Story (c) 2000 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c) John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and Wanda Vixen(c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin Badger (c) James Bruner. Character John Silverback (c) Himself Character Kittiara and the restaruant "Callahan's" (c) "Kittiara" Character Katja (c) Herself Character Mark the cheetaur (c) Mark White Eric W. Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. Michael Jones (c) Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge (c) Keith Dickson. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners.

 
Identity Crisis - Chapter 26
It's not just a decision matrix, it's your brain

  Sitting on the bench, Sheila tried to digest the information that Arden had told her.

  He had known what she had dreamed this morning as if he were there. If what he was saying is true, then he really WAS there! Then there were her other dreams. Dreams where she wore a different form. Was this that spirit's way of letting her feel what he felt? That Nanuk?

And what about the amulet? The amulet of Lakesh he had called it.

Lakesh....

He had said that the demon was hell bent on spreading chaos. It had certainly succeeded here.

  And why didn't she tell him she had the amulet? What had stopped her? Could it have been fear that he would use it to leave her? What was it that drew her to him? Was the amulet responsible for that or was that her true emotions. She believed him when he said he would never harm her, or allow her to be harmed. Equally she believed that if she told him to go, she'd never see him again.

  Looking back at the car, she saw him sitting in the passenger seat, his head back on the headrest, staring out through the sunroof. But did she really want him to go? He was just getting fun. Fun?

  Arguing with herself, she tried to figure out what to do.

  What the hell are you talking about girl? Fun?!? This guy isn't even really a bear! He's not even of this world if you believe what he says! How can you think about him being fun!

  Well why not! What's to this life if you can't enjoy it! So what if he's from the Twilight Zone instead of Kansas. There's a powerful magnetism and you can't deny that. He's not some guy that's going to hump your leg just because you're in the business. He actually cares for you enough for it to have brought him to your world. That kind of man is special, no matter how you cut it, even if they aren't seven feet tall and built like a brick wall!

  But what about the amulet, what if he finds it, and decides he's tired of playing with his fury sex toy and wants to go home? What will you do then? You going to go to his world and become a furless freak? Could you even imagine living in a world of people like that?

  Is it any easier for him in our world? Where a fantasy suddenly is not only walking, and talking, but is also practically dry-humping him at every opportunity? No wonder the guy keeps turning us down. We're totally alien. A fantasy is one thing, but to actually follow through on it.... And to think that he broke through last night, he was actually ready to make love, and out of spite, was turned down. The poor guy's has got to be going nuts.

  Maybe, but are you willing to risk getting hurt by him?

  He'll never hurt me. I know that now. I trust him, body and soul.

**********

  Watching Sheila through the bottom of my glasses, I could see her looking over at me occasionally. She sat there for about fifteen minutes according to the clock. Finally she got up and walked over to the passenger side and opened the door. "Get out."

  You could have heard my heart shatter from a block away. I just looked at her face; it was as if it had been chiseled out of granite. Getting my crutch, I climbed out and she closed the door behind me. As I turned to walk away, she grabbed the fur on my shoulder and pulled me around. Looking down at her, I saw her looking into my eyes, searching for something. The image was hard to see through the tears. Finally, standing on her tip-toes, she reached up and grabbed my ears. Pulling me down to her level, she spoke softly, "Don't ever leave."

  Turning her head, she kissed me, hard. When the shock wore off, I dropped the crutch and wrapping my arms around her, lifted her from the pavement, never once letting my lips leave hers. An infinity later, she broke the kiss and leaned her head back, "I'm sorry, I understand now what you must have been going through. I've been horrible."

  Setting her down, I shook my head, "I'm the one who lied from the beginning. I should have found some way to explain it to you before now, but I just didn't know one."

  Hugging me hard enough to stretch some stitches, I bit down on a yelp before it could get out. Her head buried in my chest, she was crying softly, "It doesn't matter. None of it matters. It's all in the past. This is a new beginning for both of us."

  Kissing her on her head, I spoke softly, "As much as I'd love to stand here in your embrace, I'd really appreciate it if you'd loosen your grip a little. I think you're pulling the stitches again."

  Letting go, she backed up, looking up at me with those wide eyes, ears flat, "Oh no, I did it again."

