IC Act 4/Chapter 27 - Never try to beat the house when playing mind games
Story © 2000-20011 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 28
Stuck in the Dog Pound

Doctor Spivey marched into the video surveillance room and demanded, "OK, what's the story?"

Mark, a young lemur, pressed a couple of buttons to begin the playback of a video on the largest screen. "About forty five minutes ago, Miss Vixen had a run in with Doctor Kane---"

"Kane?" Spivey spat. "What's that fraud doing in my building?"

"Apparently he was visiting a friend. He was on his way out when Miss Vixen ‘ran into him'," the lemur stated, using his fingers to put quotes in the air as he spoke, "as he was on his way out. As you can see, he reacted like the ass he is and practically bit her head off."

"That son of a---" she muttered under her breath. "All right, where's Sheila now?"

"Not yet," Mark said, holding up a hand. "You're going to want to see this."

"Going to want to see---oh no." Amanda's jaw dropped as she watched Sheila start to lick the food off the floor. "Oh, dear God, no!"

The video continued to play back as it cut from camera to camera, following the vixen all the way to the kitchen up until the point where she began scrubbing the dishes. Mark hit a button to fast forward the tape. The video showed a female raccoon coming in and out of frame for close to twenty minutes until she finally succeeded in leading the vixen back to her room.

Amanda let out a heavy sigh. "Do we know where Kane is?"

Mark shook his head. "I'm sorry, but he left the building before we realized what had happened."

The psychiatrist slowly turned to glare at the security guard. "Before you realized what had happened?"

"Uh--yeah," the young lemur muttered, flinching from her gaze. "I was using the facilities and Allen was on the phone with the cops about an accident he'd seen on the perimeter cameras when it happened. By the time I came back, Sheila was in the kitchen and Latoya paged us. It took us a bit to figure out what happened."

"Speaking of Allen, where is he now?" Amanda demanded.

Mark pressed a button on the console to bring up a room full of computer equipment. "The cops asked for a copy of our video of the accident. He's in the equipment room doing the transfer," he explained, pointing out an older feline talking to a uniform cop.

Amanda frowned at the situation. "All right. Have Allen transfer the Sheila videos to a DVD for me. I'm going to rip that idiot Kane a new one. Tell the front desk that he's denied all privileges until I say so."

Satisfied that things were stable for the moment, she proceeded upstairs to Sheila's room. She found Latoya sitting on a chair, keeping an eye on the vixen as she huddled in the closet. She gestured for the nurse to leave the room, then kneeled down by the doorway.

"Hello, Sheila," she said, giving the vixen a pleasant smile. The smile faded slightly when Sheila didn't respond. She cautiously reached out towards Sheila, only to have her cringe away.

Amanda moved away from the vixen slightly and tried a different approach. "Sheila? Do you know where you are?"

Sheila nervously looked around for a second before replying, "My room."

"You're room, where?" the she prompted.

Sheila blinked a couple of times as her brow furrowed. "The farm."

The answer rocked Amanda back on her heals. The poor thing was having a complete break with reality. She had been afraid something like this might happen after seeing the results of the 'conditioning' her benefactor had told her about.

Amanda had been somewhat relieved when her husband had insisted on taking the Vixen at first, but now she saw that it had been a mistake. Now she had to find a way to bring the girl's mind back into reality while still not breaking the conditioning.

This was not going to be easy.

"Sheila," she said, giving the vixen another pleasant smile. "I think it's time for bed, don't you? It is getting late."

Sheila blinked and shook her head for a second before replying. "Yes. It's getting late. I should sleep."

"That's a good girl, " Amanda cooed, watching the vixen lay down. "Do you want me to leave the lights on, or turn them off?"

"Lights?" Sheila asked, looking up at the ceiling. "On--no, off--off. Yes, off."

"OK," she replied, standing. She pushed the door so it was half open before she turned out the lights. Stepping out of the room, she left the door ajar. She shook her head as she looked at the nurse. "Hourly checks. If you hear anything unusual, look in, but don't interfere unless she's hurting herself."

"Yes, ma'am," the nurse replied.

Physically and mentally exhausted, Amanda went back downstairs to her office. Unlike her husband's, it was sparsely decorated. The walls had a mural that ran a full 360 degrees around the room, giving the illusion of being in a well-lit forest glade. Even the carpet was a dark green, reminiscent of grass.

No sooner had she sat down then her phone rang. She frowned, noting that it was her private line. She picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"How is she?" The voice asked.

It took her a moment to recognize that this was her patron. "She's had a setback. A complete break with reality. She thinks she's back at the farm."

There as a pause at the other end. "Excellent. That should be sufficient to keep her there for a while."

Amanda's heart was racing. "How--how did you know something happened?"

The voice on the other end, chuckled. "You don't seriously believe that you're the only person in my employ?"

"I--I suppose not," she replied, trying to swallow despite the fact that her throat was quite dry.

"Inform me if there are any further changes in her condition," the voice directed before the line went dead.

Her hand shaking, Amanda placed the receiver back on the hook, then hugged herself.

What ever had she gotten herself into?

Zig Zag tied the house coat around her waist as she walked down the hallway, her nose leading her towards the kitchen. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee was mixed with a smell of something freshly baked. She stopped and stood at the entrance to the kitchen where she saw Thomas wearing an apron. "What are you doing?" she asked, watching him move croissants from a pan to a basket.

