Odds and Ends

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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More twists and turns with Jim, Julie and friends. Maverick heads back to the pound, Judge Clemens steps into a trap, and Jim sets up a gift or two for Sam and Gwen.. Read on to see what happens!

A knock came on my door. "Kommen sie!" I called out.

"Hi Mr. Peters. You wanted to see me?" Zack asked as he popped his head in.

"Yeah, I did. Have a seat." I said casually as Zack came in and shut the door behind him. It was Noble and Grace's turn with me and they got up and padded over, Noble stepping up into Zack's lap to lick his face as the young man chuckled.

"Whatcha need, Mr. Peters?" He asked, having finally shoved Noble off his lap so he could see me.

"I was wondering... you don't really have a job, do you?" I asked.

Zack shrugged. "Not like a paying job or nothing, no. I just come here when I feel like it and sell stuff on eBay now and then. Crap I don't need or stuff friends give me. Some friends pay me for rides now and then 'cuz they don't have a car and then there's when the friends that go to college pay me to help them move and like that..."

"How would you like a regular job?" I inquired. "It's only part-time. Minimum wage, and not in the best part of town, but it's not like your little grocery getter would get stolen. They're after better cars than that."

Zack looked at me. "Not a job here at the zoo?" he asked, somewhat disappointed.

I chuckled. "It'll still leave you plenty of time to volunteer here. And... now's not exactly the best time for me to get you a job here. Maybe you've heard but there's budget problems lately... though... other problems too."

Zack frowned. "Like Mr. Benin trying to get you fired?" he asked.

I nodded. "Among other things, yes. So... I figured I'd ask since it'd be helping out a couple friends, one of whom you know a little."

"Who's that?" Zack asked, curiously.

"Sam Lochlear... and her partner Gwen Rassmussen. You'd be working at the gas station Gwen's mother owns. They're having a bit of a time making ends meet, Gwen's working a bit more than she should, and... well, you'd see. Sound like something you'd be interested in, or no?" I looked hopeful.

Zack smiled a bit. "Oh! Well.. that's a little different. I was gonna say "no", since... minimum wage isn't really that much. But... if it's helping out friends, that's a little different. I suppose I could give it a shot."

I laughed a bit. "Even I started out at minimum wage... though that was many many years ago. Before you were born, most likley. It was $3.25 an hour back then."

"WOW..." Zack gasped. "How could you LIVE on so little money?"

I laughed a bit more. "Well, things were cheaper back then too... so it's not so very much different from today. There's lots of stuff I remember, which is partially why I advocate the policies that I do, and try to help out friends as much as I can. One never knows when one kind gesture can make a whole world of difference for someone, and how, in turn, they can make a world of difference for you, too."

Zack thought about it a bit. "I guess that makes sense... I never really thought about it that way."

I chuckled "Want to apply for that job right away?" I asked, jotting down the address, a rough map, and a note to Bonnie Rassmussen about who Zack was.

"Sure! Where's it at?" Zack asked as I finished with the note.

I tore off the sheet. "Just show Mrs. Rassmussen the note at the bottom that I'm the one sending you over, as she'd likely say they're not hiring anyone. She'll probably be the one at the counter, as I doubt her son would be helping at this time of day, and tonight's Gwen's night off, so she'll be sleeping. It'll be a later shift, so you don't have to worry about getting up early. That sound good to you?"

"That sounds alright, Mr. Peters. And thanks! My dad's been saying I need to do something more productive with my days before I started coming here. Now he says I should do something to earn some money, so I guess this would get him to shut up a bit too." Zack smiled and I laughed. "See you later, Mr. Peters. I'll let you know how things went."

"See you around, Zack, and good luck!" I chuckled as he headed out the door.

* * * * *

Later that afternoon another knock came on my door. "Kommen sie."

"Mr. Peters, is it true that..." Jack came barging through the door with all the grace and bluster of a beerfart. Noble started growling and both him and Grace stood up, muscles tensed.

"How many dogs do you have?!?" Jack cried out, backing against the wall again.

"Noble, Grace... park it!" I commanded, at which they both sat down and Noble silenced himself. I turned to Jack and quipped, "I quit counting at 38. What's on your mind?" I gestured to one of the chairs.

Jack hesitantly took a seat as I turned to face him. "Is it true that you've asked Emily for the files regarding last year's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Free Day?" he grunted.

I nodded. "Indeed I did, yes." I patted the files next to my keyboard. "Quite enlightening, I might say."

Jack's brow furrowed. "How so?"

"Well... for example. It only cost us..." I flipped through the papers. "$3,728.63 to put on last year's parade, which isn't so much. Most of that was event insurance coverage for the animals being outside of the zoo, extra crew for the parade, equipment rentals, and additional peripheral matters like the candy being thrown and such like that. Not so terribly much, all in all, if you would agree?" I smiled.

"Mr. Peters... with many departements' budgets running way over this year, we certainly don't have that kind of money to spare on frivolitries." Jack grunted firmly. "Especially with the pending suit from your Miss Purcell!"

Noble growled again and I turned to the dog which silenced him. I smiled "Oh... but... you also see that we received $38,940.00 in pledges, donations, and outright gifts either earmarked for, or given in appreciation of, the parade and free day." I showed him another paper. "So... that's better than a 900 percent return on investment... on paper anyway."

"On paper, anything can seem like a good idea." Jack groaned. "Even your assassination of my good name."

I merely smiled. "You know I can't do a better job of that than you're doing yourself."

"Were these files obtained for use regarding zoo business, or regarding you consulting for whomever's putting on the parade this year?" Jack snapped, causing Noble to growl again.

Again I quieted the dog. "The former, actually... If you recall, I said that I'll be recommending you be dismissed as director for gross mismanagement. I'm just getting my proverbial ducks in a row for when the time comes." I grinned broadly.

"As am I, Mr. Peters. So perhaps you should watch your back very carfully between now and the meeting tonight." Jack grinned back in turn.

"Is it tonight? Oh... I won't even be there. I've other things to attend to... oh well. Hope it goes well for you, Jack. Better mind your manners or they might have you eating shoe leather." I winked.

"You're not going?" Jack inquired, seemingly slightly unsettled at the prospect.

"Why should I? I've got a pretty good idea what'll happen. Either they'll shoot you down directly, or they'll table it for the regular meeting. Either way... I've no need to be there. And either way, I'll know where I stand in the morning, whether this war is a non-starter or whether I actually have to suit up for battle." I smiled smugly.

"You've got this allll figured out, don't you, Mr. Peters!" Jack sneered.

"Nope... I just know where I stand. Do you?" I grinned leerily again and he stormed out.

* * * * *

"Mr. Peters! Would you mind stepping in for a word..." Jack's voice called out as I was heading back into my office from a quick tour of the cathouse.

"Sure, Jack..." I sighed, and headed that way.

I entered the office and met with something I didn't expect. "Mr. O'Brien? This is Mr. Jim Peters, our head keeper here..."

Jack smiled as he made the introductions. I merely nodded, "Nice to meet you, Mr. O'Brien." I shook the proffered hand with a meek smile.

