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 © 2003-2008 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.
"Mmmm, cantaloupe ..." murred the lemur as he popped another piece into his mouth.
Aaron grinned at Mark. "Always figured you had a thing for melons," the bobcat quipped. This earned them a curious glance from Miranda and Gypsy who were seated at a nearby table.
"So what if I do," Mark replied nonchalantly. "When we were at that breakfast buffet the other day, I seem to recall you had quite a thing for the sausages."
This provoked quite a bit of laughter from everyone within hearing distance, or at least everyone from the movie crew. The banter went on as Clarence mused. I must be fitting in better. A few days ago I'd've felt like crawling under the table if a conversation I was part of was attracting this kind of attention.
"Do you think the cameras will give us any trouble again this morning," Aaron asked a few minutes later in a more serious tone. "We've got enough shooting to get done today without having to deal with that as well."
Mark shrugged. "Hard to tell. I wonder if it's something to do with the temperature."
"Have you t... tried to get a hold of, uh, Rodney?" Clarence asked.
"Thought about it. The problem is he's a little tricky to get a hold of," Aaron replied with a sigh. "We can't just call him. We'd have to go through Clint, who would have to call Zig Zag or Marvin."
Clarence cocked an eyebrow. "I ... I might be able to help with that."
* * *
Zig Zag stepped out of her office. As she began making rounds of the studio, she passed the receptionist's desk, where she observed that Lilian seemed to be wrapped up in something. "Morning, Lilian. How's everything?"
Lilian looked up at her. "Everything's just fine, and so am I."
"Glad to hear it."
"We have a bunch of credit card payments to go through from the pay site." She shrugged. "There were more than forty waiting for me to process this morning. I've had two more come in just since I started working on them."
Zig Zag paused. "What do we usually get? About ten or twelve, right?"
"If that, on average. Fifteen if the site's been busy."
"Any idea why we got so many hits last night?"
"From the comments with them, there were several new pictures of Wanda that were a big hit."
"New pictures of Wanda? Where did those come from?"
"I had to do a little digging myself to find that out. It turns out Mark sent them from Georgia. I take it you didn't know about them."
"Not offhand. He probably sent them to Marvin." The skunk paused a moment. "I'll have to ask him about that if he makes it in today. He's home with Rhonda this morning." Lilian nodded. "In the meantime, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Can you get Sabrina on the phone for me?"
* * *
The skunkette answered the phone beside her worktable. "Good morning, this is Sabrina."
"Hello, Sabrina. How are they treating you there?"
"Z..." She caught herself before saying the name aloud, putting her paw over the receiver and looking around for a few seconds. "What's up? What are you calling me here for?"
Zig Zag laughed aloud. "What? You don't want your co-workers to know who your other boss is?"
"Umm... I don't know how it would go over here."
"Why not? Afraid they might be jealous?"
Sabrina cleared her throat. "What did you need, Miss Z?"
"Miss Z, is it now?" Sabrina heard a chortle come through the phone. "I'll let you get back to your job in a sec, but I was hoping you wouldn't mind a little overtime after work?"
Sabrina knew from experience what this meant. "I don't think Chris has anything special planned for tonight. Why, what's up?"
"Some pictures you added to the pay site yesterday turned out to be a big hit."
"... and you want me to play them up on the site? All right, I'll sign on when I get home."
"That's my girl. And between now and then I'm going to find out if there are any more like them."
* * *
Clarence tapped another wedge between the dolly track and the stonework beneath. He pressed down on the rail, noting that it felt firm and showed no sign of give. Finally he stood up and took hold of the controls of the camera dolly. There was no camera on it, just a brick, and sitting atop the brick was a clear plastic cup half full of water. He used the controls to move the dolly over the section of track where he had just placed the wedge beneath, studying its movement.
Unbeknownst to him, Wanda had stepped out onto the patio. Upon seeing him, she stopped and watched him. After allowing herself a few seconds to study the skunk's rear, she became intrigued by what he was doing, by the way he was so focused, so immersed in his task. He doesn't know I'm here. Would he still be able to concentrate if he did? She remained quiet, continuing to watch him.
"Wanda, there you are," came a voice. It was Pacidy. "I found that parasol you were looking for."
Wanda turned in the direction the voice came from and as she did, out of the corner of her eye she saw Clarence turning to look at her. "Oh, thank you, Pacidy," she said to the rabbit.
"No problem. I knew we had it somewhere."
When she was done talking, she did a couple of experimental poses with the parasol, as she would be holding it while in character. When she turned back to look at Clarence, he was facing the camera dolly once again, only now he appeared to be just staring at it, more tense now. I guess it's up to me to make something of this, she thought as she approached him. "What are you working on, Clarence?"
