Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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A special campaign donor has a sit-down with Judge Clemens...

Sam was unusually quiet as we rode in to work... "Penny for your thoughts?" I offered.

Sam just turned to me and stared for a bit, likely pondering things. I turned for a moment and smiled at her, and she smiled back. "Just thinking about last night, Jim." she said and smiled happily. "Thinking of how it felt having you inside me. Having someONE inside me... "

"You never... even with the wolves?" I asked hesitantly.

She shook her head. "Always the dominant one... with a strap-on or toy or something. Never letting myself.... be like last night. Never letting it show."

I reached over and gave her thigh a gentle squeeze. "I've got things to do tonight, and Gwen has work, but... anytime you feel like, you come on out, ok?" I gave her a tender look and she smiled.

"I'd hug you right now... but... I don't wanna crash," she said and giggled a little.

I chuckled softly and she spoke again. "I really do want to thank you, Jim, for everything. But especially for... just.... propping me up and showing me that men aren't all monsters and even... that they can love me without hurting me. That life isn't as bad as I made it out to be."

I smiled at her. "It's worse, but don't tell anyone." I winked and she laughed as we pulled into the zoo parking lot.

* * * * *

I had a flurry of phone messages waiting for me when I got into the office. People regarding the parade, the usual questions about the zoo, and a couple of misdirected calls regarding office furniture. I returned the calls about the parade matters, most of the zoo questions I'd ignore, as they were just from the general public and weren't really supposed to go to my office extension anyway - it seems people don't know how to write and mail a letter anymore. That just left the office furniture matters, which I figured would resolve themselves without my interference.

Then came a knock on my door.

"Kommen sie." I replied, in my usual way.

"Hey, Jim." Pete said, coming in and slumping in a chair.

"Ok, what's wrong now." I asked out of habit.

"Oh, nothing. That cougar is from a traveling show and they don't want it back. They're going bankrupt as it is and they're not after another mouth to feed. That just leaves...." Pete's voice trailed off.

I turned to him, and chuckled "Really?" I sighed and pondered. "What kind of show?"

"Just a no-biggie menagerie display. Tag-along at county and state fairs, expensive folks' birthday parties, store openings, that sort of thing. They say the cat's handleable and faxed me his medical and USDA records..." he tossed me the manila envelope, thick with paper. "He's yours if you want. I can't do anything with him, and like hell Jack would want another animal if he's got the board thinking about getting rid of ones already here."

"What his name? I've been calling him "Kitten" the past day, but that isn't quite right." I told Pete

"Raleigh... like the North Carolina city." Pete said. "And that just leaves one dangling chad on your voting ticket."

I chuckled "Maverick. I've been trying to think of what I can do." I pondered, then tilted my head. "Hm...."

"What do you have.....No!" Pete stood up. "No. I don't want to know. So long as he's out of the shelter by morning, I don't care. I don't want to know."

I smiled "Ask you wish, mon sewer!" I chuckled.

"Bastard... anyway... congratulations on your new acquisition." Pete winked.

"Thanks... in for a Penny..." I started before Pete cut me off.

"... in for a Pound. I figured." Pete said, waving goodbye as he headed out the door.

I thought about a few things after Pete had left and made a couple calls regarding tonight's "show". I then dug a prepaid cellphone out of the top drawer of my desk, looked up a number, then entered it. I waited for the response on the other end - "Judge Clemens' office, how may I help you."

"Why hello!" I said in a faux-gay manner. "Is His Honor in? If he's available could you connect me please?"

"Judge Clemens is in, but... may I ask what this is regarding?" the feminine voice queried.

"Oh! Well... I really shouldn't say but... my employer is in your region on some business and he wishes to see the Judge tonight regarding a...." I lowered my volume significantly "...major campaign contribution." I practically whispered.

"I'll see if His Honor can speak with you." the feminine voice replied, then hold music started playing.

"This is Judge Clemens." came the strong voice from the other end.

"Oh! Hello your honor... I'm Jimmy Blake. My employer, Karl Schutznagel is in your region tonight, and... he'd very much like a sit-down with you regarding a potential campaign contribution? He instructed me to tell you that he'd make it VERY worth your while." my smile was practically dripping through the phone.

"I'm afraid I have other business to attend to tonight..." Judge Clemens started to say.

I cut him off. "Oh, that's... too bad. You see he's flying out for Vienna later tonight and he won't be back in the States agian until late spring. He DID say that if you could work in a block of time from... 5 to 9 pm, he can have his personal jet waiting for you at your local airport. Hanger 28. He'll fly you out to where he's at, you'd have your meeting, and fly you back without any inconvenience to you... apart from your time, that is...." I rambled.

"Who is this... Schutznagel you said?" Clemens sounded interested.

"Oh! Well, he DOES keep a rather low profile these days. He's a VERY influential businessman in both the US and continental Europe... If I'm not mistaken... you have a number of his commercial properties in your city? That and a few manufacturing and service businesses." I laid it on thick.

