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 43
Never make a deal with a dragon.

  Arriving at James's house, I helped Zig Zag out of the van. Sniffling, she wiped her nose on the body stocking she wore. "Wait here, I'll go unlock the door," she instructed us.

  Leaning against the front of the van, Tigger waited for her to get out of sight. "Tell me this. Was there a large, black bear there?" She asked. Remembering my first kill at the helicopter, I nodded. "How did he die?" She demanded of me. Describing his demise, I saw her nod. "It was too quick. He needed to suffer," she stated venomously. "But at least he's dead." Putting her hand on my shoulder, she looked me in the eyes. "You've avenged Ito's death. Thank you."

  Not knowing how to respond, I simply nodded. Narrowing her eyes at me, she demanded, "You can't break out of it can you?" It took me a second to realize what she was talking about. "No," I answered her. "I don't understand it. It's like I'm completely dead inside. It's never been like this. I've never been unable to drop the mask."

  Stepping back from me, she drew her pistol. "I'm sorry. You've been a good partner, but I can't leave you like this. You're a danger to everyone around you," she explained. Digesting this, I nodded and pulled the body armor open so as to give her a clean shot. "Thank you. I don't know that I'd want to keep going like this... unable to feel." As she took careful aim at my heart, we were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.

  Seeing what was happening, Zig Zag screamed, "NO!" and charged Tigger. Pivoting, Tigger redirected the skunk's momentum so that she lost her balance and fell. Scrambling to her feet, Zig Zag lunged in front of me, blocking the shot. "I won't let you do this!" she screamed. Putting a hand on her shoulder, I turned her around. "This has to be done, Zig Zag. I can't break out of the killing mindset. I'm a danger to you and everyone around me." I explained calmly. Crying again, she grabbed my fur, "No! I won't allow it! Damn it, Arden, I can't afford to lose someone else. Please," she pleaded, "I don't know if I could take both of you dying today."

  Sobbing, she wrapped her arms around me, crying against my chest. Looking at Tigger, I saw the pistol aimed at my head. Wrapping my arms around Zig Zag in an embrace, I laid my head on top of hers. Smelling the salt in her tears, a voice within my mind cry out and then felt the barrier shatter and crumble. The emotions, which had been held behind the wall, hit me with a flood. The fear, the anger and the pain all conspired to overwhelm me. Finally came the grief of Bjorn's death. He had been a rival for Sheila's affection, but he didn't deserve to die. The thought of what Sheila must be going through was too much for me. Lifting my head to the sky, I roared my anger, frustration and sadness to the world, tears streaming down my face. Burying my face in her hair, we stood together, mourning our loss.

  Tigger, seeing my reaction, un-cocked the pistol and placed it back in her holster. After a few minutes, she interrupted us. "Look, I can understand your feelings right now, but we need to get off the street," she directed. Nodding to her, I led Zig Zag into the house. As we passed the door, Tigger stopped us. "I've got to go," she explained. "There's still unfinished business to take care of. I've got some documentation I want to get to your detective friend before I leave town."

  Nodding, I reached out my paw. "It's been an honor working with you, Tigger," I informed her, shaking her hand. Smiling, she gave my paw a squeeze. "Diane," she corrected me. Smiling my own smile, "Thank you, Diane. I'm in your debt. If you ever need my help..." I said, allowing the offer to trail off. Laughing, she released my hand. "Sorry, but I'm a loner." Slowly, her face changed, and she got a wistful look. "Then again, one can never tell," she stated quietly.

  Turning, she walked back to the van and climbed in. Starting it up, she took another good look at me before turning on the lights and backing out of the driveway. Listening to her drive off, I shut the door.

  Leading Zig Zag back to the bedroom, I caught sight of the time on a clock. It was almost four in the morning.

  Leaving Zig Zag at the doorway to clean herself up, I walked to James's study. Picking up the phone, I dialed Zig Zag's house. On the second ring, I heard the frantic voice of James on the phone. Calming him down, I assured him that Zig Zag and I were all right and that we were at his house. Hearing him declare that he was coming home, I emphasized that he should take it easy. We were both all right and that the last thing Zig Zag needed was to find out he had been in a car wreck.

  Hanging up the phone, I leaned back in the chair. I felt old. I had spent so many years of my life trying to forget how to kill. Today, I had not only killed, but I reveled in the blood I had spilled. In my mind I played over the scenes where I slaughtered my opponents. I had been intoxicated with the Dragon's power and had taken on the worst of all his traits: blood lust.

