Sean relaxed in his chair. Over the past few weeks, after their sojourn to New York, things had settled back down to "normal." They hadn't had any major cases with any major criminals like Belsky or Awe, but instead had been stopping numerous burglaries, robberies, kidnappings, and even prevented a suicide and an attempted murder or two. All in all, pretty good.
It's nice to know that I don't have to worry about Davidson anymore, Sean thought. They had successfully stopped that threat and Sean had revealed to the rest of the members the secrets that he had kept for the past two and a half years. Of course, I should have known that they would take it well, and that I didn't have anything to worry about.
Now there are no secrets among us, and no crutches to fall back on, either. But that's all right. We don't need that anymore.
That was an opinion that had been seconded by Jenkins, shortly before his departure. He had given Sean a royal tongue-lashing after they had returned from New York, venting to Sean about all of the problems he had seen with Checkwolf, from Bounty to Marksman and his mysterious entry to the base to Sean's abrupt "vacation." Sean had managed to calm him down, explain things, and after a few days, Jenkins had been back to normal. It wasn't long after that that he had left, at the end of their two-month probationary period. He had given them a resounding vote of approval. We passed our test.
Sean glanced at the clock. It was nearly two in the afternoon. Jay would be getting off duty soon, and Ruben had just come on two hours before, the same time that Beta Squad had returned. Tyler had filed his report within a half hour, and Sean was again impressed with his team's ability.
He flipped back in the manila folder to the part where . . . ah, here it is. "We received assistance from Cop for the fourth time in as many nights this morning and succeeded in apprehending the lawbreaker." Sean nodded and thought about how many times Cop had assisted the Beta Squad. He never seemed to be around to help Alpha, though.
Tyler had affixed a note of recommendation. "It seems to me that Cop would be a worthy addition to Checkwolf."
That thought had also occurred to Sean on several different occasions. Cop had already proven himself numerous times. And he would be a welcome addition. From Tyler's reports, Sean could discern that he was obviously physically agile and knowledgeable with weaponry. And Sean would be interested to find out more on the background of this mysterious man.
Decisively, Sean called Tyler into his office. While he waited for Tyler to arrive, he thought about how small, in actuality, their team really was. Twelve members of a crack crimefighting squad to patrol dozens of square miles of area. We're doing an outstanding job, all things considered. But the more members we can acquire, the better we'll do in the future.
Sean diverted his attention to the subject at hand, namely Cop, as Tyler entered. Another reason to get more members, Sean thought wryly. A third of the team are Spencers. "Have a seat, Tyler," Sean said, indicating one of the chairs opposite his desk.
Tyler sat down. "What's up, Sean?"
Sean fingered the report in his hand. "Do you really think that Cop would be a good addition to the team?" Sean asked without preamble. Sean had a fair idea of what Tyler's answer would most likely be, but he wanted to hear it anyway.
Tyler leaned forward in his chair. "Definitely. Not just good, but excellent. He has exhibited a wide array of appealing qualities for a prospective member of the team. He is agile, intelligent, and seems to be an above average tactician. Not to mention his brute strength. In fact," Tyler said smiling, "I would choose him over anybody off of Alpha."
Sean smiled at the healthy rivalry developing between the two squads over the past two months. "Yes, well, that's what I had assumed. Aside from the Alpha remark, of course."
"Of course," Tyler agreed with a grin.
Now Sean leaned forward. "I would like you to approach Cop with an offer of membership in Checkwolf."
"No, I'm kidding," Sean said.
Tyler noticed that ever since Sean had succeeded in putting away Davidson, Sean had started to redevelop his sense of humor. He had been positively stifling, at times, before. "Well, I'll certainly ask him--the next time I see him," Tyler said as he stood to leave.
"Good enough," Sean said. He watched as Tyler left the room. Yes, another member would be a welcome addition to the team. New blood. Now if he'll only accept . . . .
"Good news, guys," Tyler declared as he strode onto the basketball court.
The game instantly stopped. Clayton, Karl, and Scott looked at him.
"What's the news?" Karl asked.
"Guess who might be a part of Checkwolf?"
"I give up," Karl said.