"Preparing breakfast, Ma'am," he replied, as he set the pan down. He lifted the basket and offered her one. "Careful, they're --"

"Hot!" Zig Zag declared, tossing one between her hands before dropping it onto the counter.

Thomas fought a frown as he removed a plate from the cupboard and placed the croissant on it. "Do you wish to eat in the dining room, or at the bar, Ma'am?"

"The bar will be fine," she replied, taking the plate from his hand. She walked back around the doorway and set the plate on the counter that separated the kitchen from the main living area, and pulled up a stool.

Thomas rapidly began transferring the bowls and platters of various fruits he had prepared. He had taken the liberty of stocking up on cantaloupe and melons as well as fruits such as grapes, oranges and tangerines. A cantaloupe and melon had been split and cut into slices, and were on a platter with the grapes. The citrus was in a bowl next to them. He also placed some jams and jellies on the counter before laying out her silverware.

"I had failed to inquire on where and what you prefer to have for breakfast, Ma'am. As such, I took the liberty of preparing something simple. However, if you would prefer something else be prepared, it would be my pleasure."

Zig Zag gave a nervous laugh. "To be honest, I normally just have a cup of coffee for breakfast. Speaking of which, I could use a cup."

"There is no need, Ma'am," Thomas stated, gesturing with this hands that she should stay put. He filled one of the cups he'd set out and placed it by her plate. "Do you wish sugar or crème?"

"Milk and sugar both, please," she replied. She tried to peel it apart, but it crumbled. In an attempt to avoid a mess, she simply broke off the entire section and stuffed it in her mouth, trying not to get crumbs everywhere. Her eyes widened as the flavor of the butter hit her. When it crumbled apart, she thought hat he'd overcooked it, but the flavor and texture inside gave a completely different story.

Thomas placed a small, silver pitcher with a hinged lid along with a bowl of sugar by her plate. Seeing her fighting not to make a mess with the crumbs, he removed the napkin from under her fork and handed it to her before retrieving a small glass of water.

"This is really good!" Using the napkin to wipe the crumbs form her mouth and hands she gave the mouse a large smile. "I've never tasted anything like it. At first I though you overcooked them because they were all crumbly, but when I bit into it---wow!"

Thomas nodded. "I'm afraid that most Americans are used to what's commonly referred to as a baker's croissant. I, on the other hand, learned the proper way to make croissants when I was studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris."

Zig Zag studied the mouse, trying to figure out if he was talking down to her or not. In the end, she chalked the distain in his voice as he talked about 'American croissants' to professional pride. She opened her mouth to say something, when it occurred to her that making something like this couldn't have been easy. "When did you have time to make these?"

"The bulk of the preparations were done after you and Master Sheppard retired from dinner," he explained, running a damp cloth over the bar where Zig Zag had scattered some of the crust. "The rest of the time was done at odd hours during the evening and this morning as required."

"You worked on this all night?" Zig Zag asked.

"Not exactly," he replied, looking a bit embarrassed. "As I said, I worked on it as needed. I did get some sleep last night."

Zig Zag put down her napkin and pushed the plate back. "Ok, that's it. Time to lay down some ground rules. Ah ah ah!" she said, holding up a finger as Thomas tried to interrupt. "I'm the boss, so listen up. I'm not going to risk something happening because you're too exhausted to pay proper attention. Last thing I need is you forgetting a burner is on, or letting something boil over and wind up burning down my house!"

"What's this about burning down your house?" James asked, sitting down on a stool next to Zig Zag.

Zig Zag turned to James and gave a head nod towards Thomas. "It seems our nanny decided to stay up all night preparing fresh croissants for us and didn't get any sleep."

"That is not what I said!" Thomas declared. "I said that I worked on them through the night as needed. I did get some sleep."

"Exactly," Zig Zag said, pointing at him. "You didn't get a full night's sleep!"

Thomas fought not to lose his temper. "Nannies never get a full night sleep when newborns are concerned, Ma'am! That's why we take naps during the day."

"Oh," Zig Zag muttered, feeling rather small. "Sorry. It didn't occur to me…"

"That is quite all right, Ma'am," the mouse replied. "As I said before, it will take time before we are sufficiently acquainted for things to go smoothly. Little misunderstandings such as these are unavoidable." He picked up the basket and offered it to James. "Croissant, sir?"

"Yes, thank you," he replied, taking one. He split it open and cocked an eyebrow at it before taking a bite. He nodded and smiled. "Nice. Very nice. This is an excellent pâtissière's croissant."

Zig Zag's jaw dropped. "Wait a second. How do you know what that is?"

James glanced between Zig Zag and the mouse for a second, hesitant to answer. "Um--because they sell them at Bell's Bakery?"

"Is that a question, or an answer?" Zig Zag prompted.

"That's my answer and I'm sticking to it," James replied, stuffing the rest of the half into his mouth.

"Would you like some coffee, Master Sheppard?" Thomas asked as he offered a cup.

Shaking her head, Zig Zag chuckled to herself as she poured the milk into her coffee and added sugar. James was always surprising her with little tidbits of knowledge. By now she should expect that he'd know something like that.

Taking a sip of her coffee, her brow furrowed. Something didn't taste right.

"Is everything all right, Ma'am?" Thomas asked, concerned about her expression.

"The coffee. It doesn't quite taste right," she replied as she considered the taste. "It's--I don't know. Too sweet? Too rich? I don't know how to describe it."