  Leaning back against the car with my tail, I held my breath with clenched fists as the pain abated. A few seconds later I had gained control and was able to breathe again. Looking at Sheila I smiled, bent down, and kissed her again. "Don't worry about it. In every relationship there comes some pain."

  Ears still flat, she was close to crying again, "Yah, but why is it always me inflicting it?"

  Giving her a hug, I couldn't help but laugh, "I guess I'm just lucky that way."

**********

  Arriving at the doc's house, we saw a generic single story white house in a comfortable subdivision that had been built about twenty years or so ago. Knocking on the door, we were greeted by the doc's smiling face. "Ahhhh there you are my boy, and you brought the ever beautiful Sheila with you. How are you're ribs doing my dear?" he asked as he waved us in.

  Stepping into the house, I saw what could only be described as semi-organized chaos. That or some gangbangers had just gone through his house and trashed it. There were books everywhere, and in large stacks too. "I'm doing just fine, thank you doctor," she replied giving him a smile.

  As he lead us into the kitchen, I saw that it was mostly devoid of books, though on the table I saw several old mythological related texts. It looks like the doc had been doing research again. "So, you managed to destroy your old plaster cast eh? Found out you weren't quite as healed as you thought?"

  Sitting down, I smiled and shook my head. "Well, after busting the top of the foot on a rodents head, then half-way sawing it off after an argument, it was still holding up pretty well until I forgot to wrap it going into the shower today."

  Putting some water on to boil, he laughed at the last. "I warned you about wrapping it. You need to pay more attention to me when I tell you these things my boy." Getting out a tea service, a can of tealeaves along with old-fashioned tea strainers to make them, he set everything out by the stove as the water heated. "I heard on the news about the break in this morning, it was a very bad thing to have happen. Of course you have no idea how relieved I was to hear that you wouldn't need me to fix you up again." Sitting at the table, he chuckled, "At least not until you called to tell me about the cast that is."

  Glancing at Sheila, I could see that she wasn't happy hearing about the incident last night. Taking her paw, I kissed the back. As she smiled at me, I turned my attention back to the doc, "You know how it is doc. Right now I'm the new kid in town and am trying to work up my frequent hospital miles, you know?"

  As we were chatting about general passing topics, the kettle began to whistle. Getting up, he poured the boiling water into the service pot. Placing cream, sugar and lemon on the tray, he then set everything down in front of us.

  Taking a strainer, I scooped two teaspoons of tealeaves into it and slowly poured the water into the funnel shaped device. As it slowly trickled, I passed the pot over to Sheila. Inhaling the fragrance of the tea I was reminded of all the times I had sat with Lisa and talked about totemic history with her.

  After draining the strainer, I set it back on the service. Pouring in some milk and adding sugar I stirred the mixture. "Say doc, did I ever tell you about my friend Lisa?"

  Shaking his head, I continued. "She was the one that gave me the amulet before I crossed over." Seeing his eyes widen at this, quickly glanced between Sheila and myself. Understanding his discomfort, "It's alright doc, she knows everything."

  Hearing that, Sheila asked, "You told him?"

  Understanding her feeling of betrayal, I explained how the doc had recognized the mark on my hand, and of the loss of his father. Finishing the story, I related how he had translated his father's work for me. Understanding why the doctor knew, I could see her relax.

  Turning back to the doc, I picked up and sipped the tea, "Mmmm. This definitely takes me back. You and Lisa have exactly the same taste in teas. Anyway as.."

  The doctor interrupted me with an odd look, "What do you mean we have the same taste in teas?"

  Shrugging, "This tastes almost exactly the way that Lisa liked to make it. Only she brewed the stuff strong. You could shellac wood with it when she was done."

  He sat there, just shaking a little, "What was her last name?"

  Thinking back, I tried to remember. I'm kind of screwy about names some times. "I think Graulman? Grollman? Something like that?" Visibly shaking now, you could hear the cup chattering against the platter he held. "What's the matter doc?"

  Setting the tea down, he placed his hands on the table to stop the shaking. "This tea, it is a custom blend, taught to me by my father. When he would make it, he would run the water through the leaves several times to make it very strong."

  Thinking back to Lisa, she did the same thing, "And he used 2 lumps of sugar, and placed a slice of lemon in the cup rather than twisting it?"

  Nodding, I could see he was shaken, "My fathers name was Elijah. It is Hebrew for 'The Lord is My God.' Lisa, is Hebrew for 'Consecrated to God.' Graulman is the name they gave me when I first came to this country after the war, I changed it back to Grahl about twenty years ago."

