Dark Riders of Marblecliff
10 Hanging On
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▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Visitors ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
The past week after their camping trip had gone well, Alex and Susan had apparently gained some confidence in, and respect for Daisy after the camping trip, either for her willingness to join in to their antics, or her move to turn the prank on them. Lilliana worked in the foyer, loading more debris into a wheelbarrow while the others got ready to worked on demolishing the basement area. The upper floor renovations had been completed, with the exception of Hank’s new project they now called the doll house for Cecily.
Daisy had managed to stay working most weekends, either to keep away from the group as much as she could, or the avoid the manual labor of the renovations. Either way Lilliana didn't really care as long as the moose did her part for the group as a whole.
Cecily on the other paw had made it a point to escape the confines of the house and cruise, whether in a car on on her bike, every opportunity that she had. The liger was happy to see the mouse more willing to venture out on her own, and the collection of photographs and drawings generated by her excursions to the more scenic parts of Marblecliff were as much of a reward to the group as Cecily’s new found confidence.
It looked like it was going to be a nice and quiet day. A little work cleaning up, then some time to play a few games. That was until the knock came at the door. She leaned the shovel she had against the wheelbarrow and walked over to the door and jerked it open. “Who the fuck…” She trailed off as she found herself face to face with the last person she expected to show up unannounced. “Mr. Burke, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Did they set something on fire again?”
“No, Miss Fargo, I just came by to drop my father off for a visit with the General,” the mouflin replied. “They moved their weekly chess game here from the VFW, last week. Something about the atmosphere being more… relaxing.”
“Those sons-of-bitches were starting to take bets on who was going to win,” the grizzled old ram said from his wheelchair, behind his son. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them make money off of me and Detlev and not include us in the profits. Besides, now I don’t need to feel bad about beating a superior officer in front of so many of his old soldiers.”
Lilliana stifled a snicker as she looked down at older soldier. “Good morning sir. It’s a pleasure to meet the brains behind the Colin operations. I think I saw the old man heading out to the back patio.”
The Colonel chuckled at the liger’s greeting. “Naw, all his brains came from his mother. I was the hoof in his ass that got him moving. Turned into a fine, brave young man, though. He woulda made a damn good officer…” The old man’s voice trailed off into quiet muttering as he shook his head.
The liger smiled as she said, “I’m sure he would have, but I will still reserve my own judgment for when he doesn’t do or say something stupid in front of a woman. For now, retirees get the royal treatment, and able-bodied men get put to work. Might I call for one of the troops to take you back to the officers’ lounge while I show this scrub to some place he might be useful?” Without waiting for an answer she turned and shouted, “Boomer, FRONT AND CENTER!”
“I di’n’ do. I wadn’t even dere,” came a reply from the upper floor.
“Oh, for Christ’s Sake,” the old mouflon said, nudging his son aside with his cane, “I don’t need no damned escort to push me around all over the place. I’m perfectly capable of getting myself to where I want to go, woman. Why don’t you and Sergeant Fargo go and talk for a bit, Colin? You know where to find me.” As he wheeled himself into the mansion, Colonel Burke rambled under his breath, “I swear, young people these days. Back when I was courting Betty, a guy would just man up and ask a lady out instead of just pussyfooting around… Thank God for his sisters, or I’d never have grandkids at this rate.”
Lilliana looked over at Colin with a smirk. “So, is that firefighter physique good for anything more than looking at? I’ve got some stuff that the other man in the house is too busy to take care of at the moment.”
“It’s not just from fighting fires,” he said as he gave her a grin. He was more relaxed around her than she recalled seeing him during their previous meetings. “I also play a lot of ultimate frisbee, disc golf, and hacky sack, and back in my high school and college days, I played football. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
She grinned as she pointed to the small pile of rubble and broken drywall and said, “Move that out to the dumpster in the motor court. When you’re done with that I’m sure I’ll have something else for you to do. Just come and ask.” As she started to walk away she turned back and added, “By the way, I never did thank you for doing Sisy that favor last week. It means a lot to her.”
“She’s a good kid,” Colin replied. “She’s doing a lot of good things for others, so I figured she deserved a break. Besides, she still earned it herself; I just decided to not make her wait.” He looked over at the pile of debris and asked, “Got a pair of coveralls big enough for me? This is one of my nicer shirts, and I’d like to not ruin it. If you don’t, it’s fine, as long as you don’t mind me going shirtless for a bit.”
The mouflon’s words earned him whistles and cat calls from the balcony above. He looked up to see Susan and Alex looking down at him. “Only one here who cares that much about a shirt is Boomer,” the chinchilla said, “and I don’t think she’ll let you borrow her coveralls.”
“You two can it and get the popcorn. This should be entertaining,” Lilliana ordered as she ascended the stairs. “Been a while since we got a good show. And get a camera, Squeaker is missing this photo opp.” She leaned over the railing next to the other women as she asked, “Do you want a pair of gloves to? Don’t want to get your feminine paws all dirty and calloused.”
“No, gloves won’t be necessary,” the ram said as he shook his head. Undoing the top several buttons of his shirt, he grabbed the bottom and pulled it up over his horns. “It was a Christmas gift from my sister, so it’s kind of sentimental. I just wore it because…” Realizing that he was going to say more than he wanted, he stopped himself and said, “Nevermind,” before laying the top across the back of one of the chairs. Lilliana noticed that he had a scar on his right side that carried over onto the back of his right arm.
“An’ ta t’ink, I’m all outa dallah bills,” the eagle said as Susan whistled.
“Save the cash. A good lunch will be thanks enough,” Colin said before gathering up an armful of rubble and hauling it out to the dumpster.
He walked away shaking his head as one of them asked, “Whose turn is it to cook today? Hank’s?” and the trio erupted into laughter.
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Colin was relieved that his audience didn’t stick around after his first trip out to the dumpster, though he was a little disappointed that they all left without a word on where they were going. It didn’t take him long to finish, but he then found himself in a silent house with no idea where he was supposed to go to look for the liger.
Not having gotten any kind of tour of the massive house, he found himself wandering aimlessly. It looked as if most of the place was in the process of being renovated. All the floors were stripped down to the subfloor and looked like they were ready for the installation of whatever they were going to put in. He looked around, marveled by the progress that had been made so far from the photos that Cecily had showed her classmates. The group had apparently done a lot of work over the time that they had been in the place.
As he returned to the foyer he could hear the sound of two of the women arguing, or at least having a heated discussion from the basement. He chuckled to himself as he realized they were making wagers that had something to do with him and Lilliana, though he couldn’t make out exactly what.
He grabbed his shirt and headed up to the second floor when he heard the sound of power tools running in the distance. He looked down from the catwalk balcony into what must have been the formal livingroom off the foyer as he continued to follow the sound. He counted the rooms as he went, wondering just how many people were already living in the house. Most of the rooms’ doors were closed, leading him to believe that the group must be very private and better-mannered than they seemed to be to that point.
Soon he came the the top of the back staircase, and the one open door which was the source of the sound of power tools. He walked into the room to find a well furnished, oversized place that he was certain he could fit half his father’s house into. All the furniture was covered with sheets as an otter stood in an open space near what Colin could only assume was the ‘doll house’ Cecily had mentioned earlier in the week during class.
Without turning around the Otter said, “No, it’s not ready. And I’ll still have to paint it and the furniture is still in the design phase.”
“Excuse me?” Colin asked making the otter turn and look at him.
With a slight tilt of his head the otter said, “You must be Dumbass; Lilly said you'd be looking for her. She’s in her room, across the hall. She said don’t bother knocking, but I would be ready to duck if I were you.”
Colin briefly considered introducing himself, but the otter seemed too consumed by his work to be distracted by simple formalities. Instead, he just gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and said, “Right. Thanks.” Turning around, he crossed the hallway to a large oak(?) door and pushed it open. “Miss Fargo? It’s me, Colin.”
“GODDAMNEDMOTHERFUCKER!” was the first thing he heard shouted from the room followed by a growled, “Die already.”
As the door swung open to the simply furnished room, with a king sized bed and a few other necessities, he saw the the liger seated nearly on the floor in a beanbag chair with what looked like a videogame controller in her paws. Her fur was wet as if she had just gotten out of the shower, but what caught him more by surprise was the fact she was only wearing a bra and panties with a towel over her shoulders as she sat playing the game.
He stood off to the side, not wanting to distract the woman from her game, lest he be the one to distract her enough to cause her to die in whatever game she was playing. He had to admit to himself that she was a beautiful woman; years of serving side-by-side with men who believed they were superior to her must have been responsible for shaping her blunt personality. Still, he liked that about her. She freely spoke her mind, which was a refreshing change from Chimera Prep and the fire station, where people were more cautious about what they said as they tried to avoid species, religious, political, and sexual issues.
“You going to stand there like a jackass, high school boy that just walked in on his hot teacher in the locker room with your tongue hanging out, or come in?” The liger asked without looking away from the screen and leaning forward as she gritted her teeth. “There should be another bag over in the sitting room if you’re too self-conscious the sit on a woman’s bed or too proper for the floor. You want more than that, you’re in the wrong room.”
“Sorry,” he said as he walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge. “I just didn’t want to disturb your concentration. You seemed like you were really into whatever it is you’re doing.”
“Likely story,” She said dropping the controller to the floor as the t.v. screen went gray. “I saw those eyes wandering and the kid in a candy store smile on your muzzle.”
“So maybe you did,” he answered back, “but I figured it was okay to look since I was told to not bother knocking. Still, I didn’t want to make you lose your game and earn some other fun nickname.”
“I think I like goatboy, it fits better. Can’t really call you Horny Mcgee around the school.” She said as she leaned back in the beanbag chair and stretched her body out, arms over her head, as she looked back at him. “So, good strong able-bodied sheep from a military family Doesn’t join himself. I’m guessing there is a story behind why your father trailed off on that subject. Are you a pacifist, or gay?”
Colin chuckled at the question and smiled, trying his best to keep his eyes from wandering over the liger’s stretched-out form. “I’m neither, actually,” he said. “When Mom passed, Dad was a wreck. Completely lost and without purpose. My sisters and I all had to pull together to keep the family afloat, but my older sister had just given birth and the baby was taking up a lot of her time, and my little sister was still in high school. I had just graduated and was about to head off to the Citadel, but no matter how much dad insisted that he was fine, I knew better. I was needed here. I think he blames himself for me not following in his footsteps.”
“I can respect that,” Lilliana said as she stood up, walked over to the dresser and started pulling out clothes. “Family is important. Wish I could say mine came together in hard times like that. But the army and the Dark Riders filled in that gap okay.” She slipped into a pair of form-fitting, faded and torn, black jeans and what looked like an old concert t-shirt that was barely big enough to cover her midriff, and tight enough to accentuate her breasts. The outfit was a stark contrast to anything he had seen her in before, even the night of the party was more dressed up than she appeared now.
“So, besides putting out fire, making young girls cry over Driver's Licenses, racing toy cars around the track, and chauffeuring your old man around, what does a guy like you do in his free time?”
“Well, I already told you about ultimate frisbee, disc golf, hacky-sack, and football,” Colin said. “So, it’s pretty obvious that I like sports. I’m also the soccer coach at Chimera; I prefer football, but Coach Samuels isn’t stepping down anytime soon and I played some soccer in high school, so they asked me if I’d mind coaching. I also go to a lot of games, and enjoy tailgating. Are you into any sports, Miss Fargo?”
“God damnit,” the liger said as she turned around, “The name is Lilly, I’m not on the clock, I can’t stand that Miss Fargo shit. I have a hard enough time getting Sisy’s friends to stop calling me that.” She stood with one paw in a drawer as she looked at the mofin sitting on the bed. “As for sports, I play a bit of whatever. I was good at Hacky-sack back in the day. But I can’t say I really found that much joy in watching overpaid jackasses trip over themselves playing what I can in the back yard. But I would have to say my sport of choice…” She paused from a moment as she lifted the over-sized silver handgun out of the draw, “...would have to be marksmanship.” She grinned broadly at him as she asked, “Do you shoot?”