Thomas nodded. "That's probably because you're used to drinking skim milk in your coffee and not real crème."

"Oh," she replied, setting the cup down. "Like I was saying, you don't have to do all this fancy stuff for us. I'm more than happy with milk."

Thomas smiled. "Begging your pardon, Ma'am, but the crème was for my tea."

"Oh," Zig Zag again said, sipping on the coffee. Her ears picked up at the sound of the phone ringing. "Who on earth could be calling at this hour?"

"I shall see, Ma'am," Thomas replied, reaching for the handset. "Zig Zag residence -- yes -- and whom may I say is calling? One moment please." He covered the microphone on the handset and turned back to Zig Zag. "It's Doctor Spivey calling. Should I take a message?"

Zig Zag got up and reached for the phone. "Zig Zag here ---- What? --- What? --- I don't understand. How did this happen? --- OK. I'll be right over. --- No, I'm coming over. I want to see her. --- Might I remind you that as her legal guardian you can't deny me the ability to see my ward. --- That's better. -- Thank you."

Looking worried, she handed the phone back to Thomas who hung it up.

James stepped down from his stool. "What happened?"

"Sheila," Zig Zag answered absently minded. "She's had some kind of relapse."

"What?" both James and Thomas said at the same time.

Zig Zag shook her head again. "I've got to get dressed," she stated, turning to walk back to her room.

"Do you want me to come?" James asked, taking a step after her.

She stopped and shook her head at him. "No, I'll deal with it." She watched as James frowned at her response. Walking back over to him, she stepped close and embraced him.

Surprised at the unexpected embrace, James wrapped his arms around her and held her until she released her grip. "What was that for?"

"Being there for me," she replied, giving him a warm smile. "This isn't me locking you out. I think it's more likely that she said something that they're probably overreacting to."

James was confused. "Overreacting to what?"

"You know--what you helped her with the other day," she replied, her eyes shifting in Thomas' direction for an instant.

"Oh, yes. What we talked about. Right," he replied, glancing over at Thomas for a second. "If you're sure you have it under control then that's fine by me. Just keep me informed."

"Will do," she replied, giving him a quick kiss before turning around and going back to her room to change.

James sat down on the stool and turned back to Thomas. "So, how are you at omelets?"

"Quite accomplished, Sir," he replied, listening to James' request with one ear while considering the phone call. He had distinctly heard the person on the other end saying something about a complete break with reality. If that were true, than she was in real trouble, but how to convince Zig Zag to take him with her without forcing her or revealing the truth about him.

He cracked a pair of eggs into a dish and began whipping them with a fork, his mind running through alternative after alternative.

Zig Zag finished buttoning her blouse, then adjusted the hem of her skirt slightly to make sure everything looked good in the mirror. She heard James start up the dryer as she stepped out of the room. Thomas stood at the end of the hallway. "OK, Thomas. I'm out of here. I'll call you once I learn something."

"About that, Ma'am," he said, holding a hand out to stop her. "If you will excuse me for saying this, but I believe that I should go with you."

Zig Zag gave the mouse a confused look. "What? Why?"

"I overheard what Doctor Spivey said on the phone and I'm concerned about it," he said moving to the side slightly so as to no longer block her path. "Doctor Spivey said that she had had a complete break with reality." He paused for a second. "Although I've only been in her company a couple of times, I saw no indicators in any way that she was unstable enough for a complete break."

Zig Zag dismissed his concerns with a wave of her hand. "Knowing her, she's probably just messing with their heads."

"Messing with their heads?" Thomas parroted incredulously. "Do you seriously believe that she would--mess with their heads--enough for Doctor Spivey to call you at six-thirty in the morning?"

"Maybe she went too far. I don't know!" Zig Zag shot back, shrugging off his objections. "Ever since her 'I don't care' kick, and deciding the kits are Arden's even though it's impossible, who knows what she's telling them. She's probably acting as if her fantasies were the real thing."

"That would not be a complete break with reality," Thomas sternly replied. "A complete break with reality would be to believe that she was somewhere other than in a hospital, or that she was another person. If she were insisting that she were currently in her fantasy, then that might be enough, but I just can't see her doing that."

Zig Zag glared at the mouse. "And to think I almost had myself convinced that she was OK." She pursed her lips and paced slowly as she thought.

"Also, it wouldn't hurt for you to have an independent third party to examine her," he prompted.

Zig Zag froze. "Why do you say that?"

Thomas looked away for a second before looking back at Zig Zag. "Because I can't think of any reason for it to have happened. If I accompany you, there is a good chance I'll be able to discern if there's any subterfuge occurring."

She glared at him again. "You really think they'd do something like that?"

Thomas sighed. "It wouldn't be the first time," he replied. "Consider this, Ma'am. This is a rather expensive private facility where they had expected Miss Sheila to stay for an extended period. Now, she suddenly has a breakthrough allowing her to leave after a mere couple of weeks. A convenient relapse would be quite profitable."

Zig Zag pressed both palms to her temples in an attempt to ward off a headache she felt coming on. "All right," she declared, lowering her hands. "You can come. I guess we should get the kits ready."

"That won't be necessary, Ma'am," he replied.

"I'm not about to leave them here, alone!" She said, shocked at the suggestion.

"Ma'am," Thomas said, gently and with a slight, but pleasant smile, "in approximately seven minutes, Hazel will be knocking on your door for a ride to work. As you will not be going to the studio this morning, I humbly suggest that you re-task the young lady."

