You Realize, This Means War

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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Jack steps in it big time at the zoo, Jim plays tour guide to a guest, and Cleo gets another special bath with Jim.

I took the next day off to split some wood, which Julie dutifully helped with as I educated her some about the different kinds of wood, burning habits, and similar issues that would affect performance of wood stoves and boilers as I operated the hydraulic splitter and she helped stack. I piled a bunch of wood in the corner of the basement, mostly smaller pieces for the Warm Morning stove in the kitchen, and gave more thought to installing a combination power and heating boiler in the shop end of the woodshed.

I also took care of some of the chores around the property that hadn't been done in awhile, and worked a little on some projects out in the shop, which Maverick seemed to enjoy being around for.

Noble and Grace, the two Akitas, were recovering nicely from their unusual experience that night, and didn't seem to hold anything against me for it, though I knew both were fully aware of the goings-on while they were paralyzed by the drugs. They were a bit food-aggressive so I shut them in the mudroom while feeding, Ghost and Wendy in the kitchen, Maverick and Reggie in the living room with Cleo, and Peaches got fed in her room.

The wolves I had been feeding in the pumphouse so there wasn't any spilled food out and about to attract unwanted critters, and they had a habit of holing up in there, or underneath the front porch. I had put spring hinges on the door in the latticework, so they could quite readily hide under there and not be noticed at all unless someone actively looked for them through the wooden slats. They soon got the hang of pawing at the edge of the door to open it, which was perfectly fine with me.

Jack, as always, was as reliable as ever when I returned to work, haranguing me about the paperwork and overworking poor Emily, who managed to make it through a few days with Jack before there came a knock on my door.

"Kommen sie!" I called out, in my usual habit.

"Uh... does that mean "come in"?" she inquired, poking her head around the edge of the door. Today was Ghost's turn with me, and he pleasantly padded over to her, tail wagging.

"It actually is short for "You come here" in German... Kommen sie hier." I answered as she entered and shut the door behind her. "What can I do for you?" I asked, swiveling my desk chair to face the door.

"I wondered if I could talk to you about... uh..." she stammered a bit at the end.

"About Jack?" I inquired, taking an educated guess. She nodded, and I gestured to the other seat. "Park yourself and ask away, Emily."

"Well... I just... the past few days... I just wondered if he's always been..." Emily wavered, trying to find the words.

I volunteered some for her. "A pompous, self-righteous asshole?"

Emily looked shocked, then smiled and giggled a little. "Well.. I wasn't thinking QUITE those terms, but... yeah..."

I shrugged. "I'm sure at some point he was an unholy terror spoiled brat of a child, so the answer to your question is no, he wasn't always so full of himself. I presume at one point he had parents that would crush his fragile young ego like a bug, so he's making up for it now."

Emily smiled. "You've been so helpful to me. I don't really know how to thank you for your advice over the past while that's helped me get by here better than I could have hoped."

I looked curious. "It sounds like you're quitting," I said.

Emily shrugged. "I... I'm just a temp, this wasn't supposed to be anything long duration, and I've heard Director Benin talking on the phone to my employer."

I chuckled. "Emily... there's many things I've learned over the years about dealing with bully-type folks... most of the time what they do comes back to bite them in the ass. If he's been griping TOO much, and you've not spoken a word to your agency about how bad it is here, they'll let you stay just so they don't have to do the work of finding someone who will put up with Admiral Blowhard and his antisocial habits as much as you have."

Emily tilted her head for a moment and smiled "You know, I never thought of it that way... Thanks, Mr. Peters!"

I chuckled. "Anything else I can do for you?" I inquired.

"Um..." she seemed to think. "Would you mind showing me how to work that ancient telephone switchboard in the office? Someone tried calling the other day and I had no clue how to answer."

I laughed heartily. "No problem. It's easier than the modern one as you can tell exactly where each extension goes. It was probably Chet in the powerhouse or Vic in the clock tower or under the carousel. Those are the most commonly used extensions. I have two in the cathouse for different reasons." I got up and we walked over to the main office, and I began showing her the ins and outs of 19th century telephonic communications, making a couple test calls to Chet's office just so she could get the hang of things.

"Miss Schubert, would you be so kind as to..." Jack started as he walked out of his office to find Emily and I over at the switchboard.

"What do you want, Mr. Peters?" he inquired blandly.

"Three million dollars in unmarked bills, and the ability to assassinate someone without the risk of prosecution or retribution," I responded without missing a beat, then I pondered for a moment. "Or five million and we'd call it even." I smiled.

"Quite amusing today, aren't we Mr. Peters. And amusing my staff yet again, I see?" Jack seemed to be in one of his better moods.

"Informing your staff, Jack. Would YOU have the possibility of explaining the old telephone circuits to Miss Schubert?" I smugly inquired.

"I don't have time for this banter..." he curtly dismissed me. "Miss Schubert, would you be so kind as to make 14 copies of this..." he passed her a manila folder. "Oh... make that 15. You can give one to Mr. Peters there directly."

Emily took the folder and Jack sauntered back into his office. She then looked at me with confusion.

"15 or 16 would be an announcement for a board meeting, Emily. I get CC'd on all the zoo's business in case I have to testify before the board on some matter of import." I casually commented. "Would you mind if I see the agenda, since I'll get a copy before end-of-business today anyway?"

She handed it over and I looked. "Hm... "Budgetary decreases essential to the continued operation of the zoological park and associated educational outreach programs." I read aloud.... and pondered as I handed it back over. "He's already said the Thanksgiving Day Parade and associated park day is cancelled for budgetary purposes... I wonder who he's t...." I canted my jaw as I'd been thinking aloud, then turned to Emily. "What files has he been pulling recently?"

Emily thought. "Just some things about feed for the animals, groundskeeping... the contracts for the keepers... Though he has been placing calls to animal dealers lately, inquiring of the value of the cats, bears, giraffes, elephants... " she giggled at that. "He found out he'd be required to PAY to move them."

I canted my jaw again and thought... he wouldn't be able to get to me directly. He can't get to Vic or Chet as they're too essential... Jerry, perhaps. Sam... I looked to Emily. "Would you be able to dig up a list of the numbers he's had you call in the past few days?"

"Oh, easily. I was taught to log them all in case a superior wanted to place the identical call later.. I'll email you a copy of that in a couple moments, if you like. But first... Xerox duty awaits." Emily smiled.

"Thanks... and thank you for returning the favors." I winked and headed out and down to the courtyard... Jack stuck his head out of his door as I passed by but he didn't say a word.