"And you said he wishes to make a contribution to my campaign?" The Judge seemed more interested.

"Oh YES... indeed. Of course... it's not my place to talk numbers. I'm only his personal assistant. But..." I paused heavily. "I hear the last fellow got 3 million from various... contributors."

"That.... could be quite worth my while indeed. You said Hanger 28? 5pm?" I smiled as the Judge was now on the hook.

"That'd be 5pm sharp. You know how flight schedules have to be these days... what with security and all and as I said he'd need to fly you back and have time to refuel for Vienna before midnight." I schmoozed.

"I'll be there." the Judge said.

"Thank you, your honor... I'll let Mr. Schutznagel know to expect you. You have a great day, now!" I said in the faux-perky voice and ended the call.

* * * * *

I pondered things as I walked to the cathouse to do my regular rounds. The shoe factory had been set up, a portable generator in place to illuminate the plant "for a full-building inspection", guard at the gate, the Leer jet, and chauffeurs. The camera equipment had been set up and "private office" had been constructed and dressed up accordingly. I could be up there whenever, but I figured the crew would know how to arrange everything since they had the plans. I knew there would be a white stretch limo there so that covered Karl's presence for the Judge... Dogs. Hm... that would make a nice addition.

I smiled and waved to Jack as he came stomping towards me in the opposite direction. He looked at me and stopped, then came over.

"So what's going on with that extra cougar we have here?" He demanded.

"Um... given the time of day he's likely taking a dump on the floor. Why?" I asked.

"He's still there in one of the off-exhibit cages?" Jack asked. I nodded. "So what are we going to do about it?"

"Well... You'll probably stomp around like a chimpanzee that's been constipated for four days. I'll go on about my business as usual, and the cat will just be lazy until we run out the 7-day hold on him." I said smugly.

"You mean we have to take care of it for 7 DAYS?" Jack said incredulously.

I motioned for Jack to lower his voice. "Public, Jack. Geez. But yes, that's state law on stray animals of any type. With something like this, it might be even longer, but at the minimum 7 days."

"How much is this costing us?!?" Jack grunted in a rather animated manner.

"Not so very much, Jack. People walk off with more from the gift shop each week than it costs to feed that cougar. If you'd like, I can bring in some roadkill deer to help supplement that." I grinned broadly.

"You..." Jack snorted and stomped off.

I said softly. "By the way, I guess I own him now. But you weren't paying attention when I said that!" I smirked and continued on my way.

I walked down the steps to the basement... pondering things, then went into the cage with Raleigh... he came up and headbutted me, and I pet his head, pondering more things. It'd make a nice touch if I included him in our little "show and scare" tonight... but that wouldn't really do as I didn't know how he'd react to the dogs. Then I smiled broadly as I had a thought... Cleo would be prefect... she follows instructions, has a disconcerting thousand-mile stare, and... gets along with all the dogs I'd have on site.

I fished in my pocket for my cellphone, scrolled through the contacts and selected one. "Jackson here." came the answer.

"Hey Pete... how goes?" I asked while petting Raleigh as he hopped up on the loafing shelf and laid down.

"Uh oh.... what do you want?" Pete asked, half-joking but half hesitantly.

"You in the office or truck?" I asked, sitting down next to Raleigh.

"Office, why?" Pete asked.

"Angela there?" I inquired.

"Just left." he said. "Would you... never mind. Just ask what you want to ask."

"Put Becky on if she's handy." I instructed.

"Hello?" the feminine voice answered.

"Hi Becky... you're going to have a little different closing routine. Tether Maverick out on the loading dock. It'll be dark by closing and the light isn't working again. There's no cameras in the kennels or the dock and incinerator area, so you don't have to worry about anything. There ARE cameras in the office area. Anyway... tether him to one of the dock-edge posts. He's good about that. Go on and check out as usual, and walk to your car then go around BEHIND the building to where you tethered him, then walk the same path back to where you parked the other day. I figure that's where you usually park. The cameras are only on the front of the lot and the office and emergency exit doors outside. That'll let you get him and then leave without really being seen. Do you know where the old shoe factory is on Pine near the old railroad yard junction tower?"

"That brick building with the big chimney and water tank on top?" she asked.

"That's the one. You'll pull up there. There'll be a guard at the gate. Tell him you're making a delivery and he'll let you through. Someone will meet you down there. Hand Maverick off to them, and turn around and leave. It'll be alright, but it's important that you do so and not really be seen. Ok?" I made sure to inflect heavily on that last sentence.

"Is he gonna be alright?" she asked. "It sounds rather... cloak-and-dagger."

"It is... which is why I don't want to involve you any more than necessary. Pull Maverick's card and packet too, so he's just off the books once again." I smiled.

"O...ok, Mr. Peters. I'll do that. Do you want to talk with Officer Jackson again?" she asked.

"I do, and thanks Becky. I do appreciate it." I smiled.

"Jackson here." came over the phone and I repeated some of what I told Becky in condensed form. "Ah, ok. Will do. Anything else or can I take some headache pills?"

