An Unexpected Turn of Events

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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There's some fallout from Jack's day out in town, with some unanticipated results

I woke up a bit earlier than usual... whether it was due to concern over the new dogs or the wolves wanting out, I didn't know, but... the rain had stopped and they indeed wanted back outside, so out they went. The new dogs heard the call of nature too, though the female showed signs of being concerned about the male, moving back and forth between him and the door a few times before she finally decided it was alright.

I grabbed my work jacket and stood on the porch as he hesitantly wobbled down the steps and did his business, though he stayed far closer to the porch than she did. I could tell they'd been taken care of somewhat reasonably in the past due to their musculature, but also that both had lost a fair bit of weight recently, likely having been away from regular meals for some time. I reached for my watch but realized it wasn't there yet again, so I went over to the truck and returned it to its rightful place after checking the time and giving it its daily winding.

I did some mental math, and figured it'd be another couple hours before Jim Bridger would be in the office, and Pete Jackson, the county animal control officer, was likely still sound asleep as he usually worked later in the day, if he would be on duty today at all. The two white dogs returned to where I was standing and whined to get back into the house, which I let them. The male wolf was finishing marking all the spots the dog had scent-marked as I shut the door behind us.

"Up early, dear?" Julie asked with a yawn as she descended the stairs, Cleo shortly behind her. I shrugged a bit. "They're doing better today... he at least can walk on his own to go out and do their stuff outside." I said with a smile as she stretched, Cleo taking the opportunity to scoot behind her and claim the bathroom first.

Julie turned her head just in time to see Cleo's tail disappear into the bathroom doorway and she grumped a bit. I just laughed and she shot me a disgruntled look. "You boys can go anywhere..." I just shrugged and went into the kitchen to fix the cats' breakfast. The female dog followed me as the male plunked down by the warm oil heater, which I'd left running all night, mostly out of lethargy but I didn't mind as it would keep the place from having problems if the power hiccuped again. I wondered what to feed the dogs, since I didn't really have any dog food in the house - I hadn't in years.

I grabbed a soda from the fridge and tossed each of them a chicken leg, which the female laid down to gingerly pick at while the male sniffed, then consumed his with a little more gusto. I smiled and set out Cleo's bowl, then went down the hall and put Peaches' bowl just inside her door. She wanted to come out, I could tell, but I just rubbed her head and shut the door before she could sneak through. It must not have bothered her too much as I heard the familiar crunching sounds before I could even turn around to head back towards the living room.

Hanging a right into the kitchen, I grabbed the wall phone's handset and dialed the familiar number. After a number of rings the recording came on, as expected. "You've reached the West Side Animal Clinic, however we're either terribly busy or it's after hours and no one's available to take your call. If you wish to reach Dr. Bridger, please dial [number omitted] to reach him directly. If this is a billing matter, please call back between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for the promptest of service. If this is regarding the health of an animal, though not an emergency, please give your name, the species and age of animal, any relevant symptoms, and a number which you can be reached at and we will get back to you in due course. At the tone, please leave your message...."

"Hey Jim, this is Jim Peters. Give me a call back when you get in if you're not too busy. Got a couple someones for you to look over, whether at my place, at the zoo, or at your clinic. Yes, these I can bring in. You know the name, you know the number. Catch you later." I hung up the phone as Julie came out of the bathroom.

"Calling Jim about the dogs?" she asked. I merely nodded and smiled "Well, both should get checked out, and see if they're chipped or who they belong to if he can run them through the databases. They've got house manners, and seem to have been well cared for apart from the last while so... they had to have been someone's pets."

Julie herself nodded, having gotten into a nice blouse and slacks for work while I was still in my yesterday's clothes. "Mind keeping an eye on things while I get cleaned up and changed?" I asked. Julie smiled as the female dog got up and brushed against her leg. "I think they'd like that."

Reasonably quickly I'd washed, shaved, and put on a clean uniform. My boots were still sodden from last night's escapade so I went up to my room and found an older pair under my bed. Shoelaces were knotted to keep them together and the sole of one of the boots was split from its stitchplate a decent bit, but... apart from not being water resistant anymore, they sufficed for what I figured I'd need for the day. I grabbed my jacket on the way out as Julie had gathered the cubs into their basket and Cleo was right with her. As we stepped out onto the porch, I lip-squeaked for the dogs and they came padding out.

"Uh, Jim?" Julie asked and pointed to the truck blocking the way for the Blazer. I just chuckled, "We can take that. There's enough room for Cleo on the seat, and the dogs can ride in the back."

The tailgate was still down from last night and I helped the female dog up and into the truck, raising the topper lid just so, knowing how the latches liked to stick. Then I lifted the male up and he walked into the cap a fair bit before plopping down. "I know it's not the most comfortable riding place, but... it'll have to suffice for today. I'll toss in a dog bed or something later for you two, ok?" I droned absently as I shut the tailgate and then the topper lid. Both dogs didn't seem to mind, the male chest-laying and panting and the female sitting next to him, watching as Julie helped Cleo up into the truck.

I went around to the drivers' side and, grabbing the steering wheel as a handle, hoisted my rump into the seat and shut the door. "All ready?" I inquired, as Cleo was sitting upright on the center seat, Julie on the passenger's seat, and the cubs in their basket on the floor between Julie's feet. Choke out, tap three times, and when I turned the ignition to Start the old truck burped back to life for the second time that month and off we went into town.

* * * * *

Something must have been going on downtown as there were at least three classes of elementary school kids walking the various streets, with a police officers acting as crossing guards at the stoplight on Main Street. I rolled down my window as the light turned red and waved the officer over.

"Yes, Sir?" he inquired, in a somewhat annoyed manner.

"I'm Jim Peters, head keeper at the Zoo. Would you mind letting Officer Peter Jackson know that I'd like to speak with him when he gets the chance? It's nothing urgent but it's something important." I stated bluntly to the young patrolman.

"Oh!" he smiled as he heard who I was. "Ok... no problem. I'll let him know. He's not going to be on duty until later, if that's ok."

I nodded. "No worries. If you tell him I'm at work he can drop by to see me there when he gets the chance." I nodded to the officer as he stepped back when the light turned green for our lanes and I started off towards the Zoo, rolling up my window as we went.

"I'm surprised he didn't say anything about Cleo riding with us." Julie commented. I furrowed my brow and hadn't really thought about it until I saw where Cleo was... laid out like a plush toy with her head in my lap and hind end in Julie's, eyes closed and snoozing. "Maybe he thought she was a large toy or something I had for the zoo. Did she raise her head or anything?" I inquired, at which Julie shook her head and we both smiled.

"Maybe he...." the light dawned on me and I laughed. "Yep, he would be young enough to be in the same class, I'd figure."