As I was crossing the courtyard by the clock tower Vic swung a hard left, cruising up alongside me. "Something wrong with your office lock?" he asked me.

I furrowed my brow. "Not that I'm aware of, why?" I inquired in return.

"Director Doorknob just called down for me to open your office door... Said it was broken and the master key wouldn't work." Vic scratched his beard stubble.

"Well, of course that master key won't work... that's the master for the office itself, not the whole building. Only you and I have the master-masters. Well... Chet too, but you know how he doesn't come up here any more than he very absolutely has to." I scratched my cheek. "Go ahead and unlock the door... Don't worry that there's a white dog in there. He's fairly friendly to good folks. He probably won't take too well to Admiral Blowhard." I smiled "Do as you're bidden and you'll be in the clear when the shit starts flying. I think His Highness is gunning for a showdown... soon."

Vic started grinning from ear to wrinkled ear. "Ohhhhhh! This is gonna be sweeeeeeeeT!" He rubbed his hands together and started motoring off to the office. I took the "long" way around, past the wolves, through the parking lot of the old Victorian, and then up the side stairs in time to overhear "He ain't gonna like this, Director. This ain't right y'know."

"I'm the director of this facility, whether Mr. Peters likes it or not, and as such I have full right to enter anywhere I choose, any time I choose, in any WAY I choose..." Jack was fuming, and I could see Emily wringing her hands.

"Well then... I would certainly recommend skinny dipping with Amos and Andy... that way if you survive them beating the crap out of you, you can still be arrested for indecent exposure." I blurted out, causing Vic to bawl out laughing at the thought and Jack to turn three shades deeper red than Lew's old fire truck.

"You set me up!" He accused Vic, who was almost bent double laughing hard.

I shook my head. "Nope, you set yourself up, Herr Direktor. You, of all people should know, that my office has always been, and will always BE, keyed differently because it's one of the safe storage places for the capture guns and the associated Class 3 narcotics. Just like the clinical areas below the cathouse, and Sam's office at the wolf exhibit. Per USDA, and FDA, requirements." I gave him a bland look. "If you wanted to visit, you only needed to ask."

Vic regained his composure. "If you all'l excuse me... I got some shitters to unclog..." and he ambled off down the main stairs, still chuckling at the idea of Jack and the polar bears.

"So... cards on the table, Jack. What are you fishing for?" I unlocked my door and stepped into my office.

"What you're still doing here. Why you insist on usurping my authority, and why on God's creation do you insist on getting into my personal business with Miss Schubert!" Jack fumed and Emily turned to head out.

"You can stay, Emily... right now he has about as much actual authority as one of Vic's toilet swabbies. I just caught him attempting to enter a secured area using false representation to a third party." I looked to Emily and smiled. "It's the USDA version of "breaking and entering", which could cost the zoo either a big fine, or perhaps even tighter regulatory oversight for a couple years, or both."

"I don't have to explain myself to you, MR. PETERS." Jack taunted.

"No, you don't. You're right in that you don't answer to me. You answer directly to the Board of Directors, as do I. However working WITH me tends to go far further than working AGAINST me. I would have thought you'd have found that out by now. So... fine... be on your way, Herr Direktor. Enjoy your office while it is still yours." I smiled smugly.

"What's that supposed to mean, Mr. Peters?" Jack inquired, half-worried and half-irritated.

"I mean, Mr. Director, that up to this point I hadn't ever given a flying fuck for your job. I even turned it down before they hired you because of some of the issues involved in it. Contrary to your long-held belief, I WANT you to remain director, to schmooze the politicians and the dilettantes and the nouveau riche twits that just want their names in the paper or on a plaque someplace. However, your actions of recent have changed my mind...." I folded my arms.

"What do you mean?" Jack inquired. For the first time in a long time, sincerity clear on his lips.

"What I mean, Jack, is that you've changed my mind on the matter by how you've been acting these past few weeks. Now I AM gunning for your job. You have made a walking CLUSTERFUCK of this office, you have set things in motion that will both irritate the public, as well as piss off the corporate donors - mostly by cancelling the Thanksgiving Day Parade and associated festivities. The public has come to enjoy the free day at the zoo, and the corporate sponsors suck up the free public goodwill in being associated with it. Don't you get it, man? You cut off your balls when you fired Julie, causing this office to limp along - no offence, Emily, as I know you're doing the best you can under trying circumstances. You're making a complete ass of yourself with the APHIS head office whining about me all the time when my inspections come back spotless. And now, to top it off, you're calling a board meeting to get rid of display animals? Really? And you think for one moment that the board will vote WITH you on this lunacy?" I rattled off, barely taking a breath.

"You... know about all that?" Jack seemed actually shaken.

"Jack.... I've been through four different directors here. Why do you think I'm still here dealing with you bean-counting pencilnecks if I didn't know which side of the playpen stank the worst? Don't you get it at all? This isn't a job for me, it's not a game for me. It's not a power-trip for me like it seems to be for you. I do this because I LIKE doing this. Because I'm a natural at it, as any other department head here will confirm without any degree of hesitation. They actually ASKED me to become director rather than go to a headhunter to try to find someone like you because I AM just... that... good at the day-to-day management of this... this misanthropicic menagerie." I frowned. "Sorry to burst your bubble like this, but... you seem to be giving me no choice but to formally request something be added on that meeting agenda."

"What might that be?" Jack inquired, regaining a bit of his previous haughtiness.

"The removal of Director Jack Benin from office for gross mismanagement and creation of a hostile working environment. That's if I don't bother taking the time to dig up a few dozen other things you've done over the past couple months that are a liability to the goodwill and corporate image of the Zoo." I folded my hands across my chest. "I don't want to. I'd rather work WITH you, even right now, than to have a knock-down-drag-out fight. Not because I'm afraid I'll lose, but because I know anything of the sort will cause the ZOO to lose. But I'd rather the zoo loose a little right now by us arguing than to possibly lose the whole zoo later with your mismanagement if it came down to that. So... I'll leave that up to you to decide whether we're to go toe-to-toe. I'd recommend you take some time today to go someplace quiet and think about it. I'll end up knowing what you've decided either way - mostly by your attitude towards me. Until then..." I turned to my computer. "if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

Jack shakingly wobbled out of my office and Emily closed the door behind her as they both departed. After awhile of working on budget numbers I leaned back and pondered. I lifted the receiver and dialed 0.

"[name omitted] Zoo main office, this is Emily. How may I direct your call?" came the voice from the next room over.

