The new arrangement really seemed to be working.  Six days in operation and already numerous small crimes and one large crime, the Mortar and Pestle incident, had been stopped.  Sean smiled to himself as he put away the most recent report of Alpha Squad's exploits.  Ryan's team had really proven itself to be a crack operational team.  Not to slight Beta Squad, of course.  Tyler's foursome had proven itself as well.  But, of the two, Ryan's seemed to be slightly superior.

Seemed to be, Sean emphasized in his mind as he took a look at Beta Squad's previous morning's exploits.  One drug bust, two attempted daylight robberies prevented, and one raid on a kidnapper's lair.  And he couldn't overlook the fact that they had at least temporarily put a crimp in the plans of the major producer of "hard" cocaine, whose enforcers were the aforementioned Mortar and Pestle.

Sean glanced at the kidnapping case.  He read: The assistance of Cop was greatly appreciated and facilitated the subsequent apprehension and capture of the aforementioned lawbreaker.  Sean glanced at his thesaurus as he read the report; Tyler had obviously been reading from it.  But what really caught Sean's attention was the mention of Cop.

Cop seemed to be a newcomer to the Kewanee crimefighting scene.  Sean would've liked to have thought that his start was inspired by Checkwolf, but that was merely speculation.  The major question mark was Cop himself.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  Sean had to admit that he had no idea.

When he assisted Beta in their fight against Mortar and Pestle, he was reported on as . . . Sean couldn't remember.  He reached for the file on that case.  He read: We were assisted by a man in an outlandish costume.  He had a face-concealing helmet and shoulder pads with what looked to be spikes on them.  He also appeared to be quite muscular and powerful in a physical way (read: strong).  I, nor any others in my squad, had any clue as to who he was until Karl discovered an etching of what we took his name to be: Cop.

Cop, Sean thought.  He wondered what had prompted this man to, first, become a crimefighter, and then choose a name like Cop.  It seemed as if Beta was forming quite a rapport with this man.  Enough to prompt him to join Checkwolf?  Another member would certainly be welcome, especially one that had been visibly proven to be a crimefighter.

Unlike Bounty, Sean thought with a grimace.  Through deductive reasoning, he had figured out who would send a mercenary to kill him.  It was just a matter of time before he would send another one.  Or maybe not, Sean thought again.  After all, he reasoned, I'm just one person, and he does have numerous other concerns.  Assuming, in the first place, that she was sent by . . . .

Sean's thoughts broke off as the hour chime sounded for three.  Time to call it a day, Sean thought.  He rose from his seat, all thoughts of what he had been thinking about forgotten.

By him, anyway.

The man stepped off the inbound flight from New York.  He had a long black trench coat that completely covered a black suit, black tie, and black shirt.  To top it off, he had dark sunglasses.  He glanced around the airport and, with his small suitcase, walked towards the rental car area of the airport.

"Five o'clock!" Ruben called out to no one in particular.  "And all's boring," he added.  He glanced around the immense communications room, where he was all alone.  Bummer, he thought to himself.  I wish I could have gone to the football game.  "But noooo!" he said aloud.  "I get stuck on monitor duty."

He absent-mindedly looked around at all the monitors.  Everyone else was in the basement at the football game.  Everyone except Ruben.  Suddenly, Ruben sat bolt upright in his chair.  "I can watch the game in here!"  he said to himself as he touched the appropriate buttons and was dealt a view of the track/football field.  "All right!"

Sean was refereeing the game.  They were down to the final two minutes of the game and the score was tied at seven.  Good game, Sean thought to himself as he watched the two teams take up opposite sides of the line of scrimmage.  Sean smiled as he thought of how tired they must be.  After all, five to a team in tackle football, full field, can get a little tiring. 

Alpha had the ball right now.  Brent was quarterback.  "Hike!" he called.  Ryan and Wil defended against the inevitable rush by Clayton and Scott.  Wil tackled Clayton and Ryan tripped Scott, giving James a chance to get in position for the pass.  Jesse sprinted out in the other direction, with Jay close in tow.  Finally, Brent let the ball loose with a perfect spiral, toward James.  They were on the fifty yard line and James was on the twenty, still going back.  Everyone else stopped to watch, except Tyler, who ran after James. 

James caught the ball and headed for the end zone.  Tyler ran at full speed and, at the five yard line, got a hold on James' legs, bringing him down hard.  James stretched his arms out and ended up with the ball on the one yard line. 