"What?" Julie inquired, apparently not understanding what I was thinking about.

"Oh... awhile ago I had a run-in with a young local officer while I had Pickles and Jake in the Blazer, and thought nothing of taking them through the McDonald's Drive Thru with me... This fellow might have heard how that all turned out, as he's about the same age as the officer I dealt with that night. So... perhaps he didn't think twice about me having Cleo in here with us because of that, after hearing my name." I rambled some as I swung the truck into the employee lot but parked across a couple stalls near the door. "I'll let you and Cleo out here..." I turned my head to see whether Director Benin's car was in the other lot at the Victorian, which is wasn't quite yet. "... and I'll park out back at the powerhouse so I can bring the dogs in without anyone really noticing."

"Or complaining?" Julie smiled as she added that little bit. She nodded understanding and opened the door, letting herself and Cleo out as she grabbed the basket full of cubs, though they were starting out outgrow the small basket already. "I'll see you upstairs."

"Oh... hang on.." I tossed her the small ring of keys to my office. "There ya go... and yeah, I'll see you inside in a bit." With that, she shut the door and I pulled around and back out onto the street to drive the long way around to the powerhouse.

The drive back to the powerhouse had more puddles than usual, and even one spot with water completely across the drive, though shallowly. The truck negotiated the detritus with ease, and I wasn't surprised at all given the amount of rain that gushed through the valley last night. In fact, I half expected more flooding and wind damage. I pulled up next to Chet's truck at the far end and walked the moderate distance to the stairs leading to the entrance door to the main floor of the powerhouse by Chet's office.

Chet was hunched over his desk flipping through what looked like a parts catalog of some sort and had a pad next to him with some parts numbers jotted down already. "Hard at work spending more money than you should?" I inquired and Chet looked up, the stub of a cigar in the corner of his mouth.

"Hell... you know how this place goes through parts like a hooker goes through condoms," he grunted and smiled. "Whatcha doing back here? It's nearly opening time, isn't it?"

I nodded. "Gotta sneak something in again. Long story and I don't have too very much time to tell it. Just figured I'd let you know it's my truck parked next to yours in case some stupidity happens." I tossed the key on its chain onto his desk. "And that's in case you need to move it. You can drop it off to me at closing, or if I'm not in you can give it to Julie." Chet nodded, and I continued, looking around a bit. "Got any of the smaller roll-cages around here, or they all off somewhere else?"

Chet shook his head. "Keeping those things fixed up is a full-time career these days. They really shoulda ordered ones from you." He shrugged a bit. "But you know how budgets can be, and how the cheap turns out expensive." I merely nodded. "Whatcha need one for?" Chet inquired, drawing his pants up a bit.

"Sneaking a couple dogs into the cathouse basement so Jim Bridger can take a look at them if he comes out today. One's not so good and he probably wouldn't be able to walk the whole distance." I replied.

Chet held up a single finger for me to wait and went out to the main floor. He then came back with something reasonably suitable - a brand-new wheelbarrow. "Just got these in today. 5 of 'em. Not even been kissed by shit yet." He winked and smiled. "Figure you can use that for what you're after? You'd have to go down the access ramp rather than the stairs, but... that ain't much of an issue for you, I'm sure."

I grabbed the handles and started heading for the door. "That'll work. Thanks, Chet, and I'll catch you later, ok?"

He held the door for me and stepped out as I bounced the wheelbarrow down the three steel-grate steps to the pavement. "What kinda dogs you get?" he inquired.

I walked over to the back of the truck, lifted the topper lid and dropped the tailgate. The two wagging sheps stepped out onto the tailgate and Chet laughed. "I thought I saw something like that the other night at your place, but didn't think nothin' of it. Now I know I wasn't seein' things." I merely smiled as the female jumped down and I lifted the male into the wheelbarrow. I waved to Chet as I started down the access ramp after shutting up the rear of the truck.

After passing through and re-locking the security doors at the entrance, I quickly strode through the tunnels with a fair degree of urgency. I'd not arrived at work too very early, so time was indeed getting short to get the pups secured in one of the basement cages, open the cathouse for the day's visitors, and get back to my office and Cleo to start dealing with the piles of paperwork I was sure to have waiting on my desk.

The male didn't seem to mind the hard steel of the wheelbarrow tub, and the female kept up with my fast pace fairly well. Soon enough I flipped on the corridor lights in the cathouse basement and ran through my keyring for the right key for the cage locks down there. I opened the door, whose hinges cried out for the increased moisture, limited use, and lack of oil as the cage door moved. I laid the male out on the loafing shelf, as I figured that would be the most comfortable compared to the floor, and the female adeptly leaped up to join him. "Sorry it can't be The Park, you two, but here you can't really be seen unless someone pays attention. There, though cushier, someone else might come by and see you." I fuzzled both and left the wheelbarrow in the cage as I latched but didn't lock the door, and shut off the individual light while still leaving the corridor lights burning.

Up the stairs I lept, taking two at a time, and exited the door to the main floor of the cathouse, swung right and five good steps later I was unlocking the main doors from the inside, just as the first visitors were starting to arrive. I welcomed them in, and exited the building myself, walking at a more sedate pace towards the office, the majorly time-sensitive part of my concerns having been accomplished.

Vic buzzed by with a grunt on the other side of the clock tower as I was walking past. He hung a sharp left and came up alongside me. "So is it true?" he asked as I stopped walking as he pulled up.

I shook my head. "Nope! Not a single word of it... it's all lies, lies and more lies." I grinned impishly, then my face fell to a regular smile. "Though I really have no idea what you're asking about."

"Oh!" Vic exclaimed. "I just heard you were in town the other day with some cats from here and I wondered how you managed that what with Mr. Director on the warpath."

I chuckled. "They were my own cats, Vic, so they weren't from here, But yes I was in town on Saturday causing a bit of a ruckus. Or a lot of fun for folks, depending on how you looked at it."

Vic just smiled. "Ah... well..." his wrinkled brow wrinkled more, giving the appearance of a human Shar-pei. "... there was a bit more to it too. Someone said you had them cats in town illegally and that Jack finally had enough on you to get you fired."

I gave it some thought, as I only phoned in the appearance date, time and place to Pete Johnson's extension at APHIS, rather than sending in anything by fax, but figured that would have been good enough. "I don't know about all that, but only time will tell about Jack's end of things."

Vic shrugged. "Figured that part was a load of fertilizer, but y'never know..." He waved and started off back to whatever mess he was going to clean up as soon I was at the office door and climbing the stairs to the second floor as usual.

"Mr. Peters. It's about time you graced us with your presence..." came the voice as I walked the couple steps down the hall towards my office door. I looked up with a smile. "Good morning, Director Benin. How are you today?" I asked, my voice dripping with insincerity.