"Hi Emily, this is Jim. Got a moment? If you do, just hang up and come on over. If Jack's there or you're busy, it can wait." I said curtly. I got my response as the line disconnected and without much ado a knock came on my door. "Come on in," I said kindly. Emily entered, looking a bit sheepish.

"I want to apologize for speaking about your performance without giving you a chance to defend yourself," I smiled politely. "It was rather un-gallant of me to do so."

Emily smiled and sat down. "No, you're right in that I'm sure things ran smoother when your lady friend was in the office rather than me."

"It's true, but it's mostly that she had more experience with things, and had more time to learn them than you have as of late." I furrowed my brow, pondering how to word what I wanted to know. "What I said about Director Benin before... that I wasn't gunning for his job before, that was true. I really don't like dealing with black-tie parties and things of that nature. I'd much rather be talking to elementary school students about the differences between lions and tigers, or helping bring new lives into the world." I smiled broadly at the memory of Halloween at the Zoo. "What I'd like to know is whether you can keep a secret from Jack or not." I looked at her kindly, but pleasantly. "If you can't or don't want to, I certainly understand. I really don't want to put on my armor and go off to do battle, but... it looks like I may not have a choice."

"You can trust me, Mr. Peters." Emily said.

I smiled and sighed. "You can't be loyal to two masters, Emily. Especially if Jack and I are on opposing sides like we seem to be at the moment."

"I'm... not exactly sure I'm loyal to either one of you. Jack seems to be a powerful person in his own right - politically powerful at least. You.... you have... something far different going for you. A sort of... charisma. Charm. Something that makes me WANT to help you with things, and know that you'd help me with things." Emily thought things out aloud.

"What would you be loyal to?" I inquired.

"I think... the company. Doing what's right for the bigger picture. I don't really know, though... since I really AM new here," she answered directly, and seemingly quite honestly.

I smiled "At least that's an honest answer," I chuckled a little. "Thanks for being honest with me."

Emily smiled and chuckled a little herself "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to end up working for you?"

I shrugged. "Beats the alternatives, doesn't it?" I turned towards my washroom as I heard a door slam. "The jackass' mating dance has begun..." I winked to her. "You were to the washroom..."

Emily giggled a little. "Hey, a girl's gotta pee sometime!" With that, she quietly excused herself and I heard Jack quibbling as she got back into the main office.

* * * * *

A beeping caused me to fish my cellphone out of my pocket. "Peters," I answered.

"Jim? What's going on down there?" came the worried voice on the other end, and I smiled.

"Oh.... it finally came to a head when Jack decided he wanted unauthorized entry into my office... behind my back, of course. What'd you hear from His Highness?" I commented as I continued past the cathouse over towards the picnic green and sat down on one of the benches.

"That part wasn't mentioned, only that there was an addendum to the agenda... the dismissal of Head Keeper James Peters for insubordination," Andy responded.

I frowned... and sighed deeply. "I'm afraid War has just been declared. So much for my offer of working WITH him...."

"We're here on the grounds, over at the old Victorian... Me, Ron, Edward and a couple of others. Not a quorum, but... What should we do, Jim?" Andy asked. I thought long and hard for a couple moments. "You still there, Jim?" came from the other end of the line.

"Yeah... still here. Um... which way is Ron leaning at the moment? Left for Jack's, Right for me." I inquired.

"I think it's right from there, correct?" came the coded reply.

"You, Edward, Ron and whomever else is there that you think would vote for me, take a wander through the zoo. Not as a clump, lest Herr Direktor get suspicious. Just politely excuse yourself to grab some food over by the picnic green. I'm sure the others will take the hint." I replied. "I've had some things cooking but... seems to be that today's the day the crapper overflowed."

"I'll be there in a bit. I'll be walking with Ed Stoddard." Andy responded, and with that the call ended. I sighed deeply... I got my answer, but it wasn't the one I had hoped for.

I rose from my seat as I saw the two well-dressed gentlemen walking my way. Edward Stoddard had a less-ornate cane at the moment and was in casual-dress clothes. Andy was in his typical "million dollar lawyer" suit, likely having come down from the office. I smiled. "Sorry to see you again under such... troubling circumstances." I proffered my hand to Edward Stoddard as he came up.

"There are trying times all over, young man," he chuckled and shook my hand. "Especially for you, these days, it seems."

I nodded and gestured to a nearby picnic table. "I'm sorry this seems to have blown up at an.... undesirable time." We three sat down and I sighed a bit.

"The Chairman here has told me of your sweet lady's termination, and... I presume that was the beginning of the proverbial mudslide that has brought us here today? Am I correct, Mr. Peters?" Mr. Stoddard inquired.

"Jim, please. We're speaking as friends here so there's no real need for the formalities, is there?" I smiled kindly, and Ed Stoddard chuckled some. "I suppose that's true... I've come to think of you as a friend ever since the night of the Halloween gala here, and I'm glad you think so kindly of me as well," he commented, "but that still leaves an open question."

I nodded "It's true.. and I'm partially to blame for this all coming to a head so rapidly as well. I've been ignoring Mr. Benin as much as possible, lest I... well, try to stuff his nose through the back of his head, or something similar. And I've been a bit more terse with him the past few weeks than you overheard that evening, Mr. Stoddard." I sighed a bit.

"Ed.. as you said, we're friends here," he corrected me.

"Well, Ed... I just..." I frowned a bit. "You heard about him cancelling the Free Day, the Santa festivities, and the involvement with the Parade, right?"

"He did WHAT?" Ed's eyes bulged a bit. "That... 28 years involved with the parade and he just flushed that away?"

I nodded. "Presumably to conserve money for the lawsuit Julie brought against the Zoo for wrongful termination. I've.... been thinking of ways to side-step that all so the public doesn't have a bird about it... though it'd mean crossing Jack directly rather than just the little strafing runs he's made at me lately."

Ed seemed a bit disturbed by the thought. "I... can't have direct involvement with that or I'd have to recuse myself from voting for or against you in this... contest between you and Mr. Benin."

I nodded. "There's no big concern about that at the moment." Andy looked confused and I continued. "It's near the middle of the month... the regular board meeting is the first Saturday. Something as substantial as the termination of an employee with my length of service, or the other item as to selling off display animals, both.... would require substantial consideration to come to a worthwhile decision on either matter alone, let alone both. So... at the special meeting, it wouldn't be out of character to table the motions for consideration until the next regular meeting, would it?" I smiled broadly.

Ed and Andy both grew grins as well. "That.... is a considerably educated idea, Jim," Ed commented. "I just got reminded that you do know how to dance the dance, and quite well."

