Clarence Skunk, Cindy Lapine, Wanda the Vixen, Susan Felin, Debbye Squirrel, Chris Foxx, Rodney and Ellen Lapine, and Mark the Lemur are copyright Chris Yost. Martin Lupina, Nathan Fenicus, Clint Aardwulf, Nancy David, Pacidy Angelou, Vernon Procyon, Miranda Civet, Sal Simon, and most others not listed here are copyright Joe McCauley. Zig Zag is copyright Max Black Rabbit. Sabrina Mustelidae is copyright Eric W. Schwartz. James Sheppard, Rhonda Badger, Lilian Bartholomew, and Gypsy Coyote are copyright James Bruner. Marvin Badger is copyright James Bruner after a description by Chris Yost. Lee Evans is copyright Evan Mayerle. Joshua Fox is copyright Joshua Fox. Jake Mackelroy is copyright David S. Adrian. Kittiara Seng and "Callahans" are copyright Kittiara.
This story is copyright © 2003-2009 by Joe McCauley. This story may not be sold or used for commercial profit in any form or fashion. This story may not be modified in any way. This story may not be posted on any Internet site, archive, or newsgroup without the written permission of the author. Permission is granted for readers to produce an individual copy in print, magnetic or optical media for personal use only.
Characters listed as copyright this author may not be used in other works without the written permission of the author. Permission to use characters that are copyright other individuals was obtained prior to the appearance of said characters.
This is an independent work of fiction that is not canonical with any other work occurring in the same setting or featuring the same characters.
The breakfast lounge was more crowded than usual due to the number of families traveling for the weekend. There was enough perfunctory conversation going on among members of the film crew present that Clarence soon picked up that he had the morning free but would have things to do during the afternoon.
"I guess I should get my laundry done this morning," he remarked to Aaron and Vernon, whom he was seated with.
"Yeah, I need to do that too," sighed Vernon.
The bobcat looked up from his cereal. "I did mine yesterday."
Clarence shrugged. "I tried to, b..but both times I checked the laundry room was busy." The skunk gave his whiskers a twitch. "Besides, it's awkward trying t..to carry it all w..without a basket."
"Did you try asking at the front desk?" Aaron suggested. "They might have a basket or something you can borrow."
Clarence thought about the book that Lisa had loaned him. He was almost finished with it - in fact he had expected to finish it the previous evening before the incident with Wanda had left his mind a jumble and he had forgotten all about it. "I'd hate to bug th..them for something like that. They probably g..get pestered by guests too much as it is."
Aaron shook his head. "Nonsense. They probably have guests all the time who get here and realize they're missing things they're used to having at home."
"B..but it's... their stuff."
Vernon chimed in. "Most likely the stuff they loan or give out to guests is separate from their own stuff. It's just part of the service most hotels provide."
Clarence's eyes widened, and he nodded. "Oh, I see."
Standing near them at the service counter was Gypsy, who twitched an ear as she overheard part of the conversation.
Clarence returned to his room after breakfast and was separating his clothes. He had forgotten to stop at the front desk after breakfast to ask about a laundry basket, grumbling that he would have to make another trip to the front desk, when he heard a knock on his door.
Is that Wanda again?, he wondered as he padded over to the door, or maybe housekeeping? But when he looked through the peephole he saw Gypsy instead. He opened the door. "Yes?" he asked the coyote curiously.
"You said you were doing laundry today?"
He nodded. "Y..yes, I am."
"Well then, here's something that might help," she continued as she produced something made of white mesh.
Clarence blinked at it. "What's that?" he asked. "Something you want me to wash for you?"
Gypsy chuckled. "Something that might help," she continued, letting it unfold. "It's a laundry bag."
Clarence blushed. "Oh I..I thought m..maybe it was a pair of y..our stock..ckings."
She grinned. "It could be, if you're in a sack race."
"Don't you need it?"
"No, I got mine done last night."
He glanced at the bag. "You had your clothes in it?"
Gypsy cocked an eyebrow. "Are you worried about putting your clothes in the same bag I had mine in?" She paused a second and smirked as she glanced up at him. She leaned in closer and spoke softly. "If you're worried about my 'girl cooties', don't. I washed it with my last load."
