The B Team



All characters that appear in this chapter of B-Team are my own. This story is a continuation of the original four part "B-Team". My special thanks to Tigermark for his continued assistance, participation, and encouragement in the crafting of this story.

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003, 2004, 2005




A Rose By Any Other Name

Annie was pacing back and forth in her kitchen. Her left paw held the wireless telephone handset to her ear. In her right paw she held two large, stripped and cleaned green chilis wrapped in a paper towel. Until a few minutes ago she had been happily preparing dinner with her daughter Marie. At the table the littlest Latrans coyfox was diligently if slowly stirring eggs in a bowl, continuing to work on her portion of the dinner project. But Annie's mind was a thousand miles away now, talking to her best friend on the phone. She unconsciously wrought the paper-wrapped vegetables in her paw in concern.

With a single question Marie had shattered the peace of Annie's afternoon, blindsiding her with a question from out of the blue. Her innocent query had so destabilized her that Annie had given her daughter the barest of answers to pacify her, and then immediately reached for the phone. She had dialed the cougar's cell phone number from memory.

Annie paused as she paced by the kitchen table, looking down at the top of her daughter's head while she waited for her friend to pick up. "See this, sweetie?" Annie asked nervously as she pointed with a claw to little lumps of egg in the bowl Marie was working. "These need to be all gone, it needs to be nice and smooth." The little coyfox nodded as she worked the egg batter with a spoon, a bit of her tongue showing between her teeth in concentration. Marie was helping her mom make chile rellenos, a favorite dish of the Latrans home.

A click in her ear announced the connection being made. "Hi Annie, how are you doing?"

Annie paced out to her back porch as she dropped her voice, trying to keep the conversation from her daughter's ears. "Hi Jan. Not good, I'm afraid."

"What's wrong, dear?"

Annie could hear the rhythmic sound of Marie's spoon against the bowl in the kitchen. She drew a deep breath and paused, pacing within the confines of her back porch, before answering slowly. "She asked me, Jan. Marie did. She asked me about my name."

Annie had related the conditions of their visit to California to her friend, but had avoided mentioning a seemingly small detail. It had seemed to go unnoticed by her children, and she had been hoping that the event had somehow, by the grace of God, been put behind her.

So Janie, of course, missed the implication. "What about your name?"

"My first name," Annie hissed between her teeth in frustration.

"Oh my God, Annie…" Janie breathed. "How did she find out about that?"

Annie could see the old coyote in her mind's eye, the hair severely combed back, the twitch of the lips in a snarl as she spoke, the fire in the old brown eyes. "She refused to call me anything but 'Sharon'," Annie reminisced unpleasantly. "Joe's mom. She was so mean to my pups!" Annie whined ever so briefly. "It was all I could do to keep a civil demeanor about myself."

Annie turned back to pace through her kitchen, glancing out her kitchen window in passing. She stopped a half step later, doing a double take. A worried smile touched her muzzle as her ears flicked forward in interest, her blue eyes staring at the old Jeep CJ-7 parked in their driveway just below the open garage door. There were two pairs of legs sticking out from underneath the Jeep, the one pair a smaller version of the other, each clad in Levis and boots. Toes pointed to the sky, the big boots were still, the little boots wiggled with the energy of youth. An open tool box lay on the concrete just in front of the right front tire. Joe was teaching Joshua something, no doubt.

"How do you think Joe's mom found out, Annie?"

Annie turned her full attention back to the conversation at paw as her ears laid back against her head once more. "I have no idea, Jan." The red fox sighed audibly, glancing at her daughter. "She must have hired someone to look into it." Marie was not paying attention to the conversation, apparently.

"Why? What's the point? She hardly knows you!"

Annie shivered, although it was not cold in her home. "Who knows?" Annie thought for a minute as she paced through her dining room into her family room. Placing the paper wrapped chilis on an end table, she sighed again as she seated herself on the leather sofa facing the fire place. She crossed her legs and tugged briefly at the hem of her skirt before unconsciously beginning to move her foot in a gentle rhythm. Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

"Jan, I'm scared."

"Why, Annie? From what you've said about her she's certainly no one your family would want to be around, especially Joe. Why should you care?"