"Nope, that's all... see you around Pete." I said and the call ended.

* * * * *

I finished off the computer work I had been doing then pondered... four dogs and a lioness in my Blazer... that would definitely be a full lot. I sighed guessing I'd have to take the truck. Or.... no, I'd take the Blazer. It'd be tight but it'd be alright. Two in the way back. Cleo and Maverick in the back seat, Reggie in front, or however.

I strode into the Main office. "Checking out for the day, Emily." I said cheerily.

"I didn't know it was closing time yet!" came Jack's voice.

"No, it's not. I've got some things to do tonight and I have to get ready." I smiled.

"Oh? And just WHAT might those things be?" Jack asked.

"Intimidating a district court judge into dropping out of the election and ceasing harassing folks because I have information on him that wouldn't be looked kindly upon by the electorate!" I smiled, speaking facetiously.

"You... yeah... I'm sure. You're probably going to try to find a way to get the crowds in on Thanksgiving. Well the ZOO IS CLOSED. So just give it up." Jack griped.

"Ok." I smiled to Jack. "I'm sure that's what you think..." I then turned to Emily. "Anyway, just sign me out and I'll see you... Monday?" I winked.

"That's if I don't come in for overtime." she smiled. Jack just stomped back into his office and slammed the door.

"Are you really going to do that, or did you just say that to get Jack to shut up?" she asked quietly.

I chuckled. "You don't know me well yet, so you ask those kinds of questions. With me, one never knows!" I winked again and smiled broadly. "Jack... isn't really worth my trouble, and if it came right down to it, isn't even in my political league."

Emily smiled. "I'll see you around, Mr. Peters.

* * * * *

The sun was sinking lower in the sky as I pulled up with my Blazer full of animals... 6pm... the jet should be heading back now... the flight plans registered for three aerodynamic test flights for the testing of a new navigation system. The Judge would be required to keep his phone off during the flight - likely he wouldn't know there's no difference between commercial and private jets' transponder systems, but... we could take advantage of what he didn't know.

I pulled up to the gate in the fence surrounding the old shoe factory and an armed guard stopped me. "I can't let you in, sir. Building inspection going on."

"They're expecting me inside for the party." I smiled. "I brought the party favors." I gestured to the back, at which Cleo sat up and pressed her nose against the glass.

"Holy shit, mister. Is that a lion?!?" the guard stepped back a foot or two.

"Lioness, actually." I turned. "Cleo, lay down. We're almost there." I turned back to the guard as Cleo laid back down on the back seat. "There will be one more animal delivered here tonight for the happenings. It'll be a 30-something woman with a worried look driving a older compact sedan with a Malamute in it. Ok? She's to be let through. Anyone or anything else does not enter apart from the Town Car. Let that through both directions after speaking with the chauffeur. Ok?"

"I... don't know who you are but apparently you're the one running this show here... aren't you?" the guard said.

I shook my head. "He's likely already here. A white limo with blackout in the back. I'm just the guy that set it all up and whose ass it'll be if it doesn't run smoothly." I smiled.

"I don't envy you, mister... go ahead on in. And good luck." he saluted.

"Thanks officer. You're doing a good job." I smiled, rolled up my window and continued to the far end of the building.

Andy was there, as was Eric himself. "Hey... I see the white limo but where's he at?" I asked.

"He's waiting in the limo. You know how he is... or at least that's what the driver said," Andy volunteered I smiled and nodded.

"Drop the private leads to the car?" I asked. Eric nodded. "All sets are operational, the office bank, the split line to the limo, the control booth... everything."

"Good... I brought the live entertainment, except for one who will be dropped off later." I smiled and opened the door. All the dogs piled out and started milling about. Cleo stepped out hesitantly and I lip-squeaked and pointed into the door.

"Who's the one following? I recognize all these ones." Andy asked.

Eric just stood widely aside for Cleo. "That cat has a meeeeeean stare."

I chuckled "I hope it'll be equally disconcerting to Judge Clemens."

I walked along the corridor. "I want Noble and Grace on the far side, Reggie and Maverick on this side." I said.

"Maverick?" Andy questioned.

"The one yet to come. Judge Clemens' last canine victim... I hope." I commented.

Both Andy and Eric looked confused. I checked my watch. "He's due to be executed in... 43 minutes. Judge should arrive at the airstrip at that time, and be driven here... that should take about 13. Half an hour for the night fright. He'll wobble out of here a little before 8pm, and with "tailwinds" be back at Hanger 28 at 9:30. The plane will take back off and he won't know it circled the field and landed again, citing malfunctions in the new navigational system."

"I thought you said he's going to be put down?" Andy said, looking confused.

I smiled broadly. "New player. Minor role. We'll see how well she handles it."

Eric rolled his eyes. "With THIS going down tonight, you decided to have a newbie involved?!?"

I shook my head. "She's just being transport... gate guard has the details. Now... let's get crackin' before the Judge arrives. I'll have to wing most of it, and hope I'm not too rusty running the electronics."