  As I sat back, I realized that the amulet had come full circle. His father, for whatever reason had been brought to my world as a woman after who knows how many changes. Befriending me, she gave me the amulet, knowing that it would let me start over. I wondered how many worlds he/she had been through. Finally, I looked back at him, "Assuming it is your father, and not someone like the guy in Kansas City is for me, an alternate, then you know that he's alive and well."

  Nodding slowly, I saw a tear run down his face, "But I will never be able to see him again. After all this time, to find out he's alive....."

  We stat and sipped tea in silence for a long time. Lakesh had once again struck, bringing chaos and sadness to someone.

**********

  Shortly after Sheila and Arden had left to get his cast replaced, Zig Zag got a call from BullDog Security; the police were done over at Sheila's house. Asking them to leave someone at the site, she would come over and lock things up until Sheila was ready to return. Pulling into Sheila's driveway, Zig Zag and James got out of the car. After a brief conversation with the guard who answered the door, entered the apartment.

  Although the police had tried not to disturb the apartment much, Zig Zag saw coffee cups and plates sitting out on the counter and piled in the sink, thinking that there was more than one reason they were referred to as pigs by people. Walking back to the bedroom door, she hesitated to look in. The door was partially closed; revealing the pattern of bullets the intruder had fired through it thinking that Sheila or Arden had been on the other side. Shuddering thinking that it really could have been one of them, she started to reach for the door.

  James put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her. "Don't." As she turned her head to him, he could see she was still haunted by what she saw this morning. "You take care of the dishes, I'll clean up in here." Nodding, she headed for the kitchen.

  Pushing the door open, James saw a comfortable looking bedroom. The bed was thrown back on both sides, and there were some clothes on the floor. Just inside the door, the bullets that had been fired through the door, but missed the small mouse had chewed the carpet up. Further in, he could see a large, almost kidney shaped stain, as the blood from the two intruders had pooled together in the carpet. Looking to the far wall, he saw more blood from where Arden had smashed the mouse's head into the wall; a wide swath of blood traced the trail as his body had slumped to the floor. There was also the pepper pattern of the pellets that had missed the second intruder, their pattern forming an eerie silhouette of a formless ghost.

  Closing his eyes for a second, James fought for control. Taking deep breaths to try to calm himself, he was aware of the smell of blood, still lingering in the air. By now it had soaked into the underlining. Opening his eyes, he walked over to the telephone by the bed. Picking it up, he got a dial tone. After getting the number from directory assistance, he called the Rug Rats Carpet Cleaners and asked them to send out a shampoo truck for the rug. Explaining the reason, they put him ahead of the other calls that had been scheduled for today. Cleaning it up would only take a few minutes.

  Going into the bathroom, James got out a bucket and some detergent. It was time to straighten things up.

**********

  As we drove back from the doc's place, I shifted my leg. He had used a fiberglass brace that covered the area below my knee. It was wonderful to be able to bend my leg again. Best of all it could be removed for when I needed to shower, or wanted to scratch. Such luxury!

  Reading through the doc's book again, I studied the German side of the text. It had been over twenty years since I had learned German and could make little sense of it, but you could tell from how he wrote if he was excited, thoughtful or unemotional. I had a feeling the book would prove a turnkey item somehow. Closing the book, I looked over at Sheila. She looked wilted a little. "What's the matter love?"

  Shaking her head, she drove on for a few minutes, and then decided to talk. "Even with the dream, I still didn't really believe any of it. It could all have been just a strange string of coincidences. But to listen to the doctor talk about his father and the amulet, it just hammered home that this was real."

  Laying my head against the rest, still looking at Sheila, I placed my hand over hers as she rested it on the stick shift. "How do you think I felt? It was almost three days before I came to grips with the fact that I wasn't human any more. I had become something out of my fantasies, or maybe a nightmare."

  "Human." The word was alien to her mouth, "That's what you were, human."

**********

  Daniel Khansman was livid. He couldn't believe that things were going this bad. Not only was he indebt to the mob for getting two of their best hit min killed, but now this. Looking at the letter again, he reread it

Khansman,
  This is to let you know that I have proof that you ordered the hits on the bear. Since the proof was gotten illegally, it won't stand up in court, however that doesn't mean that it won't do wonders for you in the media. If anything happens to him, or there is another attack, I will release everything I have to the media anonymously. That includes the tapes, phone records, everything. This is your only warning.