Long seconds of silence greeted this question, and Janie Riggins sat and thought as the silence stretched on. Suddenly some pieces fell in place and the answer became obvious to her.

"You never told him." It was not a question, rather a statement of fact. She heard a sharp intake of breath in her pawset.

The words came quickly. "I tried, Jan, I really did. More than once." Annie's voice betrayed the tears that were even now forming at the corners of her eyes. "The night he proposed to me I tried to tell him. He waved it off before I could even get started. Said he didn't care about any aspect of my life before we met. I never even got to tell him about my name, let alone everything behind it."

Janie was surprised. "You never told him about your name?"

"Not back then. Much later, after we were married. Just before my sister Rachel came out to visit and meet Joe. I had to tell him something, to this day she insists on calling me by my first name." Annie sniffed. "There are now only three furs in the world that call me by that name."

"What did you tell Joe?"

"I tried to tell him everything, but he wouldn't let me. He just kissed me and told me he didn't care." Annie's voice cracked. "He's such a lover, Jan," she whined quietly. "He said he had married Annette Winning, the pretty fox he met at the airport. He said he didn't know anybody named Sharon. He told me I would always be his Annie." Annie paused to try and collect herself. If she let go Marie would hear, and she wasn't prepared to explain why she was crying to a seven year old pup. She drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and felt herself settle a bit. "He's absolutely unconcerned with who I was before we met," she continued in her whisper. "It's like I was born that day we met at Jeffco." Annie paused again, and then growled softly. "I can't take that away from him, Janie. I can't."

The cougar could tell that her friend was working hard at keeping herself under control. She decided to change the subject slightly away from Joe, and Annie's fears, to something a little safer. "What did you say to Marie?"

Annie sniffed briefly. "I explained to her that I had a first name and a middle name, like she does, and that I use my middle name because I like it better than my first name."

"That's true enough, as far as it goes."

The timbre of Annie's voice changed. "I'm not going to lie to my kids, Jan. Never. I may not tell them all the sordid details just yet, but I'll never lie to them. They deserve that much."

Janie could hear the anger building. "I know, girl, I know. Settle down, now…"

Annie shook her head rapidly. "I'm sorry, Janie. I'm being weird, I know." The fox ran a charcoal paw through her hair. "I just needed some outside perspective, that's all." Annie's voice softened as she continued. "I know I'm going to have to tell Joe about this before he finds out from… her. She must have had some reason for digging into my past. I've got to de-fuse that before it blows up in the middle of my marriage."

Janie smiled warmly in spite of herself, and was successful in putting that smile in her voice. "Nothing is going to damage your marriage, Annie. It's as solid as steel, as strong as the wings of that God-forsaken beast our husbands fly around in."

Annie smiled briefly, and her friend could hear it in the exhaled breath that accompanied her voice. "At least your husband is smart enough to avoid that mechanical monstrosity."

Janie laughed gently, pulling Annie further away from her troubling thoughts. "What's he doing right now?"

"Joe?" Annie quickly wiped her eyes with the back of a paw as she stood. "I saw he and Joshua under the Jeep," she said as she reached for the paper-wrapped chilis. She noticed with a wry smile that she had mangled them pretty well in her concern of a few moments ago. She began walking slowly back towards her kitchen.

"What are they doing under the Jeep?" Janie prompted. She could hear her friend relaxing, and wanted to help propel her further in that direction.

"I don't know," Annie replied as she spied Marie, still stirring. She stepped past her daughter to toss the molested vegetable matter into the trash can in the tall cabinet with a mild grimace, and then returned to the table. "Joe's probably teaching Joshua something about how it works."

"Maybe we should get some lessons…" Janie ventured.

"I already know everything I need to know about working on cars," Annie said blankly. "That looks wonderful, honey," she said to her daughter as she looked over the coyfox's small shoulder into the bowl of beaten eggs. "We're ready to start."

Janie was mildly surprised as she heard little Marie reply "OK, Mommie." She'd known Annie for a lot of years and had never heard her mention anything about working on cars, let alone actually see her do anything more than pump a few gallons of gas into one.