Jack frowned at the query, apparently not knowing how to respond to insincere politeness, then regained his sneering composure and gestured to the main office door. "Come... we should speak about some things."

I shrugged and stepped into the office. Julie was busy with paperwork though I noticed she didn't even look up as I stepped past her desk and into the director's office.

Jack grinned broadly. "You're dismissed," he said as he sat down in his chair, folding his hands and putting them behind his head as he leaned back in his seat. I just shrugged and walked back to the door. "No... I mean you're being dismissed from your post as head keeper." Jack reiterated.

I turned to look at him and held up a single finger, as a signal to hold things one moment. I opened the door. "Julie, is there anything for me in my mailbox?" I inquired. Still avoiding my gaze she scooted over to the pigeon-holes and said "Just a catalog of some sort and a couple letters from the public, Jim."

"Thanks." I smiled and shut the door.

"What's all that about?" Jack asked, a look of confusion having replaced the smug expression on his face.

I just smiled. "Oh... business, Mr. Director. Ducks in a row, remember? As a department head I'm informed of all board meetings, should my testimony be needed on some matter of import AT said meetings. Without proper advance notice - 24 hours, by the Zoo's bylaws - to all designated parties, the meeting isn't legitimate. And... we both know you can't dismiss me without board approval." My curt response didn't sit well with Jack as he fidgeted behind his desk.

"Is it or is it not true that you illegally displayed zoo animals in town on Saturday, in direct violation to all USDA and USDI regulations?" Jack blustered.

"It is not true, on several grounds." I responded curtly, but without the heavy inflection Jack was winding up towards.

"Lying to cover your ass? That's cause for immediate dismissal!" Jack yelled. I just smiled. "What? Are you saying you WEREN'T downtown on Saturday with big cats on display?"

I chuckled. "That part's correct, Mr. Director." I smiled smugly. "What's incorrect is the presumption that they were the Zoo's cats, and that it was done illegally. Remember, I hold a Class C permit myself, ex parte of being the primary signatory on the zoo's permit."

Jack furrowed his brow. "However, I have it on good authority that no parade permit was filed with the municipality for your little... activity. That, too, makes it illegal."

I smiled once again. "There was no permit because there was no parade. Only a movement of farming implements through town under its own power at the maximum recommended speeds thereof. US DOT regulations state that unless otherwise prohibited, and said prohibition approved in accordance to Federal Department of Transportation guidelines, all public paved thoroughfares are to include the movement of agricultural implements, and the commerce thereof, up to and including the maxmimum weight limits thereon, of properly placarded agricultural implements and associated motorized or non-motorized machinery thereto."

"How is a cage wagon with big cats a farm implement?" Jack bellowed.

"It is not a permanent installation, under both USDA and Federal DOT guidelines. The wagon upon which the cage was temporarily affixed is a hayrack, outfitted to be pulled by either a team or horses or, via the drawbar that serves as a wagon tongue, a farm tractor, truck, or other motorized vehicle. The fact that the contents were big cats has no bearing on DOT standards, and the fact it was on a hay wagon that the appropriate caging was secured has little to do with USDA regulations." I replied, succinctly.

"JULIE!" Jack bellowed, seeming to get all the more frustrated.

The door opened and Julie stepped into the room, shaking a little. Though I wanted to put my arms around her at that moment, it wouldn't have been proper decorum for the business setting this situation demanded.

"Miss Purcell... we'd just been discussing the details of the little... uh... event Mr. Peters hosted downtown on Saturday. Tell me... did you attend that event?" Jack asked in a tone far more polite than he had been using with me.

Julie merely nodded her reply.

"Did you participate in the activities attendant to this event?" Jack inquired, clasping his hands together and leaning forward, propping his elbows on his desk.

Julie swallowed hard. "I was there and helped Jim, yes." She nodded as she spoke.

"Very well. Miss Purcell, you're dismissed as secretary. Please make sure your desk is in order and all personal effects are removed by end of business today." Jack leaned back and smiled broadly again.

Julie shot a worried look to me, at which I just shook my head. I hoped she could read my eyes that we'd speak about it momentarily as soon as Jack was done doing his inward victory laps. Julie, for her part just nodded and exited the room, shutting the door behind her.

"You were right in that I can't fire you without board approval, but you can't protect everyone here, now can you?" Jack leaned forward with a sneer.

I scratched my chin a bit as I pondered the situation's changes some and the phrasing I wanted to use. I figured I might as well go for it. "Herr Direktor, I think you may have just cut your own balls off. We'll see." I leered equally smugly, spun about on my heel and exited the room post haste before he could reply.

Julie was in the outer office, crying. "I figured he'd do something like that. He asked about Cleo, and then why we'd been riding to work together, and... Saturday and..." She just fell into my arms, sobbing, and I pet along her back, holding her close. "It'll be alright... you'll see." I said in a near-whisper.

The door whipped open. "Fraternizing on company time?!?" Jack bellowed. I just smirked back. "Consoling a colleague who's just received terrible news. Look up "camaraderie" in a dictionary sometime, Jack. Now go back to smirking behind closed doors before Vic happens to accidentally let your private toilet explosively backflow while you're seated on it."

True, it was less than gentlemanly to say such things, but... so be it. Jack slammed the door, knowing that threat could indeed happen if others so intended and Julie nestled her head further into my chest. "Jim... how can we...?"

I shushed her. "It'll be alright. Jack just went off half-cocked again and stepped ankle deep in a mess he didn't know existed. Just how much further he'll wade into it remains to be seen. You just get whatever things are yours and meet me in my office when you're done, OK?" I lifted her chin and smiled at her. "It'll be alright."

* * * * *

"Victors, Trevino, Hamilton and Lee, how may I direct your call?" the polite feminine voice inquired from the other end of the line.

"Andy Trevino's office, please." I said.

"One moment while I transfer you," the feminine voice responded and the muzak started up again and I leaned back in my chair, resting the handset on my shoulder.

"Mr. Trevino's office, this is Amanda, how may I help you?" came a different feminine greeting.

"Hello Amanda, is Mr. Trevino in today?" I asked.

"I'm sorry, I can't give out that information..." Amanda replied. "If you'd like, you can leave your name and number and he'll get back to you at some point."

I smiled. "Amanda, I know you're doing your job and you must be new there so you don't know my voice. If you'd prefer I'll dial in on Mr. Trevino's private line, but I didn't want to bother digging up the number. If he's there, just put me on hold and write down the name "The Professor", like from Gilligan's Island, and he'll ask you to connect him right away. I'll hold."

I could almost hear the exasperation in her voice. "Please hold."

