| 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.
“Zig Zag, I’ve got James on line three for you,” Maurine’s voice announced over the intercom.
“Thanks, Maurine,” Zig Zag replied before hitting the button for line three and picking up the handset. She leaned backwards and propped her feet up on the desk as she spoke. “Well, hello there,” she purred into the phone.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” James’ voice asked.
Zig Zag chuckled and nodded. “Yes, but it’s nothing that can’t wait. I was just reviewing some resumes.”
“Oh? Adding new talent to the pool?” the coyote asked, sounding intrigued.
“Nothing like that,” she replied, idly twirling the cord with one finger. “I’m going over prospective nannies for Sheila’s kits.” Zig Zag frowned at the long pause while waiting for a response. “James?”
“Yes. I’m here,” he hurriedly replied. “I’m just a bit surprised. I thought we talked about this. I thought we had decided that you couldn’t afford it right now.”
“That’s before I met with the owner of the Lamstead agency,” she replied, letting the cord unravel from her finger. “She agreed to wave the agency’s fees and discount the nannies fees in return for licensing to use my image in print advertising.”
“I see,” James replied noncommittally.
“It’ll cost me about one third what we originally talked about,” she explained, justifying her decision, “and the judge said that I can use Sheila’s trust fund to help cover some of that, too. Considering what I’m paying Hazel to kitsit at the moment, it’ll actually be about the same.”
“Only you’ll still be paying Hazel her full time salary,” James stated flatly.
Zig Zag nodded and reluctantly admitted, “Yes, that’s true, though I’ll have other work for her here. The guys building sets have been asking for another pair of hands, and I think Hazel might benefit from a little manual labor after sitting on her ass for almost two weeks.”
The sound of James chuckling could be heard over the phone. “That sounds almost as if you’d planned it that way.”
“Well, I am known for my organizational skills,” she said in a sly tone of voice.
Again, the sound of the coyote chuckling could be heard. “In that case, you get to plan the next vacation.” There was a brief pause and when he spoke again, his voice was much more serious. “So when do you think the nanny will be ready to start, and how’s it going to work?”
Zig Zag let out a long breath as she glanced at the calendar. “When is a good question. This afternoon, I’m going to head over to the hospice and talk to Sheila about it. I think she should have some input in the decision. Hopefully the idea of having someone else care for the kits will take some of the pressure off of her.”
“Do you really think that’ll work?” James asked.
“Probably not,” she reluctantly admitted, “but I have to try. Tomorrow I’ve got time set aside for doing interviews with the candidates. Hopefully Sheila will be willing to participate, but it won’t change anything if she decides not to.”
James gave a brief grunt of acknowledgement. “Once you decide on one, what happen then? How will it work? Will it be like day-care where you drop the kits off or what?”
“Not quite,” Zig Zag replied, shaking her head even though he couldn’t see it. “This will be a full time, live-in nanny. I’m going to convert my home-office into a temporary nursery and the nanny will live in the spare bedroom. Once I’m comfortable that they’re going to work out with the kits, we’ll see if Sheila’s ready to cohabitate with the kits and nanny. If so, we’ll find them a place nearby, otherwise I’ll have to play it by ear.”
“Live-in nanny, eh?” James said, contemplating the idea. “Are you sure you want to invite a total stranger into your house like that?”
“Not so sure I have much of a choice,” she replied with a shrug. “Besides, all of their employees are bonded and have had a thorough background check, so I suppose they’re about as safe as you can get in these times.”
“Well, you’re the boss,” the coyote declared. “Whatever you decide, I’ll go along with. The kits are your responsibility, so whatever happens, I’ll be there to back you up.”
Zig Zag let out a sigh of relief. “You have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you.”
“Hey, it’s no problem,” James replied. “Anything for the woman I love.”
“I love you too,” she said before hanging up.
Sitting there in her office, she left her feet propped up, relaxing for a moment before she’d have to return to her work. Her brief break was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Yes?” she said, putting her feet down on the floor.
Maurine opened the door and stepped in, holding an envelope. “This was just delivered for you,” she said, handing the envelope to her boss.
“Thanks,” Zig Zag mumbled absentmindedly as she examined the envelope. It had been courier delivered without any return address.