"Since when do you know about fixing cars?"

Annie wedged the pawset between her shoulder and ear and began rummaging in her cupboards for spices.

"Elementary Red Fox, my dear Jan," she replied with a brief tail wag. The cougar could almost hear the fang tips being exposed in the giggle that came down the wire to her telephone. "Whatever's broken, whatever needs done, I just need to swish a tail, wiggle a hip, undo a button on a blouse, maybe bat my eyelashes, and… it's done!" Annie laughed pleasantly, the sound a bringing a silent sigh of relief to her friend. The fox was quickly becoming her old self.

Janie giggled with her. "I guess I walked into that one," she replied.

"Yes," Annie said easily, "you did."

"You sound better."

"I am, Jan," the fox replied after a moment's contemplation. "Thanks for listening to me. I just needed help dealing with this. The abruptness of her question took me by surprise, I guess." A brief pause as she considered, then "I'll talk to Joe about it later tonight."

"Do that, Annie. And don't worry about him. He's yours forever, a simple matter of nomenclature won't change a thing between you." The cougar paused. "I love you, Annie. I'll always be here for you."

Annie Latrans smiled as a small lump formed in her throat. "Thanks Jan," she said thickly. "You're the absolute best."

Janie nodded to herself, changing subjects. "So…," the cougar drew out the word before she continued slowly. "What do you think of her?"

Annie took a deep, calming breath. "Who?"

"That coyote that's going to be flying with our males."

"Lola?"

"Yeah."

Annie shrugged, in the process almost losing the phone. She struggled briefly with the pawset before replying. "I don't know. She seems nice enough."

The latest addition to the crew roster at Intermountain Charter had shared a drink with them a couple of evenings ago after her "introduction". She turned out to be pleasant, well spoken, and outgoing. Once Annie and Janie and their husbands had overcome the initial shock of meeting a female military aviator in such an obtuse manner, she had found Lola to be easy enough to get along with.

Janie had other ideas, and expressed these while Annie and Marie continued with their dinner preparation.

 

# # #

 

"See this?"

Joshua's little head nodded quickly as he looked at his father briefly. They were both laying on their backs on the concrete driveway.

"This is the drain plug. It's sort of like pulling the stopper in the bath tub. When we take this bolt out, all the oil in the engine will drain out into that bucket." Joe's free paw tapped the side of a low, square-shaped pan on the concrete driveway between them. "You have two steps to your job. First, try to take the bolt out without getting oil all over yourself and the driveway, and second to keep the pan under the draining oil. As the oil drains out the place it hits the pan will move a bit, and if the pan isn't centered you may actually wind up with oil on the driveway if you don't pay attention."

Here Joe reached up above the drain bolt with a paw, grasping it lightly from above. "See how I'm holding this?" he paused while Joshua wiggled a bit for a better view.

"Yes," the small coyfox replied confidently.

"If you turn the bolt out with your paw held this way, when the oil comes out you won't get any on your paws. If the rest of you is out of the way, it should all drain nicely into the bucket." Joe smiled to his son. "Can you do that?"

Again the coyfox nodded, a slight smile on his lips. "Sure."

Joe pulled a 9/16 end wrench from his back pocket and handed it to his son.

"Give it a try."

"Why do we do this?" Joshua asked as he fit the wrench to the bolt head.

"Change the oil?"

"Yes."

"Oil wears out," Joe explained. "It gets dirty from dust and contaminants in the air which the engine draws in to work with. Tiny bits of metal wear off of the moving parts of the engine and are suspended in it. The actual chemical composition of the oil, the "slipperyness" of it, begins to change, to break down, to wear out." Joe reached for a filter wrench laying on the driveway next to the left front tire as he continued. "The oil loses it's ability to make metal parts slide easily against each other." Joe examined the wrench briefly to make sure it was the right way around. "Some types of oil wear out faster than others. Some types will last three thousand miles or less, others can last as much as twenty five thousand miles."

"Miles?" Joshua asked as he exerted some effort to break the drain bolt free with his wrench.

