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 17

The hunter and the hunted

Cancun, Cozumel, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and Veracruz. They were all good places to go and unwind when people wanted to lose themselves on a vacation. They were tourist towns that catered to fat, American gringos with more money than common sense. Unfortunately, that’s not where their target had chosen to go. No, they’d decided to stick to the smaller costal towns that weren’t as interested in tourism as they were fishing or some other industry. A trucker claimed to have seen the target in this town the last time they’d driven through. The only problem was that it had been almost six months since he’d been through here. It was also the only lead at the moment.

Shifting the small pack she wore on her back, the female panther began the short walk down the hill towards town. It was early evening and the town was lit up like a Christmas tree. Apparently there was some kind of celebration going on at the moment. Music drifted up towards her on the gentle sea breeze, confirming that there were indeed festivities going on.

Walking silently, she made her way through back streets and alleyways towards the town center, where all the commotion was occurring. She paused to stand at the corner of a building that gave her a good view of the festivities. At first glance, it looked to be a wedding celebration with the bride and groom dancing along with the rest of the guests to the sound of a mariachi band. Food, drink and treats covered tables that were clustered near the band. Clearly whoever was bankrolling this wedding was someone with a large coin to afford such festivities.

With a shake of her head, she brushed the extraneous thoughts about the wedding from her mind and began scanning the individuals as they mingled. Almost immediately she realized that they were all coyotes. A quick survey of the crowd showed that everyone attending was of the same species. Even the people serving food appeared to be coyotes. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, trying to see if she could smell any other scents in the town. That was the moment she realized that she wasn’t alone. Her eyes snapped open as she whipped her head around to look behind her.

A tall, heavily built male stood a short distance away from her, studying her intently. He was wearing a uniform that marked him as a member of the local law enforcement. “<What are you doing here?>” he demanded in Spanish.

“<I saw the lights from the hill and was curious,>” she replied, also in Spanish. “<What’s going on? It looks like there was a wedding.>”

“<The mayor’s daughter just got married,>” the canid declared, his hand resting on his pistol. “<He does not want anything to ruin her day, so I think it would be best if you leave.>”

Holding her hands away from her side, she gave him what she hoped was a disarming smile. “<I’m not here to cause any trouble. I’ve walked a long distance and would really like to get a room. I promise not to cause any trouble.>”

“<You walked here?>” the canid asked, scowling in disbelief. “<In that case, I will have one of my men drive you to the next town. They will be glad to give you a room there.>”

“<I don’t suppose I have much choice in the matter, do I?>” she asked, frowning slightly.

“<No, you don’t,>” he replied, nodding towards a lit building across the street.

The panther walked across the street with the canid following a couple of steps behind. Opening the heavy, wooden door, she stepped into the building. The insides were unremarkable in appearance other than having an old, run-down feeling to them. The wood floors were dusty and scuffed and the furniture had clearly seen better days. Another canid sat at a desk with a phone and a radio on it. He stood up as the pair came in.

“<Sit,>” the first canid directed, pointing to a chair.

The panther took a seat as the coyote walked around to the other desk in the room. Now, in good lighting, she could see that he wasn’t a coyote. Neither was the other canid in the room. They were a bit too big for coyotes and their coloring was off. It was then that she realized that they were wolves. She’d heard of these ‘wolf towns’ but had never run into one before. Now she understood the truck driver’s eager cooperation in sending her here. The odds were that he had just been yanking her chain, but still, it was a lead that she needed to follow up on.

Reaching into a pocket of her jacket, she removed a sheet of paper and unfolded it to reveal a picture. “<You wouldn’t have happened to have seen this female any time recently, have you?>”

“<No, we have not,>” the first wolf replied without looking.

Frowning for a moment, the female then turned and offered the picture to the young wolf at the radio, who looked at it for a moment before nodding. “<Yes. I’ve seen her. She was…>”

“<NO!>” the first wolf barked, causing the younger wolf to cringe as he snatched the paper away, crumpled it up and then threw it at the female. “<I said we haven’t seen her!>” Turning to the young wolf he barked, “<Tell Juan to hurry up.>”

Her patience exhausted, the panthress unzipped a small pocket on her jacket and withdrew a small piece of candy, which she slipped into her mouth. Sucking on the strawberry confection, she enjoyed the sweetness before biting down on it. An electric rush ran through her body causing her to shudder.

“<Captain,>” the young wolf cried out, watching her expression.