“I’m sorry... Lilliana. Coming from a military household, everyone was ‘Sir” or ‘Ma’am’ until I was given the okay to refer to them by first name,” he explained. “I have my conceal-carry, but I don’t get down to the range as often as I’d like. But there was no way in Hell Dad was going to raise a son that didn’t know how to properly handle firearms. And no, I’m referring to college football: a bunch of young guys playing for the love of the game, trying to make something of themselves. A few of them will go pro someday, but most of them will move on to something else, like a doctor, lawyer, firefighter, or teacher. There’s a certain sense of brotherhood out there on that field that makes the entire experience special.”
“A sense of brotherhood on the field, now I can understand that,” the liger said as she started to walk over to him seductively. She grinned mischievously as she said, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Colin wasn’t sure why, but he was certain the liger was coming on to him, which was a major change from their previous interactions. Still, she had just put her clothes on, so he knew she wasn’t talking about body parts. His mind raced for a second until he realized what she meant. “Some other time, perhaps?” he said as he smiled back up at her. “I left mine locked up in the car. It’s not exactly like this place is lacking for guns, anyway.”
“God, you’re almost as bad as that O'Donnell guy,” Lilliana said as she sat next to him. “I was thinking of heading out to the indoor range, but the others are busy with their projects, and it’s always more fun shooting with company. I just thought you might enjoy getting out while the old men wage war on the chessboard. I give them about four or five more hours before one of them gets fed up with losing.”
“O’Donnell guy?” he asked, clueless of the reference, but shook his head to keep his focus. “Whatever. If you want to head out and shoot for a bit, that sounds fun. Maybe a soldier like you can teach me a thing or two. I heard rumors floating around school that you used to be a sniper.”
“I prefer long range precision marksman,” the liger said as she knelt down beside the bed and pulled out two metal boxes with ‘Ammo’ painted on the side in yellow letters. “One of these days I am going to find who started that shit and put a stop to it. I’m just an eccentric teacher with a little military service in my past, at least thats what the records say. I couldn’t find any thing beyond Information Systems Specialist when I looked myself.”
Colin chuckled as he watched the woman retrieve her gear, listening to her rambling. Lilliana Fargo was unlike any woman he had ever met before. They had gotten off to a very rocky start, and for the first month after meeting her she had hurled insult after insult in his direction. He had been surprised when Cecily told him that the impulsive and rude liger woman liked him, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense; life in the Army had made it difficult for her to express affection like most other women. He wasn’t exactly sure where this afternoon was headed, but he did know three things for certain: She was definitely more than just some Army tech expert; he was starting to like Lilliana Fargo; and he wanted to see where the day would take them.
“We’ll take your jalopy,” the liger said as she shrugged on a shoulder holster and slipped the eighteen inch long hand cannon into it. “My beast drinks more than it needs to... Still finetuning him.”
“Him, huh?” the mouflon asked as he followed Lilliana out of her room. “Does he have a name?”
“Hank went with the name Fafnir, I kinda liked it,” She said as she led the way back to the foyer. She looked over her shoulder at him as she asked, “You going to need any rounds for your firearm? I’m almost certain you don’t want to use any of ours. Hank gets the jitters when counting grains for reloads.”
“I might. Depends on how long we’re going to be there. Something tells me I’ll be spending more time at the range than normal today,” he said with a grin.
“As if,” Lilliana schofield. “They won’t even let me bring my favorite toy to the indoor range… then again, shooting short distances is not it’s optimal usage, and a little costly to fire just for fun.”
“Still, I usually go in, empty a few magazines, and leave. I don’t usually have pleasant company to make me hang around any longer than necessary,” Mr. Burke replied as he opened the front door to the house.
“Yeah?” she asked walking through the door with a quick nod. “Let me know when you find this pleasant company to hang out at the range with. All I’ve got is a crew of knuckleheads and a couple of teens. And to be honest, until you get the music in the mouse’s ears she’s a bit skittish around loud noises.”
The pair walked up to the Chevrolet that sat in the roundabout. Lilliana paused for a moment as she looked it over again, “I see you finally gave her a bath… and polished out the ass print you left in the hood.”
“Yeah,” he said as he ran his paw through the fur between his horns. “I try to keep up on her as much as I can, but sometimes it’s difficult with everything else going on. But Dad would have killed me if I showed up to pick him up and Veronica was filthy.”
“Ah, that explains it,” the liger said as she walked up to the passenger side and stopped. “Ronnie belongs to the old man. I thought it was too nice of a car for a safety oriented driving instructor. Please for the love of god don’t tell me you defiled the poor thing with more practical aftermarket addons.”
“Nope, everything is stock. Other than things like spark plugs, oil, and tires, she’s the same as when she rolled off the line. Well, scratch that. We had to repaint her once Dad retired because Mom left her out in the sun and the paint faded, and the top is a replacement. But she’s as close to factory as she can be almost fifty years later,” Colin got a little nostalgic as he broke out into a grin. “You know, Dad thought Mom did it on purpose, leaving her out to fade in the sun like that. Mom always joked that this car was like his other woman. It’s how she got her name. ”
She stood by the car and glared at him for a moment before letting out a snicker at his reminiscing. “Like father like son?” she asked as she crossed her arms and tapped her paw on the pavement and glanced between the door handle and the moflin.
“I love this car, don’t get me wrong,” the ram said as he opened the door for Lilliana. “But for very different reasons than Dad. I’m perfectly capable of appreciating her for a fine piece of classic American muscle, which was why he bought her in the first place. But I have a lot of memories in this car. She’s definitely a part of the family.”
Lilliana looked down at the seat then back at Colin as she asked, “Should I grab a towel and some disinfectant, or are most of those memories in the back seat?”
He shook his head at what she was implying. “I hope not, because if they are, that’s where I had to sit growing up. I mean memories of all of us - Dad, Mom, my sisters and me - all out on the road heading to the Cape for a nice family day trip. Stuff like that. Those days are long gone… Mom’s passed, Dad’s in a wheelchair, my older sister is married and has kids of her own now… I’d hate to defile those memories by doing something like that in this car.”
Lilliana looked down her snout at him as she said, “You’re telling me a decent-looking guy went through high school with access to a chick magnet, and never took advantage of it?” She sat down in the seat as she added, “and I thought I might have to worry about you coming on to me.”
He laughed as he got into the car beside her. “You honestly think I had access to this car in high school? No way. Dad didn’t hand over the keys to Veronica until he had to give up his license, about six years ago. By then, I was finishing up college. No, my high school car was a Hyundai Excel hatchback with just one hubcap.”
The liger rubbed the bridge of her snout as she mumbled, “A goody-two-shoes to boot... I got this pot in the bag.” She looked over at him and said, “You know the way to the indoor range, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking back over his shoulder to back out of the driveway. “But it’s probably not the same way you take.” Without another word, he shifted into reverse and sped the car out onto the road, before pulling a J-turn. “Did I mention before that I used to be a stunt driver?”
“Okay then,” she replied with a grin, “I might have something to worry about.”
“Nah, I’m a trained professional,” he said. “You’re in good paws with me… In and out of the car.”
“Not what I was worried about,” the liger said as she buckled her seatbelt. “Just keep driving Stud Mouflon.”
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After Colin pulled into a vacant space outside the Range office and store he reached over Lilliana and opened the glove compartment and retrieved his Smith & Wesson, garnering a snicker from the liger. “You got any more toys in there? All I brought was a weapon.”
He shrugged and replied, “So I’m not as gung-ho about firearms as some other people I know. I have it for self-defense, and it’s suitable for that purpose. Maybe one day I’ll meet someone that will get me more into it, but for now, it’s adequate enough.”
The liger rolled her eyes as she opened the car door to get out. “Come on goat boy, let’s get this embarrassment over with. We going dutch, or am I picking up the tab?” Without waiting for the answer she grabbed her Ammo can out of the floorboard and stood up out of the car.
“I’d say that I’ll pick up the tab, but I get the feeling that you’d rather go dutch. That’s fine, but I know the guy that owns the place. I never pay full-price,” he explained as he opened the door for her.
“Ah, then this date’s on you,” she said with a smile. “Like I’m going to turn down a free day at the range.” She walked up to the counter looking at no one in particular as she said, “I need two cases of whatever size beebees his pea shooter takes, and maybe a fist full of corn so he can hit something.”
“And what are you trying to sneak in this time?” the iguana behind the counter asked. “I already told you no high powered rifles on the range.”
“It’s just a little pistol,” the liger replied as she pulled out the hunting revolver and sat it on the counter. “five shot, fifty cal. nothing big or high powered like my Lapua. And I have my own ammo, home loaded.”
“Little my ass. Do you have anything realistic in your arsenal?” the shopkeeper asked.
“I brought him, didn’t I?” she replied tilting her head at Colin.
“Don’t worry, Greg, she’s with me. You know how I am about safety, plus she’s probably better trained on how to use that thing than anyone else here,” the mouflon said.“How’s Lindsay and the kids?”
“Pretty good,” the reptilian man replied as he took Colin’s card and swiped it. “Amber’s almost made a full recovery. Just one more surgery to remove the hardware and a month or so to heal up, and she’ll be good as new.” He set two boxes of .45 caliber ammo on the counter.
“That’s great to hear,” Colin replied as he tucked his card back into his wallet and grabbed the ammunition. “I’ll have to swing by sometime and say hi.”
“Next Sunday,” the iguana said. “We’ll do Mexican and watch football. The girls would love to see you again.”
“I think I’m on duty that night,” he answered, “but I’ll try and switch shifts. I’ll call you and tell you when I know.”
“All right,” Greg said. “You two have fun.”
As they walked back towards the firing line, Colin asked, “So what were you saying about this being a date?”
Lilliana snorted as she stifled a laugh. “Oh, Mister Burke, this is such a romantic spot. The sound of gunfire and smell of burnt powder on machine oil. How could any woman resist this kind of action.” She tilted her head and fluttered her eyes at him mockingly before she switch back to a more serious tone. “You can call it what you want, you’re paying for us to do something I enjoy, sounds like you’re trying to make a pass at me. I’ll tell you what, goatboy, if you don’t make too much of an ass out of yourself, maybe I’ll take you out to fire some real weapons.”
“Actually, I wasn’t trying to make a pass at you,” he answered. “But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. More than once, to be honest. I’ve just been trying to figure you out. You’re not like any other woman I know, Lilly. And that’s a good thing.”
The liger stopped at the last rifle lane before the start of the pistol lane and dropped the ammo can on the counter. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t think you were the type to be attracted the the crazy new teacher that nearly killed one of the students on the first day of school. You seem a bit more sensible than that. But, what ever floats your boat.” She popped open the can, releveling what looked like a random collection of rounds tossed in helterskelter. She loaded five round into her revolver, then turned and handed it to him. “Here, try something with a little more… umph. It’s not really made for those shorter pistol lanes, but I think you can handle it.”
Colin took the over-sized pistol from her paws, nearly dropping it when she let go of the full weight. “You said it was a .50 Cal., right? Not much bigger than what I’m used to.” He looked it over, taking note of the Smith & Wesson common safety features as the liger set up a paper target and let it ride down the range.
“Yeah, a little bigger than a .45,” she replied with an odd grin on her muzzle. “You good at about fifty yards?”
“That should be good,” the ram said as he started to get a feel for the weight of the handgun. He stopped and put on his eye and ear protection as she did then took up his normal stance, and readied himself for a little more kick than his 1911 had. Colin flipped off the thumb safety and took aim at the paper silhouette as he saw the liger step back out of the corner of his eye. The firearm was much heavier than he was used to for an handgun. He had to fight the instinct to place a paw under the eighteen inch long barrel like a rifle, knowing that the cold metal would heat up quickly with the first shot.
Colin steadied himself as much as she could as he took aim at the silhouette. He continued to run the steps through his mind as he worked on getting the long barrel to right in a small figure eight over the black spot on the paper. He squeezed off the first round, the sound nearly deafening, even through the ballistic earmuffs. Everything went into a sudden slow motion as he felt the pistol kick back from the round. The barrel lifted suddenly as he realized there was not recoil suppression system in the revolver like his magazine-fed pistol. He closed his eyes and tilted his head down to take the inevitable hit to the top of his head instead of his face. Everything went dark for a moment as he felt the hot metal slap him between the horns and knock him to the floor.