The muzak started again and I heard a knock on my door. "Kommen sie!"

Zack stuck his head in "Hi there Mr. Peters. Anything I can help with today?"

I waved him in as the muzak stopped for a moment, then started again. I frowned a bit at the phone delays then smiled at Zack. "Um... well..." I thought about things a moment, shifting mental gears. "Did you stop by the powerhouse to see if Chet needed help with anything?" Zack nodded. "Um...." I thought some more. "Yeah... see if you can find me a four-seated Grunt out and about somewhere. This time of day it might be difficult to find one, but just make sure it's one with the keys in it even though the keys will fit any of them. Or most any of them..."

My sentence was cut short by Amanda coming back on the line. "Mr. Trevino said to tell you that he's unable to come to the phone at the moment, but that he'll call you back." I pondered for a moment as Zack headed out the door. "Tell him to drop by where I work sometime today if he's not in court. Tell him to wear street clothes, please. And thanks for your trouble Amanda."

"I'll do that Mr... Mr... What IS your name, sir?" she inquired, the confusion palpable.

"I didn't say, Amanda, but it's alright. You have a good day now. G'bye." I said and hung up the phone. No sooner than I had set down the receiver than it rang. "Peters." I answered.

"Jim, it's Jim Bridgers... got your message from this morning and finally got around to calling you. What's up?" came the friendly voice from the other end.

"Oh... a whole lot of stuff, Jim, but that's how it goes sometimes. Got an hour or so for me today, or you booked up?" I asked.

"Been a rather slow day, all in all. I can come over right now if you'd like. Whatcha got?" Jim's excitement was showing again.

"You'll be bored, most likely. Just a couple of dogs, but it's somewhat important. You'll hear why when you're here." I said.

"I bet I will... knowing you there's always a story behind anything you're involved with," the vet chuckled over the phone. "Be there in... ohh... 20 minutes or so."

"I'll be here. If I'm not in my office, check at the cathouse. Like I said, a few things going on today more wacky than usual." With that, he hung up his phone and I did the same with mine. I looked over to Cleo and family underneath the sink in my washroom. "Lots going on, huh girl?" I asked, just rhetorically, but it garnered a nod from my lioness nonetheless.

Zack knocked again then stuck his head in before I could reply. "Found one Mr. Peters."

"Good." I smiled at Zack. "Next favor... head it over to the front gate and park there. Take the keys so it doesn't putter off, and if anyone asks you're waiting for Mr. Bridgers, the vet, on my orders."

Zack nodded. "Something going wrong, Mr. Peters? Miss Purcell has been crying and Mr. Benin seems to be... well... strutting, almost."

I rolled my eyes a bit. "Yes, Zack, something's going on. Jack... Mr. Benin... just fired Julie because of me. He's strutting thinking he's something important because he did so, but we'll see what becomes of this all fairly soon, I'd wager." I smiled a bit, though weakly as I didn't yet know where things stood, legally.

"Ah... well.... uh..." Zack seemed to be a bit shaken by the news Julie had just been fired. I smiled reassuringly at him. "I'll let her know you'd like to help if you could, Zack. I'm sure she'll appreciate the thought." I winked and he smiled.

"I'll be down by the gate like you want, Mr. Peters," Zack said and ducked out once again.

I started in on some paperwork on the computer, and started doing some side-research when, after a time, another knock came on the door. "Kommen sie!" I called out.

"Nicht schiessen, Kamarad. ein Deutscher!" came the reply as Pete Jackson stepped in. The navy blue uniform with full regalia still looked severely out of place on the egg-headed, shaved-head body of the county Animal Control Officer.

I just shook my head. "Special occasion, or they making you go by the regs now?" I asked as I swiveled my chair to face him.

He just did a push-off wave at me. "Once in awhile I DO play dress-up, y'know. Not everybody is as plain as you are, whether or not you're in YOUR uniform." He smiled at me. "What's up. One of the rookies said you wanted to see me when I had time."

I gestured towards the empty seat and shrugged. "Didn't really need to see you, but since you're here anyway, ain't nothing. Got the county truck or something of your own here? Might need to run some info on a couple critters."

Pete looked confused for a moment, but tapped the radio on his hip as he sat down in the proffered chair. "Can have that done for me now, if need comes. But you have me a bit confused as you said it wasn't urgent but important."

I smiled "It isn't anything urgent. But since you're here and Jim Bridger is coming out too, I'll let you see them for yourself. I rescued a couple dogs last night from a culvert near the old Quarry Road church. County boys will find the barrier grate pulled out and probably the narrow-bridge post leaning a bit, but... they're alive. Woulda drowned if I hadn't happened by right when I did. Anyway... figured you'd know if someone was missing a pair of white shepherds, about like how Max was, but far more tame." I chuckled.

Pete pet a hand through his shave-stubble head hair and thought. "Well, now that I WOULD have to run a check on. Both here and the next county over since you're close to the line, and so is that church. Good condition? Need me to haul them in?" Pete started asking and I chuckled.

"Naw, with Jim coming out here they'll get a checkup and I'm fine having them at my place. It seems they've had an owner and been together for quite awhile, but that more recently they'd been either abandoned, or something happened that they were out there by themselves." I droned a bit and then the door opened without a knock.

"Honey, I think I got everyth.... oh!" Julie blushed deeply as she stepped partway through the door and noticed I had company moreso than usual. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you had... uh.... You're not getting arrested, are you dear?" she inquired with a worried expression, the box of personal effects in her arm currently forgotten for the moment.

Both Pete and I laughed. "No, hon. Pete here is the local ACO and we've known each other for a good while. I wanted to talk to him about the dogs we found last night to see if they're missing from their home and loved ones." I smiled at her as I spoke. "Actually, we should be heading downstairs because Jim should be here momentarily and then we can head out together with my personal chauffeur."

Julie looked at me confused for a moment, then I said. "Zack."

"Ohhh...." she smiled. "Ok. I'll just... uh..." She looked a bit confused and unsure of what to do for a moment.

"Just stay here and tend to things, I'll take care of the stuff out and about and I'll be back soon enough." I smiled at her, then stood and gestured to the door, at which Pete stood and nodded to Julie, heading out before me.

"She your girlfriend, Jim?" Pete asked as we headed down the corridor, past the main office for the main stairs. This brought Jack to his door and looked a long time at our backs as the officer and I chatted as we walked.

"Yeah... kinda-sorta. Jack Benin, the zoo director, just fired her. Probably without cause, over something I did. I brought some of my cats into town with some of my old iron. You probably heard the whistle if you were anywhere around here between like 10 and 4." I commented as we walked down the segmented flight of stairs.