  Searching the drawers of the desk, I looked for the bottle I knew James kept there. There wasn't one. I guess he had learned from his binges. Just my luck the guy would wise up right when I could use a drink.

  The noise of me banging around in the desk brought Zig Zag. Looking at the expression on my face, she came over to me. "Are you going to be all right Arden?" she asked, worried. Nodding, I let out a sigh of exasperation, "Yah. I'm just pissed that your boyfriend had the bad timing to go on the wagon just when I could use a drink."

  Giving a small chuckle, Zig Zag walked out of the room, to return a few minutes later with a couple of small glasses and a bottle of Burbon. Setting them on the desk, she pulled up the chair opposite of me. "He didn't go on the wagon, he just didn't bother to restock the desk," she explained with a weak smile.

  Filling our glasses half way, she shoved one over to me. Lifting her glass up in a toast, she waited for me to do the same. Leaning forward I picked up the glass and held it up by hers. Clinking them together, she declared, "To the good guys."

  Knocking back the oversized shot, I took a deep breath. It was good Burbon. Taking the bottle, I filled the glasses to the half way mark again. Picking mine up, I looked at the liquor inside. "To good friends, both with us and gone." I said quietly. Looking up at Zig Zag, I held the glass out. Her mouth reflecting the quiver in her voice, she held her glass up also. "To Bjorn." She said quietly. "To Bjorn," I agreed. Clinking the glasses again, we downed the shots.

  Sitting there, looking at our glasses, we were both lost in our own memories and thoughts of the recent events. Eventually I took the cap and put it back on the bottle. This wasn't the time to get smashed. We still undoubtedly had to deal with the cops. Reminded of that fact, I thought about the dye job on my fur.

  Putting the bottle in the desk, I stood up. Placing my paw on Zig Zag's shoulder, I gave it a gentle squeeze. "I need to take a shower. I've got to get rid of this dye job and blood." I explained. Pressing her back down in the chair as she tried to rise, I shook my head. "No. You stay here. I can do it myself. Besides, James will be here soon, and I don't think he'd appreciate finding me in the shower with you," I explained with a laugh. Giving me a nod, she patted my hand.

  As I started to walk away to the shower, I was busy trying to think about where I was going to get some clothes. Somehow I couldn't see the cops not commenting on the fact I was wearing a combat body stocking that was torn and riddled with holes. For some reason, I just knew they'd be suspicious.


  Climbing out of the shower, I felt one hundred percent better. Despite my confidence, shampooing that crap out of my fur was a real job. It had taken four wash jobs, and even then there was a hint of brown in the fur. That's what you get for dying a fur that naturally has no pigment of its own.

  Drying off, I walked over to the to the mirror. I had found that with or without my glasses, I could see equally well. My eyes still had the look of the dragon. Black vertical slits on an iris of yellow set against the blood red of the orb. I had tried to release the power I had borrowed, but found that I could not. This was the Dragon's unsubtle way of reminding me I had a mission. I wouldn't be able to function in public without masking my eyes.

  Looking down at my chest, I saw holes in my fur from where I had been shot by the pilot. Leaning closer, I could see that they not only were stitched shut but that they had healed over. Looking down, I grabbed the fur so that I could see it better. It wasn't so much a scar, as a light scaled pattern where the hole had healed over. 'Dragons regenerate,' he had told me. By demanding all they could give me, I had been changed more than I had realized.

  Pulling on the body stocking, I stopped when it was at my waist. Tying the arms around me like a belt, I treated it like a jumpsuit being worn at half-mast. Picking up the body armor, boots, weapons harness and swords, I walked back out into the hall. Listening, I could hear James' car as it pulled into the driveway. I also heard the gentle sound of Zig Zag sleeping in the bedroom.

  Going into the bedroom, I laid my equipment on the bed. Taking the armor, I slipped it on like a casual vest just in case James went ballistic, literally. Walking over to Zig Zag, I shook her gently. "James is home," I told her quietly as she woke up. Nodding, she sat up, and began to rub her eyes.

  Hearing the front door open, I stood and went to the doorway. Hearing James call out for Zig Zag, I called back to him that we were in the bedroom. Watching as he came around the corner and ran down the hall, I got out of his way.

  Running past me, he shot me an odd look. Seeing Zig Zag sitting on the bed, he ignored me and went to her. "Jesus Zigs, are you ok? I was worried sick when you disappeared." James said to her in anxiously. Bursting into tears, Zig Zag just grabbed onto James and began crying again. Shooting me a hard glare, James held onto her tightly. Unable to defend myself, I just stood there and hung my head.

