches and looked up at Sean. "I think you believe that this was not a random killing. I certainly don't it was."
Sean drummed his fingers on his desk. "You're right. I don't."
"May I know your reasons?"
Sean looked into the younger man's eyes. Ryan's calm blue eyes matched his, unwavering. He was not in the least intimidated by the hard gaze from this man that was three years his senior. That was the reason that Ryan was second-in-command. After Sean had returned from New York, Ryan hadn't treated him any differently, despite the fact that Sean had changed, become more somber. Everyone else, to a varying degree, had noticed that Sean wanted to be distanced and so had in turn subconsciously distanced themselves from him. Ryan, though, had not. He had become a closer friend, in fact, while subconsciously mimicking him.
"Yes," Sean finally replied. "The truth is that I'm almost positive that Brian's death wasn't random."
"What makes you say that?" asked James Washburn, leaning forward.
Sean took a deep breath. "I think I recognized the gunman."
That statement got the attention of the others in the small building. "Why didn't you say so before?" Brent Spencer asked.
"Who was he?" Clayton Lee asked.
"I didn't say anything before, because I'm not totally sure," Sean responded to Brent. "I only got a quick look and the interior of the car was very dark. The only real illumination I had was the flashes from the gun."
"But you think you recognized him?" James asked.
Sean nodded. "Yes, despite that, I think the man was Andy Peters."
"I recognize that name," Jay commented from off to Sean's right side. "Isn't he still one of the ten most wanted?"
Sean nodded. "Correct."
"I've heard of him, too," Ruben put in. "But I didn't think he operated around here. Last I heard, he was out on the East Coast. But, then again, that was two or three years ago. I suppose he's probably moved since then."
"I would guarantee it," Sean replied.
"Do you know something we don't know?" Ryan asked.
"Maybe." He turned toward Jay and Ruben, who were sitting near the west wall of the garage, where the phone was. "I want you guys to check around some of the more . . . exclusive hotels and try to see if you can find out where Andy Peters is staying."
They nodded wordlessly and got to work.
"You definitely know something that we don't," James said.
"Only a hunch," Sean admitted, understating what he actually knew. "I will guarantee, however, that Peters wasn't working alone. Because, as far as I know, Peters has been working exclusively for one person for the past five years."
"Who?" several of the members asked in unison.
"As much as I would like to, I don't think that I should reveal that right now," Sean said, steepling his fingers. "At least, not yet."
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Jay pulled the Checkwolf van into The Hilt's parking ramp. He had to pay seven dollars just to get in; a flagrant waste of money, considering that they would probably only be inside the hotel for fifteen minutes, maybe less. Jay and Ruben's phone search had led them in a short amount of time to The Hilt. Sean had then asked them to go there and retrieve the guest list.
The Hilt was one of the ten best hotels in the city and definitely fell into the range that Sean had designated as "exclusive". It was located more or less in the center of the Kewanee district, skied twenty floors high, and sported over two thousand rooms, each and every one of them impressive.
Jay parked the van in the first available parking space, on Level B. He pocketed the keys and slid out of the driver's seat. Ruben got out on the passenger side of the three-tone grey cargo van. After locking the doors, the two headed for the nearest exit, a short walk away. From there, they quickly moved to the main reception area. A long oak desk was before them, with four Hilt employees standing behind it. Three of them were currently occupied with other customers; Ruben and Jay stepped up to the fourth.
The receptionist looked up at the two and put on a cheerful smile. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. Welcome to The Hilt. What can we do for you today?" she asked pleasantly.
Jay raised his palm in Ruben's direction, indicating that he would handle the conversation. Ruben nodded once then looked around at the beautifully ornate lobby. Plants stood in every corner, complimenting the stunning woodwork.
"We'd like to see your current guest list," Jay stated.
The receptionist frowned. "I'm sorry, sir, but it's against company regulations to disclose that information." She shrugged. "Sorry."
Jay smiled. "Thanks, anyway."
"Sure thing," the receptionist replied, smiling widely again. "Have a nice day!"
Jay smiled briefly, then grabbed Ruben by the arm and dragged him over to the bank of pay telephones.
