Story © 2000-2004 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel © Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe © 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© Chris Yost. Character ZigZag © Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard, Doug and Kelly Granitz © James Bruner. Character Mark the cheetaur © Mark White Eric W. Schwartz © Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. Michael Jones © Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge © Keith Dickson. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners.

Identity Crisis
Act IV
Chapter 1

And in closing, I'd just like to say… umm… we ain't guilty, your honor.

Zig Zag sighed as the limousine pulled to a stop in front of the courthouse. She glanced out the window at the small mob of reporters who were running towards the car. "Don't those people ever have anything better to do?"

"Unfortunately, you're big news," Michael, a young, well-dressed weasel, replied nervously as he adjusted his tie. "Since today's supposed to be closing arguments, they're smelling blood about now." The young lawyer stopped and swallowed at the look on Zig Zag's face. "Sorry, Ma'am, but unfortunately the DA has turned this into a circus."

"I know," she sighed. She frowned as the driver opened the car door. "I guess this is it, kiddo. Showtime." Dressed in a conservative business suit dress, Zig Zag climbed out of the limo. Immediately the pair was surrounded by half a dozen Bull Dog Security guards who did a fair job of keeping the reporters at bay. All during the long walk up the steps to the court, Zig Zag smiled and repeatedly answered "No comment" to the numerous questions shouted at her from all directions. Once past the doors to the courthouse, she finally relaxed a bit knowing that the reporters weren't allowed in. She glanced around at the lobby and frowned. "Where's David?"

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but David's going to be running a bit late," Michael said, immediately flinching from the stripped skunk's reaction. "He said he'd gotten some new information that he needed to verify, and that he'd be here on time!"

Zig Zag growled. "He better be here on time. The last thing I need is for him to piss the judge off again." She deposited her handbag along with the clip on earrings and other miscellaneous jewelry in a tray that went through an X-ray machine before stepping through the arch.

"Back again, Zig?" a burley German Sheppard officer asked, as he picked up the tray with her personal possessions. "No hidden weapons? No body cavity search today?'

"Not today, Rudy," Zig Zag replied with a tired smile as she recovered her possessions. "How are things going with your wife? You two make up?"

"Oh, yah!" he replied somewhat embarrassed. "I'm surprised you remembered that. Yah, I did what you suggested with the lingerie and that couples video. Boy, I gotta say that worked just great."

"I'm glad to hear that," she chuckled as she donned her jewelry. "Sorry I don't have time to play, but if you see my lawyer, feel free to give him a body cavity search."

"Really?" the guard asked, cocking his head slightly before letting out a good laugh. "Good one, Zig! Good one. Good luck with the trail."

"Thanks, Rudy," Zig replied as she waited for the weasel to catch up with her before making her way to the court room up on the fifth floor. The pair came to a stop outside the courtroom where Zig Zag once again looked around nervously. "Damn it! Where is he?"

"He'll be here, M--," the young lawyer swallowed as he involuntarily straightened up slightly. "District Attorney Khansman."

"Well, well, well. If it isn't little Mikey Weasely," the imposing panther said in a condescending tone. "How unfortunate the first case you get to work on will also be the first case you get to help lose."

"What do you want, Khansman?" Zig Zag spat.

"Oh, just dropping by for a little quality gloating time," the panther replied with a smile. "Today will be the day. After closing arguments, nothing will stand in the way of your going to prison."

"You son of a bitch!" the tiger stripped skunk growled, her hands clenched into fists as her hackles rose. "You know I had nothing to do with it, and you're still going through with this sham?"

"But of course," Khansman cooed. "What I know and what the jury believes doesn't necessarily have to be the same thing. My job is to get a conviction, and that's all I care about."

"I thought your job was to see that justice was served," the young weasel stated.

"Ah, such innocence." Khansman reached out to ruffle the weasel's hair. "My dear boy. You don't seriously think I got to be the district attorney by being fair and impartial, do you? It was quite the opposite, I assure you. My job is to convict people such as your client, and make sure the public is safe from their kind."

