IC Act 4/Chapter 27 - Never try to beat the house when playing mind games
Story © 2000-2007 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 27
Never try to beat the house when playing mind games

Larry hurried towards the doors of the hospital, moving as quickly as he could without breaking into an all-out sprint. The last thing he wanted to do was slip and break something on the rain slickened asphalt. He slowed down to give the doors time to open, noting his reflection in the glass. The multiple electronic badges that were clipped to his navy whites stood out because of their colorful holders. He grimaced as he removed the badges from his chest and tucked them into his pocket. Security protocols dictated that such badges weren’t supposed to be displayed off base.

Once inside the building, he paused for a moment to allow a shiver to run down his body and shake some of the rain off of his uniform. He gave his tails a quick shake and noted that they weren’t dripping wet, meaning that he wouldn’t have to pause at the drying station.

He strode with a definite purpose towards the elevators. He’d taken this route most every day for the first two months that his fiancé had been in the hospital. After the doctors told him that it was unlikely she’d ever wake up, he’d still made the trek, though less often of late because of his work. Normally he would have been here to visit by now, but he’d been ordered to replace his superior at a meeting. There he had the dubious honor of listening to a very long winded admiral preach about something that had absolutely nothing to do with his group, but was clearly important enough to require the heads of all departments on the base to attend.

Pressing the button for the elevator, the fox shook his head at the memory of that meeting. Barely fifteen minutes into the three hours of hell he’d had to endure, he’d received a text message from his secretary telling him that his fiancé had come out of her coma. Never in his life had he been more anxious for a meeting to end.

He looked up at the sound of a bell and the elevator doors opened. The ride up had seemed to take longer than ever, but finally it was over. He stepped out and walked briskly towards her room, only to stop at the sound of a voice.

“Commander!” A graying raccoon waved a hand to the fox, gesturing for him to stop.

Turning, he spotted his fiancé’s doctor. “Doctor! Is it true? Is she awake?” Larry anxiously asked.

“Yes, she’s awake,” the raccoon replied, nodding with a serious expression on his face, “however, there is something you should be aware of.”

Larry’s hart sunk. “What’s wrong, Doc? Is she---?” he asked, unable to frame the question.

“She’s awake, alert and responsive,” the doctor replied, turning to walk with the fox towards the patient’s room. “However, if you’ll remember I mentioned that, given the trauma she received during the car crash, combined with our inability to bring her out of a coma, there was the possibility of permanent neurological trauma.”

Larry stopped and huffed in disbelief. “What are you saying, Doc? What’s wrong with her?”

“It’s not as bad as you might imagine,” the raccoon replied, shaking his head. “In fact, given the nature of her head trauma---frankly, I’m amazed at how well she is doing.”

Closing his eyes for a second, the fox forced the aggravation he was feeling down as he took a deep breath and let it go. “Please, Doc. Would you just tell me what’s going on.”

“As I said,” the raccoon started to say, turning to walk down the hallway, “Miss Vulpine is awake and responsive. She’s quite an articulate lady and appears to have suffered no permanent disability with one minor exception.” He paused at the doorway and gave the fox a sad look. “It’s her memory, son. It’s very rare and it’s called Dissociative Amnesia. The short of it is that she remembers everything before the crash, but unfortunately it doesn’t register as having belonged to her. It’s as if she had watched her entire life on the telly.”

Larry’s head spun, forcing him to brace himself against the wall with his hand as he fought to breathe. “I---I’m not quite sure I understand, Doc. Are you saying that she remembers us being together, but—”

The raccoon put his hand on the fox’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. ‘That’s exactly it, my boy. Unfortunately, right now she may remember you, but it would be as if you met the president. You would recognize him from TV, but you’d have no real emotional connection to him.”

“My God!” the fox moaned, leaning heavily against the wall as his world crumbled around him.

“There is hope, my boy,” the raccoon said, trying to break through the fox’s despair. “Considering her amazing recovery so far, it’s entirely possible that she may recover from this as well.”

“Meaning that she might not,” Larry commented as the repercussions of their conversation sank in. He took a moment to straighten up and compose himself before facing the doctor again. “Thank you, Doctor. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to see my fiancé now.”

The doctor nodded and silently pushed the door open and stepped into the room, holding it for him.

Larry removed his hat and tucked it under his arm as he moved into the room. Her bed would be on the other side of the partially drawn privacy curtain. He found it hard to swallow as he approached the curtain. It felt like the first time he’d come to the hospital after the accident.