"What? What?" Ruben asked, bewildered.
"She won't give it to us."
"Well, Sean said she probably wouldn't."
Jay craned his neck to look at the desk again. "Yeah, well, Sean was right."
Ruben had already deposited several coins into the phone. He was using a payphone over his cell phone to keep from being unnecessarily overheard. He dialed the number of the garage.
Sean picked up on the other end. "Yes?"
"Yeah, Sean? This is Ruben. We can't get a guest list. What now?"
Dead space filled their ears for a few moments before Sean spoke again. "I'll call there and get it for you. Be in the area when they're ready to give it to you."
"All right," Ruben said doubtingly.
Sean perfunctorily hung up the phone.
Ruben returned the phone to its cradle.
"What's up?" Jay asked.
"Sean said to wait around the reception area," Ruben related. "He said he'd get it for us."
"Oh yeah? How?" Jay asked.
Ruben shrugged. "Got me."
Seconds later, they heard the phone at the reception desk ring and casually strolled over in that direction. "Good afternoon. Thank you for calling The Hilt. This is Amy speaking; how may I help you?" Jay and Ruben watched as Amy, the receptionist with whom they had talked earlier, listened intently to Sean on the other end. "Yes," she said. "In any way I can." She listened a little longer, then looked around until her eyes alighted on Jay and Ruben. "Yes, I see them," she said. She listened a moment longer. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir," she said as she tapped buttons on her computer. "No, thank you, sir," she said before hanging up. "Sirs?" she said in their direction.
Ruben smiled at Jay. Jay grinned. They walked over. "Yes?" Jay said.
Amy reached over to the printer and handed them a sheaf of paper. "Here you go. Sorry for the trouble earlier. Normally, that is policy."
"No problem," Jay said, smiling slightly. "Thank you."
Amy smiled, then returned to her work.
Jay and Ruben exited the building, headed back for the van. They got in and Jay started it up. "What was that all about?" he asked Ruben as he backed up.
"What? You mean what Sean said to her?"
"How should I know? Stuff like this has been happening all the time," Ruben stated, shrugging.
"Yeah," Jay said, his eyes slitted. "Ever since Sean came back from New York, it seems."
Ruben held up his hands. "No! I'm not having that conversation again!" he stated forcefully. Then he clasped his hands and took on a mocking tone: "Sean must have been involved in something in New York or he wouldn't be able to pull stunts like that. He never did that before!" He dropped his hands onto his lap, shaking his head.
Jay was grinning in slight embarrassment. "I don't say it that way!" he exclaimed.
Ruben shrugged and watched the buildings go by. "Close enough."
The rest of the drive back to the garage was spent talking about inconsequential occurrences. Neither was interested in talking about the major event that had happened early that morning, namely the death of their friend and teammate, Brian Michaels.
Jay pulled the van into the garage's driveway. They got out, walked up to it, and entered.
Sean looked up. He had been talking with some of the other members. Since Ruben and Jay had been gone, Tyler had returned from home. He still looked upset, though, over the whole ordeal. Sean pushed the thought from his mind. His eyes flicked downward, noticing the sheaf of paper. "Welcome back," he said, holding his hand out. Ruben walked over to him and handed it to him.
Quickly Sean's eyes scanned down the page. Finally they found the name that they were looking for. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "I was right." He set the list aside. He leaned forward, regarding the members in front of him. "Listen carefully. Tonight, we're going after the scumbag that did this to Brian. We're going to The Hilt."
The Checkwolf van slid into a parking space across the street from the luxurious Hilt hotel. The brilliant sign proclaiming its name and its logo, a sword, lit up the night. Jay turned the van's lights off. Sean turned and faced the other Checkwolf members along for the bust. On the backseat of the van were Ryan, Tyler, and Clayton; in the rear of the van sat Ruben, James, and Brent. Sean had already outlined the plan for nailing the culprit behind Brian's murder. All of the members knew what their places were.
