"...so we're agreed then, Jer? Five years, 22 million, with a 4 mil signing bonus and a buyout option for the last two years based on reaching both your individual and team goals." The man said, brushing his hand through his hair as he talked. "Well, don't get too excited, I'm haven't forgotten the fact that it took us this long to put this together and the fact you've been to virtually no training camp...so here's my thing...you get $2 million up front, another million if you reach a thousand yards, and then the other million if you get at lest 12 touchdown catches this year...Look, take it or leave it, that's where I stand, I shouldn't even be ..."
The knock came again, and this time the man stopped for a second. "Hey, hold on...Come in"
Into the room walked a young woman in her mid-20's, dressed profesionally in a business skirt and blouse, very naturally pretty but with very little makeup. The man motioned for her to sit down as he continued to talk. "Like I said, you should be settling this with Ernie and Brock, but I'm obliging this one time. The fact remains that you either take this or you can sit out the last year on your contract as far as I'm concerned. This team spent its way into a 16-48 record over the last four years and I'm not letting it happen again. You think *THAT* over, Jer...ok, you sleep on it, but I want one of two things by five o'clock on Monday...your signature on that page, or your locker cleaned out....OK, goodbye."
He let out a whoosh of air as he turned to greet his visitor. "You know, Lorelei, sometimes I wake up and wonder why the heck I ever got into this."
"You were told that Jerry Omaha was a pistol when he came in here, Dad" she said. "He thinks he's the reason the team finally got to the playoffs last year."
Alex let out a smirk. "With four dropped passes in the wild card game, he may also be the reason he lost. But the GM handed him the world three years ago and I'm not about to do the same, ESPECIALLY with the two receivers we picked up from the draft." He smiled at her and started to relax a bit. "So what is the agenda today?"
"Well," she said, "you have a press conference on Monday as part of a five day story on the first game of the season on the 9th. You also have a players meeting on Tuesday to attend, a few meet and greet wine-and-cheese shindigs peppered throughout that you probably can send me or someone else to put in an appearance for...and you have about five minutes of 'quiet time' penciled in for 7 AM Wednesday."
"Sarcasm, while humorous, is not really needed." Alex scolded. "We both knew when I started this I had a heavy intital load with this job but from there things can be run by the people under me. It's why I wanted to do this instead of coach or GM, so I'd have time for...other things."
Lorelei rolled her eyes. "You know, it's not too late to settle down to something approaching a normal life. After you got out of it the last time, I had hoped you'd start to act your age."
Alex frowned. "This isn't an act. This is what I do. And when you agreed to come on here, you said you would support me."
"And I will" she interrupted, "but...you're 44, Dad. I worry about you."
Alex gave one of those grins that she hated, because it always managed to diffuse her "ornery-ness", as her dad always said. "there's no need to worry...if anything, the whole situation's danger level has gotten significantly...smaller."
"Sure, Mitch." Crosby waved him in and offered him a seat. "What can I do for you?"
"It's about Dashiel Williams," Mitch said. Dash Williams was 275 pounds of middle linebacker. Last year he'd played second string, but the position was open this year since the former starter had been traded away shortly before Crosby arrived. "Williams has been looking good at tryouts, you know what I mean, Coach?"
Crosby arched an eyebrow, then went over to the filing cabinet. He pulled the file history on Dash and started looking through it.
"He's looking a little TOO good, you know?" continued the doctor. "He tests clean, and I don't see how he could be cheating it, but the improvement is ... not right." Mitch was obviously upset by the whole situation.
"Hmm...are you just running steroid tests, or are you looking for narcotics as well? In fact, do you have the test results as well?"
"Here you are," said Mitch, sliding some papers across. "Clean and clean."
Crosby looked them over and nothing jumped out at him.
"And what do you mean by 'not right'?" Crosby said calmly as he looked up in Mitch's direction. "Faster than average time in the 40? Is he hurting players in tackle drills? Can you give me anything beyond 'not right'?"
Mitch waved his hands in a flustered way. "I can't give you much more than that. You've seen the scrimmages, that Dash out there is a lot better than he has any right to be after an off-season and his performance last year. He's faster than he was, stronger." Mitch collapsed. "Maybe I'm wrong. I'd like to be wrong. But I've been doing this for a long time, and I've never seen this kind of improvement in this kind of time frame without some form of chemical enhancement. Based on his tests, though, he's not doing anything illegal, and he's not doing anything that the Comission has banned. It's just ... I don't know."