  It was obviously unsigned, and was postmarked at the post office downstairs. He wasn't about to give it to the police to examine it. They would obviously read the text.

  Crumpling up the paper, he placed it in the ashtray. Lighting it, he watched it burn. Nobody blackmailed Khansman and got away with it. The bear was safe, for now, but once he found out who had sent the letter, it was going to be open season on bears.

**********

  Pulling into the parking lot at ZZ Studios, Sheila and I got out. Saying hi to the guards, we entered through the newly installed door. Once inside, Sheila found out from the receptionist that Zig Zag hadn't come in yet. Spying the cracked door at the end of the end of the foyer, she took my hand, "I got someone I want you to meet." Dragging me over to the door, she banged on it roughly, causing it to swing open.

  The interior of the room was dark, with large display on the desk facing the back wall, illuminating the form at the desk. Turning on the light, Sheila asked, "Geez, are you a skunk or a mole?"

  With the light on, I could see it was a large skunk. As she turned around to face us I recognized her immediately. It was Sabrina. Smiling, she looked up at Sheila. "Hey Sheila, how you doing?"

  Moving into the closet turned office, she plopped herself down on a pile of papers sitting on Sabrina's desk. "Sabrina, this is Arden. He's the guy that's been causing all the trouble around here."

  Not moving, I just looked at her. Turning towards me in slow motion, I saw her smile and blink. Standing up, she reached her paw out towards me. Taking it, I felt the warmth of it as she grasped mine. Looking down, I could see that she was pregnant, but still early on. Smiling I gently kissed the back of her paw. "The pleasure is all mine."

  She wiggled with a small shiver, the echoes running up her tail, "Ohhh, he is a gentleman. So the stories I heard aren't wrong." Turning back to Sheila, "So what's this I hear about you? Getting serious are we?"

  I lost track of the conversation. All I could think about was Foxx's Tabitha story line, and the fact that Sabrina was supposed to lose this first child. Overcome with emotion, I turned and left. Leaving the building, I turned left, and walked down the sidewalk a ways. Coming to an empty parking spot, I squatted and sat down on a cement wheel stop.

  Burying my face in my hands, I tried to decide, 'Should I do something that could possibly alter what will happen, or do I let nature take it's course? Or will what Chris wrote even come to pass?'

  After a few minutes, I felt a touch on my shoulder and Sheila asking quietly, "What's wrong?"

  Still fighting for control, I just shook my head. I was in no shape to talk, and even if I were, what could I say?

  At that moment, I would have given just about anything for a chance to strangle that bastard Lakesh.

**********

  Having dropped Zig Zag off at the studio, James went over to his business. He'd been taking too much time off from the job. Walking directly to his office, he sat down and looked at the stack of papers on his desk. Sighing he was about to dive in when he heard a knock at the door. Looking up he saw Doug walk in. Taking a seat opposite of James, he stretched out his legs and tilted the chair back. "If it isn't the prodigal son. Where've you been Jim?"

  Picking up the first folder on his desk, he glanced at the post-it note that was attached. Opening he responded distractedly, "I was helping Zig Zag clean up Sheila's apartment." Connecting the name, Doug sat up a little, "I heard about that on the news this morning. They said nobody was hurt. Was there much damage?"

  Closing the folder, James tossed it back on top of the pile. Leaning back he took a deep breath. "Not really, just a door, one wall and some carpet. But that's enough to make her bedroom look like a small piece of Beirut." Letting out a low whistle, Doug waited for him to continue. "They were ruthless. One shot the other through the door with an automatic weapon thinking it was Sheila or Arden. It's a small miracle they're still alive."

  Grunting acknowledgement, Doug changed the subject slightly, "What kind of damage was there?" Reaching again for the folder, then changing his mind, James just sat back. "There was the bedroom door, it was all shot up. The floor beyond the door was riddled with bullet holes. The carpet was covered with blood; fortunately I got Rug Rats to come shampoo it. Then there was the wall. The security guard that killed the second one did it with a shotgun. You could see the outline of the scattered pellets that missed him. He unloaded an entire magazine of 10 gauge shotgun shell rounds into him. It wasn't later till I noticed that the shots through the door had ricocheted around in the room chewing up the bed and the walls. Zig Zag ordered a new bed for Sheila and I'll have to see about getting someone out to replace the rug and fix the walls. Mean time they're staying in the spare bedroom at Zig's."