I walked into the "private office" attached the the back of the old main office. Unless one looked too closely, they wouldn't notice the "bricks" were cookie-formed rather than true masonry. There was a bank of CRT black-and-white monitors - old-school to be sure - facing the office chair. "Nice touch, Eric... I see those years in California paid off."

"Thanks... I do get creative now and again." he winked.

"Cleo..." I called. "Lay down here, please, and face that way.." I pointed. "I'm going to need your help tonight to scare someone. Ok?" I asked. Cleo nodded.

"Did she just....?" Eric asked.

Andy and I just chuckled. "Don't worry about it. She's special." Andy offered.

"Do you have a spare earbud?" I asked.

Eric fished one out of his pocket. "Who you need to tie in?" he asked.

"Her." I smiled and knelt down to where Cleo was chest-laying. "I'm going to be able to see you from the monitors... this is how I can talk to you, ok? It's going to feel a little funny, but if you're a good girl, I'll give you a special treat when we get home, ok?" Cleo looked at me, looked at the device, and nodded haltingly.

"It won't hurt... It'll just go..." I lifted the pinna of her ear and pressed it into her ear canal. "I'm sure it feels strange, but does it hurt?" I asked. She shook her head. I fuzzled her. "Good girl."

"She doesn't really understand you, does she?" Eric asked incredulously.

I nodded. "I don't know just how WELL she understands, but simple speech she does understand quite well. Simple instructions, too."

"Ok... so... what's up with the dogs?" Andy asked, and Eric nodded.

"It sort of depends on what "Karl" and the judge will be saying, but... the gist is he'll start questioning the Judge about various things, the Judge will likely be a little disturbed by Cleo's presence, and appearance. Then when he's confronted by accusations and the dogs he's ordered to be killed... I'mmm.... thinking he's likely to have a laundry problem and collapse like a house of cards when he sees them alive." I smiled broadly.

"That... sounds JUST like something you'd set up." Andy laughed and clapped me on the back.

"I'll cue you when I can I'll just have to figure out who's on what signal and all with the mic once I get in the drivers' seat." I smiled.

"Ok... let's get you up there, then." Andy smiled.

"Oh... Eric, you take Noble and Grace, the Akitas. Andy can handle Reggie and Maverick. That way Andy can be out to take Maverick in when Becky shows up with him." I commented.

"Becky?" Andy asked.

"Shelter worker. Maverick was one of her special ones so... we'll see how she does. At the very least she'd be a good contact and looks like she'd be able to help with small errands." I replied.

"Ah... well... I guess that settles things." Andy smiled. "Mr. Plan-it-all here."

"You're forgetting one thing." I smiled.

"What's that?" Andy asked.

"I don't know where you guys put the control booth!" I smiled and we all laughed.

* * * * *

"Ok, everyone get ready... the judge just arrived. Hope this all works." I said through my mic to all signals.

"We do, too," came from both Andy and Eric.

I watched the monitors as the limo pulled into the lot after passing through the main gate. The chauffeur opened the door for the Judge and then led him inside, admitting him to the front office, and then to the private office.

"I'm supposed to meet a... Karl Schutznagel here?" Judge Clemens spoke, entering the darkened "office" lined with packed bookshelves and the far end the desk, behind which the chair sat with Karl facing the glow of the monitors. The back quarter of the office was then instantly illuminated with bright lights centered about where the Judge was standing.

"Zo you'vf kom at lasst." the heavy German accent clear to the Judge. "I'vf been exschpecking you." Karl spoke as he faced the monitors, strumming his fingers on the chair's arm, his large alumnist's ring glinting every so often with the reflection of the monitors. The lights bright on the Judge's half of the room, and quite. dim on Karl's. Cleo stared at the Judge from her spot alongside the massive wooden desk and growled. "Kviet, my sveet. He'ss nawt zat important." Cleo quit growling but still stared at the judge.

"You know... I could have her shot for that..." the Judge took a half-step forward and pointing at Cleo, getting a little assertive, though a somewhat unnerved at Cleo's unfocused stare.

Karl tilted his head a bit and chuckled through his nose. "Und you zhould know zat I could haf you disshapear und nevvr to be found... But zhat is nawt vat vee are here for, iss it?" Karl's right hand slapped the chair arm. "I haf taken kvwite an interessht in zis elekshon you are in, Herr Klemens. I underschtand you are up for vote again, ja?"

The Judge stepped back a little at the bold threat to his safety, and merely nodded. "Your assistant said you wished to contribute to my campaign... substantially."

"Dis may be true... ass I do from time to time... BUT!... Dere hass been some troubling kvestionz raised... about... matters zat interessht me, that I vish to exchplore before I make any deschision." Karl intoned.

"What.... kind of questions?" the Judge seemed to be off his game at the moment, at least compared to his cool demeanor at the pound the other week.

"Iss it true zat you've been ordering ze killing of dogs und ozzer animals at ze county pound?" Karl asked, tapping his walking-stick on the ground a couple times.

