*File Incomplete~
Incident File Report: Axcell Savage
Incident # 486352
Date of Origin: Unknown

Now:

The staccato pops of gunfire surrounded Axcell as he stared at his target. Eight o’clock, prime time on the shooting range, the noisiest and most distracting. It was perfect. Orange fur almost red against his blue uniform, Axcell shifted his feet a little and leaned back, arching his spine forward with his neck craned upward. He gripped the gun with his left hand, his right supporting the firearm as he eyed the sight.
“The hell are you doing?” Hal’s voice sounded beside him, curious and amused.
“Aiming.”
“Crazy cat.” Hal tilted his head and let his floppy ears dangle. Growing up in a predominantly dog neighborhood, Hal’s exposure to cats was minimal, and what little he’d seen in the academy had been, well, here was Axcell looking like someone just shoved him backwards while trying to aim. He studied Axcell and wondered how he maintained his stance. Axcell shifted his own eyes towards him.
“Hal, have you ever seen Captain Nash shoot?”
“Yeah, he likes to stand straight when he does it.”
“Well, yes and no. When he’s standing, he’s off target. I’ve watched him, sometimes he acts like he’s dropped something, pretends to reach down for it, and then he shoots while he’s coming up. He cocks, aims, and fires right when he’s about…”
Axcell’s ears flattened and he fired, the gunshot sudden like a balloon bursting.
“Here.”
Hal tried to snort back a laugh and failed. “What’s your point?”
Axcell still held the gun in front of him, admiring the thin curl of smoke creeping from the barrel. “The point is, his form’s perfect if you ever drop your gun or you’re hurt.”
“Sure,” Hal laughed, “And the reason you’re using your left hand when you’re a righty is…?”
“You never know, what if someone shoots you in your good hand?”
“I call for backup.” Hal chuckled, “Or send you out to confuse the hell out of the perp.”
The target sheet rolled forward, suspended by the overhead wiring. Axcell reached out and yanked it free when in neared, holding it up for Hal to inspect. Hal stared at the hole in the silhouette’s head. A bull’s-eye, the faint smell of burnt paper in the air.
“I’ll be damned.”
“Told you!”
“Good job, kid.” Captain Nash approached the two, his eyes drifted towards Axcell’s sheet.
“What was that lean you had going on?”
“Uh,” Axcell hesitated, “That was you sir.”
Nash cocked a brow, an involuntary smirk working its way into a corner of his mouth. “Is that so?”
“It’s your upswing, I saw you do it a couple of times and…”
He trailed off, halted by the look on the Captain’s face.
“Axcell, how long have you been here?”
Axcell looked around, blinking, “I dunno, three, four hours?”
“Try seven.” Nash placed a hand on Axcell’s shoulder, fixing him with a gaze that had a hint of concern. “Take a break. You’re no good to anyone burnt out.”
Axcell tried to smile, “Ah, Captain, it’s nothing, I just…”
“Your father’d be proud of your dedication Axcell.”
Axcell tensed, eyes narrowing the faintest bit. A quick shake of his head brought a wide smile. “Thank you sir, that means a lot.”
“He was a fine partner, I don’t doubt you’ll be a fine officer. Now get out of here, go get some sunlight in you.”
Hal wrapped an arm around Axcell’s shoulders and ground a knuckle into the cat’s ear despite his protests. “I think you mean moonlight sir, it’s after Eight. Not to worry though, he’s in good hands.”

