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 45
Would the guilty party please stand up?

  Using the rental car, Sheila drove us to the mall. It occurred to me that if I was going to hang around, I'd need to get a license, but then I remembered I wasn't planning on staying that long. We had already stopped at a couple of men's clothiers and had one working on a nice contemporary suit. Now Sheila wanted to go power shopping. I think it's her version of getting drunk.

  Climbing out of the car, I felt like there was a huge neon sign pointing at me. Walking with Sheila towards the entrance I gave a sheepish smile. "So tell me again why we couldn't dye my fur?" I asked weakly. Chucking, she gave me an elbow to the ribs. "Because I like my big, fluffy white dress-up bear," she replied cheerfully. Fingering my collar, I gave a mock gasp for breath. She only laughed.

  Holding the door open for Sheila, we entered the mall. I was immediately hit with the mixture of scents and sounds. Following Sheila in, we came to the central corridor. Grinning with a feral grin, I saw Sheila rubbing her hands together. "All right now, let's shop!" she declared.

  As we started walking towards some shops, I felt the crowd pressing in on me. I'd never seen so many species in one place. Mind you I've been in crowds before as a human, but this was different. The further in we went, the more I felt like they were pressing in on me. After about thirty feet, I gave a curse, turned and virtually ran out of the mall.

  Standing outside, I leaned against the wall, panting. Still overwhelmed by the sounds and smells. Ever since I made the deal with the Dragon, I've been able to smell and hear stuff I'd never notice before. Now... It was like getting mugged.

  After a few seconds, Sheila came out. Walking over to me, I could see the concern on her face. "Are you going to be OK?" she asked. Nodding, I tried to catch my breath. "I don't know what happened in there. I was just overwhelmed. You've got to understand. Since I made the deal with the dragon, my senses have gone hyper. I was just overwhelmed by the sounds and smells," I explained, straightening up.

  Taking my arm, she pulled me towards the parking lot. "Don't worry about it. We'll go somewhere else," she conceded. Stopping her, I shook my head, "I just wasn't prepared for it. Lets try it again, this time we take it slow though, ok?" I asked, pulling for the door. Still giving me a worried look, we went back in.

  Bracing myself, I walked in behind Sheila. Putting my arm around her shoulder, we slowly meandered by the stores, staying close to the wall. As I got used to moving around with the input overload, the panic attack began to fade. Coming to a record store, I pulled Sheila in. Perusing around, I saw various versions of the artists and albums that I knew of in my world. Getting to the comedy section, I found out that 'Running with Scissors' had been done by Weird Al Hamstervich.

  Seeing what I was holding, Sheila giggled. "That guy's a riot." She said with a laugh. I was tempted to get her to buy it, just to see if it sounded the same, but changed my mind. Chuckling we wandered back out to the mall.

  After stops in half a dozen shops, I was now carrying three bags for Sheila when we got to The Ultimate Leather Experiences. Being pulled in, I looked at the outfits and planted my feet firm. "No. I don't think so. I was willing to go along with the collar, but you aren't turning me into a snowball in leather!" I declared. Laughing, she dug in her claws and pulled me into the store. "Don't worry. I'm shopping for myself, not you this time." She promised, "Although you never know what we may find."

  Finding a Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket, Sheila grabbed it off the rack and tried it on. Modeling it for me she asked, "So what do you think?" Giving a small golf clap, I laughed, "It's you. I never took you for a biker babe!" Laughing with me, she took the jacket off. "I'm not," she replied, "Bjorn's the biker. He just loves riding them..." I saw her ears wilt. Wrapping my arms around her, I held her. "We used to borrow Leon's Gold Wing for the weekend. We would ride for hours, in just about any direction. We had no planned destination. We just wanted to go on an adventure," she said, trying not to cry. Taking the hangar from the rack, she used it to hang the coat up. Looking up at me, she said, "Let's go."

