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 3

Let's go for a ride in the car.

Zig Zag laughed. "That's this week's blooper reel," she said as she leaned on the podium by the projection screen and smiled at a young donkey. "With special thanks to Ricky. Yes, our newest family member, Ricky, who not only managed to miss hitting Janet's breasts, but actually managed to miss her completely on his first shoot." She chuckled at the fur's obvious embarrassment and nodded. "Thus I shall dub thee, Wide Right Ricky. Congrats, kiddo. That's your new nickname." She laughed again as he buried his face in his hands while the furs around him patted him on the back, congratulating him.

"All right, folks! Settle down," she shouted to quiet down the rowdy bunch. "Last on the agenda is our climax of the week. This time the honors will go to Wide Right Ricky for his work yesterday with Jane." Zig nodded to the projectionist in the back. "Roll it."

Rather than watch the video, Zig picked up an insulated glass and took a sip of the contents before setting it down. She flipped the page on the notes in front of her to get ready for the next part of the meeting. Zig turned in time to catch the tail end of the video clip and gave an obligatory clap as the lights came up. "All right. Good job there, Wide Right. If you still have that kind of expression on your face a year from now, you can bet there will be some good bonus checks coming your way."

She took another sip of her drink then picked up the last sheet on the podium. "OK. Last on the agenda is our next project. With the completion of Lube Me Tender scheduled for next week, we're going to need to get ready for our next gig." She nodded to the projectionist who tossed up a still image of a young fennec fox wearing round spectacles and holding a wand. "Ladies and Gentlefurs, I give you Hairy Slotter and the Sorcerer's Bone!" She waited for the laugher to die down. "This is another masterpiece by Phillip James who's been kind enough to agree to do some rewrites based on a new twist we're adding to our videos."

"Speaking of new twists---" She set the paper down and motioned for a young badger wearing a black t-shirt with a light green mesh covering it that made the shirt resemble something you'd see on a computer screen. "I'd like everyone to welcome Mapper. He's part of a graphics group that we've contracted to add the special effects to the movie. If everything works out, we can expect him and his band of computer geeks to become regulars around here as we branch out into broader projects that will call for their talents." Zig leaned on the podium and smiled. "Let's remember that these guys aren't talent here, so try your best not to make them pass out from excessive nosebleeds, OK?" She gave a small laugh as she watched Mapper check his nose to see if there was any blood.

She gathered up her papers and nodded to the crowd. "All right, then. That's it for tonight. Everyone have a good weekend and I'll see you all back here on Monday!" Draining the last of her drink, she stepped down from the platform and threaded her way through the crowd towards her office. She listened with half an ear to the conversations around her as a group of the cast decided to go out to Melvin's Madhouse for drinks. She dropped off her paperwork and picked up her purse with the thought of joining the rest of the crew when it suddenly hit her that nobody had bothered to ask if she might want to join them.

Zig watched as the last of the crew filed out the front door. She saw Marvin use his keys to lock the door before he turned and headed towards his car. A sudden sense of isolation hit Zig Zag as she realized that somehow over the last six months, she'd become isolated from her employees. They weren't the close-knit family that she'd grown used to being around. In fact, she couldn't really remember the last time she had just sat in the break room and shot the bull with everyone. Somehow she'd distanced herself from everyone else the same way that she'd distanced herself from James.

Angry with herself for having let it happen, she walked into her office and sat down at her desk. She reached out towards the phone and hit the hands free button, causing it to grab an outside line, pushed the speed dial for James' office and waited.

"Hi!" the voice on the other end cheerfully said. "You've reached the voice mail of James Sheppard. I'm afraid I'll be out of the office this Thursday and Friday. If this is an emergency…"

The voice was cut off as she hit the flash button to get another free line. As soon as she heard the dial tone, she hit the speed dial button for his cell phone. She listened as it rang numerous times before going to the automated voice mail. Frowning, she hit the flash button again and dialed his home number. Again she waited as the phone rang numerous times, only to be picked up by his home answering machine. She frowned as she waited for the intro message to play out. "Hey! I thought I'd just touch base with you and see what you were up to tonight. I thought maybe we might go out for dinner or some dancing. I'm just leaving the office so give me a call on the cell and let me know." She hesitated, wanting to say more, but changed her mind and hit the speaker button to hang up the phone.

"I wonder if he decided to go out of town?" she asked herself aloud as she stood up to leave. She made one final check through the building to make sure there wasn't any one left inside before she activated the alarm and scooted out the front door, locking it behind her as she went.

All during the drive home she listened to various tidbits about the trial. Despite her attempts to avoid it, she found that each time she tuned the radio to a new frequency, it seemed someone was talking about her, Sheila, Arden, the trial or the DA. Disgusted she turned it off and drove home in relative silence. A smile graced her face as she hit the garage door opener and watched the light spill out from the front of her house. She swung the nose of her Dodge Viper into the driveway and screeched to a practiced halt inside the garage as the door started to slide shut.

