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, 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 © 2003-2005 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.
Zig Zag placed a box of donuts on her desk and looked across at the three most important furs on the production team of The Wild Southern Rose.
The aardwolf on the right was producer Clint Aardwulf, a semi-independent filmmaker who called his company Howl Productions. He had worked with screenwriter Jennifer Ironne to refine the script, and by the time he brought it to Zig Zag to pitch the idea of having her studio produce the movie, it was much better than the slush that typically arrived in her mail. Clint had also brought production designer Pacidy Angelou onto the team, a middle-aged rabbit whom he and Jennifer trusted to give the film the look and feel of rural Georgia in the 1920s.
The wolf on the left was director Martin Lupina. Some years earlier while a free agent, he had acted in two ZZ Studios productions. More recently he had begun directing films, including one previous effort co-produced by Clint. As such, Zig Zag and Clint were pleased to hire him as both actor and director for The Wild Southern Rose.
The bespectacled otter sitting between them was assistant director Nancy David. She had starred in more than a dozen ZZ Studios productions and was considered by some to be the quintessential demure schoolteacher, before retiring some three years earlier to get married and start a family. Now with a two-year-old child at home, she was trying to get her foot in the door on a second career as a director and possibly a producer. Her name was now Nancy Fisher, but she still used her maiden name as her screen name. She had a minor non-adult acting role in the film.
Zig Zag opened the donuts. "Good morning, and thank you for coming on such short notice. Please, help yourself." Martin and Clint each took one. "As you know, Rhonda Badger is in the hospital..."
"How is she doing?" interrupted Nancy.
"I haven't talked to Marvin since last night. She will probably come through her illness okay, but from the sound of it, she'll be there for several days." The others nodded. "And for us, that means Marvin won't be going to Georgia, at least not right away. Now as I see it, we have two options. The first is to delay the trip until Marvin is able to go. The second is to go ahead without him. Before I tell you my thoughts, I would like to hear yours."
Martin spoke first. "A lot of our plans are based on outdoor shoots taking place this time of year. If we delay, there will be subtle seasonal changes, things like the cotton fields looking wrong for the time of year the story is supposed to be taking place."
"Do you think that many viewers would notice?" Zig Zag asked him.
"You'd be surprised," Martin replied. "Besides, it's going to get hotter as it gets further into the summer, and that's going to make some of the costumes more uncomfortable for the performers."
"Okay, some good points, Marty. Clint, what do you think?"
The aardwolf looked up at her. "Nancy and I were looking over the fursonnel list and the duty rosters to see who we could shuffle around to cover all the tasks. It's a good thing you encourage your people to become familiar with different aspects of moviemaking."
Zig Zag smiled at him. "I find it helps a lot to keep a production running smoothly. Please go on."
"Just about everything Marvin was planning to do, someone else can cover for him. I see only two problem areas. First, we'll really miss him when we do the party scene and have to work with the talent agency and the antique car owners."
"Yes, I thought that might be a problem."
"Second, while we may have all the skills we need, we'll still have one less fur, and that leaves us shorthanded at a couple of critical points in the shooting schedule. If we could get one more fur, it would make our life easier."
Zig Zag nodded. "Do you have anything to add, Nancy?"
"No, they've just about covered it all," the otter replied.
"Okay, here's my take," said Zig Zag. "The truck hasn't left yet, but I'd hate to have to unload it and load it again later. With as many arrangements as we had to make with the estate, the talent agency, the antique car collectors, and everyone else, it would be a nightmare to reschedule them all. I'm in agreement with you - we should go ahead without Marvin. I know you guys can do your jobs well, and I have a lot of confidence in you."
All three of them nodded.
"There are just a couple of trouble spots we need to iron out. You all know how Marvin gets on your case about keeping things on schedule and costs within reason. I count on him to do that job. That's especially true for a location shoot. For a crew this size it's costing more than $1500 a day in meals and lodging expenses alone. So don't go slacking off on me just because he's not there. Or getting carried away about having to get the most absolutely perfect take every time." She fixed her gaze on Martin as she said the last. "I want you to pretend you've got Marvin there looking over your shoulder, lighting a fire under your tails."
"Nancy's pretty good at that, too," quipped Martin, glancing over at the otter.
"I guess you trained her well," added Clint, as Nancy cleared her throat and glared back and forth between them with her arms crossed. "Besides, it's money out of my pocket too if we run over budget."
