Chapter 1

"Welcome back, Sean!" the members of Checkwolf said in unison.

Sean smiled.  Even though he had only been in the hospital a few days since Bounty's attack on his life, it was good to be back.  "It's good to be back," he said.  

He talked with them for a little bit, informing everyone that he wanted to have a conference at the bottom of the hour.  In the meantime, he said that he wished to be left alone awhile.  He entered his office, located in one corner of the communications room, shut the door, and sat in his comfortable chair.  He propped his legs on his desk. 

It was indeed good to be back.  In all the hoopla of the past month, what with the new base, the members had seemingly dropped their suspicions of him; he hadn't heard any comments about his time in New York for awhile, though his comment about knowing who had sent Bounty might spark them again.

Through his shirt, Sean felt the stitches in his stomach and thought about how close he had come to death from the gunshot.  It had been only a series of fortunate accidents that had kept the professional killer from completing her assignment.  While lying in the hospital bed, the thought had occurred to him that if he hadn't been on the scene, things would still have been handled properly; his team was well-trained and very capable.  Since Sean, as leader, was the most important member, he had come to the conclusion that it didn't make good sense to continue on missions, endangering his life, especially since his old "friend" now seemed to be gunning for him.

Furthermore, the activity of the past month, or rather, lack thereof, wasn't good, either.  Yes, they had needed time to become more familiar with their new equipment, but they had been far too idle; there had to be a more systematic approach to their assignment.  That kind of approach would ultimately have to be coordinated from the base, similar to the way things had been done in the old headquarters, but upgraded to take advantage of the new equipment.  Sean had run his concept past Jenkins one day in the hospital.  Jenkins had simply nodded approval.  Something about Jenkins' bearing at the time had indicated to Sean that this, in fact, was something Jenkins had been waiting for.

The only trick now was to find a way to convey the news to the rest of the members, which is why Sean had wanted a few minutes to himself.  He glanced at his clock and noticed the time.  He leaned forward and pressed the intercom button that carried his voice throughout the whole base.  "All members please report to the conference room in five minutes.  Thank you."  Sean toggled the intercom off and took his feet off the desk.  This would be the first time that they would have any reason to use the conference room. 

Sean stood up and exited his office through the southern door, to the corridor.  He walked down the hall to his left, turning at the east elevator.  He saw three members, he couldn't tell who from this distance, rush across his path at the end of the corridor, along the wall to the armory.

He reached the intersection of the corridors and turned left, east, at the weapons room, walking until he came to the door leading into the conference room.  I've been here less than half an hour and already the place is bustling, he thought.  He opened the door and stepped in. 

At least half the members had already arrived, including one of the heads.  He turned to his right and stepped up to the dais.  He took all three steps at once.  He walked around the intricate table bearing the Checkwolf insignia and went to the back of it.  The Royal table was of good size, being ten or twelve feet across at either of its widest points.  Sean sat at the chair at the head of the room.  Arms branched out from the table to partially enclose his chair.  In front of him were the pertinent monitors pertaining to the Bishop group, since he, technically, was the head of the Bishops, the Royal Bishop.  To his right, Ryan Spencer sat, similarly enclosed by the table with all information pertaining to the Knights, such as security, in front of him.  Tyler Spencer had yet to arrive, but his station was practically similar to Ryan's, with the exception that his information had to do with the Rooks.

"Where's Jenkins?" Sean asked, noticing for the first time that he was absent.

"Day off, remember?" Ryan said.

"Right," Sean said, nodding, remembering.

As he did, Sean saw Tyler enter the room.  He quickly crossed the length of the room, took his seat, and  activated the monitors.  Just in case.  In the main hall of the room were three long tables bearing the insignia of each of the three Checkwolf departments: Bishop, Knight, and Rook.

The Bishops were down directly in front of Sean.  All three had arrived.  The Knights were directly in front of Ryan, on the east side of the hall.  All but Wil Huggins had arrived there.  And the Rooks were directly in front of Tyler.  All but Karl Dexter had arrived from them.