The skunk blinked again. "Oh... I didn't mean... Um, I'm sorry, Gypsy," he replied with a blush.
She looked amused as she handed it to him. "You should try to relax more."
He accepted it from her. "Yeah, I guess I should. Th..thank you," he said.
"Don't mention it."
* * *
Clarence had barely gotten his clean laundry back to his room when he had to leave for the estate. Clint had assigned him to help rearrange the carriage house to clear storage space in preparation for some additional antique cars that would be arriving later in the day. Floyd, the estate butler, and Vernon were working with him, and Clint and Jason helped out at times when they weren't busy elsewhere.
"Why is it called a carriage house," Vernon asked at one point while all four of the ZZ Studios crew were present.
"At the time it was built, in 1887," said Floyd, "you didn't have cars yet. People who could afford them got around using horse-drawn carriages and carts. So the formal carriage and the utility wagon were parked over here," he gestured toward the two front spaces near the front doors. "Those would be the late nineteenth century equivalents of the car for driving to church Sunday, and the pickup truck for working the estate. The carts for more casual usage were small enough to be turned up on end when they weren't hooked up, so they were leaned up against the wall here," he continued, pointing to an area along the side wall behind the space on that side. "Along the back is where they stored all the tack for hooking up the horses, and in this corner was a stall area. The back door led out to the horse pasture. This section used to have a dirt floor."
Clint and Jason had paused to listen. "That's very interesting," said Clint, ears perking with interest. "Always fun to get a little historical background on the place."
"By the 1920s, when your film is supposed to be, the Crutchfields had their first automobile, which they kept parked in here. But they still used this building for carriages until sometime in the 1930s."
Jason spoke up. "I wonder if that means we're not being as accurate for not using any horse-drawn carriages in our filming."
Clint chuckled mildly and shrugged. "It was one of many things discussed when we were planning the film. I know Jennifer was disappointed we decided not to have any horse-drawn carriages, but Zig Zag had made the decision that as long as we can capture the overall look and feel of the time period, we shouldn't spend too much time and effort trying to be accurate in every detail if it's not important to the story. It was enough of a challenge to get enough period vehicles for the filming. It would have been a lot more work getting horse drawn carriages as well and figuring out how to handle them during a long day of shooting."
They only had about ten minutes rest before a large pickup truck arrived pulling a 30-foot trailer. Clarence couldn't help being impressed at how deftly the driver backed the trailer into the driveway in front of the carriage house, knowing that if he were to try that he'd probably end up jackknifing them. After it stopped, Clint and the driver took a few minutes to speak, then he motioned for the rest of them to come over. The driver, a lynx who looked to be nearing retirement age, was all smiles as Clarence and Vernon approached. "Are these the two gentlemen who are going to be taking care of my babies?" he said with a chuckle, placing a paw on each of their shoulders as they arrived.
Clint nodded. "Orr, I'd like you to meet two of our crew. This is Vernon, and this is Clarence," he said, indicating each of them in turn. "Guys, this is Orr."
They each extended their paws. "Greetings and salutations," said Vernon.
"A p..pleasure to meet you, sir," Clarence added.
Orr shook each of their paws in turn. "Very good. You look like hard-working responsible young gentlemen." Vernon glanced over at Clarence and raised an eye ridge, apparently flattered to be called young even if he was compared to the lynx. "I guess it's time to introduce you to my babies."
He opened the latches on the trailer and lowered the tailgate, which became the ramp. "This is Norma. She's a 1920 Stutz Bearcat. In the front of the trailer is Bruce, a 1922 Moon Roadster 6-48. I call 'em babies, but they're old and fragile..."
"Do they still run?" asked Vernon.
Orr smiled sadly and shook his head. "Haven't in years. I keep the parts that still work in good shape, but the motors are just too far gone and replacement parts are hard to come by."
The raccoon nodded. "So we get to push 'em, right?"
"Right. Think you guys can provide the muscle while I brake and steer?"
Once the Stutz was down the ramp on level ground, Orr gestured to Clarence as he stepped out of the vehicle. "Come here, young man. I want to make sure you know how to operate her."