He’d been on a TDA in Japan and it had taken several days for him to get permission to return to the US, despite using an emergency medical request. By that time, they’d placed her in this room with a ventilator to help her breathe. Since then, she’d grown strong enough to be weaned from the machine, but had never shown any signs of waking up---until today.

Stepping around the corner, he flashed the vixen lying in the bed a broad smile. “Hey, Mickey! How’s my girl doing?”

The vixen turned her head and looked at the fox, studying him for a few seconds. “You’re---you’re, Larry?” she hesitantly asked.

“That’s right,” the fox replied moving closer to the bed. “I’m Larry, your fiancé.”

The vixen’s brows furrowed as she concentrated on remembering. “Fiancé?” she echoed, giving him a confused, almost scared look.

“Yeah, fiancé,” Larry replied, gently settling down on the bed, laying his hat at her feet. “Do you remember us eating dinner at Mario’s? We’d just finished eating dinner and Marco had brought out desert and your engagement ring had been stuck in the top of the tiramisu.”

“I---” she started to say, but paused to shake her head, as if to shake the memories lose. “I remember Mario’s and---and you told me about your assignment in Japan …”

“Right, I was going to be over in Japan for the next six months,” Larry replied, smiling.

The vixen looked up at the fox, and then away, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I remember it, but it’s just---it’s not real to me.”

“Michelle, please …” Larry begged, reaching out to take her hand, but was startled when she flinched away from his touch. He again felt his heart sink as he looked down at the female he loved, cowering away from his touch.

Standing, Larry straightened up his whites and then recovered his hat from the bed. “I’m sorry. I’m sure that this is all very confusing to you. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come back and visit you again tomorrow. Would that be acceptable?”

Michelle thought about it and nodded. “Yes. I think I’d like that.”

The fox smiled as he placed his hat back on his head. “Very well, miss. I will return here tomorrow at seventeen-fifty hours.” He gave her a brief bow before turning and walking from the room. He smiled as he pressed the button for the elevator. She may have forgotten her feelings for him, but he’d courted her once and won her heart so there wasn’t any reason he shouldn’t be able to do it again.

Hazel climbed out of Tiny’s Mercedes Benz and looked over at the line of people waiting to get into the club. The bright, neon sign read “Stampede” with two huge bull horns coming off either side. “Oh, man. Look at that line. It’ll take us forever to get in,” Hazel complained, reaching for the door handle. “Guess we should go somewhere else.

“Not on your life,” Tiny said, hitting the remote for the car, causing it to lock the doors and beep at him. “They’ll let us in.”

“Lemme guess, you’re sleeping with the owner, right?” Hazel quipped.

Tiny laughed. “Something like that.”

As they approached the doorway, the bulldog bouncer noticed Tiny and nodded in his direction. “Yo! Tiny! Long time, no see!” he said, holding a fist out.

Tiny tapped the bulldog’s fist with his. “Not bad, Dave. Not bad. How are things going tonight? Any trouble?”

“Just the usual clowns,” the bouncer said with a shrug. “Nothing major. Count’s good tonight. Really packing them in even though it’s a Thursday.”

Tiny nodded. “Sweet! Is May in?”

“Should be,” the bulldog answered, opening the door for him. He stopped Hazel as she started to follow Tiny in. “I need to see some ID.”

Hazel gave a panicked look at the big bull’s back. “TINY!” she yelled.

Tiny turned around and frowned. “She’s with me, Dave.”

The bulldog shook his head. “May said that we need---”

“I said she’s with me!” Tiny replied sharply, glaring at the bouncer.

“You’re the boss,” the bull dog replied, waving Hazel through before closing the door.

Hazel followed Tiny past the cashier and coat check into the bar where she came to a halt. Although the music she could hear outside of the place had a definite country and western sound to it, it was nothing compared to the interior. The place was covered with a western motif, including one of those ridiculous mechanical bulls she’d seen in a movie once.

“Oh, hell no!” The squirrel declared, and turned to leave, but found a rather large bovine hand holding onto her arm.

“Now, now!” Tiny said, admonishing her with the index finger of his free hand. “We had an agreement.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t say anything about me having to hang out with a bunch of shit stomper wanabee’s!” Hazel declared, looking down at her halter top, Hawaiian shirt and pleated skirt. “Do I look like one of these city-yokels?”

Tiny let go of her arm and smiled. “Relax. It’s not that bad and we’ll only be here for a little while. We’ve got work in the morning so I’m not planning to make this an all nighter.”