"Mr. O'Brien's company is the one of those funding the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and he came down here to ask if he could use the caging equipment we've used in the past to provide the animals for the parade... and... I told him that it wasn't available for the same reasons we weren't able to do the parade ourselves this year, that bugetary issues have prevented us from doing so." Jack's face almost broke into a sneer as he said so.

"I see... apparently I've been doing some consulting for you." I smiled and Mr. O'Brien nodded his head.

"I came down to ask if I could borrow the typical animals as well, so the parade wouldn't look much different than it always has, but apparently that's not feasible eaither." the long-faced red-haired gentleman responded.

I shrugged. "Director Benin has reasons for making that decision, even though it is regrettable by those of us on the staff who wished to continue involvement with the Parade and associated activities."

"I see..." the well-dressed gentleman commented. "Well... I had hoped for a different outcome if I came down here in person... though I must correct Mr. Benin in that I'm not the owner of the company, merely the director of operations. Though for all intents and purposes I DO control the company in a profound way."

"While you are here, though... I'm sure Mr. Peters would have no objection to showing you around, in the event you'd wish to sponsor a day at the zoo, or some other similar activity in the future. We do host a lot of corporate parties here at the zoo, be it them using the picnic pavillion and grounds, bandstand for concerts, or even having the zoo all to themselves on a predetermined date." Director Benin went into full-schmooze mode to prevent the gent's hasty departure.

Mr. O'Brien looked at me and pondered. "Well... I suppose I can do that. I'm not expected back at the office for quite some time," he smiled. "Perhaps I'll find something interesting here today anyway."

Jack looked at me with daggers as though saying "do this right, dammit" before he turned to Mr. O'Brien. "We'd be glad to accommodate you in any way you so choose..."

"Within the limits of regulations and such..." I had to chime in, which brought a laugh from Mr. O'Brien and another dirty look from Jack.

"In my business, we can barely go to the bathroom without involving some regulation or another." He chuckled and I gestured towards the door, holding it open for our guest.

"Thank you, Mr. Benin. I'm sure we'll speak to each other agian." Mr. O'Brien shook Jack's hand heartily.

"Please do drop by anytime. We're here to serve the public, and that includes businesses too!" Jack replied.

I gestured to the main stairs and we started down. "Where would you like to see first, Eric?" I asked, as soon as we were out of earshot.

Eric O'Brien, for his part, burst out laughing. "You have NO idea how hard it was to keep a straight face when he demanded you come in. You think he has any idea?" he inquired.

"Likely not. I'm sure he has no clue that we know each other or he wouldn't ask me to show you around." I shrugged and smiled. "Where would you like to see first?" I asked, genuinely.

"Um..." Eric thought for a moment. "Have you had lunch yet?" he grinned broadly.

"Over by the carousel is the picnic green... good spot to chat there, so long as you're buying." I jibed.

"You got it, Jim. Oh, by the way, that Doug fellow you sent over the other day... he's working out rather well. He's sleeping in one of the bunk rooms, but... he's a good worker. I'm rather glad you sent him to us." Eric commented as we turned the corner at the bottom of the main stairs and headed towards the courtyard among the other clumps of patrons.

"He is? I'm glad to hear that. Have him on the payroll or is he just working off his stay?" I inquired.

"He got hired in day before last... officially. Before that it was just general help like you know we do now and again. Pushbroom... sometimes something a bit more involved, but not too bad lest an inspector get an ingrown asshair about it." Eric replied as we walked.

"Doug wasn't exactly a pleasant person in high school, but that was some time ago. And time, it seems, hasn't been too kind to him, so I figured I may as well throw him a proberbial bone and see how he'd go with it." I shrugged.

"You always were one to help out someone that needed it... or something that needed it." Eric smirked.

"Someone been telling tall tales about me again?" I asked.

"Jim forwarded me the pics of those Akitas." Eric commented.

I couldn't help but smile. "They're up in my office today... you can meet them yourself if you like."

"I think I would like that... after lunch." Eric prodded me in the ribs and we both laughed.

"I've also got something more to talk to you about, but it's not anywhere near urgent." I smiled and led onwards to our meal.

* * * * *

The phone rang and I grabbed the receiver, "Peters," I answered.

"Jim, this is Emily. There's a lady at the gate who said she'd like to speak with you, but she's not someone they know, so they called me to see if they should let her through without paying the entrance fee," Emily inquired.

"Tell them to let her up and just make sure she goes up the office stairs. What did they say her name was?" I asked, as an afterthought.

"Becky something... I'm sorry, I didn't write it down. I can ask if you like..." Emily offered.

"That's umimportant. Tell the gate crew to let her up and when she comes to the main office just let her know where mine is. I have a good idea who it is, so it's all good." I answered.

"Ok, Jim." Emily responded and the line disconnected.

I quickly herded Noble and Grace into my private washroom and hoped they'd keep quiet. Soon came the knock on the door I'd been expecting.

"Kommen sie!" I called out from my desk, continuing to work on paperwork.

"Mr. Peters?" A face peered 'round the door. I turned and smiled. "Hi Becky... come on in."

"Oh... I hope I'm not disturbing you, really. I just... well... I wanted to come down and see you," she meekly said.

I stopped what I was doing and swiveled around in my chair. "Have a seat... what can I do for you?" I chuckled softly, having a very good idea just what brought her down here.

"Mr. Peters... you.... you remember Maverick? The dog that you had outside at the shelter awhile ago?" she began. I nodded. "Well... he was... at least I _thought_ he was put to sleep that night along with a couple other dogs that had been court ordered to be destroyed. But then... awhile later I got this..." she handed me a printed copy of an email.

I took it and looked at it. "Um.... ok. I'm afraid I... don't quite understand."

"That's him! That's Maverick, and it says he's still alive. Now... either this is some kind of cruel joke, or he wasn't put down that night after all," she was speaking rather fast, causing me to raise my eyebrows and she took a deep breath. "Mr. Peters. I... don't know much of anything anymore, like you said that night... but... is it possible he WASN'T put to sleep that night?" she inquired.

I sat back and pondered a bit... "Well... I suppose anything's possible... but... if this wasn't some sort of prank or trick for you... what would it mean?"

She sat back, slightly confused. "I... I guess it's my turn not to understand."

I chuckled a little. "Well... let's presume Maverick IS still alive, and... somewhere. That'd mean someone would be sneaking dogs out of the shelter, right?" Becky nodded. "What would that mean for YOU, Becky? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?"

She seemed to give it a lot of thought. "I.... don't know. I mean... if they're safe, that's a good thing, I think. Even though it... That would be breaking the law, wouldn't it?" she half-asked.

"I'd imagine it would be... on some level. Yet on another level it's sort of like taking things someone left on the curb for the trash man to collect and destroy, wouldn't it?" I asked in return.

"Yeah... that's sort of how I feel about it. Like... they're not wanted, and about to die for the lack of somewhere to be, and for them to BE somewhere and live would be a good thing. Even if... well... that it's done undercover and kind of illegally." she admitted sheepishly.

"Becky... do you know Judge Clemens?" I inquired.

She nodded. "Yeah. He's the one that comes down to the shelter and has been bothering Officer Jackson about things a lot, especially about which dogs to kill and when. Those that are involved with his court cases, those that are involved with other judges' cases, and those that he just walks through and doesn't seem to like."