*********

The Pound’s original name was the Kennel. It was reasoned by the owner that a grittier sounding name and edgy live bands would attract a wider variety of clientele to the fledgling club. Within weeks the cops had been called over a dozen times, neighbors complaining about music blasting so loud from the establishment that it sounded like someone was literally ‘ pounding ’ on their walls and roofs. That was publicity you couldn’t buy, so the neon scripted sign declaring “The Kennel” came down, and “The Pound” went up. Couples and singles stood in lines that stretched from the entrance to the corner bend of the street for a chance to access the club and have the durability of their eardrums tested.
It made Hal glad to be a cop; badges were the ultimate VIP passes. He sat at the bar, his stool turned so he could watch the crowds. Music made everything vibrate, he almost lost his drink after leaving it sitting to close to the edge of the counter. He snagged it as it threatened to take a dive and splashed it down his throat, enjoying the burn.
“Dude, where’s Axcell?” Ford squinted, eyes hammered by the flashing lights on the outside, his head hammered from drinking on the inside. He combed a hand through his clumpy black hair and shook his head. He could say one thing with certainty, he wasn’t the designated driver tonight.
“Where do you think?” Hal pointed to a cluster of twirling bodies, arms, hair, legs and tails thrashed about in a whirlwind of… Hal didn’t even know what to call it. All females; cats and dogs alike, their evening wear flashing parts of their bodies they either didn’t know was showing or were too drunk to care about.
In the eye of the storm, was Axcell. Even beneath the flashing yellow, red and green lights, his orange fur stood out like a newly lit road flare. He bounced with the group, head whipping up and down to the thumping beat of the song. A large mug of beer was raised above his head, Ford had no idea how he managed not to slosh it all over the puss clinging to his free arm.
“It ain’t right, dog,” Ford leaned against the counter and gestured to the bartender for another beer. She filled a new cup from the tap and slid it over to him, a flick of the wrist gave it an enticing swirl as Ford caught it and lifted it to his snout. He downed it and looked around. “How’s that little fuzzball make the ladies all crazy?”
“Stop hating on the fuzzball,” Hal laughed, “just enjoy the show.”
“How’m I supposed to enjoy sittin’ here watching him have fun?!”
Hal sighed. “Stop your whining, he needs this. Needs to unwind and not think.”
Ford looked at him, confused. “What’s he need to not think about? He’s right out of the academy!”
“You don’t recognize him?”
Ford stared, trying to think through the alcohol. It wasn’t working. Information was in there, but connective threads were on a vacation. “Rookies all look the same t’me.”
“You remember Captain Savage?”
“Hells yeah. Rest his crazy soul I do.”
“That’s his son.”
Ford’s eyes went wide. “No sh**?!”
His jaw lowered, a thin line of beer rolled out. Hal pressed it back up with a finger, his expression hard to read. “No sh**.”
Ford’s mind was blotchy, but the memory swam to the surface fast and clear. Captain Savage had been just that: savage. There were times when High Command wondered if they should have ever given him a badge, considering the way he obsessed over assignments. It was as if being on the other side of the law was a personal affront to him. He rooted out criminals, confronted and humiliated them any chance he got. It was no surprise to anyone when he raided a bank he thought was harboring the notorious Fang brothers in broad daylight. He’d been right, he was almost always right, but the fact that he was ridding the streets of dangerous individuals meant nothing to the media. They frenzied whenever he made a move, anxious to broadcast everything from his bludgeoning of an armed gunman threatening the mayor to planting his fist in the face of a belligerent motorist. Savage ate it up, sneering in the eye of every lens pointed at him and daring anyone to break the law while he drew breath.
“Understand this,” he’d snarl at the cameras, “You want to break the law, you go on my list! You get on the list, then you’ve officially pissed me off! I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t stop ‘till there’s a check by your name and I’ve slung your a** in a very dark very cold cell in StoneClaw!”
He’d move in close, his bulky mass filling the frame, green eyes glinting dangerously, orange fur vibrant as if on fire, “You want my attention? Do something stupid to get it, and I swear to God you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
The press couldn’t get enough. High Command constantly weighed the value of keeping him active against the rising number lawsuits being filed against him.
Then along came Cain.