  Shaking his head, Doug took another look at James. "You look like hell Jim. Go home, I'll take care of this stuff for you." Reaching out he began to scoop up the folders. As James began to fight with him for the folders, he played his trump card, "Jim. Let go or I'll have to call Kelly. You don't want me to do that do you?" Kelly, Doug's wife, had become a surrogate mother hen to James since his own wife Beth had died. Surrendering to the threat, James backed away from the folders.

  Giving his friend a hard look, Doug spoke in a British voice, "You will go home. You will rest. You will NOT come back to work until you are presentable, do you hear me James?" Snapping to attention, James gave a British salute, "Yes sir! Major General Sir!" Laughing at the old joke, between them Doug took the pile of work to his office.

  After sitting back and relaxing for a second, James got up and headed for his car. He'd make a quick trip home, and then head back over to Zig Zag's. There were a few things he wanted to get from home, but hoped not to need.

**********

  Having convinced Sheila that I would be all right, she had gone back in to talk to Sabrina. Sitting on the wheel stop, I let the sun soak into my fur, almost relishing the warmth, knowing I would have to be careful not to overheat. While I sat, one of the two guards stood near by, far enough to give me privacy, but close enough to intervene if something occurred. Still waiting for my emotions to sort themselves out, I saw James drive by and drop off Zig Zag. Putting on a cheerful fašade, I gave a smile and waved to them. Waving back, Zig Zag headed in while James drove off to take care of business.

  Soon I realized that I was starting to pant. I knew I was overheating and it was time to go in. Using my crutch to stand up, I felt the guard giving me a hand from behind. Thanking him I headed in.

  Walking in, I saw that once again, Sabrina's door was mostly closed, but this time the light was on. Heading back, I knocked on the door, looking in as it swung open. As Sabrina turned around, I saw her smile, "Back for a second try?"

  Nodding, I gave a week smile, "Yah. If you don't mind, I'd like to start over." Chuckling she stood up and shook my hand, "That's all right. I'm used to having shy guys around, though they aren't too common here." Shy? She thought I was being shy? Seeing the confusion on my face she asked, "You were embarrassed by my zinging Sheila about having a new boy friend, right?" Laughing at the image, I found a place to lean against the wall. "No. It's not that. Although Zig Zag and Sheila would both accuse me of being so tight I squeak, I'm not that easily embarrassed."

  Sitting back down, she gave me a curious look and waited for me to explain. Thinking fast, I used a variant on a theme, "You reminded me of someone I once knew. She was very dear to me. She was killed in a car accident some time ago."

  Her face fell as if someone had knocked all the support out of her cheeks. "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know." Waving her off, I explained, "It's OK. It was a long time ago. After the accident I've been having trouble remembering things. The sudden shock of seeing you brought the memory back to me. It could have been any good looking skunk walking down the road." Hearing the last, she smiled and almost blushed, "Thank you, but you still have my sympathies." Pushing that out of the way, we sat around and chatted for a little while, talking about her work, school, etc. All in all it was a wonderful experience. If only I could forget what I knew might be in store for her.

**********

  Parking the car in the garage of his house, James headed inside and proceeded to the gun cabinet. Unlocking it he began to take down several handguns. One was a small .25 caliber ladies automatic that he had bought for his wife. Next he took down a .38 special revolver, followed by a 9mm Beretta. Lastly he took out the pride of his collection, a .454 Casull revolver. Opening the closet, he took out a large red plastic case. Upon opening it, the interior revealed itself to be textured foam rubber container designed to conform to whatever he put inside. Placing the pistols along with two extra clips for the automatics inside the case and closed it. Taking another red case, this one showed that the foam had been cut to hold boxes of ammunition. Placing a box of ammunition for each weapon inside, he closed and latched it. Locking the gun cabinet, he took the cases out to the Range Rover and locked them in the jack compartment by the spare tire.

  Even though they had taken the precaution of having BullDog security at Zig Zag's house, you could never be too careful. If someone did manage to get in, James wasn't about to give up without a fight.