The anger drained away from Zig Zag's face and she heard James whistling back in the bedroom. "OK, and just what do I tell James about taking you when I didn't let him come?"

"Why, tell him the truth, of course," the mouse confidently replied.

Zig Zag's let out a bark of laughter. "What? That I think they might have done something to Sheila to rip me off?"

Thomas gave the skunk a look of abject horror. "Absolutely not!" he declared. "Simply remind him that he parked behind you and you couldn't leave until he moved his car."

Anatol was lying in a hospital bed with his leg in traction. The surgery to set his broken femur had been successful, though without any insurance or indication that he could pay for the work, they hadn't used the most modern techniques or equipment. Of course, the fact that the police had brought him in and placed him under arrest didn't help either.

He turned his head to look out the window at the sunrise. The bars and heavy mesh over the window ruined the view. The only fortunate thing was that he didn't currently have to deal with any roommates. The five other beds in the security ward were currently empty.

He closed his eyes and remembered the events that had landed him in here, but they were a blur. He remembered the fight and an explosion, and then waking up in an alley along with several other people from that warehouse who'd been 'rescued' by a black wolf.

Was that the demon in another form? All of the encounters he'd heard about, it had taken the form of a black-furred individual. Is there a possibility that it was limited to that form? And why did it save him and the others?

It didn't make sense. He'd tried his best to kill it, and yet according to the others in the alley, it had dragged him out along with all the rest.

The sound of the door opening drew his attention. A police detective entered and walked over to Anatol's bed. "So, how are you feeling, amigo?"

"Ne ponimayu," Anatol replied, shrugging.

"No comprende, eh?" the detective chuckled. "Don't worry, tovarisch. We have a translator coming in tomorrow." He leaned down close to give a Anatol a predatory grin. "Then you will answer questions."

Anatol inwardly growled as he watched the detective leave. He had been smuggled into the country, so his Vatican Diplomatic Corps passport wouldn't help him much. His only hope would be that his contact at the Vatican would act on the fact that he missed the deadline on his call back and investigate.

He had screwed up and screwed up royally.

It had taken some work, but Hecate had finally tracked down the hotel that Anatol had been hiding in. Although she'd taken a sample of his fur, her tracking spells hadn't been effective with it, which reinforced her initial impression that he was a paladin.

She looked around the alley to make sure nobody was watching before leaping up and grabbing the windowsill. Pulling herself up, she held on with one hand while trying to force the window with the other. She cursed at the fact that it was stuck or locked. She traced a pattern over the glass, causing the window to slide silently open.

Once in the room, she shifted her sight and looked around and quickly spotted a magic thread on the door to an armoire. It wasn't attached to any trap or spell that she could detect. It appeared to simply be there to see if anyone had opened the doors.

Pulling them open, she immediately saw the priest's frock hanging, and a small bag on the floor. Curious, she looked the frock over closely. Her eyes could see where it had been shot -- recently shot by the smell of it. She wondered what it was made of since the bullets never passed through.

Her attention turned to the bag. She checked it thoroughly for traps before opening it. Inside was a bible and a rosary on top of a pile of clothes. She picked up the rosary and grimaced as the enchantment on it tried to attack her. It was weak, like all the magic native to this world, and was no more than a minor annoyance.

She tossed the rosary aside and picked up the Bible. It was a Roman Catholic edition written in Cyrillic. She flipped through the pages carefully to see if anything might be hidden it before tossing it aside.

Going through the clothing, she saw several black shirts, pants and socks, along with a few white collars. She set all that aside to examine the bottom closely. Running her fingers around, she felt the hidden compartment and forced it open.

Now this was more like it. On top was a passport indicating that he was Anatol Lysenko and a member of the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. She flipped through the pages and saw that he was apparently a well-travelled man.

Tossing it aside, she rooted through the rest. There was a collection of currencies including US dollars, Euros and some local currency. The last thing in the compartment was a sweatband.

She picked up the sweatband, confused by why it was in the bottom. What was so special that he'd hide it? She held it up to her nose and sniffed.

"No fuckin' way!" she growled before taking another good whiff of the scent. "Mother fucker!"

She stood up, and furiously screamed out the window. "You God damned mother fucking son of a bitch! You sent me to the same place as that psychotic bitch? Fuck you! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

Her head snapped around as someone banged on the door. "<Hey! Who's in there?>" the voice demanded in Spanish.

"Fuck me!" Hecate spat. She shoved everything back into the bag. Grabbing the frock. she rolled it up and put it in as well. Just as she was closing the bag, the door burst open. Turning, her foot lashed out, catching the man in the face and bouncing his head off the wall. She watched as he collapsed onto the floor.

She grabbed the bag and jumped out the window, landing lightly on the ground. Walking away at a casual pace, she shifted her form to resemble a dark gray donkey and stepped out into the street. She was going to have to track down the priest and confront him.

"No way," she muttered, her eyes wide open with shock.

She looked around, suddenly paranoid.

The mouse had sent her to find Tammy Vixen. Anatol shows up hunting her and just happens to have a headband soaked in the scent of Sheila Vixen? The same psychotic mutt she traveled with in Husquhar? That was a bit too much of a coincidence.

It was time to stop following orders and start doing some digging of her own, and this Anatol guy would be the first step.

