IC Act 4/Chapter 23 - The chains that bind
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 23
The chains that bind

Sheila stood on the pedals of the exercise bike as she watched the display that showed her riding up the side of a rather steep simulated hill. Her legs were beginning to ache with the strain of the exercise session, but she hadn’t reached her limit yet. Dropping back down onto the seat as the exercycle released the brakes, she continued to peddle, keeping the blood flowing through her legs as she partially coasted down the other side of the simulated hill.

She glanced at the clock in the upper corner of the display and saw that her ride was almost over. Relaxing for a bit, she stretched her neck and arms while looking around the virtually empty exercise room. The only other person was a llama who was currently jogging on a treadmill. Her gaze slid over to the wall mirrors and settled on the all too familiar reflection. A young deer mouse was surreptitiously watching her while pretending to read his book. Sheila chuckled to herself as she pretended not to notice. Stretching her arms higher over her head as her legs continued to pump the pedals, she arched her back to emphasize her ample breasts, allowing them to pendulum to and fro, barely constrained by the sports bra she wore. The vixen let out a chuckle as she saw the deer mouse cross his legs and hunch over slightly.

Lowering her arms, she grasped the handles again while shaking her head in amusement. Ever since she’d checked in, she’d seen the kid around. At first, it was kind of weird having him watching her all the time, but lately it had become more of a game with her than anything else. She didn’t know exactly why he was checked in, though she had learned that he was there for therapy and not something physical. Whatever it was, it made for an interesting situation.

She’d tried a couple of times to talk to the small rodent, but he’d only looked down while mumbling something or turned and almost ran away. Although nobody would talk about why he was there, Sheila’s guess was that it was terminal shyness or some other socially debilitating issue. Whatever the reason, she had discovered that teasing the mouse was a welcome break from the otherwise daily monotony.

Her attention was attracted down to the display again as it began to beep. She saw that her virtual ride had ended. She flicked off the display with a thumb before climbing off the exercycle. A quick glance up at the clock caused her to wince. She’d have to hustle if she was going to make her morning appointment with the doctor.

Rushing through her shower, she climbed into the industrial full body fur dryer. With a twist of the knobs, she set the temperature and power to their maximums before turning it on. It took a few moments for the fans to spin up, but soon she was in the middle of what felt like hurricane force desert winds. Her body fur would look like crap, but fortunately the clothes she’d brought would cover that. At worst she’d have to worry about her hair and tail, and frankly, she didn’t mind looking bushy during the short walk to the doctor’s office. This wouldn’t be the first time she sat and groomed her fur while talking to the doctor.

Once she felt her fur was dry enough, she hit the off switch and opened the door. As an afterthought, she reached back in and set the dials back down to a more reasonable setting. She could just imagine some poor schmuck climbing in and starting it up without checking the knobs, only to get turned into a fuzzy tennis ball by the high powered blowers.

She padded her way to her locker, waving to a couple of others in the locker room as she walked by. Using an oversized brush, she quickly ran it over her body, forcing most of the fur to lie down. There were a few tangles and knots that she’d have to get with a stronger brush, but that would have to come later. Slipping on a pair of jeans, she buttoned them in front before zipping them up and then snapped the strap in the back that looped over her tail. With practiced ease, she slid a t-shirt over her head, pulling it down over her waist. Lastly she reached into the locker and removed her finishing brush before closing the door. A quick jiggle of the handle confirmed that it was indeed locked.

Making her way to her appointment, she arrived at the doctor’s outer office just as the doctor was arriving. “Good morning, Amanda,” Sheila cheerfully declared, greeting the psychologist.

The orangutan smiled as she greeted Sheila. “Good morning, Sheila. My, you’re rather chipper today,” she said, opening the door to the inner office.

“You know, I’m actually feeling pretty good today,” the vixen replied as she followed the psychologist into the office.

“Good morning, ladies,” Doctor Spivey said as he closed a drawer on his desk. He rose and stepped around to greet his wife, giving her a small peck before turning his attention to Sheila. “Did I hear you say that you were in good spirits today?”