"It is. Dangerous dogs are to be destroyed without question! They've no right to exist!" Judge Clemens became rather animated.

"Kviet yourself, Herr Klemens!" Karl said loudly, and Cleo resumed growling. He shushed her with a slight twist of his chair towards her and a patting gesture of his hand. "You haf no more right to zay such things here zan a schtreet sveeper!" Karl spoke firmly. "Zis from a man who hass various... sings to hide himself, ja?" Karl tapped his walking-stick on the ground firmly, to emphasize the point.

"How do you.... know about that?" Judge Clemens was taken aback.

Karl half-chuckled. "I know many singss, Herr Klemens. Many singss. Iss it true zat you ordered one to be killed even tonight?" Karl's fingers strummed against the chair's arm again.

"Huh? Yes... he... is dangerous." the judge seemed to be more hesitant in his answers.

"Dangerous in vhat manner?" Karls head tilted, to the side, waiting to hear the reply.

"He tried to bite a lab assistant trying to do an exam on him." The Judge loosened his tie a bit, starting to sweat from either the questions or the bright lights.

"Vhat zort of exssam vas iss?" Karl inquired, twisting his chair a little so his wispy red-white beard could be seen jutting from the narrow, pointed chin.

"Sexual assault. Someone had carnal relations with the dog, making him wholly unsuitable to be returned to any ethical society. His biting habit made him even more dangerous, both being wholly unacceptable!" the Judge reaffirmed his stance.

"Stand by, Andy... let just Maverick in for the moment..." I said through the intercom mic.

"Really.... und by vhat aussority iss it for you to make such a deschision?" Karl started strumming his fingers again, swiveling to the video bank once again. "I know a few uf ze laws heer..."

"By God and by the people to enforce the laws." Judge Clemens straightened himself, as if making a speech.

"Ze lawss of God, or ze lawss of man, Herr Klemens?" Karl tapped his cane a couple times.

"Both!" Judge Clemens exclaimed.

"Unter vhich lawss vere you klaiming ze dog vas dangerous?" Karl tilted his head some.

"Both." Judge Clemens stated firmly.

"Go, Andy!" I said in my mic.

The door open and in padded Maverick, coming up to the seated figure. Karl chuckled softly "He doeschn't zeem very dangerous to me..." Karl said, patting Maverick on the head.

"How.... How is he alive? He's supposed to be... oh I'll GET that animal officer!" Judge Clemens started winding up again.

"Andy, Eric... GO!" I said in the mic. Both side doors opened and in padded the three other dogs.


"How.... how can... they ARE! But... I saw...." Judge Clemens started shaking and moved back to the door, vainly trying to twist the locked handle as Noble, Grace, and Reggie started growling and moving towards the Judge.

"Kalm yourself, Herr Klemens...." Karl said, and with a breathy-whisle all three dogs turned to pad towards his chair. "Vat you VILL do, iss ceace bozzering zose who you are bozzering. Ze varden, ze vorkers, und the people et larrge. You VILL zhtop ordering ze killing of dogs at ze zhelter ass you haf been. Loving an animal iss nawt a krime... nawt viss ozzer vorse krimes in ze vorld. Ivf you don't kvit zees sings... zen your secrets VILL be revealed zat you yourself are a..." Karl tilted his head as the Akitas and Reggie again growled at the Judge as he took a step towards the desk. "vass ist ze vord? Deadbead Dad?... Among ozzer, more kvestionable, singss." A broad grin spread across the face of the older gentleman, visible in the reflection of the monitors. "Now vill you agree to zees termss, or vill I schpill ze beans, so to schpeek, to ze oppozition, und give zem my money?"

"I.... I....." the judge looked hard at the dogs.


"Ok... ok. I'll give in... for now. But you've not heard the last of me!" Judge Clemens pointed his finger.

"Oh... I'm vairly zhure I haf, Herr Klemens. I know who vill be ze nexht judge. Und he vill zerve ze people for a long... long.... long.... time." Karl smiled and patted Maverick's head again, the others having seated themselves but paying full attention to the Judge.

"This is some trick! I'll investigate it! You can't just push me around this way!" Judge Clemens bellowed.

Karl cackled. "Vee haf, und vee vill again, Herr Klemens. Ivf necesssary. Und ivf you invezhtigate zis... nawt only vill it lead novhere, but it vill make you zheem as a dumkopf to zee ozzers aroun you." Karl chuckled. "You don't zhink I make an international fortune vithout learning a few trickss along ze vay, no?" Karl started cackling with laughter. "You are VINISHED, Herr Klemens... Take your leaf vile you schtill kan!" Karl threw his right hand out in a brush-off manner.

With that, Judge Clemens found the door was now unlocked. He stormed out of the office, stomped out of the building and demanded the chauffeur take him back to the jet so he could return home.

"And.... that's a wrap!" I said through the mic.

* * * * *

I climbed down from the control booth and entered the office as both Andy and Eric applauded.

"I try my best" I winked. "I just played puppetmaster was all."