  Walking with her, I spoke quietly, "You know, running from the memories of Bjorn won't make it easier." Looking up at me, I could see she didn't understand. "Memories are all you have of him now. You need to cherish the memories. Revel in the good times and the bad. If you run from them, if you hide from them, then you cheapen their memory and the love you held for them." I explained. "Right now, the memories are painful because of the loss. It's also the time when you need to remember them the most. That's why people have memorial ceremonies. It's a way of sharing your memories with others so that the person you love lives on."

  Reaching the doors to the parking lot, we walked out. The trip to the car was in silence. Taking the keys from her, I held the passenger door for her. After getting in, we drove around town for a little bit. Finding a park, I pulled in. It was too nice a day to be stuck driving around in a car. Stopping, we got out and started to walk.

  Over the next couple of hours, I listened to her talk about Bjorn. We walked and laughed about her memories. Occasionally we compared notes with my old life. Sitting on a bench, we were trying to enjoy what was left of the day when I spotted them: Reporters.

  The car was on the other side of the park. There was no way we'd be able to avoid the confrontation. "I don't want to talk to them," Sheila pleaded. Giving her a squeeze, I crossed my leg I tried to look casual, "Don't let them upset you. I'll do the talking."

  The cameraman stopped about five feet away from us. Approaching, the reporter, a fox, had a microphone in hand. "Miss Vixen, any comment on you're recent experiences." The fox asked. Deflecting her attention, I asked her, "Say, you're that Lupus girl, aren't you?" Smiling at the recognition, she nodded, "Yes I am, Mr. Nanewk."

  Standing, I gave a pleasant smile and moved by the reporter, cutting off the camera's view of Sheila, "It's Nah-Nuck, emphasis on the second syllable." I explained. Prompting her a few times I got her to say it right. "Now, before we answer your question, how about answering one from me?" I asked. Confused, she nodded. Putting my arm around her shoulder, I pulled her next to me like one would a small child, when explaining something. "If you had been proposed to, kidnapped, and then watched your fiancÚ murdered before your very eyes, how would you feel?" I asked. Looking very uncomfortable, she replied, "I guess I would feel pretty terrible."

  Smiling, I gave her a little squeeze. "There you go!" I praised her. "See. That was pretty simple. You have your answer, and you didn't have to bother Sheila either. Now tell you what. Why don't the two of you just wonder off somewhere and make a list of questions you can't figure out for yourself and then we'll see what happens," I said cheerfully, smiling at the camera. Stuttering she objected, "But... the people have a right to know." Interrupting her, I agreed, "You're right, they do. The trick is to tell them things they don't already know. Now run along and work on that list."

  Letting go of her, I smiled at the camera. Seeing her about to object again, I reached down and wrapped my hand over the microphone. Leaning close to her ear I whispered, "Unless you want to have the same pleasure I did of being interviewed in the hospital, I'd suggest you take that camera and leave." Standing back, I reached out, lifted her chin so her mouth was closed and then gave the camera a big smile.

  Turning away, I reached out to help Sheila up. Putting my arm around her shoulder, we strolled casually back to the car, sans reporters.

**********

  After picking up the suit, we stopped off at an Outback for dinner. Everyone there had been cool about us. Only comments they had made was to say they were sorry to hear about Bjorn. Sipping on our drinks we waited for the meal to show.

  "What did you say to that reporter? The look on her face was priceless." Sheila asked. Chuckling, I leaned over and talked to her in a conspiratorial voice, " I informed her that if she didn't take that camera and get lost, I'd make sure she had the pleasure of getting interviewed in the hospital, just like I did." Putting her hand over her muzzle, she fought a laugh, "You can't do that. They'd arrest you." Giving a shrug, I smiled back. "I don't think so. I covered the mike, so they didn't record it, and I spoke on the ear away from the camera. I think I'm pretty safe. Besides, I owe her." I explained.

