Story (c) 2000 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved.
Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen
Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character
John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters
Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis,
Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and
Vixen(c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley.
ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris.
Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin
James Bruner. Character John Silverback (c) Himself Character Kittiara
restaruant "Callahan's" (c) "Kittiara" Character Katja (c) Herself
Mark the cheetaur (c) Mark White Eric W. Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs.
Michael Jones (c) Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge (c) Keith
Dickson. All rights to additional characters
reserved by their respective owners.
This was not good. At first Tigger had been curious about why Echo Team had been so interested in the apartment. Sitting in the diner across the street, she discretely observed them as they went into the building. She soon had observed one of them checking the window on the third floor. The mystery was "Who lives there?" After the screw up with James Sheppard's house, Tigger had done a great deal of research into who worked at ZZ Studios, who they were hooked up with, and where they lived. None of them lived here.
Accounting for all the Echo Team as they left, she decided not to pursue them. The bloody bastards had given her something to chew on. The question was, did they know they had been tagged or not? Giving her ear a tug, she quickly stopped. Her current disguise as a Lynx involved appliances on the ear. She couldn't afford to have one come off now, no matter how much it itched.
Deciding to hold off on investigating the apartment till later, she paid her bill and left the restaurant. Getting in her car, she was about to pull out of the parking lot as she spotted something she did not want to see. It was Zig Zag's Mercedes. Zig Zag and the bear were in it too. Letting out a curse as they pulled into the apartment building, she waited for traffic to clear and then followed them into the parking lot.
Pulling up behind them, she grabbed her note pad and pen. Jumping out, she gave her best 'Oh my GOD' squeal and bounced over to the pair. "It's you. It's really you!" Jumping up and down again, she prayed the ears would hold. "You're Zig Zag, and you're the guy on TV! I've gotta be the luckiest! Can I get your autographs please?" She asked excitedly. Holding out the paper and pen, she bounced on the balls of her feet anxiously.
Uncapping the pen, Zig Zag asked, "Whom should I make this out to?" Leaning over as to see the paper better, Tigger replied, "Pretend to write. Your lives are in danger." Zig Zag shot her a hard look. Bouncing up and down, she nodded her head excitedly, "Pretend your signing the damned book," she said with a forced smile. Turning back to the book, Zig Zag began writing. "A team of professional mercenaries just left this building. Don't go in," she said without moving her lips. As Zig Zag wrote, Tigger noticed the bear was taking a careful look of the perimeter without turning his head. "OK. Pass it over to the bear, and for gods sake make it look like I'm just another fan." She instructed.
Signing it with a flourish, Zig Zag kissed the paper, leaving a lipstick mark and passed the paper over to Arden. As he took the pad, Tigger pressed herself against his arm, and talked, "You guys need to go somewhere safe. Give me your cell number and I'll contact you." Watching him write a number, he wrote under it: Why didn't you shoot?
For just an instant Tigger's veneer broke but she quickly recovered. "I'll explain everything. For now, just make yourself scarce. Don't go home or to offices. Just drive."
As Arden signed the book, he handed it to Tigger. Taking the book she closed it. Grabbing Arden by his arm, she hopped up and gave him a kiss. Waving, she ran back to her car. Looking at the book again, she squealed again, climbed in and drove away.
Pulling out of the lot, she saw them go inside the building. The idiots. Waiting for the traffic to clear, she watched them come out a few seconds later and climb into the car. Maybe they weren't as dumb as she though.
Pulling onto the road, Tigger reevaluated what happened. She had just shown her face, well disguised though it may be, to an unknown element. Worse yet, she had done it in broad daylight and out in the open. She only hopped her disguise would hold up.
First thing she'd have to do is lose this car and get another. After that, she'd contact them, if they were still alive, and find out exactly what was going on.
Watching as the Lynx bounded off to get in her car, I had to smile. That was the best act I'd seen since I started at Zig Zag's. I wonder if she'd be interested in changing professions. Shaking my head, I suddenly realized that Zig Zag had irreparably corrupted me. I never would have thought of working as a recruiter for ZZ Studios.