"I wasn't, but I'd heard you were in town. A couple people phoned in about wildcats downtown and blah blah blah. But what all does that have to do with her?" Pete asked, genuinely concerned.

"Pretty much nothing, but Jack's trying to use her to get to me, though it won't work. At least this minor hiccup won't. Got a call in now to someone for some legal beagle advice." I replied as we reached the bottom of the stairs. "Jack doesn't know it yet but he might be looking at a troublesome lawsuit."

Pete grinned a bit. "I keep hearing you've got your troubles over here with things, and now I see you're not fibbin' if this is anything like your normal days around here."

I shrugged. "No... this is an ABnormal day. Usually no one gets fired but he chews out some poor pushbroom just about every day, and a lot of them quit because of it. But that's life with Jack. You've got your own troubles, I know. Tomorrow's one of the days, isn't it?"

I frowned a bit as Pete nodded and sighed deeply. "I hate them most of all, and I know you do too," he said then smiled meekly and nudged my arm. "Hey... at least you help with things more than most folks. Dunno what I'd do without your expertise behind me sometimes in those weird situations."

I chuckled "Oh, you mean the ones you don't leave entirely up to me to de-tangle?" I winked and he just smacked my arm.

"Zack!" I called out as I saw the young man sitting on one of the benches, then gestured for him to come over.

"You getting arrested, Mr. Peters?" Zack said with a bit of worry.

Pete looked at me. "How come...."

I cut him off with a hearty laugh. "Most folks have heard about Julie and figured I probably slugged Herr Direktor over it. Not that the thought didn't cross my mind a time or fifty, but we both know I'm not like that when playing the game."

Pete smiled and Zack understood. "I'm just the animal control officer, Zack... I'm here on other business...."

Just then there was a shaking of the side gate. "Let me in! Warden! Let me back in! The people out here are CRAZY!" Jim Bridges mockingly cried out, drawing the attention of more than a few patrons. Pete and I just laughed, then he said. "If you keep doing what you're doing, I'm gonna leave you OUT THERE to teach you a lesson!"

Jim looked hurt as I worked through my keyring to find the proper one, then unlocked the door. "Ok Warden, I'll be fine, just don't make me go back out there again!" Jim whined as he came through the service entrance.

"You're a goof, you know that, right?" I asked as most of the kids had meandered out of the way by the time Jim and I were close enough to chat.

"Hey Pete, what's new in your prison?" Jim asked, good-naturedly.

"Don't ask... tomorrow's one of those days so I'd rather not think about it." Pete grumped mildly, then turned to me.

"So these dogs you got us both down here for...." Pete inquired and I gestured to one of the grunts rolling our way with Zack behind the wheel.

"Our chariot awaits, gentlemen." I smiled and sat down in the front passenger seat while Pete and Jim piled in the rear. "Got your magic wand there, Jim?" I asked.

The vet nodded and patted a softside bag. "In here, this time so yeah, I got it."

I nodded to Zack. "Onward, to the palace of my fiefdom, my faithful lackey!"

Zack looked confused but both gents snickered from the back seat. "We know he doesn't get out much," Jim commented to Pete and both laughed. Even Zack smirked though he probably didn't get the joke. I smiled and rephrased my directive. "Cathouse, please." Zack nodded understanding and we were then on our way.

Having parked the grunt on the little lawn in front, I led my cohorts through the large oak door with "PRIVATE" painted on the impression diffuse glass, down the stairs and along the corridor. The two shepherds stood up and the female leaped down and padded to the door, the male tried and mashed face-first into the concrete floor, but got back up and wagged his tail some as I switched on the cage light.

"Nice dogs," Zack commented. "Like the one we saw the other night at your place."

Pete and Jim both looked at me and I nodded to Zack. "Yep, only these were in a culvert near the Quarry Road church... nearly drowned, which is why the male doesn't act too together yet. He was unconscious for the better part of the night, and not just from sleeping." I looked to Jim and unlocked the door.

"General health check?" Jim asked.

I nodded. "Anything more I could do myself but today I don't quite have the time. Lotsa stuff going on and I seem to be caught in the middle of the flow."

Jim petted the head of the male, who had laid back down, fished his stethoscope out of his back. "Want blood work done too, Jim?" the vet asked, turning a bit as he put the tips of the earpieces in his ears.

"Sure... why not. You'll only charge me fare, right?" I inquired. Jim merely nodded as he started listening to the dog's heart. I moved a couple steps back and lowered my voice so Jim could concentrate on his work. "Why I asked for you, Pete, is... as you can see they're amiable so aren't feral. Two, what looks to be purebred, white shepherds around here is kinda rare. Two purebred ANYTHING on the loose around here is kinda rare. At least out my side of town. So I figured they had to be someone's, and that the someone might be looking for them."

Pete nodded thought for a bit, then furrowed his brow. "I _think_ I might know... " He rubbed the top of his shaved head as though he were running his fingers through his non-existant hair. "They're good with you, right? I mean... I don't have to take them in even if this takes awhile?"

I nodded, and my curious expression must have prompted him to answer the unasked question, even though it had not formed in my mind. "Auto accident on the Interstate a couple months back. Family got killed, but no one found where the dogs were, or any bodies. First responders weren't really looking, as the couple themselves were alive and needed to be extricated from the SUV. Kids died instantly on impact. Running over the side of a bridge kinda does that sometimes. You know that old riverbed down near Culverville? That's the one. Anyway... it _might_ be them. If it is, I'd have to dig up the lawyer's phone number and all that, which might take awhile."

I shrugged. "They're good with my menagerie, and Julie doesn't mind, so we're good to go for awhile." I canted my jaw. "I'll..." I sighed and tilted my head as though listening, then turned to the youngest of the group. "Zack, mind checking stuff topside? I'm sure a number of folks saw us come down and probably have questions. Just say we're tending to an animal and that Officer Jackson is learning more about the animals we have here in case he encounters them or others like them out and about in accordance with his duties, ok?"

Zack nodded. "Will do, Mr. Peters."

"Thanks Zack." I smiled as he headed back up the stairs and I stayed quiet until I heard the click of the upper door.

"Got some chips here, Jim. Wrote the numbers down." I heard called out from the cage-room. "Both seem fine, just gonna do a..." A dog yelp echoed thorugh the basement. "Easy boy.... I know it's big back there but I have to check your insides."

Pete and I chuckled, and I turned back to Pete. "Got any other large-breed dogs come in lately? Intact males, especially?" I inquired. Pete nodded, hesitantly. "Couple on the slate for tomorrow?" He nodded again, this time more sorrowfully. I canted my jaw. "Good dogs?"

Pete nodded. "Most of them are, you know that." He then studied my face. "You... thinking what I think you're thinking?"