"What, you're afraid you can't handle someone like Norma. I'll bet a lad like you is real smooth with the ladies."
Clarence cleared his throat, his muzzle twitching as his ears pinked just slightly. "Eh... Okay," he uttered.
The lynx studied him. "Are you wondering why I'm doing this? It's 'cause I'm not gonna be around in the morning when you guys have to move these babies to the horseshoe drive out front, so I'm appointing you to work the controls. Think you can handle that, young man?"
Clarence practically beamed at him. "I'll treat her well, sir."
Orr helped Clint and Vernon push while Clarence steered the vehicle into its spot inside the carriage house. The most important thing he learned was not to force the steering wheel too hard when it was sitting still.
They repeated the exercise with the Moon Roadster, with Orr at the controls until it was outside on the driveway. This time he drafted Vernon into the driver's seat as they finished parking the antique roadster in the carriage house.
Orr placed a paw on each of their shoulders as he spoke to Clint. "Can I make these two responsible for seein' to it that my jalopies are properly cared for when you've got 'em out for your film tomorrow?"
Clint smiled at Clarence and Vern. "Of course."
* * *
They had unloaded and stored another inoperable antique automobile from a different owner by the time two more vehicles arrived. These were current year models provided by one of the car rental agencies at the Macon airport. They stopped and both front doors on both vehicles opened. From one stepped Zig Zag and James Sheppard. From the other emerged two middle-aged and moderately overweight figures, both of whom Clarence recognized from having seen them on occasion back at the studio. One was Sal Simon, an actor who passed for a wolf though he admitted to some mixed heritage.
The other was Jennifer Ironne, the bespectacled mouse who was the writer of the story. "Oh, my word, this place looks incredible. It's even better than it looks in the footage you've been sending back," she said to Clint as the producer approached his new arrivals.
"So this is your playground," remarked Zig Zag. "It looks like you've been having lots of fun here at my expense."
The aardwolf chuckled. "It's all part of the art of filmmaking."
Floyd stepped up beside Clint. "Whenever you're ready, Miss Zig Zag, I'll be happy to give you and the rest of your entourage a quick tour of the estate."
The skunk hybrid looked back at him. "No 'Miss', just call me Zig Zag. And I would appreciate it after Clint and I have had a few minutes. So, has my unruly crew been making your life difficult?"
The capybara smiled at her. "I can truthfully say that working with them on your movie has been an experience unlike any other I've ever had in my job as butler of this estate. But overall they have been a pleasure to work with and treated the property well."
Zig Zag studied the butler for several long seconds, then broke into a smile almost as if she were flirting with him. To outward appearances Floyd was unfazed. Finally she spoke. "Good to hear, and thank you for all of the support you've provided. Please pass my thanks along to the Daltons as well."
"You're very welcome, ma'am, and I certainly will."
"Good to see you made it," the raccoon replied.
"You haven't been harassing the girls, have you?"
"Of course, ma'am," he chuckled. "It's part of my job."
"Then I guess I'll have to ask them how well you've been doing it. How about you, Clarence?"
"M..me too, Zig Zag."
"Oh really? Which ones?"
The skunk's ears blushed. "Which... Oh uh... I meant, I was doing... my job."
Zig Zag laughed heartily. "Just kidding. I'd be more worried about them harassing you."
"Okay. Well, I..." Clarence got that much of his automatic response out before he thought of Wanda and froze up.
Zig Zag grinned at him. "They're a feisty bunch aren't they. But I do appreciate you joining the crew here on such short notice to help out more than you know."
She turned to Clint. "How have you been holding up? Moving cars today, I see."
"The things a producer has to do to get a story on film," he replied with a chuckle. "It's been fun so far."
"I'd like to hear all about it." She gazed at him with a grin. "Do you think you could go chase down Marty and Nancy for me? Pacidy too if she's not too busy. Jennifer and I will meet y'all in a few minutes. Is it cooler inside the house?"
Clint raised an eyebrow at her atypical use of the southern variant of the second person plural. "Here comes Martin right now," the aardwolf replied. "I think Nancy and Pacidy are inside working on costumes or something."