Joe grinned at his son as he fit the filter wrench to the oil filter. "We measure the lifetime of engines in terms of miles, not time. The companies that make trucks and cars make suggestions about how often to service the vehicles they make. These are called 'service intervals', and are usually spoken of in miles. A manufacturer might suggest a routine service interval which includes oil and filter replacement and a general inspection every three thousand miles."

Joe gave the filter wrench a gentle tug, just enough to break the filter loose. "Old Mister Hodges down the street? He might drive his car back and forth to the store three times a week. He probably puts fifty miles a month on that old Buick. It would take him two and a half years to go through a three thousand mile service interval. We probably put three hundred miles or more on this Jeep every time we take it into the mountains for a weekend. If we did that once a month, it would take us less than a year to go through that same service interval. How much time your car or truck sits around doing nothing is much less important than how many miles it covers while it is working."

Joshua grunted and broke the drain bolt free. He carefully laid the wrench aside and, imitating how his father had placed his paw on the drain bolt head earlier, began to spin the drain bolt out. A tiny bead of oil formed on the threads of the bolt and dripped into the drain pan.

"OK, be careful now…"

Before Joe could finish his sentence there was a plop! and oil arced from the drain hole cleanly into the pan. Joshua grinned, the tips of his sharp little fangs showing as he held a clean paw aloft, the drain bolt between his fingers for his father to see. "Like this?"

Joe grinned and patted his son's shoulder. "That's perfect."

 

# # #

 

Lola Baker cast a speculative eye about the apartment. The ferret landlord waited patiently at a discreet distance as she wandered slowly from one room to another. There were two bedrooms on opposite sides of a common bathroom, a small kitchen, and a reasonably spacious main room with a small balcony on the other side of the sliding glass door. The paint was fresh, the carpeting looked new, and the appliances seemed to be relatively recent. She had noted with appreciation that the cooktop included a microwave oven. She strolled casually into the larger of the two bedrooms and again slid open the closet door.

She had been evaluating the apartment for almost half an hour now. It was centrally located in Aurora, just west of the Buckley Air National Guard base, not too far from Interstate 225. She had appeared to wander aimlessly about the small apartment, turning a water valve here, opening a cupboard door there, and looking out the windows at the surrounding buildings and neighborhood.

"Not bad," she mused silently, admiring the spacious closet with built in shelves.

"The previous tenant built those," the ferret supplied from the doorway. "Quite well made, if I may say so. It's a shame he had to leave."

"What happened to him?"

Arnold Weaver admired the canid before him. He had initially guessed her to be a fox, but upon closer inspection had observed enough variances from the normal fox build and coloring to know. She was a hybrid. A pretty one, to be sure, but a half-breed none the less. He could not identify what the other part of her was, but it didn't matter. As long as her money was green, he didn't care. He would not be troubling himself to get to know her.

"He was sent to prison about a month ago."

Lola stopped her casual stroll to look directly at him. "What happened to his stuff?"

"The state took it." The ferret paused, gauging her reaction. "He won't be coming back to look for it."

The fox toyed with the straps of her purse a bit as she thought about that. "How much do you want for this place?"

"The rent is $725 a month, including all utilities except telephone. I require a security deposit of $400, first and last month's rent." The well rehearsed litany spilled from his lips automatically. "You have an assigned carport directly below your apartment with storage lockers. The laundry is open twenty four hours for your convenience. We do not allow pets." Arnold Weaver smiled pleasantly.

Lola was wearing a red-and-white-checkered western cut long sleeve shirt, sleeves rolled up, tied at the bottom like a midriff top. Below this she wore a pair of well-worn hip-hugger jeans. Her reddish-brown hair framed a pair of Giovanni sunglasses which completely hid her green eyes. She faced the ferret, feet wide apart, paws on hips, the sunglasses giving her the appearance of a completely blank, emotionless stare that matched the set of her jaw.

Arnold grew nervous as the fox stared silently at him. Suddenly a roar filled the room and the windows rattled as twin jet engines passed low overhead. Lola's ears twitched and rotated as she first identified the F-15 in it's climb-out and then tracked it's progress, but she otherwise had no reaction to the sound and vibration.