Sean checked the clock inlaid in his station.  The date read May 25.  The time read 3:29, so the two remaining members had less than a minute to arrive.  

Scratch that.  Time was up.  Sean raised his head and saw Wil enter through the north door and Karl through the west door.  Close enough, he thought.  "I thank you all for coming," Sean began.

The members positioned themselves to listen to Sean.  Ryan and Tyler also turned in their seats and faced him.  

Sean continued speaking.  "As you are all well aware, the last time I was out on a mission, I was severely injured.  To ensure that this does not happen again, from here on out, I will no longer go out on missions."

Several of the members seemed surprised by this news.  Ryan nodded.  "Very sensible," he said. 

"I will coordinate the efforts from here at the base.  To assist me, the Bishops will also stay at the base and not go out on assignments."  Ruben and Jesse looked disappointed, though Jay didn't seem upset at all; he was grinning, actually.  "Of course, should the need arise, the Bishops may still end up going out.  For that matter, in very exceptional circumstances, I will as well."

Sean looked at Ryan who seemed to agree with the arrangement.  He glanced at Tyler who was nodding, also obviously in full agreement.  "Furthermore," Sean continued, "the rest of the members will be divided up into two squads, which we will name Alpha and Beta.  They will operate at different times of the day.  Most likely, these groups will stay fairly constant, barring any major disagreements that may occur within the separate groups."

Sean paused.  Quietly, he continued.  "Ryan and Tyler, I'd like your help in choosing the separate squads.  If you'd turn to your monitors, please."  Ryan, Tyler, and Sean all coordinated their efforts while the other members talked quietly or contemplated the new arrangement. 

Several minutes later, they had concluded.  Touching a button, Sean sent the information to the separate screens for each person at every table.  Alpha Squad would consist of Ryan, James Washburn, Wil Huggins, and Brent Spencer, and they would operate from eight in the evening to four in the morning.  Beta Squad would consist of Tyler, Clayton Lee, Karl Dexter, and Scott Spencer, and they would operate from four in the morning to twelve noon.  The Bishops were divided up on a rotating schedule so that at least one, and usually two, would be on duty at all times.

Sean spoke again after he had given each member ample opportunity to absorb the information.  "I know this represents a big shift for us," he commented.  "And I know this will impact your relationships with the members of the opposite squad, or the opposite shift of Bishops.  But, in turn, it should strengthen the sense of team among those members within your own squad, and I think in the long run, it will be for our good to be more structured."  Finally, he nodded.  "I thank you for coming here," he said.  "In parting, I'd just like to remind members of Alpha Squad that your shift begins at eight tonight.  Any questions?"

Sean surveyed the members.  When no questions were asked, he said, "Dismissed."

The members filed out separate doors, talking with each other.  Ryan and Tyler stayed.  "Questions?" Sean inquired as he shut down his computer.  

Ryan nodded, "I can't help but notice that with the new schedules, the majority of the daylight hours are unpatrolled."

"I noticed that, too,"  Tyler seconded.

Sean nodded.  "The way I figure, most crimes are committed in the dark, the evening hours.  So those time periods are the most important to cover."

Tyler nodded.  "And we simply don't have enough people to staff the base and run three shifts at the same time."

"Right," Sean said.

"But we do have Bishops on duty between noon and eight, even though there are no squads active then," Ryan pointed out.  "What if something comes up?"

Sean shrugged one shoulder.  "Well, if necessary, since someone will be monitoring at all times, a squad could be sent out as soon as possible."

Tyler and Ryan nodded.  "Anything else?" Sean asked.  Both shook their heads.  Then they rose from their seats and left.  

Sean followed them out and went to the south elevator.  He pushed "2" and rose up to the second floor.  He briskly walked to his room and as soon as he was there, collapsed on his bed.  He was asleep in seconds.

Chapter 2

James yawned and glanced at the clock.  The numbers shifted to 12:00.  He signalled and turned right on South 150th Avenue.  Ryan, next to him, was still alert and ready.  After that last would-be bank robber they stopped half an hour ago, James was pretty tired.