Andy chuckled. "Ed... you have NO idea how fast Jim is at tap-dancing when he needs to be." At that we all laughed.

I saw Ron Holak coming down the path, and nodded for Andy to acknowledge him. "I guess since our little coup d'etat has been decided, we'll just have something to eat." I rose as Ron arrived, and Ed did too. "Sit down, young man... It's my turn to partially return a favor. What would you like for lunch?" Ed asked as he extricated himself from the picnic table bench. "You too, Andrew, and Ronald... Picnic lunch is on me today."

I stood in line with Edward as we waited to get to the window. "I really do want to thank you for your support, Ed. I know you've only known me for a rather short time."

"Truth is, Jim, I seem to have known OF you for quite some time, though I wasn't aware it was you who kept the zoo afloat in between the last several directors, and that it was you who turned down the job before we hired Mr. Benin." Ed turned to me with a curious look on his face. "You've told me before that you're not good at schmoozing people, and I know that's not entirely the case. But, really, why didn't you take the job when it was offered."

I sighed a bit. "At the time... we didn't have a lot of the support staff that we have now. Not reliable ones, anyway. We had keepers, sure. And they were good at their jobs, but... it wasn't like the staff is now. Julie is a whiz at the office stuff. Emily, the temp working here now, can be just as good given the proper support. I just... I couldn't see myself being able to juggle the whole shooting match without something getting lost in the shuffle, and that usually means animal care, or public education. I couldn't afford to let that happen, so I declined the job offer."

Ed considered that for a bit, as we ordered the food, and he proffered his credit card for payment. As we waited he inquired. "So what's changed in the past while to alter that opinion? I mean beyond the staffing matters you just mentioned. Mr. Benin mentioned your conversation that you're... how'd he put it? "Gunning for his job now."

I smiled broadly. "You... Julie... and some other things happening in my life have brought about a bit of change in perspective. I've got an idea... or at least a workable concept... how I can indeed juggle it all now without really upsetting the proverbial applecart. Like the delay in voting about me. The first hurdle is getting the Thanksgiving Day festivities back on track. I have a general idea of how to do that, but it'd require me calling in a few favors. And, as you noted, it'd be best for you not to know about it right now."

We got our food and headed back to where Ron and Andy were waiting. "Well, whatever you've got brewing, Jim... I wish you the best of luck," Ed said, smiling, before we reached the others.

* * * * *

"You're behind this, aren't you?" Jack came storming into my office, slammed the door behind him, and threw down a folded newspaper a day after my informal meeting with the board members.

I shushed Ghost, who had been growling menacingly at Jack, Jack having backed his ass to the wall near my desk as I opened it and read the headline. "Thanksgiving Day Parade To Go On After All" I smiled and refolded it, handing it back to Jack. "I have _something_ to do with it, yes. Why? Is there something wrong?"

"I've just been informed that the entire zoo has been rented for the day to host a corporate party... ON THANKSGIVING DAY!" Jack was nearly screaming.

"Yeah... we do corporate gigs all the time. You know that. So what's the deal?" I shrugged looked at him with a confused expression.

"THE PUBLIC WILL THINK THERE'S STILL A FREE DAY HERE!!!!" Jack yelled, likely loud enough to be heard at the gates. Ghost barked some again and once again I shushed him.

"Quit being so animated, Jack. Did the news story mention the zoo at all?" I asked.

"Just that the parade was being sourced by another group, and that there would be no zoo animals in the parade this year," Jack admitted, then he had an epiphany. "If there's no zoo animals in the parade, what do you have to do with it all?"

"Can't tell you that one, Jack. Confidentiality agreement, sorry. You do know I consult now and again on animal issues, right? To supplement my enormous salary here?" I chuckled.

"We'll see... I KNEW you'd have something to do with this... stabbing me in the back. We'll see how long you keep your job here, MR. PETERS." Jack growled.

I merely laughed. "If you recall, you challenged me to circumvent your cancelling the Thanksgiving Day Parade, so... really, you couldn't NOT have known for me to become involved in continuing the tradition. As such you... might want to start updating your resume yourself, Herr Direktor. You're not the best at creative writing... I should know. At any rate, I made you a fair offer before, but it seems you've rejected it. Oh well..." I leered toothily. "War can be fun, too. It's all how you conduct it."

Jack got a little unsettled at that, and I tilted my head. "Wait a minute... you've been "informed" that the zoo's hosting a corporate gig on Thanksgiving? That means you didn't arrange it yourself. So who did?"

"Chairman Trevino said that a directive came from the President. Apparently the head of Maximillian Chieftan Group wants to host their corporate party here, and talked to the President who then told Chairman Trevino, and then down to me," Jack frowned a bit.

I shrugged. "Sounds like something suits would do. Call in favors or whatnot. So... looks like it's going to be an all-hands day anyway, huh?" I asked.

Jack grumbled a bit. "Yes, and you'd better not have any other monkey-business going on here like you did over Halloween!" Jack griped.

"Oh... the primates are Satoshi Yukura's department. I'm big cats, remember?" I teased. "Besides, I'll be busy with the Parade stuff for part of the day as consultant, so I won't even be here."

"What will I do about the public, though?!?" Jack started whining again. "When they show up thinking it'll be a free day?"

"Post a sign at the three gates, and talk with Greg Herbine, the head of security, to have a guard posted at both gates and him at the main gate? You'll probably want to restrict access to the employee and Victorian lots as well, like any other corporate event, lest someone try to sneak in unnoticed." I suggested.

"That..." Jack's expression changed from consideration to irritation, "... isn't your job!" He griped and stomped off again.

Ghost came over to me and put his head on my knee. I pet his head and chuckled. "Goodbye, Mr. Direktor. See you around."

* * * * *

"So it's true?" Vic asked as he brought the grunt to an abrupt stop near me.

"Yes... the Queen of England has just married Elton John, so now there are two Queens of England." I joked. "It would depend upon what you're talking about, Vic."

"That you and Jack are finally gonna go at it?" he asked.

I laughed "Not fisticuffs, at least not for now, but... yeah. He's gonna ask the board to fire me at the special meeting, and he's also wanting to get rid of some animals. I'm going to put in a request that the board terminate his employment, in return, but I can't call a meeting like he can."

Vic frowned a bit. "Well... would be better if you just took him out back and beat the snot out of the pencilneck. Save a whole bunch of trouble. But at least the Parade will go on, even if the free day won't. You heard about that business takin' over the zoo for the day, right?"

