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, Jennifer Ironne, 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. Jake Bunny is copyright Jake Rupert. Kittiara Seng and "Callahans" are copyright Kittiara.
This story is copyright © 2003-2011 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 fare was back to normal as Clarence selected a bagel and a container of yogurt. None of the guys he usually sat with were here yet. All four chairs of one table were occupied by Jennifer, Nancy, Zig Zag, and James, so Clarence took a seat at an unoccupied adjacent table while he waited to see who else would drift in.
"The more I watch Wanda, the more pleased I am she got the part of Rose," he heard Jennifer say. "I just can't get over how she draws eyes to her every time she walks on the set."
"She's the master," said Nancy. "She does it like she's not even trying, so it works even better."
"It was the first thing I noticed when I hired her," Zig Zag added. "She was good then and she's gotten better." The smirk on the tiger-striped skunk's muzzle betrayed that she knew more than she was letting on.
Jennifer studied Zig Zag. "All right, what is it?"
"Oh, nothing," she replied airily.
Jennifer and Nancy both gave her skeptical glances.
Zig Zag sighed and gestured melodramatically. "Well, since you dragged it out of me... I know some of her secrets." She tilted her head toward the canine beside her. "Right, James?"
James, who had been trying to keep a straight face during the conversation, shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. "That should come as no surprise to anyone who works for you."
Nancy gave him a knowing smile.
Zig Zag winked at James and turned back to Nancy. "I'm going to ask Gary if you're still as good as you were five years ago. Has becoming a mom made you forget?"
Nancy huffed and bit her lip. "No comment."
Jennifer smiled at the otter. "Like riding a bicycle."
James scooted his chair back. "You girls... Just talk about whatever you want." He pulled his chair over to join the skunk. "Good morning, Clarence." He sighed. "I shall never understand women."
"If you did we'd have to kill you," Zig Zag said over her shoulder. "Wait, on second thought I'd build a dungeon and lock you in it."
James rolled his eyes, then turned to Clarence. "If you figure out Cindy you'll be doing better than any of the rest of us."
Clarence laughed. "I've b..been trying to figure out why she loves me. I still d..don't know."
"Give it up. You never will. Just accept it and go with it."
Vernon sat himself down at the table. "Morning, James, Clarence."
"G'morning, Vernon." Clarence could never bring himself to call him 'Vern', even though most of the crew addressed him thusly.
Vernon looked him over. "You might want to change into different clothes before we head out."
Clarence paused before taking the bite he was about to take. "Why? Where are we going?"
* * *
He was riding shotgun as Vernon drove the rental truck along the winding gravel road through a wooded area. In the back of the truck was the disassembled brass bed, along with cameras, costumes, and various other odds and ends they would be needing, plus a complete change of clothes for everyone ("Yep, even underwear," Martin had told him back at the hotel). He watched the car ahead of them slow down to wind its way through some bumps. The trees crowding in on either side were heavy with Spanish moss, and in some places the limbs overhead gave one the impression of going through a tunnel.
"Any idea how much farther to this place?" Clarence asked as Vernon slowed the truck to traverse the same bumps.
"No idea, but I think we're almost there." The car was being driven by Martin, with Mark and Wanda as passengers. The road seemed to go on and on. They would occasionally pass an old barn, gate or clearing to break up the monotony. Martin began slowing each time they passed a driveway. "Yep, must be getting close."
At last, the car came nearly to a complete stop at one of the driveways, then turned into it. As Vernon steered the truck in behind him, Clarence glanced over to see a rusty mailbox with the word 'Clay' painted on the side. The driveway was no more than a pair of wheel ruts. As Vernon navigated the drive, Clarence could at times hear shrubs scrape against the side of the truck, sometimes on both sides at once.
The driveway soon opened into a clearing of sorts. Martin and Vernon parked the vehicles, and everyone got out. The ground was gently sloped, and on the uphill side of the clearing stood a house that was kept up just well enough not to be called a shack. The siding had a washed out look that cried out for a fresh coat of paint. Clarence wondered for a moment if the place even had electricity until he noticed the power line angling back from it into the woods. The front porch steps creaked as a gruff but pleasant looking black jaguar emerged.