"You mean your mafia buddies are safe, don't you?" Zig Zag countered. "I know all about your friends up in Chicago and their attempts to undermine my business. I also noticed how anyone who could testify on my behalf has been systematically intimidated into recanting their statement, had some accident or flat out disappeared. Oh, I'll beat this thing, and when I do I'll nail your corrupt hide to the wall!"

Khansman glanced down at his watch and smiled. "Well, unless I'm mistaken, you're going to have to, um 'beat this thing' as you say, without your lawyer. It seems that court's about to start, and mister Leery is once again nowhere to be seen. Now if you'll excuse me, I should really take my seat." As he walked away he waved over his shoulder, "Toodle-oo."

"I should have shot that bastard when I had the chance," Zig Zag grumbled.

"Zig Zag!" Michael yelped in a horse whisper. "Watch what you're saying! Someone may be listening!"

"Yah, you're right," Zig Zag replied as she forced herself to relax, allowing her fur to settle. "We better go in before the judge sends a posse out after us." She paused to glance back towards the elevator once again, "Where the hell is David?"

"Coming through!" the plain, gray tabby shouted as he leapt down the switchback staircase in his office building, his coat and tail flapping in the wind behind him. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, he bolted out into the foyer, ricocheted off one wall and dashed for the door that would lead across the street to the Federal Court building. He virtually flew down the dozen or so steps and scarcely touched the sidewalk before flying headfirst into traffic. The sound of squealing breaks and horns announced his presence to the reporters on the other side of the road who were casually talking amongst themselves. "Gang way!" he yelled as he dodged between two cameramen.

"Hey, Leery! You're late!" one of the cameramen called after him.

"Again!" his companion added as they both laughed.

David scarcely heard the cop at the top of the stairs tell him to slow down as he pushed his way into the lobby. He tossed his briefcase, keys and cell phone down on the scanning machine and hopped through the arch, which promptly beeped. Cursing, he stepped back through and removed his watch and a few pieces of small change before again stepping through the arch. He was about to put his watch back on when one of the guards took his arm.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Leery, but I'm afraid we're going to have to give you a body cavity search," Rudy said quite seriously. "I'm sorry, but we've got our orders."

"Orders?" the gray cat spat in surprise. "On whose orders?"

"Miss Zig Zag's orders," Rudy replied, cracking up.

'Funny," David grumbled as he picked up his belongings. He sprinted for an open elevator and managed to get his briefcase in the door before it closed. He stepped in and nodded apologetically as he pushed the button for the fifth floor. Turning his body sideways, he slipped through the doors before they were completely open and raced for the entrance to the courtroom. He skidded to a stop outside the door and adjusted his clothes before purposefully opening the doors. He'd taken barely two steps in to the room when the judge spoke up.

"Mister Leery. How kind of you to grace this court with your presence," the judge sarcastically remarked, sending a small ripple of chuckles around the room. "I warned you what would happen if you were late one more time."

"I'm sorry, your honor," David replied as he made his way past the swinging gate to stand next to the defense table. "I was waiting for a critical piece of information regarding my clients case."

"Again?" the zebra at the prosecutor's table quipped.

"That'll be enough, counselor," the judge said, warning the zebra. The judge looked at the tabby and nodded. "All right, Mr. Leery. Let's here it."

"Actually, your honor, I'd like to request a sidebar," David replied, nodding towards the court reporter.

The judge sighed and nodded. "Why should today be any different. Councilors…"

As the three gathered for a small conference within earshot of the court reporter, David smiled. "Your honor, I'd like to request a continuance to pursue information that can prove beyond a doubt that my client is not responsible for the death of Sheila Vixen."

"Again?" the zebra whined. "Oops. Sorry your honor," he said meekly.

"And just what kind of evidence do you have this time?" the judge asked.

"Just that the FBI has located Sheila Vixen," the tabby replied.

"The found her body?" the judge asked.

