| 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.
“This is Zig Zag,” the tiger striped skunk announced into the receiver.
“Zig, this is David.”
Leaning back in her chair, Zig Zag crossed her legs as she smiled. “David! Good to hear from you. What did you find out?”
“I was just going over the information my investigators dug up,” the lawyer replied. “Do you want the short or the long?”
“Well, normally I prefer it long,” she replied, drawing out the words in a seductive manner, “but this time I guess I’ll settle for the short.”
On the far end of the line, David chuckled. “All right, I’ve narrowed your search down to three agencies which I believe would be best suited for the job. None of them have any pending lawsuits or any criminal investigations going on at the moment. All of them hire out part time, full time and live-in nannies, and they all are bonded.”
Zig Zag chewed idly on a whisker as she listened. “They all sound pretty good. Is there any one you’d recommend and why?”
“I’d have to suggest you go with the Lamstead Agency. They’re the only one to run a full background check on their employees before placing them. All the others simply run a warrant and arrest record check. They also run background checks on their customers too, just to make sure they aren’t hiring out to someone with a pair of kidnapped kits.”
“Wow. That does sound impressive,” Zig Zag admitted. “I’ll bet they’re the most expensive too, right?”
“Actually, all three are pretty competitive on price, though the Lamstead Agency has an application fee that covers the background process. Nice part is that they apply it to your first bill IF they accept you as a customer.”
Zig Zag gave a small chuckle. “Sounds like some of the mail order catalogs I have.” Sitting up in her chair, she reached across the desk and grabbed a notepad and a pen. “All right, what’s their phone number?”
Sheila sat on the bed, watching the TV as she flipped from channel to channel. She’d hoped to catch something on the news about her abductors being released from jail but the news was treating it as a non-event. They were more than happy to rant about Zig Zag and her “activities” in the case, but nobody could be bothered to talk about the real criminals involved. Disgusted with the news, she turned off the TV and tossed the remote over onto the table next to the bed.
When she’d first read about Zetti getting out of jail, her first instinct had been to run and hide, but that was a farce. The only place she had to hide was here in her hospital room and everyone knew where that was. She might try and ask a friend to put her up, but that would risk their lives. She had no money, no identification and no way to get out of town.
Simply put, she was screwed.
Her attention was attracted to a knock at the door. “What?”
The door cracked open as Zig Zag stuck her head in. “Hey, kiddo! How you doing?”
Sheila shrugged and looked down to pick up a magazine from the table next to her. “OK, I guess,” she replied with a shrug.
Zig Zag walked over and moved the chair so it would face the bed and sat down. “So…” she said, letting the word trail off into an awkward silence, unsure how to proceed. “You know, I—uh—talked to the doctor this morning. He mentioned something about you maybe coming out to the studio for a visit. How does that sound?”
Sheila stopped reading the magazine long enough to glance over at Zig Zag before turning back to the pages. Idly she flipped a page as she spoke, “Thanks, but I don’t think so. Not now.”
“Not now?” Zig Zag echoed, her brow furrowed in confusion. “Why not? The doctor thinks it might be a good idea. Personally, I know everyone at the studio would just love to see you again.”
“I just…” Sheila stopped and let out a long sigh as she closed the magazine. Looking back up at Zig Zag, she gave her a smile. “I just don’t think this is a good time, OK?”
It was pretty easy to tell that Sheila was trying to hide something. “Look, Sheila, if it’s about what happened downstairs with Anatol the other day…”
“No! It’s not that!” the vixen barked, clinching her hands into fists.
“Then what is it?” Zig Zag pleaded. Reaching out to touch Sheila, she was surprised and somewhat shocked when the vixen pulled back from her. “What’s wrong, Sheila? Why are you acting like this?”
Sheila scowled at Zig Zag. “Don’t you get it?” she demanded. “They’re out.”
Zig Zag shook her head in confusion. “Who’s out? What are you talking about?”