I nodded. "I heard, but..." I stopped as a clump of patrons strode by. "The Parade is the unofficial start of the Christmas fun here, right? And you're still supposed to be setting up for that, right?"

Vic nodded. "Yeah, but what's that gotta do with....." his face was one of confusion, then it lit up brighter than a 100-watt light bulb. "You got somethin' goin' about this all, don'tcha?" Vic beamed.

"Maybe... but as far as we both know, it'll just be another stupid corporate event." I winked and Vic laughed heartily.

"Shoulda known you'd have had a hand in undoing Director Dipshit's mess. Well, whatever it is, let me know if I can help." Vic said happily.

"Yeah... clean up the damn crappers by the cathouse. Smells like a mexican whorehouse in there again." I winked.

Vic just shook his head and motored off as I headed onwards towards the back of the zoo, and strode down the drive to the powerhouse, making note of things as I went.

Upon reaching the building, I noticed two large hopper trucks in the lot and crew working to manhandle the thick steel plating that was in front of the loading dock, onto a pile, revealing a latticework of girders over a large open pit that extended under the concrete dock itself. I climbed the steps to Chet's office.

"Coal's here?" I inquired and the powerhouse chief nodded. "Cool. About time. How's things going down here as far as getting ready for Santa's Workshop?" I asked.

Chet grumbled. "Finally got #2 back up, and now #1 needs a few flues worked on. At least I still got your rollers here. The one stoker lifting engine ran a hot bearing because some dipshit didn't know the difference between JT-8 and lithium grease so burned the shit out of the main-bearing brasses. Got Kody re-babbitting them now, using the last of your babbit I'd wager." Chet grunted. "Other than that... OH! Got the number for that fellow what sells that steam oil? We'll need another barrel before running the generator engine for the lights. This last one's almost out. That storm had us on the genny for a day and a half while Vic found where the main wiring shorted to the primate house and the petting zoo. Wasn't hard to find, but the sump line on that tunnel got clogged so it filled up and a patch arced."

"Ah... didn't know that, but that's why it helps having dual power systems, even though it costs more to install and maintain." I smiled. "Just wanted to check to see how things were going."

"Shame we won't be having Santa arrive this year like always... you know how the kids really like that!" Chet frowned, the cigar stub in his mouth turning down a bit.

"Don't believe everything you hear, Chet." I winked. "There's always hope."

Chet looked at me strangely. "You know something I don't there, Jim?" he asked.

I smiled broadly. "That's a biiiiiig list there, Chet. Just have everything ready like always, ok?"

Chet smiled. "Will do, Jim. Or should I start calling you boss?" he chuckled.

"Word travels fast, huh?" I asked.

"Well... I just figured if Jack was looking to fire you, the feeling was likely mutual, and I know which of you two I'd vote for," the big man commented moments before the clattering of falling metal came from outside. "Dammit... Catch ya later, Jim." Chet said as he was already halfway out the door. I stepped onto the dock shortly behind to hear "Goddamnit Fred! Now I gotta fire up the fuckin' crane to get that plate out of there before we pile the coal in! I TOLD you to drag them SIDEWAYS across so that kinda shit doesn't happen...." as I stepped down the stairs and headed back towards my office.

* * * * *

"Mr. Peters!" came the all-too-familiar voice as I had my hand on the doorknob to my office. I turned to smile at Jack.

"We have a guest you should meet. This is..." Jack stepped aside and out from the office stepped an older Native American gentleman "... Reuben James Runningbear, liasion from the Maximillian Chieftan Group for the corporate party event. He just came down here to finalize the contract and take a look around."

"Your Director Benin has been quite a fellow in allowing us to host our event on a day that isn't typically available here. However, the day is incredibly advantageous for us this year..." the older gentleman spoke with a throaty accent which begat his native tongue as he proffered his hand to me.

"Oh? Any particular reason Thanksgiving is special for you this year?" I inquired, shaking his hand firmly.

"Our owner has... had a rather concerning time for awhile and it seems he's turned a corner in his life... a quite meaningful one, so we all wished to celebrate the return of his happiness. To give thanks, as it would be. And now I finally get to meet you... I've heard quite a bit about you from folks who have visited here." the older gentleman smiled. "To know of someone with such a profound love for animals... means a lot to my people. MY people, I mean... not necessarily the company." He stammered to correct.

"If you don't mind me asking... Chippewa?" I inquired.

Jack screwed his face up as though I'd just shit in his coffee mug with my inquiry, at which Mr. Runningbear laughed softly and patted Jack's arm. "You worry about the wrong things, Director Benin." He then turned to me again, "Good ear, but not quite. Winnebago. Though not the motorcoach people." He winked, his dark eyes twinkling among their facial wrinkles.

"Well.. I'm glad to meet you. And may I wish your corporate people, and YOUR people, a happy Thanksgiving as you enjoy your day here." I smiled.

"Mr. Peters?" Jack interrupted.

"Yes?" I looked to Jack.

Mr. Runningbear interrupted this time. "I... had asked your director if I might get to see some of the animals here, if I might take some of your time to do so." his lips curled up in a weak smile. "You see... even with my surname, I've... only grown up with stories. I'd like to see the heritage of my ancestors, if I could."

I smiled broadly at him. "I'd be glad to... one moment, though? I have to check something in my office." I thumb-pointed down the hall to where I had been standing initially.

"May I join you?" Mr. Runningbear inquired, to which I nodded. "By all means. I rarely mind visitors."

Jack moved to follow, but a split second later, Emily saved the day, calling out "Diector Benin... there's an urgent phone call for you. What shall I tell them?"

Jack, indecisive for a moment, just stood in the hall as we walked to my office door, then ducked back into the main office to take his call. I unlocked my door and offered my guest to enter first.

Ghost, who apparently had been sleeping under the cot, got up, stretched and padded over to Mr. Runningbear, whose smile broadened.

"Reminds me of the stories of the white wolf... I presume he's yours for being in here," the older man inquired, and stooped a bit to pet the Shep.

I nodded and sat down, activating my computer and checking whether or not Jerry and Sam were logged in at work. "Yep, his name's Ghost... I actually rescued him from drowning. Which animals would you like to see, Mr. Runningbear?"

"Reuben, please... especially since we sort of know each other by proxy, it seems. Or, perhaps by fate?" He chuckled and continued petting Ghost as he sat down. "The bears, if you don't mind... the wolves... and perhaps... it wouldn't be too much trouble to meet one of your cats? Seems I've already met your guardian."