He opened his eyes to see Lilliana standing over him with the biggest grin he had ever seen on the liger. The ringing in his ears died down enough for him to make out what she was saying, “That was the money shot. You ready to really do this now?” She reached down and picked up the hunting pistol from his paw and emptied the rest of the rounds out of the cylinder. “You might want to get up before Scales comes back to see what that sound was. We still have a chance to claim ignorance.”
“Trust me,” he replied as he picked himself up off the floor, “I’m not one to casually take advantage of my friends, but it would take a lot for Greg to toss me out of here. But yeah, for the sake of the other patrons, maybe you should put that thing away.”
The liger laughed as she dug through the can of ammunition. “I only have four more from that load. Hank was trying something out. I shot most of them off last weekend at an outdoor range. The rest are closer to what you might get with a factory load. Those things are like shooting off a stick of dynamite. Nice move with the hard head though. Looks really good on the photo.”
She loaded five more rounds into the revolver just as the iguana came around to corner and set off the cease fire siren. “Miss Fargo!” he shouted as he walked up to the lane.
Lilliana pointed at Colin and quickly said, “He did it,” as she leaned back on the counter and grinned. “I just watched and took pictures.”
“Man,” the ram said as he rubbed the top of his head, “What kind of ammo was that? An RPG?”
“It sure as Hell sounded like it,” Greg replied as he leveled his gaze on Lilliana. “He might have fired it, but it was your gun. One more stunt like that, and you’re blacklisted.”
‘Come on,” the liger said looking at the reptile, “it was just a few grains over a normal load. Hank may have gotten the jitters on that one. I bet the rest are fine.”
“See to it that they are,” the iguana frowned. “I’d hate to wreck my buddy’s date over a safety concern.”
She snapped to attention and mock saluted him as she said, “Yes Chief. Safety first. Don’t want to jeopardize civilian hearing… or your cinderblock back stops.” The liger leaned forward and held the hunting pistol butt toward the iguana as she added, “I’ll even let you fire off a few to be sure that meet your approval.”
Greg took the handgun and looked it over before he readied himself to fire three rounds. Colin watched as the sound and kick of the shots were obviously disproportionately small to what she had given him. “Okay,” the reptile replied as he handed the weapon back to the liger. “Just don’t let it happen again.” He looked over at Colin and said, “I expect better from you. Don’t let her push you around like that.”
“She caught me by surprise,” Colin said. “But now that I know she likes her little jokes, I’ll be more alert.”
As the owner left the pair and sounded the all clear to open the range again, Lilliana looked at Colin, “Your date, huh? So how many women do you bring to the firing range? For a moment I thought it was my idea.”
“Maybe he figured it was a date based on the criteria you listed earlier,” the mouflon answered. “I mean, this doesn’t exactly strike me as romantic, but I’ve never known a woman like you, either. Maybe it is a date, and I’m the last one to know.”
Lilliana laughed a little at the mouflon’s comment as she turned to look down the range. “If this is a date, I’ll mark it as interesting at least.”
She slipped her hearing protection and balistic glasses back on as she took aim down the range. Colin noticed her stance looked odd, as she held the pistol as if she was a dominant right eyed shooter, but looked like she was lining everything up with her left. As she fired the final two rounds in the revolver he watched, impressed by the practice and control she had over the high-powered weapon. It looked as if she managed to only allow the barrel to move inches before returning to its position for the next round. Her mechanical passion continued as she spilled the spent casings onto the floor and reloaded the loose ammunition quickly and resumed the process of sending rounds down the firing line in quick succession. The cycle completed two more times before she looked over her shoulder to see him still watching her.
“What, am I going to have to fire off your ammunition also?” she asked, clearly yelling over the hearing protection.
“No, but I’d rather watch you before taking my turn,” he shouted back, making gestures with his paws to emphasize his words. “I can’t learn about you if I ignore you.”
“Fine,” she replied, putting the larger handgun down on the counter, “Let me see your 1911 and a box of rounds. Did you only bring one magazine?”
“I never really planned on needing more than eight rounds,” he said as he sat the boxes of ammunition on the counter.
“Dear god,” he muttered loudly, “with the choice of eight or ten you took eight. You have any in the mag, or you wait till you need it to load one also?”
“I don’t think that, in the event of an emergency, whatever I need it for would stop and wait for me to load,” Colin grinned. “It gets a full magazine after every use, even if it’s only one shot fired.”
She smiled as she took the pistol from his paws and in one quick, fluid motion turned, pulled the slide back to chamber around and began to fire the magazine empty in a matter of seconds. She handed the gun back to him as she said, “you might want to change targets, I need to get a drink.”
As she walked away he hit the switch to return the paper target to the starting position. He was rather astonished at the large hole in the center of the silhouette, obviously made by her larger caliper piston, but more striking was the small collection of holes in the center of the head, so tightly grouped that it formed a single hole, not much larger than two rounds side-by-side in any direction. He muttered to himself, “don’t get on her bad side, it could hurt.”
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ What Carnivores Eat ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Lilliana looked over the menu, across the diner table at Colin as he purused his own for what he wanted to order. She had to admit to herself that she was having a good time, able to relax a bit more without the stress of students or feeling the need to check on Cecily with the moose and others on watch. She thought back to her moment with Larry back on the cruise, and her disappointment when she found out he had suddenly moved away from Marblecliff before she even had a chance to get to know the mouse-man better.
She sat the menu down, having decided what she wanted before they were even seated. She took the opportunity to really look the big-horned sheep over for the first time since their initial, not-so-friendly meeting. He really wasn’t bad looking, a bit of a looker she had to admit. He was fit, at least he kept in shape for fire fighting, or being the soccer coach. He was well-groomed, even for the present manual labor she had put him through when he showed up at the house with his father. And there was something about the pair of horns and the initial show of masculine strength when she tried to move him by them at their first meeting that intrigued her.
Her first impression of the man was driven by her protective instinct that the young mouse had awoken in her. The sight of the panic stricken, crying girl sent her into what she could only describe as a mother's rage. As she looked back, she could only cringe at the overreactions and misjudgment she had made that day. As she sat there with Colin in the relaxed, non-work atmosphere, she had to add her initial impressions of him to the list.
She wasn’t sure if she had slowly softened to the man after Cecily had continued to talk him up and defend him after she actually got into his class and the shock of his first reaction to her size had dissipated, or the fact that he, even on that first day, genuinely seem to want to make up for the incident. When she added his few mildly flirtatious comments from that day into the mix, she had to think about how much flirting back she might have been doing without thinking about it. She sat back and let everything roll through her mind again as she contemplated the fact that she really did want to have a relationship, and Colin Burke was apparently the kind of man she liked.
“You’re unusually calm and quiet,” he said. “It’s kind of worrisome. I mean, I halfway expected you to give me a hard time about making up my mind. Something I should be aware of?”
Lilliana rested her elbows on the table and her chin on the top of her paws as she asked, “Oh, so I'm supposed to be an obnoxious asshole all the time? I didn’t know you were into being pushed around and berated. Good to know, makes life easier when I don’t have to try to please people." She looked at him for a moment before she talked again, “Okay, you got me curious. Are you just anti-social, or did taking up the responsibility of taking care of your sisters and father just kill your pick-up skills?”
He chuckled a little at the question. "Honestly? Neither. You're just unlike any other woman I've ever met. You keep me on my hooves. Sharp. Attentive. I'm not used to it. I kinda like it." He returned his eyes to the menu and explained, "You know, I've eaten here probably close to four hundred times, and I generally stick to a rotation of the same three things. But lately, I've been thinking I should look past my comfort zone and try new things. Who knows, I could end up pleasantly surprised. There are dozens of things on this menu I've never thought of trying that suddenly seem appealing."
“Maybe you knocked something loose in that head of yours with the Bone Collector,” She teased. “you did take a pretty good hit. I’m actually a little impressed. I was expecting to be calling an ambulance when I saw you fall. Can’t say I envy your concussion through. I’m sure Susan will want to have a look at you once she sees the pictures.”
"Head trauma," he grinned, glancing up at her over his menu. "Yeah, that must be it. Use my head dozens of times to bust my way through doors, no problem. One hour into being with you and I've lost my wits." He stayed quiet for several seconds as he kept trying to decide on his order before muttering, "I have to say, though, I'm having a good time."
"I’m told I have that effect on people,’ She said with a little grin. “Or they are sticking around to see what I do next. I’m almost certain that’s one reason I haven’t been fired yet.” the liger leaned back in the chair as she said, “I know it’s killing you. You want to ask something but you’re not sure how I will react. Just ask, I like things straight forward and to the point. Or I can just guess and give you random facts until I get what you’re looking for.”
"I'll tell you what," the ram said as he set his menu down, having apparently decided on his order. "I'm not a fan of one-sided conversations. Communication is a two way street, right? So I ask you a question, you answer it, then you ask me one in return. Real questions, not stuff like 'what's your favorite color?' Questions like that are for Christmas shopping. Sound good?"
“Sounds like you're fishing for real informations,” the liger said with a grin. “if I didn’t know better I’d think you were… Never mind, sounds fair to me.” She had seen Susan use the same tactics many times in her past when information gathering. He was looking for some other cue in her answers and questions beyond the base answer she would be giving. She wondered just how good the mouflon was at her team’s old games, but her suspicions of his interest in her were confirmed. “How about you go first then?”
“Fine then,” he said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table, folding his arms over one another. “I noticed at Sisy’s party that Janine and Scott were there, but none of the other teachers. Which leads me to believe that you know them beyond work, and that Janine is probably how you got into Chimera Prep. So how do you guys know each other?”
“Oh thats easy,” She said leaning back and crossing her arms. “Ran into them on a cruise over the summer. Kinda strange but Janine’s sister is about as into photography as Sisy and the two were geeking out over her new camera. We had been out on the island most of the day, after a rather… interesting evening before, So I sat down and we started talking. One thing led to another, you know how it goes.” she paused for a moment to let him think about the oddity of her answer before she asked, “So you like sports, besides football, did you play anything else at the university?” She watched as she wondered if he would go back to the half explained friendship or if he would move on.
“I was on the wrestling team, briefly. I’m told I was good at it, too,” he said. “But it’s not a team sport like football or soccer. There’s no passing the ball to your teammate or anything like that. When you get out there onto the mat, it’s just you and the other guy. I found the camaraderie lacking, so I stopped. I’m still in pretty good shape, though. Maybe I could show you some moves sometime?” He broke out into a broad grin at the suggestion, before countering with “Okay, so looking at the size of the house, I get that money is no big thing, but why teaching? From what I hear, you had an IT job with the government that most contractors would sell their souls for, and you just walked away from it to teach a bunch of kids. Why?”
“Dear god, why does everyone ask that?” she responded as she shook her head. “Simply, I got tired of dealing with the non-thinking automatons that schools are putting out. I mean really. I have my fair share of higher learning, and it pisses me off when an instructor, not just the students, didn’t know anything beyond the book and they called themselves industry experts. Then having to deal with the know it all graduates that couldn't find their ass with both paws trying to tell me how some technology worked when I was surprised they could operate a lightswitch without instructions. I just got this crazy idea to get to them while they were young and teach them to use that thing between their ears before they were so programmed by the system it was too late.” She paused as she looked at the expression on Colin’s face as she asked, “What were you expecting some deep philosophical answer?”
“No,” he answered. “Actually, you pretty much confirmed what I thought. But that wasn’t your question back to me, was it?”
“No, it was just the look on your face, wasn’t sure if you wanted to say something,” she answered. “So now we both got two pointless questions in on one shot. Why a Driver’s Ed teacher? I mean, you’re intelligent, did well in most of your subjects in college. You could have been just about anything you wanted.”
“Sounds like someone still has connections,” the mouflon remarked. “Who says I’m not what I want to be? When I was little, if anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have a hard time deciding between ‘firefighter’ and ‘race car driver.’ Well, maybe teaching Driver’s Ed isn’t the same as racing, but like I said before, I had the chance to be a stunt driver for a bit, and I still get to put the cars I use for my classes through their paces. And who cares if it’s just volunteer work, I still get to be a firefighter. I’ve made some really good friends, like Greg, and I get to stay close to home with my family. I can’t say I’d have that luxury if I was on the NASCAR circuit.” He thought for a moment then asked, “So, where are you from originally? Any family outside of the Dark Rider House?”