Crosby handed the results back to Mitch. "Then there's really not much we can do about it now." he said. "Explain to him, however, that because of the circumstances, we would like him on random testing for awhile...and when I mean random, I mean anywhere from before Wednesday practice to right after the game. But if we're not testing him on anything we can prove, then we really can't do much about it. But it is worth monitoring."
"All right, Coach." Mitch gathered the reports and headed out the door.
Crosby got lost in thought for a moment. His suspiscions were obviously not something he could discuss with the team doctor...but it was certainly something he could investigate on his own...
* * * *Toward the end of practice the next day, Crosby walked down to the locker room while the team was still out on on the field. The empty room brought back memories of his own career.
Crosby reached into his pocket, took his cell phone, and used the two way feature to attempt to contact his daughter. After three beeps, she finally answered. "Lorelei Crosby."
"It's me," Alex said, "I'm going to be out of touch for a little while, I'll let you know when I can be reached. Until then, radio silence."
Lorelei heard the term her father always used when it meant he was going to be...working. "Something come up?"
"Yeah, I'll go into it later. Over and out."
Crosby shut the case of the cell phone and placed it into his pocket as he walked over to the locker of #57, Dash Williams. He pulled a slip of paper out and began to run through the combination of this particular lock, playing close attention to the hallway...the floors of the complex made it very difficult for anyone to walk by the doors without some sort of advance warning, something that at the moment Crosby was very thankful for. He quietly opened the locker and took a look around.
The usual street clothes were there, and a selection of the sorts of toiletries he was expecting.
Personal ethics kept Crosby from looking for Williams' wallet in the mix for a phone number of some sort, although it was sorely tempting at the time. Crosby closed and relocked the locker, and headed back out the door.
Knowing that there wasn't much time left before the end of practice, Crosby walked down to the tunnels beneath the stadium. He kept an office down there for the game days where he didn't feel the need to be "in the public eye"...it had montitors that received the various camera feeds of the field, as well as the things you would find in a small office. The next room in revealed a small, studio sized apartment...for when he worked late and knew he didn't have time to travel home. He entered the room, and locked the door from behind him.
He accessed the PC at the desk and called up the employee information...giving him the make and model of the car that Williams drove -- a Mazda Miata. He then removed his clothes...and changed into what looked to be a black bodysuit with yellow accents here and there. He then pulled a full face mask over his head with long, flowing blond hair, giving him the appearance of having completely different hair.
Sting wasn't the best name he could come up with...but with the situation he had been dealt, it would do for the inevitable press he would receive. The city didn't know he was there yet...but they would. And so would this city's heroes.
He walked towards a heating duct at the base of the floor...and immediately shrunk down to about an inch in size. This isn't the smallest he could go...he could shrink to the equivalent of a small ant if he chose...but it was sufficient for him to walk between the vent bars. He knew the duct wasn't active...but it made for an excellent way in and out of the office when he "went to work". With a running speed that would leave a cheetah in the dust, he traversed the duct until he reached the surface parking lot. He then ran towards the Miata he had read about on the computer and immediately looked for an entry point that would accomodate him.
Given his shrinking abilities, the small crack in the window was more than sufficient to provide him with access.
He fired the grapple gun attached to his wrist towards the window, and the hook locked right on top of the window's edge. Flicking a switch and shrinking to the smallest height possible for him, he flew upwards towards the window. This is how he knew that the shrinking ability was a small field effect rather than personal...it allowed the grapple gun to shrink and grow with him.
Once inside the car, he saw where the headrest was connected to the drivers seat. He fired the gun again and pulled himself over, then waited inside the headrest for Williams to leave for the day.
He waited for another hour before Williams came trotting out of the locker room to the car. He popped the trunk and tossed his bag in before sliding into the driver's seat. With a pop of the clutch, the car pulled out into traffic.
Crosby knew that Williams lived in Old Town so he perked up when Williams didn't head across the bridge but turned left instead. After twenty minutes or so, Williams pulled his car up in front of a non-descript building in an office park. He hopped out and locked the door of the car, then headed toward one of the doors. The office park was only one story high, and each suite had its own external access so Crosby was able to see where Williams was headed.
Sting grew to about a foot, big enough to bridge the jump to the cracked window, then shrank again to get outside the window. He then grew again to a foot and hit the ground running, quickly bridging the gap between the car and the door. He shrunk to miniature size, walked in under the door crack, and took a look... and listen...inside.
The first room was a simple reception area, and as he was entering he saw Williams being led into a back room by a scruffy looking man in a loose-fitting suit.
He followed and slipped under the new door in time to see Williams sitting down on a medical examination table. A new figure, dressed in a white coat and with a somewhat striking head of black hair atop a hatchet shaped face was speaking to him as the other man lounged a little further away. "How is it progressing, Mr. Williams?" asked the man.