"And what do you think of him for that?" I inquired.

"It's just AWFUL how he just points at one and insists Officer Jackson kill it... that's not right on just so many levels!" Becky's voice raised an octave and a few points in volume.

"Did you meet those Akitas that he was after that night?" I inquired.

Becky nodded and frowned deeply. "They were sweet dogs. Not even a nip or anything even when we had to keep them separated and... Do you know what a sexual assault exam is?" she asked. I nodded. "They did one on them at the Judge's insistence... The female really whimpered when they took the sample in her.... backside. It came back with possible human DNA so he said their owners had to have been "violating God's law with the dogs"... I think that's why he wanted them dead. Just like that Saint Bernard. Though... Angela said she'd arrived at work early that day and that Officer Jackson must have stayed late to put down the lot scheduled for that morning as none were there, the paperwork was pulled, and then Officer Jackson arrived. She said it was like he didn't know what had happened. So... perhaps they got away too?" Becky looked hopeful.

"This Angela... is she new? And does she like Judge Clemens?" I asked, curiously.

"Oh, of COURSE she likes him. He's her mother's boss. Her mom's Judge Clemens' clerk. And... yeah, she's real new. Just started a few months ago... Why?" This was Becky's turn to be interested.

"I was just curious. I'm a friend of Pete's and... I know Judge Clemens has been pestering him more and more over the past while... and now I know for sure why, and what to do about it." I smiled.

"What's that?" Becky asked, curious.

I chuckled softly. "I'm sorry, but if I told you, you'd know. And then when the shit starts flying over the Shelter then you'd get caught in the middle. Let's just say a missing piece of the puzzle was revealed now and I think I can help Pete some."

Becky smiled. "But you think it's possible that Maverick is still alive?" she said with a hopeful expression.

I rubbed my chin some.... well... it wasn't just my neck on the line since she knows I know Pete. "Can you keep a secret?" I asked. She nodded reply. "Even if it meant lying to Angela, or maybe to the Judge himself... or just keeping quiet as a mouse like I think you're familiar with."

Becky looked stunned. "I.... I don't know but I'll try my best... You talk like you're going to let me in on something big.... aren't you?"

I sighed. "A small corner of something big. Right now you only know me to be involved, and I'll keep it that way for now. You might suspect Pete right now, and what I'm going to show you would cook his goose for good, and serve it up for Judge Clemens' dinner... if you ever tell another living soul, ok? At least one that can speak, or say something - anything - where someone else can overhear you."

Becky looked frightened but curious. "What.... what are you going to show me?"

I smiled broadly and got up. I strode over to the door to my washroom and opened it, letting Noble and Grace bound out to see Becky once again.

"But... but they were... how can this be? They were incinerated!" Becky was dumbstruck at the dogs... Noble put his head in her lap and whined, while Grace just sat nearby.

"I... we.... fooled the Judge. I.... know many things, Becky. Being around animals I know pharmaceuticals as well... what drugs can be used for what, not just T-61 to stop all autonomic function and chemically cook them from the inside out." I frowned a bit as I spoke that. "I... came up with a plan to fool the judge so that these two could indeed die, as the judge had ordered, but yet stay alive. And Maverick came along for the ride that night without so much as a needle stick." She looked up with wide-eyed astonishment. "Yes, he's still alive and very well indeed, just like these two. But..." I sat down as I continued. "You can see what this would mean if they were to be known to be alive. Pete and I directly perpetrated a fraud upon the court, circumventing the duly authorized order of a judge in good standing. That's.... not something to be taken lightly in legal circles. It would mean more than our jobs, it'd mean prison time for both of us. Substantial prison time. And no more saving dogs that only want a new place to be." I sighed.

I frowned deeper as the realization of just what it'd mean dawned on Becky. "I hate to burden your heart with that... but that's a small cross to bear compared to what you've had weighing on you, I'm sure. But... you can never mention this to Pete at work. Never, ever ever. One never knows when one might be recorded. It could be a program on your computer. It could be a bug planted in the dog-truck. It could be someone like me speaking to you with a hidden microphone." I sighed. "I'm used to the risks as I've been doing.... this sort of thing for a long long time. I've nearly gotten caught more than a few times. I was lucky back when I was younger, and now that I'm older I'm more cautious but also have favors from others I can call in at times to help... circumvent any problem or derail any true investigation." I thought for a long time.

"So those dogs that Angela thought hadn't been put down...." Becky inquired.

"Are alive and well also. Reggie too. It was just pure happenstance that they were selected for safety that night, though I'm guessing it's not happenstance Angela was in early that morning. Had she been in early on other kill-day mornings too?" I inquired.

Becky thought while petting Noble's head. "No...it's not unusual, now that you point it out. She's been in early EVERY time there was a kill-day, ever since she started! Ohhhh... I'm gonna have a WORD with HER." Becky started scowling.

"No you're not!" I commanded in a firm voice. Becky looked at me somewhat frightened again. I smiled. "Please, don't. It'll take a bit more finesse than that to derail what's going on here. If you confront Angela directly, she'll either get you fired, or... she'll quit and they'll plant another petunia in the flower garden. This one would be more difficult to detect than Angela has been. You just leave the dirty dealing to Pete and I... I've... got a plan. Or at least an idea. But it'll take a bit to put together." I started thinking in earnest what I'd end up having to do.

"What are you planning?" Becky asked. "Can I help?"

I smiled "You can let me know what Judge Clemens and others are doing... like when dogs come in for Special Handling under judges' orders. Stuff like that. Especially if he suspects any are zoophiles' dogs."

Becky nodded. "They should all be shot." she grumped.

"Which "they", Becky?" I asked curiously.

"Those... zoo people. Not zoo people like you, I mean, but those zoo-whatever people that just have sex with animals, hurting them." she pet Noble's head. "Like how they say they hurt that Saint Bernard and these guys."

I couldn't help but burst out laughing, and she turned to me with both contempt and confusion on her face. "What's so funny?"

"Oh... forgive me, Becky... but that concept that zoophiles hurt their animals. I mean... unless you've had bad experiences with sex yourself to the point you quit because it hurt... it's just... generally unfathomable." I couldn't help but chuckle.

"I... well... they're not human-sized! I mean... it's not... right... it's not right to do! Right?" she stated firmly, then inquired, seeming to question her preconceptions now.

"I can't speak prodigiously about "right" and "wrong"... those are moral judgements between a person and their beliefs. I can speak more firmly to physiology of animals and practicality of situations. For example... Noble and Grace here. Grace has given birth before - that's obvious by her nipples. And an Akita puppy is larger than most human penises. So we know she can stretch to accommodate the birth of a puppy. So... if she can stretch to accommodate something bigger than a human penis, it's not beyond physiological sense that she can stretch less to accommodate a human penis with less issue... right? In the hypothetical anyway. There's much more to it than simplistic physics like that, as we both know." I smiled.

"Well... I suppose so... " Becky was still pondering.

"And on to the reality... you remember that you mentioned Maverick bit a couple other shelter volunteers, right?" I asked and she nodded. "Well.. so if dogs can bite, then they can readily object to something they really don't want to happen or don't like, right?" Again, she nodded. "So if they can object - or dissent - then they can also CONsent to things they DO like... as well as readily do things to promote them. As an example... Maverick could enjoy just padding around happily like he did with me that night, apparently enjoying the time. Additionally, he could bring me the leash to actively instigate me taking him for a walk, for instance. Right?"