"Got me," Clayton responded.
"Cop?" Scott ventured.
"Exactly right!" Tyler exclaimed, smiling. "Yes, Cop will soon be part of Beta Squad, if I have anything to say about it. Now we'll really show Alpha a thing or two."
"Or three," Clayton quipped.
"Jewelry store robbery in progress, possible hostage situation. Moline district, corner of North 149th and West 121st," Karl heard Sean say to their group that was currently about twelve miles from the Checkwolf base.
"Acknowledged," Karl said. "We're on it. Beta out." He clicked the communications system over to standby. "You heard that, Tyler?"
"I'm already on my way," Tyler replied.
As Tyler roared down the street, he wondered about the likelihood of Cop being in on this one. It was nearly five in the morning and the first hints of daylight were showing on the eastern horizon. Normally, it seemed that Cop preferred to work in the nighttime hours. Which, of course, didn't explain why he didn't work with Alpha, who operated totally during the night. Tyler shrugged as he turned right onto 121st Street.
They were close enough that Tyler could see the disturbance from this distance. One police car was already on the scene. Tyler pulled the jet black van to a stop, though as Clayton had pointed out to him once, the term "van" was something of a misnomer. They were across the street from the store, but it was beyond Tyler why anyone would be in a jewelry store, working, at five in the morning, to cause a hostage situation.
"Clayton and Karl, you go around back. Scott, you're with me." He and Scott walked to the storefront and stood with the officer for a moment. "What's happening?" Tyler asked.
The man made a doubletake as he recognized the two Checkwolf members. "We have tentatively identified three burglars. There seems to be a hostage in there. Evidently the store's owner was in there working early."
Well, that clears up that question, Tyler thought. "Who called you here?"
The officer shrugged. "We received an anonymous tip that there would be a burglary, and hightailed it over here."
Scott tapped Tyler on the arm. Tyler looked up at him. "What's going on in there?" he asked. Tyler squinted to try to get a better look. He saw that there did, indeed, seem to be some sort of struggle going on inside.
The small, balding man hunched over a sheet of figures. Suddenly, the door swung open, nearly being knocked off of its hinges. Three masked figures entered. "Tie up the old man," the tall one said, apparently the ringleader. The shortest one broke off and grabbed the owner, while the other two started gathering up diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, rings, necklaces, bracelets, and whatever else they could get their hands on.
"Let me alone!" the owner shouted as he struggled.
"Shut up," the man holding him, the short one, said. He then slapped the man. The force of the blow buckled the older man's legs. His captor shoved him roughly into a chair and produced some barbed wire.
"What are you going to do?" the older man asked fearfully.
"Tie you up," his captor said with a laugh as he set to work. Suddenly, the man abruptly stopped laughing. Immediately following that was a thump on the floor.
"Ed? Ed, what's going on back there?" the leader called, slightly apprehensive.
"I wouldn't worry about Ed," a voice said from the darkness of the next room.
"Wh--who's there?" the leader asked.
"Call me Cop. Revenger of death," the voice said. A shadow was barely discernible in the darkness.
"We didn't kill nobody," the third person, a woman, said.
"That's of no consequence." Cop leapt out of the darkness and caught the woman full in the face with the heel of his boot. She crumpled to the floor.
The leader's eyes suddenly took on a fearful appearance as he looked at the hulk of a man in front of him. Cop was masked (helmeted might have been a better word), was very muscular, and had shoulder pads with what looked to be three eight- to ten-inch spikes on each shoulder, making him quite a formidable opponent.
"We weren't going to hurt him," the leader said.
"Oh, no?" Cop produced the barbed wire. "Then what was this for?"
The leader said nothing.
"How would you like to be tied up with it?" Cop asked, motioning toward him.
"No!" The man kicked toward Cop's stomach. Cop caught his leg and threw him to the ground. Cop then felt a blow on the back of his head. He turned around and saw that the short man he had hit first had regained consciousness. He also had a couple of nasty cuts from the barbed wire that he had fallen on.
Cop feinted, then threw a flurry of four successive punches, all of which connected with the man's head. He fell to the ground, unconscious again.