  Giving me a curious look, Sheila asked, "Why do you owe her?" Laughing, I couldn't believe she didn't remember. "That's the same fox that ambushed me in the hospital, remember?" I reminded her. Thinking, her eyes got kind of wide, "Oh yah. I remember that interview. It's what made me decide to go down and see you." That took me back. Maybe I didn't owe her that much.

  Delivering the meal, the waitress refilled our drinks. I had ordered prime-rib, rare. Normally I preferred it to be medium well done, but today I was in the mood for something almost raw.

  Licking my chops, I started cutting on the meat. "Would you not do that?" I heard Sheila ask. Looking up in confusion, I tilted my head. "What? I've seen people licking their muzzle all the time." I asked. Leaning closer, she whispered, "Sure, but most of them don't have a forked tongue."

  Startled, I sat up in the chair. Reaching up with my paw, I inconspicuously felt my tongue. Brow furrowed as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on. This morning when I looked in the mirror, it was normal.

  Catching the concerned look on Sheila's face, I gave her a sheepish smile and shrugged it off. Digging into the meat, I tried not to worry about it for now.

**********

  Checking my look in the mirror, I straightened the tie. It had been a long time since I had worn one. Brushing the fur back on my head, I nodded satisfied. The black suit enhanced the color of my fur, making it stand out all the more. Making sure I had the sunglasses in the pocket, I walked into Sheila's room.

  She was still sitting in front of the dressing table. Walking over I put my paws on her shoulders. Looking up at me in the mirror, she patted my paw. I could see she had been crying again. Reaching past her, I took the brush from the table. Running it through her fur, I spent the next half hour helping her to prepare for the memorial service.

  As she stood up, I handed her the jacket to her suit. She had decided on a conservative, black business suit almost identical to mine. Putting the jacket on, she took out the pair of sunglasses she had bought to cover her blood shot eyes. Putting them on she stood in front of the mirrored closets. "How do I look?" she asked. Standing next to her, I smiled. Putting my sunglasses on, I took an "at ease" stance next to her. "I'm agent A. This is agent S. Together we're the MIB." I said fighting to keep a straight face.

  Laughing, she turned and punched me in the ribs. Looking up, she smiled. Reaching out she gave me a hug. "Thank you." She said quietly. Giving her a squeeze, I didn't know what to say. Releasing me, she backed up and sniffed. Giving another smile, she led the way to the car.

  Arriving at the restaurant, we were greeted by a media circus. It had been decided that since Bjorn wasn't a very religious person, we'd hold the memorial at his favorite eating establishment. Driving through the crowd, I stopped at the end of the stairs. There was some security keeping the crowd back, but it wasn't enough. Climbing out, I walked around to Sheila. Helping her out, I watched the valet drive away with the car.

  Leading her up to the doors, we tried to ignore the flashing lights and cameras as they tried to get a good shot. Reaching the doors, I escorted her inside. Just past the door, there were two people guarding the interior door and waiter. Recognizing us for who we were, they passed us through.

  Inside I saw that many of the tables had been moved out of the way, and a large circular grouping of chairs had been set up in the middle. Past the chairs, I saw a display of pictures from various movies and peoples personal pictures showing Bjorn. Off to one side was a large mixed buffet next to the bar.

  Escorting Sheila into the room, we went over to the crowd. Many of the people there were from ZZ Studios, although I discovered a large number I'd never seen before. Some were past employees while others were just friends, there to support grieving friends. As Sheila introduced me around, I was surprised to find more than one major celebrity had flown in on word of his death.

  The most common questions I heard people ask of Sheila were checking to see if she was ok, see if she needed anything, or if she was planning to fly to his funeral next week. Her answers were yes, no and I hope so, in that order.

  Needing a break from the crowd, I headed back to the front door. I wanted to check with security and verify that they had gotten more manpower. As I approached the entry foyer, I was surprised to hear arguing. Opening the inner door, I saw the two security guards arguing with someone. Approaching I saw it was Logan.