“That’s two questions,” she said leaning forward. “I was a military brat growing up. My mother died when I was young, and my father raised me as best he could. My father passed away a few years ago, and I never had any siblings. Always being on the move I never got close to any other family and was kinda disowned by them before I joined the army myself. So really, not much more in my life right now than Cecily and the crazy bunch that she dragged back together.” She looked him square in the eyes and said, ‘Family seems to be important to you. Spend all that time making sure you sisters and father pulled through after your mother passed. Why don’t you have a family of your own?”
“Just haven’t found the right lady to settle down with,” Colin grinned. “I mean, I meet a girl I like, and they find out what I do, and they figure I’m just some boring guy that works for chump change and the fun will wear off sooner or later. Or I have women approach me because I teach Driver’s Ed, figuring me to be the mature and responsible type, but it turns out I’m still too wild for their tastes. I belonged to a frat in college, and I still love to party and tailgate and play games. I don’t know, I guess my personality really doesn’t match the career, and women don’t know how to read me… Maybe we have more in common than at first glance.”
“Does my personality fit any career?” she asked. “The most common thought I often hear is crazy, followed by unpredictable, aggressive, and irrational. What do you think?”
"The word 'spontaneous' comes to mind," he replied evenly, before a playful smirk formed on his muzzle. "And some guys appreciate an aggressive woman. Coming from a military background myself, I'm not intimidated; I get how tough a woman has to be to move up the ranks. Speaking of... While we were shooting, I noticed that your stance was right-handed, but you lined up your shot with your left eye. Want to talk about what happened there?"
“Years of shooting one way leads to a lot of muscle memory reaction,” she said as her tone and demeanor took a dramatic shift to a more somber sound. “It’s a bit of a long story so I won’t bore you with it Lets just say my right eye is a little less than functional…from a combat incident.” She suddenly perked back up as if flipping an emotional switch as she added, “Most people don’t notice, or they just don’t care. I’m guessing it was money well spent on the post military replacement, and the movements are almost natural.”she blinked and roller her eyes in an exaggerated motion. “As long as we’re comparing war wounds, where did you get that scar on your arm? Doesn’t much look like the old college injury that kept you from going pro.”
“About two years ago my truck responded to a house fire. Talk about a mess. We were the first truck on the scene, but the situation was falling apart quick. Rough part of town, the house wasn’t up to code, faulty wiring in the walls and termite damage pretty much throughout. Really, it should have been condemned, but who knows how long it went without inspection,” Colin leaned back in his chair and rubbed where Lilly had seen the scar earlier. “A family of four lived there, a young couple and their two daughters. Dad was at home with the girls while the wife worked nights. Anyway, we show up, and the father was out in the street fighting to get back inside. While he was trying to escape, one of his girls got pinned under a beam and he couldn’t get her out. He made the tough choice of leaving her behind so he could save his other daughter, and was struggling to get back inside. The chief said it was too dangerous for us to go in, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch her burn. I charged in and found her on the second floor. It took me a few minutes to get her free, and when I did, her leg was mangled, and she was burned pretty extensively over her body. I scooped her up into my arms, took a couple of steps towards the exit, and the rotted, burning floor boards gave way underneath my hooves. Fell through down into the dining room and again into the basement. Blacked out. Woke up in the hospital. Got the scar from the chunk of wood they pulled out of me. The girl, thankfully, made it. Apparently I broke her fall, and being in the basement we were below the smoke and flames. They managed to get the fire out before the whole building came down on top of us. I got to know Amber while we were in the hospital together, and her family. That’s how Greg and I met, and we’ve been friends ever since. The owner of the property is in prison now for negligence. Got an award from the mayor for my actions, and a job offer to serve in another house instead of volunteering, but I couldn’t leave my house mates.”
“Okay, that’s pretty heroic… pretty stupid, but heroic,” Liliana said with a smirk. “I guess that story deserves at least the short version of mine… if you really want to hear a soldier drone on about combat. Pretty boring venture if you ask me.”
“Maybe it is,” the ram replied, “to some. But coming from a military family, listening to old vets swapping their stories my entire life… I dunno, it sounds… comfortable, I guess is the word to describe it. Plus, not all soldiers drone on about combat to guys looking to get to know them better. Just don’t start the story with, ‘what had happened was...’ because then I’ll know it’s bullshit.”
She went into a mildly blank stare into the distance behind him as she started to talk. “This kind of thing doesn’t really fall into those categories. We had been out on nonstop missions for I don’t even know how long now. We had finished the mission, but they must have been expecting us, because they had us pinned down in a single building. Hartken and I were on the roof clearing the path for the others to get out. We got a good chunk of them out to the outer line. Just five of us were left, including the two of us.” her voice softened as she continued, “We must have been pinned there for most of the day, but it seemed that no matter how many I took down more just popped up in their place. My perch was almost perfect, but we had been there way too long. They fired a building leveler at us. I did the only thing I knew how to… I fired at it…” She trailed off lost in the moment. The silence was almost tangible as she looked past him, as if the world had disappeared around her. Then suddenly she flinched, grabbed the table, and let out one of the most feral sounds Colin had ever heard from an anthro, then fell silent with her body tensed as if waiting for something. “They say my actions saved everyone that survived. Only thing I remember is waking up in bandages not feeling much of anything. Only the five of us are left. The unit was dissolved. And I get my pretty little check every month for hearing loss, loss of vision, and limb. And a shiny medal that had no dates or records attached to it, and a story I can only half tell.”
“And that unit is the Dark Riders, whom you now live with, minus Sisy and Daisy,” he nodded. “That’s commendable, what you did. You obviously mean a lot to them, if they’ve all stuck beside you beyond your military careers. Thank you for sharing what you could; I’m sure it isn’t easy sometimes, but I do appreciate it.”
“They’re fucking idiots, the lot of them,”the liger said as she sat back up. “They think they owe me something, and I know I’ve more than been paid back after what I know they did for Squeaker… and the things they did without telling me. We’re all just a bunch of head-fucked vets listening to a young girl on what we’re going to do with our lives. If that’s not crazy, I really don’t know what is.”
“Want to know what I think?” he asked.
She looked up at him as she said, “Sure, what does the guy who ran into a burning building as it collapsed around him to save a total stranger think about us? That should give me perspective.”
“So forgive me for my mixed analogies, but I think you’ll understand where I’m going with this. I think Cecily is your mission. She was in some kind of bind, I don’t know all those details yet, but it was a job that only the Dark Riders could step in and accomplish. And it gave you all new life and new purpose in your post-military lives, where you were all fumbling and stumbling in the dark. Some more than others, sure, but none of you were happy,” he gently reached out and placed a reassuring paw over top of hers. “But that girl needed you, and you all came together in her hour of need. The Dark Riders, back together and running like a well-oiled machine. And now, here’s where the metaphors cross over, but I think you’ll still appreciate it. You guys are like Fefnir, a loud, powerful beast of an automobile. You’re the engine, with all the muscle and determination in the world to get things done. Susan’s the transmission, with those gears in her head turning at redline speed. Hank’s the wheels, if something needs fixed or built, he’s the one you lean on. Boomer is the sound system, you get NPR and heavy metal with her, insightful at times, wild and loud at others. And the General… he’s the on-board computer, telling you guys when the oil level’s low or the tire pressure needs checked. He keeps you grounded and aware of when you need to check yourselves, but in a subtle way. And that little mouse is sitting in the driver’s seat.”
“Someone’s spent too much time listening to old men talk,” She replied with a smile. “You need to get out more.” She paused for a moment before she asked, “Who’s turn was it on this crazy quid-pro-quo anyway?”
“Maybe I have. Doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy listening to Dad and his friends at the VFW. Anyway, the last real question was me asking about your eye,” Colin answered. “So why don’t we order our lunch and then you take your turn?”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Lilliana replied as she turned to look for their waiter. “Who do you have to kill to get service around here?”
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Family Matters ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
As the pair walked into the house Lilliana pulled out her phone and said, “You’re going to have to just get over this one.” and she stared at the screen. After a moment she tilted the phone for him to see a rather interesting image of him with the barrel of her gun against his head as he was visibly off his hooves falling backward.”I told you it was a money shot. I just stacked the odds a little in my favor.”
Colin rubbed the top of his head again as he followed her toward the kitchen not given a chance to respond to the image.When they walked into the large adjoined room area, they found the two elderly men still enthralled in their game of chess in the distant sitting room, while the chinchilla, otter and eagle were seated in log constructed couches around a rough-hewed tree plank coffee table. Cecily was seated at the bar that divided the kitchen for the rest of the cavernous space, diligently working in her sketchbook.
Lilliana briskly walked over to the coffee table and slapped her phone down screen up as she said, “Pay up, I told you I could knock him on his ass without touching him.” grumbling the trio pulled out wallets and slapped small wads of cash near the the phone.
Hank shook his head and snickered he looked at the image. “How long did it tale to talk the range operator out of pressing charges?”
“Oh, that?” Colin said dryly, glancing sideways at Lilly. “That was handled before it ever happened. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you know the right people.”
“We’re not blacklisted yet thanks to curly top here,” She said jerking her head toward Colin, “But I doubt he will ever let me load a weapon for him again. But I’ll save the last for something special.”
“How was lunch at the Voltaire Dinner?” Cecily asked from across the room, causing the others to glance at her then back to the liger with looks of surprise on their faces.
“Not the best burger I’ve had, but the company was at least tolerable,” Lilliana said with a smile. She slapped Colin on the back as she added, “Now if you don’t mind, I need to go wash the stupid off before it becomes permanent.”
Colin stood there dumbfounded while he watched the liger leave him in the room. With his father still entangled in the mock battle between two old soldiers, he walked over to the bar and sat down next to Cecily and said, “I hear you’ve been putting a lot of miles on that new driver’s license.”
The small mouse shrugged as if half listening, “I get out when I can. Theirs not always a car here for me to drive. So what do you really think of her… when she’s not in a bad mood?”
“I have to admit, I had a really good time,” her Driver’s Ed teacher said with a silly grin that said more than his words. “I mean, I guess it’s a good thing I have a hard head with that prank she pulled, but she’s pleasant company when she isn’t thinking up inventive new insults for me.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “And even those are growing on me.”
Cecily shrugged again, “You came back alive and conscious, I guess that’s a good sign. And she asks more about your class than the other teachers, but then again, yours was the only one I had a anxiety attack in.” She continued to sketch without looking up as she talked. “It’s hard to tell what she’s thinking a lot of the time. It’s still hard to believe that I am here now. Some times I feel like I will wake up and it will all have just been a dream.”
“I know how you feel,” Mr. Burke replied. “I get the same way waking up every morning and getting to see Dad. Mom used to worry so much about something happening and him not coming home. You know, they waited until he retired before starting a family? That’s why he’s so much older than me. Hell, I’m almost thirty, and it’s like I’m taking care of my grandfather instead of my Dad. But knowing that I have less time with him than most other people get with their fathers, that one day much too soon, I will wake up and he’ll be gone… it makes me wonder sometimes if that day has already come and I’m dreaming about the past. The difference, young lady, is that the reality you’re afraid of is in the past. You’re safe, surrounded by people that care for you. Everything’s going to be fine.”
For the first time since he sat down, Cecily looked up at the mouflon. “Is it, or is everything just waiting for that moment to fall apart and leave me right back where it all started? It’s hard to believe things are going to be fine when you know nothing ever lasts.”
“Upstairs is a woman that loves you just as much as if she was your own biological mother. Maybe more,” he explained, carefully wrapping his arm over her shoulder and hugging her close, hoping to reassure her rather than incite panic. “She damn near tore my horns off, and choked the stripes off of Ethan, to protect you. And the better I get to know you and your family, the more love I see. No, it won’t last forever. People die, or grow up and move along, but new friends and new family come along to fill some of that void.” Looking down at her, he said, “I’m not entirely sure in what capacity just yet, but I hope I can be one of them. And one day, when you need the strength, you can close your eyes and think back to days like these and the people that believe in you. The love you have for them will last for as long as you want it to, and that’s why everything will be fine.”
“And that right there is why you make a better coach than Lilly would,” the small mouse said as she pulled away from his embrace with a mild shiver. “You can sugar coat the bad parts enough to make it sound good. Her pep talks would more likely drive a team by sheer fear of losing.” She looked back down at the landscape she had been working on and added, “If you really want to to see if things will go farther with her, I really hope the rest of your hide is as thick as your head. And I really hope you’re as much of a good guy as you seem to be. I would hate to see what would happen if you're not. You know she not going to fall for just anyone.”