"First down!" Sean called, looking up to check the time on the huge clock on the wall. "Thirty seconds!"  While the teams ran forward, coming up with their next plays as they ran, Sean moved downfield also, looking around the interior of the largest room in the Checkwolf base.  He knew, intellectually, that the football field was actually somewhat smaller than a regulation field.  However, that was a detail that was unnoticeable to his eye.

The teams quickly moved to the one yard line.  Ryan took the ball.  "Hike!" Brent called.  Ryan handed Brent the ball, who promptly jumped forward and twisted.

"Touchdown!" Sean called.  

The clock was stopped on two seconds.  "This game is over, boys!" James called out.  They went for the extra point.  James held the ball and Wil came to kick it.  The football flew directly into the goal.

"Fourteen to seven," Sean said.  "Alpha's up with two seconds to go!"

Brent kicked off to Beta.  Clayton caught the ball and ran downfield.  This was their only chance to tie the game.  The clock ran out as he continued running, but the play wasn't over yet.  Clayton broke a tackle from Ryan, with Ryan rolling to the side. 

Clayton was at the forty.  The fifty.

Brent and Jay came in a pincer attack.  Brent dove at Clayton's feet from the right while Jay ran from the left and went for Clayton's torso.  Clayton dodged, first to one side, then to the other, nearly stepping out of bounds, but recovering and continuing forward.  He hurdled a diving tackle from James and headed for the end zone.  Standing in his way was Wil.  Panting, Clayton dodged from side to side.  But he couldn't deceive Wil.  Wil dove and tackled Clayton at the six yard line.

Sean threw his hands in the air.  "Game over!  Alpha wins, fourteen to seven!"

Both teams hit the showers.  Sean went to the closest elevator, took it up two floors, and then retired for the night.  He had to be up in just over six hours to go on monitor duty.

Jesse entered the communications room.  "We won!  We won!"

Ruben turned.  "I saw."

Jesse nodded and took a seat.  "Anything happen?"

Ruben shook his head.  "'Fraid not." 

Jesse nodded and checked out the console quickly.  

"Oh, wait a sec!  I take that back."

"Yes?" Jesse prompted.

"You know that empty apartment building north of us?"

Jesse nodded.

"It's got some new occupants."

"Wow," Jesse said dryly.  "Any other monumental, exciting news like that?"

Ruben leaned back in his chair and thought.  "Nope."


The man in black clicked on a light.  The room was small, but adequate.  He set his suitcase down on the bed.  He looked out his south window at the large, two story building opposite the apartment he was in.  The building took up most of the block.  And they had tight security.  But, that hadn't stopped him before.

Four days now he had exhaustively been watching the building opposite him.  He had a very good idea of the various schedules they ran on.  He was now ready to make his next move. 

"Nothing exciting has happened for days," Jay lamented to Sean.

"I know," Sean said nodding.  It was seven fifteen in the morning.  Sean's shift was nearly done and Jay's had started a little over an hour before; Beta was about halfway through its tour.

Suddenly, a little blip appeared on a comprehensive map of Kewanee.  "I'll handle it," Jay said.  

Sean nodded his assent.

Jay lifted the mic that would connect him with the van.  "Jay to Beta."

"Beta here," Karl said.

"There is a . . . robbery in progress at 4227 Southwest 94th Avenue in Galesburg."

Karl paused.  "We're in the vicinity.  We're on it.  Beta out."

Jay toggled the mic switch and placed it back on its pedestal.  "That's all we've been having ever since the Mortar and Pestle incident.  Piddly little things like robberies."

"They're not very 'piddly' to those involved in them," Sean said quietly.

"I guess you're right," Jay said. 

Four o'clock.  The man smiled to himself and clicked off the light that illuminated the small room.  He had already unpacked his precious luggage, so he quickly exited the apartment and, shortly thereafter, the building.  He briskly walked west down the remainder of the block, crossed the street, and walked south for a block.  He then turned east and walked along in front of the Checkwolf building.

He eyed the camera that almost adequately surveyed the surrounding area.  As it faced east, he circled around, padded across the small lawn, and stood directly underneath it, against the building.  There was a window right behind him.  He glanced around the area.  Nobody was in sight.