The older wolf spun around as she grabbed him by the throat with her right hand and lifted him from the ground. “<I’m tired of your attitude,>” she growled. She saw his right hand going for his pistol and intercepted it with her left. She laughed as she crushed the bones in his wrist, causing a gurgled scream to come from his strangled throat.

The young wolf, terrified by the sudden turn of events, froze as he watched the panther’s shape shift. Large, bat-like wings sprouted from her back and her tail changed into a long, snake-like appendage that ended with a barb. The fur disappeared, leaving a smooth, ebony skin everywhere except on the head, where a shock of headfur still remained with two small horns sticking out from beneath. “El Diablo!”

Hecate turned and gave the young wolf a sadistic smile. A quick move pinned the other wolf to the top of the desk by his neck as he clawed at her grip with his remaining good hand. “<Now,>” she said to the young wolf, “<what were you saying about that female?>”

“<Pl---please… Don’t kill me!>” the young wolf cried as it tried to cower away from the demoness.

“<I’m not going to kill you,>” Hecate said, sounding a bit annoyed. “<As long as you don’t act like an asshole the way your boss here was,>” she said, bouncing the older wolf’s head against the desk for emphasis, “<then we’re going to get along just fine. Now tell me about the female!>”

“<She was here about three or four months ago. Just stayed for a week and then moved on,>” the young wolf declared, spitting the words out as fast as they would come. “<She was traveling with a coyote named Manuel. He’s the only reason we let them stay here. Normally we don’t let non-canids stay here, but since she was with Manuel…>”

“<So where did she go?>” the demoness prompted, as she loosened her grip on the older canid slightly so he could take a gasping breath.

“<I don’t know,>” the young wolf replied.

“<Mother of God!>”

Hecate whipped her head around to see yet another wolf standing in the doorway. “Shit!” she spat as she saw him going for his gun. Hefting the first wolf by the throat, she threw him towards the newcomer in an attempt to disarm or disable him, but the wolf managed to dodge the grizzly missile, which hit the wall with a bone-shattering crunch.

The newcomer released the safety on his pistol and shot at the demon. He blinked in surprise as the creature dove to the side, dodging his shot. Holding the weapon with two hands like he was taught, he retargeted the creature, but again missed as it leapt out of the way again. His eyes opened wide as he realized it was closing on him and began pulling the trigger as fast as possible in a vain attempt to hit the creature. He let out a muffled scream as the creature dropped to all fours in front of him while the barbed tip of its tail whipped overhead to come down, impaling itself in his head.

Hecate stood and shook her tail to free it of the corpse. She then turned and walked back over to the young wolf, who was frozen with terror. Grabbing him by the throat the same way she had the captain, she lifted him from the ground. “<Where did she go?>”

“<Please,>” the young wolf pleaded. “<I don’t know.>”

Tightening her grip, she watched as his eyes started to bulge. “<You must have heard something. She must have talked about her travels.>”

“<Canal,>” the wolf managed to choke out.

“<Canal?”> Hecate echoed. “<What canal?>”

“<Panama Canal,>” he said, gasping for breath as the grip on his neck loosened slightly. “<She said she wanted to see the Panama Canal. That’s all I know! I swear!>”

Hecate gently set the wolf down on the ground and then let go. She carefully straightened his uniform as she spoke, “<You see? All you had to do was tell me what I wanted to know. If your boss had been as cooperative, he’d be alive now, too. Unfortunately, his bad attitude cost him and your friend their lives. Remember that the next time someone comes around asking questions.>”

Turning her back on the young wolf, Hecate strode towards the door. She paused when she heard the sound of a gun being cocked. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw the young wolf with his pistol drawn, aiming it at her. Their eyes locked for a moment before she turned her back again to the young wolf and left the room.

Stepping outside, she took a deep breath of the cool evening breeze and tried to let go of the tension. Her moment of relaxation was broken by a blood-curdling scream that came from her left. Turning, she saw a young female dressed in an elaborate white gown pointing in her direction and screaming. “So much for not ruining the mayor’s party,” Hecate muttered. Turning from the group, which now had turned into a chaotic mob of people running in all direction, the demoness launched herself into the air.

A moment later, she felt the sting of buckshot followed immediately by the sound of gunfire. Dodging to one side, she lost some altitude in order to put the buildings between her and whatever maniac was insane enough to bring a shotgun to a wedding.

Pausing at that thought, Hecate chuckled at the realization that they probably had shotgun weddings in Mexico too, especially when it was the mayor’s daughter. Laughing aloud, she climbed into the night sky, reassured that rednecks were the same everywhere.