I swiveled a bit to look at him with a curious expression. He answered my unasked question. "For my people, there's stories of a white wolf that runs with the others, to protect them against man's anger. The white wolf is a ghost, that defends the others, and takes vengeance on those who act against animals in ways beyond what nature intends. While I know this guy isn't quite a wolf, but a shepherd, he reminds me a lot of those stories."

I chuckled "There may be a lot of truth in those old stories, Reuben... trust me on that." With that he chuckled too and we headed out of my office. Reuben stopped at the door, turned and said something in what I can only presume to be his native tongue, at which Ghost sat down and Reuben smiled at me. He noticed my confused look. "It was a.... I guess the best term would be "blessing". Words for the Great Spirit keep you safe, and for him to defend you always."

"I'll get us a grunt so you won't have to walk as much, sir... down these stairs and I'll be with you shortly," I smiled to Reuben, who thanked me and started down the side stairs.

* * * * *

We headed along the bear exhibit first, and then parked by the side gate to the dens. Reuben got to meet Jerry and Sarah, Honey was sacked out in the corner, Amos and Andy were playing in their pool as we drove by, and Big John was out on the ledge making faces at visitors. "Is it unusual for someone to be able to pet a bear?" Reuben inquired.

"Well... yes and no. In a larger zoological park, yes, very unusual. We're not an AZA zoo so we can allow training of our animals, and public interaction to a degree. Just what degree is governed by both rote law, USDA regulations, and private policies at the behest of our insurance underwriter," I explained. "What you're getting to do today... so far and what's to come, is WHOLLY unusual apart from the most.... exceptional circumstances." I smiled. "Especially for both the bears and wolves. Jerry here, and Sam, who you'll meet in a bit, don't quite have the political freedom within the park that I do as head keeper. So as such, they can't really just let folks back "behind the scenes" as I do now and again." Reuben chuckled, still petting and being licked by Sarah through the bars.

"You... take risks with letting folks interact with the animals, then?" Reuben asked.

I nodded. "I do... educated risks but it's a risk nonetheless. I know Sarah here, Big John... my cats, the wolves... I don't know other animals as well as their direct keepers do, but that's why I hired them in the first place - that they had similar dedication as I do. I feel bad that I have to leave their hands halfway tied while I can do much more." I chuckled. "But please don't get the impression that I'm foolhearty. Usually when I allow someone to interact with the cats in my care, it's for purposes like this... enjoyment, or education... or both, like you're learning now."

Reuben chuckled and turned to me. "Your reputation, as others have told me, seems to be well-earned hearing that." He patted my arm. "I have no doubt that you do indeed have great respect for what these animals can do, and also hold their care and safety in great esteem. Those are wonderful character traits for a man in your position."

He nodded to Jerry and started walking for the door. "My people... MY people... have been plagued by government issues for... well... you must know some of our history if you recognized my tongue," Reuben spoke. "So I can't hold against you minor insurrections against regulations and laws if they serve the greater public good of openness and education about reality." He winked, his eyes twinkling again.

"If you don't mind my asking... what is your personal.... spirit guide, or whatever your people call it?" I inquired.

Reuben chuckled softly. "Though my surname is of the Bear... we'll see my personal guardian in due course."

I couldn't help but smile broadly as we exited the den area out into the sun again. "Mr. Runningbear... I wonder..." I looked at him. "Would you like a zoo coverall for your next stop? The wolves can be quite.... boisterous... around those they let enter into their territory. I wouldn't really want your suit to get clobbered unnecessarily."

The older gentleman took that into consideration. "If you have a spare, I'd certainly appreciate it. Especially if you're willing to take the risk of letting me IN with them as you just said."

"We'll get you set up, Reuben... No worries about that at all. It just means a stop back at the Gift Shop, as that's where all the clothing supplies are stored." I answered with a smile.

"Lead on, then, young man." He chuckled and climbed into the passenger seat of the Grunt yet again.

* * * * *

"That was rather nice, Mr. Peters..." Reuben said, on our way out of the wolf exhibit as he climbed into the grunt again. "I'd have never thought they'd take to me in such a way."

I chuckled. "Well, it's a bit unusual, I might add, but they've interacted with keepers here their entire lives, including for some more invasive medical tests so... it isn't exceptionally unfathomable that they'd accept you as they did, but... it wouldn't have been out of the question for them to have reacted adversely, either. Actually..." I pondered aloud "... that was more the outcome I was expecting, since you're a complete stranger and all."

"That larger gray one bouncing around... what was his name again?" Reuben inquired.

"Janus," I replied.

"He was real fun, acting like a puppy the whole time and shoving his head under my hand to pet him." The older man clearly had been having fun as the wolves milled about him after he stepped out into the public-display area where they were at. Given the time of year and time of day, their being outside was to be expected, though them reacting as positively to him as they did, that wasn't as expected.

"What would you like to see next, Mr. Runningbear?" I asked.

"If I could..." a troubled look crossed over his wrinkled countenance. "I know you've let me pet the bear through the bars of her cage, and the wolves up close and personal, but..." He chuckled a little nervously. "My spirit-sign is the cougar, which is unfortunately long gone from my native soil... and I know they can be a bit more particular about things than either of the others we've visited."

I nodded. "This is true... and we do have two here." I canted my jaw a bit as I thought things through. "It would be a little more difficult than letting one of the lions meet you, or Tatiana the tigress... but..." I gave it a lot more consideration just how I'd like to do so.

"If it's too much to ask, just say so. I've no right to impede your day any further than I already have." Reuben offered in consolation.

I merely chuckled. "My friends would be the first to tell you that I repeat an old saying often... "In for a penny, in for a pound." A little extra bother for you isn't too much trouble. I'm just trying to think of how I can manage it without as much risk to you individually, and without having everyone else around wanting to play with the cougar as well."

"Oh! I'd not really thought about that very much..." Reuben admitted. "I suppose that is more of an issue than it was with me in with the wolves."

I nodded as we stopped on the little lawn in front of the main doors. "It is... regulatorily as well. However... if you'd not mind me leaving you for a time I think we can accommodate your request without too much trouble."

"I don't mind if you don't mind. Just lead the way and let me know what you want of me." His face brightened some, and we strode through the doors of the cathouse, me holding the door for my guest.

Through the oak door, down the stairs into the basement, I let Reuben into "The Park" and he looked with fascination. "Quite an interesting feat, having the outdoors, indoors like this," he spoke in amazement.

I chuckled. "Not so very much of a feat when everything's either artificial or functional in purpose. But it'll suit our needs. Would you prefer to meet Zeus, our male cougar, or Anna our female? Or just leave it up to them who is the more willing participant today?"