Suddenly, Cop felt the impact of a chair breaking across his back. He fell to his knees, weakened by the sudden blow. He then lashed out behind and caught the leader in his knee. Cop felt the leader's leg bend the wrong way. The man screamed in pain. He dropped to the ground, holding his leg. Cop went over to him, lifted him up with his left hand, and punched him with his right elbow, mercifully rendering him unconscious.
At that instant, two figures appeared in the doorway to the establishment. "Cop?" one of them asked.
Cop straightened, looking at the silhouette of the two figures. The one who had spoken was nearly eight inches shorter than the one he had walked in with. Tyler had spoken. Which meant that the other person would be Scott, both of Checkwolf's Beta Squad. "Tyler. Scott. It's good to see you. Where's the rest of Beta Squad?"
As if on cue, Clayton and Karl entered from the back, stun pistols drawn and at the ready. "Is everything okay in here?" Clayton asked cautiously. Then he saw Cop. He immediately holstered his weapon, indicating that Karl should do the same.
"Bring it, Cop," Karl complimented.
The officer stepped into the store. "What happened here? How did you know that this would happen?" he asked Cop.
"I received an anonymous tip that indicated the likelihood of a robbery occuring here, tonight. I then alerted the police, and inadvertantly alerted Checkwolf as well."
The policeman nodded as he took notes. Then, gesturing with his pen, he indicated the would-be robbers, who were all still out cold. "And so these guys were trying to rob the store, and you stopped 'em?"
Cop nodded. "Affirmative."
The policeman shrugged. "Less work for us," he said before stepping out and returning an instant later, with two other officers. "Load these guys into the car," he ordered them. The other policemen set about doing so as the first one went over to the owner of the establishment and started questioning him.
Cop turned to leave, but Tyler motioned him over. "My superior, Sean Matts, has a proposition for you."
Tyler nodded. "He'd like to know if you'd like to join Checkwolf full time. We would provide rooming accomodations, of course, and you would receive pay, as if it were a job. Which it is, technically." Tyler paused and looked at the impassive mask. "How about it?"
"I would be honored," Cop said. His mind was already racing to decide how to cut all his connections to his other life, his subsidiary life since he had begun fighting crime. He would have to quit his job at the phone company. But, he vowed to himself, I'll still keep my identity a secret. Even among these ones that may seem to be friends. There always seems to be a wolf in the fold.
"When can you come for your orientation?" Tyler asked.
"Two days from now, at the earliest," Cop said.
Tyler nodded. "So, how about the fourth? About one in the afternoon?"
"Sounds good to me," Cop said. Acceptance!
"So that's the million-dollar tour," Sean said to Cop as they arrived back at his office in one corner of the communications room.
Cop was impressed. "You have a very impressive facility here."
Sean nodded. "It's still kind of new to us, too, since we've only been here for three months." Sean motioned for Cop to sit. He was still slightly unnerved by the fact that Cop insisted on keeping his mask on at all times. And who wouldn't be uncomfortable with someone that has weaponry instead of a right hand? Sean asked himself. After the incident with Bounty, Sean was slightly suspicious of anyone with anything to hide. He wondered if Jenkins would approve, were he still here. But Tyler had more than vouched for Cop, and Cop's record backed up that recommendation.
"We'd like to run you through our training room to get a basic idea of your overall skills and abilities, sometime soon. And don't get too upset if we keep a close eye on you for the first couple of weeks."
"Ah, yes. Tyler told me about your incident with Bounty." Sean imagined that he heard a smile in Cop's voice. "I completely understand, though," Cop said. "It's a good idea to make sure that your compatriots are not traitors."
Sean smiled. "That's exactly how we feel about it."
Cop settled himself in his room. He slid off the slightly oppressive mask and eased off the lightweight shoulder pads. His room was near the middle of the upper, second floor. He had been grouped in with Beta Squad, the ones that he had formed a sort of comraderie with over the past weeks.
Breaking off the majority of my connections with the outside world wasn't as hard as I would have thought, since I'm a virtual no-name, anyway. The only person I really needed to tell about my decision was my sister. Very few people will miss me.