"Good, Doc. Real good. It feels like I'm stronger every day."
"Good," said the Doctor as he drew a blood sample. "And the headaches?"
"Better," said Williams. "but I'm hungry all the time now."
"That's to be expected. Very well," the man produced a vial of some clear fluid and a needle. "I think we shall continue then."
Sting grimaced as he watched this. His first impulse was to blast the syringe out of the doctors hand...but he felt the possibility existed that Williams was a pawn in this...a man desperate to make his mark in the sport, but not a criminal. He patiently watched the scene unfold, but he poised himself for action.
The doctor loaded the syringe and injected the athlete. "There. I think we can scale back the treatments, now. Perhaps only every other day. I'll know for certain after I test the blood. Unless, I call you, though, this time day after tomorrow?"
Williams nodded, "OK. Thanks Doc." He gathered his things and headed out.
The man in the suit saw Williams out while the Doctor busied himself with the blood sample at table set with a variety of chemical and medical equipment. After a moment, the man returned. The Doctor tossed a few words over his shoulder, "Release the Jackal."
"Do I have to, Doc? He creeps me out," was the reply.
"Do it, Bill," the Doctor turned. "And in the future, I'd advise more alacrity and less pointless interrogation unless you'd like to take a more active role in some of our projects."
The man blenched, "Yes sir, no sir." He moved quickly to a door on the opposite side of the lab and opened it. A creature bounded out, humanoid but with feral features and fur over his body, he rolled into the room with a gait between that of a man and a dog. He raced over to the Doctor, who forestalled him, "Down, Jackal. Down." The creature retired a few paces and then began to pace the room, sniffing the air.
"Uh oh," Sting thought to himself, "Big Poochie here is probably going to tag me...unless I tag them first"
He surveyed the situation, and realized that as dangerous as the Jackal was, the Doctor was potentially more dangerous, being the obvious ringleader. Therefore, he needed to go down first.
Sting sped from the door, still at insect height, until he was about two feet from the doctor. Then, in a sweeping motion, he grew to full height, unleashing an uppercut on the doctor as he reached his apex.
"I'm terribly sorry, gentlemen," Sting said, "but the Doctor seems to be out right now!"
Sting achieved full size and landed the punch on target. The doctor staggered back and slumped against the table.
"What the ... ?" burbled Bill. The Jackal merely howled.
Sting then moved with blinding speed and hit a running right cross onto Bill (thinking he would fall fast as well, allowing a one on one with the Jackal), then turned to face the mutated humanoid. "Sit, Ubu, Sit!" said Sting.
Sting zipped across the room toward the Jackal and landed a punch as he closed.
The Jackal howled and raked Sting with his claws.
"Ok, Benji" Sting said, obviously a bit annoyed, "HEEL!" He took a mighty swing, which went wide, reminding him of the importance of not letting his temper run away with him.
Sting sighed to himself. "Been out too long to make that mistake." he thought. "Fortunately, Fido's not doing a whole lot right now. Still, it's time to end this."
His hands hummed, and he fired a sting blast right at the creature. The Jackal rolled away from the blast. A piece of medical equipment shuddered and collapsed as the blast hit it.
With an inhuman snarl, the Jackal leapt back into the fray. Raking his claws again down Sting's body.
A side door burst open and two men burst into the room, both wearing outfits similar to the one Bill wore, but the men themselves were larger and better muscled. "Get him," cried the Doctor from where he supported himself against the lab table.
Sting blurred over to the doctor and landed a punch which seemed to put him down. Then he raced past the incoming thugs into a corridor.
With a yowl, the Jackal leapt toward the fallen doctor, while the two thugs took off after Sting. They closed in and one took a swing which nearly grazed Sting, but the other nearly fell over when Sting shrank down to insect size.
At that size, he ducked against the wall and punched 911 on his cell gasping the address and that "paranormal activity" was involved.
Sting rocketed back up to full size landing a punch on the thug nearest him as he grew. The thug flipped over backwards and went down.
His buddy swung at Sting with big fists.
Sting recoiled from the first shot and realized this mook was stronger than the thing in there.
Sting punched back landing a solid blow on the thug. His followup was a haymaker that dropped the thug like a sack of potatoes.
Sting took a moment to make sure the thugs wouldn't be waking up anytime soon, then shrunk back down to insect size. He slipped back into the lab only to find it empty. It appeared to have been abandoned in haste, for there were scattered papers on the floor and on the table where the medicines and such had been, and a few vials and beakers were still on the table as well.