"Let's go," Zig Zag said, breaking my train of thought. Taking her arm, I turned her towards the building, "It would look suspicious if we just drove away without going inside." I told her. Pulling her along, I led her into the building. Pausing inside for a good count of thirty, I led Zig Zag back outside and to the car. Hopefully if anyone were watching, they'd assume that we either dropped off something, or were just checking a mailbox.
Looking out the window of the hotel room they had rented, the Echo team member watched as Zig Zag's car pulled into the apartment complex and parked. As they got out, an old Dotson pulled into the parking lot behind Zig Zag. Swinging the telescope down, he watched a young lynx get out of the car. Hopping up and down, she literally bounced over to where Zig Zag and their target were standing. Holding out a notebook, she spoke excitedly as Zig Zag signed it. Observing the scene, he noted her face collapse as she read something. Looking at the bear, she recovered and began bouncing again. Taking the book from him, she jumped up and kissed him, then ran back to her car.
Shifting from the fan to the prey, the Echo teamster discounted the encounter with the fan. Watching them go into the apartment, he shifted his focal point to the apartment window. The curtains had been left open, allowing him a perfect view of the door. Activating the remote control, he waited for the blinking red light to turn solid, indicating that the bomb was armed.
Slowly he counted off the seconds while waiting for the door to open. Getting to fifty, he pulled away from the eyepiece and looked at the apartment building. Zig Zag and the bear were getting in the car. They hadn't even gone up to the apartment!
Giving a small curse, he picked up the phone. He needed to tell the Colonel what happened. Cursing again, he realized that he hadn't bothered to get the license number on the fan girl's car. The Colonel was going to maul him for this.
As Zig Zag accelerated away from the apartment complex, I put my hand on her arm, "Slow down Zig Zag. The wicked flee when no man pursues. We don't want them to know we're running." I reminded her gently. I could feel her arm trembling as she slowed the car down to a reasonable speed. "Who was that woman?" She asked. Pulling down the passenger sun visor, I used the vanity mirror to look behind us, "She was the sniper at James's house." I told her. I felt her tense up, "How do you know that?" She demanded. Checking around us, I tried to inventory the traffic, "I wasn't sure. But I wrote a message on the pad. You remember seeing her face drop?" I watched her nod. "That's how I knew. Her face gave away the fact." I explained.
I was forced to grab onto the handle over the door as Zig Zag made a hard right turn, tires squealing as they fought the G-forces. "Damn it! Slow down Zig. That or let me drive. We don't need the cops stopping us either!" I yelled at her. Growling through clenched teeth, she practically barked at me, "I'm sorry. I'm not used to being hunted." Pulling over, she stopped the car. "You had better drive," she said opening the door.
Changing places, I was greeted with the same problem I used to have in the old world. Short people with their seats all the way up. After adjusting the seat, I climbed in. "Use the vanity mirror to watch behind us as we pull away. And let me know if you see any cars pull out from the curb after we do," I instructed, adjusting the mirrors. Glancing at me, she asked, "How do you know so much about this stuff?"
Putting the car in gear, I pulled out into traffic, watching the mirrors as well as ahead. "Remember when I said I had worked for the SDF? I wasn't in the regular army. I was in special operations. I was a sniper. My job was to assassinate people who were selling state secrets." I explained to her. Glancing at Zig Zag, I could see she was staring at me, jaw slack. Continuing, I told her, "They gave me an assignment to terminate a manufacturer who was selling top secret chip technology to the Chinese. I was to terminate him by shooting out his tires on a mountain road. The only problem was that he had his kids with him." (Was that the same Lumina?) "They ordered me to continue with the hit. I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill innocents. The only thing that kept me alive was the fact that I had cached black ops documentation with friends who were warned to release it on my death." (No, not the same, different driver.)
Turning onto the interstate I merged in with traffic. Driving slower than most, I watched for anyone else lagging. Zig Zag broke the silence, "I guess they're screwed." I wasn't sure what she was talking about, "Who's screwed?" I asked. "The Japanese." She replied. Oh, yah, the files, I thought, then asked, "Because of my disappearance? No. I worked out the deal a long time ago after they calmed down. After all, I was gaijin. They didn't expect me to have any honor anyway so it all worked out in the end." I explained.