Amanda hurried from her office to the reception area. She passed through the door to find Zig Zag standing next to a sharply dressed mouse. Looking closer, she saw that the suit he was wearing was most likely tailored to him. She swallowed and approached the couple and introduced herself to the mouse. "Hello. I'm Dr Amanda Spivey. And you are?"

"Dr Thomas Livingston, at your service, Ma'am," the mouse replied with a clearly well educated British accent, giving her hand a brief shake.

She pulled her hand away slowly. "And you're here -- why?"

Thomas could tell that she was quite nervous. "I am escorting Miss Zig Zag. You see, after Miss Sheila is released, she will be under my care. As such I am here to assist in determining what the next step in her care may be."

"I see," she replied, studying the mouse. "Your voice--it sounds--familiar."

"I was the one who answered the phone this morning," he stated.

Amanda blinked at that revelation. "It was?--what were you--" She glanced at Zig Zag and then back to Thomas. "You two aren't…"

"No! Nothing like that!" Zig Zag sputtered. "He's the nanny!"

"Nanny?" Amanda repeated, confused.

Thomas sighed and removed a card from his pocket and passed it to the orangutan who examined it.

Amanda read the card with no small amount of incredulity. "You're both a child psychologist and a nanny?"

Thomas nodded. "Indeed, Ma'am. Being wealthy, I actually have no need for work, however I have discovered that I enjoy caring for children. Through the Lambert Agency, I have been contracted to work as a live-in nanny in the care of Sheila's kits."

Dealing with the information overload as best she could, Amanda simply smiled and nodded. "Well, isn't that nice. Shall we proceed to my office so we can discuss Miss Vixen's case?"

She turned and quickly led the pair back to her office where she opened an cabinet that contained a television and a DVD player. She turned the equipment on and fed a disk into the machine. There was a brief image of a video test signal then a recording of a security camera.

All three watched as Sheila encountered the stallion and her subsequent actions.

"Oh my god!" Zig Zag declared, horrified by what she saw.

"What was said?" Thomas asked, stepping up to the machine and stepping the video back to replay the encounter.

Amanda shook her head. "We don't know. Sheila's completely non-responsive when we ask about the encounter, and I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Dr Kane yet."

Thomas continued to study the video, stepping it frame by frame. "He works here?"

Again Amanda shook her head. "No. He has visiting privileges as he and some of his partners do have patients here, but no. He most definitely does not work here."

Pausing the video, Thomas turned to study the orangutan. "And why is that?"

"Just between us?" she asked, waiting for his nod before continuing. "His ego is far more important to him than anything as petty as actually giving a patient proper care. He tends to be condescending and dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with him, and that includes some of his patients."

"Sounds like a real charmer," Zig Zag commented.

Thomas turned back to the video and continued stepping through the slow motion video. He stopped it just as Sheila started to wipe off the jacket. "Hello--what's this?"

Amanda and Zig Zag stopped talking and turned to look at the TV.

"What did you find?" Zig Zag asked.

"Look closely at the tie tack as I step the video," Thomas replied. It showed Sheila reaching out with a napkin to wipe off the jacket. Just as she was about to touch it, a small white spot appeared over the tie clip.

Zig Zag squinted. "What is it? A reflection?"

"No," Thomas said, studying the video closely. "If you look at the shadows, all the light comes from overhead. Sheila's arm is shadowing the tie clip, so it can't be a reflection."

"A spark, maybe?" guessed Zig Zag

"I don't think so," Thomas replied. "A spark would have been where her hand was closest to his body. Besides, she's already run into him once, so any static charge should have dissipated."

"Oh, yeah," the skunk replied, feeling stupid.

Thomas stopped at the sound of her voice. He turned from the TV to face her. "It was a good question. One I had already considered and discarded for the same reason I gave you, but still a good question." He turned to Amanda. "I think I've seen enough. I would like to see Miss Vixen if you please?"

"I don't think that's a good idea," she replied.

"Why not?" prompted Zig Zag.

Amanda turned off the equipment. "It's the nature of her break. She believes that she's still being held on the farm. According to the statement she gave to the feds, the only time any of the males had anything to do with her was when they wanted sex or to force her to do some menial task."

"All the more reason I should see her," he sternly declared.

"What? How do you figure?" Amanda demanded.

"This break makes absolutely no sense," he explained. "A flashback I could accept, but a complete break with reality to the point of believing she's back on the farm? Ridiculous. Even when she was with the FBI she knew where she was at all times. It was the period in question that she always had issues with discerning the true events."

"How the hell do you know all that?" Zig Zag demanded, shocked at the revelation.

"When the Lambert agency informed me that they had given you my resume I hired investigators to look into not only your background, but that of Sheila Vixen to make sure that the need for my services was genuine." He paused to let that sink in. "The report included a very detailed investigation into your background, the studio, it's general employees and Sheila Vixen including the FBI's report from the psychologist."

"Oh," Zig Zag replied somewhat sheepishly. Of course someone like him would check out the people he would be working for.

"Now, if you please," he said to Amanda, "I need to see Miss Sheila."

Amanda pursed her lips. "Very well. If you insist. Follow me."

She led the pair through the facility, up the elevator to Sheila's room. "She's in here," she said, leading them into the room. Gesturing to the open closet, she waved a hand at Sheila as she cowered in the corner, hugging a pillow to her chest."

"Thank you," Thomas said, giving her a slight bow. "Now if you please, we would like to be alone with her."