"So... they could... like.... show they like mating with humans?" Becky looked incredulous at the thought.

I smiled "Physiologically... psychologically... biologically, yes, they could. You've seen dogs mating before, right?" She nodded and blushed a little. "The female shoves her rump in the face of the male, and he licks her stimulating her. Hers is a definitive action almost on the level of a demand sometimes, so there's the showing part." We both chuckled a little. "And during mating, the male dog clearly enjoys humping or he wouldn't so readily go after a female when the opportunity presents itself. Thus you know that a male dog can actively demonstrate the desire for intercourse. When it comes to their ability to enjoy the pleasure of an orgasm, the male's orgasm is readily apparent by his ejaculation, but if you watched really closely during the coupling, or had a hand on the female's abdomen to steady her, you'd see and feel that the female dog's inner muscles are twitching as well at some points. So SHE was having an orgasm too. That would mean both genders can enjoy intercourse... and we both know some male dogs don't care if they're trying to mate another dog, a pillow, or a wooden fence." I chuckled and Becky blushed again. "So there goes the "unnatural" part of the argument as well."

"I guess... that makes sense too. I really never... thought about it in those terms. I just thought of it as something disgusting and degrading and that only farm kids did with cows or pigs or Irish people with sheep." she blushed a little at that thought.

"Well, it IS the butt of jokes, but that happens. Also the fact that often there's true love and caring behind the human/animal intimacy. Not necessarily the same love that's between a man and a woman, because one can't really hold a conversation with an animal, but... there's love there all the same because there's all different forms of love. Like how you see I care for Noble and Grace here... cared enough to stick my neck wayyy out on the chopping block. And how... I trust you to not reveal it so the axman doesn't come for my head." I smiled.

She chuckled "May I ask... are you.... one of those people?"

I smiled and shook my head. "I may be, I may not be. Either way I could answer your question would a bad answer because it'd be an overly-simplistic answer. You know I care about animals deeply, both within my job and ex parte of it, as these guys show. You know I care for their safety and well-being, again, as evidenced by their existence. Does anything more really matter?"

Becky blushed and shook her head. "I guess not. And even if you are, I know I can't fault you for your actions. You... saved them. I'm glad you did. However many you did, however you did it, I'm glad."

She rose to go, so I stood up as well. "And I'll do that, letting you know about anything odd going on at the shelter. Should I call you here or...?"

I shook my head. "Use the email that came from..." I handed her back the printout. "But it'd be best not to use the computer at the shelter or anything the shelter has provided for you. It could be tapped into without your knowledge as it's not technically yours individually but only yours to use. If you do call, make sure its either a closed area where no one would hear or a busy open public area where a person with a parabolic mic would easily be seen."

Becky smiled "I'll do that, Mr. Peters. And... thanks for everything. Perhaps... someday... I can see Maverick again?"

"Perhaps..." I smiled broadly, and with that Becky headed out.

* * * * *

Soon enough it was closing time so I headed out my office door, with Noble and Grace in tow on their leads, and down to the parking lot. The lights were on in the Victorian, and there were additional vehicles in the lot there. I smiled... I knew the directors were gathering for the special meeting, and I figured that either way I'd know what the decision was by the time it was over, as likely Andy would text me the decision after the meeting closed, and either way I'd know by Jack's demeanor in the morning whether or not he'd been completely shot down, or whether the motions had been tabled for the regular meeting. Upon stepping out of the building, there was Gwen waiting on one of the benches.

"Hi there Gwen." I smiled cheerily, then noticed her expression when she looked up. "What's wrong?" I inquired.

Gwen managed a weak smile as she pet Grace's head. "I.... " she sighed deeply. "You know how I volunteer with other kids who are... kinda like me?" she asked and I nodded. "One.... isn't doing so well. I've been sitting here for awhile thinking about things and... I don't know." She frowned a bit and looked down again.

"Walk with me to the car with these guys, and then I'll walk you over to Sam's office?" I smiled.

Gwen shook her head. "Sam doesn't know I'm down here so... she might have left already. I don't see her car anywhere around."

I looked around myself and the blue Subaru was indeed nowhere to be seen. "Then you'll need a ride home?" I asked.

Gwen nodded. "Mind if we... go for a walk and talk about things first, Jim? You're.... you're the only man Sam trusts and you've known me what seems like forever so... maybe you can help?" she asked hopefully.

I smiled "The parks closing, so there won't be anyone about..." I offered her choice of the leashes. "We can head down to the picnic green for a bit before it turns too cold."

She took Grace's leash and smiled. "I think I'd like that, Jim." She said as she wrapped her arm around my back and off we strode, chatting as the dogs padded contentedly alongside.

* * * * *

I was in a more somber mood when I arrived home, and Julie noticed it right away. "Something wrong, Jim?" she asked.

I smiled a bit. "Oh... was just an odd day. The parade isn't quite on track yet, though I had an interesting run-in with Herr Direktor. They're voting on what to do tonight, and I'd imagine Andy will text me later about it... or maybe not. We'll see. Gwen came down to visit and talk with me as she's been troubled about something, though she seemed to be feeling better by the time I dropped her off at their apartment. Some other stuff dealing with the dogs..." I shrugged. It's just been an odd day, in some respects."

"What was bothering Gwen? Maybe I could help her some." Julie volunteered, and I patted Julie's hand.

"I... " I sighed. "Part of it involves Gwen's past, which isn't really my story to tell. We might have them out sometime for a movie night or something and if they stay over like you did, it would come out in private conversation, but... if I told you what's bothering her, it'd also tell you the stuff that's not my place to tell."

Julie looked down. "It's... kinda like my past, Jim?" Julie inquired.

I smiled. "Same concept in the aggregate, yes. You wouldn't want me just blabbing that you'd been... accosted... and that it troubles you now and again when we're intimate."

Julie snuggled up to my side and I wrapped my arm around her. "I'm glad you're so good about things, Jim, and I'm also glad you don't get upset that sometimes things... aren't easy?" she said euphamistically.

I chuckled. "Julie... I accept you as you are. Baggage and all. And you seem to accept me. We're not a McDonald's where you can pick and choose just what you want from the menu... you get what there is as a bundle, the good, the bad, the joyous and the troublesome, all in one. And the bad and the troublesome help make us who we are as much as the good and the joyous."

Julie snuggled to my side even more. "Think you'd like to... invite them over?" she asked.

I chuckled. "I think that could be quite interesting... however, two big questions remain..."

"What's that?" Julie inquired, curiously.

"What do we have for dinner, and who do we invite? Chet and others as well?" I smiled.

Julie just sighed. "I'll leave that up to you, Jim. You're better about planning than I am."

* * * * *

The next morning I made a few phone calls regarding various things, some of which had to do with the Thanksgiving Day Parade, most of which went relatively nowhere. I then decided to call Jim Bridger to see if he could recommend anyone.

"West Side Animal Hospital, this is Michelle, how may I help you?" came over the phone.

"Is Jim in at the moment? This is Jim Peters." I said succinctly.