Cop looked around at his spacious accomodations. This is more, much more, than I'm accustomed to. Just eyeballing it, it looks to be about eighty feet square. That's a lot of space.
He glanced at his watch and saw that he only had fifteen more minutes before his appointment to run through the training room. The way Sean told it, it was a very difficult training session.
Simply astounding, Sean told himself. Even pushing myself to my upper limits, I have never even come close to level nine.
Cop, though, who had just finished his trial run, had done much better than that. Astounding, in fact. Sean looked at the various scores. Cop's stamina nearly reached the top of the scale. His power was almost unheard of; he reached halfway to level eleven on the power rating; theoretically, the top of the scale was around twelve. The only one that came even close was Scott, previously considered the group's strongman. Even the big man's speed was amazing for someone his size; it, of course, was under Sean's own, but only slightly. Cop's ingenuity, his ability to overcome various obstacles and challenges, while not quite rivaling his own or Jay's, was still quite high, in the nines. His agility was somewhat low, but no more so than was expected because of his bulk. So overall, he achieved nine point nine five, an excellent score.
"How did I do?" Cop asked as he entered the observation room, sweat glistening off of his body. Sean could only assume that he was sweating under that mask as well.
"Very well, indeed. You almost scored ten."
"Is that good?"
Sean nodded. "Excellent, in fact. I consider myself a good athlete. Hopefully," Sean added with a smile, "better than the rest of Checkwolf, and my personal best is only eight point five."
"Is ten the best?"
Sean shook his head. "No. Twelve is the highest you can get. But rest assured, you could probably beat up the rest of us in a fair fight," Sean said, smiling.
Sean could tell through Cop's voice that he was smiling. "That's nice to know."
As they left the observation room, Sean turned to Cop. "I assume you have another identity." Cop nodded. "And I'm sure that whatever reason you have for concealing that is well-founded," Sean continued. "So I, and the rest of Checkwolf, will respect that until you're comfortable with us."
"Thank you," Cop said.
"But I do have a purely practical question, if you don't mind my asking. How can you go around in public with that," Sean said, indicating the artificial extension of Cop's right arm, "instead of a real hand? I would think that would shoot your secret identity to pieces."
"No, I don't mind your asking," Cop said in his deep baritone. "Actually, I do have a prosthesis that I can put on in place of this knife and energy cannon. But that's only for show, and it's very uncomfortable, besides. I'm much more accustomed to this attachment instead."
"I take it that natural-looking prostheses are very expensive?"
Sean nodded. "How did you lose your hand?"
Cop stopped in the middle of the hallway. "I remember the day precisely. It was August the twenty-sixth, four years ago, now. About noon, my brother and I were walking down a street on the south side of the Kewanee district. There were a couple of cop cars on the other side of the street. We didn't realize it at the time, but they were having a standoff with some robbers. For some unknown reason, one decided to shoot at us. I tried to protect my brother, but was too slow. I only succeeded in getting my hand mutilated by the bullets, while my brother was struck in the heart. He died, instantly. They killed him."
"So you wanted to get back at them," Sean said quietly.
"Exactly. After a few weeks, I got myself fitted with this," he said, motioning with his right arm, "and tracked them down. A few days later, I found them and gave them exactly what they deserved."
"You killed them?"
Cop shook his head. "No. Maybe I should have, but I didn't. Instead, I beat them up badly. I left them for the police to pick up. I found out later that they were wanted in three states." He paused, as if reliving that day. "That was where my crimefighting career began."
"I'm sorry about your brother," Sean said.
"I've learned to live with it." Changing the subject completely, Cop said, "I've noticed that you have a kitchen and dining room."
"No one in particular. We usually just order out or make something small."
"Why don't you guys hire a small staff to prepare meals?" Cop asked.
"I guess my reason is secrecy. I would rather not compromise it."
"I'm sure you can find a few people that would be loyal to Checkwolf for a paycheck every week."
"You're probably right," Sean said. "I'll think about it."
Cop nodded and returned to his room. He took off his mask and prosthesis. He then went in to take a shower. Tonight was his first night on duty with Beta Squad. I think I'm going to like this place.