Amanda shook her head. "No. She's my patient and I'm not about to let you or anyone else do anything that could potentially harm her further."

"I'm not going to do anything that can harm her," he replied, annoyed at the accusation.

"I don't know that," she insisted.

Glancing at Zig Zag, Thomas saw that he wouldn't be getting any support from her. "Very well then. Please observe but don't try to interact."

Thomas centered himself as he prepared to try and work his magic in front of an audience without getting caught. He placed his cane on the bed, followed by his gloves and his coat. Only then did he kneel in front of Sheila who tried to back away from him.

"I told you she wouldn't cooperate," Amanda grumbled.

Annoyed, Thomas turned and glared at her. "Do you understand the concept of observe but don't interact?"

Satisfied with her chaste look, he returned his attention to Sheila who stared at him in horror. "Sheila? Do you know who I am?"

The vixen shook her head.

"I told you…" Amanda started to say, but shut up when Thomas again glared at her.

Calming himself again, he looked at Sheila and asked, "Do you know where you are?"

"I--I'm," she stammered, "I'm in the pound."

"The pound?" Thomas prompted.

Sheila nodded. "The dog pound. That's where dogs go when they're bad."

"And are you a bad dog, Sheila?" He asked, looking at her sadly.

Sheila only nodded.

Tomas gave her a disapproving look. "What did you do to get put in the pound?"

Sheila cringed. "I made a mess."

Thomas nodded. "Did you clean it up?"

Again, Sheila nodded.

"Can you tell me what happened? How you made the mess?" He asked, giving her a small, warm smile.

Sheila shook her head.

"I told you…" Amanda started, but was cut off by a hiss from Zig Zag.

Thomas frowned. He was absolutely certain that Sheila was under a curse -- a very powerful curse. What scared him most was the possibility that it had somehow altered the spell that Lucifer had placed on Sheila to alter her memories.

Seeing no other options, he took a small tin of candies out of his pocket and put two in his mouth. Chewing on them, he inhaled sharply at the electrical shock that ran through is body. He was loath to do what he was about to do, but there was no other choice.

Closing his eyes he turned his mind inward seeking out the connection he knew was there. The power that flooded into him burned through his body like a wild fire. Opening his eyes, he lifted his gaze towards Sheila.

Sheila's eyes widened. "No! Not the dragon!" She cowered even lower, covering her head with the pillow.

Zig Zag's ears perked up at the word dragon. First she's in some kind of dog pound and now she's ranting about dragons?

"That's it!" Amanda barked, grabbing Thomas by the shoulder. She gasped and let go of him, stumbling back as she looked into his eyes. Black slit irises, set in ring of gold, floating on a pool of blood. "What are you?"

Zig Zag felt the world spin as she became light-headed at the sight of Thomas. Those were the same eyes Arden had, but that was impossible! Arden was dead!

"Enough," Thomas rumbled, his voice echoing oddly off of the walls. "What are you hiding?"

"Hiding?" Amanda gasped. "I'm not hiding anything!"

"You lie!" the mouse growled. "From the moment you knew I was a psychologist, you've been in a panic. You're afraid of me seeing Sheila. Why?" He grabbed her by the head and forced her to look at him. "Show me!"

"No!," Amanda sobbed. Her eyes locked with his and she was drawn into them.

Thomas, his eyes now locked on hers, took control of her mind. "Now show me. Show me that dirty little secret you have. The one you don't want anyone to know."

Using his mind, he rooted through her memories until he found what he needed. Her patron. An unknown person who promised to get her daughter to the front of a transplant list, and all she had to do was delay Sheila's release.

"How could you!" he said, slapping her across the face. "She was your patient!"

"I had no choice!" Amanda sobbed, her back against the wall, she started to slide slowly down towards the floor.

Thomas grabbed the sobbing orangutan by the arm and dragged her to a standing position. "Look at her!" he commanded, pointing at Sheila. "Look what your Faustian bargain has done to her!"

"It wasn't supposed to be like this! I swear!" she sobbed, uncontrollably.

"I wish I could kill you," he growled in a low voice, "but I can't. I need you alive. Now look at me."

"No! Not again!" she cried, trying to look away.

He grabbed her face and forced her to look at him. "Look at me. Look into my eyes. Look into the eyes of the dragon and despair!"

She gave a brief cry of terror, then froze.

Zig Zag stared at the spectacle in horror. Who was this person? What was he doing? Was he going to be another Arden, killing people without a second thought. She tried to turn and run, but something held her in place. "What---are--you doing to her?" she finally forced out.

"I'm rewriting her memories of what happened in this room," Thomas calmly answered. "I'm sorry to say, but I'm having to make you the villain here."

"What?" Zig Zag demanded. The shock of the statement broke through her paralysis.

"You were annoyed at all of her interruptions and interference, so you ordered her to leave." He stepped back from the orangutan and began to erase all physical evidence that she'd been crying. "That gives her plausible deniability with her so called patron, and will hopefully give me time to find out who's behind all of this so it won't happen again."

Thomas released spell on Amanda. She blinked in confusion for a second before coming to grips with what had happened.

She turned to Zig Zag and said, "Well, as her legal guardian, you are the final authority on her treatment. However should Doctor Livingston cause her condition to worsen, I will see to it that your guardianship is revoked." She then opened the door and left.

Thomas sighed and turned his attention back to Sheila.

"Who are you?" Zig Zag demanded.

"Not here. Not now," Thomas replied.