"Damn," Sting thought to himself, "There must have been an out route because they sure got out of here in a hurry. And that...Jackal thing...must have carried the Doctor because there is no way he could move under his own power that fast."
Sting scoured the room for an escape route, taking in where doors were and any other information he could ascertain.
There were several doors -- the ones to the entryway, the one to the hallway with the thugs, a matching door on the far side and what looked like an emergency exit in the back wall. As he finished his scan, he heard a soft whumph. Spinning, he saw flames boiling out of a beaker on the lab table. The fire seemed to spread like a liquid, igniting the papers it came in contact with and spilling rapidly onto the floor.
Immediately Sting grew to full height and searched full speed for a fire extinguisher, blankets, even lab coats, anythign that might put out the fire, and proceeded to use what he could find to put the fire out at hyperspeed.
Sting battled the fire for what seemed like hours to his speed enhanced senses. The flames resisted his efforts to put them out with an almost human stubborness. Whatever the chemicals were, they liked to burn and burn they did. He was able to extinguish some of the secondary flames with the fire-extinguishers, but ended up shoveling most of the burning goo onto whatever he could carry and shuttling it out to the dumpster at high speed.
When the police arrived in response to his 911 call, they found him standing near the dumpster watching the chemical ooze consume itself and wondering if the flames would eat through the steel.
Two officers jumped out of the car and aimed their pistols at him over the doors, "Hold it, pal!"
Sting immediately raised his hands and said, "Not a problem, guys, I thought you'd never get here. You'll find at least 2, maybe 3 hired goons in there along with the remains of the lab. The Doctor and the paranormal I warned you about, unfortunately, got away while his goons ran interference."
The policemen kept their guard up until another car arrived, and then broke off to search. An unmarked car arrived and a rumpled looking man got out of it, waved the last cop keeping a gun on Sting away and walked over. He flashed a badge, "McNally, detective."
"Sting. Right. Want to put me in the picture?" asked McNally. Behind him, the cops were hustling the thugs out and setting up a crime scene. A fire truck pulled up behind the police cars and inquisitive faces began to appear at nearby windows.
"Well, McNally, in 50 words or less, I was tailing a possible suspect to this site and ran into what appeared to be a backroom laboratory specializing in genetic enhancements. Both of the thugs being taken away struck with a strength uncommon to average guys, and he had a...creature...that he called the Jackal who was half man, half...dog, wolf, something with furs and claws. Zoology was never my forte. I engaged the creature, the goons came in, I ducked out long enough to call you guys and disorient them a bit, laid out the goons, and found doctor and 'patient' had hightailed it out and left a chemical bomb to burn the remains, most of which you'll find in that dumpster over there."
Sting paused for a moment. "Was that more than 50 words? I lost count."
McNally looked at the building where the firefighters were dealing with the last vestiges of the flames, "I hope those guys have something outstanding on them, since we'll probably have to let them go otherwise. If you're telling me true, we can't even get 'em on arson. You mind telling that story again, for the record?" He waved over a young cop. "Jonesy, take this guy's statement, would you? And see if he'll give you contact information. You," he said to Sting, "don't leave town. Heh."
McNally headed back over to the crime scene. Sting repeated his story to the young policemen. The officer finished taking the statement, thanked Sting, and then headed back to the other police.
"Excuse me," said a voice nearby. "I'd like to talk to you for a moment, if I could." A man stepped out from the far side of the dumpster. He was wearing a nice if non-descript suit and carrying a briefcase. "My name is Watkins."
Sting thought to himself for a moment...IPAC. He knew he would have to deal with them at some point. All heroes did, in one way or another...he knew this from experience. He would have to be careful, though...unlike the normal police, IPAC had a way of finding things out.
"I gave my statement to the police, Mr. Watkins. While I don't mind repeating it, I would ask who it is you represent and why you would need to talk to me." Sting said in a relaxed, calm manner.
"Of course," the man produced an ID which confirmed Sting's suspicions. "I work for the International Paranormal Activities Comittee, IPAC. You probably haven't heard of us. We co-ordinate the activities of Para-Normals who are on the right side of the law to deal with threats from those who are not, as well as with natural disasters and so forth. We're a sort of clearing house for information, a resource center and provide some communications services as well. I'd like to interview you and see if perhaps we can work together for our mutual benefit."
"I have no problem meeting with you, but could we possibly determine a seperate time and place for this? As you can imagine, it's been quite a night. For obvious reasons, I am unable to give you contact information at this time, but if you can give me a number to reach you, I promise to be in touch with you within the next 24 hours. Or we can set a time and place now."
"That would be acceptable," said Watkins and the two being to discuss options.