  After a few moments, the phone began to ring. Seeing that James was tied up, I walked over and answered it. "Sheppard residence." I said. I heard Detective Jones on the other end. "Is this Arden?" he inquired. "Yes, it is," I answered. I had been waiting on this phone call. "Do you know if Zig Zag and James Sheppard are there also?" he asked. Playing my part, I answered, "Yes. Zig Zag and James are both here." "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but as you are aware, Sheila Vixen and Bjorn Ottersman were kidnapped early yesterday afternoon." He stated. Grunting acknowledgement, I listened to him continue. "At approximately two AM this morning, there was a firefight at a rural farm between the kidnappers and some unknown group." He stated. Gasping, I feigned surprise and concern, "My god. Are they OK? Was anyone hurt?" I asked with urgency. "Miss Vixen is fine, though she's taken a terrible emotional shock. Her fiancé, Mr. Ottersman, was killed in the incident."

  Her fiancé? The shock of the word stuck me like a physical blow. Dizzy, I leaned back against the wall as I tried to get a grip on my emotions. Bjorn must have proposed to her at lunch. They hadn't even had time to enjoy the moment before they were kidnapped.

  I could hear the voice on the phone talking. Bringing it back up to my ear, I could hear Jones asking if everything was all right. Choking back a sob, I answered, "Yes. I'm ok. What do you need us to do?" "Miss Vixen needs someone to pick her up. Also I don't think she should be alone for the next couple of days," he explained. Nodding to the phone, I thanked him and then with some trouble, managed to put it back in the cradle. Sliding down against the wall, I allowed my legs to collapse until I was seated.

  Looking up, I saw James and Zig Zag looking at me. Fighting with my emotions, I managed to croak out, "At about two AM, there was a firefight between the kidnappers and some unknown agents." James's eyes got wide at the news. Zig Zag had a curious look, not understanding my reaction. Looking at Zig Zag, I explained, "Although Sheila was not harmed, her fiancé, Bjorn, was killed."

  Hearing this, she suddenly realized what I had said. As the same thoughts passed through her head, I saw her tremble, then began crying. Leaning my head back against the wall, I closed my eyes, crying. Once again I mourned Bjorn, but this time for an entirely different reason.


  Sitting in the back of the car, I filled James in on our conspiracy of silence. Watching James as he digested the information, I wasn't at all surprised by his response. "Just give me one reason I shouldn't turn you over to the cops." He demanded. I saw Zig Zag shoot him a hard look. "Well, the simple fact that Zig Zag participated makes her an accessory to the fact," I responded with an idle threat. "I'd never squeal on her, but it wouldn't be too difficult for the cops to make the connection."

  "And because you decided to take the law into your own hands, Bjorn is dead," James said, accusing me. Glad that my weapons were in the trunk, I fought the urge to strangle him. Continuing with his tirade, "You could have called the cops. Let them handle it. But no, you had to be Mr. Big Shot, didn't you." Shaking my head, I relaxed. He really didn't have a clue. "I don't think you understand, James. These aren't some nickel and dime hoods, these are professional mercenaries. They have been responsible for assassinating very important people all over the world, doing so despite security measures that would make the police look like keystone cops," I explained. "And, I might add, they've NEVER been caught. The authorities never even got close. The only reason we were able to flush them out is that we had their money man."

  Rubbing my face with my hands, I conceded, "Our one mistake was underestimating them. We had no idea they had a combat-ready helicopter. If we had, trust me that I would have been prepared to handle the situation." Listening to the pregnant silence, I pleaded with James, "There's no way I can make this up to anyone, especially not Bjorn. But I want you to realize, these guys would have killed him and Sheila anyway. Tigger's been going head to head with these guys for years. I had no reason to doubt her when she said they would kill them regardless of what happened."

  Sitting in silence, I waited for us to get to the park where we left Zig Zag's rental car. Not only did it have my clothes in it, but also it would allow me to drive Sheila home.


  Parking in front of the station, I got out and leaned on the car. Seeing this, James and Zig Zag came over. "Aren't you coming in?" James asked. Shaking my head, I explained, "Last time Sheila saw me, she saw a cold blooded killer. I was an absolute, emotionless tactical combat weapon. Seeing her holding Bjorn's body in her lap, I couldn't feel anything and she knew it," I explained. "I'll wait out here. I can't risk her blurting anything out in there that would let our little secret out."