"You look pretty tired," Ryan commented, still looking in all directions.  

"How'd you notice?" James asked dryly as he pulled the van up to a red light and stopped.

Next to them, a sleek, black limo pulled up.  Its windows were completely tinted.  Which, of course, was completely illegal.

"Hey, Ryan?"


Wil leaned forward and indicated the limo.  "Can we arrest them?"

Ryan looked over and then settled back again.  "No." 

"Bummer."  He looked over to the opposite street corner.  "How about them?"

Ryan looked to see what Wil was indicating now.  There were two people acting very suspiciously, making some sort of transaction.  One, the seller, presumably, was relatively calm.  The buyer was darting his head around a lot, though his eyes became fixated on the limo as soon as he saw it.  "We'll see," Ryan said, glancing at the traffic light.  There was still some time left before the light would turn green again.

The buyer completed his transaction and bolted across the street, wending his way through the stopped cars, crossing directly in front of the van and sliding into the limo.

"What do you think was in that case he was carrying?" Brent asked sarcastically, as they all were fully aware of what it likely was.

"Look on the ground there," James said, pointing.

Ryan looked and saw a trail of white powder all along the trail that the man had taken, leading directly up to the limo.  He smiled.  "All right."

The light turned green and the limo pulled away rapidly.

"Follow it," Ryan said.

"Gladly," James said as he let the limo pull out a sizable lead.  Then he pulled in behind it.  He followed the limo, cautiously, as it turned on 100th Street.  This particular street was relatively lightly traveled and, as soon as the limo turned onto it, it accelerated to fifty.  James accelerated to match.

"Wil, get the front lasers ready," Ryan said.

Wil slid into the appropriate seat in the middle of the van.  "Roger."

The limo slid around a corner and kept going.  "Hold on!" James called as he too turned and followed.  They were coming close to what seemed to be a privately owned area.  "If we don't get 'em now, we never will,"  James said.

"Right," Ryan agreed.  "Wil?  Fire."

Two lancing beams of light lashed from between the front headlights, but missed; the limo had swerved at the last instant and avoided being hit.

"Again," Ryan commanded.

Again Wil fired the lasers.  This time they scored a hit, blowing out one of the taillights and punching a hole in the trunk.  Suddenly, a large iron gate became evident in front of the two vehicles that were roaring down the road at fifty-five miles per hour.  James slammed on the brakes.

As if in a suicidal rage, the limo plowed on.  Just before it crashed, though, the gates swung open and the vehicle plowed through.  As quickly as the gates had opened, they slammed back shut again.  "We lost 'em," James said grimly.

"No kidding," Wil observed. 

Chapter 3

Alpha Squad pulled into the garage.  They filed out of the van, heading for the elevator.  Since it was a quarter after four in the morning, and the first day of the new scheduling, everybody was worn out.  Ryan, though, went to the communications room.  Jay was at the monitor band.

"What's up?" Jay asked.

Ryan briefly related the incident with the drug dealers.  

Jay made a note of the location of the residence.  "I'll give Beta Squad a call."

Ryan nodded.  "Thanks.  I'm wiped.  I'm heading for bed."

Jay flipped a wave as the door shut.  He then pressed a button and activated the link to the Beta Squad van.  "HQ to Beta Squad."

After a couple of moments, Karl came on.  "Beta Squad, Karl here.  Go ahead HQ."

Jay then related the incident and the location.

Following another pause, Karl returned.  "We're on it, HQ.  Beta Squad out."

Tyler immediately went to the Peoria district.  Clayton was in the passenger's seat, Karl manned the boards in back, and Scott was seated in the gunner's seat.

Thirty-five minutes later, Tyler turned down 100th Street and killed the lights.  They drove in the silence and darkness of the early morning.  Daylight was preparing to break and Tyler knew it.  After five minutes of driving down the deserted street, they saw the gate.  Tyler turned the van so that they were on the opposite side of the street, facing the gate.  

At two minutes to six, the gates swung open.  A sleek, black limo pulled out.  It drove straight down 100th.  Tyler turned on the engine and followed at a discreet distance of a block or so. 