**********

  After having a pleasant chat with Sabrina, I went looking for Sheila. Poking my nose into the spa area, I saw the flicker of a white tipped tail. I had found my prey. Sneaking in, I waited for it to twitch within reach then grabbed it with my hand. Giving it a little tug, I let go and stood back. I heard an indignant screech as the tail whipped out of sight, followed by an indignant fox coming around the corner. Standing toe to toe with me she looked up and growled, "What's the big idea?" It had been Tammy.

  Note to self: When hunting Sheila, make sure that's who it is before you pounce.

  Giving a lopsided grin, I cringed, "Sorry, I thought you were Sheila." Paws on her hips, she leaned forward, "Oh yah? And just who the hell are you to be pulling on her tail?" Huh? Has she been in a hole for the last week? "I'm Arden."

  As the realization of what I said kicked in, she leaned back a little and smiled, "Oh, YOU'RE Arden." Giving me a good look up and down, she whistled, "Now I know what she sees in you." Turning back to head into the room, she shot over her shoulder, "Come on in, I was just looking for some ointment to help loosen up my shoulder." Following her in, I looked around again. This was the same room that Sheila and Zig Zag had worked to clean up the glass.

  Slamming shut the door to the cabinet, Tammy stood rubbing her right shoulder with her left paw, "Why can't people put stuff back when they're through."

  Walking up behind her, I carefully made sure NOT to step on that tail. Setting the crutch aside, I put both hand on her shoulders and began massaging them. She dropped her shoulders a little and started to relax. "Hey, you're pretty good at that." Letting go I suggested, "Lets do this right, climb up on the table."

  Turning she gave me a very lecherous grin, "Whatever you say big boy, you're driving." As I heard her climb on the table, I opened the cabinet. Straightening things up that she had shoved around; I found some scented oils that would be perfect for doing a massage. Closing the cabinet I turned back towards the table.

  Rather than just laying down on it, she was sitting on it tailor fashioned, facing me. That's when I realized that she wasn't wearing anything. Fur can be so deceiving at times. Walking over to the table, I tilted my head to the side and made a circular motion with my finger. "Hard to work on you're shoulders if you're facing me."

  She gave a mock look of disappointment, she pouted, "Oh, that's all you want." As she turned around, I had her lay down on the bed. Pretty standard layout for a massage, all except for that tail of course. Beginning the massage at the shoulders, I worked the kinks out of the muscles in her neck and shoulder blades, then slowly moving down her back, I concentrated on the middle back and ribs, occasionally doing a long push up the back to stretch all the muscles in a run.

  Working my way down to the buttocks, I remembered a little trick Sheila had taught me in the shower. It was the equivalent of what Zig Zag had done to me in the hospital. Smiling like a fool, I continued working down along the legs until I had her almost limp as a wet piece of toast. Slowly working my way back up, her legs again, I asked, "Are we relaxed?" If she had been a cat, I swear she would have purred. "Oh yes, that's wonderful." Continuing to massage around the base of the spine and the tail I asked with all innocence, "Want to feel even better?" Still in never never land, she dreamily replied, "Sure."

  Reaching down along the tail by the base, I hit that soft spot that Sheila had shown me. If it felt anything like what Zig Zag did to me, this was going to get interesting. Tammy's eyes flew open and her ears perked strait up. Arching her back, she pulled her torso forward a good three or four inches on the table.

  Turning to look at me, she shot me look that was a combination of revelation and accusation. Retrieving my crutch, I bent down so I was almost muzzle-to-muzzle with her. "Never tease the safe guys. You never know when they'll turn on you." Sticking out my tongue, I gave her nose a quick lick, straightened up, and wondered off, once again looking for Sheila.

  Coming full circle to Sabrina's closet, I saw Zig Zag walking down the hall from the other direction. Pointing a finger, she said "Hey you! Freeze!" Standing absolutely still, I waited for Zig Zag. Stopping in front of me, she said, "I've been looking for you, let's take a walk." Turning she walked for the front door. Still standing immobile I waited. As she got to the door, she turned around, and with a puzzled look, said, "Well, what are you waiting for?"

  Trying not to move, I muttered loudly, "You said to freeze."

  Smiling she shook her head, "OK, Unfreeze, and let's go." Relaxing, I turned with a grin and headed for the door. As we went outside, she tapped one of the guards and headed across the parking lot. As I followed her, the guard followed me across the pavement. The building we were coming to was an industrial strip mall. There weren't any commercial storefronts per se, though when we got close, I saw a small sign that said "Philippe's Fur Extravaganza." Pulling the door open, she waved me inside.