I nodded. "Haven't changed the locks or security code, have you?" Pete just smiled broadly shook his head. "Jim Peters... you're.... nuts."

"As me no questions and I'll tell you no lies..." I smiled.

Pete was jotting down something in his notepad then ripped out the sheet and gave it to me. "But come tomorrow morning I'll get a surprise." Pete smiled broadly and passed me the slip of paper. "Here I thought you'd gotten out of that business when you started up with Cats and working here."

I nodded. "I had, kinda... but these two, and Cleo... and some events today... If you'd not have come, if you'd have just called, I wouldn't have asked, but since you came out, I figued....

"In for a Penny, in for a Pound." both Pete and Jim Bridger said, mocking me as Jim walked back out and shut the cage door. "Damned if you're not getting predictable in you old age, Jim," the vet said and clapped me on the back.

"Old age my ass... You're still a few years ahead of me!" I laughed. "What's the verdict on the pups, Herr Doktor?" I asked, curious but fairly readily knowing the answer.

"Barring anything unusual, the male should be better in a couple days. He seems to have some odd sort of stamina even though he's physically weaker than a 3-week-old kitten. Kinda odd. The female shows nothing remarkable other than needing to gain some weight, but you already knew that. Took a few samples to run through the lab, but... don't expect to find anything much there either." Jim rattled off, rather mechanically and succinctly.

"What's the damage, doc?" I asked. Jim just laughed. "I'll send you the bill... or forget entirely about it, one or the other." He winked and I clapped him on the back. "One good turn deserves another, and if I heard right what I didn't just hear, you're about to help Pete here out a good deal."

Pete smiled. "The starred ones are females, figured I'd put some in there, too. The double-star..." He smiles broadly. "I know you like a challenge when you're doing this. He's court-ordered but you know the drill." Pete then turned to Jim. "And I know you didn't hear anything I said, did you?"

Jim looked up, startled. "Huh? I wasn't paying attention. I was thinking about the semen collection on a St. Bernard later today." He winked and we all laughed. I just smiled, tucking the note in my one breast pocket.

"Oh, the lengths you go through to please a client!" I faux-lamented as I climbed the stairs with my guests.

"Looked to me like that boy there could use a draining too..." Jim noted as he nodded back down the stairs. "Ordinarily you know what I'd say, but you and I have had this dance before so I won't waste my breath... and you won't preach to the choir about canine reproductive hormones affecting neurotransmitters and neuro-regulator hormones."

I nodded. "Fair enough. You two want to hang around for some Q&A, or heading back?"

"I've got to get back before they really miss me, Jim." Pete said. "But thanks for the offer, and thanks for... well... that." He nodded in my direction and I knew.

"You're welcome, Pete. Too bad I can't do things like that more often." I smiled as Pete left. Jim Bridger just smiled at me and shook his head. "What? You know I'm a sucker for a pretty face. I'll probably see a couple more there that I'd like, too, and so it starts again, right?" I smiled and Jim just continued to shake his head.

"Waist deep in shit here, and you're sticking your neck out further? One would think you're on a Kamakaze streak." the vet smiled.

"Perhaps I am at that, somewhat... but you'll have to admit, tagging along makes for one HELL of a thrill ride..." I teased as he had his hand on the main floor doorknob and I stepped out onto the mezzanine. "Hi folks... have any questions about anything today?"

* * * * *

"Is it true that you're safer with a lion as a pet than a farmer with a cow?" came a familiar voice from somewhere in the crowd while I was answering questions on my midday tour of the cathouse.

"What utter nonsense..." I heard muttered from closer towards me.

I looked down at where the later comment came from and saw a few parents with a hoarde of schoolkids with them - clearly a school group. "Um... ma'am? Why do you think it's nonsense? The gentleman in the back happens to be right."

The lady looked up at me. "In addition to being a teacher, my husband has a dairy farm, so I should know," she nodded to affirm her own statement.

I smiled and nodded too. "Then you should indeed know. Has your husband been hospitalized at any time for crush injuries from the cows at your farm?"

Her face soured. "Well... yes. A few times he's had his foot in a cast and once one broke his ribs and punctured his lung." Her voice kind of drifted off as she seemed to be contemplating her answer in the light of her current revelation.

I just smiled. "I, too, come from farm heritage, which is somewhat how I came to learn about animals of all sorts, including big cats. It's severely rare that any dairy farmer or rancher has escaped completely unscathed from working around cows, and many each year are killed by them - usually accidentally or later as a direct result of injury. Now compare that with me, a keeper of "dangerous" animals in a zoo. I interact frequently with the Cats and other predators in my care, and yes, occasionally there's a bite or scratch for which I get patched up, but it's severely rare, and I have never been through a hospital as anything but a visitor. So far at least." I chuckled and the teacher seemed to smile a bit. "It's true, that something could happen today, or tomorrow, or... another 30 years from now if I stay in this same business, but thus far, and statistically, that fellow is right in that I'm safer with these Cats.." I gestured to the cages, "... than if I were working with cows." I could still see the teacher wasn't wholly convinced. "And, to back up that claim, you could look up the CDC Mortality statistics, and compare them to Big Cat Rescue's listing of news articles regarding captive big cats."

The teacher seeemed to brighten. "I'll do just that!"

I chuckled. "It'd make a good class project if you're teaching about charts and percentages. Or you might find some other way of working it in. Get creative and your kids will like learning it too."

"So you said I'm right?" came the voice again from the back.

"You bet you are, sir, though... are there any other questions before I have to go?" I inquired, smiling.

There were a few more questions about the usual miscellany and soon I excused myself and headed back down to the main floor. "Figured I'd let you know I was here, Jim," Andy said casually as I shut the door. "I also figured that since you mentioned street clothes in your message that you didn't want me showing up in my normal business attire."

I smiled and looked Andy up and down. "That works for you..." I chuckled as Andy was in worn jeans, a Led Zepplin t-shirt, and a ballcap bearing the logo of the state baseball team.

"You know I only wear stuff like this when around the house or... Well, you remember." He looked about as the crowd milled around and Zack came up to me. "Need me to do anything more, Mr. Peters? I put the dogs back in the truck like you asked after taking Mr. Jackson and Dr. Bridgers back to the main gate."

I thought for a moment. "You kinda like those dogs, don't you, Zack?" He nodded. "Would you like to learn more about canine behavior?"

Zack thought about things for a bit. "You mean kinda like what you've taught me here about lions and stuff?"

I nodded. "You can take the Grunt back to the parking at the head office and then go over to Sam Lochlear at the wolves and tell them I sent you. You'll likely get a tour of that part of the park and maybe you'd get to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff like here, depending on what's going on and how they react to you. I have a guest here and we've got some catching-up to do." I thumb-pointed to Andy, who nodded greeting to Zack.