"For the party scene," Zig Zag continued, "I don't know. We'll have to play that one by ear. That's not until the second week anyway, and maybe by then Rhonda will be well enough for Marvin to fly down and join you. If not, I may come down myself depending on how things are going on Silk Ribbons. Just plan for the possibility that you might have to handle it yourselves."
Clint shrugged his shoulders. "If we have to, we have to."
"Finally, there is the matter of getting you another fur. What abilities do you need?"
"Mostly, the sort of thing Marvin does when he's not giving orders or handling administrative stuff," Clint replied. "Grip work, sound, lighting, et cetera."
"What about Allen?" Nancy asked. "Is he available?"
"Allen is a groomsfur at a friend's wedding next weekend," Zig Zag replied. "And I need his expertise on Silk Ribbons."
There was a long pause as everyone sat in thought. "Could Clarence do it?" Clint finally said.
Zig Zag's eyebrows went up. "He's young and a part-timer, and he may find traveling with a crew like that a bit overwhelming. Still, I suppose it doesn't hurt to ask."
"I don't know," said Martin. "Most of the time he's a good hard worker, but sometimes he has a tendency to become scarce."
"True," Clint observed, "but he's predictable enough as far as that goes. It's mostly when we're filming the sex scenes that he tends to come unglued and leave the set. The rest of the time he's fine."
Nancy picked up his line of reasoning. "And we've already shot most of the sex scenes in house. Most of the footage we're shooting in Georgia is outdoors and doesn't involve sex."
"I see," said Martin, nodding. "I suppose he may fit the bill after all."
Zig Zag shrugged. "I was going to have him work on the Silk Ribbons sets, but we can manage without him." She paused and took a breath. "Anyone else we should consider?"
The four of them looked back and forth at each other. When no one spoke after a long pause, Zig Zag opened her Rolodex, found his card, and picked up the phone.
* * *
I wonder if it's Cindy, thought Clarence as he wandered from the bathroom sink to the phone. Seeing ZZ STUDIOS on the caller ID, he only had a second to wonder why they would be calling him at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. "Hello, this is Clarence."
"Good morning, Clarence. This is Zig Zag."
"Heya, boss. What's up?"
"Well, we've got a problem here and I need to ask a huge favor of you."
Clarence felt something stir in the pit of his stomach. "Wh... what kind of favor?"
"One of our Georgia film crew had a family emergency, so they are now one fur short. Would you be willing to join them?"
Clarence nearly dropped the phone. "You... you w... want me to do what?"
"Travel to Georgia and spend two weeks working on a crew that's filming on location."
The skunk sat down. "Uh... Uh... I don't know."
There was a hint of amusement in Zig Zag's voice. "I've got Clint, Martin and Nancy sitting here in my office, telling me they could really use an extra fur. If you accept, I promise I'll make it worth your while."
"Wh... What would I be doing?"
"Same sort of thing you do here but in a different place, mostly outdoors. Most of the scenes are being filmed on an estate we're borrowing from the owners." There was a pause. "We have a lot to get done in two weeks, so you'll probably be putting in lots of hours and earning plenty of overtime pay. Enough to take Cindy on a nice cruise, if that's how you wish to spend it."
"That would be nice." It was an obvious attempt to sell him on the idea, but he liked the thought. He kept listening.
"Your airline tickets, meals, hotel, and other expenses are all covered as well. It's work, but it can be a lot of fun, too."
"I, uh... I don't think I have two week's worth of clothes to bring..."
"Huh!? Well, don't worry about that. I think most of the crew are planning to do laundry at least once while they're there. That's a covered expense, too."
"How long do I have to think about it?"
"Not too long. The crew leaves tomorrow, and if you decline, we need to find someone else."
Clarence groaned to himself in frustration. "Who else are you going to ask?"
"So far, we haven't thought of anyone else to ask. Most of the others who could fill in have things like vacations planned they'd have to cancel if they were to do it. Either that, or the crew would have to make do with one less fur."
Clarence was now leaning his forehead on his left paw, feeling like his brain was going to explode from the weight of a decision he had to make in a matter of minutes. I had plans with Cindy; I was all ready to take some time off to relax, but... but... they need me. Badly, it sounds like. If I don't go, someone else with a family might have to cancel their vacation. How can I refuse to help my boss out of a difficult situation? And she said she'd make it worth my while. His head was swimming. It all seemed like too much to figure out on such short notice, especially this early in the morning.
"You still there, Clarence?" he heard Zig Zag say.
"Yeah, I'm here." He let out a heavy sigh. Though he wished he had more time to think about it, he was already reasonably certain of his answer, so why waste time agonizing over it? "All right, I'll do it."