Zig Zag paused at the small table next to the door as she entered the house. She unceremoniously tossed her purse and keys onto the table before she dropped the cell phone into its charger. A glance at the mirror made her wince internally as she saw her reflection. Her hair was a mess from all the congratulatory hugs and pats, her clothes were rumpled and worse yet, she was looking her age. She sighed as she noticed that her ears were wilting, something she normally would never allow, but somehow they'd managed to droop over without her realizing it. With a tug on her blouse to straighten out the wrinkles, she forced her ears to perk up as she smiled at the mirror. A second later she let herself deflate. "Who am I kidding?" she muttered as she turned away.

The fluorescent lights flickered on as she entered the kitchen and walked over to the stainless steel refrigerator doors. She opened the doors and stared into the bowels of the icebox, looking for something to eat. Realizing that she wasn't really hungry or in the mood to make anything, she closed the doors and walked over to the answering machine. The display showed twenty-three messages on it. As she was about to play them, the phone rang again. "Hello?" she said into the handset.

"Miss Zumbrowski?" the tinny voice asked from the earpiece. "This is Carl Brown at Channel…"

The voice never had a chance to finish as she slammed the phone down. She waited for the count of ten and picked the handset up again, and listened for the dial tone. Satisfied that nobody was on the other end, she unplugged the cord from the handset and dropped it on the cabinet. Her finger hovered over the play button on the answering machine for a moment, and then withdrew. As she turned to walk away, her eyes caught on the vase holding the roses that James had given her. It still sat on the counter where she'd left it the night before. She walked over and reached out to pick one up, but snatched her hand back as she gave a little yip. Zig Zag looked down and saw a small bead of blood appear on the tip of her finger where the thorn had stuck it. She sucked on her finger as she walked away, wondering to herself if there was some perverse sort of symbolism in what had just happened.

Zig Zag paused in the middle of the living room and looked around for something to distract her. The corner of her mouth rose slightly as she spied the Jacuzzi. She stopped at the entryway long enough to kick her sandals off and to disrobe. Free of all garments, she grabbed a large, plush towel from the cart and tossed it over by the edge of the hot tub. She then walked over to the wet bar and turned over a large tumbler which she filled with ice and then half way with scotch. Zig Zag turned and started to walk away, but then stopped, turned back to pick up the bottle before finally walking over to the Jacuzzi. Carefully she set the bottle and glass down on the cement rim of the circular pool before walked over to the timer. A quick twist of the timer to the maximum setting started the pump. As she watched, the surface of the pool became turbulent from the high-powered jets that blew water and air into the pool.

Satisfied she had everything she needed, Zig Zag climbed into the tub and took up a position by her drink. She picked up the drink and swirled it, swishing the ice and scotch in a circle for a moment before taking a long drink from the glass, consuming about half of the alcohol. Her hand then sought out the remote control for the stereo. She spent a few moments dialing in some classical chamber music before tossing the control aside.

Zig Zag took another drink from the glass, finishing off the scotch and then set it down by the bottle as she closed her eyes and tried to relax. She reveled in the feeling of the water jets against her back and the warmth of the alcohol in her stomach as the tension started to fade away. Almost comfortable, she frowned as she realized that she'd have to use both hands to refill the glass. Reaching for the bottle, she made a note to use a larger glass next time.

James turned off the orbital sander and ran his hand over the flat piece of wood to feel for any rough spot or irregularities. Satisfied with his progress, he set the sander on a nearby bench, removed his goggles and dropped them next to the sander. He brushed the wood dust off his apron as he headed for the main door. As he paused by the door to remove the apron he glanced out the window and noticed that it was starting to get dark. A flick of the switch killed the light to the workshop as he headed out and over to the main house where he entered through the back door to the kitchen. The blinking light on the answering machine caught his attention as he got a glass out of the cupboard. He hit the playback button before opening the door to the refrigerator.

"Message one," the machine announced. "Hey James," Doug's voice cheerfully called out from the machine. "I'm just checking in to make sure everything's OK. Hope you and Zig Zag are having fun. Everything's covered here at the office so you've got a weekend free of worries. Talk to you later, buddy. Bye." There was a beep indicating the end of the message.

"Message two," the machine announced followed by a long period of silence and then a beep. "Message three," the machine announced. ""Hey!" he heard Zig's voice say, causing his ears to perk up as he looked in the machine's direction. "I thought I'd just touch base with you and see what you were up to tonight. I thought maybe we'd go out for dinner or some dancing. I'm just leaving the office so give me a call on the cell and let me know." The machine beeped and clicked. "No more messages," it announced and turned itself off.

