| 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.
"God damn it!" Khansman shouted at the small group of lawyers gathered in his office. "How the fuck could something like this happen? Why the hell didn't someone find out about this before they got a hold of it?" The big cat slammed his hand down on the desk as he sat down. "Almost a year's worth of work, down the drain in an instant. Do you have any idea what kind of a fool they're making me out to be in the media?"
Khansman's gold-rimmed pupils swept the small cluster of nervous attorneys arrayed before him. "All right," he growled dangerously. "Let's forget the current case. It's a lost cause. Right now we need to work on damage control. James," the panther said, turning to the cheetah that leaned next to the door, "I want you to dig into the finances of Sheppard Computer systems and see what the real reason for James Sheppard's stepping down as CEO is. I don't believe he just got tired of running the company." Turning his attention to the ewe sitting near his desk, he nodded. "Kathy, I want you to initiate another audit on ZZ Studios and keep an eye their finances after we drop the charges. I want to know if there are any unusual monetary transactions."
"But, sir! We've already done th---" she said then stopped and gulped at the look the district attorney gave her. "Yes sir. I'll get right on it."
The panther steepled his fingers and let out a long sigh of exasperation. "Needless to say, this entire fiasco has turned into one giant cluster fuck, and if any of you expect to still be working here at the end of the month, you'd better figure out a way to wag the dog."
Doug Granitz had a problem. Unfortunately, it was his problem by proxy, which made the solution all the more difficult. He glanced down at his watch and noted that it was almost six p.m., which was well past the time everyone in the offices should have gone home except for the evening support group downstairs. With a shake of his head, he made a detour from his chosen path to the elevators and instead walked over to James' office. He leaned against the doorframe and sighed as he saw James working at his desk. "What are you doing?"
The coyote looked up for a moment at the bear in the doorway and gave a quick smile. "Just working on some proposals," he replied as he returned to the open folder in front of him.
"Which ones?" the bear asked as he took a seat in front of the ornate desk.
"The hardened data center proposal for the county," James replied as he flipped to the next page. "Carol found a couple of discrepancies in their request for proposal and I wanted to review her findings."
Doug's brow furrowed as he set his briefcase down next to his chair. "Has she notified the county and requested clarification?"
"Yah. She notified them earlier this afternoon. They're supposed to get back to us next week with the corrections," the coyote replied as he made a note on a legal pad.
The bear nodded. "When is that project due?"
"The project?" James asked popping his head back up briefly. "Not until the end of next month."
"So there's no real reason to be pushing on it quite yet?" Doug asked as a piece of the puzzle dropped into place.
"Well, I wouldn't say that," James replied as he leaned back in his leather chair. "This is a pretty major contract. We can't allow any small details to slip through the cracks."
"I suppose so," Doug replied, giving his friend a small nod. "But from the sounds of it, there really isn't anything we can do until the county comes back with the clarified specs, right?"
"Well, I guess not," The coyote reluctantly admitted.
"That's what I thought," Doug replied as he stood from his chair. Leaning over the desk, he gathered the folders together along with the legal pad while batting away James' attempts to stop him. "Go home, James. You should be out celebrating with Zig Zag, not hanging around wasting time on project work that's just going to change in a week."
"Doug, please!" James pleaded as he wrestled momentarily for control of the folders. "I don't really feel like going home."
"Stop it, James!" Doug ordered as he yanked on the folders, pulling them away from his friend and holding them in his lap as he sat back down. "Damn it, what's wrong with you? Zig Zag just got handed a get-out-of-jail card, and all you can do is sit here and try to lose yourself in make-work!"
"Zig said she didn't feel like celebrating," the coyote confessed with a sigh as he leaned back in his chair. "I think she's afraid that tomorrow she'll turn on the news and find out it was a case of mistaken identity."
Doug shook his head and let out a long, slow, sigh. "That's not going to happen. Right now you need to be there, telling her exactly that. Hell, even if it wasn't true, you should still be with her, reassuring her."