Reuben sat on the loafing shelf and thought for a time. "I think I'd like to meet Zeus, if he's at all cooperative. It doesn't really matter overall, though."

I nodded. "Wait here, please... I should be back in a short time."

Up to the mezzanine level I went, a couple stairs at a time until I reached the upper door. I slowed my pace as I headed around the "deck" towards the cougars at the far side.

"Whatcha up to?" someone asked. I tured a bit as I strode around. "I'm going to be bringing out one of the cougars in a moment to take them downstairs for some interactive training." True, I kinda fudged things, but... it wasn't like I could announce that a wealthy gentleman wanted to pet a cougar.

"What sort of training?" the person inquired as I rounded the end and the empty cage areas.

I smiled and turned to the railing, leaning on it. "Well... most zoological parks are AZA facilities, and as such they are governed not only by the requirements of the federal government, but also the private rules and regulations of the AZA itself. That includes a ruling that discourages member parks from training their animals for anything beyond the most cursory medical tests, but also insists on non-contact with the large predators - like the cats here, or the bears, and sometimes even the wolves. This is presumed to increase keeper safety, but in reality the inverse is true, in that animals habituated to being around people won't react as adversely to a human in "their" territory, nor require heavy sedation or complete anesthesia for routine medical examinations or tests."

I slowed my stride a bit. "Further, animals used to interaction with humans means they're in closer proximity, even when not in direct proximity, like here. Thus, we're able to see when Hugo has an issue with his paw, Tatiana has been chewing at her tailbase again, or if Zeus here..." I gestured to the cougars prowling their enclosure, in from the cooler weather outdoors "... has an issue with his eye, or a tooth, or something else that wouldn't be as obvious at a greater distance, like in "natural" exhibits that more and more zoological parks are promoting."

"So one of the cougars is going to go downstairs with you and... meet someone new?" the person inquired.

I nodded "More or less, yes, though that summary statement is quite limited in its scope even though that is what this sort of training boils down to in the aggregate."

"Can anyone get time with the cats like that?" he asked as I went through my keys and found the right one for the cougars' lock.

"Well... not exactly. It's a bit more complicated than I'd really have time to explain, but in general, no, not everyone can get time with the cats like this, though certain park personnel are trained how to appropriately interact with them, and other folks, like college students, may be permitted the opportunity to learn the skills, but... for the general public as a tourist-type thing, it's not practical, nor even possible under federal regulations." I entered the cage and both Zeus and Anna came up to me, and I looped the chain collar around Zeus' neck. He rubbed his head against my leg and purred.

"Are they actually purring?" a lady asked.

I nodded. "Indeed they are, as they are contented cats..." I led Zeus out after scritching Anna on the head. She began pacing the cage bars as I shut the door behind Zeus and I. "Cougars, Felis concolor, are the largest of the lesser cats - the Felis group. The lesser cats can purr, but the greater cats - Panthera group - cannot. They have different vocalizations, from a breathy "chuff" you'll hear from Tatiana, to differnt groans and yowls and growls and such." Zeus was in good form as he padded along by my side as I walked back around the mezzanine towards the far door.

"Why are you heading him back around when there's a door on that end too?" one gentleman asked.

"That door only has a stairs that leads to and from the mezzanine level here to the main floor... however the other end also has stairs to the basement which is where we're headed." I smiled as we strode slowly along.

"How do you get him to do that?" one young man asked.

"Do what?" I inquired, stopping for a moment. Zeus stopped too.

"Walk alongside you like that? He wouldn't normally do that, would he?" the young man asked.

I gave it some thought. "Well... if you're inquiring whether he'd walk alongside a human in the wild... it's possible. Early settlers who didn't fear predators kept cougars and bears and wolves and all manner of wildlife as pets. Many times they helped with the hunting by chasing game for the hunter, and thus themselves. Other times they were just kept for amusement, like our pets of today, not required to do any real work. Still other times they were wild animals that just sort of "hung around" and became habituated to the human activities. But Zeus here has never known "the wild"... he's always been around humans, and been cared for BY humans, so... for him it's no different than a large dog. In fact, cougars are the most doglike of all felines - with the possible exception of cheetahs."

"That's sort of weird, isn't it? Having a cougar walk along with you like a dog?" someone inquired.

"I don't quite find it that odd, but then again I have these same animals at home as pets, as well as regular domestic dogs. No housecats though... but there are a couple barn cats living around my farm taking care of the inevitable battle with rodents." I smiled.

"So you have a cougar at home?" a gent asked.

I nodded. "Her name is Peaches... this gentleman is Zeus, and his mate over there is Anna, and I must head down now. I'll be able to answer more questions in awhile when we're done with the training session." I smiled to the crowd and headed the small distance towards the door, and thence down to The Park.

"I figured you might have gotten waylaid by questions..." Reuben smiled as I walked in with Zeus.

Zeus was cautious about the unfamiliar figure in the room, but hesitantly padded forward, then with a bit more ease as Reuben took a seat on one of the low breeding benches. After a cursory sniff of the older gentleman, Zeus figured he must be alright and headbutted him, anticipating a knucklerub in response.

Reuben oofed and was almost pushed off the bench. "He's saying hello and wanting you to knuckle-rub his head... kinda like a gentle noogie," I offered.

Reuben chuckled. "I haven't heard that term in quite some time, but I guess in this circumstance it is an apt description," he smiled as he knuckle-rubbed the cat's forehead, stop to dome.

"So seems he likes you, and you like him, I'd hope." I smiled as I settled onto the loafing shelf.

"I never expected..." he said as he raked his hands down Zeus' side as the cat strafed him for scritches. "This is just so amazing being so near to such a powerful but elusive being."

"That they can be, Mr. Runningbear, however Zeus and Anna are a bit more outgoing than any wild-caught or unhandled cats. They enjoy human contact, though... sometimes a little too much." I laughed a bit as my caution came too late, as Zeus pushed Reuben over, semi-accidentally during one of the strafing runs.

Reuben chuckled as Zeus allowed himself to be used as a support for Reuben to right himself. "This has been quite a marvelous day, Mr. Peters.... You have no idea how I appreciate this all."

"Well... my motives haven't been exactly pure, Mr. Runningbear." I admitted.

"How's that?" the older gent inquired, still being "bothered" by Zeus.

"Well.... I was wondering if you'd be willing to do me a favor in return, in answering a few questions I have." I smiled broadly.

"Oh! Certainly... you've been so kind to me that I don't think I could say no to anything you'd ask." Reuben smiled broadly as well.