"He is, but he's booked full until noon, and then has some farm rounds until 2." Michelle responded.

"Ok, thanks Michelle. Goodbye." And with that I hung up the phone.

I pondered things, and no sooner than I'd started than a knock came on my door.

"Kommen sie." I called out.

Pete Jackson strode in, closing the door behind him. Seeing Pete, Maverick stood up and started wagging his tail. "Hi Pete... how's things in your world?"

Pete shrugged a bit. "More crap from Judge Clemens... he did a walk-through today. Irritating crap. I wish I knew where it all was coming from."

I smiled broadly as Pete flumped into a chair. "You've got a petunia in your garden." I grinned broadly.

"Huh?" Pete asked, not undersanding the quasi-code.

"You know that new girl, Angela?" I asked. Pete nodded his response. "She's a plant. At least, it's looking like that."

"How'd you find out?" he asked, surprised I had such insight into his facility.

"Becky came by to visit... and... I told her some things." I smiled.

Pete groaned. "That's all I need is for her to go blabbing about it...."

I shook my head. "I'm pretty sure she left here with a new perspective on some things, and renewed hope in others. I laid it out pretty good how deep you and I were, and I seriously doubt she'd do anything to muck it up since the dogs are well-cared for." Pete breathed a sigh of relief. "Did you know Angela is the daughter of Clemens' clerk?"

Pete shook his head. "I didn't, but that doesn't surprise me. She's been snooping and asking questions ever since she showed up. At first I thought it was just regular curiosity as to how everything worked... you know, trying to impress the boss? Then I figured it was just her nature to be nosy. Maybe that's the case but now that I know she's directly associated with Judge Clemens... that puts things in a little different light."

I nodded. "So what was he in there about today?"

"He was just doing a walk-through of the facility. Politicians do that all the time, and he's up for re-election this February. Running against Baker... Don't know how Baker is, and whether or not he's full of shit, but..." Pete said before I stopped him.

"Baker... HAROLD Baker? The real-estate attorney?" I asked. Pete nodded and I smiled broadly, then broke out into a chuckle.

"What? You know something... don't you?" Pete asked.

I sat back and smiled broadly. "Indeed I do. Indeed I do, Pete. I.... think I know how to derail Judge Clemens. I had seen the beginnings of campaign signs but you know I don't really dig much into politics until the last moment because of all the crap I have to do here... unless it involves me speaking about some new regulation or law they're looking to pass regarding pets or cats or whatnot."

"Really? What is it? What are you going to... Wait.... no. Don't tell me. Don't even think of including me. I can't deal with too many more close calls like the other night." Pete backpedaled.

I laughed. "This is a bit above your pay grade anyway, Pete..." I scratched my cheek in absent thought, then settled on what would seem the most logical course of action. "So... His Honor find some other dogs to send to their doom?" I inquired, remembering what Becky had said.

Pete smiled and shook his head. "Not this time... but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Any idea why he's on this crusade? Because that's what it seems like from my end of things."

I smiled "I know the superficial why, and I also happen to know the deep-down why as well. Learning the superficial why cinched it." I chuckled. "The superficial answer is that he's after zoodogs and any large breed that could be a zoodog and he's using the dangerous animal ordinances as his sword. Did you know he had a rape kit run on Noble and Grace?" I asked.

Pete shook his head. "Jim wasn't up for anything like that, so who'd they use?" he inquired.

"That, is indeed a mystery as none of that information came in with the paperwork you had on them, though presumably it was done, as Becky had either witnessed it or helped with it, and paperwork had to be generated for Judge Clemens to react the way he did, according to her. I didn't think to inquire further because I wasn't sure just how far on our side she was at the time." I replied.

Pete canted his jaw. "The only other vet I'd trust to do anything like that right would be Terry Clark over on the other end of the county, but I doubt I could ever get him to come all the way up there unless it was some big emergency."

"Who said it was a vet? It could have been a doctor, nurse, vet tech, or just some lab monkey from the state hygiene office." I corrected.

"That's true," Pete said and frowned, "How can we be sure?"

I pondered for a bit then smiled. "You're still required to keep strays 7 days, right?" I asked.

Pete nodded. "Per state law, why?"

I pondered "Becky picks up about this time of day, and Angela works until 2 or 3, right?" Pete nodded. "Maverick here..." I waved to the malamute "was found wandering the streets here. You'll get a call in a couple moments to that effect. There's something odd about his tail end, but you've got to get out to another call and Jim was booked up for the day so he couldn't take a look while you were down here. We'll see if Angela takes the bait and offers the services of another vet or if she has a visitor stop by."

"They won't find anything, will they?" Pete asked, hesitantly.

I smiled and shook my head. "Nothing except the possibility of activity. He's a bit large back there, but I don't know if it's natural or if it's from him being a zoodog. Haven't really tried it yet." I smiled and pet Maverick's head.

"I guess back to the pound he goes." Pete sighed. "Sorry boy..." Maverick whined a little but was still wagging his tail.

I gave Becky a call... it was her cell number so there wasn't any concern. "Hi, Becky? This is Jim Peters. Say... we've got something going on and you'll definitely be able to help. And you'll get to see Maverick again..."

* * * * *

After Pete left I took a tour of the cathouse and answered a number of questions, grabbed a couple hotdogs from the food vendor at the picnic green, and as I was walking back, gave Gwen a call to see if she could get the night off. She said she could, since Zack was working tonight, which made me smile. I told her that her and Sam were invited over to my place for a movie night, and to grab overnight stuff, a change of clothes for tomorrow, and to pack some fun toys if she wanted. I could almost hear Gwen smile at the thought of having a fun night with Sam and Julie and I, so she said she had a good idea just which toys to pack.

Heading back to my office I made a stop at the wolf exhibit and let myself in to the den/office complex. "Where ya at, Sam?" I called out.

"In the office. Who's bothering me now?!?" came the terse response.

"Fred Flintstone and his all-girl orchestra." I called back, giving Athena a pet through the bars.

"Who the...." she started as I ducked my head around the office doorframe. "Oh, shoulda known...." Sam grumped.

"Something wrong?" I inquired.

"Over budget and His Royal Heinous has been griping to me every day about it. I can't help it the price of meat has gone up!" Sam was nearly yelling.

"Hey... time. I come in peace, not pieces." I smiled, at which her expression softened.

"Yeah, ok, Jim. What do you have for me?" Sam asked.

"Dinner and a show?" I smiled, half-teasingly.

"Huh? Come again?" Sam inquired, confused.

"You and Gwen are invited to a movie night with Julie and I... and... perhaps more if you like? I told Gwen to throw some stuff in a bag in case you stay and... maybe some extra accessories if it wanders to being a fun night?" I waggled my eyebrows suggestively.

Sam shook her head and smiled. "Jim Peters... sexual harassment at the workplace?" she inquired teasingly.

"Nope... An offer of some much-needed relief to a co-worker... and her partner." I smiled at Sam.

"You know Gwen's... well, you probably know it far better than I do, Gwen's big hangup." Sam sighed.

I nodded. "It'll be alright. We'll both be there. And I also know YOUR one big hangup too. And... we'll see if you feel up to working on that tonight some too, if you'd like and things wander that way. Julie... has some history of her own, so she'll be readily able to empathize with both of you."