“Zetti. He’s out. Him and his boys are out of jail!” Sheila declared, pounding her fists on the bed. “Don’t you see? They’re going to kill me. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt! That’s why I can’t go back. They’ll kill all of you to get to me!”
In an instant, Zig Zag was up and out of her chair and reaching for the vixen. “Sheila, stop!” she ordered while trying to grab her fists.
“No! You’ve got to get away from me!” Sheila sobbed out. “I don’t want them to hurt anyone else!”
“Sheila, stop!” Zig Zag repeated, finally grabbing a hold of the vixen’s arms. “Look at me!” she ordered. “Stop it! Nobody’s going to kill you! Do you hear me?”
“You don’t understand!” Sheila cried out as she tried to free herself. “You don’t know them. You don’t know what they’re capable of. They’re monsters!”
“Sheila look---LOOK at me!” Zig Zag demanded, shaking the vixen to get through to her. “Nobody’s going to hurt you, OK?”
Putting her arms around herself, Sheila sobbed as she spoke, “You don’t know that.”
Zig Zag took the crying vixen into her arms and stroked her head as she held her. Sheila was right. There was only so much she could do to protect her, but she wasn’t ready to give up on her friend. Not now. Not after all they’d been through.
Anatol looked up from his reading at the knock on the door. “Yes?”
The door opened and the church secretary stuck her head in. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Father, but there’s a Father Mathews from the Vatican here to see you.”
“Father Mathews?” Anatol sat back in his chair and frowned. If the toady was here, then it could only mean trouble. “Please let him know I’ll be right down.”
“Yes, Father,” she replied before closing the door.
Anatol slipped a bookmark between the pages before closing the book he’d been reading. He stood and walked over to the coat hooks by the door and reached for his frock but didn’t take it. Instead, he opened the door and stepped out wearing the black running shorts and t-shirt he’d been relaxing in. He started to close the door, but paused, torn by a desire to show is displeasure and his duty to show respect. The latter of the two won out and he reached back inside the room to grab the frock. Properly attired, he made his way downstairs to the main office.
Stepping into the outer office, he looked around mildly confused, noting that only the secretary was there. “Where is he?”
“He’s waiting for you in Father Frances’ office,” she replied, nodding to the door.
“He is, is he,” Anatol replied, growling slightly. Opening the door to the office, he fully expected the other priest to be sitting at the desk, but instead found him looking over a collection of photos and other memorabilia setting on a bookshelf. He announced himself by clearing his throat.
The young fox turned and smiled. “Ah, Anatol. There you are,” he said, turning towards the priest. “You’re looking well. How are your injuries? All recovered?”
“I am well enough, thank you,” Anatol replied flatly as he crossed the room. “Though my body may have recovered for the most part, I’m still not quite feeling up to par.”
“Nothing serious, I hope,” the young fox replied. “According to your last checkup, all of your physical injuries had healed.”
“You could say that,” the skunk replied, cautiously. “Although I’ve resumed my exercise regimen, I’ve not yet regained my strength fully. I lost a lot of muscle tone while I was in that coma.”
The young fox nodded. “Ah, yes. That was mentioned in the report.”
“What do you want, Jacob,” Anatol asked, crossing his arms. “I know you didn’t fly all the way here from Rome just to check up on my health.”
“True,” the fox replied, nodding gravely. Reaching inside of his jacket, he removed a thick, manila envelope. “I have an assignment for you.”
Anatol frowned. “No.”
A look of shock crossed Jacob’s face. “No? What do you mean, no?”
“No, as in the opposite of yes,” he replied. “I was promised six months to recover before I would be given another assignment. It’s only been four.”
“You swore an oath to the church and the brotherhood, Anatol,” the fox replied, frowning. “This is your job. The church needs you.”
“I did my job and it almost got me killed,” Anatol replied turning to walk away. “Give it to someone else.”