* * * * *

I was pondering things as I walked into the house that night, Ghost padding along behind me. "Evening, dear. How was your day?" Julie asked.

"Oh... There's a corporate event at the zoo on Thanksgiving, and I showed their representative around. That was after Jack blew up about reading in the paper that the Parade is back on track..." I shrugged a bit. "Though... there's some other things too."

"What kind of things?" Julie asked as I got a soda from the fridge and settled into my recliner.

"Oh... just... stuff. I'm behind on doing a workup on Honey and Big John... haven't heard back yet about what I want to do to help out Sam and Gwen... and until then I can't ask them if they want Maverick or not.... Just... stuff." I shrugged a bit. "What are you making for supper?" I asked, smelling something cooking but unable to identify just what.

"Meatloaf... and oven chips. Your recipe. I hope you don't mind but I found it in the drawer the other day." Julie blushed a bit as she sat on the sofa nearby.

I looked at the clock. "How long?"

Julie got up and went to the kitchen. "About another 40 minutes..."

I pondered. "Would you mind if I took a soak in the tub with Cleo? I've been meaning to give her a bath agian for awhile but that usually leads to... more than just a bath." I chuckled softly.

Julie blushed at that. "I don't mind, Jim. You let me enjoy the dogs so it wouldn't be right of me to say you can't enjoy your cats as well."

Cleo, in the meantime, had padded down the stairs and sat at the bottom, watching us. "Do you want a bath, Cleo?" I asked. She seemed to ponder it for a time, then haltingly nodded. "I'll make sure it's like last time. Would you like that?" I asked. That brought a swift nod from the lioness, and Julie giggled.

"I still like how she answers questions, Jim. It's so cute," Julie said as I hefted myself back up from my chair and headed up the stairs to get some general clothes. Coming back down after a moment I responded. "Yeah... I like that she can answer questions, but... I just wish I could let her express herself naturally, too." I reached down and cupped Cleo's chin, bringing her face up as I leaned low and kissed her nosie. "But I love you any which way, Cleo," I whispered as she licked her nose reflexively.

Soon enough I had her lathered and was rinsing her off... just as before her vulva was twitching in my palm as I cleaned the soap from her rump. "Think you're ready for me, Cleo?" I asked... that brought a firm nod from her head end as I helped her turn around in the tub and knelt down, leaning forward over her and twisting the stopper-knob so the tub would fill up after tapping the spout-plunger halting the showerhead. I caressed along her side as I guided my maleness to her lower lips. She took a shuddering breath as my hands ran over her milk-filled thickened nipples as my glans pressed around the lips of her vulva.

She squatted a bit as my tip found the right place and I slid a bit into her. Her walls were still clingy and cloying, moist as ever as I entered but it was obvious she was a little looser now than before. Perhaps that would change as she exercised those muscles more, perhaps this was how she was going to be here on out, as she'd now given birth. Either way, I didn't mind as I started sinking through the vestibulovaginal junction into her tighter vagina proper. I rocked a bit, going deeper and deeper as the waters rose. I reached forward again to shut off the valves, then I quietly spoke for her to sit down as together we moved to me being in a seated position with her sitting on my pelvis, impaled entirely on my member.

Her insides were twitching faster and faster as I bid her to lay down. The vibrations of her low purr-growl resonating through her body as she settled into position heavily pressing back against me, head just above the water and laying on the edge of the tub. I reached to our joining and caressed her vulva as it was spread wide around my thickness, using my index finger to make sure to firmly rub the skin over her clitoris and press enough so it made firm contact with my shaft. She shuddered, strained, and then roared out as her insides fluttered then clenched firmly around me. I, in turn, fired off inside her shortly thereafter, seeding her once again as the muscles in my arms tensed, my hands holding her hips firmly under the water as I groaned out my own orgasm.

We were both panting as Julie ducked her head in the semi-open door. "Dinner's ready you two.. but I'm guessing it'll be a little bit. It'll stay warm, so don't worry." I smiled wearily at Julie, who could only blush again as she knew we were still connected.

After I'd used four huge towels to dry Cleo, and one regular-size for myself, she was lounging in front of the oil heater casually crunching her chicken-leg dinner, the dogs were gnarfing their kibble, and Julie and I were enjoying our meatloaf and taters. "Thanks, Julie," I smiled.

She looked at me with a confused expression. "For what?" she asked.

I chuckled. "Letting me have some time with Cleo... cooking... helping out around here and all."

Julie touched my arm. "I know how much you love them... and not just sexually. I know that all your animals mean a lot to you and you want to do your best to keep them happy... even sexually. I don't mind, honest. I think it's rather sweet that you asked me." She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "I'm even a bit envious at times because they're so free with their love and we.... can't be."

I reached over and squeezed her shoulder. "I think you enjoy them a lot, too, even moreso as they're "safe"... they're not part of your past that troubles you." I smiled lovingly. "And even though our times together aren't as frequent... I appreciate them a lot, too."

Julie blushed deeper. "I didn't think I'd ever be able to... be with a man like that without those memories coming back. But with you... they don't bother me as much. With you, and the animals around and... everything. It's just so different that... the last couple times I barely even thought about it, but for a flash every now and then..." she blushed even deeper "... like when you're entering me. But I know it's you... your smell, your voice, the fur of one of the animals next to me... stuff like that. It makes it all easier and... " she looked me deep into my eyes. "Makes me love you all the more."

I leaned over and kissed her. "I love you too, Julie."

After dinner we snuggled together watching TV, her in my lap on the recliner, the dogs strewn about either curled up or stretched out. Cleo had taken her leave to go up to her cubs, Peaches on the sofa, and Julie wedged beside me with her head resting on my chest as we listened/watched another movie... content... loved... together... while I pondered the day's events and tried to anticipate what was to come.

To See Another Morning

"Sir... you can't. SIR! I said you CAN'T go down... SIR!" a feminine voice called down the hall in louder and louder tones. A knock came on my door as I heard the tap-tapping of shoes along the corridor. "SIR! I told you that you CAN'T just walk around...

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A Good Day

Morning dawned with Reggie's rump shoved in my crotch, tail up, his head laying on Julie's stomach, and the two Sheps curled up by the dresser/entertainment center across the bedroom. Cleo was with her cubs in their bed, as usual, even though the cubs...

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Mission of Mercy

"Well, now that you explained those things to me, it doesn't really seem all that bad at all, really..." Julie smiled at me over her plate of Parmesian angel-hair pasta. I shrugged a bit. "We'll just have to see what this John Cassock has to say,...

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