"Are you sure?"
"I guess. It's all kind of sudden."
"You're right, it is, and I apologize for that." She sounded like she meant it. "Okay, then, I'll call the travel agency and have them make all the arrangements for you. I'll be giving them your phone number and you can expect to hear from them within an hour. In the meantime, go ahead and start packing."
"Okay. Uh... Anything else?"
"Probably, but I can't think what it is right now. Talk to you later."
As soon as Clarence hung up the phone, his thoughts started racing. Ohmigod, what have I just gotten myself into? I've got to wash clothes, I've got to ask Mom if I can borrow a suitcase, I've got to... Dang, I've never gone away for this long before. Too many things to think about. One thought was suddenly foremost in his mind. What am I going to tell Cindy? We had plans. We were going to do things together... As he sat there, as if to heap more worries on his overwhelmed mind, another femme came to mind, Wanda! Oh, cripes. I'm probably going to be around Wanda a lot. It will be impossible to avoid her all the time. His whole body went weak as he pondered that realization. Taking a deep breath, he thought about it for a moment, trying to calm himself, to think rationally about the situation. Marvin will be there. If I have any problems with Wanda, I can always go to Marvin.
Feeling somewhat relieved about that, he began to collect his laundry. One last thought about the conversation he'd just had with Zig Zag percolated to the surface. I wonder who had the family emergency. I should have asked.
* * *
As Zig Zag hung up the phone, she smiled back at the others. "Okay, you've got Clarence on your crew." Out of the blue, she started giggling, and then broke out into a full-blown fit of laughter.
They all looked at her, puzzled. "What's so funny?" asked Martin.
Zig Zag brought herself under control. "Just a few days ago, Rhonda was complaining about me sending her husband away for two weeks. I told him to spend some quality time with her or I was going to send Clarence in his place. How weird is that?"
"Very," Nancy observed.
"Have you ever considered a career as a fortune teller?" Clint quipped.
"Imagine that," said Zig Zag wryly. The banter and laughter continued for at least another minute.
"Just keep us posted on how Rhonda's doing," Martin finally said when they had all calmed down.
"I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything," Zig Zag replied.
* * *
"Hello, this is Cindy."
"Hi, Cindy, it's me."
"Oh hello, Clarence. How's your morning?"
He could hear the way her voice perked up as she recognized his, which didn't make this any easier. "Well, Cindy... I don't know how to say this, but... I've got to go on a trip for two weeks..."
"You're doing WHAT!?"
"No, no... I'm not mad. I'm just surprised. It's just that... Well, you're not the sort to just suddenly take off on a trip."
This isn't going too well. Could be worse, I suppose. "L... let me explain. It's for the movie studio. They needed me."
"Oh, uh... Okay, when is this trip?"
His voice dropped. "I have to leave tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Isn't this kind of sudden? Don't they plan these things any further ahead than that?"
Clarence groaned and shook his head. "I think they did. But someone had an emergency, and they asked me to go instead." There was a long pause when he didn't hear anything. "Zig Zag promised me she'd make it worth my while."
"And how long will you be gone? Two weeks, was it?"
"Then I suppose you'll have to get ready for the trip today." Clarence could tell from her voice that Cindy was as incredulous as he at the news.
"Yes. I need to take my laundry over to Mom's and ask to borrow a suitcase."
"Have you told her yet?"
"No. You're the first one I called. And..." What he had to say next he liked least of all. "I'm going to have to cancel our movie tomorrow, and our dinner next Friday, and Cedar Point."
Cindy let out a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a whine. "Yes, I suppose those dates are off."
Clarence was desperate to say something to lift her spirits. Both of their spirits. "Cindy, I... promise I'll make it up to you. Zig Zag even said..." He paused, trying to decide whether to repeat her suggestion. "We... we can do something really nice."
There was another pause. "It's okay, Clare, I understand. What time do you leave tomorrow?"
"I don't know yet. The travel agency is supposed to call any minute."
"Oh, Clare..." Now she sounded not so much disappointed as sympathetic.
"I'm real sorry about this. We'll do everything we were planning when I get back, I promise. Okay?"
Clarence heard a call waiting tone. "I'm getting beeped. It's probably the travel agency. I'll call you back shortly. Goodbye, Cindy."