**********

“Ladies!” Axcell spun himself free of the female on his arm and poured the rest of the beer into his mouth, wiping the foam away with his free hand. “Ladies! It is showtime!” He pointed to the D.J., a scraggly mix of Shepard and Lab nodding constantly as the music blared in his headphones. He raised a hand to his ear and slung a new record on the turntable. The song jumped to life through the speakers, shaking the club with its thundering bass as the guitars cut through in a wild solo.
“You!” he pointed to a gray cat in the crowd, her scarlet hair and lipstick almost as bright as his own fur. She smiled wide and pointed to herself, pretending to be surprised.
“Who, me?”
“Of course you!” he laughed, “I’ve been out of the loop, what’s the latest?”
“I’ll show you.”
She paused, giving herself a moment to synch with the mounting beat of the music, then broke out into a dance Axcell hardly recognized. It almost looked like she was fighting someone who wasn’t there, His eyes fixed on her movements, drinking in every step, every motion of her body as she moved with a style that looked both jilted and graceful at the same time.
“Nice.” His smile widened and he joined her, feet moving in direct rhythm with hers in a perfect copy of when she’d shown him. The girls around him squealed with delight as he continued, then joined in themselves, gaining the attention of other club hoppers. The music thundered and they moved as one, Axcell center stage.

**********

Then:

Cain.
Hal remembered reading an article in Cagefight magazine about him. Certifiable, as far as Hal was concerned, but so was anyone who signed up to be in a modern day gladiator fight, even if people did swear it was a legit sport. Here you had a psychotic wolf who mauled his opponents with enthusiasm, and then got cheered for it. He treated them like prey, no one escaped without a broken limb, cracked skull or something ruptured on the inside. He was a frightening, violent beast, champion of the cage until his last fight. He bludgeoned the witless sap unfortunate enough to earn a title shot-and didn’t stop. Hal recalled the news coverage of the incident. The company had cut away to the crowd, the announcers silent and confused, shocked into silence at the sight of Cain covered in blood, arms, chest and face drenched in red. That show ended early, Hal’s contacts told him Cain was removed by security with the intent to hand him over to the authorities. They said he laughed the whole time, even with the camera on the crowd you could hear that ghastly howling.
The authorities never had the chance to take Cain into custody. They found the security guards in a bloodied heap, not a live one amongst them, and Cain was nowhere to be found. He resurfaced on live television a year later, somehow hijacking a broadcast signal to display his sick creation. He was in the company of a frightening cabal of fighters like himself. Some were recognizable, like Jericho, another lunatic whose gimmick was his lack of an arm. Most, however, were unknowns. Their broadcast showcased Cain’s twisted interpretation of a sport he declared was a neutered version of what was supposed to be survival of the fittest.
It became a recurring nightmare for High Command. Cain crowned himself the King of the Underground, champion of a fighting ring that millions watched when it interrupted a broadcast, but none wanted to ever find themselves in. If you did, you were as good as dead.
That was how Cain’s organization, dubbed Survive the Fight, worked. Grab someone off the street, from a club, maybe their own house, and toss them into a makeshift ring to face one of their fighters. Executioner was a better word, because losing just meant you couldn’t stop your assailant from beating you to death. Winning meant… nobody ever won. A new broadcast just meant a new victim.
It caught on like wildfire, the public began to anticipate the random airings with baited breath, never knowing when the next execution would happen.
On this night they aired again, intent on pushing their envelope further than anyone expected.