Martin padded over and they shook paws. "Lucius Clay," said the jaguar.
"Marvin?" the jaguar asked. "I thought you were a badger."
"No, I'm Martin. Marvin Badger couldn't make it. His wife got sick and he had to stay home with her."
"Ah, pity. He was such a nice gentlefur on the phone." Evidently the place had a working phone too. Lucius gestured down the slope. "So y'all know where you need to set up and all?"
Wanda stayed behind while the rest of them padded down the hill. The lower they got, the more the ground looked like it never completely dried out even when it wasn't wet enough to be considered mud. There was plenty of that as the slope continued, and farther ahead were pools of standing water. The edge of a swamp. "There any alligators around here?" asked Vernon.
"I see a gator now and then when the river's up," replied Lucius. "Don't need to worry about 'em today. Ocmulgee River's main channel's over half a mile yonder. They'll stay there."
Martin stopped, then began to pace back and forth, looking around and surveying the swamp. "I can't get muddy yet, but I think right over there is the best spot to set up," he said, indicating a muddy patch with some shallow pools around it about ten yards out. "Thoughts? Comments, anyone?"
"I can work with that," said Mark. "You're the director."
Vernon backed the truck closer, being careful not to get too close. Carrying the bed a few extra yards was a small price to pay to avoid the risk of the truck getting stuck in the mud.
Getting the bed set up and stable was a slow process. They had to set up blocks beneath the legs of the bed, and test it to make certain it would remain stable with the added weight of two furs on the bed. There was one particular muddy-looking puddle on the near side that had to be kept as natural and undisturbed as possible, so they were careful to avoid it. By the time the bed frame had been assembled, it had acquired a few mud spots that needed to be wiped down.
Clarence and Vernon looked at each other. Both were completely covered in mud up to their knees, with splashes as high as waist level. Mark was almost as bad, even though he had mostly been working on getting the cameras ready. Wanda and Martin were unable to help much as their roles required them to remain clean. Lucius had offered to help, but Martin declined.
"A lot of messy work," grumbled Clarence. "For how much footage?"
Martin couldn't help laughing. "About thirty seconds."
Clarence glanced at Mark, remembering working the sound board the previous day. "Is anyone doing sound?" he asked.
"No sound. We'll dub and foley it back at the studio."
Martin fetched a cloth for Clarence to wipe off the bed and make any dirty spots look shiny again. Once the mattress came out they had to be extra careful to avoid any stray mud or splashes, and it was soon in place. "All right, how do we make the bed," asked Clarence.
Martin thought on this briefly. "Later when I get on the bed, you guys bring out the bedding. Mark, you can help me with it if you're still the cleanest above the waist."
Zig Zag and Pacidy arrived a few minutes later. "Lunch time!" Zig Zag announced, reaching into the back seat of their vehicle. "Wow, it looks like you guys have been hard at work." A few minutes later, paws had been washed and food was passed out.
Pacidy was looking around. "Would you consider setting the bed up over there instead?" she asked Martin, indicating another spot not far from where it was currently set up. "With the camera angled toward those dead-looking trees it would give the shot a dark, foreboding look."
"I can get those trees in the background where it's at, and I plan to," Martin replied.
"Maybe," the rabbit replied, "but you'll have less open sky from over here."
Martin's brow twitched. "We're going to darken it in post-production."
"It'll look better if we can use the natural lighting to our advantage."
"After all the work we've done setting up here I'm not about to move the bed a few feet just to get a little bit better natural lighting."
As the discussion continued, Clarence knew it wasn't his place to get in the middle of it, but this was one time he was sorely tempted to. For all Pacidy might know about giving a scene just the right look, she hadn't been here all morning and had no idea how much messy, tedious work had already gone into getting the bed set up just right. The last thing he wanted to think about was having to move it somewhere else. Martin at least was aware of that aspect.