“Yep!” the vixen declared. “I am so up and at ’em today that it’s just not funny. I’m telling you doc, life hasn’t been this good in a long time.”

John gave the two females a broad smile. “That’s wonderful news! I’m so glad to hear it. I’d better get going so you two can get started,” he said, stepping around the pair to leave the room, closing the door behind him.

“So,” Amanda said, taking a seat on the couch and crossing her legs. “What’s got you in such a good mood?”

Sheila grabbed the ottoman from its place by one of the plush chairs and pulled it over near the couch. As she sat down, she removed the brush from her pocket and began working on her tail. “To be honest,” she said, giving the orangutan a small laugh, “I really don’t care.”

Amanda blinked in confusion. “I beg your pardon?”

The vixen shrugged. “I just don’t care any more.”

“Don’t care about what?” the doctor replied, uncrossing her legs to lean towards her patient slightly.

“About any of it,” Sheila replied. “You know, what happened with Arden, those thugs and all that stuff. I just don’t care any more.”

The doctor tapped her fingers on her leg while she studied the vixen for a moment. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with your visit to James Sheppard, would it?”

Sheila forgot about her tail for a moment as she glared at the doctor. “Ricky ratted me out,” the vixen flatly stated.

Amanda took a deep breath and let it out. “Now, Sheila, you know how it works here. Ricky is an employee. When an employee leaves the facility during their shift with a patient, there are bound to be questions asked. Did you seriously think that he wouldn’t tell us what happened?”

“I guess not,” the vixen replied, shaking her head as she returned her attention to her tail. “Yeah, you’re right. It was James.”

“What exactly did he say?” the orangutan asked, leaning back against the couch again.

“I’d rather not go into specifics,” Sheila replied.

Amanda shook her head. “Sheila, I can only help you if you’re completely honest with me.”

The vixen laughed. “That’s just it,” she replied, looking up at the psychologist. “I don’t need your help any more.”

“Because you don’t care,” Amanda replied.

Sheila nodded. “Right, because I don’t care,” the vixen restated. “You see, I’ve been worrying about all this shit that happened in the past and how its going to affect me, when there’s no reason. It doesn’t matter which is real, my kidnapping or the fantasy world my mind made up. Either way, its all in the past and its not going to affect me any more.”

“You can’t just shrug off something like this,” the doctor explained. “What do you think is going to happen when you see your kits again?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Sheila replied with another laugh. “I already spent a couple of hours with them when I stopped by the studio afterwards.

Amanda blinked in surprise. Ricky hadn’t mentioned that part. “You spent time with the kits? Tell me about it.”

Sheila finished ratting out the last of the tangles in her tail and let go of it. Clasping her hands around the brush, she leaned forwards, resting her elbows on her knees. “It was good. At first, I was nervous, but once I was holding onto Thomas, it was---indescribable. It was just one of the most amazing feelings. To finally realize that he’s my kit. Arden and I. Our kit.”

“Sheila, you know as well as I do that the kits can’t be Arden’s,” Amanda quietly declared.

“You see, that’s where the ‘I don’t care’ part of it comes in,” Sheila replied, sitting up. “I don’t care if it is possible or not. As far as I’m concerned, those kits are mine and Arden’s, and nobody else’s, and nothing you’re going to say or do will make me change my mind.” She leaned forwards and smiled as she shook her head. “Because it doesn’t matter. I don’t care if you prove who the real father is, it won’t make a difference to me. They’re Arden’s kits because I want them to be his.”

“Well, that’s a very admirable attitude, but I’m not sure you realize all the possible consequences,” the doctor said, shaking her head. “What if the real father discovers that the kits are his and sues for joint or sole custody?”

Sheila let out a loud bark of laughter that startled the psychologist. “Right. I can see it now,” she said, changing her demeanor as her voice became husky. “Yes, your honor. I forced Miss Vixen to have non-consensual sex resulting in the birth of the two kits.” She laughed again. “The judge would laugh him out of the court room.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Amanda replied, shaking her head sadly. “A lot has changed in the courts while you were out of circulation. The way the courts have been acting, I wouldn’t be surprised if some judge did seriously consider his plea, especially if he claimed that the sex was actually consensual.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll deal with that when the time comes. For now,” she said, throwing her hands up in the air, “I don’t care.”