  "Damn it, the guy was a friend of mine." He argued with the waiter. "I'm sorry sir, but you are not on the list." The waiter responded. Clearing my throat, I got their attention. "If you don't mind, I believe Logan may have been accidentally left off the list. Please let him pass." Giving me an inquiring look, the waiter asked, "And just who invited him?" Stepping forward, I gave a low growl, "I invited him." The waiter's eyes got large as he backed away from me. "I'm sorry sir. I had no idea you were associated with this... person." He said in way of an apology.

  Gesturing to Logan, I lead him inside. "I'd like to thank you for what you did back there." Logan said, taking my hand. Nodding, I gave him a firm handshake, "After seeing your special about Bjorn, I couldn't leave you hanging out on the cold. Just remember that this is private. Nothing in here is for the public." Nodding, he agreed, "I wouldn't have it any other way. Just make sure Frosty and Flake don't get in here though."

  Laughing at that, we headed over to the bar. Ordering drinks, we leaned back and watched the crowd. "I take it that you're the Arden that we've been talking about so much?" He asked. Nodding, I acknowledged my guilt. "I have that unpleasant honor." I replied, sipping my drink. "Say, why don't you do an interview for me? Clear up some of the stupid tripe they're rattling off about what's happened." He offered. Shaking my head, "I'm afraid I can't afford to be on camera any more." I answered. "What do you mean?" he asked, "You're a natural. Besides it wouldn't be live. We could edit out any screw-ups. I'll even give you final word on editing." Taking a long draw on the brew, I thought about it. "I really would love to do that, but I'm afraid there are some circumstances that are out of my control, preventing me from doing so." I told him.

  Just as he was about to press his point, Zig Zag interrupted us. "Just what the hell are you doing here? Why can't you people leave us the hell alone!" she demanded. Logan got a sheepish look on his face, trying to find a way to defend himself. "I invited him Zig." I said, saving him the effort. Giving me a disbelieving look, she demanded, "What on God's green earth possessed you to do something like that?" Looking her in the eye, I stated as matter of factly as possible, "He was Bjorn's friend."

  That took her off guard. "Did you watch the memorial special he did on Bjorn, Sunday evening?" I asked. Confused by what I said, she shook her head. "I've seen lots of documentaries on people's lives. The one he did on Bjorn was one of the best. It had a lot of heart in it. He could have screwed with him, or twisted the facts a little, but he didn't. It showed a lot of dedication and respect. For that reason, I'm willing to give him a chance," I explained.

  Hearing this, Zig Zag studied Logan's face. The poor guy looked like a dog caught making a mess on the rug. Giving a little nod, she apologized, "I'm sorry. I'm so used to the media looking for any opportunity to screw us over. If Arden vouches for you, I guess I can live with it." Still looking rather dejected, Logan nodded, "I know you have no reason to like me Zig Zag, but please believe me when I say the only reason I'm here is because I count my self lucky enough to have had Bjorn for a friend." Giving me a sideways glance, she nodded and left us.

  Relaxing against the bar, Logan slammed back his drink. "That's two I owe you now." He said. Draining the rest of my beer, I nodded. "If you really were Bjorn's friend, then I could do no less." Standing, I leaned close, "Just understand something. If you're here for any other reason, or if I see you using this on your show..." I let the threat trail off. Tossing a ten spot on the bar, I paid for our drinks and went looking for Sheila.

  After about an hour, Zig Zag came and got Sheila and myself. Leading us to the circle, she sat us next to the chair by Bjorn's picture. Ringing the wine glass she held with a spoon, she got everyone's attention. "Would everyone please take a seat?" she asked, waving to the circle of chairs. After everyone was seated, Zig Zag spoke again, "As was suggested by a friend today," she said, nodding to Lenore, " I'd like to take this time to offer everyone a chance to say something about Bjorn. It can be some thing as simple as, say, he was a great kisser..." She got a laugh with that, "To some humorous anecdote about something he did. Nobody need feel forced to participate, however we are here to honor his memory and the best way to do that is to share."