"I know, Doug! God damn it! Don't you think I know that?" the coyote shouted as he slammed his fist down on the desk. "How do you think I feel, constantly being pushed away every time I try and help her?"
"She's just trying to protect you. You know that," the bear said, trying to calm his friend. "We both know that she's not pushing you away because she doesn't love you. She's just worried about Khansman locking his sights on you, too."
"I know," James sighed as he slumped back in his chair, "but what can I do about it?"
"First of all, you can go buy a dozen No! Two-dozen long stemmed roses. Then show up on her doorstep, unannounced and give them to her while declaring your unswerving love for her."
James closed his eyes and shook his head. "Oh, come on, Doug. You really think that'll work on someone like her?"
"Yes, I do," the bear declared. "I have it on the best authority that that is exactly what you need to do."
"Best autho---Kelly, right?" James asked with a chuckle. "She's the one who told you to say that?"
Doug laughed. "Has she steered you wrong yet?"
James chuckled as he shook his head. "No, I guess not," the he reluctantly admitted.
"All right then," the bear declared, ending the discussion as he grabbed his briefcase and then stood up. "How about you take tomorrow and Friday off. Make it a four-day weekend. Spend a little quality time with Zig Zag and relax, OK?"
"I'll think about it," James replied noncommittally.
"OK. It's up to you," the bear replied, holding up the hand clutching the folders, "but you're not getting these back until Monday. Boss' orders."
James' ears perked up. "Oh? You're going to pull rank on me?"
"Not if I don't have to," the bear replied solemnly as he shook his head. "However, if it comes down to annoying you and having Kelly mad at me, I'd rather suffer through the prior than the latter." The bear waved as he stepped through the doorway. "'Night!"
"'Night," James replied as he looked down at his newly cleared desk and chuckled. "Guess I don't have much of a choice," he commented lightly to himself as he reached out to turn off the desk lamp.
Zig Zag sat on the couch with her legs curled up underneath her as she read an article in the fashion magazine she held in her hands. She reached out to pick up her coffee cup just as the doorbell went off. Her head snapped towards the door as she let out a growl of annoyance. "That had better not be more of those damned reporters!" she spat as she threw the magazine down on the couch.
Reaching the door, she looked through the peephole while holding one hand over the panic button that had been mounted next to the doorframe. Her frown grew, as all she could see was a large bundle of roses blocking her view of anything else. "Son of a bitch," she muttered as she checked the metal rod that was designed to only allow the door to open inwards a few inches to ensure it was locked in properly. Undoing the bolts on the door, she pulled it back until the metal rod prevented any further movement. "What do you want?"
"Flower delivery for Miss Zig Zag," a whiny, nasal voice came back. "Compliments of Mr. Sheppard."
"Oh yah?" she challenged back. "Show me the card." A gray furred hand pressed a small envelope through the doorway to the skunk. Zig Zag opened the envelope and saw a note in James' handwriting.
Congratulations on your win today! - James
Zig Zag chuckled as she slipped the card back in the envelope. "All right, hang on a second," she said before closing the door again. Removing the stopper bar from the door, she leaned it against the wall next to the doorframe and re-opened the door.
"Surprise," James said as he stuck his head around the flowers.
"James!" the skunk declared at the unexpected sight. "What are you doing here?"
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to find someone to deliver flowers at this time of night?" he quipped. He held up a box of chocolates and in the same high, nasal voice said, "Candygram for Zig Zag," as he shook it.
Zig Zag laughed and rolled her eyes as she opened the door all the way. "I guess I can't argue with an excuse like that," she decided as she let him in, before closing the door. She spent a few seconds re-securing the deadbolts and replacing the stopper bar.
"Good lord, Zig. Is that thing really necessary?" the coyote asked as he watched her double check the heavy metal rod to make sure it was secure.
"Unfortunately, yes," Zig Zag replied with a frown as she clapped her palms together to dust them off. "Last month some newsies forced their way in here after I opened the door, so Bulldog security put in the stopper bar and added the panic button by the door. The complex has agreed to improve security, but at a price," she explained with a shrug.