"Not exactly," the tabby replied, grinning from ear to ear. David removed a folded page from his pocket, unfolded it and handed it to the judge. "This is a FAX I just received a few minutes ago from the FBI," he explained, talking as much to the zebra as he was the judge. "According to the FBI there was a raid on the estate of an unnamed mafia individual where Sheila Vixen and a number of other females were being held captive in a sort of private brothel. The FBI is currently debriefing her at a safe house somewhere in upstate New York. Since I believe that the existence of a living, breathing Sheila Vixen would be sufficient to prove my client's innocence, and testimony from Miss Vixen would also prove that my client didn't murder Arden Bearridge, I'd like time to get hard confirmation from the FBI of her current status, and to conduct my own interview with Miss Vixen concerning her knowledge in regards to this case."

"Wait a minute," the zebra said stunned at the news. "You're telling me that she's alive?" He turned to give his boss a rather lost look, which in turn made the DA very nervous.

The judge nodded and folded up the paper. "You make a very compelling argument. I assume that the state has no objections to a continuance?"

"Of course not," the young attorney sputtered. "If she really is alive, then we obviously can't proceed."

"Agreed," the judge replied with a nod dismissing the two lawyers. He climbed back up onto the bench and took his seat as the two lawyers returned to their table. "This court grants the defense a continuance. We will resume this next Monday at nine o'clock AM." He turned to the jury and directed his next comments to them. "I'd like to remind the journey that you are still under orders not to discuss the trial with anyone, and are to avoid listening, reading or watching any news programs until released by the court." Picking up the gavel, the judge slammed it down on a piece of wood. "This court is now in recess."

Zig Zag took a hold of David's arm as they stood up. "What was that all about?" she asked.

"Wait," David replied with a smirk. "Watch the expression on Khansman's face."

Zig Zag looked over to where the prosecutor was talking to the District Attorney. Slowly the panther's expression changed from worry to anger and even possibly rage. "Whoa," the tiger stripped skunk hoarsely whispered. "He looks pissed."

"He ought to be," David replied, taking her by the arm and dragging her along with him towards the exit to the courtroom. "Call your driver and have him meet us outside the courthouse now. I want to clear out before the news hounds get a whiff of this."

"What's going on?" Zig Zag demanded as she rummaged in her purse for her phone.

"They found her," David said as he pushed the button for the elevator. He smiled at Zig Zag's confused look and nodded. "The FBI has located Sheila, alive and well."

"Oh my god!" Zig Zag squealed as she covered her mouth. "When? Where? Is she all right? Where is she?"

"Calm down," David said, taking the cell phone from her hand. "She's in protective custody at the moment, and that's really all I know so far." He smiled and nodded. "This is the break we've been hoping for. There's no way this farce can continue." Raising the phone, David pressed a button, causing it to bleep. "Mike. David here. I need you to bring the limo around front ASAP."

The cell phone beeped back. "I'll be there in 30 seconds, Mr. Leery."

Suddenly feeling light-headed, Zig Zag reached out to lean against the wall. "My god! I can't believe it!"

"I know," the lawyer replied with a smile as he slipped the phone into Zig Zag's purse. "Come on, Zig," he said, taking her arm as the elevator opened. "Let's blow this Popsicle stand."

"Howdy folks! Logan Furbody here for Columbus's Independent News Network, with breaking news you'll hear nowhere else," the ferret announced with a wide grin. Behind him, a picture of Zig Zag appeared as she exited the courthouse. "Our lady of the lime light, Zig Zag, managed to pull a magic rabbit out of her hat today when her lawyer asked for a continuance from the judge and it was granted! Now, I can here you asking yourselves 'Why on earth would he do that?' Well, I'm about to tell you. It seems that the Uber Fuhrer's case against Zig Zag just took a terminal blow today when the FBI revealed that they had discovered Sheila Vixen alive! That's right, folks, the same Sheila Vixen that Zig Zag is on trial for having murdered! Miss Vixen was being held captive at the upstate New York estate of Jimmy 'The Jackhammer' Zetti, a well known member of the Gambini crime syndicate, along with a number of other young women who were being used as a private harem." The picture behind the ferret faded away as the camera panned in to focus on his face. "One can only ponder the poignant providence that provided the persecuted person of Zig Zag with the penultimate trump card on the day that closing arguments were supposed to be held."