After a few moments, as the sound in the room decreased to an angry, distant rumble, Lola said "Tell you what, Mister Weaver. I'll give you $650 a month with first and last, ignore the airplane noise, and do my own maintenance and upkeep."

The ferret chuckled. "Why would I want to do that, miss? There's nothing wrong with this apartment." He swept a paw before him, indicating the main room.

"On the contrary," Lola replied. "The hot water heater has a small leak, your drains are slow, the bathroom door is mis-aligned in it's frame, and some of the kitchen tile is loose and will break if not fixed soon."

The ferret blanched, but recovered quickly with a smile. "You've done this before," he said with a small nod of his head. "Seven hundred, and the security deposit."

Lola thrust out a hip. "Six seventy five, two hundred on the security, and you buy the parts."

Arnold Weaver mulled this over. There was more to this fox than met the eye. Still, he was well aware of the shortcomings with this particular unit, and in fact was aware of a couple of items that Miss Baker had missed. The ferret smiled cautiously as he held out a paw.

"Done."

Lola smiled back at him as she shook his paw. "Done. I'll begin moving in tomorrow morning. Will you take a check?"

 

# # #

 

"Dad?"

"Yes son?"

"Why doesn't your mom like you?"

Joe worked the toothpick in his mouth as he looked steadily at his son. They were standing before the front end of the Jeep now. The new oil filter was on, the drain bolt back in place, and they were about to add the new synthetic oil to the motor. Joshua in fact had a quart of the stuff in each paw.

The young pup's face was clear and earnest, not sad or troubled.

Joe wondered what to say, how much detail to give his son.

"I haven't spent a lot of time around my mother," he replied. "When we saw her the other day, that was the first time I'd seen her since before you were born."

The coyfox stared at his father.

"She didn't approve of what I do. Flying. She didn't like me doing that for a living."

"Why? Flying is fun!"

Joe's smile was full of love for his son. For some reason that simple statement warmed his soul immensely.

"I don't really know, son. My mother decided long ago that she was angry about some choices I made, and she never let go of that anger. I honestly can't say why that is." He placed a paw on his son's shoulder. "And that's OK, son. I love you, and your mom loves you, and we always will, no matter what you do in your life."

Joshua Latrans grinned wide. "I'm gonna be a pilot!" he proclaimed confidently. "I'm gonna fly Herkies like you!"

The pride in Joe's heart threatened to burst it apart at the seams. He leaned down and kissed the top of his son's head between his ears. "You are the best son a father could have, Joshua."

Joe saw the smile on the little coyfox's muzzle fade, and wondered if he had said too much. What came next was unexpected.

"Dad? Why did she call mom 'Sharon'?"

Annie had been strangely quiet about that on the way home. A couple of days later she had discussed Maria's behavior with him, wondering out loud how she had learned of her given name. Joe had shrugged, asking "Who cares?"

She was worried about what the pups would think, about whether that had confused or scared them, or caused them to feel unsure about her or them. But neither of the Latrans pups had said a word about the incident, and after that one brief conversation Annie hadn't brought it up again.

Joe took a deep breath and marshaled his thoughts.

"Well Joshua, part of that is easy to explain, and part of it isn't."

Again the pup stared at his father impassively, waiting.

"Your mother's full name is Sharon Annette Winning Latrans. Before we were married to each other her name was Sharon Annette Winning. When we got married she took my last name, the same last name you have because you are our son. Understand so far?"

Joshua nodded.

"You mom doesn't like her first name. Sharon. She prefers to go by her middle name of Annette. But 'Annette' sounds kind of formal and stuffy, she prefers to be called Annie. That's how everyone knows her, as Annie. OK?"

Again the impassive nod.

"That was the easy part. As to why my mother chose to call mom by her first name, instead of the name mom prefers, I can only guess. I think she was doing it to hurt your mom's feelings."

Joe could see the unasked question on his son's face.

"Son, for whatever reason she may have had, my mother allowed her anger with me to spill over into other lives. She's angry at your mom, and probably doesn't even know why. Perhaps it's for no other reason than the fact that your mom married me, the one my mother is really angry at."

"That's crazy," Joshua stated matter-of-factly.

Joe smiled slightly. "Indeed it is, son. I don't understand it either."