Ripping open the top with a letter opener, she took out the small collection of paperwork and examined it. Much of the paperwork was covered with incomprehensible notations about genetic this and genetic that on it. Only the last page made any sense. It was a summary of Sheila’s, and the kit’s genetic code as well as those of the males arrested.
It also listed Arden’s code.
Stunned, her mouth hung open for a moment before she muttered, “Holy shit.”
Father Anatol climbed down from the cab of the truck he’d been riding in. “<Thank you very much>,” he said in fluent Spanish before closing the door.
Turning around, he saw a small adobe church with an unfinished bell tower on one side. Hiking the backpack up onto his shoulder, he made his way into the darkened and somewhat cooler interior of the church. At the far end of the aisle he saw an elderly wolf priest praying at the altar. “You still haven’t finished building this place after three hundred years?” he barked in a loud voice, startling the praying wolf. “Hell of a way to run a church, if you asked me.”
The priest at the altar’s head snapped around to see the stranger in the doorway. He squinted against the light, shielding his eyes with his hand as he stood. “Brother Anatol? Is that you?” he asked in a disbelieving voice.
Anatol laughed. “Who else?” he asked, dropping his pack and holding his arms wide as he approached his friend. The two briefly embraced before separating. “How have you been, Paco?”
“I have been well,” the wolf replied, grinning from ear to ear. “And you? How are you? Last I had heard you were in the hospital.”
“That was months ago,” Anatol said, moving aside to take a seat on a pew. “As you know, our work can be dangerous. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too lucky this last time around.”
“But you are alive, and that’s what counts,” Paco declared, patting his friends leg. “God is not through with you yet. Obviously he has work for you.” He paused and then chuckled. “That or you’re just too ornery to die.”
Anatol chuckled at the jest. “A little bit of both, I’m afraid, my friend.” Pausing, his face turned serious. “I’m here on business.”
Paco nodded solemnly. “I thought as much. I was afraid that the church wouldn’t believe my report…” He paused and shook his head. “I don’t even really believe it myself, but I was there. I saw the creature with my own eyes.” He crossed himself as he spoke. “It was el Diablo! The Devil himself!”
“Paco…” Anatol started, but was interrupted.
“No! You must listen,” the wolf declared, grabbing Anatol’s arm. “This is nothing like anything I ever hunted. This creature can change shape and fly. You cannot kill it with a gun. And the way it moves,” he clasped his hands together and looked to the heavens as he said a small, silent prayer. “It moves like lightening. I have seen the security tape. You should have seen it. Juan, our best marksman---he couldn’t hit the creature, even in an enclosed room.” The priest shuddered. “He never stood a chance.”
Anatol laid a hand on his friends shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I understand. I’ll be most careful. Can you get me a copy of the tape?”
Paco shook his head. “No. There is only one copy and the mayor has it locked up in his safe. I do not think he’ll let you see it.”
“He will let me see it,” Anatol replied confidently, rising from the pew.
“Please,” the wolf pleaded, placing a restraining hand on his friends arm. “This man is very powerful. Try not to make trouble.”
“We’ll see,” Anatol replied. Picking up his backpack, he went to the priest’s residence to change clothes.
Zig Zag peeked into the exercise room and saw Sheila sitting on a bench doing free-weight curls with one arm. She stepped in and glanced around, noticing that the music in the room was loud enough to drown out sounds from the outside, not to mention make conversation difficult. Walking over to the table with the radio, she turned it down to a reasonable level.
“Hey!” Sheila barked by way of a complaint. Turning towards the entrance, she saw Zig Zag standing by the table and smiled. “Hey! How’s it going?”
“Not bad. How are you?” Zig Zag asked back, studying the vixen. As she watched, she saw arm muscles under the t-shirt flex as the vixen continued working out.
“I’m dong pretty good,” Sheila replied. “I got tired of sitting around all day watching the boob-tube and decided to start working out again.
Zig Zag laughed. “I knew that you were always athletic, but I never knew you worked out,” she said. “I guess I always took you for the aerobic kind of girl.”
“Yeah, well, I used to be the aerobic kind of girl,” Sheila admitted, finishing up her repetitions with the free weight, “but that was before.”
“Oh,” was all Zig Zag could reply, looking away nervously.