Zig Zag grabbed him by the elbow and turned him to face her. "Yes here and yes now!" She swallowed as a wave of anger washed over her like a physical force.

"I have limited time channeling the dragon, so here's your choice: I can explain who and what I am to you, or I can help Sheila. You decide," he snarled.

Watching her reaction, he realized that he was losing control. Pulling his arm away from Zig Zag, Thomas again tried to center his emotions. Now was not the time to be angry. He knelt in front of Sheila again and let out a sigh. She was still hiding behind the pillow. He reached out and gently pulled her arm away from the pillow.

"Sheila, look at me," he said in a quiet, calm voice.

The vixen just shook her head.

"Sheila, please. Look at me," he begged.

Slowly she looked up at him and started to scream, but it was cut off as her face went slack.

"Oh, Sheila, Sheila… What did they do to you?" Thomas moaned.

Zig Zag slowly approached the closet. "What did they do to her?"

Thomas shook his head. "I can't tell. It's some kind of major curse, but I can't tell exactly what it is, which scares the everliving shit out of me."

"What?" Zig Zag barked, startled at what the mouse just said. "What are you talking about? What curse?"

Thomas leaned backwards and sighed. "Before Sheila was returned to this world, Lucifer gave her memories to cover the period that she was gone from this world. Whatever the spell she got hit with was, it's messing with magic at the celestial level." He shook his head and sighed. "This is way above me."

Zig Zag blinked. 'Lucifer?' He couldn't possibly mean the Lucifer, could he? "Can you help her?" Zig Zag asked, saving the big question for after.

Thomas started to shake his head, but glanced down at Sheila's hands. She had something gripped in one hand.

"Sheila? What's in your right hand," Thomas asked, touching her fingers with his.

The vixen slowly looked down at her hand and then opened her fingers to reveal a small rosary and cross.

"Where did you get that?" the mouse asked.

"She got it…" Zig Zag started to answer, but was hushed by a wave from the mouse.

"Where did you get it?" he asked again. "Did you steal it, maybe?"

Sheila shook her head. "It was given to me."

Thomas smiled and scooted closer, studying her intensely. "And who gave it to you?"

Sheila shook her head again. "I don't know."

"Look at it closely, Sheila. Someone had to have handed it to you." He lifted her hand closer to her face so she could see it better. "Who gave it to you?"

"I don't know," the vixen again said.

"OK," Thomas said, "Time to try a different tact. Sheila, what kind of person wears a cross like this?"

Sheila shook her head. "I don't know."

"Think, Sheila. Think carefully," Thomas instructed. "This is a very special cross, right? Who would have this?" He watched her searching for the answer in her mind and spotted part of the spell. Smiling, he created a bridge around it. "Who would have it?"

Sheila looked up at him and said, "A priest?"

"That's right. A priest." He smiled and took the cross from her and held it up. "Who gave this to you, Sheila?"

"Aana--Anatol?" She asked.

Thomas glanced at Zig Zag who nodded.

"Score!" Thomas said under his breath, creating another bridge to bypass the curse. "That's right; Anatol. Now I want you to think about Anatol. What does he look like?"

Sheila thought about it. She could almost remember it. It was almost there. She could almost see him and then suddenly she could. It all came flooding back.

"I remember! I remember Anatol giving it to me!" she declared, taking the cross back from the mouse. "We were in the exercise room and he told me he was going away." She frowned. "Just like Arden. He promised that he'd come back, but he's not going to. He won't come back."

Thomas scooted closer, so he could get his face in line of site with the cross she held. "Why did he give it to you? Why did he say it was special?" He had to keep eye contact to see the path of her thoughts.

Sheila sniffed. "He said it was given to him by the pope."

He could see at least part of the spell now and that was a good start. "Anatol will be back, Sheila," Thomas said, giving her a smile.

She shook her head. "You don't know that. What if he's dead?"

"Death is only an obstacle to us," he said, smiling, as he linked her memories of Anatol to the cross as a shortcut past the curse.

Sheila looked up and cocked her head. She studied him for a moment before her eyes went wide. "Thomas? Is that really you?"

The mouse nodded. "Yes, Miss Sheila, it's really me." He'd had to cheat and use the cross as a focal point, but at this point he'd accept whatever worked.

She covered her mouth as she sobbed. "Oh Thomas!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms.

Thomas gently wrapped his arms around her as he felt the power of the dragon fade away. He may not have solved the puzzle of the curse, but he'd at least found a work around.

"I'm so sorry, Thomas! I'm so sorry!" she sobbed into is shoulder.

"Don't be. It'll be all right. I promise. I'll find a way to make it all right," he said, resting his head against hers.

"No, that's not it," Sheila said, pulling away from him. She tried to wipe her tears with her hands. "I was so horrible to you."

Thomas shook his head. "No you weren't, Miss Sheila. You really weren't that bad."

"I didn't even go to your funeral," she sniffed. "Can you ever forgive me?"

"That's OK," the mouse said with a smile, giving her a shrug. "I didn't bother going either."

That made Sheila laugh. She sniffed and smiled at him. "You were always there to take care of Arden. If it hadn't been for you, she would have died."

"She saved me," Thomas replied, smiling. "She took me away from my stepmother's family and gave me purpose." He paused for a moment, remembering what had happened so long ago. "She's the first adult who ever truly treated me with respect. She challenged me as a person and made me grow! I owe her everything."