“Oh, all right,” the squirrel grudgingly agreed. She followed Tiny as he wound his way through the crowd and tables towards a door in the back of the building. Everyone seemed to know Tiny and more than one female---usually drunk, would jump up and try to attach herself to him like some kind of mutant leach.

Her eyes were drawn to a group of people out in the open area who were dancing. “Holy crap! A line dance? You gotta be kidding me,” she muttered to herself as she walked, watching the people doing their move. Not paying attention to where she was going, she tripped over something and stumbled into Tiny’s back, before recovering.

“You OK back there?” the big bull asked, looking back over his shoulders.

“Yeah, just tripped over something,” Hazel replied, then muttered to herself, “or someone.”

They finally made it to the door, allowing Hazel to give a sigh of relief as the sound of the music was cut. She wiggled a finger in her right ear to try and clear the ringing as she followed Tiny through a side door half way down the short hallway.

“Tiny!” A large heffer who was almost as big as Tiny was, jumped up from behind the desk and came around it in a rush, running into the big bull with such force she knocked him off his feet and onto a large, padded couch that groaned menacingly as their weight landed on it. “Where ever have you been, you gorgeous hunk of meat, you?”

“Philly,” Tiny grunted out, trying to catch his breath, “visiting my sister and her kids.”

May pulled her legs up onto the couch so she straddled Tiny’s lap and grabbed both is ears, making him groan again. “Don’t you know better than to run off like that, boy! I thought something happened to you!”

“Uh, yeah,” Tiny replied, wincing. “By the way, May, I’d like you to meet Hazel. Hazel, this is May.”

May glanced towards the door, noticing Hazel for the first time and frowned. “Who the hell are you?”

Hazel glanced between May and Tiny. “Um, I’m Hazel. I’m Tiny’s date.”

May turned and glared at Tiny. “That little thing is your date?” She demanded, letting go of the bull’s ears to sit up straight. “Oh, Tiny, tell me you’re not planning on ruining that poor little thing, are you?”

“No, I’m not,” Tiny said, scooting back on the couch a little so he could sit up straight. “She works with me at the studio.”

May now turned and glared at Hazel. “You’re not one of those whores he work with at ZZ Studios, are you?”

Hazel’s eyes widened as she shook her head. “No, ma’am! I’m a carpenter. I work in the sets department.”

The cow’s expression softened slightly. “Then you won’t mind sitting outside for a while so Tiny and I can get reacquainted, would you?”

“May, you know I can’t do that,” Tiny declared. “I’m supposed to start shooting tomorrow and you know Zig’s rules about having sex outside the studio with someone who hasn’t been cleared.”

May turned and smiled at Hazel. “I’m sure Hazel here wouldn’t tell, would you, dear?”

Hazel glanced over at Tiny who was urgently shaking his head at her, with a terrified expression on his face. She fought back a smile and shook her head. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but Zig Zag kind of sent me along as kind of a chaperone. I’m supposed to tell her if he ditches me and---well---since she’s my boss …”

May’s face fell. “Fine, make yourself at home,” She said, climbing off of the couch and returning to her chair. She picked up a cigarette, lit it up and blew out a cloud of smoke, all the time while glaring at Tiny who looked uncomfortable.

“So, May,” Tiny started, leaning forward slightly as Hazel dropped onto the couch next to him, “You wanted to see me about something?”

“Yeah,” May replied, letting out a heavy sigh. She put the cigarette in an ash tray and pulled a folded up letter from a stack on her desk. “You should take a look at this,” she said, tossing it to Tiny.

Tiny unfolded the paper and looked at it a moment before letting out a long stream of curses. “What the fuck is this shit?”

“That’s what I said when I read it,” May replied. “But I called up our distributor and they said it was for real.”

“Well then fuck them,” Tiny replied, crumpling up the letter and throwing it at the trash can. “Well find another vendor to buy from.”

“That’s what I thought, but it’s not that easy,” May replied, taking another draw on her cigarette. “All of the distributors for this area have us listed as high risk for some reason. They all want premium pricing and net 15 on the liquor.”

Tiny winced and leaned his head back for a minute before looking back over at May. “We’ve got cash to cover it?”

“Kind of,” she replied, finishing the cigarette and stamping the butt out. “If we cancel opening the new bar down in Cleveland, we should be able to eat the fees on breaking the lease and still have enough operational cash to stay open. That’s assuming nothing else goes wrong.”