“Have you ever looked at these pictures?” the fox asked, taking photo from the shelf. “You know he served in both Korea and Vietnam.” He held the photo out for Anatol to see. “This is where he was awarded the Bronze Star.”
Anatol took the picture and looked at it. It showed a red haired raccoon lying in a hospital bed covered in bandages.
“Look at him. He was in the hospital for nine months before being rotated back state side,” the fox stated. “Once he had completed his physical therapy and was declared fit, he returned to Vietnam and served another three tours over there before being rotated back to the US for retirement.”
Reaching out, Father Mathews took the picture from Anatol and replaced it on the shelf. “How do you think he’d react to someone saying that they’d done their fair share?”
“That’s low, you know?” Anatol growled. “That’s really low.”
The fox held out the envelope again. “The church needs you.” Reaching out, he put a hand on Anatol’s shoulder. “There is nobody else available, otherwise we would never have asked.”
Letting out a long, resigned breath, Anatol accepted the envelope and took it to the desk. He opened the contents and examined them. There was a new Vatican passport, an ID showing that he was with the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, a folder with several sheets of paper and a second envelope with wax.
Opening the folder, Anatol looked at a number of black and white pictures showing a pair of canids wearing what looked like uniforms in various modes of death. One looked like a child’s doll that had been broken and the third had his skull split in half. “What the hell is this?” the skunk asked, frowning as he flipped through the photographs. “Some kind of serial killer?”
“Not quite,” the fox replied, reaching into the stack to pull out some photocopies, which had been stapled together. He tossed them on top of the pile. “I think this could explain it better than I ever could.”
Anatol picked up the papers and began to read them. He got half way through the second paragraph before looking back up at the fox and snarling, “What kind of bullshit is this?”
Jacob frowned. “It’s exactly what it looks like.”
“You expect me to believe this crap?” Anatol demanded, waving the paper towards the priest. “A bunch of drunk coyotes claim to see a demon and you’re ready to send me to investigate?”
“It was not just a bunch of ‘drunk coyotes’,” the fox replied sharply. “If you’ll read further you’ll see that the parish priest who hadn’t had a drop of alcohol to drink that night reported seeing the creature himself.”
Anatol frowned as he returned his attention to the papers. After reading the second page, he shook his head. “OK. Let me get this straight. We’ve got a demon that can shape change between a black cat and some monstrous black creature with a hideous face, black wings and a barbed tale, and it’s currently trying to track down some unidentified female vulpine that we’ve only got a basic sketch for. Is that about it?”
“That and the fact that we believe it’s headed to the Panama Canal,” the fox replied, nodding.
“And there’s nobody else you could send?” Anatol wearily asked as he rubbed his eyes with his fingers.
The fox shook his head. “No. Nobody with your skills, or your talent,” he replied, pausing to add, “or your---gift.”
“I don’t believe this,” the skunk grumbled as he ran his hands through his hair before stretching. “You’re going to cut my recovery short to run down an unsubstantiated rumor that hasn’t been researched?”
This isn’t the first time the creature’s been spotted,” Jacob replied, taking a seat opposite of Anatol and leaning in to speak in a conspiratorial voice. “We’ve known about the creatures existence for several weeks. It’s been operating out of Los Angeles for some time now earning a living as a bounty hunter. Wild rumors from criminals that it had captured claimed that it had super human strength.” He paused to glance at the door before looking back at Anatol. “The authorities ignored their stories for obvious reasons, however, a priest caught a glimpse of it one night when it was fighting with a particularly large gorilla. He was following it in hopes of tracking it back to its layer when it vanished. Three days later, it killed these police down in Mexico.”
Anatol stared at the fox before shaking his head. “If you’ve known about this thing for that long, why didn’t you send someone after it?”
“We didn’t find out about it until two days ago,” Father Mathews explained. “The priest didn’t want to raise a false alarm, but after the creature vanished, he panicked and filed a report, fearing that he may have spooked it. If the same person hadn’t handled both reports, no link may have been made. As it is, providence has been with us. If we act fast, it’s possible that we may be able to stop the creature before it kills again.”