He turned to look at her. "Oh, huh ... hi, Wanda. I'm ... uh, just setting up the dolly track?"
She looked down at the track, then back up at him. "You guys do that all the time back at the studio."
Clarence stroked his footpaw over the flagstones of the patio. "But here ... the surface isn't, uh ... it's uneven. At the studio it's flat."
Wanda nodded. Clarence pushed up a switch on the control, and the dolly motor propelled it along the track once again. "Uh, Clarence," the vixen inquired. "Why the brick and the cup of water?"
The skunk explained. "The brick weighs the ... about the same as a camera. And ..." He caught his breath. "The cup of water, is to ... it's to tell me if ... if a tyrannosaurus rex is sneaking up on me."
Wanda blinked. "It's ... Oh, that was bad," she said as she started to groan with laughter. "You're terrible."
Clarence tried to keep a straight face, but finally he cracked a smile. "Actually it's to detect bumps in the track. If it makes the water ripple, it might make the camera jitter while filming."
Moments later as Wanda was walking through her part, learning her reference marks, Clarence was back to working on the dolly track, seemingly unperturbed by her presence. He made a joke with me, she mused. That has to be a good sign.
* * *
Marvin could hear the sounds of the speakerphone as he knocked on Zig Zag's office door. "Yes?" came her voice from within.
He opened the door slightly and peeked in. "Just me," he said. "Okay if I join the meeting?" He was pretty sure she wanted him to join but gave her a second to indicate otherwise.
"Please do." He entered, closing the door behind him, and took a seat. Another chair was occupied by Jennifer Ironne.
"Hiya, Marvin," said Clint through the speakerphone. "We've got Martin, Nancy, Pacidy, and myself at this end. How is Rhonda doing?"
"Much better. The hardest part is keeping her from trying to do too much."
There was a chorus of laughter from both ends of the teleconference. "Glad to hear it," said Nancy.
"You can't keep a good woman down," Pacidy added.
"You can if you know what you're doing with her," said Zig Zag. There was another pause for laughter. When it finally died down, she continued. "We were discussing a few of the problems they've run into. They're running nearly a day behind schedule. A couple of panoramas we expected to use for backgrounds have out-of-period structures in view. We've had problems with some of the cameras and sound equipment acting glitchy. There's been a couple of training delays and safety issues with the period vehicles, and a host of other small problems."
"I never thought I'd say this," came Clint's voice, "but we miss you, Marvin."
Marvin shook his head. "Unfortunately, you'll have to keep missing me. I'm tied down here for at least another week."
"But I'm not," said Zig Zag. "I'm going to fly down this weekend."
Jennifer looked up. "I'd like to as well if you guys can use me."
As Zig Zag considered this, the crew at the other end didn't wait to reply. "I'd love to have your input on some things," said Pacidy.
"Me too," said Martin.
Zig Zag finally nodded. "Okay, we'll get Jennifer down there too. You think they have room for us at your hotel?"
"I think so," said Clint.
The tiger-striped skunk looked up at Marvin. "Can I put you in charge of the studio here while I'm gone?"
"Of course," the badger replied.
"Good. One other thing," Zig Zag interjected. "Those pictures you sent us a couple of days ago are turning out to be a big hit on the website, and it would be a smart move to capitalize on those to help promote the movie. Any chance you could send us some more of those, maybe some with others besides Wanda?"
There was some muttering at the Georgia end of the line. "You know," said Martin. "Those weren't even in the schedule. Mark and Wanda just dropped a bomb on me the other day about shooting them. Said Marvin had requested them. Do you know anything about that, Marvin?"
Marvin got a slightly puzzled look, and he and Zig Zag looked at each other for a long moment before Zig Zag spoke to the phone. "Scheduled or not, if they're good promotion for the movie, I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I understand you're running a little behind there but see what you can come up with."
While waiting his turn to speak, something tickled at the back of Marvin's mind. "I'll call Mark and talk to him about it," he said.
There was a pause at the other end. "Okay, just please let us know if there's anything else that didn't get included in the schedule."
"Will do," Marvin replied.
They said their goodbyes and cut off the connection. Zig Zag looked at Jennifer. "Well, I guess we've got some travel arrangements to make. I need to call James and let him know I'll be out of town for a few days." She turned to Marvin. "What did you say to Mark?"
Marvin shifted in his seat. "I'm still trying to remember that conversation. Can I get back to you on that?"
Zig Zag studied her second in command curiously. "No problem."