“Being married to a career Army man, Betty Burke had to remain strong for a very long time while he was away,” Mr. Burke said as he stared at his father and Detlev arguing over where one of the old ram’s chess pieces had been placed prior to his latest move. “I learned a lot from her, and I guess that’s where I get my way with words from. But being the son of that old jackass,” he chuckled, “I can assure you, I can be pretty stubborn and persistent. I’m curious to see where things go, and I think she is too, but she doesn’t know how to express it. But I’ll keep at her until she makes it clear that she’s not interested.”
Cecily huffed a little laugh as she said, “You might just be as dense as she thinks you are.” she closed her book and slipped off the stool onto the floor. “I need to go study, I’m still behind in most of my classes.”
As the mouse left the room the old badger stood up and shouted, “It’s vone zing to cheat, it anozer to get caught ant lie about it.”
“How the Hell’d you ever make General? You couldn’t track enemy movement from cot to latrine,” the Colonel shouted back.
As the two argued loudly the two women nonchalantly handed the otter twenties as if it was normal business to. “double or nothing?” Hank said quietly as he glanced over at the Mouflon. You can get in on it if you want. bets up to forty on who will shout first.”
Shaking his head, Colin said, “No thanks. If popular opinion is true, I’m already taking a big enough gamble. I think I’ll save my luck for that.” Looking back over at the arguing chess players, he yelled out, “Dad, there’s no Ho Chi Minh Trail in chess!”
“I know there ain’t, but this ol’ sonuvabitch found a way to sneak one in!” the elder ram accused. “I swear he’s found a way to smuggle in replacements for pieces I’ve already taken when I ain’t lookin.’”
‘Say zee man who’s lost six ov his eight pawns ant still haz six on zee board,” the baddger retorted as he sat back down to the game.
Alex, not paying much attention to the chess game, or the content of the conversation between the old men leaned over to Susan and said, “‘Ez goin’ fer da longshot on Longshot.” almost instantly the two women burst into laughter at the eagle’s comment.
“Why not?” he asked, looking over at the other two women. “It’s not like either of us is seeing anyone right now, anyway. I kinda like her, and sometimes I get the impression she likes me back. Nothing to lose except my dignity, but I get the impression that if I don’t ask, I can kiss that goodbye anyway.” Then, grinning, he added, “At least if she says yes, I can try and salvage some of it.”
The chinchilla stood, grabbed Colin’s head, and looked into his eyes. “How hard did you hit yourself in the head with that thing? I think you might have a concussion.” She held up one finger and moved it in front of him, “Follow my finger without moving your head.” After a moment she sat back down and added, “Nope, he’s just stupid. Fifty says he crashes and burns in a week.”
“I giv’im two, ‘ez kin’a ‘ard ‘eaded,” Alex said as she leaned back making herself more comfortable on the couch.
Hank looked up at the mouflon for a moment then said, “I think he might have a chance. He’s not dead yet.”
Colin shrugged. “If either of you two know her and her type that well, why haven’t you set her up with someone? You’re her friends, right? Besides, I got the idea from Sisy.” He looked over at the otter and said, “I won’t get in on this little action you three have going on, but I think you should take them up on that bet, Hank.”
Hank smirked at the other two, who looked at each other after the sheep spoke. Susan then said, “Okay, I’ll give him three weeks before he breaks something… vital.” Which earned a laugh from Alex.
“I wunda wha’ ‘e looks like wit’ no ‘orns,” the eagle mused while giggling to herself.
“Less like a Ram, more like a Mustang,” he joked, earning a snorted laugh from Hank. “I figure you’d appreciate some car humor.”
“It’d be funny as ‘ell,” Alex rebutted as she kicked her legs over the arm of the couch. “Don’ know if it’ll ‘elp’er notice ya any bettah, but it don’ look like ya gettin’ much use ouda dem.”
“Horns and a thick skull are plenty useful,” he joked back. “I bet our good councilman regretted his canine heritage when you cracked his head over your knee. Nice job on that one, by the way.”
“He’ll be regrettin’ more den dat when ‘ee tries ta staht ‘is car tamorra,” the eagle added as she stretched out almost putting herself on display in her suddenly tight outfit as she fex and pushed all her curves into the right places to stress the fabric. It was quite obvious she was proud of what ever she had done to the councilman’s car.
“One of these days he’s going to catch you in the act, Boomer,” the chinchilla said with a smirk, “What are you going to do then?”
“Mybe I’’ Jus’ shoot’em.”
“Yeah right, What would you do with the body?” Susan asked.
“We’ll make’im deal wit’ it,” Alex retorted as she jerked her head toward Colin. “Dat way he’ll do sontin’ dat will get Lillys attention besize makin’ Squeaker cry.”
“Some hard-headed jackass is lucky it was me she got to, and not the hot-headed chicken,” the liger said as she walked back into the room with a towel over her shoulders dressed in a tight spandex workout uniform with the Dark Rider logo prominently displayed on it. “We would know what he looked like without horns then.”
“In either case, I’m just thankful you came prepared with the solution,” he said. “She’s a great kid, and deserves it a lot more than some of the self-entitled rich kids who thought I should pass them just because their parents pay my salary, never mind that they were terrible drivers.”
“Damned right she does,” The liger retorted. “I just glad I didn’t need to explore option two. I’m not sure I could find a good spot to hide the body yet.”
“Oh, that reminds me of a ghost story I heard once about this house…” he said. “You see, there was this guy -”
A slur of unintelligible French sounding words poured from the otter’s mouth as he stood up and left the room as the remainder of the group broke into laughter. “You think he will try and get the witch doctor over here again?” Susan asked as she tried to hold in the laughter.
“I take it he’s heard it already?” Colin grinned. “Doesn’t strike me as the type to spook so easily.”
“Shocked us the first time too,” Lilliana snickered, “Never knew he had that thick Cajun thing going on, either. It’s almost as amusing as getting Boomer to cluck.”
“I’makilldanex’wonayadacallsmeashicken,” Alex rambled, the words spewing forth so fast under her heavy accent that Colin couldn’t help but stare at the eagle as he tried the decipher the semblance of English words.
“Cluck cluck?” Susan replied questioningly.
“I’m having a hard time not calling you ‘Free-Range’ now,” the mouflon grinned. “Dad! You about ready to go? We can pick up some KFC.”
“Atsit,” the eagle shouted as she sprang from her lounging position and shot toward the big-horned sheep, grabbing him by the horns and trying unsuccessfully to jerk his head.
“I guess we’re taking it to go,” he joked, standing up and leaving Alex hanging an inch off the ground. “Hey, you’ve been busting my chops all night long. If I don’t fight back, I’ll be the next FNG.”
She wrapped her legs around his waist as she continued to try and force his head to move. “Imachowyouhowtins’appen.”
“Excuse me,” he said politely, looking at Lilly and Susan who were laughing at the eagle’s outburst. “I think my dinner’s a little undercooked. I’m afraid my Dad might get salmonella. May I speak with your manager, please?”
Lilliana’s expression changed to a suddenly cold, stern look as Alex continued to grapple with Colin. “Specialist Hawkins,” the liger’s voice echoed the the house, “At Ease!”
The eagle quickly released the man in response to the heavily drilled-in command as she snapped to a rigid parade rest, followed quickly by Susan jumping to her feetpaws in the same position, both echoing loudly, “Yes Sergeant !”
The look in Lilliana’s eyes did not change as she said, “Enough.” The two other women relaxed slightly as they returned to their seats, leaving the Colin and Lilliana the only ones standing in the suddenly silent house.
“Thank you,” he said with a playful smirk. “Though I’d like something for the inconvenience. Maybe a complimentary meal?”
“Not sure you would want to eat anything here tonight,” Lilliana replied, the cold commanding demeanor instantly vanishing. “It’s Hank’s night to cook and someone spooked him again. There’s no telling what he’ll pull out of that mojo bag of his.”
“It doesn’t matter where,” the ram smiled. “I’m more interested in the company.” They both looked over to see the two old men saying their goodbyes, apparently back on good terms now that they had stepped away from their game. Before Lilliana could turn her attention back to him, he leaned in and planted a quick peck on her cheek. “I had a great time today, Miss Fargo. I’ll see you Monday at school.” Looking at the rest of the shocked Dark Riders, he added, “Have a great night, everyone. Hank, good luck with that bet.”
Lilliana stood there dumbfounded, wide-eyed and slack jawed as the mouflon followed his older companion back to the toward the foyer to leave.The silence in the room was almost tangible as everyone looked at the liger. She shook her head for a moment as she said, “Someone better get started with cooking.” Then she left the room herself as Alex and Susan smiled at one another.
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Dinner ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Daisy walked in and dropped into the dining room table chair, as she let out a sigh. She looked around the table at the rest of the group, curious about why no one had said anything about her showing up late. There was already a plate with a stake and full serving of vegetables set for her, while Susan and Alex sat in front of their empty plate with mischievous grins as they looked at Lilliana, who seemed to be distracted. She leaned over to Cecily and whispered, “Should I be worried?”
“That depends on whether you want to bet for or against Mister Burke's survival,” the small mouse replied.
“His survival? Against what” Daisy asked confused by her girlfriends question. “Shit did he do something stupid again and piss off Lillyana?”
Cecily chuckled as she said, “That depends. He showed up so his father and Detlev could play chess here instead of at the VFW. They spent most of the day together, and he kissed her before leaving.”
“HE kissed HER? Did he leave walking or was he wheeled out?” Daisy asked wide eyed as she looked around the table.
“He walked,” she replied. “He was smart enough to make a run for it while she was still stunned. It was kinda funny, I think he got her at her own game for a moment.”
With a little chuckle she asked, “so what’s the pool up to on him?” After living with the group for a few months she had more than become aware of their penchant for taking bets on nearly anything and everything. “And how much to get in this one?”
“No pot this time, Lilly said she’d break arms if she caught anyone betting on it,” Cecily said glancing over at the liger than back to Daisy. She whispered, “fifty buy-in up, up to two-fifty. You’ll have to talk to Hank to get in on the action. But I think it’s a lost cause. You should have seen the look on her face when he kissed her, even though it was just on the cheek. She likes him.”
“Oh really…” Daisy said doing her best to hide the grin that was trying to creep onto her face. “Well, I guess the old saying about someone for everyone is true after all… weird in this case I think, but true.”
“I think taking the Bone Collector to the head is what cinched it for him,” Cecily said as she tilted her phone toward the moose under the table. “And he took her to lunch afterward.”
“Sounds like he likes her too, that or he’s completely insane,” Daisy said snickering at the photo on the mouse’s phone. “So... Detlev knows Mr. Burke’s dad I take it, that explains a couple of things I guess.”
“They served together,” Cecily said. “Old army buddies. It’s kinda funny watching them. It’s kinda like what I would expect if Lilliana played herself at chess. They spent more time insulting each other than playing, and reliving old memories between games. But, I think we’ll see more of both of them.”
“So, other than Lillyana beaning your drivers ed teacher, anything exciting happen today or were you as bored out of your mind as I was short stack?” Daisy asked looking over the plate in front of her. “Hank cooked didn’t he?”
“He’s getting better,” the mouse said. “At least it wasn’t Susan, she still cooks like she’s on a diet.” She looked up at Daisy and smiled. “I think Mister Burke… Colin, likes Lilly because she is the way she is, not really predictable and brutally honest. I wonder what he will think when he sees her more playful, fun loving side.” She paused for a moment and looked at the floor. “Daisy… what is it like to have a dad that cares?”
“Well…” the moose herm began a little hesitantly, “if they really care it’s pretty good. Back when I knew for sure mine cared it was great. He was always there for me when I needed him, no matter how small the problem might be. He was a bigger help to me in a lot of ways then my mom was on some things you know? Though that would probably be a little different for you.” With a bit of an odd look on her face she added, “but it was good having him care about me, no matter what was going on around us, or at school, or at his office… he was just there for me. I don’t know beyond that,” Daisy said shaking her head a little seeming to try to shake off a memory. “My dad was okay, I guess, as far as dads go. We just weren’t really close like mom and I are. I’m not so sure I’m the best person to ask about dads to be honest Cecily.”