Hal remembered pulling the midnight shift, filling out a report in the kitchen when the broadcast blared to life over the television. The lovely countenance of Selina Fox grew heavy with static, giving way to the image of a gray-faced bird, eyes wide and twinkling with a sick kind of knowing.
“Ladies and gents, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! We are back, yes, we are back ladies and gents, as we told you we would be, live and without commercial interruption of course!”
Hal stared at the bird crowding the camera, his voice so loud it made the frame vibrate.
“Ladies and gentlemen I am your host with the absolute most, it’s me, the bird of the hour, hot on the wire, it is the one and only… PRIME TIIIIIME!!!”
Hal’s stomach clenched, his throat tightened. The station came alive as others caught wind of the broadcast. The kitchen filled with uniforms, dozens of eyes locked on the set while they traded inquiries. The Commissioner’s voice barked sharply over the speakers.
I want all tech personnel at their posts NOW! Track that signal and get me a point of origin! ”
No one knew how Cain’s people were able to hijack channels, or if they were overriding the signals, or if they were reconfiguring them. They appeared without warning, sometimes appearing on two channels at the same time. The technicians hadn’t been able to make heads or tails of it, but there was the image, crystal clear and audio almost three times louder than normal.
Prime Time continued, “Ladies and Gents, we at STF want to thank you for making us the choice nobody wants to voice, and so tonight we’ve devised an little something extra, just for you! We’ve taken a look at our roster of fine fighters and tallied up every skirmish, every hard fought battle these gladiators have been through in their careers both in and out of the STF.” He tilted his head, “And wouldn’t you know it, our numbers peak at 999 fights! That means tonight’s bout will be the big ten-double zero!” he laughed, it was a coarse sound, “This goes out to all you girls and boys in blue.”
An angry murmur rose in the kitchen. Ten-double zero was the code for an officer down; all units respond.

************

Now:

They rolled up in front of an apartment complex, its blue paint looked dark purple-almost black in the 3a.m gloom. Hal shifted the car into park and peeked over his shoulder. Ford was sprawled across the back seat, his snout twitching as he dreamed of the lady pooch he’d hounded all night. Axcell’s head lolled in the passenger’s seat, snoring loudly as the seat belt strained to keep him from sliding to the floor. His fur was matted and mussed, fading smears of lipstick peppered his cheeks.
“Hey Cassanova, this is your stop.”
Axcell snored louder in response. Hal rolled his eyes and tried not to laugh, then unfastened his seat belt and stepped from the car, circling to Axcell’s door and opening it. The orange furball would have fallen out if not for the belt. Hal shook his head. Different night, same old, same old.

************

Then:

The camera swept across the crowd, standing room only in a dimly arena, loaded with hundreds of spectators, all wearing a variety of masks to conceal their identities. Ford wondered what kind of sicko got a charge out of attending something like this. It was beyond his comprehension how the lowly and depraved fed off this kind of thing-a public execution being cheered by a glut of lunatics live, and millions more glued to their televisions to watch the carnage unfold. He didn’t even want to think about the number of people watching and sharing this freak show online.
The camera rested on Cain as he entered the arena through flashing lights, they were really playing up the spectacle aspect of the more recent shows. The wolf’s massive form moving with a fluidness you wouldn’t think he could possibly have, muscles rippled beneath his dark fur. His feet and hands were taped, he crossed his arms above his head in an ‘X’ to an explosion of cheers from the crowd as many copied his motion. The image panned across the arena to a cage, and the collected cops in the kitchen gasped in unison. Captain Savage glared at Cain from inside the cage, arms chained behind his back and fastened to the metal bars of his holding. An iron muzzle was clamped around his snout. The look he wore, even behind the mask made them cringe. He was livid, eyes wide with rage. It was well known that Savage fought better than most cops on the force, but he didn’t do it for a living. Cain did.
Hal didn’t remember the fight-he remembered the blood. It spilled from Savage’s mouth, then his stomach when Cain gutted him. The sound of bones breaking, The Commissioner’s voice over the radios as he spread out every cop on the beat, all the while demanding the cops in the kitchen report anything about the arena that stood out. Nothing did.
One final, wrenching snap quieted the room, and Savage fell, head twisted on an angle like a mangled doll. His empty eyes rested on the camera, mouth slightly agape, blood oozed from his wounds and pooled towards the camera.
The attending audience, shaken from their stupor, began to cheer.
Cain stood over Savage and stared at the camera, seeming to look right into the eyes of the cops filling the kitchen, a smile slithered across his lips, exposing his fangs. A thin trail of blood rolled down his chin and reached into his fur.
“And there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”
Static, then a black screen displaying the words “STF. End Transmission.” It flickered, then vanished, reverting back to Selina Fox of the news. She looked pale, then stumbled off camera, the sound of her vomiting heard offscreen.
Hal heard glass breaking in the Commissioner’s office. He was beyond words, they all were.
“Oh God…” Hal heard someone whisper, “Who’s gonna tell his kid?”