"Oh? Like what?" Sam asked.

I chuckled. "I couldn't tell her about Gwen because it wasn't my story to tell... I can't tell you about hers for the same reasons."

Sam smiled and stood up to hug me, and I hugged her back. "Jim Peters, the consummate gentleman."

I chuckled and gave Sam a squeeze. "Figured you'd need a break from all the headache at home and here. My gift to you two. Anything more that happens... is just an extra bonus."

Sam leaned back and smiled. "You know me so well, Jim. Especially how to weasel under everything and let me be me."

I winked. "It's a gift, Sam. And at my place... you can be the real you regardless. You know that." I kissed the top of her head as she hugged to me. "You've always known that. I just hope you don't hold anything against me over Gwen or anything."

Sam shook her head. "She's special to you in the way that your cats are. I've no right to interfere with any of that... even if I am slightly jealous now and again. But then I realize that there's no need... that she and I care about each other too. Like you reminded me the other day."

I chuckled. "No charge. Anyway..." I sighed. "I've got some errands to run, and have some other trouble brewing, too... I had to put a dog's life on the line to out someone doing... warping justice to suit their morality."

Sam frowned. "I don't envy you that worry, Jim. I'd forgotten how you try to help so many folks."

I patted Sam's back and smiled. "It should turn out alright. I hope. I'll be back to pick you up at closing."

* * * * *

"Hey Eric..." I smiled as I strode into the office. "How's things in the toxic waste business?"

He swiveled to see who it was and then laughed. "Not bad, not bad at all. So what are you doing down here at this time of day?" he asked curiously.

"You still have that side limo business, right?" I asked.

"Yep, sure do... Glenn and a few others are the chauffeurs. Him mostly, because he knows how to be discreet. Whatcha got going? Someone big coming in? Qua..." he stopped himself. "The big boss, perhaps? I know you know him."

I shrugged. "He... might be helping out with something, yes, but I'd be hesitant to call him without things being entirely in place. You know that airport over at [neighboring county seat]? Well.. airSTRIP is more like it, but it's paved and open to all but the largest private planes."

"Yeah, I know where that's at. Got something cooking?" Eric asked.

"Who's been the largest pain in the ass to the Club and to... other escapades... over the past year and some odd?" I inquired.

"Well... Judge Clemens. Who else?" Eric leaned forward, curious now. "You... have a way in to Clemens?"

I shook my head. "Not enough to clobber him, no. I.... think I have a way of faking him out to back down. Once I can set things up just right, his largest campaign contributor is going to ask for a sit-down... and he's not apt to say no. I just need to get things set up just right. I'd need two cars... one there and one here. Nothing too big... just a nice Town Car or such, not a stretch. Two drivers - one for each car. I'll need use of one of the trucks and a lot of crap from Sunrise Service's prop department. Crew too... four, five folks maybe. Oh... and do you know if Joe is in his office today? Need to pick his brain some too."

Eric thought for a bit. "Two cars and drivers is easy, same with the truck. Crew... I'd have to see if we can find volunteers, but since it's a job for you I think we could find more than we'd need." Eric looked at his clock. "You can go on up and see if Joe is up there. You know the passages through this place better than anyone. Just a moment and I'll call up..." He picked up his phone and dialed.... after a couple moments speaking he hung up the phone. "He's there, so you can go on up, internal or external is up to ... oh, that's right. You don't have your keys on you, so I guess you'll have to go the public route then."

I shrugged. "I was planning on it anyway. Do you know if they finished the peripheral apartments on three yet?" I inquired.

"I think they have... though I thought that was only for stayovers rather than actual dwellings?" Eric asked.

"They are... but... I've got a couple that are going to occupy one full-time... They'll be good, trust me." I smiled.

"Hell, if I didn't trust you, I wouldn't have this job in the first place!" Eric laughed as I waved goodbye, heading out and up to see Joe.

* * * * *

"Clark Real Estate and Apartment Management, what extension please?" was the repeated mantra I heard as I stepped off the old freight elevator into the office suite. Kind of half industrial and half euro-modern appearance as I strode into the office and up to the main desk.

"How can I help you?" the receptionist asked kindly.

"Jim Peters to see Joe Clark." I smiled pleasantly.

"Mr. Peters...." she said scanning the computer screen. "Do you have an appointment?"

I shook my head. "No I don't. Is he with anyone at the moment? Eric O'Brien just called up a few moments ago to see if he was here."

"Um... let me call his personal secretary to see if he's available..." she said, half curious by my name dropping. A moment later she hung up the receiver. "You can go on back... she'll be coming this way to take you to his office." She gestured to a hall to the left of the reception desk.

"Thank you, I do appreciate it." I smiled and started slowly making my way along.

Soon enough a woman in a smart business outfit, black plastic rimmed glasses, moderate skirt, matching scarf and silver teardrop pendant came towards me at a rapid pace. "Mr. Peters?" she inquired, and I nodded. "I'm Liz Malcolm... Mr. Clark's secretary. This way please...." she turned about and started walking back the way she came at the same rapid pace. Soon we were at his door and she knocked before opening it. "Mr. Peters to see you?" she announced.

"Come on in! Jim! It's been awhile since I've seen you in person!" the jovial voice came from within, and Liz bowed, excusing herself as she closed the door behind me.

"Yeah... It's been some time Joe..." I smiled to the chubby, balding, white-haired gentleman standing behind the desk. He chuckled and his beard waggled in an amusing way.

"So what brings you down here? I'd imagine I already know but with you I'm never quite sure." Joe smiled and we both sat down.

"Those living areas on 3... they're finished, right?" I asked.

"Yeah... those got done... maybe.... 2 months ago? Why? Got someone needing a place to be?" he asked.

"Well, not _needing_ but... they could use a break from rent. Lavender Heart Kennels is going to be hiring one of them as a part-time enrichment specialist and the other works for me at the zoo, so... they're good people. Lesbian couple. I just came down to talk with Eric about some stuff, pick up the keys to one of the apartments, and... talk with you about what I just chatted with Eric about." I finished with a smile.

The older gentleman looked at me with skepticism. "Why do I get the sneaking suspicion you've got something cooking that... isn't quite kosher?" His face broke out into a smile after a moment. "What's the caper?"

I laughed as his eyes twinkled at the thought of minor larceny in the name of greater good. "Clemens... One of the puzzle pieces fell into place the other day, and.... I'm going to go to the top with this plan once I get all the arrangements made. That old shoe factory up in [neighboring county seat]... that's still vacant, right?"

Joe started checking his computer. "As far as this knows, yes. Still assigned to the law firm handling the bankruptcy..."

"See if you can get ahold of a key... Tell them you've got someone possibly interested. After all this time I doubt there's an active realtor for the property so you can probably go directly to the lawyer assigned. I'm borrowing a truck from Eric and goods from Sunrise to put on a bit of a show for His Honor. From you..." I rambled before he cut me off.

"You need some out-of-the-way place to put on that show so he has no idea where he is. That'd be a good spot as you can reach it from the northern edge of town without ever passing by major place signage or anything.... good choice." the old man smiled broadly. "Oh... and good job on the run the other night. How's your lady-friend?" he inquired as he started two-fingered tapping away at the computer keyboard.