"Hi Mister. I'm Zack Seffrood and Mr. Peters here kinda got me working here with stuff." Zack offered his hand in greeting.

Andy shook Zack's hand. "My name's Andy, Zack, and I remember you from Halloween... you'd been talking with folks here about what you'd learned about the animals and answering their questions. I'm glad you're still helping out around here. It's nice to see younger folks getting interested in things they can enjoy."

Zack turned to me. "You don't want a ride back to the office, Mr. Peters?" he inquired politely.

I just shook my head. "Naw... Andy and I will find somewhere to chat and we'll walk back when I head that way. But thanks for asking, Zack." I smiled and Zack nodded before heading out through the doors.

"Dogs, Jim?" Andy asked. "I thought...."

I cut him off with a chuckle. "It's a long story, but apparently I'm a glutton for danger and intrigue these days. I've not been to the Club in quite some time, but I presume nothing much has changed, right?"

Andy shrugged as we started walking out of the cathouse and towards the carousel. "Yes and no. New faces replacing old, some faces passing on. I know you still chat a bit with some of the longtime folks online..." he canted his head as the thought dawned on him. "Tonight?" he inquired. I nodded. "Yeah... Pete was over here on other business and I couldn't help myself, what with physically rescuing two Sheps last night who were what I actually wanted to speak with him about. But none of that's why I asked you to come down. I need some legal advice and there's nothing like a friend to ask, right?" I winked and Andy rolled his eyes a bit.

"One of these days I'll just not answer your calls, Jim." Andy chuckled.

"You have lunch yet?" I inquired, and gestured to the food vendor windows beneath the bandstand gazebo.

Andy chuckled, "Nope, but you're buying!"

I laughed as we got in line - which were thankfully short for the time of day. "I'll have a full heart attack, please," Andy told the clerk, who was instantly confused. I laughed and the clerk's face softened as she saw my uniform. "He means he'll have a bacon cheeseburger, extra onions, large fries and a large soda." She smiled broader at the explanation. "Make that two, but hold the pickles on mine. Minute Maid orange for mine, and... Coke for yours, right Andy?" he nodded in response.

It was only a couple moments before the food was ready, as the cooks apparently were on their A-game at the moment. I paid the cashier and put a bit in her tip jar since I noted she screwed up on the discount in my favor. I knew no one would notice so I didn't say anything.

"So... what's wrong now? Someone on your ass or has it to do with this place?" Andy inquired between bites of his burger.

"Hypothetical time, ok? Since I know any direct advice would be an inexcuseable conflict of interest for you." I replied between bites of my own.

"Ok... shoot." Andy said.

"Employee A has just been fired by their direct superior. Likely without just cause, because of their direct association with Employee B, and actions Employee B did outside of the workplace and on their own time. Employee A helped Employee B with some of the aforementioned activities, but said activities were not patently illegal nor in direct violation of any workplace rules or regulations," I rattled off quickly and Andy nodded a couple times as I spoke.

"So Jack shitcanned someone for... what? Because he can't can you directly?" Andy asked, wiping some ketchup off his mouth with a napkin.

I nodded. "Pretty much. I smell a wrongful termination suit in the making, unless I'm mistaken."

Andy thought about it a bit. "All actions were outside of the workplace, and no one represented themselves as being zoo employees?" Andy inquired.

I wavered a bit. "I was in town the other day with some of my new cats and my old Case, so yes, completely off zoo property, though unless folks knew it was my cats, they could presume they were from the zoo... in fact that supposition had been made by some folks here, so it's not unconscionable that the general public made those same assumptions even though no overt representation was made." I took a few bites of fries and canted my jaw. "You have any newbies there that you'd like to get a leg up? Hopefully someone that has their shit together and isn't easily intimidated. This would be a good chance for some young lawyer to get a rung up." I smiled.

Andy thought a bit. "Since you're asking, I know you're Employee B, and Jack's the direct supervisor... but... who'd he send packing? Who's the client?"

I frowned a bit. "Julie..." I sighed "... if she feels up to it. Happened earlier today, shortly before I called your office. I _think_ I can prop her up enough, but I'm not completely sure." I frowned deeper.

Andy merely nodded. "I know how that can go. "Confronting one's accuser"... so what'd she do?"

I shrugged. "She was in town with me helping me with my cats and running the cashbox for the cookout we'd thrown together with the help of Lew Symensma at the firehouse. Totally nothing important, to my way of thinking. But, still, I've said too much. I don't know who's in charge of handing out assignments at your firm but as a board member you should stay a bit back from this one as you know it may come to my using it against Jack sometime soon."

Andy nodded and thought for a moment. Then a couple bites of his burger later he was still pondering. He got out his billfold, fished out a business card, then scribbled something on the back. "The newbie's name is John Cassock. Ask for Lyle Ericsson at the front desk when you go in. Don't call. He'll be a little miffed at someone showing up without an appointment until he sees this." He then passed me the business card. "I'll stay in the background but as a board member I'd get told much of this all anyway. Not necessarily with your personal slant, or the whole truth, but... I'd hear about it regardless of our friendship so there's that." He furrowed his brow and pondered. "You DO know that if she sues, she'd not want to work here anymore anyway, right?"

I smiled a bit. "That's a bridge we'll jump off when we get to it... maybe. I.... kinda have something in mind, but... only time will tell with that." I sighed and smiled. "On to the next order of business... tonight."

Andy's face lit up brighter. "Let's!"

* * * * *

"MR. PETERS." came the voice calling down the office hall that I'd come to detest all the more that day. I sighed and turned.

"Yes, Director Benin?" I managed to paste on at least half a smile as Andy stood in profile, as though examining some of the paintings and framed photographs lining the hall.

"May I speak with you for a moment?" came a slightly softer response.

I guestured to one of the padded benches between Jack's office and my own. "Please wait here, sir. I'll be with you momentarily," I said to Andy as I then strode towards where Jack was standing in his doorway. "Yes?" I inquired as politely as I could manage.

"In. Now." came the curt response, and he slammed the door behind me as I stepped through.

"What in the name of all that's holy is going on here?!?" Jack fumed. "Miss Purcell is in your office, likely with that lioness yet again. Officer Jackson was wandering the grounds and seen with you, as well as the vet Dr. Bridger. I've not been informed of their presence here at all, and now you have an unauthorized member of the general public in a private area of the facility YET AGAIN!" Jack was back in full form, it seemed.