Amanda took another deep breath and slowly let it out. This was a twist she hadn’t anticipated and that annoyed her. Up until now, Sheila had been easily manipulated, allowing her to control the flow of emotions. Somehow, the vixen had managed to break that carefully wrought chain without even realizing she had done it.

Yes, this was definitely going to complicate things.

= = = = =

Anatol blinked his eyes at the bright Panamanian sun as he stepped through the door of the twin engine DC-3 cargo aircraft, and onto the portable steps that had been lowered from the plane. At first he had been distrustful of the aircraft. Considering that it had once served during World War II, he had been surprised to find the vintage aircraft was still in use. When he mentioned it to the pilot, the old raccoon had laughed and explained that there were DC-3s still in service all around the world. The aircraft was a sturdy, low-maintenance machine that was still popular with bush pilots who didn’t have access to multi-billion dollar airports and their high tech maintenance centers.

Stepping down onto the tarmac, Anatol watched as a black sedan pulled up next to the aircraft. He watched as a small agouti wearing a smartly tailored suit and patent leather shoes climbed out. Hefting his duffle bag over his shoulder, Anatol approached the car.

“Father Lysenko?” the muscular rodent asked, holding out his hand. “My name is Brother Diego Franko. I’ve been assigned as your liaison to the archdiocese while you’re here.”

Anatol gave the agouti’s hand a firm shake. “Thank you,” he replied, passing his bag to the driver. He climbed into the back of the spacious car and made himself comfortable. As the car pulled away from the aircraft, Anatol noted that they were headed away from the main terminal. “Don’t I have to go through customs?”

The rodent shook his head. “We have taken care of that. The church still has a good deal of influence here in Panama.”

Anatol removed his hat and set it on the seat. This wasn’t the first time he’d flown to Central America, but it was the first time he’d not passed through customs without having to ‘unofficially’ enter the country.

Uncomfortable from the extreme humidity, Anatol unbuttoned the front of his smock.

“Are you too warm?” his host asked.

The priest shook his head. “It’s all right. I’m just not used to this humidity. Don’t worry about me. I need to acclimate as quickly as possible so I can continue the hunt. Have you discovered any leads yet?”

Diego nodded. Reaching down, he removed a briefcase from under the seat. He quickly dialed in the codes for the locks before opening the case. Removing a single folder, he passed it to the priest. “Working from the information you gave us, we believe that she is still in the country. There have been several incidents in towns along the canal, working from the Atlantic towards the Pacific. Our investigators have determined that in each case, a black female of varying species was involved, and that each time she was looking for Tammy Vixen, just as you predicted.”

Anatol shuffled through the documents, scanning them as he went. “Any idea where she may be now?”

“Here in Panama City,” the rodent replied, causing Anatol to look up. “There was an altercation last night at a rather exclusive club involving a black conejo---how do you say?”

“Rabbit,” Anatol replied, flipping to the last page.

“Ah, yes, a black rabbit. There was an altercation, which resulted in three people being hospitalized. According to the police report, the female was looking for Señor Carlos Antigua. When security attempted to escort her from the club, she attacked them, hospitalizing three of the five males involved. She only fled after one drew his weapon and fired at her. According to his report, he hit her twice in the chest. At this time, we’ve not received any reports from any hospitals about a shooting victim or the police about a body being found.”

“Nor will you,” Anatol replied. “This thing isn’t natural. As I understand it, she was shot twice in the back by a shotgun and shrugged it off. Somehow I don’t think an ordinary bullet will be enough to stop it.” Closing the folder, Anatol leaned back looked out the window for a second then sat up straight. “Where are we going? Why aren’t we going to the archdiocese?”

“Your presence there could become---inconvenient,” the rodent replied.

Anatol’s eyes narrowed into thin slits as he studied the rodent. “You didn’t take care of customs. You covered my entry into the country.”