The limo retraced the path the van had taken to get there.  It turned left onto 150th Avenue and accelerated to thirty-five.  Tyler followed suit.

"They haven't guessed that we're following them," Clayton said.

Tyler nodded.  "I think you're right."

They pulled up to a stoplight at 120th Street.  Tyler eased forward and found himself directly behind the limo.  They sat in silence for a few seconds, waiting for the light to turn green and hoping that the driver didn't look into his rearview mirror.

"What do you think the chances are that the driver of the car has seen us?" Tyler asked Clayton.

The light turned green.  The limo driver stomped on the accelerator and burned away from the intersection.  

"Pretty good, I'd say," Clayton said.

Tyler accelerated and followed them.  "We won't lose those guys, like Alpha did,"  Tyler said, mostly to himself, as he saw the limo execute a perfect high-speed turn onto the ramp of the Interdistrict Parkway.  Tyler had absolutely no chance of making the same turn and he watched helplessly as the limo escaped.

"It'll work."

Tyler looked back at Scott.  "Are you sure?"

Scott, situated behind the roof gun, shrugged.  

"Thanks a lot."

Tyler situated his attention on the passing traffic again.  Scott had deduced that the limo would probably exit the Parkway onto 100th from where they were now parked.  Eventually.  Of course, they had been sitting here for over an hour now and still were getting nothing.  Suddenly, an insistent beeping sound came from the computer in the back end.  Karl silenced it.  Seconds later, he said, "Tyler!  Jesse says that they had an anonymous tip for where the limo would be."


Karl consulted his notes quickly.  "Corner of 145th Avenue and 100th Street."

Tyler put the van into drive and gunned it.  He quickly drove down 100th.  He had thirty-one blocks to get to 145th Avenue, almost four miles.  He brought his speed up to fifty, ten over the limit.  "It'll work, huh?" Tyler said, grinning at Scott.

Scott shrugged.

"How did this anonymous tipper know what we were after?'' Clayton asked, looking askance at Tyler.

Karl shrugged.  Tyler accelerated.

A figure peeked out from behind a bush.  He checked the watch on his arm.  Then he looked up at the sign post across the street from him.  He could only read one of the street signs from his position, the one that read South 145th Avenue, but he knew the other read East 100th Street.  "Hurry up," he said to himself.  The limo would return any second, and Checkwolf still wasn't here.  He reached down and pulled out a helmet from the bush.  He put it on and then got out a pair of shoulder pads with deadly-looking spikes on them and attached those as well.  "If they don't get here soon, I'll have to take on those goons myself.

"Here we are,"  Tyler said.

Just as he said that, they saw the limo turn onto 100th Street.  "Fire!"  Tyler commanded Scott.

Scott nodded and sighted the vehicle.  He pressed the trigger.  A lance of light left the end of the cannon and struck the car.  Since Scott had it on narrow beam, it caused little structural damage.  But it had hit the car near the gas tank.  The two occupants of the car dove out.  The car drove down the deserted street on its own for three more seconds.  Then the small fire started by the laser burn ignited the fuel, and the car exploded.

"Good shot!" Tyler said as he opened the door and jumped out.  The other members quickly leapt out as well and ran for the two goons that had left the flaming car.  Clayton arrived first.  The larger of the two stood up to meet him.  Clayton swung at him.  The man ducked easily.  He then smiled and swung at Clayton.  He connected squarely with Clayton's jaw and sent him reeling backwards.  Scott came from the man's side, blindsiding him, and performed a jumping kick.  The man had only a moment to turn and see his assailant before Scott's foot smashed into his face, hurling him sideways several feet.

Meanwhile, Tyler threw a punch at the other man, barely connecting.  The man stumbled slightly.  As he prepared to retaliate, Karl turned him around and punched him in the jaw.  The man's eyes rolled back into his head, and he collapsed, unconscious.

Scott assisted Clayton to his feet.  He then heard Tyler say, "What in the world?"  He looked up quickly and saw two men standing there.  One was short and lithe, the other was big and bulky.  Very big.  Very bulky.  Very mean.