* * *
The executive members of the crew emerged from their meeting about an hour later. "Hey, Zig Zag," shouted Gypsy as she ran up, tail wagging, to meet her boss. "How was the trip down?" Miranda was right behind her.
"Awesome," she replied. "A few people recognized me on the flight. As usual I'll remember the ones who asked for autographs and forget the ones who gave me dirty looks. Except for the one whose husband asked me for an autograph."
"Lucky you," said Miranda. "I can hardly wait..."
"Don't look forward to it too much," Zig Zag shot back. "You wouldn't like some of the attention I get."
"Yeah, I know," the civet replied with a frown. Beside her, Gypsy gave a knowing nod.
"So have you two scoped out the nightspots for me?"
"I didn't know we were supposed to..." Miranda began.
Gypsy elbowed her. "She's just tugging on your chain."
"Not entirely," Zig Zag replied with a grin. "I know you better than that."
Miranda bit her lip and turned to Gypsy, who was tilting her head and rolling her eyes a little as she smiled back at her boss. "Well, yes, as a matter of fact. We did find a couple..."
Zig Zag places a paw on her shoulder. "Good, it'll be nice to have someone who can show me to a good place to unwind after a hard day of work on the set. Maybe you could even show me one tonight."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked Nancy as she and Jennifer walked up behind her.
"Why not?" asked the tiger-striped skunk as she turned to face the otter.
"You never know who might decide to tag along," replied Nancy, "and we have a big day tomorrow. I don't want to risk half our crew overindulging."
Zig Zag met her gaze, but Jennifer spoke up next. "Around here, establishments that serve alcohol are closed Sundays. Any places they've scoped out aren't going to be open again until tomorrow."
Zig Zag pursed her lips, then smiled. "I guess that settles that," she replied, fixing her gaze on Nancy. "If all goes well tomorrow, THEN we'll have a good time."
Nancy sighed, and finally nodded in agreement. "Are you ready to find Floyd so he can give you and Jennifer that tour of the estate?"
* * *
The hostess led the group of six to a round table near the center of the dining area, helping them get seated and handing them menus. They smiled politely as the hostess pointed out the daily specials.
From partway across the room, a wolverine seated with his wife at their usual table looked over to see who was being seated. He took note of their appearance - three males, an aardwolf and two wolves, one of whom appeared to be a hybrid, and three females, an otter, a mouse, and a skunk hybrid. The only two who were a couple, judging from their body language, were the skunk hybrid and the wolf hybrid. Although he didn't know every name or face in town, it wasn't very often he saw a group this size that he didn't know any of visiting his favorite restaurant. But though he had never met any of them, he knew who one of them was.
Looking away from the group and back to his wife, the disgust in his voice was evident. "If that don't take the cake," he muttered. "We've got a porn actress here in town."
* * *
"The humidity here is stifling. I don't think I could live here without air conditioning." Wanda allowed herself to wax melodramatic. "And it doesn't cool off very much at night either. Did you hear we had some camera problems because of the humidity?"
"Yes, I heard. Good thing we figured that one out." Zig Zag was looking around as she padded through Wanda's room, and her eyes fell on a piece of paper on the desk. "What's this?" she asked.
Wanda flinched in surprise. Luckily for her, Zig Zag was studying the sheet rather intently so Wanda had plenty of time to recover before the skunk noticed her reaction. "Oh, I got that the other day from a fan. I thought it was pretty nice."
Zig Zag nodded. "Very nice indeed." She looked up at the vixen. "Do you mind if I borrow this for a few minutes?"
Wanda cursed herself for having left the poem out in plain sight; she hadn't considered the possibility that someone might visit her room or that she wouldn't get the chance to straighten up a little and put it away if they did. It took all of her acting skill not to give Zig Zag any sort of reaction, but couldn't think of any good excuse for denying the request. "Umm, sure, just don't lose it."
"Sure thing. I'll get it right back to you."
* * *
In another room down the hall, Clarence closed his eyes with a smile on his face. He'd spent over an hour on the phone, burning through his calling card as they celebrated their time apart being more than halfway through. He couldn't remember three-fourths of what he talked to Cindy about but it didn't matter. What mattered most was how good he felt during and after those conversations. He was still smiling when he fell asleep.
On to Chapter 11
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