As quietly as conceivably possible, he lifted the unlocked window and jumped through, landing softly on the other side.  He replaced the window where it had been.  All of this had taken just under ten seconds.  The man looked up and saw that he was directly under another camera; this place was loaded with them.

When the camera was facing the other direction, he crept around the corner of the room.  He was in a large room in the southwest corner of the building.  He saw another camera on the other side of the room.  He ducked out the door, into the corridor, but quickly went back inside when he saw another camera outside.

This is harder than I thought it would be, the man thought to himself.  He retraced his steps until he was directly under the first camera he had encountered inside.  He pulled out a lenscap and quickly placed it on the camera.

He then looked up at the ceiling, ten feet above him.  He pulled out his rifle.  He got out an attachment for the rifle and unfolded it into a large, circular blade with a cable attached.  Hoping that the camera on the other side of the room didn't have a microphone, he shot up at the ceiling.  The blade pressed that particular tile in the drop ceiling upwards into the actual ceiling, then cut through both of them and, a foot beyond, the floor on the other side.  The blade carried the pieces up to the second story.  Pressing a button, the blade split and affixed itself to the floor like a grapple. 

By pushing a final toggle, the cable reeled in, carrying the man up with it.  He found himself in a darkened room with various pieces of furniture in it.  He pulled the blade out of the floor and then, wrapping his legs around a nearby bed post, dropped his torso back through the hole.  He regained his cap from the camera and pulled himself back up using his legs.

He then resealed the portions of ceiling and floor he had taken, though there was no way to repair the drop ceiling in the room below.  The repair was sturdy enough to stay in place, but not sturdy enough to support someone's weight.  He felt a twinge of pity for the person that would stumble over the former hole . . . and fall to the floor below.

Ruben turned back around after Sean left and did his top-of-the-hour review of the various cameras located in the base.  All the basement cameras checked out fine.  He then started on the first floor cameras.  When he came to the CrimeLab1 camera, it was blank.

He pressed a button. Normally that would reactivate a camera that had been switched off, but the readings indicated that it was already on.  Strange.  But not strange enough to rouse Sean.  He checked the CrimeLab2 camera.  It was fine.  Returning to CrimeLab1, he saw that it was still black.  He got up to go check it out.

Ruben turned to check the camera once more before he left, and he found that it was fine.  Shrugging, he retook his seat and continued on his camera check, determining to take a physical look at the odd camera issue once Jesse started his shift.

The man replaced the blade among his small arsenal and fixed his rifle in the darkened room.  He felt that his target had to be near.  He went to the nearest door and opened it.  Cautiously he checked around.  Satisfied that there were no cameras in the immediate area, he crept across the hall, past the staircase and elevator. 

He came to another room and tried the door.  It was unlocked.  He heard voices echoing from the stairwell and quickly ducked into the room.  The voices passed by, giving no indication of having noticed anything awry.

The man looked around the room.  There was a faint smell in it.  He sniffed again and then placed it.  A woman's perfume.  Bounty! he thought disgustedly.

He opened the door cautiously.  There were no cameras currently facing the door and the corridors were empty.  He quickly ran north down the hall, turning to the east when he came to a "T" in the hallway.  He crossed another north-south corridor and came to a stop near another door, underneath a camera.  According to the name plaque on the door, it was Ryan Spencer's apartment.

From what he had heard by tapping into their communications, Ryan was the leader of some sort of squad.  One of the three leaders in Checkwolf, to be exact.  Those three leaders would, logically, be centrally located.  And he was in the middle of the second floor.  So, Matts' room had to be around here somewhere.

Still no cameras were on him.  He ran the length of the room, headed east, jogged around the next intersection, and placed himself flush against the next door, feeling very open as he was near another set of stairs.  He read the plaque on the door.  "Bingo," he muttered under his breath as he read it.  Sean Matts.

He opened the door and quickly stepped in.  "Who's there?" Matts asked.

He laughed.  "A friend."  He raised his rifle.

Ruben was nearly done with the second floor cameras when he saw an oddity.  Standing underneath the camera above Ryan's room was an unfamiliar man.  An intruder.  With a rifle.

Ruben hit a series of buttons that would carry his voice to the lower two floors and the interior of all the rooms on the second floor except for Sean's.  "Attention.  Anybody and everybody immediately report to Sean's room.  It's another assassination attempt!"

Ruben himself leapt from his seat and headed for the nearest stairwell, which would place him right next to Sean's room.  He only hoped that he wasn't too late.