“I… I only remember one that acted anything like what I imagine when I think of dads,” the small mouse said as kicked her legs off the edge of the chair. “But I guess that doesn’t even really count. When things got hard and they had to relocate for work, I was sent back to be placed in another home. I don’t know, I kinda like Mister Burke, he’s always nice and… I don’t know. Maybe I am just being… I mean, it’s not like I know he and Lilly are going to get together or anything.” Cecily dropped her head on the table as she mumbled, “I’m sixteen and hoping some guy I hardly know will get with the mom that I’ve only had for a few months so I can have a real family. I’m pathetic.”
“Nah, not really girlfriend,” Daisy said rubbing the small mouse’s back a little. “You’re not weird or pathetic for wanting the one thing you’ve never had before Sisy. Even though no family really lives up to the whole dream family thing. If you can get close it’s pretty good, and oddly enough with this bunch… you seemed to get pretty damn close.”
She tilted her head to look up at the moose as she asked, “Is it bad to give him the idea that she likes him, even if she wanted to snap his horns off? ‘Cause… um… I kinda did that the other day at the track.”
“Meh, who knows Sisy…” Daisy started as she started to eat the food in front of her. “It is Lilly we’re talking about here. She’s about as hard to figure out as assembly instructions written in Japanese.”
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ September 23, 2013 ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Lunch ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Colin knelt in front of the AV cart setting the old VHS tape back to the beginning as the next class of students filtered into the room. Suddenly the quiet conversations in the room behind him picked up a to low roar. He turned to remind his class of the to keep it down when he saw the liger walk briskly past him and drop into the chair behind his desk. He stood momentarily confused as she opened a brown bag and began pulling out an assortment of food.
“Excuse me, Miss Fargo,” he asked, “What are you doing?”
“Eating lunch,” she replied without looking up, “What does it look like I am doing?”
“We do have a Cafeteria and Teacher’s lounge for that,” he said calmly, sparking a murmur among the students.
“Yeah, sure,” She shot back as she pulled the lid off one container. “I can go get ogled by hormone crazed teanagers, or sit in a room with some boring jackasses and listen to them whine about budgets or the brats in their class. No thank you.” She propped her paws up on the desk as she leaned back in his chair and began eating what looked like a club sandwich.
Grinning to himself, he shook his head in acceptance and said, “Well, then, I'm glad that the accommodations here are more to your liking. Please, stay as long as you wish.” He turned his attention back to his students and said, “Okay, class, when we last left off, we were talking about turn signals. Can anyone here tell me how long you should have your turn signal on to alert your fellow drivers before changing lanes?” A young Glaucus Atlanticus raised her arm and he said, “Miss Voss.”
“Three-to-four seconds,” the sea slug answered confidently.
“That’s correct,” the ram replied, turning back to the whiteboard. He started to draw out a diagram of an intersection as he continued. “And who can tell me when you should turn on your turn signal when preparing to make a turn?” He looked back out at his students and called on a quiet gray tabby… boy? Lilliana couldn’t quite tell. “Rachael?”
The feline “girl” flinched at having her name called out. “Uhm… H-half of an in-intersection…?” the teen asked nervously. The sea slug girl sitting beside her patted her on the back and whispered praise for a correct answer.
“You’re right. Good job,” Colin said, giving the shy teen words of encouragement.
“Hold on, I thought we were going to see HIGHWAYS OF AGONY,” The liger said from the desk in the corner. “That’s the report I got from Squeaker. Or was it BLOOD and ASPHALT?”
“Ah,” Mr. Burke chuckled. “So you’re here for the entertainment. Yes, the earlier class did get to see Highways of Agony, but this class is a day behind because of last week’s assembly. Why don’t you come back again tomorrow? I wouldn’t mind.”
“What, you thought I came to look at you?” Lilliana chuckled. “I’m already here. I’ll just watch and see how this teaching thing is supposed to be done. Who know, maybe I’ll learn something.”
“Might be a good idea,” Colin nodded. “I mean, you’re not from the area, and Marblecliff PD isn’t exactly lenient on the traffic laws. Now, who knows why it’s important to wait until you are in an intersection before turning on your signal to make a turn beyond the intersection?” The class was quiet as a couple of students pondered their replied while the rest looked bored. Some of them even looked like they were about to nod off in class.
“So the jackass behind you might get a clue that you are turning into a lot beyond the intersection and not into the street you’re passing,” the liger blurted out into the silence after swallowing a mouth full of food. “Then again considering the idiots I’ve seen driving, you might need to send them a text so they see it.”
The class burst out into giggles and laughter at the liger’s joke, and Colin grinned. “You’re on the right track, but it’s not the driver behind you that you should worry about. If you turn on your signal too early, a car stopped at the intersection may think you intend to turn sooner, and pull out in front of you without leaving sufficient time for you to react.”
“There is always time to react; it’s a matter of whether everyone around you can react as well,” Lilliana replied. “That’s why I drive a car made of real Detroit metal, and not some fiberglass piece of foreign shit.”
“Miss Fargo, please,” he said. “I enjoy your company, and I’d hate for you to get into trouble over swearing in front of the students. But yes, it is true that some of us react faster than others. But what if your only option is to swerve, either onto a sidewalk or oncoming traffic?”
“Aim for the idiot’s axle and floor it,” she replied. “Hit him hard enough and it should break his traction hold and swing him out of your way so you can get out of traffic yourself and strangle him for fu…” She trailed off as she obviously looked for some replacement word for what she was about to say.
“As… sound… of a tactic that may be, it’s also likely that the insurance agencies would fault you for driving too fast,” the ram countered. “The laws in the driver’s manual are what they are for a reason… Though your way does sound fun.”
“Claim Post Combat Stress Reaction,” she said before she shoved the last of her sandwich in her mouth.
“Class?” He grinned, looking out over his students. “How many of you have served in our nation’s military? Paintball, laser tag, and Call of Duty don’t count.” When no one raised their paws, he looked back at Lilliana and said, “Sorry, I think that one only works for you.”
“Never said it had to be true,” She countered as she leaned on the desk and looked out at the class and asked, “How many of you have never lied?”
When nobody raised their paws again, Colin said, “It’s one thing to lie, it’s another thing to lie and not get caught. And trust me, I think the lie you are proposing for them would be pretty easy to see through. And once they get caught in a lie, their entire case is in jeopardy.”
Lilliana shrugged as she opened another container. “If you can’t take the heat… Everyone just needs to remember that there is a stupid way, a right way, and a smart way to do everything, and they are usually all different things.” She paused for a moment as she looked into the plastic container, then said, “That moose is going to make me fat. Why did she get a job at a bakery?” She looked back at Colin and added, “you better get on with your class before they start falling asleep again.”
“Oh, I think you managed to at least wake up some of them,” he said, looking at a young warthog who seemed to be in a daze at his desk. “Hey, what did Mrs. Gaithers say about throwing boxes of paper clips?” He made a gesture towards the comatose teen, causing the rest of the class to laugh.
“Don’t throw them at the students,” she replied quietly as she stood up, grabbed a large book off the mouflons desk and walked across the room. The class fell eerily quiet as even Colin wondered exactly what she was going to do. She gestured for the girl seated in front of the teen to move as she sat in the desk backward and put her snout almost next to his. The liger raised the book as high as she could before letting it fall to the floor.
The warthog jerked awake with the loud thud so close to him. Her eyes narrowed as his widened. Swiftly, before he could react more than waking up she started in, “You’ve just slammed into a mactruck after running a red light because you dozed off at the wheel. You can’t feel your legs with the steering wheel pressing tightly into your lap. You date in the passenger seat is covered in blood and shattered glass, and isn’t moving. Your best friend, who was in the back seat, is now between the two of you. You can hear his breath struggling through the sound of blood gurgling in his throat. What do you do?” After several moments of silence, a look of shock and confusion etched on the boy’s face, she leaned back and said, “If you can’t stay awake in class in the middle of the day, how are you going to do it in a car after a night on the town? Think about it… while you can still walk.”
Colin couldn't help but smile as the startled teen jumped to attention and the rest of the class broke out into laughter. He walked over to Lilliana and gently set a paw on her shoulder, saying, "Okay, Miss Fargo, I think that Mr. Yarborough here gets the message." Looking at the boy, he asked, "Don't you?" The youth swelled nervously and gave a slight nod. Colin stepped away and, with his back turned to the class, looked Lilliana in the eyes and mouthed "Thank you."
"Not that Cal would ever have a date," a girl - some type of hyena - muttered, "or if he did, she'd probably be the one driving him around." This earned her a few snickers from her friends.
"That's enough, Miss Burris," the ram said, re-establishing his control over the room. "We treat our classmates with respect here. So, for your snide remark, you'll get to go last on the next day of evaluations." The teen canine huffed and slumped down in her chair.
The class’s attention focused on the liger once again as a loud buzz came from the cell phone at her side when it vibrated. She pulled it from her side and looked at the screen while still seated at the desk. “What the hell, Do they have cameras trained on me? I didn’t even touch him… this time.” She stood and turned to Colin as she said, “Major Gaithers have requested my presence in the command center.” She gave him and overly exaggerated salute and added, “Until next time Lieutenant Goatboy.” As she turned to leave the classroom she said, “You pelbs don’t give him a hard time now that he doesn’t have back up.” She walked out of the room leaving the remnants of her lunch on his desk. As the door closed behind her, paws shot into the air around the room.
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ September 26, 2013 ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Turnabout is fair Play ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Colin thought about the mild spectacle Lilliana created in his class as he walked toward her classroom. a loud murmur could be heard from the room as he approached, which died instantly, replaced by the screech of desks and chairs moving when he walked through the door.
"Where's Miss Fargo?" he asked looking over the room full of students as they tried to act as though they weren't just clowning around moments earlier. No doubt, if word reached the liger woman's ears that they had been misbehaving she would dole out some sort of discipline. There might even be a small chance it would be appropriate.
Hailey raised her paw and waited quietly to be recognized. As the president of the student council, the young sand cat would be the most trustworthy source of information.
"Yes, Miss Reynolds?" he said, acknowledging her gesture.
“Miss Fargo was not in the room when we arrived,” Hailey said. “I heard she got fired.”
“The rumors of my termination are greatly exaggerated, Like most of the other shit you hear about me,” the ligers voice from the doorway Commanded instant attention in the room. She walked in with a large five gallon water cooler jug over her shoulder.
The class echoed in unison, “good afternoon Miss Fargo.”
Apparently completely ignoring the mouflon’s presence in her class, Lillian dropped the jug in front of the podium and walked over to the whiteboard at the front of the class. She proceeded to Write a list of profanities in large red letters on the board as she started to talk. "A parent has called and requested that my fucking language be curtailed so you pansy ass fuckers won't hear this kind of shit at school and will only be exposed to it by TV, movies, and your ghetto fuck music. So in an effort to aquess their request, I have made a list of shit that I might say that could corrupt your virgin ears."
After writing a list of the most common expletives and a few vulgar phrases she turned and looked at the class. "Now I know there are a few new euphemisms that I may be unaware of. The reason I have compiled this list is so that you students can alert me to my usage of said expletives if I miss them. Feel free to point them out at any time I may use them around the school so that you can defend all your other momma's boys for learning such shit in a controlled environment so that you can be exposed to it in the wild."
She proceeded to pull out a roll of quarters and walked to the back of the classroom and sat on the back table. The class instantly rotated in their desks to look at her, all remaining silent. “So I figured I’d do what I can to try and make an effort to stop Fucking Cusing around all you little pussy so you and you’re parents don’tget but hurt by my old school soldier fucking gutter mouth.” With each profanity she launched a quarter at the jug she had left at the front of the class. Each one hid the small inch and a half opening and made a hollow thud and klink sound as they fell into the container. “Each time I say some shit that might offend or corrupt you young innocent minds, I’ll add one quarter to that water jug. When it is full, I’ll have a small pizza party to apologize to you shitbags for exercising my first amendment rights. Any question?”
After a moment of silence she stood up and took a careful aim at the water jug and proceeded to read the list of words and phrases off the board, followed by a few racist and derogatory comments, easily emptying her paw of quarters into the container. She stood up right and asked, “Now what fucking class was this again?”