"And quite a good job of it, too..." Andy said. "So... how long is the boss going to be in town?"

I pointed to the monitor bank, which clearly showed the white limo passing through the gates on its way out. "I guess that would answer your question."

"But what about the Club, and the properties?" Andy asked.

I passed him a manila envelope. "I think his orders will be in here. Probably along with either a Grand Cayman or Swiss bank account number if he intends to buy them. I didn't ask and he didn't say."

"And what about you with the Zoo?" Andy asked.

I shrugged. "I think he hopes that would resolve itself without anything further... but I guess the Board has more say over that than anything. I'd rather not have a split vote but... we'll jump off that bridge when we get to it. Was Becky really bothered by this when she rolled up with Maverick?"

Andy shook his head. "The handoff went well, no fuss, no muss... she hugged and kissed him though so I can see what you meant by him being special to her."

I smiled. "He's special to me, too."

"Think this all will take?" Eric asked... then received a text on his phone. "Judge just took off for home."

"As far as whether he's intimidated enough to quit acting like a shit, that I don't know... only time will tell about that. But... for now... I think we gave him the trouser-chili treatment we set out for." I smiled. The others laughed heartily and I started leading my menagerie to the Blazer to head for home.

* * * * *

I was born in Saginaw, Michigan. I grew up in a house on Saginaw Bay My dad was a poor, hard-working Sagniaw fisherman Too many times he came home with too little pay.

I loved a girl in Saginaw, Michigan The daughter of a wealthy, wealthy man. And he called me, that son-of-a-Saginaw-fisherman Not good enough to claim his daughter's hand.

Now I'm up here in Alaska Lookin' around for gold. Like a crazy fool I'm a-diggin' in this frozen ground so cold.

But with each new day I pray I'll srike it rich and then I'll go back home and claim my love In Saginaw, Michigan.

I wrote my love in Saginaw, Michigan I said "Honey I'm comin' home, please wait for me. And you can tell your dad, I'm comin' back a richer man. I've hit the biggest strike in Klondike history."

Her dad met me in Saginaw, Michigan. He gave me a great big party with champagne. And he said "Son, you wise, young ambitious man. Will you sell your father-in-law your Klondike claim?"

Now he's up there in Alaska, diggin' in the cold, cold ground. The greedy fool is lookin' for the gold I never found.

And it serves him right, and noone here is missin' him. Least of all the newlyweds of Saginaw, Michigan.

We're the happiest man and wife in Saginaw, Michigan.

He's ashamed to show his face in Saginaw, Mighican.

I'm the luckiest man alive in Saginaw, Michigan.

That tune kept running through my head on the drive back home with Cleo and four dogs, comparing the judge to the father in the song, thinking of the psych-out show and how we probably just up-ended Judge Clemens' career, though, naturally, only time would tell with that one. At the very least, Maverick was still alive, the Judge got scared, and even if he recognized the location, in the morning there wouldn't be anything more than a vacant shoe factory building from 1911.

I turned around in my neighbor's driveway and grabbed my mail from the mailbox before driving up my farm lane... pondering things as I went. Next up... the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I still had a lot of work to do there, that's for sure.

* * * * *

I was in a little early the next morning, even though it was a Saturday. I made a few phone calls regarding the parade, and worked on some of the incessant paperwork a place as large as the zoo generates. There came a knock on my door.

"Kommen sie." I called out.

"That mean I can come in?" Lew Symensma asked.

I chuckled. "One of the faces I didn't really expect to see, but yeah, come on in." I smiled.

"Nice hole you got here... though I see you do at least have a window to jump out of." He winked.

"What brings you out here?" I asked.

"Had a call a couple blocks over, so I figured I'd come visit while they wrapped things up for a half-hour or so. You all get a new skeleketary in there?" Lew thumb-pointed in the direction of the main office.

"Yeah... Director Benin fired Julie... first court appearance keeps getting pushed back for her wrongful termination suit." I smiled.

"Sounds troubling..." Lew frowned a bit.

I smiled and shook my head, leaning back a bit in my chair. "Not from my side. You see, the director's been more and more cocky the past while, and.... now it's time for the showdown scene where this zoo ain't big enough for the two of us. He's trying to get me fired, and I'll rebut him by asserting managerial incompetence. The lawsuit plays right into my hands because it will vanish if they hire me on as director." I grinned broadly.

"I'm glad I'm not on the wrong side of you these days!" Lew chuckled. "So, ya got everything ready for the parade?"

I snorted. "Not by a long shot, Lew. I've got a few calls in but so far it'll be an awful short parade."

"Well, maybe I can help." Lew said.

I chuckled. "I already have you down for running old #3 through with some kids or something on the back. Family of crew, you know."

Lew sat down and scratched his beard stubble. "Ever talk to John Cunningham of the old car club?" He asked.

I furrowed my brow. "Never knew there really WAS a club right here. I know folks have vintage vehicles, but... mostly the folks from the tractor show, though."

Lew smiled. "Yeah... I'll give him a call for ya. How many would you need?"