Anatol rubbed his chin as he looked over the paperwork again and then nodded. “OK.”
“You’ll do it?” the fox asked, surprised at the priest’s abrupt reversal.
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Anatol replied. Reaching out, he took the small envelope that was still sealed. Breaking the wax with the claw of one finger, he opened the envelope to remove a small card. He flipped the card over and simply saw the image of an unsheathed sword with the imprint of the brotherhood’s seal embossed on it.
Taking an ornate lighter from the desk, Anatol lit the corner of the card and watched it burn for a moment before dropping it into the ashtray. Once the card was consumed, he used a pen to break up the ashes.
Winding its way through the deserted roads of rural Illinois, the headlights of the silver BMW sedan glared off of the rain slickened roads, providing the only illumination other than the occasional flash of lightning. Slowing to a crawl, the car turned right and paused briefly while two armed guards opened a gate to allow it though. Pulling around to the back of the mansion, the car slipped quietly into a dark opening in a nearby building before being swallowed by the garage door. All four doors on the car opened in unison as three well-tailored equines and a lone, equally well dressed wolf climbed out. The two equines who had ridden in the rear were identical males with ebony fur who wore very expensive, tailored suits. They and the wolf were escorted by a feline carrying a hurricane lamp into the house while the driver stayed with the car.
“What’s with the lights?” the wolf nervously asked, glancing at the long shadows cast by the lamp.
“The electricity is out because of the storm,” the feline stoically replied as they turned a corner. Continuing down a short hall, he paused at a pair of double doors. Opening one, he stepped aside and said, “The master will be with you presently.”
The wolf waited at the door as the pair stepped into the library. They looked around with just a touch of awe at the room. The high, vaulted ceiling stretched close to thirty feet into the air. Practically every wall was covered with bookshelves that reached almost to the ceiling. There were several ladders that ran the lengths of the walls to allow access to the upper shelves. A brief flash of lightening illuminated the room clearly before fading away.
Tony let out a low whistle. “Did you ever see so many fancy books in your life?”
“Books, shcmooks,” Jimmy replied, looking around the room at the furniture. “It’s just another way to show off you got money. Hell, I bet he probably ain’t read most of ’em.”
Stepping over to a table, Jimmy picked up one of the two candelabras that illuminated the room. He held it up as he walked over to a bar that sat off to one side. “Hey, bro. You wanna drink?”
“Naw,” Tony replied, picking up the other candelabra and walking over to an odd-looking chair that sat next to a circular fireplace, located in the middle of the room. “Hey, check out this wild seat.”
Jimmy picked up a decanter of scotch. Lifting the stopper, he took a sniff and smiled. “In a minute. You sure you don’t want none of this stuff? It smells like some good hooch.” Shrugging at his brother’s disinterest, he poured a couple of fingers.
“It is hardly ‘hooch’,” a voice declared, causing Jimmy to spin around, spilling some of his drink.
“Jesus Christ!” the equine declared, shaking liquid from his hand. “You scared the hell out of me!”
“Be that as it may,” the dark gray-furred jackal replied with a touch of disdain, “that’s three-hundred-dollar-a-bottle scotch, so if you don’t mind, please try not to spill any more.”
Jimmy looked rather embarrassed as he tossed back his drink and returned the glass to the bar. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”
“Enough of the chit-chat,” Tony declared. “We drove a long way to come here, so how ’bout telling us why you’ve called this little meeting.
The jackal poured himself a snifter of cognac before replying. “First, to celebrate the successful near completion of phase one of our plan, and secondly, to inform you of the next steps we will be taking.”
“Successful?” Jimmy echoed, giving a derisive snort. “I don’t know about you, but so far, things ain’t exactly going according to plan.” He reached over and poured himself another drink. “Maybe you ain’t been readin’ the newspapers, but some asshole set me up and got Zig Zag off the hook in the process!” He tossed back the drink before setting the glass back down. “The plan was to toss her butt in jail so we could take over her operation.”