James glanced at the clock over the stove and frowned. It was almost seven thirty. If they were going to do something, it would have to be pretty quick. He picked up the phone and dialed Zig's home number. Almost immediately he got a busy signal indicating that the line was in use. He hung up the phone and finished his drink before setting the glass in the sink. Another glance at the clock renewed his sense of urgency as he headed towards the master bedroom for a quick shower.

Logan was just checking his e-mail when the phone rang. "Logan here," he said as he tucked the handset between his shoulder and ear while continuing to work on his computer. "Hey, Jim. What's up?" he said, leaning back in his chair to concentrate on the call. "Video tape, eh? Who's in it and what's so special?" he asked while chewing on one claw as he waited. "Hmmm, not bad. I'll give you five for it. --- Twenty-five? Are you nuts? There's no way I'm going to give you twenty-five! --- Give me a break. Look, the guy wasn't arrested, right? --- Did he mention Zig Zag by name? No? So it's not that big. ---What do you mean hot? Haven't you heard? The DA's all but dropped the charges. The Zig Zag trial is last week's news. This is nothing. --- Go ahead and give it to Channel 5. See if I care." The ferret laughed and shook his head. "All right, I'll tell you what. I'll make it eight and that's my top offer, but that's only because you're a friend. ---No, eight, period. --- Good. Swing by the studio and I'll pay you for it here," He leaned forwards but paused before hanging up. "And Jim. This had better be the only copy, you understand me? You try and pull a double sale on me again and I'll do an expose on your extracurricular activities that will make the Midnight Star look like the Washington Post in comparison, capisca? --- Good. I'll see you here in about half an hour."

Hanging up the phone, Logan leaned back in his chair and sighed as he thought about the video. Although it wasn't quite true that Zig Zag's trial was last weeks news, something involving James Sheppard could have been used to help prop up ratings by the competition. It was a low blow, but there were more than enough people out there willing to use it that he couldn't risk letting someone else have it.

Satisfied that he'd made the right decision, he turned to his safe and started working the combination dial.

James sat on the edge of the bed with a towel around his neck as he dialed Zig Zag's home phone number. He listened as the busy signal came back almost immediately. His finger pushed the flash button then dialed her cell phone number. He listened as the phone rang numerous times before her voicemail answered. James listened through the brief intro then spoke into the phone, "Hey! I tried your home number but it was busy. I'm sorry for not calling earlier, but I was out working in the shop all day. I just got out of the shower and it's now---eight fifteen so if you still want to do a late dinner or dancing, let me know. Bye."

James let out a long sigh as he dropped the handset back into the cradle. He shook his head as he stood up and started to rub the towel through his hair to get the last of the dampness out as he berated himself for not having called her cell phone earlier. Disgusted with the turn of events, he hung up the towel and went back into the master bedroom. Despite a sinking feeling that Zig wasn't going to be calling him back, he went through the motions of getting ready to go out for a night on the town.

Quiet. It was too quiet. It took Zig Zag a moment to realize that the jets on the hot tub had shut down again when the timer ran out. Annoyed at the lack of the comforting jets, she set her glass next to the mostly empty bottle and stood up. The world seemed to spin around her for a moment as she became suddenly dizzy. She reached out and took a hold of the railing next to the steps that lead out of the oversized Jacuzzi for support. Despite the added support she was having a bit of trouble staying upright.

Feeling overly hot from the excessive time in the tub, Zig managed to climb out of the Jacuzzi where she stood dripping on the rough textured cement floor. She glanced at the clock next to the stereo and saw that it was barely eight. It was too early to go to bed so she decided to relax on one of the deck loungers that sat over by the heavily tinted windows. Dropping onto one of the loungers, she reclined back and closed her eyes as she felt the somewhat chilled air of the room start to make its mark on her fur. She knew she should get up and dry off, but first she wanted to rest a while. She'd just lie there and rest for a little bit longer…

Out by the door to the garage, the message light blinked as the vibrator on her cell phone buzzed. Not quite fully settled into the charging cradle, neither of the lights on the base were on to indicate that the phone was plugged in or charging.

James had just finished his second cup of coffee for the morning as he read the newspaper when he set the cup down on its saucer. He glanced over at the clock and sighed. It was almost ten thirty and Zig still hadn't returned his call from this morning. He was mildly concerned about the fact that her home phone number had been busy every time he'd tried to call her and that wasn't like her.

He folded the paper back up and tossed it in the trash as he put the cup and saucer in the sink. His concern about something having happened to Zig Zag had reached a level where he couldn't sit around anymore. He headed for his bedroom to get dressed to go out, determined to make sure everything was OK.

Zig Zag awoke with a start then moaned as she cradled her head with her hands. Her head was pounding and felt like it was going to split in half. She could have sworn that the pounding was getting louder until she realized it wasn't all in her head. The sound of the doorbell ringing confirmed that someone was at the door.