**********
Now:

Axcell snapped awake as they stumbled towards his apartment.
“Hal!” he slurred, “You… aweshum!”
“You, drunk.” Hal grunted, wondering how someone he swore weighed 80 pounds sopping wet, felt so heavy, “You go to bed, sleep now.”
They stumbled to Axcell’s door; Hal fished the key from his pal’s pocket, flicked the locks and pushed the door open. Axcell took hold of the doorway and turned towards him.
“You…” he waggled a finger at Hal, “You da’ man, dog!”
“Right,” Hal laughed, whatever that means.” He placed Axcell’s keys on hook beside the door, turned to leave, then hesitate. He looked Axcell over. Even in the dark his fur was bright save the white around his mouth. The lipstick stood out as well, one of the smears tapered from his lower lip. Hal felt his stomach drop, it looked like blood. For an instant he was watching that broadcast again, Captain Savage’s lifeless eyes cast towards the camera, life’s liquid rolling from his jaws… Hal shook his head, scolding himself as Axcell continued to stare at him. “Hey, are you gonna be alright Axcell?”
“ ‘course!”
Hal hesitated. “You’re sure?”
Axcell tipped his head to the side. “C’mon Hal, seriously? You wanna a hug?”
He made to lunge at Hal, arms open, “C’mere ya big lug!”
Hal placed a paw on Axcell’s head, keeping him at bay. “Alright you loon, just thought I’d ask. See you tomorrow, try not to be drunk.”
“Right, see ya!” He spun on his heel and stumbled into his apartment, pulling the door shut. For a moment he stood in the dark, listening to Hal’s engine rev, then growl as he pulled out and headed home. Hal, he smirked, was good people. He meant well. He’d always meant well, the big brother he’d never had.
Axcell raised a hand and placed it to the hallway mirror. Enough light shone in for him to catch a glimpse of himself. His smile was gone, his eyes no longer swimming. They narrowed, focused, intent. He wasn’t drunk, and felt bad for making Hal think he was. But he had to, didn’t he? If Hal thought something was wrong he’d want to hang around, and that killed training time.
He walked through his apartment in the dark, navigating towards the television with ease. He snatched the remote off the coffee table and turned the set on, then pulled a CD from the top of the stack and slid it into the player, activating the disc playback.
It was the news, Selina Fox giving the latest report when she was interrupted by a thick swath of static, giving way to the image of a gray-faced bird, eyes wide and twinkling with a sick kind of knowing.
“Ladies and gents, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! We are back, yes, we are back ladies and gents…”
Axcell listened intently to Prime Time announce their sick celebration, eyes locked on the set as Cain appeared onscreen. He didn’t even notice his own body shifting his stance, matching the psychotic wolf’s positioning. He watched his father race from his cage, a lamb to the slaughter, yet he carried himself with more dignity than most cops on the force. Axcell’s hands came up, mimicking Cain as he tore into his father, trying to teach his muscles to move like the beast who killed the feline he idolized since he was old enough to crawl. When the playback ended and Selina Fox threw herself offscreen to hurl, Axcell pressed the replay button.
He’d seen the look on Hal’s face when he asked if he was okay. It was the same look he had when he told him about his father, that he’d lost the only family he ever had. Hanging out with Hal, kicking back and relaxing at the bar was great. Out there he could actually be great. But right here, right now?
He shifted his stance again, eyes locked on the set, his body began to bounce, trying to match Cain’s nuances. He would perfect Cain’s fighting form, and though he didn’t know how just yet, he would track Cain down like the rabid creature he was. He would hunt him, he would stalk him, and he would beat him to death with his bare hands.
He would beat Cain with himself.
The video finished, Axcell reached out and pressed replay.