“Your activities in Mexico have attracted too much attention,” Diego replied, ignoring the priest’s hostility. “If you had entered the country though official means, there may have been complications which could delay or even prevent the completion of your mission.”

“I see,” Anatol replied, letting go of his anger. “So where are we going?”

“We have acquired accommodations for you at a villa not far from Señor Antigua’s residence,” the rodent explained, removing a set of keys from his briefcase and handing them to the priest. “Once you are settled in, we will introduce you to Señor Antigua.”

The priest examined the keys, noting each one was marked as to its function. “What about my equipment? I’ll need access to the vaults in the cathedral.”

“Father Ruiz has already accessed the vaults and drawn what he deemed to be appropriate for your mission,” the agouti replied. “If there is anything that you need which wasn’t included, let me know and we will obtain it for you.”

Anatol folded his arms over his chest as he again relaxed back into the plush leather cushions. He didn’t like the idea of coming into Panama this way. It was clear to him that if anything went wrong, or if things got too out of hand, the church could disown him. He was not pleased with the situation. Not pleased at all.

= = = = =

Sheila leaned over and passed the cabby a pair of twenty-dollar bills. “Here you go. Keep the change,” she said, giving him a wave. She turned away from the cab and walked up to the front doors of the studio. The unusual weight of the bulletproof glass seemed odd to her. She still had trouble believing all the changes that had happened in the last year. She gave a friendly wave to the receptionist before being buzzed through into the main part of the studio.

Turning left, she headed for the AD’s office. Gently pushing the partly closed door open, she saw Hazel sitting with her feet up on the desk, reading a magazine. On either side of the squirrel sat spring-loaded swings that rocked the kits as they slept, the winding arms of which were within easy reach of the young female. “Hey!” Sheila whispered as she tiptoed quietly into the room. “How’s it going?”

Hazel’s eyes lit up as she sat the paper aside, dropping her feet to the floor. “Not bad,” she replied, giving the vixen a wide smile. “You here to take them off my hands---permanently?

Sheila gave the squirrel a chuckle. “Not today, but soon if everything goes right.”

“Oh? How’s that?” Zig Zag asked, leaning against the doorframe. “Are they going to let you take care of them in the hospital?”

“Better than that,” Sheila replied as she virtually skipped over to her boss. “The doctor said that if I don’t show any signs of depression or any other psychobabble for a week, then she’ll discharge me!”

“That’s great news!” Zig Zag exclaimed, giving the vixen a quick hug. “You see? I told you if you stuck with it, things would work out.”

Sheila rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. “Yeah, right!” she spat. “Like that shrink did anything for me. My conversation with James did a hell of a lot more good than anything those losers ever did!”

Zig Zag held her hands out in front of her to deflect the vixen’s outburst. “OK! OK! You’re right. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, boss,” the vixen replied, allowing the brief tantrum to vanish as quickly as it appeared. “The big thing right now is seeing about finding a place to live, getting things setup for the kits. Oh God, there are a million things I have to do.”

“The first of which is to slow down,” Zig Zag said, putting an arm around the vixen and leading her over to the couch in the room. “Getting out in a week is all well and good, but I think you should take things one step at a time. Taking care of kits is a full time responsibility, and even though you’ll have a nanny it’s a lot to get used to.”

Sheila frowned at her friend for a moment. “What are you saying?”

“I think it might be best if you spent a little time in a regular apartment with someone, maybe one of the girls, just until you’re used to being out on your own again. That’ll give us time to find a place with enough room for you, the kits and the nanny.”

“I don’t get it,” Sheila said, still frowning slightly. “Why not just set me up with an apartment now that’s got three rooms. I don’t get why you don’t just set me up with the kits and a nanny right away.”

Zig Zag frowned for a moment, then nodded slightly. “It’s just this, James and I have some reservations about putting you, the kits, and a nanny together cold turkey. What we want to do is have the nanny live with me in my place for a bit so I can get a good feeling how they’ll work out with the kits. Once James and I are satisfied that there isn’t anything fishy going on, then we’ll see about setting you up with your own place.”