"Guys!" Zig Zag finally barked out. "You both make valid points, but we need to make a call on this. Martin is the director, and it would be a lot of work to move the bed."
Pacidy listened, and finally nodded.
Martin smiled at her. "Thank you, Pacidy. I do appreciate your input."
There was more discussion about camera angles and other details of the shot, but Clarence was breathing easier and was able to enjoy his lunch. When everyone was finished, Zig Zag and Pacidy left to return to the estate while the rest of them got back to work.
Vernon and Clarence both had to help get Martin out onto the bed. Because Vernon had taken a couple of spills earlier while assembling the bed, Clarence had to support more of the wolf's weight. Next came the bedding, which was inside a sealed plastic bag, a precaution Pacidy had insisted upon as an added measure of protection from the mud. With a bit of maneuvering, Martin and Mark made the bed. Pillows came out next and were put into place. They decided not to put the fake sham on until after Wanda was on the bed.
Wanda approached as close as she dared, even with her foot protection. She had on a pair of sweat pants and a long sleeved shirt over her costume. "Oh Clarence," she said, "are you ready to carry me over?"
"J..just be real still for me s..so I don't drop you."
Wanda couldn't resist batting her eyes at him as she put one arm around his shoulder. He put one around her and reached down to pick up her legs with the other. "My hero," she said quietly.
"Behave yourself," he replied as he gained his balance and took the first step toward the bed. Thankfully, she did behave so he could concentrate on his footing, and the exertion was the only reason he was panting by the time he placed her on the bed.
"Thanks for the lift," she said as she settled her weight.
"Let's move real easy," said Martin. "Vern, Clarence, check the blocks under the legs. Make sure we're still stable."
Once the bed was confirmed to be stable, Clarence fetched the fake sham from the truck. Martin and Wanda undertook the careful task of attaching it to the bed frame, blocking the view beneath the bed. Meanwhile, Clarence and Vernon used a couple of rakes they had borrowed from Lucius to groom away any obvious footprints.
When the sham was in place, Wanda removed the sweatpants and the shirt, revealing the costume she had been wearing in the earlier part of the dream sequence, which consisted of nothing but stockings, garters, and a lace top that failed to conceal her breasts. Martin likewise stripped down to nothing but a shirt. The two performers tucked their spare clothes safely out of sight, while Clarence retreated to dry land. Vernon remained as a spotter on the far side of the bed, and Mark got into position for the shot.
"How much we gonna get to see 'em doing?" asked Lucius, sidling up beside Clarence.
Clarence flinched. "N..not much," he answered. "It's supposed to be a dream, and... this is the end of it." He looked at Lucius, who was watching the pair on the bed get into position. "She... I mean Rose, her character... Rose was in bed with someone she likes..."
"Hidin' the sausage. Horizontal dancing."
Clarence cleared his throat. "Umm, yeah, s..something like that. And then suddenly it changes and... and she's in bed with him instead, and she gets all afraid. Then she looks up, and they're not in a meadow anymore, but here..."
Martin and Wanda had assumed their characters, and 'Malachi' now stared down 'Rose' with a severe expression on his face, while she looked shocked and afraid. The jaguar was nodding. "Ah, I see. Clever."
'Rose' was scooting back against the head end of the bed, looking around with a horrified expression at how the lovely meadow full of wildflowers had suddenly changed into this dark and dreary swamp. 'Rose' abruptly shifted to one side and dangled one foot off the side of the bed, then the other foot. "Cut," said Martin, almost in his character voice but everyone understood.
They backed up and repeated the scene for several takes. It was at least the third take before Martin was satisfied that he and Wanda were into the minds of their characters enough for their facial expressions to convey their emotions properly. He also wanted the scene filmed from multiple angles and with different close-ups to give Franklin plenty of options to splice the scene together for maximum effect.
"Excellent," announced Martin once he was satisfied that they had enough footage to work with. "Almost a wrap. We've got one last shot to get in. It's a simple shot but difficult to reset so let's be extra careful and get it right in one take."