"She's well. Got fired from her job, but that's a whole other story unto itself. Think you can swing the shoe factory?" I asked.

"Piece of cake. Like you said, it's been sitting so long I'm sure they'd jump at the chance to have someone look at it, and maybe take it off their hands." Joe smiled broadly.

"Speaking of which... when I speak to... him... about things. There's another piece of property that I'd like you to pull info on for him. That old auto-parts plant down on Douglas." I smiled.

"Oh? Oh! Yeah, that's been closed for a year and some. Hm..." Joe thought for a moment or three. "Yeah, I can pull sheet on that, though don't know how willing they are to sell it at the moment. It's one of the older plants so that's why they closed it. Though... I'll see what I can dig up."

"Throw in the info on the shoe factory too... not that it's of any particular advantage right at the moment, but... could be advantageous at some point. I remember it was a pretty good building, too." I pondered.

"Yep... built 1911... they knew how to make 'em strong back then, not like the steel and sheet-siding single-level stuff we see today. Like this old lady here..." he stomped on the floor. "Over a hundred years old and can stand for a thousand more."

I chuckled. "Preaching to the choir, Joe... but you know that already. Gonna be out for the Thanksgiving Day Parade?" I asked.

Joe looked at me with a confused expression. "I thought the papers said that was cancelled, that the zoo wasn't doing it this year."

I laughed. "Eric and a few others have un-cancelled it, though Director Benin of the zoo is being a snot about things, so I'll have to call a few other folks I know to get in on the fun." I laughed. "And it'd be a real shame if Santa Claus missed it!" I winked in Joe's direction.

He burst out laughing. "I'll be there, Jim. Suit and all. But if the Santa float isn't gonna be there, what will I be in? Your old steamer?" he jibed curiously.

"Nope! Got something muuuuuuch better." I grinned broadly then tilted my head. "Hm... that's a thought too...."

Joe looked at me curiously. "What is."

I shook my head. "Wait and see... Santa!" I winked and Joe laughed again.

"I'm sure I'll find out, you .... Jim, I don't think they've yet come up with the word to describe what you are." Joe smiled broadly. "But I'm sure as hell glad I got to know you."

I smiled. "I'm glad you consider me a friend, too... and help out with my little... flights of fancy. Anyway... a couple more stops before I'm done. Gotta go down and pick up the keys from Teddy... go over to see Jim Bridger about parade stuff, and.... probably some other problems will pop up between now and then. You know how things go."

Joe shrugged a bit. "Life isn't supposed to be all fun and games, Jim. But I'm glad to see you participating more in the games than you had been. You might even make zoo director!"

I shook my head again. "Someone's been telling tales again, haven't they?"

"Victor LeDronne over at the Lodge mentioned it. Lew Symensma and I were chatting about things and Victor was there with his usual "Hey! Didja hear?"..." Joe chuckled. "Not that he's a gossip or nothing but he knew Lew knows you though I don't think he realized I know you too. Not that it really matters since we're all Brothers and it wouldn't do to blab stuff like that outside the Lodge anyway." Joe smiled.

I just chuckled. "We'll see what happens. The crap Director Benin was trying to pull was tabled... much to his irritation, but that still leaves the argument for the regular meeting. Thankfully that's after the parade so I'll be over that hurdle when it comes to the showdown at the meeting."

"Well, you just be careful, Jim." Joe cautioned. "Dunno what you've got planned for Clemens but... don't want you sticking your neck out too ungodly far either. You're important here, too, you know. Wouldn't want to lose you."

I smiled. "I'll be careful Joe. I have a few cards no one realizes I have, so it should be alright. I'm just more worried about something else going on, probably right now, up at the dog pound." I sighed a bit, thinking of Maverick.

"Something up there? What's shaking there?" Joe asked, curious.

"Bait in a trap for Clemens... I just hope it goes well for the dog that IS the bait." I frowned a bit.

Joe frowned as well. "I know how much animals mean to you, Jim. If you came up with it, I'm sure it's the best plan anyone could come up with. But good luck anyway. And good luck with this to-do over Clemens. I'll get back with you before end-of-business tomorrow." He smiled.

"Thanks Joe... see you around." I nodded and let myself out of his office.

"Thanks for everything, Liz. Have a good day." I smiled at the secretary, and she nodded back as I headed back out to the elevator.

* * * * *

The whole Club looked different, illuminated by the overhead industrial merc-incandescent lights rather than the usual colored spotlights and neon highlights. I made my way past the vacant bar and back behind the curtain. Past the kitchen, the reefer-room, and hung a left towards the stairs and knocked on the door marked "OFFICE - PRIVATE"

"Who's there?" came the voice from within.

"Ali Baba and his 40 thieves!" I replied.

"Who the fu..." the door swung open. "Dammit, Jim. Coulda just said it was you!" Theodore Knutsvig shook his head. His white wifebeater hanging off of his large but tubby form and the stub of a cigar dangling from his mouth. "C'mon in."

I came in and smiled. "How's business, Teddy?" I inquired, looking around the disheveled office a bit.

"Pain in the ass, but money's rolling in damned good. Been thinking of asking the boss if he wants to save up or split off another location. Seems lots of folks like the mystique atmosphere. But maybe he'll want to do a different theme next time. I dunno..." Teddy rambled as he shut the door. "So what brings you down here?" he asked.

"You know those apartments on 3? The stay-over places for out-of-town guests and those VIPs that get a little too.... blasted down here for smart times upstairs?" I asked. Teddy nodded. "Need one near the kennels for some permanent residents." I smiled.

"Whut kinda permanent residents? They... trustworthy?" he asked.

I chuckled. "Think I'd be asking if they weren't? Lez couple, one works for me, the other I've known for the better part of her life. The latter will be hired on shortly by Lavender Heart as a specialist, so... that answer your question?" I smiled.

"You pullin' strings for these girls, I take it?" he asked, reaching forward to a lockbox mounted on the wall.

I nodded. "Yeah... sort of in a tough spot, but since I've known them so long... it's a no-brainer for me. They don't have any idea it's happening, though. Tonight's the surprise."

Teddy laughed heartily. "You and your surprises. You know, by now I shouldn't be surprised at ANYTHING you do, but you still manage to make me wonder just what in the hell you're gonna do next." He smiled broadly and tossed me a ring with a number on it. "Take 8 there... it's near the lift, so they'll be better off about it. Also near the emergency exit for the kennels so... easy access for work... or play." He winked.

"Thanks Teddy... I'm gonna have the boss out to help scare someone straight sometime in the next while... I'll let him know what you were saying. Though, likely, he knows already if you've been sending him your little operational love-notes like he asked awhile ago." I winked, teasingly.

"Love-notes... now that's a fair term for it. See how good people have been about just fuckin' each other rather than trying to fuck each other over." Teddy chuckled. "Anyway... you gonna be around sometime soon again? I'd imagine you and your missus' have gotten a bit bored..."

"No... lately my life has been anything BUT boring. Ask Eric the next time you see him and you'll hear some stuff." I checked my watch. "Anyway... I have to make a few more rounds before the party at my place tonight. You take care, ok? And don't let Madame Bouffant try to bite you any more... you know she really gets into that!"