* * *
"This is Mark."
"Hi Mark," said Marvin from the other end of the phone line. "How is everything down there in Georgia?"
"We're hangin' in there. How is Rhonda?"
"She's doing much better, and I appreciate your concern."
"Hey, we're all part of one big family."
"We are, indeed. Listen, I needed to ask you about something."
"Those pictures of Wanda you took the other day ... You said that I had requested that you take them, but for the life of me I don't remember asking you to do any still photo shoots. Can you remind me, or explain what's going on?"
Mark felt his face flush as if he had done something wrong. "Well ... You remember the phone call you made before we left town?"
"Ummm ... No."
"You were at the hospital with Rhonda."
"Oh, that call. But I don't remember saying anything about taking any pictures. I just asked you to keep an eye out for any problems between Clarence and Wanda."
Mark sighed. "Yes, I know. On one of the flights down, they got seat assignments next to each other. I spotted it while we were still boarding. Clarence looked like he was about to pee his pants. I had to think of something quick as an excuse to trade seats, so I came up with this story about needing to talk to Wanda about taking some pictures. Once we got talking, she really warmed up to the idea. Yeah, I knew it wasn't planned and had to keep my fingers crossed that we'd get a chance to slip it in."
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. "Okay," said Marvin. "I understand. It sounds like you handled it the best you could under the circumstances."
"I'm sorry if I messed up anyone's schedules ..."
"Don't worry about it," said Marvin. "We may have a different problem now. Not a problem, exactly. More like an opportunity ..."
"Sabrina put those pictures up on the website and they turned out to be very popular. Now Zig thinks they're a good promotional opportunity for the film, and I think she's probably right. So now she wants to know if there's more where those came from, or if you can shoot some more. Maybe some with Miranda or Gypsy, or even Nancy."
Mark considered this. "I'll have to run it by Clint to make sure it won't cause any more schedule delays."
"Do your best. If you run into problems, give me a call or talk to Zig. She'll be there in a couple of days."
* * *
"I talked to Mark," said Marvin, "and he was doing as I requested." He hoped Zig Zag didn't ask too many probing questions.
"Does he have more pictures for us?"
Marvin nodded, relieved that she pursued that angle rather than pressing for details that might force him to reveal more than he wanted to about Clarence. "I think he's going to get us some more. I told him to talk to me or you if he runs into any problems."
Zig Zag nodded. "That's fine. Once I'm there I'll be in a better position to decide how to juggle any schedule delays with a promotional photo shoot."
The badger smiled. "I thought you would."
The skunk smiled too. "I talked to James. He wants to come with me. He just needs to check with his partner Doug to make sure it won't be a problem." She was practically glowing. "It will be so much fun showing him what we do here!"
* * *
"Good job, guys," said Mark as he patted the rock-climbing harness he was now wearing around his waist. "That's a big worry off my mind while I'm trying to work the camera."
"Just doing our jobs," said Vernon from the front of the truck. Beside him, Clarence nodded. Between the two of them was one of the places where ropes were hooked to the inside of the truck. "Are we ready to roll?" the raccoon asked.
Mark looked out behind them, where Nathan sat in the driver's seat of the Model T Ford. He gave a roll signal, and Nathan gave a thumbs-up. "Ready," Mark called out.
They spent the next couple of hours cruising around the countryside getting various shots of Nathan driving the car along rural roads in the area. In addition to the moving footage, they got several shots from stationary points. Of all the footage they shot, only about three minutes would end up getting used in the film. Their job was to give Franklin, the film editor, enough footage to choose from.
* * *
"I need to spend some time working on the website tonight."
"Aww," said Chris. "You realize that's going to mess up my carefully orchestrated plans to seduce you."
Sabrina blinked, then laughed. "Yeah, right. What plans?"
"If I told you, I'd have to ..."
"You'd have to what?"
The fox grinned. "Use your imagination." This elicited a throat-clearing noise from the skunkette. "You go ahead and take care of that when we get home, and I'll work on dinner."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Her expression turned thoughtful. "Tell me, honestly ... Does it bother you, me spending some of my free time working on stuff for Double Z?"
Chris smiled at his wife. "Naah. Maybe a little now and then, but the extra income is pretty nice too."
After a long pause, Sabrina cocked an eyebrow toward him. "Yes?"
"What?" he replied defensively.
"I can tell from the way you said it, there's something more."
Chris's ears flushed for a long pause, but he finally answered. "I don't know how to explain it, but there's just something about the fact that you do work for Zig Zag's studio, even doing the kind of work you do, that's very sexy. That makes you even more irresistible than you are already."