The person they were looking for was roomed in number 2000, the master suite. Sean would take Tyler, Clayton, and James along with him and confront the unknown person directly; Ryan would take the remaining three and ensure that, if Sean's group failed and allowed the target to escape, he would still be stopped. They would be down the corridor a sufficient distance so as not to be noticed and would act nonchalant about the whole affair. They had brought no weapons along, not wanting to be unknowingly scanned by a weapons detector and flushed out by hotel security. Besides, Sean had been, in the eyes of the other Checkwolf members, unnaturally confident that they wouldn't be necessary.
"One last thing before we head out," Sean said. "I know this goes without saying, but, let's keep it quiet. Weapons or not, I don't think the hotel operators would think too much of knowing that we're trying to attack one of their guests. And we don't need to shoot down all of the work we've put into gaining our reputation, not at this late stage. So be alert and be quiet."
After that, the two groups headed for The Hilt. Sean's group took the main, north entrance; Ryan's group went around to a secondary one, on the southern side. Sean ensured that they would not seem too suspicious traipsing around the hotel; their manner didn't alert any watchers to their business there. They headed straight for the glass elevator and stepped in. Sean punched the button for the twentieth floor and the elevator rose smoothly upwards, the ground floor dropping from beneath them as they watched through the slightly tinted window overlooking the spacious, parklike atrium.
In a short period of time, the elevator stopped. Sean stepped out, looked around for a moment to get his bearings, then motioned for the other three members of his group to follow him. He strode down the empty corridor to the very end. In golden numbers, the pine-green-colored door read: 2000.
Sean stepped right up to the door and rapped loudly on it three times. The door swung open, leading into a darkened room, the only light coming from a window on the far side where the dull glow of the vast city gleamed through. There was no sign of the person that had opened the door for them. A silhouette was vaguely visible by the light. Sean walked toward it. His stride was cut short as large arms enclosed his behind his back in a viselike grip. He struggled but quickly realized it was in vain. Simultaneously, the other three were similarly encumbered. Sean heard the sounds of their struggles, then heard them, one by one, cease struggling and begin waiting. Sean gazed straight forward.
The silhouette stood up, then turned around. "Lights!" the voice barked. The lights suddenly came on, seemingly harsh to their eyes after the darkness. Sean squinted his eyes, blinking away tears. Before him was one of the few persons in the world that he truly hated. The man before them smiled. "Matts. So good to see you again."
"Belsky," Sean said in a gracious, civil tone.
"Sean, maybe we have the wrong room . . . ," Tyler began.
Sean shook his head, grinning. "No, Tyler, we don't." He raised his eyebrows, still locking eyes with Michael Belsky. "Do we?"
Belsky smiled, shrugged, and raised his arms expansively. "You tell me."
Sean's lip curled up in a sneer. "You slime!" Sean yelled, trying to charge Belsky. He was held tight by his captor. Sean ceased struggling, content to wait for a better opportunity to escape. "You killed our friend!" he said, motioning with his head at the others of his group.
Belsky jabbed a finger at him. "It's your own fault, Matts!"
"My fault?" Sean asked, a stunned expression in his eyes, his mouth wide open. "It was your henchman that killed Brian," Sean accused, jerking his head in the direction of Andy Peters, who stood behind and to the right of Belsky, his distinguishing scar running from his temple to his jaw. "Why, Belsky? Why kill Brian? What did he ever do to you?"
Belsky's now-annoying smile became slightly more forced. "You should be glad I don't kill you right now."
"Too messy?" Sean asked mockingly.
"I don't understand," Clayton's voice said from behind them. "What exactly is going on here? I thought Mr. Belsky was an . . . an . . . upstanding citizen."
"Why don't you tell them, Belsky?" Sean taunted. "Tell them what you stand for, exactly. Tell them how upstanding of a citizen you are." Belsky began looking distinctly uncomfortable. "In fact, while you're at it," Sean continued mercilessly, "why don't you tell them how you came into all of your money? After all, it had to come from somewhere, and you didn't get it from your grandfather's company. And then, why don't you wrap up by telling them how your sister's death wasn't really a suicide?"
"Shut up!" Belsky ordered. "You can't prove anything you say," he said through gritted teeth.