  Once inside I saw a very nicely decorated waiting area, beyond it was Philippe's work area with what looked like a chiropractors bed, a slightly different barbers chair, tub, shower, and several different types of dryers. As we came in, Philippe spotted us and approached us, "Zig Zag, and my latest work of art, how are you both?" Walking up he gave Zig Zag a kiss on each cheek, then turning to me, gave me a look that almost shouted 'Bend over lummox so I can greet you properly.' Bending down, he smiled and kissed me on both cheeks. The formalities complete, he asked Zig Zag, "And what can Philippe do for us today?"

  Hooking a thumb at me, "Arden here needs you to do his other leg. Also, he needs a little touch up on the back," Zig Zag explained. Walking around behind me, I felt him tugging on the fur with a brush, "OUCH! Stop that please." Peering around from behind me he looked up, "What is the problem?" Looking down at him, I asked, "Didn't you hear about the shooting the other day?"

  Nodding, he explained, "I saw all the police, and Tammy said that there had been a drive buy shooting, but that nobody had been hurt." Shaking her head, Zig Zag intervened, "That's not quite true. Nobody was seriously hurt, thanks to Arden. Sheila and Clarence were out front with him when it happened." Hearing this, Phillip gasped, covering his muzzle with his paw. "Fortunately for us though, Arden tackled them to the ground while shielding them with his body. The bad part is that he not only got several large cuts from the falling glass, but also took five bullets in the back."

  His eyes open wide, he reached out as if to be sure I was real, "And we are walking around today? We are the hero! Philippe is honored to work on us today. Come and lay down. Philippe will work on you without making the pain. Philippe promises."

  Following him over to the large bed, he hit a button on the bottom and it tilted upright. As I stood on the platform at the bottom, He leaned it forward till it was flat. Taking a spray bottle, he began to spray my fur with a pleasant smelling liquid that helped him brush out the tangles without pulling.

  As he worked on my back Zig Zag pulled up a chair, "We've got to talk kiddo." Smiling, I shrugged, "You've got a captive audience." Leaning back, she crossed her legs. "I've got to figure out what I'm going to do with you. Staying with Sheila's all nice and fine, but we need to think about how to make you a productive member of our little clan." Nodding, I was in total agreement, "No camera's right?" Giving a small leer, she acquiesced, "For now anyway. The question is, what do I do with you?"

  Pulling my arms out from under my ribcage, I used them to prop my snout up. It was harder to breathe this way, but I didn't think I'd be getting too many shocks. "Well, I'm strong, so once the cast comes off and my stitches come out, I can help with the scenery I suppose. That and I'm a pretty good masseuse if Tammy's any indication." Zig Zag raised an eyebrow at that last part and waited for an answer. I just lay there with a sly look in my eyes and a contented grin on my face.

  Seeing she wasn't going to get any satisfaction from me, she just shook her head, "OK, you're big, strong and have good hands. Anything else?" Thinking about it, I thought it could be safe enough, "I remember sitting in front of a video editing system." Making a mental note, Zig Zag filed the information away for future reference. Leaning close, she asked in a conspiratorial voice, "Last question, were you serious this morning?"

  Huh? Serious about what, "I'm not sure what you're referring to Zig Zag." Grinning like a cat, she was enjoying the confusion. "In the shower, the invitation, were you kidding, or were you serious?" Needing to get some air, I wedged my arms back up under the sides of my ribs. "Yes, I was. Any day, any time." Straightening up, she gave a little nod. I'm not sure if it was approval or something else. "I've decided to loosen up on my own. I'm not going to cut all the ropes, but I figure it wouldn't hurt to enjoy life some."

  Standing up, she put the chair back over by the wall. "Come on back and see me when Philippe's done with you and we'll work out the arrangements." As she walked by, I felt her trailing a claw down the middle of my back. As a precautionary measure, I clamped my tail down hard. Giving a sinister chuckle, she headed out the door and across the street.

  Dealing with Sheila was going to be a challenge enough. Having Zig Zag tossed into the mix was going to be downright entertaining. I just hoped that James could handle some friendly flirting. Who knows, maybe the three of us could loosen James up.

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