Zig Zag sat down heavily on the bed, unable to believe what she was hearing. They were both talking about Arden as if he'd been a female, and then it hit her. When she first went to see Sheila, the doctor had said something about Sheila believing that she and Arden had switched bodies.

She covered her mouth and stared at the two in shock. She'd known that they'd actually gone to a different world, but switching bodies? It had never occurred to her that something that bizarre could ever happen.

"Thomas?" Sheila asked, turning serious. "Where's Arden?"

Thomas opened his mouth and then let out a long sigh. "I don't know. I wish I could tell you more, but I just don't know."

"He's not coming, is he?" Sheila said, looking down at the rosary.

"He's coming!" Thomas declared, closing his hand over hers. "The first attempt failed. There was---a complication. He'll come for you. He promised."

Thomas ran his hand through his head fur. "Sheila, we need to talk about what happened to you."

She shook her head. "No!"

"I know! I know! Just listen," he said trying to calm her down. "Someone screwed with the memories that Lucifer gave you."

Her brow furrowed as she digested the information. "How?"

Thomas shrugged. "I don't know. That's the problem. I've got a temporary--fix, kind of--in place." He reached out and took the rosary from her and put it over her head and around her neck. "You need to keep this on at all times, understand? Never take it off."

Sheila looked down at the wooden cross. "Not even to shower?"

"No, not to shower, swim or anything else," he declared. He reached out and pointed to the cross. "This is your anchor, Sheila. This is what's keeping you anchored in the real world. Without it, your mind will go back into the doghouse, OK?"

"Dog pound," she said, correcting him. "I understand. I won't take it off." She looked up at him, pleading with her eyes. "When can I go home?"

Thomas sighed and shook his head. "Not until I figure out how to undo the damage," he replied. He held up his hand to stop her objection. "Until I know who did this and why, it's best not to try and take you out of here. Someone wants you stuck here. I think our best course of action for now is to make them think they've succeeded."

"No!" Zig Zag declared, standing up. "No! We take her out of here now!"

Thomas looked at Zig Zag and shook his head. "Zig Zag, think about it. We don't know what their agenda is. If we take her out now, they may come after her out there. Or worse yet, they could come after you, or the people at the studio, or -- I don't know, your family! Your brother and sister!"

Zig Zag wanted to argue, but it made sense. People had repeatedly tried to kill Arden. It was just dumb luck nobody else had gotten killed. No, that's not right; Bjorn died. "You're right," she finally acknowledged, nodding slowly. "I don't want to risk anyone else's life."

"Good. So now we're all on the same page, right?" He watched to make sure both nodded. Thomas stood and offered Sheila his hand. "I think it's about time you came out of there, don't you?"

Sheila shook her head. "No. It's better I stay in here," she said, picking up the pillow and clutching it to her as she crawled back into the corner.

"Sheila! No!" Zig Zag said, horrified at the way she was acting.

"It's the only way," the vixen replied, nodding. "If they think I'm still crazy, then they won't try anything else."

"Are you sure?" Thomas asked.

Sheila nodded. "I can deal with it. Arden was stuck, trapped in a soul stone for six months, unable to see, hear or speak to anyone. If he could deal with that, then I can stand living in a closet for a little while."

Thomas nodded. "OK. It's your decision. We'll come visit you again tomorrow."

Zig Zag knelt down by her friend and gave her a tearful hug. "Oh, Sheila, I'm so sorry this had to happen to you."

Sheila smiled and hugged Zig Zag back. "No sweat boss. Easy acting job and nobody has to get screwed," she said, smiling.

Zig Zag laughed as she stood up. Pausing at the door to look back at her friend, she gave her one last reassuring smile and a wave before leaving the room.

Thomas, having recovered his coat, gloves and cane. He gave Sheila a brief nod before leaving the room. Moving quickly he caught up with Zig Zag at the elevator.

"So what do we do now?" she asked.

"Not much we can do," he replied as the elevator doors opened. "I'll return tomorrow to try again," he said, pressing the button for the first floor.

"Try again?" Zig Zag asked.

Thomas glanced at the camera in the ceiling with his eyes. "Indeed, Ma'am. A single failure is not an indicator that there is no chance of success."

Zig Zag caught the hint about the camera. "Agreed. I'll make sure they know to give you exclusive access."

"Excellent," he acknowledged, holding the door open so that she could exit.

"Well?" Amanda demanded of the pair as they exited the elevators. Standing with her arms crossed, she looked like a mother asking her children where they've been.

"I'm afraid that my first attempt met with extremely limited success," Thomas confessed to her, "however, I was able to evoke a few reactions, though not enough to break through to her. I shall try again tomorrow."

"And you're OK with this?" she demanded of Zig Zag.

Zig Zag nodded. "It might be unorthodox, but I understand what he's trying to do. I'd like to give him more time." She held her hand up when she saw Amanda's reaction. "I'm not removing you from her care; it's just that since Dr. Livingston will be her doctor once she leaves here, I think it's only fair to let him try. "

Somewhat placated, Amanda nodded. "Very well. I'll inform the staff that he's to have access."

Zig Zag nodded. "Thank you."

Turning, the couple walked down the hallway towards the entrance to the building. Zig Zag's mind was in a tizzy. On one hand it was a good thing that Thomas had been able to help, but just who was he? Was he dangerous, like Arden, or would things remain calm.

As if life wasn't complicated enough, it had just taken another turn for the weird.