"Maybe not," Sean said, imagining the shocked looks on his friends' faces, the same shocked looks that the vast majority of the citizens of Kewanee would have after hearing the accusations that Sean had just thrust in Belsky's face. The man himself seemed unassuming enough. Michael Belsky looked similar to his forefathers, from the prematurely thinning hair to the short stature (he was about five feet eight inches), to the slight weight problem, though in the latest Belsky's case, the weight problem was not exactly slight. He also had the famed Belsky ability for foreknowledge through deduction, the ability to see any situation through and see its probable outcome. Besides all of that, he ran the company that was the successor to his grandfather's Belsky Enterprises: Sahara. And all of this at just the age of twenty-five.
As if that was not astounding enough on its own, Sean was one of the privileged few that had the knowledge of where Belsky's money really came from, and what kind of "business" transactions he had on the side. Rumors had reached Sean's ears, credible rumors, that Belsky hadn't earned his fortune in the traditional way, which is to say, honestly. Evidently, he had been on an archaeological dig in Egypt shortly after his graduation from high school. As the story went, a huge treasure was unearthed, monetary and otherwise. During a sandstorm, Belsky had then, or so it was told, killed the other two dozen people involved in the expedition, claiming afterwards that he was the sole survivor. The story had not been well publicized, but Belsky had taken the money he had made and had then returned to America and set up a business named, ironically enough, Sahara.
Then, and this was even less substantiated than the truthful rumor about Belsky's fortune, he had secretly come to Kewanee and pushed his sister Veronica Belsky over the edge of the Belsky Enterprises head office, setting up his return five years later, taking the reins of the city.
But Sean didn't need substantiation. He knew the truth, and Belsky now knew that he knew it. And he was right. Sean couldn't prove it. "Maybe not," Sean said again. "But I can prove that you were behind the death of Brian Michaels. You didn't pick a good night to visit your henchman here," Sean said, indicating Peters. "You've just incriminated yourself."
Belsky smiled, a smile with no warmth or humor in it whatsoever. "We'll see about that."
"Yes, I suppose we will," Sean stated mildly. During the course of the conversation, Sean had noticed that the man that was pinning his arms behind his back had directed his attention more to the ongoing dialogue than to keeping Sean held tightly. For that reason, it was fairly easy for Sean to, with blinding speed, reverse the hold on him. His right hand shot for the man's face. Sean watched long enough to make sure that the man was unconscious before turning on Belsky. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the other three had taken advantage of the momentary surprise to use similar moves on their captors and render them unconscious. "Your move, Belsky," Sean said.
Belsky's eyes narrowed. He seemed unconcerned. Sean then heard footsteps and realized why. He spun around, a split second too slowly to avoid being tackled by another one of Belsky's thugs. The man's strength was impressive, but Sean was much faster. He evaded the man's hand as he grasped for Sean, slid one leg loose, and kicked the man in the face twice before knocking him out.
Sean quickly analyzed the situation. He glanced to his left and saw three other men grappling with his fellow members. Belsky had taken advantage of Sean's incapacitation to head for the door and was already out of the room, with Peters in tow. Sean reached for the walkie-talkie that had been knocked loose and pressed the call button once, alerting Ryan.
As he got to his feet, he glanced again at the other Checkwolf members, then bolted for the door himself, confident that his subordinates could fend for themselves. I'm not losing you again, Belsky, Sean thought as he broke into a sprint after them.
The remaining three Checkwolf members had no trouble dispatching the remaining three of Belsky's hired help. As soon as they were sure they had been successful in subduing them all, Tyler motioned for them to follow after Sean. They did so.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
Ryan pushed open the door onto a dimmed corridor. Nobody was in the area. He walked in, assuming that the remaining three, Jay, Ruben, and Brent, would follow. They, of course, did. Ryan walked to the cargo elevator, the elevator that the janitorial staff would normally use. It wasn't currently in use. The four Checkwolf members entered it and Brent punched the button for the twentieth floor. After a moment, the doors shut. The elevator then rose upward.
Ryan's group of four would be stationed on the south side of the building, a fair distance from the master suite. It was still just in sight. Ryan distanced himself from the other three and fixed his gaze on the door. Jay, Ruben, and Brent were watching the surrounding area to ensure that no one saw them and reported them to hotel security. Ryan deduced that Sean's group must have already gone into the room; he hadn't seen them yet.