Now it was Sabrina's turn to blush. She didn't know how to answer that.
They arrived home moments later, and once the connection was up, Sabrina checked her e-mails, then did a little poking around the site's directories to see what she could find, to make sure everything was still in its place. No new pictures yet, as the earlier discussion had hinted there might be. One of her incoming e-mails indicated they were still working on those.
Then Sabrina checked the pages with the pictures of Wanda, and when she saw the hit counters, her jaw nearly hit the floor. "Holy crap, she wasn't kidding," she exclaimed aloud.
* * *
Following a satisfying dinner, Clarence was ready to hear his fiancée’s voice. After a moment to relax himself, he fished out the phone card and with much anticipation, dialed the number.
"Hello," Rodney answered.
"Oh, uh ... Hi, Mr. Lapine. Is ... Cindy there?"
"'Fraid not. She's got a babysitting job tonight."
Clarence let out a sigh of disappointment. "Oh, well, umm ..."
"How are things down there in Georgia?" the elder rabbit asked.
"Going okay, I guess. It's ... kind of nice here, and some of the work is interesting ..."
"Today we were driving around, filming Nathan driving a Model T ..." They continued talking for a few more minutes, Clarence talking about the events of the day and the week so far.
* * *
Nancy too was anxious to hear her husband's voice. She finished dialing her home phone number and waited. It took about two rings longer than usual for the phone to be answered. "Hello?" said an unfamiliar female voice.
The otter was caught a little by surprise at hearing someone other than her husband. "Who am I speaking to?" she asked.
"This is Cindy. Is this Nancy?"
She paused. "Yes."
"I thought so. We met at the airport a few days ago. I'm babysitting Jordan."
"Cindy ... Okay, now I remember you. You're Clarence's girlfriend, right? Where is Gary tonight."
"He's at his bowling league ..."
"His ..." The otter facepalmed. "Oh shoot, that's right," Nancy exclaimed. "This is Friday. Sometimes I lose track of days ..."
She heard a giggle at the other end. "I know how that goes." There was a pause. "Say, Jordan's being kind of restless. Do you have any ..."
"Can you put him on the phone?" Nancy asked. "I'd love to talk to my son."
Nancy spent the next couple of minutes talking to Jordan, getting a couple of 'Mom's and various other toddler sounds out of him.
* * *
"You know what?" Clarence posited at one point. "Aaron and Mark were having some problems with the cameras. Can they call you?"
There was a pause. "Are they available now?"
Clarence stammered a bit before forming a reply. "Eh ... Ok..kay, I think I know where their rooms are." He put down the phone and went out into the hallway, turning out the security lock to block the door open. He then paused, staring at the two side-by-side doors across the hall from him. I'm not sure, but I think Aaron is in the one on the left, he thought as he padded over to knock on that door.
* * *
"He really likes applesauce," Nancy explained. "If you look in the cabinet above and to the right of the stove ..."
"... excuse me just a sec. Someone is knocking on my door." Since the cord wouldn't reach, Nancy had to set the phone down to answer the door. "Clarence!?"
"Oh, sorry," he stammered. "I th... thought this was Aaron's room."
Nancy couldn't help laughing out loud. "You're not going to believe who I've got on the phone."
The skunk froze up at the unexpectedness of her statement. "I was just looking for ... I've got to ... Umm, who?"
"Cindy," she finally replied. "Want to say hi to her?"
Clarence brightened up. "Sure, but ..."
"What's the matter? Afraid to ..."
"N..no. It's just ... I've got Rodney on the phone in my room. I w... was trying to find Aaron or Mark. He wants t... to talk to them about the camera problems."
Nancy paused. "I'll get one of them. Go talk to Cindy."
As the otter stepped out in the hall to knock on the door next to hers, Clarence stepped sheepishly into her room and picked up the phone. "Uh.. Hello?"
"Clarence, is that you?" Cindy replied. "What are you doing on the phone?"
He couldn't help laughing at his situation. "I just tried to call you, and got your dad. He wants to talk to one of the cameramen, and I was trying to find one when I knocked on Nancy's door by accident ..."
"Do you still need to find one of them?"
"Nancy's taking care of it. But ... How come you were on the phone with Nancy?"
"I'm at her house, babysitting her son Jordan ..."
The sheer awkwardness and improbability of the situation would have them fondly remembering this conversation many years later.
Clarence returned to his room some ten minutes later, where he heard the tail end of the conversation between Aaron and Rodney. He caught something about how the cooler temperature in the basement at the mansion, where the cameras were stored overnight, was causing condensation problems when they were brought outside into the humid air.