Mark moved closer to the section of muddy puddle they had been so careful to leave undisturbed up to now, ready to get the close up shot. Martin and Wanda discussed how quickly she should move her leg. Finally, after double checking that Mark had the camera positioned properly and was rolling, Martin called out, 'Action!'
Wanda lowered her stockinged foot into the puddle and the mud beneath. The stocking and the fur beneath were soaking up the muddy water.
"Cut," announced Martin.
Mark stopped the recording, then held the camera out for Martin. He reviewed the shot a couple of times. Finally he looked up and smiled. "Awesome! Got it in one."
"Is that a wrap for the day?" asked Wanda.
"Just checking!" she cried as she got a big grin on her face. "I've been waiting to do this all day, watching you guys," she said as she removed her stockings, along with everything else she was wearing, leaving them on the bed. With that, she stepped off the bed in mud up to her ankles, gave Mark a hug, then walked behind the bed to give Vernon a hug too. By the time she came around the other end of the bed she was muddy up to her knees.
"Pacidy will bite my head off if you get mud on any of the bedding," Martin warned her.
"Oh, don't you worry about Pacidy," Wanda replied. "I know how to handle her if need be." It was just friendly banter, as Wanda was in fact being quite careful despite her playfulness.
At last, wearing only the mud, she waded out to the dry land to give Clarence and Lucius each a hug. "Does this make up for not getting to see us doing it on the bed?" she cooed to the jaguar.
"I ain't never gonna forget this day," Lucius replied.
Taking everything apart and getting it reloaded onto the truck went a lot faster than setting it up had been, in part because Martin and Wanda were able to help out.
The truck was closed, and Lucius had hooked up a hose so they could rinse off the mud. Martin and Wanda were already practically naked, and as they began passing the hose between them, Mark and Vernon seemed to have no inhibitions about stripping out of their muddy clothes, leaving them in the buff as well. Clarence glanced between them, realizing that he and his clothes were just as muddy as theirs, yet hesitant to remove his own in mixed company. But riding back to the hotel covered in mud wasn't an option and he realized he had no real choice but to follow suit. The others were exchanging friendly banter like it was the most normal thing in the world, and his hesitancy was likely to be noticed by the others if he delayed much longer. Here goes... he thought as he slid down his pants. No one else seemed to be bothered in the least about being nude in front of the others, so he did his best to act like it didn't bother him either.
Vernon, who had been the muddiest, was already done rinsing and was starting to towel off. "Damn, that water's cold!" cried Mark as he aimed the hose at different parts of himself.
"Yeah, it's deep too," Martin deadpanned.
The others let out a peal of laughter, and then Vernon remarked, "That ought to be Clarence's line."
He looked up, puzzled, to see everyone else looking his direction. "Wh..what are you guys talking about?"
Mark handed him the hose and he began rinsing himself as Vernon explained. "I guess you haven't heard that old joke. Two guys are peeing off a bridge. One of them wants to brag, so he says, 'Damn, that water's cold!'. So the other one comes back with, 'Yep. It's deep too'."
Clarence chuckled. "Oh, I get it. Funny." Then suddenly the last piece fell into place, and he turned away with a groan, fighting the urge to cover himself.
As the others made sounds of stifled laughs, Mark elbowed Vernon. "You really shouldn't embarrass him like that."
* * *
The bed had to be transferred from the rental truck to the semi-trailer once they returned to the hotel, and they took advantage of the opportunity to properly clean off what dirt and mud remained. Pacidy came out to collect all the bedding that now needed to be washed, and was kind enough to collect everyone's muddy clothes to take to the laundry as well. It was getting late and Clarence was hungry for dinner, but he could still smell the mud in his fur and decided a proper shower was in order before going out anyplace. It was after 7:00 by the time he was clean and dressed. It turned out some of the others had the same idea, for he ran into Martin in the lobby, who invited him and Vernon to an Italian restaurant he hadn't been to yet or even known of. By the time they returned to the hotel it was after 8:30. Time to call Cindy.
"It's so nice to hear your voice!" squealed the rabbit when she heard him speak.