“Damn it!” Sheila barked, startling Zig Zag and making her jump. “Stop it!” the vixen ordered as she stood up. Walking over to the weight rack, she put the barbell down with a clang. “Stop treating me like I’m some kind of fragile crystal that’s going to shatter if you breathe wrong! Stop treating me like I’ll break if you do or say the wrong thing! I’m not like that! Stop telling everyone to be careful around me! I’m sick and tired of people treating me like I’m some neurotic Chihuahua with a heart condition!”
Zig Zag’s jaw dropped open for a second before it snapped shut. She looked down and nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just…”
Sheila let out a long breath, feeling the anger drain away. She moved to sit down on the bench next to Zig Zag and put her arm around her. “I know. You’re worried about me and I appreciate it. But I’m a lot better now, really.”
“Really?” Zig Zag asked, giving the vixen an odd look. “Well enough to start taking care of your kits for yourself?”
Sheila pulled away from Zig Zag and stood up. “No! I don’t want anything to do with those---those things!”
“Sheila, please…” Zig Zag started as she rose from the bench.
“No!” the vixen barked before turning her back on her friend. “Give them to whichever of those fucking rapists fathered them!”
Zig Zag paused for a minute, glancing around the room to make sure nobody else was in earshot. “Sheila, there’s something you need to know about the kits.
“There’s nothing I need to know,” the vixen growled while toweling her face off.
“None of the males who were arrested are the father,” Zig Zag declared.
“No shit,” Sheila replied. “They’re all equines. They had more than one ursine buddy drop by for a dip in the old fox hole.”
Zig Zag took a hesitant step towards the vixen. “Have you considered the possibility that they might be Arden’s?”
Sheila gave the tiger striped skunk an incredulous look. “You’ve got to be kidding! Arden died a year before they were born! Get real!”
“Yes, it would be impossible,” Zig Zag said taking another hesitant step forward, “If that’s what really happened.”
Sheila froze, her eyes wide with shock. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m sorry,” Zig Zag said, “But I had to lie to you when you first saw me in the hospital. When you asked what happened to you and Arden.”
Sheila’s head slowly turned to look at Zig Zag with a mixture of horror and disbelief. She was trembling with adrenaline as her fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. “What are you saying,” she asked in a horse whisper.
“You and Arden didn’t walk out of the studio that night,” Zig Zag said. “You pulled the amulet out of the box in your locker and were talking about Bjorn. Next thing I knew, there was this big flash of light, a fireball where you stood and then nothing.”
Panting, unable to catch her breath, Sheila reached out and grabbed a piece of exercise equipment to steady herself. Her mind was a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Everything she knew was being turned upside-down in an instant. “No! This can’t be!”
“I’m so sorry, Sheila,” Zig Zag said, pleading with her friend. “I couldn’t tell you in the hospital because of the doctors.”
Round and round, Sheila’s mind ran in ever tightening circles as she tried to get a grasp on the situation. Suddenly, as if a light had been turned on, the answer came to her. Slowly she turned to look at Zig Zag as her face twisted into a snarl. “You bitch!”
Startled by the reaction, Zig Zag took a step back.
“You fucking bitch!” Sheila barked. “You’re just trying to fuck with my head so I’ll take the kits!”
“No! It’s not like that!” Zig Zag said, taking another step back.
“You self centered, fucking whore!” Sheila spat, bearing her fangs. “How dare you try to pull this kind of shit!”
“I swear to God, Sheila, I’m not lying,” Zig Zag declared, holding her ground. “You can ask James. When I told him what happened, it almost destroyed our relationship.”
Zig Zag’s pleas fell on def ears. “Get out,” Sheila snarled, taking a threatening step forwards.
A couple of orderlies burst into the room. “Is there a problem?”
Sheila looked over at the gorillas before looking back at Zig Zag. “She was just leaving,” she said, before turning her back on her friend.
Zig Zag started to say something, but then thought better of it. Turning she walked towards the door, pausing before leaving. “I’ll talk to you when you’re feeling calmer.”
“I have nothing more to say to you,” Sheila declared as she snatched up her towel and headed for the locker room.
Zig Zag reluctantly allowed herself to be led from the room, wondering if she’d done the right thing.