James shook his head and looked like he was going to comment, but instead put on a pleasant smile as he handed Zig Zag the flowers. "Here. You might want to put these in some water."
The skunk closed her eyes as she took a deep sniff from the roses. "These smell wonderful. Thank you, James," she said as she turned towards the kitchen. "Let me put these in a vase and I'll be right back out."
"Have you heard anything more about Sheila?" James called after her as he idly wandered towards the kitchen.
"No. Nothing yet," came the strained voice from the kitchen.
James paused at the doorway to the kitchen where he saw Zig Zag leaning heavily against the counter, the roses clinched in one hand. "Hey, you OK?" he asked as he walked up behind her. He put a hand on her shoulder and peered around her. "Hey! Hey! It's going to be OK," he said as he set the candy on the counter and then gathered her into his arms.
"Oh, James," she sobbed into his shoulder as she clutched him tightly.
James held her close, stroking the fur on her back as he quietly shushed her. "It's going to be all right. You're almost home free," he gently repeated. "We're almost home free."
"It's like I'm finally waking up from a horrible nightmare," the sunk sobbed into his shoulder.
"I know. I know," he whispered soothingly. "Now that they've found Sheila, there's nothing that can stop you from going free."
There was a sharp intake of breath from Zig Zag as she pushed away from him. There was a haunted, even terrified look to her eyes. "No, James. You don't understand," she declared shakily. "Arden said that whoever used the amulet could never come back. What if that isn't our Sheila? What if it's just someone they mistook for Sheila? Or worse yet, what if ?" Her question was cut off as James let out a snarl.
"Damn it, Zig! Would you stop it with the magic amulet crap, please?" He rubbed one hand through the hair on his head as he paced away from her before turning back to face the skunk. "Look. Zig. I'm sorry, but I just can't believe all this magic stuff. Yes, Arden may have been able to do some pretty strange stuff, but nothing that could convince me that there was any kind of supernatural power behind it!" He stopped as he saw the expression on Zig Zag and sighed. "I'm sorry, Zig. I shouldn't "
"No," she interrupted, turning to the cabinet and removing a vase, which she then set on the counter. "Don't apologize. You weren't there. You didn't see them vanish into thin air." Removing the flowers from the paper, she dropped them into the vase and studiously began rearranging them.
"Zig," James said as he took his hands in hers and pulled her around so she faced him. "Let's not argue about this. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have blown up like that." He reached up to cup her muzzle in one hand, lifting it so she had to look at him. "If you say they vanished into thin air, then they vanished into thin air. It doesn't matter to me. That's all in the past.
"James " she started to say, but he again interrupted her.
The coyote shook his head. "No. I love you Zig Zag, and I don't want to let this pull us apart. We're finally getting to the point where all the damage he caused is starting to resolve itself. Sheila, whatever Sheila it may be, has just given you a get-out-of-jail-free card, and that's all we need to worry about for the moment. All right?" He smiled as she nodded and then kissed her. "That's my girl. So, how about we go out and celebrate a little?"
"I don't think so," the skunk replied, pulling away from him. "It's going to be a media circus out there right now."
James laughed and gave her a big smile. "So what? Are you afraid of being seen with me in public?"
Zig frowned as her ears dropped flat against her head. "No!" She relaxed a little, allowing her ears to rise, but the frown remained. "You know how I feel, James. I don't want you getting dragged into the middle of all this. God only knows what they'd do to you. I don't want you to get hurt, is all."
The coyote sighed and shook his head. "Nothing they could do could possibly hurt me as much as your constantly pushing me away does," he replied dourly. Frustrated, he turned and walked towards the doorway.
For a moment, Zig Zag started to say something as she reached out towards the retreating figure, but no sound came. Her ears wilted as she heard him undo all the locks, open the door then pull it shut behind himself. She hugged herself as she turned from the doorway and quietly began to cry.