“Father Lysenko?”

“Eh?” the priest grunted as he turned to face the person speaking to him. He saw a tall, crème colored stallion wearing a conservative black suit. “Yes? May I help you?”

“Father Lysenko, I’m agent Mallory of the FBI,” the stallion declared, holding out his identification for the skunk to examine. “Is there somewhere we can speak?”

The priest glanced around, noting that they were alone. “Why don’t we have a seat over here,” he suggested, leading the agent to a pew in the middle of the church. After having made himself comfortable, he nodded to the agent, “How may I be of assistance?”

“Actually,” the agent said, turning to better face the priest, “I’d like to start off by letting you know that Zetti was released on bond yesterday.”

Anatol’s brows furrowed as he looked down and considered the information. “That’s not very good news.”

“No, it isn’t,” the agent agreed.

The priest’s eyes suddenly rose to meet those of the agent. “Have you told Sheila yet?”

“No,” Agent Mallory replied, shaking his head. “We’re working on adding coverage to the facility where she’s staying, as well as letting the staff know. But for the moment, we see no need to alarm her about this.”

“She’s bound to hear about it in the news,” the priest argued, shifting uncomfortably. “Wouldn’t it be better if she found out from someone she trusted?”

The agent shook his head. “We doubt there will be any broadcast coverage of the fact that he’s out and since she doesn’t read the paper, I seriously doubt that she’ll find out that way.” He paused to study the priest for a moment before continuing. “Of course, she’s not the only person in danger.”

Anatol nodded gravely. “Yes. Zig Zag is now in danger too, isn’t she?”

“That’s not who I was thinking of,” the agent replied, causing Anatol to give him a confused look. “I was referring to you.”

“Me?” the priest replied, surprised by the declaration. “I don’t understand. Why would I be in danger?”

Agent Mallory studied the priest closely. “You were the one who tipped off the FBI about Miss Vixen’s whereabouts. Even though that’s not common knowledge, it’s possible that Zetti could find it out.”

Anatol’s ears instinctively flattened against his head as he gave the agent a harsh look. “You do not need to concern yourself with me. I am quite capable of taking care of myself. You should be more worried about Zig Zag and Sheila’s kits.”

“Oh, I’m worried about them all right,” the agent admitted, never taking his eyes off the priest. “But right now I’m more interested in finding out how you knew she was being held on Zetti’s estate. Somehow I can’t see any of his associates giving that information away in confession.”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for you,” Anatol flatly declared, forcing his ears to rise back to their normal, relaxed position.

The agent smiled. “Then I guess that will just have to remain a mystery for now,” he said, standing up. “I’ll keep you apprised of Mr. Zetti’s activities if at all possible.”

“Thank you,” Anatol replied, shaking the agent’s hand.

Mallory walked down the aisle towards the exit, but paused and turned to face the priest before opening the door. “You know, Father. There really isn’t anything I love more than an unsolvable mystery.”

“That’s too bad,” the priest replied, “There are some things in this world that one such as yourself should pray never to face.”

Agent Mallory stared at the retreating form of the priest and muttered, “What the hell was that all about?”

The badger looked up at the sound of a knock on his door. “Enter.”

“Your Eminence?” a young fox priest said, bowing as he entered the room.

“Yes, Jacob? What do you have there?” the badger asked, noticing a folder with the seal of the Vatican in the priest’s hand.

“A request,” Jacob replied, placing the folder on the desk in front of his superior, “for an investigator.”

The badger sighed as he opened the folder. “We’re getting too many of these requests these days,” he commented as he flipped through the papers.

“Yes, your Eminence,” the fox replied.

The badger paused to look over his glasses at the fox. “You know, Jacob. You don’t have to agree with everything I say.”

“Yes, your Eminence,” the fox again replied.

Giving the fox a snort of disgust, the badger continued reviewing the paperwork. “It seems to be a pretty straightforward investigation. Who do we have who’s available?”

“Just Father Lysenko, your Eminence.” Jacob stated, tensing for his superiors response.

“Lysenko?” the badger echoed as he removed his glasses and set them on the desk. “He’s the only one?”

“Well, technically he’s on sabbatical, your Eminence,” the fox replied nervously, “however, he’s the best qualified person who’s not already on assignment.”

“Hmmm.” The badger stroked his chin as he considered the situation. “What do the doctors say? Is he ready to return to work?”