Alone in one corner of the room, a small camera continued to record the now empty exercise room.
Anatol wasn’t impressed with the mayor’s villa. That’s not to say that the building wasn’t extravagant and luxurious. He recognized corruption when he saw it. The villa was probably worth more than the rest of the town combined and that annoyed him on several levels.
The claws of his feet clicked on the cold, Spanish marble tiles that covered the floor. A light breeze carried the cool mist created by one of several fountains that surrounded the house. Everywhere Anatol looked, he saw money being spent that could probably have been put to a better use, especially by the supposed leader of the town. Then again, this was a wolf pack town and in such places, the alpha male or female tended to squeeze the pack hard to remind them who was in charge.
“<Ah, welcome my friend!>” came the boisterous cry of a large wolf with a touch of gray starting to appear around his muzzle. He reached out to shake Paco’s hand before turning to Anatol. “<And I see you’ve brought a visitor,>” he commented, showing all the grace of a good host. “<You honor us with your presence, Señor.>”
“<Thank you for seeing me,>” Father Lysenko replied.
The wolf cocked his head to the side slightly. “<You have a very interesting accent. You are not like most gringos we get here. Where did you learn Spanish?>”
“<In Toledo, Spain. I worked at the Archdiocese for a while before being transferred to the Vatican,>” Anatol replied.
The wolf’s eyes widened. “<The Vatican?>” He turned to give Paco a shocked look. “<You didn’t tell me your friend was from the Vatican!>” Turning back to Anatol, he graciously waved the priest towards an inner room of the house. “<We are tremendously honored by your presence. Please come inside and sit. You must be weary from your travels.>”
Anatol followed the wolf through a doorway into a cool yet airy room. High ceiling fans created a gentle breeze, causing small flags and other decorations hanging from the ceiling to flutter. Glancing out of the corner of his eyes, he kept careful track of the mayor’s bodyguard.
Walking over to a wet bar, the mayor turned over a pair of glasses. “<Surely you must be parched. Would you care for a drink, my friend?>”
“<No thank you,>” Anatol replied, stepping towards the bar. “<What I’m interested in is a video tape. The one where your people were killed by the outsider.>”
The smile vanished from the wolf’s face as he glanced towards Paco and back to Anatol. “<I’m sorry that you came all this way for nothing.>” Putting the stopper back in the bottle, he gave Anatol a hard look. “<There is no such tape.>”
Anatol glanced at the guard who’d moved to stand nest to him before returning his attention to the mayor. “<I will be frank. I am hunting the creature that you videotaped. I need to see that tape. Please give it to me.>”
The wolf frowned. “<As I said, there is no tape.>” He nodded to his guard and said, “<This discussion is at an end. You will leave now.>”
Anatol’s head slowly turned towards the guard who had put a hand on his left shoulder and was applying pressure in an attempt to intimidate him. Swinging his arm out, up and around, the priest dislodged the canid’s grip and trapped his arm at the same time. Turning his body, Anatol brought his right hand up to grab the wolf’s throat while at the same time placing his right foot behind him, tripping him up. The wolf crashed to the floor, his head bouncing off the hard tiles, cracking them. Anatol lifted the wolf by the throat and bounced his head off the floor again to ensure he was knocked out.
Slowly his gaze turned to the mayor as he smoothly rose from a crouched position, his black frock and wide-brimmed hat giving the illusion of a shadow rising from the depths of hell.
The mayor reached into his jacket, but froze as stiletto appeared next to his head, imbedding itself into the wooden post that supported the roof. He looked to Anatol and saw his left hand pointed at the post while the right held another blade, ready to be thrown. The cuffs of the frock were pulled back to reveal two bandoleers, each containing two more knives on each arm.
“<If anything other than your hand comes out of that jacket, I will kill you,>” Anatol declared.
The wolf swallowed while slowly pulling his hand from his jacket.
Anatol relaxed slightly, allowing the sleeves to again cover his arms, though he still held a stiletto in his right hand. “<Now, you will give me that video tape, or I will call down upon you the wrath of God such as has not been seen since biblical times. Do you understand me?”>
Frowning, the mayor swallowed as he glanced once again at the knife buried in the post, and then back at Anatol before nodding in agreement.