  Smiling, Zig Zag told of her beginnings in the blue film market, and how she came to own her own studio. It turns out that one of her first films had been with Bjorn and he remembered her. Taking a fair chunk of his savings, he had invested it in ZZ Studios. It was an investment that had been paid off many times over. It also was one of the reasons he was still willing to do work at ZZ Studios.

  As she sat down, the ball was passed to James. Having not known the little guy, he simply passed on to the next. For the next couple of hours we laughed at some of the outrageous things that Bjorn had done. Smiled at the way people remembered him helping them as they were struggling in the business and the occasional story of him struggling with some problem. Finally the ball came back to me.

  Standing, I hung my head a little. "I'm embarrassed to say this, but... I didn't like Bjorn." There were disbelieving looks around the ring. "I doubt any of you are aware of the fact that Sheila and I were something of a item recently." That got a polite chuckle from the many of the folk from ZZ's. "Being a male not performing in the blue film industry, I was willing, even happy to allow Sheila to continue her work just as long as it was me she came home to." This got nods from several people. "Unfortunately, when Bjorn came to town, he didn't realize how serious we were, and subsequently seduced her outside the studio, at his apartment." Looking at Sheila, I could see the betrayal in her eyes. "This caused both Sheila and myself no small amount of grief and caused me to reevaluate my relationship with Sheila. You see, I had become aware of the fact that she and Bjorn were close. Not just casual lovers, but very good friends."

  As I paused for a sip of my drink, I saw the confused look on people's faces as they tried to figure out where this was going. "Many of you know that I have been filling the role of masseuse at the studio. The first day Bjorn was there, I took advantage of my position to, literally, pin him down and have a talk." Again I looked at Sheila. She was staring at me with those wide, beautiful green eyes. This was news to her. "During my talk with him, I pointed out that I understood that he and Sheila had a long history and for that reason I wasn't going to take it personally." I got a bit of a sheepish look on my face, "Actually, I told him I wouldn't break his scrawney neck." That got another chuckle. "However, I also emphasized that if he was going to come in and make a move on Sheila like that, he had better be sure of his motives. If he was going to treat her like some local bed warmer, I was going to take it personal." Again I took a sip. "The thing is," I said trying to get to the point, "before I let him go, I warned him that he needed to take a long, hard look at his feelings for Sheila and decide if he was serious about her or not."

  Pausing to maintain control, I took a deep breath. "So you could say that in a way, it was my fault that he took her out that day to propose to her." Struggling to be able to speak, I finally blurted out, "I didn't have a chance to know Bjorn well. But listening to everyone talk, I think I would have liked him, given time." Sitting down, I buried my face in my paws.

  As I sat there, trying to regain control, I felt Sheila's paw on my shoulder, giving me a gentle squeeze. "I had thought to talk about all the fun times I had with Bjorn, but after that bomb..." she said, squeezing my shoulder. "When Bjorn proposed to me, it was the second most powerful shock of my life. The first being the impact of Zig's car door against me as it caved in, when we hit Arden." She said, getting a small chuckle from people in the know. "After I accepted..." she paused, trying not to cry, "After I accepted, I asked him why, after all this time? Why propose now?" Looking up, I saw her smiling down on me, "He told me that a very special friend had forced him to take a good look in the mirror, and that he would much rather spend the rest of his life with me than without." Smiling, the tears rolled down her cheeks, "At that time I had no clue who Bjorn was talking about, but I can say with certainty now that he considered Arden a friend." Bending over, she gave me a kiss on the head.

  As Sheila sat down, a hand tapped me on the shoulder. A waiter was handing me a glass of champagne. Taking it, I saw three others going around the outside of the circle, passing them out. After everyone had a drink Zig Zag stood, waving for everyone to do the same. "We have all lost a friend," she said to the group, "but his memory will not be lost to us. So I hereby propose a toast: To Bjorn, whereever you are. You have touched our hearts and will be sorely missed," she stated, voice quavering. We each touched glasses with the person next to us and then drank to his memory.