Logan set the papers down on the desk and smiled at the camera. "On a more personal note, this reporter would like to personally express his hopes that Sheila Vixen recovers quickly from her ordeal and can return home to clear up this travesty of justice that the District Attorney, Daniel Khansman, has tried to foist on us for the last six months."

"James!" Doug shouted as he burst through the office door.

James was so startled by the bear's entrance that he almost knocked over the bottle of water next to the paperwork he was reviewing. "Geez, Doug! Don't startle me like that," the coyote declared, clutching his hand to his chest. "You about gave me a heart attack."

"Turn on the TV, man!" Doug ordered as he opened the cabinet doors that hid the television across from James's desk.

"Doug, I've told you, I'm not interested in listening to the news about Zig's trial," he stated as he looked back down at the papers.

"You're going to want to see this," the bear declared with a broad smile as he found the button to turn on the television. He backed up and leaned his rump against James' desk as a press conference on the steps of the courthouse sprang into view.

"…until we get verification, I'm afraid there's not much we can say about the news," Daniel Khansman stated before pointing to another reporter. "Janet?"

"Mister Khansman, should it turn out that the reports from New York are accurate, how will you proceed with the trial?" the young mouse reporter asked.

Khansman frowned and nodded. "If the reports are true and Sheila Vixen is indeed alive, then we obviously will have to drop that charge against Miss Zumbrowski. As for the charges of murder relating to the John Doe who called himself Arden Nanuk, we won't be able to make any decisions on that until such time as we are able to interview Miss Vixen ourselves." The panther turned and pointed to a tiger wearing an expensive suit.

The tiger pushed his way slightly closer while holding up a microphone. "Mr. Khansman, would you tell us how you felt when you heard the news Miss Vixen was still alive?"

Daniel Khansman glared at the reporter for a second before giving him a broad smile. "Why, I was relieved, of course. The news that Miss Vixen is still alive may have been a bit of a shock, but I was relieved nonetheless. As the District Attorney, it's my job to weigh the evidence in a crime and determine if we have a reasonable chance at a conviction. In Miss Zumbrowski's case, the evidence was overwhelming that more had happened than she was telling. The disappearance of Miss Vixen and Mr. Nanuk without a trace, while leaving all their personal possessions including identification, cash and credit cards at the ZZ Studios was something that we couldn't ignore. To say I'm quite relieved that Miss Vixen is alive is an understatement." Khansman began to point to another reporter, but the tiger started speaking before a new reporter could be picked.

"What about reports that you had become enraged at the news?" the tiger asked, wedging himself a bit closer. "Witnesses in the courtroom say that you physically lifted the prosecutor off the ground by his lapel when you heard the news."

The grin on the panther's face never changed. "I believe they're overstating things. I was very intense, yes. I wanted to make sure that this wasn't some kind of sick joke. We all know that Mr. Leery has in the past tried to introduce such evidence in the past only to have his witness mysteriously disappear or even claim never to have had any knowledge of the case. I'm sure you can understand my desire to verify exactly what was said. Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm afraid I have to get back to work."

Numerous reporters started shouting questions to the panther as he turned and walked away from the podium. The camera panned back to show a red headed female raccoon with a microphone. "So there you have it. Daniel Khansman's comments concerning reports that the FBI has located Sheila Vixen who is apparently alive and in protective custody."

The image shrunk down so that it occupied one half of the TV screen while a male fox wearing a conservative suit and sitting behind a news desk could be seen. "That's great news, Sandy. Is there any indication when the FBI will be releasing any official statements concerning this case yet?"

"No, Jack, I'm afraid not," the raccoon replied, her hand covering one ear as she tried to listen to the studio feed. "So far, the FBI is refusing to comment on the situation, which in and of itself is almost a confirmation that they do indeed have Miss Vixen; they're just not wiling to talk about it yet."