Tyler attacked first.  He didn't even consider attacking the larger one.  Instead, he went for the small one.  He confronted him and let loose with a punch.  The man's head whipped to the side, but he wasn't fazed otherwise.  His punch was returned and it knocked Tyler to the ground.

Suddenly, another bulky man jumped from the bushes, startling everyone.  Scott and Clayton prepared to rush him until they saw that the bad guys were equally surprised.  And they had a right to be.  Here was an obviously strong man, and to top it off, he had a face-concealing helmet and shoulder pads.  With spikes, no less.  Scott pitied the bad guys. 

Then, he noticed the man's right hand.  Or, rather, his lack of one.  Instead of a hand he had what looked like the barrel of a gun with a knife accompanying it.  He ran right up to the other big man, who towered over this newcomer by at least six inches, and let loose with a punch so hard that Scott winced.  It connected.  The big man fell.  He was down, but not out. 

Scott turned and opted to help Tyler instead.  He moved over to the dinky guy, swung, but completely missed.  Scott was stunned.  Off-balance, he tried to move aside from the imminent attack.  The little man reached for him, grabbing ahold of Scott's wrist as he pinwheeled away.  Scott tried to pull free, but the little man's grip was incredible; both men tumbled to the pavement.

Off to his right, the large man that had just been downed, rose again.  He had a look of hate in his eyes.  He had probably not been nailed that hard for a long time.  He let loose with a powerhouse of a swing, which the masked man nimbly avoided, obviously realizing the wisdom of dodging the blow rather than blocking or absorbing it.

Clayton and Karl were both in motion toward the big man.  Clayton reached him first, taking advantage of the big man's missing attack, catching him in the gut with his foot.  To his credit, the big guy didn't make a sound, aside from the air being forced out of him.  He turned to confront this newest assailant when Karl came at him from the other side and brought a knee into his face.  That was enough to push the man past the brink of consciousness.  He collapsed, out cold.

"Rand . . . Pestle!" the scrawny guy yelled, seeing the big man drop.

"You should be more concerned with yourself," Scott said, still trying to free his arm.

The little man let go of Scott's wrist, then punched him in the gut.  He squirmed away and stood.

Karl, Tyler, and the newcomer surrounded the man, followed by Scott and Clayton.  "Give up," Karl said.

"What is this on my arm?" Scott asked, showing it to Clayton.

"Never!" the man retorted.  "You will die by the hands of Mortar!"

"Shut up!" Karl said, bringing a fist into the man's gut.  He connected and the little man fell.

"Ow!" he said.  "You'll pay!"  He got up to run off and Tyler tripped him.  He fell on his face.  Something about the absurdity of the man's comments, coupled with his sprawl onto the pavement, struck everyone present as amusing.  They all laughed.  Enraged, Mortar stood again.  "Quit laughing!  Stop it!"

Tyler punched him and he collapsed, unconscious.  The group surrounded the unconscious bodies.  "Mortar and Pestle," Tyler said.  "Obviously drug enforcers."

"Is this glue on my arm?" Scott asked.  "Man, it's really sticky!"

"That new guy really helped us," Clayton said, turning to thank . . . nobody.  "Hey, where'd he go?"

They all looked around.  Their mysterious helper had disappeared.  "Look!" Karl said, pointing.  They followed his finger and saw, on one of the car doors from the exploded car, something inscribed.  Clayton went over and lifted it, looking at it.

"Cop,"  he said.  "His name?"

Tyler shrugged.  "Who knows?  Let's get the police here to take these two nutcases away.  And we also have some incriminating evidence to put away the drug dealers in that mansion down the street."  Everybody nodded and Karl ran back to the van to call the police.

"Hey!  My hand is stuck to my arm!" Scott called.

A helmeted figure stood on a nearby rooftop.  He nodded his head, then turned and left.

"She failed."

"I'm well aware of that, sir."

The man in the conservative, businesslike suit, spun around.  "You had better not fail."

The other man in the room smiled.  "You can count on me, sir."