“Shit,” Tiny spat as he looked down at the floor, resting his elbows on his knees for support. “That means we’re out the remodeling funds and all the deposits, right?”

“That’s it,” May replied flatly, having grown used to the idea already.

“What the fuck?” Tiny asked, looking back up at her. “You’ve been paying bills on time, right?”

“Don’t you even go there, mister!” May angrily replied. “I was in the hospital for three weeks and laid up at home for two more when that happened and it’s never happened since, so don’t start pointing the finger at me!” She got up and pulled open a filing cabinet drawer. “Everything’s in here. Everything’s up to date and the last credit report I pulled said we are up in the eights.”

Tiny stood up and started pacing. “Then how in the fuck is this happening? Distributors don’t just put someone on the high risk list for no reason?”

“You ask them!” May shouted, slamming the phone down on the desk near him. “I’ve called everyone I could think of at the distributor and they all say the same thing: They don’t know, but a request to corporate for confirmation on status came back as high risk. I call corporate and they refuse to answer, telling me to talk to the distributor. It’s fucked up!”

Tiny stopped pacing and took a deep breath, letting it out to release the tension. “So where do we go from here?”

“I don’t know,” May replied, dropping heavily back into her chair. “I’ve got Manny talking with the feds about having them investigate from a possible racketeering stand point since all five distributors said the same thing at the same time despite us having a crystal clear credit report and good ordering and payment history.”

Tiny studied May for a moment. “You don’t seriously believe that, do you?”

The cow rolled her eyes. “No, but if it gets them to look into whatever the fuck is going on, then maybe we can get back down to business as usual. I don’t need any more weird shit happening around here.”

“Weird shit?” That got Tiny’s attention. “What kind of weird shit?”

May shrugged. “Oh, you know, the usual. Like the cops showing up to check ID’s three times in the last three weeks. That’s why I told the boys not to let anyone in who didn’t have a perfect ID.”

“All right,” Tiny said, shaking his head. “Let me do some checking with my people and see what I can come up with.”

“Good luck. Everyone I talk to just gives me the brush off,” May replied.

Hazel sat quietly in the car on the drive back, trying not to distract Tiny.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Tiny said after a while.

“That’s OK. Not like females aren’t always throwing themselves at you and stuff,” she replied.

Tiny snorted in reply. “That’s not what I meant. I’m talking about our business discussion. I usually don’t get that --- verbal. I’m sorry.”

Hazel looked at him and cocked an ear in his direction. “Huh? What are you talking about?”

“My language,” Tiny replied. “I usually don’t lose it around the ladies like that.”

“Fuck that,” Hazel said, snickering. “Wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.”

“Still, my mother raised me to be polite around ladies,” the bull replied.

“Who says I’m a lady,” Hazel muttered, looking out the window at the passing lights.

“I do,” Tiny replied, though he knew she hadn’t meant it as a real question. “I like you, Hazel. You’re a cute kid and you’re fun to be around. Whatever you may think, you’ll always be a lady to me.”

Hazel straightened up and tilted her head to the side as she looked back over at Tiny. “Wait---wasn’t that a song lyric?”

Tiny sighed.

“And what’s the deal with that cow?” she asked, shaking her head.

“Oh, she’s my business partner. We both own The Stampede.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Hazel replied, shaking her head. “I’m talking about the way she jumped on you. God, I thought she was going to rip your clothes off there for a second.”

“She very well might have,” Tiny replied. He thought for a moment, and then continued. “She’s my ex.”

“Ex as in ex-girlfriend?” Hazel asked.

“Ex, as in ex-wife,” Tony replied.

Hazel’s jaw dropped for a moment. “Wait a second. That’s your ex-wife? You divorced her and she still wants to jump your bones?”

Tiny chuckled. “Not quite. She divorced me. She couldn’t handle my working for Zig. Still the sex was always great between us and we never let our divorce get in the way of us still being friends.”

“No shit,” Hazel replied, snickering.

Tiny frowned and glanced over at the squirrel who was slowly starting to have a giggling fit. “Hey now---it’s not that funny!”

Hazel just continued to laugh all the way home.

“Sometimes I just love this place,” Sheila mumbled to herself as she loaded the last of the food on the tray. She glanced around the empty kitchen to make sure there wasn’t anything she’d missed before she picked up the tray. Turning out the lights as she passed through the door, Sheila balanced the tray on one hand as she munched on the French fries she’d prepared. Considering they were nuked, they weren’t half bad.