I chuckled "As many as he can bring out. I've already got Stretch Johnson gathering a few folks with vintage iron. But let them know there will be horse crap on the roads if they want their wide whitewalls to stay sparkly white. I'll try to have them back behind the cinderbelchers, but no guarantees."

"Cinder belcher? You're rolling your Case through town again?" Lew smiled.

"Up front just behind the color guard... all the way this time!" I winked. "Cage wagon too. Need to find more critters, though."

Lew pondered. "My cousin's boy has a sled team. Would that help?"

I chuckled. "That'd work, so long as his sled's got wheels, too. Someone can ride in the basket and toss candy. Got something special coming since the Santa float is owned by the zoo."

"Oh? What's that?" Lew smiled.

"Not telling... that's gonna be a surprise for everyone, even Joe Clark." I smiled broadly.

"Ok, Jim. I'll make that call for ya and see how many folks we can dig up." Lew smiled. "I'll let ya get back to whatever you were workin' on."

I nodded. "Thanks for dropping in. I'll see you around, I'm sure."

I got to thinking... I did need more animals for the parade to seem like years past. Then I saw the packet of papers Pete had given me about the cougar. I opened the envelope and started fishing through them, and found the USDA paperwork on Raleigh. I gave the number a call.

"Hello?" the male voice came on the other end.

"Is this Peterson Entertainment?" I asked.

"Kinda... you a bill collector or something?" the skeptical answer came from the other end.

"Oh, no. I'm Jim Peters, head keeper at [name omitted] Zoo. I'm the fellow that found your cougar the other day." I smiled.

"Oh... well... I ain't taking him back, if that's what you're calling about. I spoke to some animal control officer about him. We're going broke as it is, and ain't gonna need another mouth to feed." came the terse response.

"Perhaps... " I canted my jaw. "Mind if I ask you a few questions about your business?"

"I guess I don't mind. Shoot." the man responded.

"Are you having trouble booking events, or... maintenance... animal care... What really is the issue you're having business-wise?" I asked.

"What business is it of yours?" the man inquired.

"Well, it really isn't. But I used to have a tag-along show of my own a number of years ago, before I became the head keeper at the zoo. So... I figured I might try to find what's wrong and offer some help or advice?" I offered.

"OHHHH! That's a horse of a different color. I thought you... nevermind." The man's attitude changed noticeably "Naw... it's just... equipment's wearing out, my wife has been crabbing about running around like that... kids are growing up and she has to be home with them for school when I'm still out on the road... stuff like that. But, yeah... events aren't as common as they once were for me neither."

"What sort of animals do you have?" I asked.

"Three black bear, a half-dozen spotted hyena, two aardwolf - you know, the sorta kin to hyenas? Um... a pair of tigers, pair of lions, a zebra that little kids can ride on. Um..." I could tell he was thinking. "Oh, yeah... the brother and sister to that cougar you got. Helena and Bozeman. My... kids kinda named them. We'd traveled a lot."

I chuckled. "Well... how soon you planning on wrapping up?" I asked.

"Hell, I may as well have quit already, for all these critters are costin' me to feed." He grumped.

"Are you booked for Thanksgiving?" I asked.

"Nope. Don't plan on doin' NUTHIN'." He said.

"Oh... well, that's a bit too bad as... I kind of had a gig available for you and the animals." I said.

"Oh? What kinda gig?" the fellow sounded a bit more interested.

"Thanksgiving Day Parade. You've got animals, and I need a few more than what I already have to make it worthwhile." I replied.

"Well... what's it worth to you?" he asked, kinda chiseling about it.

I pondered long and hard. "Let's just say if you come up, and your gear and animals are in good condition, retirement may be preferable to bankruptcy."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" he inquired.

"Yes. I might be interested in buying you out. Lock, stock, and coffeepot. BUT... I'd have to see the goods. And if not... you get your normal fee without having to set up or anything. How does that sound?" I asked.

"You some kinda rich fuck?" the man asked crassly.

"I don't throw money around readily, if that's what you're asking, but compared to some folks I'm filthy rich. Compared to others I'm not even moderately well-off. Let's just say I've made some good long-term investments over the years in items that have increased in value." I side-stepped things.

"How do I know you can afford to buy me out if I drive all the way up there?" he asked.

"I'm putting together a parade, for one thing. Name the average citizen that does that. Second is, that someone has to be funding the parade if it isn't me. If so, then I know people with money. Third thing is... you don't. All you have is my word, but I wouldn't be in the position I'm in if I were a lying, cheating son-of-a-bitch that was out only for his personal gain. Does that all make sense?" I inquired.

"I s'pose so. Ok... where and when do I have to be there?" he asked. I gave him the date, location, and time.

"How many trucks you have coming?" I asked.

"Three full 53-footers if I can find a couple more folks with rigs to pull them if'n you want everything. Usually I hire Owner/operator friends of mine, but... my name is mud lately with them cuz they know I'm going under." he grumbled a bit.