“True, and that will still happen,” he replied, taking a sip of his drink. “However, if Zig Zag went to jail now before we’d broken the bank on her studio, she wouldn’t be forced to sell.” He walked over and took a seat in the chair that Tony had been looking at. “As it is now, she’s not only distracted by Sheila Vixen’s reappearance, she also has the financial burden of paying for the care and feeding of a pair of kits.”
“Oh, like that’s gonna bankrupt her,” Johnny replied, pouring himself another drink.
“Actually, it will,” the canid declared, smiling. “My sources inform me that she’s looking into hiring a nanny to take care of the kits. I also have made arrangements for there to be other financial speed-bumps, which will serve to deplete her already shrinking cash reserves.”
Tony’s brows furrowed as he listened to the canid. “You did it, didn’t you?” Tony asked, crossing his arms. “You’re the one who stuck Sheila on the estate then tipped off the feds.”
“WHAT?” Jimmy shouted, glaring first at his brother and then the jackal.
“True, I was responsible for that, but remember, it is all according to the plan,” he replied, taking another sip of his drink.
Jimmy drew his gun and aimed it at the jackal as he crossed the room. “You fuckin’ set me up?”
The jackal let out a long sigh. “You really must learn to control your impulses,” he said, ignoring the pistol that was aimed towards him. “It was all part of the plan. Yes you were inconvenienced for a short period of time, but you’ll be well compensated for it in the end.”
“Inconvenienced? What the fuck do you mean, inconvenienced! They’re going to nail my hide to the wall!” the enraged mobster shouted.
“No they won’t,” the canid replied, sounding exasperated. “Already the FBI has determined that there’s no way Sheila had been held in that room for the last year, no matter what her story is. Right now, they’re working on figuring out how to save face while figuring out who planted her there.”
“I see,” Tony replied, nodding. “Nobody had been down in the basement in years,” he said, pacing the floor around the fireplace. “The amount of dust on the floors and other surfaces would easily show that she hadn’t been kept there.” He stopped to look over at the canid. “But what’s to keep them from assuming that she’d been moved there from the main house?”
“Sheila’s story is that she was locked in that room every night,” the jackal said as he crossed his legs. “That building, that room. The cops know there’s no way that could be right.”
Jimmy let the muzzle of the gun drop. “How the hell do you know so much about what she’s been tellin’ the cops? You got an inside man?”
The jackal laughed. “As a matter of fact, I do, but that’s not how I know.” He paused to smile as he took another sip of his drink. “Think about it; Sheila is the first person ever to have a schizophrenic episode where she remembers both the delusion and what really happened. Normally, schizophrenia just leaves the person with the one false memory.”
“So?” Jimmy asked, holstering the pistol.
“So that means that it’s not really schizophrenia,” Tony replied, nodding. “They just pigeonholed it because they couldn’t figure out what it was, right?”
“Exactly!” the canid declared excitedly as he rose from the chair. “In order to erase any memory of what really happened, we had to implant new memories, but there was always the chance that she’d break through the implanted memories, so we laid on another layer that would keep her distracted from figuring out the truth.”
“You brainwashed her,” Tony declared, snapping a finger. “You brainwashed her to give her that fucked up lunatic story she gave the feds!”
“And in doing so I discredited her, causing her to be locked up in a mental ward,” he finished, giving the equine brothers a broad grin. “You have nothing to worry about Sheila Vixen. Everything is going as planned. Your friend Mr. Daniels will have Zig Zag in jail, you will own ZZ Studios, and I’ll get the pleasure of watching Miss Vixen squirm as her entire world goes to hell in a hand basket as she watches and there won’t be a damned thing she can do about it.”
Both brothers gave each other a nervous look as the jackal let out a long, ominous laugh.