She sat up and grabbed hold of the lounger she sat on with both hands as the room spun around her. Her eyes squinted against the morning sunshine that streamed in through the tinted window at her back, she looked around to try and orient herself, regretting the added motion.

The doorbell ran again, demanding her attention. "All right!" she shouted, wincing as the sound added to her pain. "Hold on! I'm coming, damn it!" she shouted as she stumbled her way towards the exit of the atrium. She cursed as her bare right foot kicked the bottle of scotch that sat near the Jacuzzi, sending it into the water where it floated towards the far side and stopped with a quiet bump.

Now limping, Zig Zag stumbled against the door and leaned heavily against it as she peeked out through the spy hole to see who was there. She could see a young, red haired squirrel reaching out to knock on the door again. Zig pulled her head back in time not to feel the knock, though the sound was loud enough to make her growl. She unlocked the bolts and pulled the door open several inches until the security bar stopped it and looked out. "Hazel?"

"Good morning, Zig Zag," the young squirrel declared with obscene cheerfulness.

"Please," the skunk pleaded, "Not so loud. What do you want?"

Hazel's smile diminished some as she tried to get a better view through the crack in the door. "It's Saturday. Remember? You said that if they hadn't locked you up and thrown away the key yet, that you would take me down to the studio for a tour this morning."

Zig Zag groaned. "Oh god. Yah. What time is it?" she asked, realizing that she didn't have her watch on.

"It's almost ten thirty," the young squirrel replied. "Were you still asleep?"

"Kind of," the skunk replied with a sigh.

"Oh. I'm sorry," Hazel apologized, her ears drooping along with her spirits.

"Look--- " Zig Zag started to say something about not doing the tour today, but stopped herself. She wasn't going to push someone else away. "Hang on a second," the skunk directed as she closed the door. Moving the security bar out of the way, she stepped back and opened the door. "Come on in," she said as she turned to walk towards the back.

Hazel stepped into the house and closed the door. Standing a petite five foot six, her fur was rust red overall with crème colored fur covering her belly, inside of her thighs, front of her neck and part of her face. Dressed in a blue mid-thigh length skirt, a green tube-top and a brightly colored, yellow, flowery Hawaiian shirt, she was a virtual rainbow of colors. Now able to see Zig Zag clearly for the first time, the squirrel paused. The skunk was naked. Hazel shouldn't have been startled by that little revelation. Zig Zag was a renowned porn actress after all, so sleeping in the buff was probably normal for her, but it still had taken the young squirrel by surprise. The second thing she noticed was that Zig Zag looked like hell. Her fur was a mess and her tail was matted on one side as if she'd gone to bed still wet. That train of through derailed as she saw Zig Zag pause next to a chair and clutch at her stomach. "You OK, Zig?" she asked as she approached the skunk.

"No," Zig Zag replied as her eyes bulged slightly. "I think I'm going to puke." She took off at a wobbly dash for one of the bathrooms. She slammed through the doorway, dropped to her knees as she lifted the seat just in time for the remains of her liquid dinner from the previous night made an appearance.

The young squirrel stood in the doorway and fought to keep her breakfast down as she watched the skunk repeatedly heave.

Her stomach emptied, Zig Zag reached up and pulled down on the handle to flush the reeking toilet. She then plopped rather unceremoniously on the bathmat and leaned back against the cool side of the bathtub. It took her a second to realize that Hazel was offering her a glass of water.

"Here. You might want to rinse your mouth out with this," the squirrel suggested.

"Thanks," Zig Zag replied as she washed some of the gunk out of her mouth, and then spat it into the toilet. She slumped back down with a groan and held one hand to her head.

"You must have really tied one on last night," Hazel observed as she leaned against the doorway. "Listen, if you want to forget about the tour today, that's fine with me. We can do it another weekend."

"No!" Zig hastily said as she climbed wobbly to her feet. She set the glass by the sink and shook her head, cursing inwardly at the stupidity of doing so with a hangover. "No. I just need to take a shower and get cleaned up and we'll head out."

"You sure?" the young squirrel asked, a concerned look on her face. "To be honest, Zig, you look like shit."

"Gee, thanks," the skunk replied, fighting the urge to look in the mirror. "I'll be OK once I get cleaned up some. Why don't you go and hang out in the living room and watch the tube for a bit while I get cleaned up, OK?"

"Well, OK," Hazel conceded as she watched Zig Zag push past her, towards the master bedroom. She gave the retreating figure a shrug and turned towards the living room.