I had spotted three slow moving cars. Accelerating, I now sped up faster than most traffic. Let's see if anyone was playing tag. I was concentrating on driving so hard, that I almost lost it when the cell phone rang. Zig Zag glanced at me then hit the speaker function. "This is Zig Zag," she answered.
"Listen up. I don't want to risk this being traced. After we talk, turn the phone off so they can't track you by the signal. Khansman is the guy trying to get you killed. He's hired a professional mercenary group called Echo Team. They specialize in high profile assassinations. He hired them because I've been screwing with his plans. He now hunts me as well." A female voice told them, they recognized the "fan's" voice.
Gee thanks mommy, can I get another story now? "And just what's your interest in us? Surely you aren't the Zig Zag fan you made yourself out to be in the parking lot. Why protect me?" I asked. I heard a bark of laughter; "It's a long story. Let's just say that Khansman made the mistake of pissing me off. He wants you killed, so you've become a hobby of mine. The longer I keep you alive, the more pissed off he gets. It's one of my favorite games." She replied.
Laughing out loud I loved it. My old partner Ito had done something similar to a Taiwanese businessman in LA that wanted to have him knock off his competition for a mere fifty grand and then got all indignant when he turned him down. By the time he was done toying with the schmuck, the guy was in a straight jacket babbling about how everyone was out to get him. It had been a hoot.
"Ok. I can live with that." I told her. "Where do we go now?" I asked. "Have you been watching for a tail?" She asked. Double-checking the rear view, I verified that none of the slow cars were in sight, "Affirmative. We're on the interstate. I've done the speed check and am about to play four corners at the next interchange." I told her. I could hear the question in her voice; "You've played this game before. Just who the hell are you?" She demanded. Zig Zag was looking at me with a look that mirrored our angel's voice. Giving her a grin, I winked, "We're more alike than you could ever guess. That doesn't answer my question though, what's next?" I asked.
"Do you know where Blacklick Woods Park is?" She asked us. Looking at Zig Zag, I saw her think about it then nod. "Yah, we know where it is." I answered. "OK. I want you to meet me there in one hour. Park next to the administrative building, and then turn your cell phone back on. I'll call you then with more instructions." Our mysterious savior told us. We were coming up on the I70/I270 interchange on the west side of town. This would be a good place to play four corners. "OK. I'll keep playing tag and make sure we're not followed. We may even switch cars, so don't look for the Mercedes." I told our lady friend. "Good plan." She said, and then continued, "I'll call you in one hour."
Hanging up the cell phone, I then turned it off. Taking the exit, I planed to spend the next five minutes looping the corners of the cloverleaf interchange. If anyone were following, this would probably lose them. If nothing else, it would drive them nuts.
The game was afoot. It had been years since I had worried about a tail, and now that I was in control of the situation, I felt very alive.
I had Zig Zag rent a Catera. It was the best size for speed option they had at the lot. Dropping Zig Zag's Mercedes at a snazzy restaurant, I got a fifty from Zig and bribed the valet to tell anyone who asked that we were inside eating. Having covered the bases, we headed over towards the park.
Getting to the park with about ten minutes to spare, I spotted the administrative building. Killing the leftover time, I drove around the perimeter mentally marking the cars that were parked. After three circuits without noticing anyone else circling or any new vehicles being parked, I pulled into the park and stopped next to the building. Turning on the phone, I put the car in park. Killing the lights and engine, I rolled the windows down to listen for car noises. I had a reasonably clear view of the entrance while the car was shadowed from the one street lamp by the building.
Reaching into the back, I pulled the overnight bag into the front seat. Opening it up, I removed the pistol and clips that James had given me. Hearing Zig Zag gasp, I looked over in time to see her going for the door handle. Shooting my right hand out, I clamped down on the front of her neck, cutting the air off. Automatically she put her hand up to my arm in order to try to pull it back, claws puncturing my skin. "You listen to me Zig Zag. Open that door, and you could get us killed." I warned her. "The roof light will come on, illuminating us for anyone out there with a rifle." Loosening my grip enough so she could breathe, "I won't allow you to kill us both because you have a fear of guns. Do you understand me?" I demanded.