Suddenly, Ryan's miniature walkie-talkie beeped once. That was the signal they had worked out beforehand; if the target was escaping from the room, one beep. If they needed assistance in the room, two beeps. If they needed assistance from the police, three beeps. And sure enough, just seconds later, two figures came running out of the room. "Get ready," Ryan said quietly. The rest of the group was instantly alert. Ryan squinted. It looked as if the lead figure were . . . Michael Belsky. Ryan waited a moment and verified that he was, in fact, correct. He was mildly surprised, momentarily motionless. He couldn't imagine why they would be after someone like Belsky. By then, Belsky had covered half of the distance to them. He stopped short suddenly at a door and rammed into it with his shoulder to open it. He then ran through the doorway. The man behind him followed. He fit exactly the description that Sean had given of Andy Peters.
"Let's go," Ryan said. He broke into a run, heading down the corridor, the remaining three Checkwolf members on his heels. Scant seconds later, Sean himself came barreling out of the door at the end of the hall at full tilt. Sean arrived at the door first and headed in; Ryan wasn't far behind. He saw that it was, in point of fact, a stairwell leading to the roof. Above them, the door slammed shut. Belsky and Peters had gotten to the roof. Sean was already halfway there by the time Ryan got to the bottom, both taking the stairs four and five at a time.
Sean reached the top and pushed open the door. A cool night breeze, tinged with the hint of rain, greeted his senses as he did so. He heard several people pounding up the hidden access stairs behind him. To his left, fleeing across the roof toward a large structure, were Belsky and Peters. Peters had seen Sean. He stopped and turned, his left arm outstretched, grasping something. Sean recognized in time that it was a gun. He dove aside, bullets ricocheting off of the concrete. So much for not needing weapons, he thought to himself. He tumbled painfully behind the shelter of the protruding structure of the stairwell, counting off the bullets fired.
When they had all been used, Sean peeked out again. Peters had turned and started heading for the structure into which Belsky had disappeared. He was only halfway there, however. As Sean was getting up to give chase, Ryan bolted out of the stairwell at top speed. Sean pulled himself to his feet the rest of the way and gave chase as well.
Across the rooftop, Ryan was gaining on Peters. He saw that they were nearing the structure, so he made a flying leap toward Peters. He grasped the smaller man around the legs, bringing him down hard on the concrete surface of the rooftop. In the fall, Ryan lost his hold on Peters. Peters jumped to his feet, as did Ryan. Peters, though, got his bearings quicker. He punched Ryan, knocking him down again. By then, Sean had arrived on the scene.
Before he could do anything, however, the structure ahead of them suddenly fell apart, the walls independently falling to the roof. They revealed a helicopter which was already lifting up above them and heading away from them. Sean moved to chase after the helicopter, but Ryan restrained him, an implacable force. Behind them, the remaining Checkwolf members came up.
Peters was running for the helicopter, though, evidently not wanting to be left behind with Checkwolf. "Wait for me!" he yelled, trying to be heard over the sound of the helicopter's blades cutting through the air. Belsky seemed to be ignoring him. And Peters was coming closer and closer to the edge of the building. He jumped once, missed, then tried again, one hand grasping a landing strut.
"Hey, watch out!" Tyler yelled.
But Peters was too far away to hear. He was straining to hold onto the helicopter's landing strut, trying to pull himself up. Seconds later, the helicopter reached the short brick wall surrounding the edge of the roof, clearing it by about a yard. But that wasn't high enough for Peters to clear it, too. The impact jarred his hand from its place. An inhuman scream escaped from his lips as he finally realized what was happening. He fell over the edge of the building, desperately trying to grab for something to hold on to. But it was too late.
The Checkwolf members went over to the edge of the building and looked down. Twenty stories below, Andy Peters body was lying grotesquely in the spiderwebbed cracks that it had made in the sidewalk. Most of them turned away from the disgusting sight as bystanders came up to see what had just happened. Sean continued watching until a policeman arrived on the scene. "Goodbye, Brian," he said softly.