"You warned me but I thought you were kidding!" Teddy reflexively rubbed his left nipple. "Them teeth HURT!"

I shook my head. "Yep... don't know whether she thinks she's a real vampire or whether she just gets so that into character, but... yeah, those prosthetics are sharp!" I waved. "I'll see you around... just be glad it wasn't something else she was sucking..."

"Fuckin' bastard... gitout!" Teddy said with a play-swipe at me. "And yeah... see you around."

* * * * *

I was driving over to Sam and Gwen's apartment to pick her up when my cell rang. "Peters." I answered, as I pulled to the side of the road and parked in a strip-mall parking lot.

"Mr. Peters! It's Becky..." the anxious voice on the other end replied.

"Hi Becky... how's things up north?" I commented lightly, hoping to calm her.

"Officer Jackson showed up with Maverick! He said something was weird about his... his.... backside. He handed Angela the run sheet and all like he typically would do and put Maverick in one of the hold cages. He's got a different number this time tied to the run sheet so I don't think she knows it's him, but he sure knows it's me." Her voice was excited and I chuckled.

"Becky, calm down a bit... where are you at?" I inquired.

"Oh, I'm in my car... I'm on my break waiting for food in the drive-thru of Burger King." She responded. "But it was SOOOO good to see him again. I could hardly keep myself together in front of Angela. I told her that the dog reminded me of one that was special to me awhile ago. She didn't seem to care. But that's not the important part. Officer Jackson hadn't been gone more than an hour when the guy in the lab coat showed up agian saying he was there to examine a dog under Judge Clemens orders... Maverick nipped at him and Angela so they had me bring him to the ... well.. "the room" so they could examine him. You know, he didn't even whine much when they stuck that big metal thing up his... his bottom! He just strained a little and stopped licking my face while they swabbed him in there. He tried to turn and nip at them when they swabbed his sheath and he bit the end off the swab they put in his mouth the first time. They even swabbed up his nose! Why would they do that?" She was talking rapidly and I knew it was from excitement. "What do you think it all means? I mean... he's not been... molested, has he?" Becky inquired worriedly.

I chuckled. "More today by them than before where he was staying, Becky. That I can assure you. As far as what it all means... Like I told you before, Maverick is bait in a trap, and it seems that Angela and whoever's higher up just took the bait. If the next thing I presume will happen, happens, then we'll know the trap has been sprung and we'll just have to see who we caught." I smiled.

"But... what will happen to Maverick?" Becky asked worriedly.

"That... I'm not so sure about, but we'll come up with something." I said, honestly not knowing just what we'd do, as that'd be determined by whatever next step was taken by others.

"But... there's still a chance he'll be... killed, right?" she asked.

I could hear in the background her receiving her dinner order at the window so I waited a bit before speaking again. "There is that chance, yes. It's slight, and I worry about it too, but... we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. I'm hoping to side-step that but... only time will tell."

"Ok, Mr. Peters... I just.... I worry about him because he IS special to me." Becky's worry was apparent.

"He's special to a few other people as well.... I'll be in touch, and thanks for calling." I smiled and the call ended.

I got back on the road and pondered some more things as I finished heading to the apartment building. Gwen was waiting for me out front with a couple of duffel bags as I pulled up. She opened the back door and pitched in the bags. "All ready?" I asked as she climbed in the front.

"I... Jim. I don't really know if we should... uh..." Gwen started to stammer a bit, and looked a bit sheepish.

"If we should what? Have a good night together?" I asked. She nodded meekly. "Why?"

"Well, you've got Julie now, and I'm with Sam and... I don't want to hurt Sam and I'm sure you don't want to hurt Julie...." she started wavering a bit.

"Gwen... I know these things. It's not like that. It's just fun... pure fun. If it leads to more, great. If it doesn't, that's fine too. But knowing you...." I smiled broadly and she shrunk a little, blushing but smiling widely. "We'll end up having fun. You'll get to meet Julie, and the new cats, and a whole mess of new dogs, except for one. He's up at the pound right now."

Gwen looked worried. "Why up there?"

I smiled a bit. "Bait in a trap... he should be alright, but I worry a bit."

Gwen leaned over and snuggled up against my side. "It'll be alright... I'm sure of it. You've not let anyone down ever..." she smiled up at me.

I chuckled "I've let plenty of people down... and still do from time to time." He chuckles "You still have me up on a pedestal as a knight in shining armor, huh?"

Gwen nodded. "It's not like I have many men to look up to, not ones that know... about... all about me." she looked sheepish again as she said it, then sighed and cuddled to my side all the more.

"Well... part of that is because you don't let them in. But you have Sam now and you two are a good couple, even if you both bounce rather than one of you bounce and one of you dangle." I quipped, which earned me a poke in the ribs.

"Jim, you're incorrigible...." Gwen giggled.

"Big word for such a little lady..." I quipped back, at which she just snuggled against me all the more. "You'd like Maverick. He's the malamute that's up at the pound." My thoughts turned to him as I drove through town back to the zoo to pick up Sam and close out the day.

* * * * *

I had just done my final patrol of the cathouse and locked up the front doors when my cellphone rang yet again. It was an abnormally busy day for that device, as usually I only received a call or two a week. "Peters." I answered.

"Jim... Pete here... I just got a call from Judge Clemens..." Pete's voice was anxious and I could hear he was driving.

"First off, personal cell or company?" I inquired.

"Company... why?" he asked in response.

"I'll call you back." I answered and disconnected, then scrolled through my contact list and hit a button.

"What's this about?" Pete asked as he answered on his personal phone.

"Security. Your company cell isn't your own. There could be recording software on it, or in your truck, so keep your answers brief and enigmatic. Judge Clemens called for you to move Maverick from the hold cells to quarrantine, right?" I said.

"That's right... how did you..." Pete started questioning.

"And he also ordered that he be destroyed as a dangerous dog, based on... biting an exmaining vet, right?" I guessed.

"Medical tech, yes. How did you know?" Pete asked, genuinely curious.

"I received a call from Becky a couple hours ago that Angela had taken the bait and apparently made a call to the Judge, who called down someone in a lab coat. The trap has been sprung... when is he expecting Mav's execution?" I inquired.

"This Friday evening... He'd be the only one on the block as we're nowhere near full up." Pete said.

I smiled a bit. "He ask for pictures this time, or no?" I inquired.

"Not this time, no..." Pete said, catching the tone of my voice. "You got something going on?"

I smiled broadly. "Quit worrying, Pete. He won't show up. He'll have something more important to attend to that night."

"What's that?" Pete asked.

"Meeting with a major campaign donor. But you didn't hear that from me." I said merrily.

"Ok... I don't get it, but... at least that means he won't be visiting." Pete said.

"Right. The trap has just closed... now to let the prey know he's been cornered, captured, and is about to learn his fate." I chuckled heartily.

"What do... no. NO! I don't wanna know. I'll talk with you later." Pete stammered.

"Ok Pete... bye." I said and ended the call. I scrolled through the contact list until I found one I was looking for and pressed the button....

"Yes?" came the questioning voice on the other end of the line.

"Green light. It's on." I said. The call ended and I smiled, striding happily towards the wolf dens.

You Realize, This Means War

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...

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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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