James was almost to the front door when the phone rang. He scrambled over to the phone and snatched up the receiver. "Hello?" The expression on his face sank. "Oh, hello, Mom. --- No, Mom, nothing's wrong. --- No, Mom, everything's OK. --- No, no. You didn't catch me at a bad time," he lied as he pulled a chair out from the table. "Yes, Mom ---"

Zig Zag ran her fingers through her fur as the warm, dry air of the full body fur drier swept over her from foot to head, lifting all the fur on her body and sucking the wetness from it. This was one of her favorite things about taking a bath or a shower. It was one of the few times when she felt like there were a million tiny hands running themselves over her body, worshiping her for the goddess she was, and she reveled in it. All too soon the timer ran out and banished her invisible worshipers back to the ether from which they came.

Reluctantly, Zig Zag opened the door to the dryer and climbed out. For the next ten minutes she brushed out her fur, making sure that it was smooth and even all around. Her tail was a bit more work, but she soon had the hair on it standing up at attention and in ranks like it should be. Her hair, however took a bit longer to do as she'd been neglecting it of late. Satisfied that every last strand of fur was in place, she reentered the master bedroom and proceeded to get dressed. As she was slipping on a pair of heelless sandals, she paused to sniff the air. Something was burning. "That damned kid had better not be trying to cook in my kitchen," she growled as she tightened the strap on the last sandal.

Hazel popped the toast out of the toaster before the timer ran out. She grimaced at the blackened surface on the toast as she lifted them out and dropped them on the plate. A couple of quick swipes with a knife and they had a light coating of butter on them. She turned to put the plate on the table just as Zig Zag came in and froze in her tracks.

Zig looked pissed.

"Umm," Hazel hesitantly muttered, "I made you some toast. It'll help settle your stomach."

Zig Zag, having feared the worse, looked around to see that the mess was a minimum. The bread sat out next to the butter dish. On the table were a large glass of apple juice and a container of whipped cheese. "Where'd you get the apple juice?" she asked, taking a sip. "I didn't think I had any in the fridge."

Relieved that Zig wasn't really mad, the squirrel set the plate with the toast down next to the juice. "I ran next door for it. The whipped cream cheese too. I thought you might want something on the toast. Since you've already got apple juice, I didn't think you'd want jam or jelly."

Zig sat down and looked at the burned toast. "I wasn't really looking to eat toast either," she grumbled, but then shook her head and smiled, "but I guess I should eat something or my stomach will never settle down. I assume you're going to clean that up?"

"Oh! Yah!" Hazel agreed as she hastily began cleaning up the counter.

"Thanks." Zig used the knife to spread a liberal amount of cheese on the toast to try and bury the burned flavor. Unfortunately, there wasn't really a way to do both sides, so at best it was a limited form of damage control. Biting into the toast, she grimaced at the burned flavor that quickly was overwhelmed by the cheese. As she swallowed, she felt her stomach doing a couple of flip-flops as it was introduced to solid food, but it soon settled down.

"You sure do look ten thousand percent better," the squirrel said as she took a seat at the table.

"Yah, well," Zig replied with a weak smile. "Just do me a favor, ok? Don't tell your mother about this. In fact, don't tell anyone about this, all right?"

Hazel looked a bit confused but nodded anyway. "Ok, I guess. It's not like I was going to put up a billboard announcing 'I found Zig Zag, drunk as a skunk and driving the porcelain bus!' Especially not to my mom!"

Zig chuckled as she popped the last of the toast in her mouth. "Good. I've got enough bad PR floating around out there as it is without any more help," she joked as she finished off the last of the juice. She placed the dirty dishes in the sink and turned on the water. "All right. Soon as I clean these we can go."

"Cool!" Hazel declared as she stood and pushed the chairs back in.

Once she'd finished the dishes, Zig Zag dried her hands and did a double-check to make sure nothing had been left on. Together they walked to the garage door where Zig Zag grabbed her keys, purse and cell phone, dropping the phone into her purse before they went out into the garage. As Zig backed her car out of the garage, she saw Hazel's mom working in the garden next door. She tooted her horn and waved before pulling out into the street.

"Why'd you do that?" Hazel asked a bit disgruntled.

"Do what?" Zig asked, confused for a moment. "Wave to your mom?"

"Yes!" the squirrel complained indignantly.

Zig laughed. "Come on. I was just being friendly. We are neighbors after all, and it does pay to be nice to people."

"Yah, but her?" the squirrel complained as she slouched in the seat.

Stopping for an intersection, Zig looked at Hazel and frowned. "What's wrong with her?"

"What's wrong with her?" the young echoed indignantly. "She's a total control freak. She tries to control what I wear, who I can have for friends, what I'm going to do with my life, everything!"

Zig Zag laughed. "And here I thought I had it bad because all I had was a mother who was a drunk, and wanted nothing more than to avoid getting the shit beaten out of her by my father."

Hazel's eyes grew wide as her ears flattened against her head. "Oh god, Zig Zag," she said reaching out to the female. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

The skunk shrugged. "It's OK," Zig Zag replied with a calm voice. "It was a long time ago and they're both dead now." She glanced over at the squirrel and smiled. "You're mom's just worried about you. She cares about you and just wants the best for you."