Reaching out, Zig Zag put a hand on Sheila’s knee. “Think about it. We haven’t even interviewed the final candidates for the job. We don’t even know if you’ll like them or not.”

“We don’t need to interview them,” Sheila replied. “Let’s go with that guy I met the other day. What was his name? Tom? I liked him, and the kits sure took to him.”

Zig Zag nodded. “Thomas is one of the three we’ll be interviewing. However I want you to meet all three so you can decide.” She chuckled and ribbed her friend with her elbow. “Come on, kiddo! Who taught you not to buy the first car you look at?”

Sheila shrugged and then nodded. “Yeah, I guess so,” she reluctantly admitted. “So who are you thinking about having me shack up with?”

This time it was Zig Zag’s turn to shrug. “Right this moment, I don’t know. I’m not sure who may have a free bedroom.”

“How about me?” Hazel piped up from over by the desk. “I’ve been saving my money up to move into my own place. How about letting me stay with Sheila until you’re ready to set her up with the nanny? That way you guys could drop off the kits and not be worried about them getting neglected or something.”

Zig Zag shook her head. “I don’t think so…”

“Why not?” Sheila interrupted. “I think it’s a great idea! It’s not like I really need my own baby sitter, and I think hanging with the kid might be fun. She can try to keep me out of trouble and I can try to get her into it.” Giving her boss a wide grin, she elbowed her ribs in return. “Almost like the old days when you and I were shacked up.”

“No!” Zig Zag declared sharply. “That’s my neighbor’s kid and I’m not going to have you corrupting her!”

“What?” Hazel squeaked in surprise. “No way! That’s bullshit! I’m trying to get away from that fucking witch and now you’re saying I can’t move in with Sheila because it’ll piss my mom off?” She let out a frustrated grunt. “Damn it! I trusted you! You said you wouldn’t treat me any differently from anyone else here!” The squirrel sat down in a huff with her arms crossed over her chest and her muzzle set in a pout.

Zig Zag winced as both kits, now startled awake by the squirrel’s outburst, began to cry. Zig Zag pressed her hands to the side of her head as she attempted to preempt the pounding headache that was starting to make its presence felt. She glanced over at Sheila, whose expression said far more than any words ever could.

“How the hell did I ever get into this mess?” Zig Zag muttered.

= = = = = =

“Sir,” the butler, an English mastiff, said after clearing his voice. “There is a phone call for you.”

The jackal took a sip of his cognac as he watched the glowing embers in the fireplace pulse with the flow and ebb of the air currents. After a few seconds, he sighed, and nodded. “Thank you, Vincent. I’ll take it in my study.”

“Yes, sir,” the mastiff replied before turning and leaving the room.

The jackal set his drink on the table by the chair before rising. He cinched the belt around his smoking jacket tight as he walked from the library to the study. Once in the study, he sat down behind the large, antique mahogany desk and leaned back into the chair. He lifted the phone from its cradle and spoke, “Yes?”

“I have some bad news,” the female voice from the other end declared.

“Yes?” The jackal replied, his voice still flat and emotionless.

“She’s broken the conditioning,” the voice declared. There was a long pause after which the voice could be heard to ask, “Hello?”

“Yes, I’m still here,” the jackal replied, his mind racing. “How?”

“I don’t know,” the voice replied. “She talked to someone outside the facility. I don’t know what they discussed, but it’s completely shattered the conditioning.”

The jackal let out a long sigh. “How much longer can you delay her egress?”

“A week, maybe more,” the voice replied. “After that, it’s going to start looking real suspicious, to a lot of people.”

“I understand,” the jackal replied.

“Um,” the voice started, but stopped.


“About our agreement,” the voice asked.

The jackal pursed his lips for a moment. “I will honor our bargain. What happened was outside your sphere of influence.”

There was a sigh of relief from the other end. “Thank you.”

He nodded absentmindedly. “Call me if there are any further developments.”

“Understood,” the voice replied.

Placing the phone back on the hook, the jackal considered his options. A moment later he picked up the phone and dialed.

After two rings, he heard a voice answer, “Yeah?”

“Tony? It’s me,” the jackal declared. “We have a problem.