A quick ride up to her floor on the elevator gave her time to sneak a couple more fries, dipped in the small bowl of ketchup off to the side. Zig Zag had always kidded her for smothering her food in ketchup, but that never really deterred her.

She glanced hungrily at the other food on the tray in anticipation of getting to her room. Hotdogs smothered in relish and mustard, and a bowl of baked beans from dinner earlier that night. Midnight raids on the kitchen weren’t common for her, but when they had her favorites, you couldn’t beat having an open kitchen policy. She’d have to be careful about that or she’d wind up looking like that tubby tabby, Loretta.

Sheila balanced the platter on one hand again as she walked down the corridor and dipped two more fries into the sauce before popping them in her mouth as she started around the corner of the hall. She was surprised to see someone coming towards her around the corner. With a startled yelp, she tried to dodge while at the same time hang on to the platter and failed miserably, slamming into him full force. She let out another yelp as she landed backwards on her rump. The large equine staggered back a step from the force of the collision.

“Jesus fucking Christ, bitch!” he snarled, looking down at his suit jacket which had taken the brunt of the food’s impact. Sheila could clearly see where the two hotdogs had hit as well as the splash area of the ketchup. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he cried, looking down at his clothes. He looked up slightly at the vixen sitting on the floor and growled. “Do you have any idea how much this suit costs?” he asked, gesturing with a hand wearing a ring that sparkled in the hallway lights. “Damnit, I’ll never get this out!”

Tony looked down at food that had splattered onto his suit after Sheila had been tripped, bringing it to him. “Damnit, bitch! What did I tell you about being careful?” he said, shaking a fist at her, the flecks of diamond flickering at her.

“I’m sorry!” Sheila cried, scrambling onto her hands and knees. “I’m so very sorry!” she declared, grabbing the hand full of paper napkins that had been on the tray. She grabbed a hold of the equine’s jacket and started to use the napkins to wipe off the mess, but only succeeded in smearing it around.

“Get your filthy paws off of me,” the large equine ordered, backhanding Sheila in the face as she struggled to get the splattered food off of his pants leg.

“Stop it,” he commanded. When she kept trying to scrub off the condiments. “God damnit, bitch, I said stop it! Get your filthy hands off me!” He ordered again, this time grabbing both her hands and pushing her away from him.

Tony hovered over her, his fist slowly pulling his belt from around his waist. “Didn’t I tell you what I’d do the next time you pulled this kind of shit?” he demanded, as he leaned in for the strike.

“I’m so sorry!” Sheila cried, cowering away in fear. “It was an accident. I swear! I didn’t mean to do it! Really!”

He brought the belt down against her shoulders and back, causing it to crack loudly against her muscle and fur. “You really think I give a shit if it was an accident or not, you fucking cunt!”?

The equine angrily slammed the side of his fist into the wall of the corridor. “Do you really think I give a shit?” he snarled. “You’ve ruined a five hundred dollar suit! Who’s going to pay for this?”

Breathing heavily, Tony straightened up and snarled down at the female. “Now clean this mess up.”

“I’ll clean it up. I will,” Sheila said, trying to reach for the coat again.

“Don’t touch me with your filthy hands,” Tony snarled, backhanding the vixen. “Clean this shit up off of the floor!”

“Keep away from me,” he ordered again, raising his hand to slap hers away. “Just clean this shit up off of the floor before someone slips on it and breaks their neck!”

Sheila looked at the food on the floor as the equine stormed away. She picked up the platter and rapidly started to gather the food onto it, scraping the mustard, relish, ketchup and beans with her hands. Soon she had most of the food up, but there was no way to get the sauce off the floor. She stripped her shirt off and used it to mop up most of the sauces, but even with that she found that there were still slick spots.

”You missed some,” Tony grumbled, pointing at some smears on the hardwood floors. “Clean it up.”

“I’ll get a towel,” Sheila said as she started to gather up the broken dishes.

“Fuck that,” Tony barked. “Use your tongue!” he ordered. “Lap it up off the floor like the dog you are.”

In a panic, Sheila got down on her hands and knee’s and began licking up the remains of the condiments. Once all traces were gone, she gathered up the tray and rushed back down the stairs and into the kitchen. She threw her shirt in to the trash before dumping the tray, dishes food and all, into the sink.

For a second she looked at the mess, then turned and grabbed the sides of the trashcan before vomiting the food she’d just eaten. Shaking wildly, she stumbled backwards against the cabinets and slid down to the floor.

Hugging herself tightly, the vixen began to cry.