“There is some---disagreement on the subject,” the fox said, nervously shuffling his feet. “Although he appears to have completely recovered physically from the injuries and coma, they’re worried about aberrations which have appeared in his personality. Most specifically about his current obsession with the female, Sheila Vixen.”

The badger groaned as he rubbed his eyes. “I suppose something like this was to be expected,” he said, picking up a pen and signing the paperwork. “I want you to brief Anatol about this yourself. You’ve spoken to him on occasion. I want you to get a feel for his current state of mind and report back.”

“M---Me?” the young priest stammered.

Closing the folder, the badger gave the priest an annoyed look. “Do you see anyone else in the room?”

“N---no, your Eminence” the fox replied.

“Then it’s settled,” the badger declared, handing the folder back. “You’ll pack your things and leave on the first available flight to America.”

“Yes, your Eminence,” the fox replied, bowing slightly before leaving the room.

It was a nice day as far as summers went. The sun was out, but the temperature wasn’t too hot. A pleasant breeze out of the north had cooled things off during the later part of the afternoon, leaving the rest of the day perfect for a walk. Sheila stopped and waited for the light to change so she could cross to the Roebucks Coffee shop on the other side. Walking to the coffee shop had become an almost daily ritual for her. Occasionally she came down with the doctor, but more often than not it was just for herself. She’d developed a taste for some of the more exotic coffee blends they were carrying and enjoyed trying out new and different flavors.

Stepping through the doors, Sheila spotted a familiar face behind the counter. “Hi, John,” she said as she stepped up to the counter.

John, a red-maned lion, turned away from cleaning one of the machines to give her a smile. “Hi, Sheila,” he said, wiping off his hands. “What can I get for you today?”

“I don’t know,” she said, leaning on the counter with both elbows to show off her cleavage, “what have you got for me that’s new?”

“New, eh?” the lion said, drawing it out a bit. “We’ve got a new spiced Turkish blend that you might like. It’s a bit stronger than you usually get, but I think you’ll like it.”

“Sounds good to me,” the vixen replied, straightening up as the lion rang up the order. Reaching into the fanny pack she wore around her waist, she pulled out a twenty and passed it over. “So how’s your cartooning gig doing?”

“Eh,” he replied, handing back her change. “Not bad, I guess. Between working here, kung fu lessons and all the other stuff I have to keep me busy, it doesn’t leave much time to draw.”

“That’s too bad,” Sheila replied as she picked up a couple of napkins. “I kind of liked those comics you’d shown me.”

“I’m still drawing them,” he said, topping off her cup, “but I still have to worry about a real job. You know? Not like being a comic artist will pay the rent.”

“It did for Charles Shultz,” she teased.

“I’m no beagle,” the lion replied with a laugh. “There you go. Enjoy.”

Sheila picked up the cup and her napkins. “Thanks.” Walking back to sit by the window, she passed by a table piled with some local newspapers. With her free hand, she snagged a hand full and carried them over to the table she’d chosen to sit at.

Sipping her coffee, she flipped first through the fashion section, thin though it may be, to see if there was anything worth looking at. From there, she went on to the local news section and finally the front page. Half way through the A section, her reading came to a screeching halt.

James Zetti Released on Bond

“What the hell?” she muttered under her breath. According to the article, they’d let Zetti out on a cash bond, and that he was the last person from the raid to be released.

Sheila’s heart skipped a beat.

They’re free!

Glancing around nervously, Sheila looked to see if anyone was watching her. She told herself that she was just being paranoid and that nobody was chasing her, but it didn’t matter. Zetti and his goons were free and it was only a matter of time until they found her.

Forgetting her coffee, Sheila stood and hurried from the café, ignoring the concerned shout of the lion behind the counter. She switched between a jog and a run as she made her way back to the hospital. Reaching the front door, she dug her card out of her fanny pack and swiped it through the card reader. She snatched the door open as soon as the lock buzzed, making her way into the foyer and immediately to the door that lead to the commons. Again a quick swipe of her badge and she was through the door.

The security on the building, rather than reassuring her that it was safe, only made the flaws in their system all the more obvious. Any moron could have gotten her card and entered the building like this. Who knows how many cards may be floating around out there, letting any unhinged individual into the building to do whatever they wanted with the people inside.

Reaching her room, she closed the door, slamming it shut. There wasn’t a lock on the door and none of the furniture looked sturdy enough to block the door from opening. Turning off the light, she backed up until she was in the far corner from the door and slowly slid down until she sat on the floor, where she hugged her knees to her chest and cried.