"Me too! How was work tonight?"
"It went okay. I nearly got stiffed by a table tonight. They tried to order one last round of drinks, then sneak out on me, but Hannah saw what was happening and delayed them at the exit long enough to signal Kit and I."
Clarence recalled the ermine who had seated him on his last visit to Callahan's. "Wow! Don'tcha just hate it when customers try to pull stuff like that? Good thing Hannah was on the ball."
"For sure. She gets a cut of all the waitresses' tips. I told her she really earned it tonight."
Their conversation continued. Cindy talked more about her night at work and other things that had been going on since they last spoke. Clarence told her about working the sound board one day, then getting all muddy in a swamp the next. Cindy took in everything he had to say about it.
"You're having some awesome experiences," said Cindy at last, "but I still miss you."
"I miss you too," he replied. "I wish you could be here with me for some of it."
She giggled. "I'm not so sure about the mud."
"I'll bet you'd have fun playing in the mud. Wanda sure did when she finally got a chance."
"You probably just want to wrestle me in it."
Clarence chuckled. "We didn't get that messy, but that is a thought..."
Cindy cleared her throat. "Sometimes, Clare..."
He took a deep breath before continuing. "Speaking of Wanda, I need to tell you more about her. She's a vixen."
"I remember seeing her a couple of times. What about her?"
"Well," Clarence began, starting to stammer a bit, but then pushed forward. "I've been kind of a..afraid of her."
"Afraid of her? Why?"
Clarence was breathing a little heavier, but he'd made up his mind to tell Cindy about her, and now he was committed. "You know how shy I was?"
"You're still pretty shy."
"Yeah, I guess I am. Anyhow, Wanda... She's attracted to shy guys."
"So... She was attracted to you?"
"Yes, she was. And it scared me. I was afraid of her."
"Were you, really?" There was a pause at Cindy's end. "Why would you be afraid of her?"
"Because you're my girl. You're the one I love. And Wanda... well, she's beautiful, and... attracted to me." When Cindy didn't respond right away, he continued. "I didn't want to do anything wrong... you know, cheat on you, but I didn't want to do anything rude or, um... disrespectful to her either, and I couldn't figure out how to handle myself around her, and I just got... flustered. So mostly I avoided her."
"So, this has been going on at the studio?"
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
He could hear some irritation in her voice. "I don't know. I didn't want you to worry. I wanted to... to deal with it myself. I didn't want you to think that I... that I couldn't handle something like that."
"Clare! You know you should never be afraid to tell me about anything that's bothering you!"
"I know. I'm..I'm sorry. And you're right. That's why I decided to tell you now. I should have told you before, and I didn't want you to find out some other way."
"Okay," Cindy replied. "So maybe I'm mad at you, a little, but I'm glad you told me. So, tell me more about Wanda."
Clarence had been feeling his heartbeat pick up, and was relieved to feel it slowing once again. "Like I said, she's attracted to me, because I'm so shy. She didn't really chase me, and usually gave me space. And a lot of the time we just worked different hours. But we still bumped into each other. Literally, a couple of times."
"From what I remember of her, she seems like a flirt."
"Um... Yeah, she's like that. I think that's why she does so well in her movies. So before this trip I was all ready to have a couple of weeks to do stuff around the studio while she was away here and I wouldn't have to worry about bumping into her. Only... You know what happened."
"You ended up traveling there and had to work with her."
"Yeah, and to make matters worse... Okay, back at the studio, Marvin knew about what was going on with Wanda and I. I think he talked to her some about it, and he told me I could talk to him if I had any more problems with her. I don't think anyone else at the studio knew I was afraid of Wanda. Then when they asked me to come here to work on the crew, I figured it would be okay since Marvin was going to be here too."
Cindy continued for him. "But he couldn't go because his wife was in the hospital. I remember them passing a card around for her at the airport."
"And you kinda got stuck working on the crew with Wanda and without Marvin."
"Umm, yeah, that's right."
"So what's happened since you've been there?"