* * *
The conversation with the travel agent was short. They booked him on the same flights and reserved a room for him at the same hotel as the rest of the entourage, and told him where their office was located and what time they closed so he could pick up the tickets and the itinerary. Clarence then called his mother, gave her a quick summary of what was going on, and arranged to come over later. Finally, he called Cindy back. They tried to arrange one more date before the trip, but between him having to prepare for the trip and her having to work that evening, the only thing they could come up with was for Cindy to give him a ride to the airport in the morning.
The skunk collected all of his dirty clothes into two large baskets. When Cindy and I get a place together, I'll have to make sure it has laundry hookups, he thought to himself as he carried the baskets out to his car, along with his bottle of detergent and some hangers.
He made a stop at the travel agency where he picked up the tickets, then continued to his mother's house. She greeted him at the door. "Clarence!"
He set the first basket of clothes down and hugged her. "Hi, Mom."
"What in the sam hill has gotten into you? Taking off just like that!"
He sighed. "I told you, it's for the movie studio I work at. They're shooting some scenes for a movie in Georgia..."
"What kind of movie?"
"Um... Er... It's a romance, I think," Clarence stammered. A true statement, from what I know of the movie. "Anyhow, one of the crew had an emergency, so... they asked me if I could go instead."
The corner of Mrs. Skunk's mouth twisted. "Seems to me they could have found someone a little more experienced."
"Mom!" he exclaimed. "Why not me? I'm not a kid anymore! I can handle a trip like this!" At least I hope I can, he thought to himself.
As he put his first load into the washing machine, his mother became resigned to the idea that he was going. "Now Clarence, when you get on the plane, make sure you check where the emergency exits are in case anything happens on the flight."
"Make sure you're with someone you know at all times..." Her questions and her advice went on for quite some time. Some of it was actually helpful. Some of it made him feel like she still thought he was a ten-year-old.
* * *
"Zig Zag speaking."
Marvin could still feel his head spinning from too little sleep on a hospital chair that wasn't all that comfortable. "Hi, it's Marvin. Just wanted to check in with you."
"First things first. How's Rhonda?"
He looked over at his wife. Some of the color had come back into her face, but she still looked very tired and was coughing intermittently. "About the same, maybe a little better. They've given her something to relieve the inflammation in her lungs, an expectorant to help the coughing do its job, and a mild painkiller. They said if there was much of a chance of her dying from it she probably would have gotten worse by now, so it's a good sign that she's stable. Now we just have to keep her comfortable and wait for her to get better."
"Okay. How are you holding up?"
"Very tired. I didn't get much sleep."
"You sound like it."
Marvin saw Rhonda looking at him and gesturing holding a phone to her ear. He looked back at her in surprise. "Hey Zig, I think she wants to talk to you."
Marvin brought the phone over to her, helping her cradle it to her ear. "Hi, Zig," she uttered tiredly. Marvin couldn't hear much of Zig Zag's side of the conversation, but every now and then, Rhonda would respond, usually with no more than a word or two. Their conversation went on for three or four minutes, with Zig Zag doing most of the talking. Finally, Rhonda said, "Bye, Zig," and gave the phone back to Marvin, smiling at him gratefully.
"So tell me, Zig, what's the story with the Wild Southern Rose trip?"
"We're doing it without you."
Marvin laughed. "Yeah, figures. What do they need an old badger like me for?"
"No, seriously, we met this morning and decided we've got too many things already arranged, and we think we can cover all the bases with the rest of the crew we've got, so we're going ahead."
"I'm disappointed not to be part of it, but they're a good crew. I'm sure they'll to a bang-up job."
"The part we're worried most about is the party scene next week. We're not sure yet about that one. And Clint and Nancy asked for one more fur."
"Let me guess. Clarence."
"How did you know?"
"I was kidding." There was an uneasy pause. "Why, are you serious?"
Zig Zag spoke evenly. "He was the only one we could think of who was available. I asked him and he said he would do it."
Marvin leaned forward and put a paw on his head, then sat up and smoothed his headfur. I hope he can handle himself, thought Marvin. "Okay, we'll have to do something really nice for him."
"I was planning on it."
They disconnected a few minutes later. Before he could say anything, Rhonda got in the first word. "They got Clarence?"
"Yes," said Marvin. They gave each other a look of comprehension. "I think I need to make one more phone call."
* * *
Mrs. Skunk dug a faded yellow suitcase out of her closet for him. It was older than he was and bore the scars of numerous bouts with baggage handlers, but the latches still worked. By the time his third and final load of laundry came out of the dryer, there wasn't enough of the afternoon left to do anything with Cindy before she had to be at work, and Clarence was feeling wrung out from the events of the day, so he gladly accepted his mother's invitation to stay for dinner. It saved him the trouble of having to buy or fix himself something, and gave her the opportunity to spend a little more time with him before he left town.