"Yah, well… It doesn't feel like it," she complained.

Zig squinted out of the corner of her eye at Hazel for a moment. "You're trying to get a job at the studio isn't just another way to get back at your mother, is it?"

"Huh?" Hazel grunted, looking surprised and then nervously looked away. "No."

"Uh huh," Zig grunted as she drove to the studio without further comment.

James pulled into Zig Zag's driveway, tossed the gearshift into park before he killed the engine. He climbed out and jogged up to the front door and rang the bell. Waiting impatiently, he glanced at his watch several times before ringing the bell again. After not having heard any response from within, he took his key out and unlocked the front door, hoping that it wasn't barred from the other side. He pushed the door open, only partially relieved to find the door unbarred. "Zig Zag?" he called as he walked into the living room. His eyes scanned the domicile, stopping as they came to rest on the pile of clothes by the atrium where the hot tub was located. He walked in and saw the mostly empty glass sitting by the side of the pool and the bottle floating in the water. Kneeling down, he reached in and rescued the bottle, looking for any other signs that something may be wrong. Distracted with concern, he set the bottle down and jogged back to the master bedroom where he saw a towel laying on the bed, which appeared to have been either un-slept in or recently made. Checking the other rooms, he found nothing necessarily out of the order. He paused by the kitchen and sniffed. The air carried the smell of something burned as well as something else, something sour. It took a moment for it to register but he realized that it smelled as if someone had recently vomited.

Confused and concerned, he checked the phone in the kitchen and saw that it was off the hook, with the handset unplugged. There were also twenty-three unchecked messages on her answering machine, which probably explained why she'd taken the phone off the hook. James wondered what new news may have hit that would cause that kind of ruckus.

Reassured that nothing was wrong at her house, James went back out the front door and relocked it. He paused before getting into his car and noticed the neighbor out working in her garden. "Hey, Sandy!" James yelled with a wave as he walked towards her.

"Oh! Hi, James," the squirrel called out as she stood and approached the hedge that separated the two properties.

"Say, Sandy, have you seen Zig around?" James inquired, as they got within comfortable talking range.

Sandy nodded and smiled. "Yes, I have. She and Hazel took off about forty five minutes ago."

"Really?" James' brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what was going on. If Zig was OK, why hadn't she answered any of his messages? "Do you know where they were going?"

"Unfortunately, yes," the squirrel grumbled. "Zig Zag promised to take Hazel on a tour of the studio today." She frowned as she saw him tilt his head quizzically. "Hazel has it in her head that she wants to go to work for Zig Zag when she turns eighteen next week."

"Ah," was the coyote's only reply to that. "OK. Well thanks for the information. Sorry to have bothered you."

"No problem," the Sandy replied. "It's always a pleasure to talk to you, James. I'll let Zig Zag know you were by."

"No!" James barked, and then stopped himself. "Please don't. I want to surprise her with something, OK?"

Sandy laughed. "OK. Mum's the word, hon."

"Thanks." The smile James wore vanished as soon as he turned away to walk back to his car. He closed the door and sat in the car for a moment as he mulled things over. Why hadn't Zig Zag called? Was she pissed at him for walking out the other night? Was this some kind of sign that she didn't want to be around him any more?

He sighed as he started the car. "And it had started out as such a nice day," he muttered as he backed out of the driveway.

"Well, here we are!" Zig Zag announced as she unlocked the front door. She held it open until they were both through then locked it again.

"Wow. What's with the glass? Is that bullet proof or something?" the squirrel asked as she tapped on the window.

Zig Zag nodded as she turned on the light switches by the door. "Yep. About a year ago we had a drive by shooting so I decided to put up bullet proof glass on all the windows in case some other nut case decided to do something like that again."

"Geez," Hazel muttered as she followed Zig Zag in. "How often does that stuff occur here?"

"Just the one time, but you can never be too careful," she explained. Stopping, she waved her hands to encompass the entire lobby. "This is the main lobby. Over there is where Maurine, our receptionist sits. Nobody can get past these second doors unless they have the pass code or she buzzes them through." Zig punched in a series of numbers on a digital pad causing the door to release.

"Is that more bullet proof glass?" Hazel asked as she passed through the door.

"Yep. OK, this is the front corridor. It's where we have all of the main office space located." Zig began pointing out offices as she rattled them off. "This is where Sabrina, our graphics gal sits and works, though she does most of her work from home now. Down there on the end is Marvin's office. Marvin's my right hand man and handles a lot of the day-to-day stuff around here. Next to it is my office. Next up is the A-unit director's office. Whoever's directing the current A-unit production works in there." She tugged on the squirrels arm so she would follow. "Down here's the B-unit director's office. Here on the end is the editing room." Zig unlocked the door, pushed it open as she stepped in and flicked on the lights. "All the editing work for the entire studio is done here.