"I almost had to sit next to her on one of the plane rides, but one of the cameramen needed to talk to her and he traded places with me..."
Clarence went on to describe several of the encounters he'd had with Wanda over the previous week and a half. Most were easy to talk about, but one part in particular had him worried about Cindy's reaction, yet he knew it was a part he really couldn't leave out. So earlier while rehearsing this conversation in his mind he'd worked up what he believed was a safe approach. "I mentioned that I had written poems for you and Sabrina, and she asked if I had written any about her. I told her no. She asked if I ever would. I wasn't going to, but later I needed to talk to someone so I called Jake Mackelroy."
"Jake? He's a good one to talk to. What did he have to say?"
"I mentioned the conversation we had about poetry. We talked about me sorting out how I feel about Wanda, and he suggested it would help if I wrote that poem."
"So you wrote a poem about her."
"Yes, I did. I wasn't going to tell her about it, but after what happened at the bookstore, when she apologized for it, I showed it to her. I didn't know what she was going to think since it talks about how I'm afraid of her, but she really liked it."
"Hmmm," was all he heard from Cindy for several seconds. "Can I see this poem sometime?"
Clarence swallowed. "I'll show it to you when I get back."
"How has she been to you since then?"
"It's been better with her the last few days. I'm less afraid of her, and we've sort of become friends."
"Is she still attracted to you."
"Maybe she is. Yeah, I'm pretty sure she is. But... One reason I was so afraid of her was because I was afraid she would push me into doing something I shouldn't be doing. Now I feel like I can trust her not to do that. Plus, I've gotten more confident in myself that I can say no to her if she does."
"Clare," said Cindy, but then there was a long pause. "Clare, I'll admit this worries me, but I'm glad you're handling it well."
He was relieved that she didn't even hint at the possibility that he might have left out anything important. "Thank you, Cindy."
"Did you need anything from me?"
"I..I don't know. I just hope you're not mad at me for not telling you about her before. And that you're not worried about me cheating."
"No, Clare, I'm not mad at you. Just promise you'll never be afraid of me, or afraid to talk to me about anything like this. I love you, Clare."
Clarence was uncertain of her tone of voice. She really didn't seem mad as far as he could tell, but he wasn't sure what to make of the vibe he was getting from her. "I promise. I love you too, Cindy."
* * *
"We were talking about you at breakfast this morning."
Wanda speared a spinach leaf with her salad fork and looked up at Zig Zag. "What kind of lies are you telling about me now?" she quipped.
"The worst kind. Every tabloid in the world will be after you for an angle."
The vixen giggled. "You know the old saying. 'There is no bad publicity'."
Zig Zag smirked at her. "I learned that one a long time ago." She readied the next forkful of her own salad and leaned forward so her words wouldn't be overheard by any of the other patrons of the Wild West Steakhouse. "No actually, we were talking about how seductive you are, even when you're not trying."
"Who says I'm not trying?"
"You know what I'm talking about! I know how much you can turn up the heat when you try, but you're pretty hot when you're not trying."
It was Wanda's turn to smirk as she too leaned in and kept her voice low. "Okay, so I'm seductive."
"Why do you think I hired you?"
Wanda fluttered her eyelashes, then let out a giggle. "What of it?"
Zig Zag sat up straighter. "Do you think you could describe how you do it? Explain it. Teach someone else how to be seductive for their lover?"
Wanda perked her ears. "Why? Do you know someone that wants to learn?" For an instant, Cindy crossed her mind.
"I'm sure there are a lot of furs who would love to learn."
Wanda glanced down at her salad as she picked up a cucumber slice, then back up at Zig Zag. "There are things I do when I'm trying, and there are habits I got into a long time ago." She paused thoughtfully. "Yeah, I could teach others how to do it."
Zig Zag nodded and smiled. "Good. It would make a great instructional video."
Wanda's eyebrows went up. "Ya think?" She smiled. "So this is my next big project?"
"If you think you can pull it off."
The vixen nodded. "I can hardly wait."
Zig Zag smiled back at her. "Awesome!"
On to Chapter 15
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