After dinner, Clarence loaded the suitcase and the rest of his laundry into his Saturn and returned to his apartment. It took him about half an hour to finish packing and put away the rest of his clothes. As he put a pair of sweatpants into the drawer, he saw his swimsuit. I should pack that. Thanks, Mom, for mentioning that the hotel will likely have a pool. It had also been her suggestion to put his personal care kit and one day's change of clothes in his carry-on bag in case his suitcase was lost, which was just as well since the suitcase was pretty full even without them.
With both bags packed, Clarence was at a loss for what to do with himself. Or rather, he could think of plenty of things he'd like to do, but they all included Cindy. With that thought in mind, he soon made his decision.
* * *
"Welcome to Callahan's. Are you by yourself this evening?" asked the ermine at the hostess station.
"Yes. Well, sort of," Clarence replied. There was an uncomfortable pause as the ermine looked back at him, puzzled. "Actually, my girlfriend works here."
"Oh? Who is she?"
The hostess looked at him thoughtfully. "Okay. What can we do for you?"
"It's like... Well... I have to leave on a trip tomorrow, and it was kind of sudden, you see, and..." Clarence grasped for words to explain his position. "I know she's at work, and she's busy and all, but since I'm going to be gone for two weeks, I just... just wanted to spend a little time around her any way I can, even if it's just sitting watching her while she works." He stopped as she gazed back at him. "I'm sorry, that probably sounds stupid..."
"No, that's quite all right. I can seat you in the lounge area, and I'll let her know you're here."
Clarence let out a sigh. "That'll be fine. If it's not a problem, I mean."
The ermine led him toward the lounge area, but stopped when they saw Cindy talking to three furs at a table. Half a minute later, she turned around, spotted them and came over. "Clarence! I wasn't expecting you."
"Hannah, this is my boyfriend," she told the ermine.
"He told me," Hannah replied.
Clarence spoke up. "Is it okay if... I hang out here for a bit?" he asked Cindy. "I know you have your job to do, and all, but..."
Their conversation had attracted the attention of two other waitresses. "Lily, Heather," said Cindy, gesturing in turn at the Siamese cat and the cottontail rabbit, "this is Clarence, my boyfriend. He has to leave tomorrow for two weeks."
"Nice to... to meet you," stammered Clarence. "I, uh... thought I'd just... have a drink and watch Cindy work." That didn't sound quite right, he thought.
Lily nodded. "Ah, I see." She turned to Cindy. "If you want to steal a minute with him now and then I'll be glad to cover your tables."
"Me too," Heather added.
"Excuse me, I have to turn in an order," said Cindy as she headed toward the kitchen.
They scattered, and Hannah seated Clarence at a lounge table for two adjacent to the aisle Cindy used to go between her tables and the kitchen. He ordered a gin and tonic, then sipped at it as he watched Cindy doing her job and thought about her. You'd think sitting here like this would be boring, but I never get tired of watching her.
About twenty minutes later, while Cindy was taking one of her stolen moments at his table, a tigress approached them. "Hi, Kit," said Cindy. "Do you remember Clarence?"
"Yes, I do," said Kittiara, turning to him. "I hear you're taking off for a couple of weeks."
"Yes... yes, I am," he replied. He described the situation briefly, and the three of them made small talk for a couple of minutes until Cindy had to get up and return to work. Clarence was near the end of his drink. "Can I get a refill?"
"I take it you're flying?" the tigress asked him. Clarence nodded. "Then I'd recommend staying away from anything else alcoholic. Even a mild hangover can be hell if you get a turbulent flight."
"Okay, thanks... thank you."
"My bartender does a killer virgin daiquiri."
"That sounds good."
"Then I'll let the waitress know. I've got to go," said Kittiara. "It was nice talking to you."
His virgin daiquiri arrived a few minutes later, and he made it last more than a half hour as he watched and occasionally talked to Cindy. This may not be the perfect date, but it sure beats sitting at home. Finally, more than an hour and a half after he had first arrived, he felt like he'd be able to sleep soon, so he told Cindy goodbye and returned home.
* * *
Cindy watched him flash her one last smile as he disappeared out the door. Now I can quit worrying about whether I'm losing tips because I stop for a minute to chat with him. And I don't have to feel funny because he's watching me.
God, I miss him already.
On to Chapter 3
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