"Are you still at [address omitted]?" I inquired.

"Yeah... that's home. For now at least. Why?" he asked.

"I.... might be able to arrange for drivers. I'll get back to you. Is this a good number to reach you at? And what times of day are best?" I asked.

"Now's fine... and yeah, this is my cell so it's all good. But... how ya gonna get drivers on such short notice?" he asked.

"Calling in favors from friends." I smiled.

"Well, good luck to ya, and see you the night before Thanksgiving." he said with a smile.

"By the way... what's your name? You never mentioned it." I questioned.

"OH! Geez, I must be losin' it. Bill Peterson! And yours was.... Peters, right?" he asked.

"Jim Peters, that's correct. Well, thanks Bill. See you then. I'll let you know about rigs." I chuckled.

"Ok then, m'bye." Bill said and the call ended.

I pondered then grabbed for my wallet and started fumbling through until I found the card I was looking for and dialed the number.

"Fred Blanchard." the voice came through, along with a rumbling sound.

"Fred... this is Jim Peters. The guy with the lioness." I said, reminding him who I was.

"Hell! I remember you. How've ya been?" he asked.

"Oh.... been better. I can hear you're on the road... where are you at? I... have a favor to ask." I hesitantly commented.

"Just pulled out of St. Louis eastbound... why?" Fred asked.

"I have a job for a couple trucks... just need your rigs, as there's trailers, but I don't have anyone to move them. It's a traveling show heading for our Thanksgiving Day Parade. I.... can't give you scale, but can maybe cover fuel if you'd not mind helping. Maybe do a little better than that, but I haven't talked to the sponsors yet." I laid it out for Fred.

"Well...." I heard from the other end of the line "... Hell, I'll do it. You said it was animals being hauled?" Fred asked.

"That's right... animals and equipment. USDA paperwork would be all in order, I just need rigs and drivers to move it is all." I said.

"What kinda animals? More like your lioness-girl there?" he asked.

I chuckled. "Not quite... Cleo's one of a kind. But yes, lions and tigers and bears. And hyenas, a zebra and some other critters."

"Well... sounds like it'll be right fun!" Fred chuckled. "I'll see if I can lasso Earl into helping. He'd get a kick out of that. For a parade you said?"

"Yep, I'm coordinating a Thanksgiving parade. If you wash and polish your rigs you can even have them roll in the parade itself. Just keep it to idling in first gear." I chuckled.

"You got yerself a deal there, Jim! I'll holler at you for the details once I drop this load over at Savannah and try to catch something heading near you." Fred said.

"Sounds like a plan, and thanks for your help." I smiled.

"Catch ya later. Bye." Fred said and the call ended.

"Ok... animals, check. Hauling, check. Santa, check. Music, check. Tractors, check. Cages... hm.... Oh! Now that's an idea. Hmm....." I thought to myself and then dialed the phone again.

* * * * *

"Mr. Peters..." I said as I was heading out to the cathouse.

I turned. "Yes, Jack?" I asked.

"That cougar is still here?" Jack asked. I nodded. "And apparently now in one of the enclosures on display."

Again I nodded. "Yep, that's about right."

"Why?" Jack asked.

"Um... because it would be irresponsible to leave it in the quarantine area when there are other areas that are better suited environments for it to be in on the property without incurring any more expense, nor posing any appreciable risk to either the animal population or the visitors." I said.

"I see... and who gave you permission to put the cougar on display?" Jack asked.

"Mr. James Peters, head keeper." I smiled. "Kinda helpful when I sign off on my own activities, isn't it?"

"This will be reported to the Board at the meeting." Jack sniped.

I chuckled. "Please do. I need all the support I can get!"

With that he went back into his office and slammed the door. I just shook my head in dismay and headed down the stairs.

I checked in on the wolf exhibit, and went back to the dens, but found Sam's office door locked. Turning around there was Janus at the bars, whining a bit. I reached through and scratched one of his ears... I pondered what I'd known she'd been doing with the wolves. I then shook my head... I wouldn't interfere with her charges by doing things myself... at least not right now.

I headed back out and went the rest of the way to the cathouse, and upon entering I saw people clumped to the end where Tatiana and now Raleigh were housed, as well as the still-empty enclosure. I went through the doors and up to the mezzanine... Raleigh started strafing the bars as I came up, so I reached through with both hands and pet-scritched him, amid murmurs from the visitors present. I turned around and started answering their questions and addressing their comments. Education knows no hour nor day of the week, and I'd made it a point oblige that natural curiosity whenever possible. It was my job, after all.

Transcending the Past

I must have been the first one up the next morning... at least the first of the humans. The sun was streaming in through the big picture window, Julie and Gwen were still snuggled together on the floor. Sometime overnight Reggie must have joined them...

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The Best I've Been In Years

"I don't know why I can't just drive myself, Jim..." Sam started complaining as we drove towards my place. "Easy... you're broke, I have gas, and we're going to the same place now, and we'll be both going to the same place in the morning. Julie has...

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Odds and Ends

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...

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