I smiled. "Well, let's start in inverse order, shall we? First..." I cleared my throat. "That "unauthorized member of the general public" is someone who has a valid family membership to the zoo, and made some specific inquiries of me, which I cannot answer off the top of my head, so I'm compelled to use my computer, which just happens to be in my office. Officer Jackson was here for some helpful advice on the same matter that Dr. Bridger just happened to be here about, so to that end I proverbially killed two birds with one stone and aided the local constabulary some more by educating them." Jack started pacing his office, fists clenched and shaking a little as I spoke. "And as far as Miss Purcell being in my office... 1). It is not past end-of-business today so at this point she is still an employee of the Zoo per your own orders, whether you like it or not, 2). even if she weren't an employee, all volunteers are required to report their actions to either their direct superior or to me, as head keeper, and 3). if you check your employee handbook, "Apart from situations and circumstances where increased risk of death or injury is substantial, all spouses, significant others, progeny, or similarly associated individuals of active employees Grade 2 or higher may accompany said employees about their daily duties upon and about zoo grounds after having signed the appropriate liabilty release forms."

"BUT WHAT ABOUT REPORTING TO ME!?" Jack bellowed, interrupting my explanation. "You haven't ONCE reported any of today's actions to ME as you're REQUITED to!"

I held up one finger as though to have Jack hold that thought. I exited to the outer office and grabbed the binder holding the master employee guide, the job descriptions of all employees within the zoo, and several example contracts. I also went through the files and grabbed my own contract. "What do you THINK you're DOING?" Jack bellowed through the door. "You're not leaving until we settle this!" I returned shortly and plunked the literature on his desk and shut the communicating door behind me.

"I'm providing you with educational materials, Herr Direktor, as required by my job." I smiled. "If you read the employee mess, you'll find, much to your dissatisfaction, that keepers and heads of other departments must report to EITHER you OR I, though they typically send the information to both of us, and that my contract..." I tapped the manila folder "... fails to mention me reporting to you at all. At the time it was written it would have been folly, as there WAS no Zoo Director to report to, and currently it's just an oversight. I REPORT to no one person, though am required to provide testimony to the board entire, or answer queries by individual board members upon their request." I smiled smugly. "SO... Herr Direktor. If I were the petty sort of person, I could file a workplace harassment suit against you for these repeated outbursts of yours." The color drained from Jack's face and he wobbed over to his overstuffed office chair. "I'm unlikely to do so, though. But perhaps you may convince me otherwise, I don't know. Outside of that... you still heard of Dr. Bridger's visit here, Officer Jackson's presence, and have now been informed of the multiple reasons why Miss Purcell can be where she is. If there's nothing more, I still have an individual's questions to attend to in accordance with what IS required of me under my current contract."

Jack grunted quietly, in a substantially dissatisfied voice. "You can go... for now."

I smiled and opened the door to the hall, stepped through, and quietly shut it behind me. Andy wasn't in the hall so I guessed he'd gone into my office during the intervening minutes so I just went into my office without any further delay.

"Admiral Blowhard strikes again!" came the chuckle from my office chair, which was joined by a giggle from Julie.

I smiled and nodded. "May I have my chair, Andy?"

At that, Andy rose and gestured to the seat. "By all means, my liege. Whatever pleaseths."

We both chuckled and Andy drew up one of the folding chairs and sat down. "Couldn't help but hear a lot of it even this far away," Andy commented and I nodded.

"Little wonder why the Gift Shop crew are all afraid of him, no?" I asked rhetorically. "Anyway... looks like "Admiral Blowhard" is whipping up into a hurricane all on his own... though...." I scratched my cheek a bit in quiet contemplation. "Hypothetically... if it were to be a choice between Herr Direktor and me for his job, who do you think the board would go for?"

Julie looked a bit shocked and confused. "An..." she studied Andy's face for a moment. "Chairman Trevino?" she asked.

Andy grinned broadly and bowed a bit in his seat. "At your service, ma'am."

Julie looked at me. "How...?"

Andy smiled "We're partners in crime from way back, Julie. I'm not terribly surprised you didn't recognize me without my waistcoat and top hat, but... I was lucky Jack didn't since we've seen a lot more of each other over the years."

I shrugged. "He had other things on his mind, like trying to skewer my ass." The others nodded and I smiled at Julie. "I... asked Andy some questions, since he's a lawyer, about what happened earlier with Jack firing you. Now... I've got some ideas about things but we'll have to talk them over at home, not here, lest someone else..." I head-nodded towards the main office "... get wind of things before their time."

Julie smiled. "That.... I'd like. And is a bit of a relief, really. All of it is, in a way, since I won't have to deal with him anymore."

I winked and smiled at her. "Well..." I wistfully commented, "... that won't entirely be the case, but you won't have to worry much about him anymore." I patted her hand. "Now... back to the question at hand. Andy? Think the board would install me as director if my services were available?"

Chairman Trevino pondered for a moment where he sat. "I think... it's an open question at the moment. You know you've stepped on a few toes the past while, and that some took it personally when you declined being director before we hired that thing..." Andy thumb-pointed in Jack's general direction, "... and there's still what you've said about not being good at schmoozing and political crap. What about those issues?"

I smiled, "Well, as director I could lobby that a position be created as "political and social liason" to tend to those things, right?"

Andy pondered a bit. "Well... since it'd be corporate-level it'd require Board approval, but... yeah, the director can lobby for any major position and can directly create minor positions within the zoo's corporate structure. Whatcha aiming at, Jim?"

I chuckled and shook my head. "Just...." I smiled, "... getting my ducks in a row for the showdown with Jack, and to prevent any major aftermath for the zoo, should I win."

Andy and Julie both looked at me, completely confused and I just shook my head again before turning to Julie. "Hon? Do you like playing dress-up for costume parties?"

Julie looked at me even more confused at the change of direction the conversation had taken, while Andy got a "good GRIEF... you daffy bastard" look on his face and leaned on his hand while we waited for her response. "Uh... well... yeah, I guess... kinda.... Why?"

"Oh... you'll find out after dinner," I just casually said and leaned back a bit in my chair, smiling broadly.

Stormy Weather

The following day dawned dark with heavy looking clouds, if one could say it dawned at all. Cleo was snuggled around her cubs at the foot of the bed, and Julie was snuggled to me IN the bed. I looked out the window for a time, thinking about the events...

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A Day Off Part 3

"Richard Leslie Mitchell, what ARE you doing up there?!? Get down from there right now!" I heard from behind me. I knew the voice could only be one person, and then I saw Paul come around the front end of the Case. "Honey, it's alright, Jim's here...

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That Place 8: Heaven

Sunshine. Warm sunshine. Bright sunshine. I stirred a bit as I felt the warmth of a sunbeam upon me. Then my brain started thinking... why am I feeling the warmth of a sunbeam? I wriggled a bit and felt soft cushion beneath me and behind my...

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