The student council president raised her paw again. Lilliana looked at her as she siad, “Introduction to programming, Miss Fargo.”
“That’s right, C# for dummies,” the liger responded as she started to walk back to the front of the class. “Start up your systems and open the September week four project and begin. You should be concentrating on taking last weeks crap and creating classes so that you can reuse code chunks instead of writing it over and over. This is the essence of Object oriented programming. The Basics were covered on Friday, so feel free to ask about what you forgot during your drunken teen party weekend.”
Lilliana walked behind the podium and tapped on a tablet that was resting there. Without looking up she barked out, I said September week four not November Mister Arrowwood.” A large snapping turtle flinched at the back of the class. She then acknowledged Colin for the first time. “So, What brings you to my neck of the woods? Get lost?”
“No, not lost,” he said, sitting on the corner of her desk. “I actually wanted to ask you something earlier, but you left before I could, but I have soccer practice after school and I’m on duty at the firehouse tomorrow. But I was wondering if you’d be interested in going with me to a classic car show this Sunday. You take Fefnir, and I take Veronica, and we can spend the day checking out a lot of other vintage autos.”
An exaggerated look of pure shock covered Lilliana's face as she put a paw on her chest and loudly exclaimed, “Mister Burke, Are you making a pass at me? And so soon after the sexual harassment meeting we attended together? Frankly I am abused by the fact that you have the gall to do such a thing in front of a class full of students without regard to the consequences of your actions.” Snickers filtered across the room as the liger spoke.
The ram rolled his eyes and shook his head, but the grin across his muzzle indicated that he was more amused than worried about the severity of what she was implying in jest. "No, I said check out some vintage autos. There's nothing sexual about that, unless I started mentioning testing the shocks, or how spacious the back seats are, or a mutual inspection of fluid levels." More giggles and an amused snort sounded from the students. "You. Me. Classic cars. Sunday. I'll send an email to your faculty account, and I'll save you a spot if you decide to show."
She leaned over and tapped on the tablet a bit before looking back at him. She smiled and said, “I might go, if you think you can stay on your hooves this time.” She followed her comment with a tap to the tabled that displayed the photo she had taken of him at the firing range on the board at the front of the class, earning the liger a barrage of laughter at the sight of the mouflon in mid flight. “I always thought it was the man’s job to knock the woman off her paws.”
“You’ve met my dad,” he said, ignoring the laughter from the kids in the class. “Mom was tough. She had to be, to put up with him for so long. Not knowing if he was coming home from the war or not. You’ve served, you know what that’s like. Firefighting isn’t that different, except the front lines are in our own backyard, and we get to go home and the end of the day. But that doesn’t mean we’re getting out alive. I’ve dated girls before who asked me to quit, but I can’t hang up my axe just because a woman asks me to. What I’m saying is... She made me appreciate a strong, proud woman. You might have blindsided me, Lilliana Fargo, but I’m not done trying.”
“I could tell you had a thick head when the hand-cannon hit it,” the liger said with a smile, “But I didn’t know it was empty also. I’ll tell you what, I’ll go to your little classic car show if you can find one other person in this school that wants to go that I can stand being around for more than ten minutes.” She looked back down at the tablet as she said, “until then I have students that are working on things that take a bit more than common sense to figure out, and half of them didn’t get their fair share of that to start with.”
“Challenge accepted,” the ram said with a boyishly charming grin. “Enjoy the rest of your day, Lilly.” With that, he stuck his paws into the pockets of his jeans, turned around, and strolled out of the classroom whistling to himself.
“That’s Miss Fargo to you Goatboy,” She shouted as he left the room.
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Secret Weapon ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Cecily Stood by her mini bike as she snapped pictures of the students getting into their own cars to leave school for the day. She couldn’t help but giggle at Lilliana’s antics in Mister Burke's class she heard others talking about. She wondered just how far the liger would push the mouflon before she would come out and talk to him. The two of them obviously liked one another, and watching them was almost as amusing as watching other students fumble through getting dates with each other.
Her small motorcycle had been pushed in front of Lilliana’s Camaro in the faculty parking, her helmet rested on the seat with her ever present denim backpack. After a few more shots she leaned in to start packing up when a familiar voice called out behind her, “Miss Fargo.”
She didn’t even turn as she replied, “She’s still in her classroom Mister Burke. And before you reprimand me for parking in the faculty space, she made me. there’s no good parking for my bike in the student lot.”
“Actually,” he said with a smile, “I’m looking for you. Daisy told me you’d be here, waiting, and she agreed to stall Lilly long enough for us to have a brief chat. Though she was muttering something about this had better be worth it.” He chuckled and shrugged, then explained, “Anyway, I have asked Lilly to go to a classic car show with me this weekend, and she accepted… Provided that I can find someone else to take that won’t get on her nerves.”
“Good luck with that,” she said waiting for him to get to the point. She smiled a little as she thought about how many things he could try to use to get her to go with them. “Derek might be into it. She hasn’t choked him yet.”
“I briefly considered asking him,” he chuckled, “but I figured that if I’m going to try to get to know your mother, then I should try to get to know you, as well. What do you say? Would you be interested in spending a day with your mother and me looking at a bunch of classic cars? Maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards?”
She turned, leaned against the small motorcycle and crossed her arms as she looked up at him. The sight almost made the small mouse look like the sixteen year old she was. “So, because you want to get in my mother’s pants, you’re going to ask me, an art and music nut, to go to some gearhead things with you? I’ve already got my license, what’s in it for me?” She stifled a snicker as she thought about how much like Lilliana she must have sounded saying that. Between her adopted mother and Daisy, Cecily had found the courage and confidence to speak up more. Even though she felt the edges of a panic attack creeping in, she had gotten to know the mouflon some and had started to consider him, among others, safe.
At first, her words caught him by surprise, and he stood there with a shocked expression written all over his face, until finally a knowing grin spread across his lips. "Cecily Fargo," Mr. Burke said, setting his duffel down on the curb, "I do believe you're trying to extort me. We both know that if my goal was to get laid, there are much easier women I could go after than your mother. But, I know how much you like photography, and there's a lot of Americana at these things for you to take in. Plus, I honestly care about getting to know you just as much as I care about getting to know Lilly."
The smirk on her face melted as the reality of what he was saying hit her. It was something she imagined and even wished for, and Colin did seem like what she pictured as a father. He was kind and caring. Even her misunderstanding of what he did on the first day of school was more centered around concern for her than most furs ever showed in her past. And she though he genuinely like Lilliana, and her. She didn’t know how long she stood there in silence, but her mind had started to race with the possibilities. She would feel her heart pounding in her chest as everything started to take a darker turn in her mind. She looked up at him as she fought the urge to run. The friendly smile on his face and friendly look in his eyes defused her panic enough for her to take a breath.
“Okay,” she said in a near whisper, “we’ll go.” She could feel herself shaking as she spoke. She turned away from him as she quickly grabbed her helmet and slipped it on. She needed to get away before he saw her breakdown. She didn’t want to scare him off, for Lilly’s sake, and her own. As the small motor came to life at the press of the starter button she glanced over at the mouflon one more time and gave the best wave she could before she pulled away, leaving the Camaro and confused mouflon in her rear view.
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ September 29, 2013 ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ To Skin a Goat ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Lilliana looked over at the passenger seat, at Cecily as she slipped the head phones on. The past two days she had been almost excited about going out with the mouflon, talking about the sights and attractions that would be at the car show. As they days passed she had even talked about how she thought Lilliana and Colin made a cute couple, almost like she wanted to push them together. Cecily had even seemed impatient when they first arrived and registered.
The first hour at the show had passed somewhat as she had expected. Cecily went about taking photos, though she seemed to be taking more pictures of the attendees and surroundings than the cars themselves. Lilliana spent the time sitting on the hood of the Camaro as she waited for the mouflon to show up. After the second hour, they were both waiting by the Camaro. Lilliana could see the beginnings of disappointment in Cecily’s eyes as the small mouse munched on the cheese covered fries. She was good at hiding her feelings, but the lack of her earlier excitement showed through.
When Colin had not showed up by noon, Lilliana was furious. Cecily had already retreated into her sketchbook and music, closing everything else around her out. Lilliana wasn’t sure exactly what her daughter had expected from the day, but this was not it, and the mouflon would pay for it.
“I will skin him alive,” Lilliana growled, hoping the mouse would react one way or the other. It had been a long time since the mouse was actually shut down like that.
“It’s okay,” she muttered softly, “He probably got called in or something.”
“Doesn’t fucking matter,” the liger retorted, “He said he was going to be there, made plans. He had better be dead or close to it.” She slammed on the brakes as she pulled up in front of the address she had for Colin and pulled the parking brake.She stepped out of the car as she said, “Come on Squeaker, we have a goat to kill.”
“Lilly,” Cecily muttered softly as she got out of the car to follow her, “He probably forgot.”
“Forgot my ass,” she nearly shouted as she waved her arm over at the polished car in the driveway. “Looks to me like he chickened out. I’ll give him a good reason to not show up when he says he’s going to be somewhere. I’ll break both his legs.”
Lilliana pounded on the door and hammered the small doorbell rapidly as her pique grew. It wasn’t long before the door opened revealing the older of the Burke men in his wheelchair, “Miss Fargo…”
She cut him off quickly as she growled through her teeth, “ Can it, Colonel. Where is he? He’d better be dead or dying in there, or we’re having lamb chops for lunch.” Her expression of anger melted before the older man could respond. “What’s that?” she asked as she pointed to what looked like a new tripod wrapped in a big red bow that leaned against the small table in the entryway, next to an obvious bouquet of flowers.
Just as she was asking the question, another sheep emerged from the back of the house carrying what looked like some type of care package. “Whoever it is, Dad, tell them to just fuck off…” She stopped talking when she saw Lilliana and Cecily standing in the doorway, and a shocked expression appeared on her face. “Oh… Hi. You must be Sargent Fargo and Sisy. I’m Crystal, Colin’s younger sister. We’re going to see him now. Are you guys coming, too?”
“What's going on here?” the liger asked more calmly than when they first answered the door. “Did I miss something? Where’s Colin?”
“Come on, ride with us,” the younger woman said, her father noticeably distraught. “We’ll explain on the way.” She ushered them out the door to the garage, where another mouflon woman was sitting in the driver’s seat of a Suburban.
As the four climbed into the vehicle, the Colonel said, “Sargent Fargo, Cecily, this is my oldest daughter, Lindsey.”
“So you’re the one our brother is all crazy for?” the woman chuckled. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“He’ll be crazy about me when I’m done ripping his horns out by the root,” the liger muttered still not completely sure what was going on. She glanced over at Cecily to see the girl had taken off her headset and looked concerned as the group readied to leave. “You okay, Squeaker?”
The mouse looked up at her and said, “Yeah.. um, I guess… Where… what happened to Col… Mister Burke?”
“Oh,” Lindsay said, “They don’t know yet?”
“Colin was working at the fire house last night,” the Colonel explained, the old ram’s voice unusually heavy with concern. “They got a call to respond to a fire down in the warehouse district, but while his truck was en route, some jackass failed to yield and T-boned his truck.”
“Wait, you mean he’s really…” Lilliana started to say as all the emotion drained from her face. She quickly recovered from the shock as she leaned back and crossed her arms, “Okay, he might have a passable excuse for standing us up.”
Cecily looked at the older mouflon, wide-eyed as she asked, “Wh… is he okay?”
“It was a little touch-and-go for a bit, but he’s stable now. He’s got quite a few broken bones,” Crystal explained. “Jaw, clavicle, a few ribs… He’ll be sore for a bit, but he should pull through okay.”
“So, you’re saying he’s mostly pieced back together with some duct tape and twine,” Lilliana said with a hint of concern in her voice though the words did not match. “And the other guy did most of my work for me.” She looked at Crystal and asked, “Any word on the other firefighters… or the asshat?”
“Colin took the brunt of the hit, since he was steering the ladder,” Lindsey explained. “When the other car hit, he got tossed. The other guys should be fine; some whiplash, aches and pains from the impact, but nothing too serious. The other driver, though, didn’t make it. We’re waiting on the toxicology reports to find out if he was drunk or what.”