  Nodding, he took Zig Zag by the shoulder and led her into the building. Looking at the rising sun as it peeked over the buildings, I put on the sunglasses I had taken from the assassin. No sense in scaring the children.


  Sitting in the chair by Detective Jones's desk, Sheila took another sip from the cold cup of coffee. Bjorn was dead. She remembered their lunch at the café when he has proposed to her. After getting over the shock, she had started to refuse him, thinking of Arden. He had told her that he would be willing to give up everything to stay with her. He would even give up his quest. Hearing that she realized how much he must love her, and how much he was willing to give up for her. It also made her realize how selfish she has been towards him, trying to keep him for herself. If you love something, you must let it go. Saying yes to Bjorn, she had let Arden go.

  But now Bjorn was dead, and Arden couldn't have cared less. He looked at his body like it was a slab of meat. Even when she shouted at him, he didn't show any emotions, just confusion.

  Shivering, she was startled as a hand touched her shoulder. Looking up, she saw it was Detective Jones. She had wanted to tell the other detectives about Arden's actions, but Jones had talked her out of it. If she did so, Zig Zag would be in trouble as well. Once again someone else had to pay for Arden's actions.

  Looking to where he was pointing, she saw Zig Zag and James through the window, standing in the waiting area. Standing she followed the detective out to the lobby. Walking quickly up to Zig Zag and James, she embraced them both, craving the security of their arms.

  After making sure that she was OK, James and Zig Zag escorted her outside. As they approached the cars, Sheila spotted Arden.

  Stopping in her tracks, she asked, "What's he doing here?" James and Zig Zag exchanged glances. "He's here to drive you home," James explained. Becoming agitated, she backed up from the pair. "No! I'm not going anywhere with him. There is something very wrong with him. Don't you remember how he acted this morning?" she demanded insistently of Zig Zag. Stepping forward, Zig Zag took her hands, "Yes, I can. I was there, and I can tell you that he couldn't help it. But that person is gone now, buried the same way it was before when you knew him." Zig Zag explained, pleading. "Give him a chance, Sheila. He blames himself for not being able to save Bjorn."

  Looking at James, Sheila saw him turn away. Obviously he wasn't going to defend Arden. Looking over at Arden, she saw that he was standing by the car, paws interlaced, wearing an odd pair of sun glasses he had picked up the day someone had tried to kill him at James's. Her thoughts interrupted from a squeeze of her hands by Zig Zag. "Go to him. Talk to him. Please, don't let it end this way." Zig Zag begged, releasing her hands.

  Turning, Sheila walked over to Arden. As she approached, he stood away from the car, hands at his side, fidgety as if he didn't know what to do with them. Standing close to him, she looked up into the reflection of her face in the lenses. Angry that he wouldn't look directly at her, she smacked him as hard as she could.

  His head spun to the side, the sunglasses flying from his face. Eyes closed, he brought his face around towards her. Still keeping them closed, he waited. Angrily she demanded, "Look at me, damn it! Look me in the eye!" Squeezing his eyes shut, he looked as if he were going to speak, but changed his mind. Opening his eyes, he looked directly at her, his stare unwavering.

  Putting her paws to her face, Sheila stumbled backwards from the shock, into the hands of James who had expected her reaction. "My god, what happened to your eyes?" she exclaimed. Turning, Arden bent and picked up the sunglasses and replaced them on his head. Turning back to her, he explained. "I made a deal with the Dragon to try to save you and Zig Zag."

  Sheila's anger flared. She stepped forward and demanded, "And what about Bjorn? Did you ever stop to think about him?" Swallowing, Arden fought back tears. "I'm sorry. He was dead already. When he died, I realized that there was no way I would be able to save you or Zig Zag, not without the Dragon's help." He explained. Turning his head away, he continued, "He forced me to swear to complete the quest before he would give me help. I just couldn't do that to you. Not until I realized that you would die because of my... arrogance."

  Stunned, Sheila could only stare at him. She didn't know what to make of this. "Had he honestly wanted to save Bjorn?" she asked herself. Confused, Sheila gave herself a hug as she suddenly shivered.

  Leading her to the car, James opened the door and helped her into the passenger seat. Regaining his composure, Arden gave Zig Zag a hug, before climbing into the drivers seat. James and Zig Zag stood, watching the car, as Arden drove away.

  Walking back to their car, Zig Zag hoped that Sheila would be ok. Giving James a hug, she wiped her eyes and thanked the powers that be that she still had him.

Chapter 44