Police Chief Morrison rose to his feet as Sean entered his office. "Sean. Good to see you," Morrison said, grasping Sean's hand as he gestured at the chairs in front of his desk. "Have a seat."
"Thank you," Sean replied. The chief of police had summoned him to his office, but to discuss what, Sean did not know. It was just twelve hours since Sean had looked over the edge of the roof at The Hilt to see Andy Peters' broken body below. Sean imagined that the reason his longtime friend had called him in had something to do with that. He was content to wait for Chief Morrison to speak first, though.
"Excellent work with Peters," Morrison said.
"Thank you," Sean replied again.
"You know, there are certain limits to what police are able to do," the chief continued in a seeming non sequitur.
Sean nodded. "Yes, I know. That's part of the reason my group exists: to fill the holes that the police can't."
Chief Morrison nodded. "And a fine job you do of it, Sean. All of you. You and your men are well-qualified to do the work you're doing. It's a shame that your impact is so . . . limited, both in degree and range."
In other words, Sean translated, we wish you could do more over a wider area. Well, that makes two of us. "We do what we can," Sean said with a shrug. "But it's not like my men can put forth the same effort that yours do. After all," Sean added with a slight smile, "policemen get paid."
Morrison nodded. "So they do, so they do." He then paused. "And so should you."
Sean's eyes narrowed and his heart beat just a little faster.
The chief continued. "I've been keeping the mayor abreast of Checkwolf as it's developed over the past couple of years. He has shown a strong interest in a force like this that is concerned with local problems. He's been waiting for you to do something big so that he can go from being a supporter of Checkwolf to an advocate." Chief Morrison smiled. "And you've just given him what he's been looking for: a high-profile collar."
Sean grimaced. "I wouldn't exactly call it a 'collar'," he said. "The man died."
Morrison nodded. "That happens sometimes in this business, Sean. You know that. Sometimes it's unavoidable."
"I'd like to think this sort of thing can always be avoided, sir," Sean said with a touch of formality. There was, after all, a reason why the weapons Checkwolf used were of a nonlethal variety.
The chief noted the formality with a frown and a nod. "But in the world we live in, the real world, you know that's not always true."
Sean nodded without replying.
"As I was saying," Chief Morrison continued, "you've given the mayor what he's been looking for. He, too, recognizes the need for a group that isn't bound by the same sorts of . . . restrictions as the police. And he's ready to give you and Checkwolf the opportunity to fill that need. He wanted me to tell you of his plans to have you operate full-time, directly sponsored."
Sean's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Sponsored by whom?" he asked.
"The city," Morrison replied.
"And what about the OCP?" Sean asked. "This is more in their jurisdiction."
The chief shook his head. "There'll be no involvement from them." He paused, looking Sean in the eye. "I made that clear for you, Sean. I know that would be a dealbreaker for you."
Sean grinned crookedly. "I think you know me too well, Chief Morrison."
Morrison smiled in return. Then, placing his hands on his desk, he stood. "Well, Sean, that's all the information I have for you right now." He reached across the desk and shook Sean's hand as Sean stood as well. "The mayor has some maneuvering to do with the city council to line things up, but he seemed confident that everything would fall into place. In fact, he said that he would call you personally to finalize arrangements."
Sean nodded. He tried to infuse some excitement into his voice after all, isn't this what they had been working toward for so long? but he was just too worn out from the events of the day, and night, before. "Thank you," he said to the chief.
"Thank you, Sean. I'm looking forward to working with you more."
Sean inclined his head, then headed out of the police station. Outside, Sean got into the passenger seat in the van. Ryan and Tyler had been waiting for him outside. Tyler slid into the driver's seat and Ryan got on the bench seat in the back. Before turning on the van, Tyler turned to Sean. "Did you tell them about Belsky?"
Sean shook his head.
"Why not?" Tyler asked. "Is he just going to get away with everything he's done?"
Still looking straight ahead, Sean replied. "For the time being. We still don't have anything concrete. But give it time. We will, we will."
Tyler nodded and started the van. He backed out of the parking space and onto Main Street.
Sean turned his head and watched the buildings pass by. Dedicated to you, Brian.<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>