I could smell the fear, and her eyes showed raw hatred. After a few seconds she nodded. Releasing her, I returned to what I was doing. As she rubbed her throat, she spoke angrily, "Don't you EVER do that to me again." Slapping a clip home, I chambered a round and set the safety. Looking at her, I gave her a small smile, "Fine, next time I'll just knock you out." I saw her eyes get wide at this, "This is no game Zig. One wrong move and it will cost me my life, yours too if we're not careful. If what I think has happened, those jokers have Sheila and Bjorn. Given the opportunity, that means that if they can, they'll use you too." Banging on the steering wheel out of frustration, I scanned the area, "This is my worst fricken nightmare Zig. Ever since I found out that someone was after me, I worried that they might try to use someone to get to me. Now I've got to do the one thing I never wanted to do again. I have to hunt down another person and kill them. The last thing I need to complicate this is you panicking every time you see a gun. If it were anyone else, I might leave them for the wolves. But I owe you, and I'm not willing to throw you're life away to save mine."
The phone rang. Putting my hand over the handset, I looked at Zig Zag, "I need you to be strong." Picking up the phone, "Talk to me." I said gruffly. "Nice piece, how many clips you got?" The mystery lady asked. Looking around, I tried to spot her without any success, "I've got 4, 15 round clips, all jacketed hollow points." I informed her. "Good. In a few seconds a tan panel van will be pulling up next to the building. You'll have ten seconds to get into it." She told us. Reaching up, I popped the cover for the roof light and removed it. "Acknowledged." I said.
Terminating the call, I handed the phone to Zig Zag. "In a minute there's going to be a van pulling up. When it stops, follow my lead but don't climb in until I gesture to you." I told her. Closing my eyes, I tried to summon the power of the dragon. I could use his sight. After a few seconds I realized that I was cut off. Fine, if that's the way he wanted to play it, I could play that game too. Bear had a long memory. Rolling up the windows, I removed the key from the ignition.
Waiting, I saw a vehicle coming down the side street. As it turned into the park, we were momentarily illuminated. Having closed my eyes before getting hit by the lights, I didn't totally lose my night sight. As I watched, the van screeched to a stop. "Let's go." I said. Opening the door I got out and moved quickly towards the van, scanning the perimeter. Getting to the van, I saw Zig Zag still in the car. Stifling a curse, I slid open the door and swept the interior with my gun verifying nobody but the driver was there.
Sprinting back to the car, I opened the passenger door and grabbed Zig Zag by the scruff of the neck. Screeching, Zig grabbed for my arms as I dragged her out of the car. I didn't have time to break her out of the trance she was in. Putting my pistol hand under her ass, I heaved her up into the van and onto one of the benches. Climbing up, I grabbed the door and started to haul it shut. "Go, go, go." I told the driver.
Just as the door slammed shut, the driver accelerated away from the building heading deeper into the park and out another entrance. Glancing at Zig Zag, I saw her sitting on the floor between the bench seats, her tail curled up between her legs, huddled in a ball, glaring at me. Seeing that she would be all right, I moved up and squatted between the front seats.
The Lynx now resembled a mutated Coyote. The proportions were wrong, but a casual observer wouldn't notice. Staying low, I gave her the once over. She was wearing dark denim jeans and T-shirt. I noted a shoulder holster under the vest she wore. Glancing back she hissed, "Keep down. That damned fur stands out like a neon sign." Chuckling, I sat down on the floor behind the passenger seat.
Leaning back so I could see between the bench seats, I verified that Zig Zag was still ok. I could tell she wanted to maul me. That was fine. As long as she was alive I could deal with anything else later.
Sitting back up, I got a good grip on the bench beside me so I wouldn't be bothered by any sharp maneuvers our friend might make and tried to relax. I had no idea how long this was going to take and I didn't want to be burned out before we even got to our destination.