James snarled in annoyance at the red light that seemed to go on forever. It was the third red light in a row that he'd hit and he was pissed. It wasn't the lights, alone which had ruined his mood as the conversation with Zig Zag had done that most efficiently. He snarled again as he thought about Arden and his 'magic amulet'. Like a fish gone bad, the smell of that damned bear's crap kept coming back to haunt him. James had known that Arden was trouble as soon as saw the way Zig Zag had reacted to meeting him. Her irrational acceptance of the violence that surrounded the walking catastrophe absolutely boggled him. No sooner had someone tried to kill him while he was with Sheila, than Zig Zag invited the two of them in to her home. Had she seriously thought that whoever had tried to kill him twice wouldn't try again a third time?
The engine roared as James gunned it, the light having finally turned green. He couldn't believe how everyone around him could have been so blind to the dangers. Worse yet, the moron had given Zig Zag a pistol that he'd killed someone with. The level of stupidity involved was mind numbing. How the hell could someone like that have called himself a professional, yet do something so damned stupid?
Flashing blue and red lights in James' rear window made him wince as he glanced down at his speedometer; it read 65 in large, green digital numbers. "Great! Just great," the coyote growled. He backed off the gas and turned on the blinker as he edged off onto the shoulder of the road. Once the car was completely stopped, he slammed the gearshift into park and turned off the engine. He'd just finished rolling down the window as he saw the cop approaching with a flashlight in his hand. "Evening, officer," he said as the cop stopped just behind his door.
"Evening, sir," the cop replied, shining the flashlight into James' face briefly before shining it around the interior of the car. "May I see your driver's license, registration and insurance please?"
"Sure thing, officer," James replied as he dug out his wallet. He removed his license and insurance and handed them to the cop followed quickly by the registration, which had been in his glove compartment. "So how bad is it?" the coyote asked realizing for the first time that the cop was a bear. No. Not a regular bear, but a polar bear. It was just his luck.
The cop compared the picture on the ID to James' face before pointing the flashlight to the ground. "You realize you were doing sixty seven in a fifty mile an hour zone?"
"Not until I saw your lights," James quipped with an apologetic smile.
The cop nodded. "All right, sir. You just stay put in your car while I run these and I'll be right back," the cop directed before turning to walk away.
James watched as the cop went back to his car and climbed back in. The interior light let him watch the cop as he typed in James' information to check and see if he was some sort of mass murderer, or worse yet, had an outstanding parking ticket. Closing his eyes, he let his head rock back so that it lay on the headrest as he tried to relax and let some of the tension go. He was still sitting like that when the cop returned.
"Sir?" the cop asked. "Have you been drinking at all tonight, sir?"
"Huh?" James grunted as he sat up. "No. In fact, I haven't even had dinner yet."
"Uh huh," the cop grunted as he opened the door. "Would you step out of the vehicle, please?"
James mentally cursed as he undid his seatbelt and climbed out of the car and made his way around to the trunk where the cop stood waiting for him. For the next ten minutes, the cop put him through the standard sobriety test to verify that he wasn't in fact drunk or otherwise incapacitated.
"All right, sir," the cop said as he wrote something down on his ticket book. "That's good enough. Mind telling me what the rush is tonight?"
"No rush, really," James explained, running his fingers through his hair. "I was just having a bad night. Had a fight with the girlfriend and was annoyed at the lights. Seems I've hit every red light south of the county line tonight. You add this ticket and it'll make for a perfect evening."
The cop gave him a knowing nod as he handed over the ticket book. "I understand. Some days it feels like you shouldn't have gotten out of bed. OK. I'm ticketing you for doing sixty-seven in a fifty mile per hour zone. If you'll just sign at the bottom, we can finish this up and you can go have some supper."
Signing the book with a flourish, James handed it back to the cop. "Thanks. That's appreciated."
"All right, sir," the bear said, ripping off a copy of the ticket and handing it to James along with his ID, insurance and registration. "The court date is set for the twelfth at ten fifteen a.m. You can swing by the courthouse and enter a plea any time before then and/or simply pay the fine."
"Understood," James replied with a nod.