Hazel stepped into the room and looked around in awe. There were computers and video tape decks everywhere. Here and there were piles of tapes with papers attached to them. "You don't do anything with film?" she asked.

Zig Zag laughed. "Film? Are you kidding? You know how expensive that stuff is?" She shook her head as she herded the squirrel out of the office, killed the light and closed the door. "For the cost of one film production, I can make ten video-only productions. Now if we were doing stuff for the big screen, maybe, but not for direct-to-video stuff."

"What about high definition TV? You doing anything with that?"

"Nope." The pair wondered towards the back hallway. "At close to a quarter million per camera to set up, plus all new editing stations capable of handling the high definition video format, it's a bit out of my range at the moment." They rounded the corner where Zig Zag pointed to a door as they went past. "That's the janitorial closet. Next here is the spa." She pushed open the door and turned on the light to reveal the massage table and door marked "Sauna."

"You have someone that gives massages?" Hazel asked as she poked around the room a bit.

Zig Zag nodded. "Yep. Maxine works in here part-time in the afternoons." Again they wandered down the hallway. On the left here is the entrance to Studio B. There's another one just like it on the other side of the building for Studio A. This is the entrance to the men's locker room." She pushed the door open, stepped through and waited for Hazel. "Well? You coming?"

Hazel hesitantly stepped into the locker room and looked nervously about. "Should we be in here?"

Again Zig Zag laughed. "This is a porn studio, kiddo. If you're going to work around here, you've got to loosen up. Besides, there's nobody in here. Their bathrooms are down that end and over here is the showers," she said, walking towards the showers with the squirrel in tow. "We used to only have room for four shower stalls, but that was kind of a pain in the ass. Now we have two private stalls with glass doors and the rest is common showers leading all the way through to another pair of enclosed stalls and the ladies locker room."

"They're linked together?" Hazel asked, looking back over her shoulder through the shower area to the men's locker room. "Geez. Aren't you just asking for a sexual harassment case or something?"

"Actually, we had one about three years ago," Zig replied lightly as she opened the door back to the hall. "The judge took one look at the complaint and said, 'You work at a porn studio and you want me to believe that seeing someone shower in the nude has traumatized you? You've got to be kidding!' He laughed her out of court. He actually ordered her to be evaluated for psychological problems. It was well worth the price of admission."

Hazel chuckled. "I guess I see what he's talking about when you put it that way. It just seems --- I don't know, very ---"

Zig cocked an ear in her direction and grinned. "Uninhibited?"

"Yah," the girl agreed.

"That's what we're all about here," she said as she opened the studio door and flipped on the lights. "You can't work in a place like this if you're going to be a tight ass about sex. If you do, either get some lube or get out." She waved an arm around the room as they walked towards the bedroom scene that was surrounded by lights, cameras and other equipment. "Hop up on the bed and I'll get the lights up. Give you a little feel for what it's like to be in front of the camera."

"All right," Hazel replied. She hopped up on the bed and then immediately hopped off. She felt around under the mattress and realized that it was plywood. There weren't any springs. She heard a loud thunk and was partially blinded as all the lights came on. Squinting against the light, she looked around for Zig Zag and saw her taking a seat in the director's chair. "What's with the bed? Why isn't there a set of box springs?"

"Box springs provide too much motion and not enough support. Nothing worse than having one of the talent sinking into the bed and out of the shot. Hop on up." Zig Zag crossed her legs and folded her hands over her lap as the squirrel climbed up onto the mattress. "All right. Comfy? Good. Now. Why do you want to work for me?"

Hazel shrugged. "I don't know. It looks like it could be fun. I mean, you get to have sex all the time, nobody complains if you have more than one boyfriend and at least the guys you're having sex with have a clue."

Zig Zag nodded. "How many guys have you done at once?"

The young squirrel blinked. "Huh?"

"How many guys have you had sex with at once?" she repeated.

"Well, just one," Hazel admitted, suddenly feeling somewhat embarrassed.

"You realize that some scenes might require you to deal with two, three, even four or more guys at once?"

"Well-I---ummm." Suddenly nervous, Hazel swallowed. "I guess. I mean, I've seen it in the videos, but, you know, I never really considered it."

"Fair enough," Zig replied. "How about women? How many women have you slept with?"

Hazel blinked. "Women? Ummm… none?"

"Is that a question or an answer?" Zig asked.

"Sorry. It was an answer. None."

Zig Zag crossed her arms and frowned. "You realize that some of our videos call for female on female stuff, right?"

"Well, yah. I guess so." Hazel unbuttoned the Hawaiian shirt she wore and fanned it slightly. "I just didn't think I'd have to do those kinds of movies if I didn't want to."