"Who?" Matts asked again.

"I'm getting a lot of money for this," the man said.

"Who are you?" Matts asked.

"Call me Marksman.  At least, for the last few seconds of your life."

"Marksman!" Sean exclaimed with recognition.

Suddenly, the door behind Marksman swung open.  He immediately turned and fired.

Ruben pounded up the stairs.  He ran directly for Sean's room.  He flung open the door, saw a flash of light and felt a burst of pain.  He then fell unconscious.

"Another one?" Ryan asked as he left the west side observation area at top speed, Clayton right behind him.  They sprinted past the northwest/garage elevator and down the main hall, at breakneck speed.  As they ran along the north wall of Ryan's room, they simultaneously heard the report of a gun and a shout of pain.

"Ruben!" Sean shouted.  Marksman's attention was riveted back to Sean who had covered the distance between them incredibly quickly and was now fully alert.  Marksman tried to bring the gun up, but was not in time.  Sean batted the weapon to one side and lashed out with his foot, connecting with Marksman's chin.  Marksman's head whipped sideways hard and his body followed.  He slammed into the wall and slumped down to the floor.

Ryan and Clayton appeared in the doorway.  "He'll be out for a while," Sean confirmed.

"Ruben!" Clayton exclaimed, pointing back to where Ruben was lying in the corridor.

Sean nodded.  "Jay," he said to Jay who had just arrived, "call an ambulance, now!  And have the police waiting at the hospital!"  Jay nodded, moving past Sean into the room to the nearest phone.  "Ryan, Clayton," Sean continued.  "Take Ruben down to the garage.  Carefully.  And try to keep him stable.  Tyler, Jesse.  Help them."

The foursome carefully lifted Ruben and walked quickly down the hall towards the garage elevator.  Sean bent over and quickly checked Marksman for any injuries.  "He's got at least one broken rib and a neck that's gonna be awfully sore," Sean said to the remaining members, Scott, Brent, Karl, and James.  He also noticed Jenkins standing behind them, quietly observing.  "Of course, he deserves it.  Let's take him down to the van and follow the others to the hospital."  Sean hefted him and put him over his shoulder.  "Good thing he's out cold, or else he'd be in a lot of pain right now."  For good measure, he jostled him intentionally.

Jenkins fell into step next to Sean as the others moved ahead.  "What happened?"

Sean shook his head.  "I don't know yet.  This guy tried to kill me."

"How did he get into the base?" Jenkins asked, his tone carrying an undercurrent of reproof.

Sean simply glared at him and continued in silence.

The four that had taken Ruben down traveled with him in the ambulance to the hospital.  The others went in one of the vans.  When they arrived at the hospital, the police were waiting and took Marksman into their tender loving care.  The chief of the Kewanee Police Department had decided to put in an appearance after having heard that one of the members of Checkwolf had been injured.  "Marksman has been able to evade the authorities across the country for a long time.  Good job, guys," Chief Morrison told them.

The remaining members then went into the waiting room outside the emergency room.  The four that had traveled with Ruben were already there and waiting.  "They took him into the operating room right after we got here," Ryan said.

Thirty minutes later, the head doctor exited the operating room.  "How is he?" Sean asked.

"He'll be fine.  It was a good thing you guys got him here when you did, though.  There would have been major complications if you'd waited any longer.  As it is, though, you got him here in time."

"Thank you, doctor."

"How're you doing, Ruben?" Sean asked.

Ruben managed a smile.  "Pretty good.  I'm tired though."

Sean smiled.  "Well, you just keep healing."

"Did you get the guy, I assume?"

"Marksman?" Sean inquired.  Ruben nodded.  "We got him.  If it hadn't been for you though, he would have killed me.  You're fortunate that you weren't killed.  He's not called Marksman for nothing."

Sean could see that Ruben was getting tired.  "I'll leave now.  You get some rest."  Ruben nodded and quickly fell asleep.  Sean rose and left the medical room.  The doctors had let the group bring Ruben back to base the day before, on the seventh of June.

The first time someone had been sent to assassinate him, Sean had been hurt.  And this time, Ruben had been hurt, and even worse than Sean had been.  Sean couldn't allow the third time to be the charm.  This had gone on long enough.  He had ignored his past for too long.  Now it was time to confront his demons and bring an end to this, once and for all.