“I’ll have to admit, it’s one hell of a way to get out of going to a car show,” the liger replied. She pulled out her phone and started tapping on the screen. “You have the name of the attending physician?” Without waiting for the answer or looking away from her screen she switched topics, “They’ll bring the bikes to the hospital and pick up Fefnir. You need anything from the house?”
The small mouse pulled up the denim backpack and dug through it for a moment, “I could use my charcoal pencils, but I think I have everything to make it a few more hours.”
“You think there will be any need for legal representation in this matter?” Liliana asked, almost coldly as she continued to tap on the screen of her phone.
“I think that all remains to be seen,” the Colonel said gruffly. “But, for the time being, some counsel couldn’t hurt. You’ll have to forgive my boy, though; he probably won’t say much.”
“I’ll have Boomer get up to speed on everything. HE may not need to say anything if she gets her claws on the right people,” A smile crossed her muzzle as she added, “Maybe she can even get Mister Archer to point her to the right people.” After a moment she put her phone away and glanced around the car. “Okay, so what’s the game plan? I doubt they will be letting just anyone in if he is in the condition you say, and I don’t look much like family, through Sisy might make it under their radar.” She smirked at her quip as the mouse muffled a snicker. “Okay, so he didn't just hang us out to dry, Squeaker. I saw we give him a chance to make it up to us. Provided he can stand on his own two hooves first.”
“They’re done working on him, for now,” Crystal said. “He’s back in his room, but last update was that he was unconscious, probably from both shock and the anesthesia. They’re allowing one visitor at a time, so we were going to stay in the waiting area for a bit and sit with him in shifts. Hopefully, some familiar voices will help him get through all this.”
“There anything you guys need?” the liger asked the group in general. “I’m sure my team can take care of it.”
“Nothing for now, Sargent,” the old ram said with a weary smile. “At ease.”
Lillaina nodded, leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms as she thought through the events of the day again. It had been the first time she could remember shifting so swiftly from anger to concern, and even fear. She was sincerely worried about Colin, and she could tell Cecily was also. There was something there she had only seriously thought about once before after she adopted Cecily. She wanted a family as much as the small mouse did, and this unorthodox coupling might just work as much for her as it would for her new daughter.
“This just might work,” the liger mumbled as a contented smile creeped across her muzzle.
▂▃▅▇█▓▒░۩۞۩ Wake up Call ۩۞۩░▒▓█▇▅▃▂
Colin felt the throbbing sensation through his body gradually intensify as his feeling returned. he tried to remember where he was and what had happened only to get fuzzy images and chaotic fragments of memories. He had a hard time focusing as a voice in the background continued to speak in a calm even tone. His eyes started to flutter open as the words slowly became clear.
“In 1997, Sun Microsystems approached the ISO/IEC JTC 1 standards body and later the Ecma International to formalize Java, but it soon withdrew from the process. Java remains a de facto standard, controlled through the Java Community Process.”
The words seemed so out of place in his addled mind, but the voice was familiar. he tried to focus on, but everything seemed to stay on the edge of reality. He tried to move his arm to shield his eyes from the light only to groan in pain.
He could hear what sounded like a book slap shut as the now obviously female voice said, “Look who is finally decided on rejoining the land of the living.”
Colin gave a weak smile and closed his eyes, reaching over with his paw and resting it gently on Lilly’s knee. He gave it a soft squeeze before patting her twice, then began to pull it away before Lilly stopped him.
“Hold on there goatboy, that’s your last good arm. I need to keep it close so I can break it when you’re conscious enough to feel it,” she said as she gently rested her paw on his. “Your jaw’s broken and wired shut, so nods and this paw are about all we have to communicate with at the moment. Unless you want to hurt yourself by trying to talk.” A moment later she said, “Sissy, go tell his family he’s awake… and if you want, tell a nurse on the way also.”
She felt a tap on her knee and looked up into Colin’s eyes. He nodded slightly, indicating with his eyes that he wanted her to look at his paw. Glancing back down, she watched as he traced the letters Im sorry with his finger on her leg.
“Well,” she said with a smile, “next time you plan on getting t-boned by some jackass, call me first so I don’t make an ass of myself when I threaten to rip your horns off in front of your family. Though I think they took it well.”
He chuckled slightly, then grimaced in pain as the muscles in his jaw clenched and relaxed. Dropping his head back down onto the pillow, he closed his eyes and sighed. Hows everyone else?
“Everyone else is okay,” She replied as she put a paw on his shoulder. “Whiplash, bumps and bruises mostly. They were all smart enough to not get tossed thirty feet in the accident.” She leaned to one side and picked up a small pack of papers and added, “Boomer said you have two choices if you want to sue someone; the faulty restraint that gave on impact which could be the leading cause of the majority of your worst injuries, or the family of the drunk driver that caused the accident in the first place. Then again if you give her enough time she might think of a way to drag the hospital into it. But I have a feeling you don’t want to do anything like that. You’ll just come up with some sappy lines and turn the whole thing into an anecdote for your class to demonstrate the perils of driving under the influence.”
Well see. Too tired now.
“Goddamnit, boy, I’m starting to think you want me to have a heart attack,” the Colonel said as he was wheeled into the room, followed closely by his daughters and Sisy. He approached the side of the bed and took Colin’s other paw. “I know how much you love what you do, but your ass is going to take some time off. I’m getting too old to be worrying about you and shit like this.”
“Maybe you should relax for awhile and find yourself a good woman that cares about you?” Lindsey suggested, looking at Lilliana.
“Good luck with that,” the liger said with a wink. “I don’t think any sane woman would put up with him.”
Colin’s lips curled up into a smile and he gave her a gentle swat on the knee.
“From what I hear, he doesn’t know any sane women anyway,” Crystal joked.
“I’ve got to hear this,” Lilliana said as she leaned back in the chair and smiled. “What does he have to say about me… considering I’m the only woman I’ve seen him with. Hell, his idea of a first date was a firing range and lunch.”
“I think it would be better to hear it from him directly,” Lindsey replied.
“Well he’s a little incommunicado at the moment,” the liger added as she over at him. “Maybe some good stories about him growing up. Isn’t that what sisters are supposed to do, set out to see how badly they can embarrass him while he can’t do anything about it?”
“Oh, now THAT we can do,” Crystal said, getting a giggle from her older sister. Colin just groaned through his teeth and rolled his eyes.
With a smile the liger stood up and said, “This sounds like something to do over a girls night out. Leave the men here to suffer as they fear what secrets you two are divulging.” She looked down at Colin and asked, “You want anything, milkshake, cheeseburger smoothie, baby food?”
He shook his head weakly and sighed.
“Probably still a little queasy from the drugs,” the Colonel said.
Lilliana smiled and said, “Or form the treasure trove of embarrassing moments I am about to uncover. This should be fun.” She turned to the sisters and asked, “Did he tell you about the first time he fired my little revolver? I’ve got photos.”
“Oh, yeah,” the old ram chuckled, “he wouldn’t stop talking about the afternoon that the two of you spent together.”
“I’m glad you’re keeping him on his hooves,” Crystal laughed. “Being the younger sister, I got teased to no end when we were kids.” Looking at the bed-ridden ram she joked, “See? Karma.”
“Careful, the hit he took to the head that day might be why he’s where he is now… concussion might not have him thinking clearly.” She looked back at the Colonel and added, “you might want to mention that to a nurse and see if he needs a brain scan.”
“He might,” the Colonel chuckled. “I warned him about what he was getting himself into, but the fool boy wouldn’t listen. Yeah, me and Detlev trade stories, and we’ve laughed about the tomfoolery that goes on around that mansion of yours. But no, he’s never listened to me a day in his life. Takes after his mother in that way, I suppose. Stubborn ass.” Despite his words, the old man’s pride shone through in his voice.
“He’s survived so far,” Lilliana mused with a grin, “But he hasn’t been a target yet. We’ll see how he fairs once he’s out of the casts. Gonna need to get him back into shape for his next idiot venture with the fire department. Hell, if dropping a building on him didn’t stop him, a little fender bender like this isn’t going to.”
“IF he goes back to the fire department,” Lindsey said sternly. Colin narrowed his eyes, but she ignored him. “I’m getting tired of wondering if it’s him that got hurt every time I hear about an injured firefighter on the news.”
“Only difference between that and being deployed is that the news gets home faster,” the Colonel said. “You should be proud of your brother, and thankful he’s not halfway around the world where you don’t know what’s going on at all.”
“Even still,” Crystal argued, “that’s two close calls in seven years. How long’s the average enlistment?”
“Six years,” Lilliana started in a some what somber tone, “Only one real close call for me, if you call losing most of your team and spending months in recovery a close call. He’s lucky he has you to worry about him, don’t stand in his way if he feels good about what he’s doing, and its more of a service to the world than putting more bodies in the ground. Every time he goes out with them he has a chance to save lives… something I’ve never done.”
“The boy’s a grown man, and can make his own choices,” the old ram said. “You think your mama liked me being gone for as long as I was? Hell no. She hated it, and you have every right to not like your brother’s decision. But your mother still stood by me and supported me. Think about that iguana gal. Where would she be if it wasn’t for Colin? Do you think her Daddy would agree that her life wasn’t worth the risk?”
“No, Sir,” both women muttered.
With a definite change to a chipper tone, Lilliana said, “Now about that girls time. We should head over to the family house… unless you keep the embarrassing childhood photos handy on you. I need a good laugh after reading the history of Java to an unconscious doof.”
“We might have a few albums in the den,” Lindsey replied. “Mom was so proud of all of us, she couldn’t put the camera down. Even if I can’t find them, I definitely know a few good stories that I think you’ll appreciate.”
Lilliana looked down at Cecily who had been quietly sketching in the corner since the group had returned to the room. “Hey, Squeaker, you coming?” the small mouse just shook her head in reply and continued at her work. “Okay then, gear check.”
Without looking up from her sketchbook Cecily used one paw to dump out the contents of her backpack onto the floor beside her. As the liger rambled off a practiced list of items she held them up one at a time while she continued to work on her drawing. “And finally, you have your keys?” Lilliana asked, receiving only the sound of jingles as the mouse patted her jacket pocket. “Don’t let these old men corrupt you, Sisy. You know how the creepers can be. Call us if you need anything.” The mouse nodded in silent acknowledgment.
After the three women left, the Colonel wheeled his chair next to Colin’s bed and took the younger man’s paw into his own. “She’s a good woman, son,” the old ram said. “Maybe a bit on the crazy side, but someone needs to help you remember to lighten up once in awhile. I wonder what’s on the tube…” Using his free paw, the Colonel turned on the television and surfed through the channels until he found Family Feud on Game Show Network. “Could you imagine the Dark Riders on this show?” he chuckled, which earned a smile from his son.
“I think they would do better on Double Dare,” Cecily said as she slipped her headphones off, “If the show was still on that is. More action and less thinking for most of them.” She slowly and carefully pulled the page she had been working on out of the sketchbook. “Half the time Lilly or Susan are the only ones with any kind of plan. Lilly hates being reactive, even if she ends up doing that more often than not.” She stood up and walked over to the side of the bed. and laid the page by the mouflon as she added, “And she hates it even more when she doesn't have a chance to get information before she walks into a situation. I really think you caught her by surprise this time.”
Colin made a gesture with his paw that he wanted a pen and something to write on. Sisy handed him the message pad next to the hospital phone and a pen, and looked on as he scrawled out, Trust me, it was unintentional. No plans to do something like this for her birthday. He set the pen down and gave her a smile.
“It’s month after next month by the way, her birthday,” the small mouse said as she started to walk to the door. “You should be on your hooves again by then. I need to go study, I think I’m almost up understanding what I’m being taught in class.”
As Cecily left the two mouflons in the room, Colin picked up the page she had left by him to see a simple black and white scene of Lilliana leaned over the hospital bed holding Colin’s paw in hers. The expression drawn on the liger’s face was somewhere between anger and sadness.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” the Colonel asked, to which Colin nodded. The feisty old ram chuckled and shook his head. “The art, sure; that little mouse has some talent. No, I meant having a woman outside of your family that cares about you.” The younger ram just smiled and gave a brief nod, patting his fingers on the back of his father’s paw before laying his head back down on the pillow to get some more rest.
The last thing he heard was his father warning him, “Just don’t piss her off… That woman can move mountains when she gets her panties in a twist.”