"All right then, sir," the cop said, flipping his book closed. "Have a nice night and drive safely."
"Thank you, officer, I will," James gloomily said as he looked at the ticket before putting it away. Checking to make sure no traffic was coming, he walked back to the driver's side door and climbed in. He started the car and checked to make sure there was no traffic before pulling back out onto the road. As he watched the flashing lights of the patrol car vanish into the night, he shook his head and growled, "Damned polar bears."
Zig Zag groaned as she looked over at the clock. 2:23AM it announced in bright, green luminescent numbers. She let out another groan that evolved into a whimper as she grabbed the end of the pillow and rolled back over, covering her head with it to block out any light or noise. Her mind was going round and round in circles as she replayed what had happened earlier in the night, while trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
Yes, she knew that James didn't believe her when she talked about the amulet, but what was she supposed to do? Was she supposed to pretend that it never happened? Act like she hadn't seen them vanish in a pillar of flame? So far, she'd tried to be as truthful as possible in this relationship, and she just couldn't convince herself that now was the time to start lying.
She let out another low growl as she let go of the pillow and rolled over on to her back with her arms and legs spread out. Why hadn't she stopped James from walking out? Why hadn't she said something to him? What was wrong with her that she couldn't just tell him to please stop? Was it her pride? She thought about that for a minute and dismissed it. It wasn't really a matter of pride, though her pride had caused more trouble in her relationship with James than she wanted to think about.
Her request to him not to attend the trial wasn't so much to protect him as it was her not wanting to have to rely on him for support. In a way, that was one of her Achilles' heels. The drive to prove to herself and everyone else that she could do anything she set her mind to without outside help could be intimidating to those who didn't understand it. James understood it, or so she thought, but did he really realize what was happening? Maybe he didn't understand the depth of the driving force that had made her a success.
Was it, in fact, her pride that was destroying their relationship? Was she pushing James away because she had to prove to herself that she didn't need him? He'd become an integral part of her life, something that she had enjoyed and looked forward to. When Arden showed up, the first signs of stress between them started to appear. James kept trying to warn her about him and the fact that he was nothing but trouble, but she wouldn't listen. Her pride told her that she could handle it. That she could take in this complete stranger, make him a part of her menagerie of adopted furs that'd become her extended family, help him, protect him and ultimately prove James wrong.
She rolled back over on her side and curled up into a ball. Maybe James was right. Maybe Arden really was the cause of all her problems. Then again, maybe Arden just pushed things to a head faster. Maybe she and James were destined to have a falling out? Maybe she was never meant to have a long-term relationship like that.
No! Shaking her head, she drove the idea out of her mind. That was a defeatist talking, and she didn't take defeat. Of course, that was her pride talking there, but she didn't care. She knew what she wanted and she wanted James. She wanted him back in her life full time. There wouldn't be any more hiding from each other. No more walking away.
But how would she do it? So far, she hadn't had very good luck doing things her normal way. She'd have to find a new way to break through that wall that had materialized between her and James before it cut them completely off. She had to find a way to break out of her normal way of building walls between her and other people. She needed to find a way to open up, but how?
She reached out, grabbed the pillow from the other half of the bed and hugged it to herself, desperately wishing that it were James as she tried to think of a way to get him back.
Friday. Normally, Khansman couldn't care less about Friday, however today was different. The revelation two days ago about Sheila Vixen being alive had destroyed his week and he needed something to help salvage the situation. Something that he could drop on the media that would blow them away and let him end the week on a high note. He glanced at the clock and sighed. It was almost four and the odds of his minions actually achieving something positive was growing increasingly slim. A knock at the door caught his attention. He looked at the reflection of the door in the window and sighed. "Yes, James. What is it?"
"Sir," the young attorney said as he cautiously stepped into the room. "I've got a package that I think needs your immediate attention."
"Very well, James," Khansman reluctantly agreed as he turned to see what the cheetah was carrying. He cocked an eyebrow at the bound manuscript and videotape in the young lawyer's hand and smiled.