"Oh, you don't," Zig replied casually. "But if you don't, you won't make nearly as much. Trust me, lesbian films and threesome's with two gals and a guy are hot. Guys want to see that girl on girl action and they pay for it. If you won't do those kinds of videos, you're not going to make much money at this." She uncrossed her arms and began tapping on the arm of the chair as she watched Hazel fan herself. "You uncomfortable over there?"

"It's a bit hot with all these lights," the squirrel admitted as she removed the shirt.

"You'd better get used to it. There's usually about ten to fifteen minutes of action in front of the lights between breaks. By action, I don't mean you lying on your back like a Catholic schoolgirl passed out. I'm talking about you actually doing something. You might be on top, he might be on top, might be doggy style or in a sixty-nine. Whatever it is, you've got to look like you're having a blast. Have you ever given a guy a blow job?"

"No!" Hazel shot back then grimaced and looked away, embarrassed at the question. "I mean, well, I tried but he freaked out about my teeth."

"Yah, well, how would you like it if some guy was biting you down there, eh?" Zig Zag rubbed her forehead and sighed. "OK, then. Have you ever given a guy a hand-job?" She rolled her eyes at the confused look the girl gave her. "You know," she said, pumping her fist up and down. "Masturbated a guy. Jacked him off."

"Oh," the squirrel replied, as she slumped forwards a little. "No."

"OK, let me ask you this. Looking around," she said, waiving to all the lights and cameras, "how many people do you think are in this room when we shoot a scene?"

Hazel looked around and shrugged. "I don't know. Four or five?"

"Try ten to fifteen," Zig Zag replied. "Three cameramen, one gaffer, one soundboard mixer, someone on the lights, the director, and at least one prop guy. Start adding actors and that number can bounce up to fifteen easily." Zig Zag hopped down from her chair and walked over to stand in front of Hazel who looked like a wilted flower. "On your first shoot, you can expect to have the entire studio in here watching. That will be upwards of fifty people, more if we have guests. Can you really tell me that you're really ready to perform in front of that kind of crowd?"

The squirrel muttered something indistinct.

"What was that?" Zig Zag asked, leaning over. "I couldn't hear you."

Hazel looked up with tears in her eyes. "I don't know!"

Zig Zag mentally kicked herself. She'd wanted to discourage the kid, but she didn't plan on bringing her to tears. "All right," she said with a sigh. "Wipe your tears and come with me." She walked over to the power board and turned off all the lighting. She then turned off the master power breaker before locking down the board and removing the key. She looked at the squirrel who was busy wiping her eyes with her shirt. "Come on, kiddo. What say we blow out of this joint and go grab a burger and a milkshake?"

"Milkshake," the squirrel echoed as she stared horrified at Zig Zag. "How can you drink milkshakes and keep figure like that?"

"Girl," Zig Zag said, placing her hands on her hips with her feet spread apart. "Do you have any idea how many calories you can burn having sex?" She laughed at the squirrel's expression as she herded her out of the studio and towards the front door. "Seriously, the trick is to just not overdo it. Treating yourself every now and again is all right, but just don't have one with lunch every day."

Hazel stopped as they got to the first set of glass doors. "Zig Zag. I know I'm not really qualified, but I really, really want to work for you. I know I can learn all that stuff if you just give me some time."

Internally Zig Zag was swearing up a storm even as she gave the girl a pleasant smile. "Don't worry about it. I'll tell you what. How about we start you off small. Say, acting as a gofer."

Hazel cocked one eyebrow at Zig Zag. "Gofer? What's that?"

Zig nodded as she guided the girl through the doors. "You know. Someone needs coffee, they say 'Hazel, gofer some coffee' or they need blank tapes, they might say 'Hazel, gofer some tapes.'"

A light bulb went off over the girl's head. "Oh. Kind of an errand boy, right?"

"Something like that," Zig replied as she turned off the lights and armed the security system. "Come on---out the door, quick." She pushed the door closed and locked it quickly to make sure the grace period didn't run out and set off the alarm. Satisfied that the studio was secure, she turned towards her car and growled.

"Oh my god," Hazel said as she got a look at the car which had been hit with half a dozen or so eggs.

"Son of a bitch!" the tiger stripped skunk spat as she walked around the car. She checked and verified that the eggs hadn't had time to dry off before climbing into the car.

"Why would someone do that?" the girl asked as she buckled herself in.

"If you're in this business, you have to expect assholes to do shit like that," Zig replied as she burned rubber to get out of the parking lot. "That's what I get for coming down here when there's no security," she muttered. Zig Zag power slid the car around the corner as she headed for the nearest car wash. "So, you still want to become a porn star?"

Hazel hung onto the door handle and the center console of the Viper as it slid around another corner. "Right now, I'd be happy just to get home alive!"