  After the toast, the circle broke up. I still didn't have my feelings under control so I headed for the bathroom. Going to the sink, I took off the sunglasses and began rinsing my face and head off with cold water. As I was doing this, I heard someone come in. Continuing to keep my face down, I made an extended point of washing my face. A hand patted me on the back. "You going to be ok there?" I heard Logan ask. "Yah." I replied, still in the sink.

  Hearing him walk over and start using the urinal, I turned off the water and stood up. Shaking off my fur, I looked at myself in the mirror. Startled, I saw not my own reflection, but that of a large creature with grayish green skin. Its ears were more human, though pointed, with the tips high up, pressed against the side of the head. From it's lower jaw I saw two large 'fangs' protruding from its upper lips, a good half inch in length. From its head I saw thick, black hair that was pulled back between the ears and cascaded below the shoulder level. Shocked, I stared at the image before me. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Worse yet, it had my eyes.

  "Hey. You OK there?" The shock of Logan clapping me on the shoulder and speaking startled me. Looking at him by reflex, I saw his eyes get wide as he stumbled backwards. Giving a curse, I snatched up the sunglasses and put them on. Turning back to Logan, I saw him plastered against the wall, trying to press through it. As I stood there and casually watched him, I saw him relax and get control.

  "Tell me those are contacts." He said. Shaking my head I frowned, "Do you seriously think I'd do that at a funeral?" Hesitantly, he came back over, "What happened to your eyes? When I saw you on TV at the hospital, your eyes were normal." Shrugging, I decided to recycle my excuse, "I'm a half breed. My lesser half is starting to show itself." Trying to look past the glasses, he asked, "Do they hurt?" Shaking my head, "No, not anymore. They used to." "No wonder you never take those things off any more." He said, coming to the realization.

  As he thought about it, his expression changed. "The demon with the red eyes." He whispered to himself. "What are you talking about?" I asked. Surprised he blinked, "What?" Grabbing the front of his suit, I backed him up against the wall, "You said 'The demon with the red eyes.' What did you mean by that?" I demanded. Swallowing at my sudden aggression, "It was something I got from the cops. The one kidnapper that survived kept babbling about the demon with red eyes. Claimed that the thing shot down the helicopter with a pistol, then used a sword to kill the crew."

  Letting go of him I gave a curse. I should have killed the guy after all. Logan connected the dots, "It was you. You're connected with the rescue attempt." He stated. Snatching the glasses off with my right paw, I grabbed his suit in my left and lifted him to eye level, "If you ever mention this to anyone, I will hunt you down and kill you." I could smell the fear coming from him. "No. I swear to God, I won't tell anyone." He declared.

  Setting him back down, I continued to stare at him. "I won't. You're secret is safe with me. But I want something in exchange," he stated. I let out a bark of laughter. This guy had brass cojones to be bargaining with me. "Ok. What do you want?" I asked. Stepping close, he spoke in a conspiratorial whisper, "I know I promised not to use anything about the funeral, but please, tell me what really happened. I swear I'll keep names out and make sure I leave out enough detail that it won't come back to you. My sources tell me that there already may be a cover up in the works, trying to bury the evidence."

  Damn. If Khansman was successful in pulling off a cover up, or deflecting the direction of the investigation, he could get away with it. And if my hunch was right, I wouldn't be around this reality much longer to deal with him. "OK. Give me a number where I can reach you." I said. Taking his card, I put it in my pocket. As I was about to leave, he put a hand on my shoulder, stopping me. "Just answer one question." He said. Nodding, I waited. "Was there any way to save Bjorn?" he asked. I could see pain in his eyes. Shaking my head, "We had no idea they had a combat equipped helicopter. If we did, we could have dealt with it." Nodding, he accepted my answer.

  Putting the sunglasses back on, I returned to the party, keeping a close eye on him. I didn't know if I had an ally or an enemy.  

Chapter 46