"Great job, Sandy," the fox said as the raccoon's image slid off the screen to reveal a female mink with long, burgundy hair. "Wow. Talk about good news for Miss Zumbrowski, don't you think, June?" the fox said to the mink.

"Indeed so, Jack, and it's quite interesting timing if I might say so myself," the mink said with a smile as Jack slid off the screed to be replaced by a box in the corner showing a stock photo of Sheila. "It's been almost one year to the day since Sheila Vixen and her boyfriend Arden Nanuk disappeared after some rather disturbing events which centered around Zig Zag and the ZZ Studios. The death of Bjorn Ottersman a scant three days earlier…."

James leaned back in the chair and tuned out the television reporter as he gave a mental sigh of relief. He'd never quite believed Zig Zag's story about what had happened to the pair, but at the same time he could never imagine her doing something bad to them, either. She just wasn't that kind of person.

Shaking off that train of thought, James turned down the volume on the TV as he picked up the handset and began to dial Zig Zag's cell phone number.

Zig Zag reclined across the entire length of the rear seat in the limousine as she sipped on a wine cooler. "I can scarcely believe it, David. I'm almost afraid that I'm going to get home and have a message on the answering machine from the FBI saying that it was just a case of mistaken identity."

"Don't worry, Zig," David said, reassuring her as he, too, sipped a wine cooler. "That's why I was late. It took me almost an hour to find someone who'd even admit they had her in custody, and another hour and a half to convince them to fax something so that we could get a delay."

"Really?" Zig asked as she sat up, swinging her legs onto the floor. "How'd you find out about it?"

David got a rather nervous look as he sipped his wine cooler. "Arden's friend Logan Furbody called with the information. Apparently he's chummy with someone on the inside."

Zig Zag frowned as she peered at the lawyer. "Why does that worry me?"

The tabby studied his drink for a moment before looking up at the skunk. "Because I agreed to ask you to do an interview with him."

The skunk winced and gave an audible groan. "Why did you do something like that?"

"Zig, you may not have noticed, but so far, he's been your staunchest supporter," the lawyer declared as he held up a hand to prevent her from commenting. "Of course he has to rake you across the coals just like everyone else, otherwise it would be obvious. But if you look at his reports you'd know that he's never cut the DA a single inch of slack. He also happens to be the only reporter who's still calling you Zig Zag and not Miss Zumbrowski."

Zig Zag shook her head. "I'm disappointed in you, David. You know how I feel about the press. Worse yet, by cooperating with this guy, you've breached our client attorney confidence."

"No I haven't, Zig," the cat countered. "I've never let anything you and I discussed out to anyone, even my staff members. What I did was utilize a resource for gathering information pertinent to a case that could possibly exonerate you of the crime you have been accused of." Having replaced the cap on the bottle, David dropped it into the small trash bin. "He has resources I can't even begin to touch. At the same time, I have resources that he can't match either. There's nothing in the code of ethics that says I can't compare notes with him about information that we've gathered to determine if something is worth following up. Please, Zig Zag. Understand that what I did was in your best interest."

"Maybe," the skunk reluctantly agreed, "But why did you go to him? Did you really think you needed his help?"

David shook his head. "I didn't go to him. He came to me," the cat replied as he leaned back against the bench seat and got comfortable. "The day that you were charged with murder, he came to my office and told me that he'd met with Arden the night before he and Sheila vanished. He gave me all the information that Arden had given him, and offered to help in any way he could. The only thing he's ever asked for was that if you were exonerated, that I'd ask you to do an interview with him. No promises that you would; just that I'd ask. So how about it, Zig? Are you willing to cut the guy a little slack and consider giving him an interview?"

Zig Zag nibbled on her lip for a couple of minutes as she thought about what she'd just learned. Eventually she gave a small sigh and nodded. "All right. I'll think about it." Turning to look out the window at the passing cityscape, Zig Zag watched her ghostly reflection in the window as it looked back at her. Ignoring her cell phone as it started to ring, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer to whatever gods were out there, thanking them for watching over Sheila and making sure she made it back while at the same time wondering what had happened to Arden.

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