* * *
The euphoria of talking to Cindy had faded, and Clarence was staring once again at his page, still trying to put into words what he felt about Wanda. Different ideas, different impressions floated through his mind, and as they did, another memory came to the surface ...
The main room in the basement of the sorority house was sometimes referred to as the party room, especially by non-residents who only saw it when that's what it was being used for. Music was booming from the speakers while a handful of furs were showing off their dance skills, real or imagined. Numerous others milled about the edges of the room, many of them holding cups of beer, some of them trying to converse despite the volume of the music.
Clarence surveyed the room. It felt awkward being here at all, like he didn't belong, a reminder of why he seldom went out of his way to attend parties such as this one. At least Jake was with him. The older cat had convinced the freshman skunk that sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone, so here they were. And in a way it felt nice to be getting out and at least trying to do something social.
The skunk hadn't danced any and felt like doing something to move his body. He'd seen a few girls dancing alone or with other girls. How come it's okay for girls to do that but not guys?, he wondered. Whatever the reason, if he felt like dancing he'd have to find a partner. He leaned closer to Jake. "You think anyone here would, um, dance with me?"
The cat looked back at him. "I'm sure one of them will," he replied. When all he got from Clarence was a puzzled look, he continued, "Just look for the ones with the 'Dance With Me' signs."
"Just kidding," Jake chuckled. "The only way to find out is to ask."
Clarence gave him an almost fearful look. "What if she says 'no'?"
Jake shrugged. "Then you move on and ask someone else."
The skunk pondered this. Getting a 'no' would be rejection. Maybe some guys could take it in stride, but the thought made him tremble.
It was a few more minutes before he got up the nerve to ask anyone. One particularly attractive vixen had caught his eye, even though as far as he could tell, she had never noticed him. When the next song began, he approached her. Well, here goes nothing. She didn't turn toward him until he gave her a light shoulder tap. Even though she hadn't been doing anything or talking to anyone, she reacted as if he had interrupted something. Clarence had to force himself to speak. "I w... was wondering ... Would you like ... like to d... dance?"
The vixen turned her head and studied him for several seconds. She raised her paw to the underside of her muzzle while her eyes roamed over him from head to toe. It was the sort of look one might give to something they were considering purchasing. Her lips pursed as the moment dragged out uncomfortably. Finally she replied, "No, I don't think so," in a slightly smug but otherwise emotionless tone as she turned away to resume her original posture.
Although he knew she might decline, Clarence felt very shaken by that rejection. He'd been meaning to ask a couple of others if she turned him down, but the way she had done it, had made him feel like a piece of meat, had sapped whatever confidence he might have had.
He retreated to the safety of Jake, where he spent a few minutes trying to regain his composure. But looking around the room, even trying to ignore the vixen who moments earlier had seemed attractive to him, he felt more out of place than ever just being here. He leaned closer to Jake. "I don't think this party is working for me."
Jake turned to him. "Giving up already?"
"Please, can we just go?"
Clarence still cringed every time he recalled that incident. And what was it about Wanda that brought it to mind? Besides the fact that they were both vixens, there was the feeling that there were times when Wanda had given him the same kind of look as the sorority vixen. How much did it matter that Wanda liked what she saw more than the other vixen had?
Come to think of it, how often did Wanda get looks like that from guys? Probably more than he wanted to contemplate, especially considering her chosen profession.
* * *
After leaving the Fishers, Cindy made a stop at Clarence's apartment. She had already picked up his mail, and after adding it to the stack from previous days, looked around his apartment. Even though she had told both him and her father, she still felt a little funny about spending the night here.
Among the snacks Clarence had told her she could partake of were a few carrots. I wonder if he thought I might be staying over before he left, she wondered as she nibbled on one. Spartan though the furnishings were, it was nice to relax in his place for an evening.
When it came time to get ready for bed, she began to undress, then did something she hadn't told him about. Cindy looked through his clothes and picked out one of his T-shirts. When she finished undressing, she put it on, looked at herself in the mirror, and smiled at her reflection. Clarence, I wish you could see me now. It still seemed to embarrass him whenever he saw her wearing less than she'd be seen wearing in public, and somehow that made the idea of him seeing her like this all the more appealing to her.
She smiled at the pictures on his nightstand and sniffed the scent from his pillow and sheets as she crawled into his bed. Would he be able to smell her next time he slept here? There was something naughty about sleeping in his bed, wearing nothing but one of his T-shirts, that made her fall asleep with a smile on her face.
On to Chapter 9
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