The coyfox was silent for a few moments, staring at the engine of the Jeep. Suddenly he looked up to his father again, his blue eyes locking on Joe's.

"Does she hate us?

The coyote's gut twitched. Small furs shouldn't have to ask questions like this. He took a deep breath and sighed. Sometimes being a father wasn't much fun. He took the oil from his son's paws and placed it on the air filter box on top of the Jeep's engine. Joe then took Joshua's left paw in his right and sat down on the driveway before him. His son sat down with him, and they stared at each other for a moment.

"Joshua, hate is a strong word, but I won't lie to you. I think my mother hates me. I think she will do whatever she can to keep me aware of that, to make sure I know that she hates me. If she can make me feel that hate by hurting your mom's feelings, or Marie's or yours, then she will do that to hurt me. Not you. Not your sister. Maybe not even you mom. She wants to hurt me. Do you understand? It's not you, son, it's me."

Joshua nodded.

"My mother," Joe continued, "knows that your mom prefers to use her middle name of Annie instead of her first name of Sharon. She knows that your mom is bothered by people calling her 'Sharon'. My mother chose to make your mom uncomfortable as a way of hurting me, not your mom." Joe stopped, staring into his sons eyes. "Does that make sense?"

"Sort of," Joshua replied, and blinked. "It's complicated."

"Yes it is," Joe answered him truthfully. "Complicated and sad. You will never have to deal with it though, because your mom and I love you and your sister very much, and we always will. You two are the best things that ever happened to us."

Joshua smiled at that. "Thanks dad."

"You're welcome, son." Joe motioned to the Jeep above and behind the coyfox. "You ready to put the new oil in?"

"Yeah!"

Joshua jumped up with a smile lighting up his muzzle. As far as he was concerned, this issue had been put to rest.

Joe stuffed his troubled thoughts into a corner of his mind and put a smile on his face as well, rising to teach his son the rest of today's four-wheeling lesson.

 

# # #

 

“How come we don’t get a tug for this?” the skunk asked, crouching to place wheel chocks around a main gear tire.

The big marmot smiled as he huffed slightly, disconnecting the towbar from the Caravan’s nose wheel. “You’re supposed to be it,” he growled affably in his baritone voice.

“Say again?”

“You’re the tug. We don’t have a powered tug, we don’t have any money to buy a powered tug, but we do have a strong young fur that can fill in until we get one.” Tim Riggins grinned at his copilot.

He and Randy Clarkson had just pushed their empty Cessna Caravan into Intermountain’s hangar at Centennial, the final act of another charter flight full of oil prospecting equipment into northeastern Arizona. They had dropped off some small packages for the oil company with one of it’s employees, who met them at the TAC-Air ramp at the north end of Centennial airport. With their aircraft now stowed safely in the hangar their day’s work was officially done.

This day Randy had flown left seat with Timmy navigating. The flight had gone well, Randy was gaining more experience and confidence every day here in Colorado. As far as the western crew was concerned, he was ready to become PIC (pilot in command) of his own Caravan back in Ohio any day now.

Outside the western horizon was turning dark with clouds, even though it was mid-afternoon. A cold wind blew out of the northwest, and Tim could smell snow on that wind. They had needed to file IFR to get back from Arizona. A winter storm chased them into southwestern Colorado, and would most likely be here in the Denver area by midnight.

The two furs stood regarding their aircraft as it’s single turbine cooled. They heard a door in the hangar wall open and soft footfalls approaching them across the concrete floor of the hangar. Tim Riggins smiled, recognizing the pattern of sound.

“Hey,” a female voice called. “Buy you boys a drink?”

Janie Riggins ducked under the port wingtip of Intermountain’s King Air as she strolled into view. In the cougar’s paws were three bottles of beer. Her hips swayed as she approached, she was being the slightest bit of a tease for her hard-working husband, and coincidentally their friend.

Randy nodded rapidly as his tail began to swing to and fro a bit, his black hair swishing on his shirt collar. “Yes ma’am! I like what I’m seein’!”

Tim Riggins chuckled good-naturedly. “Settle down, cowboy…” he growled as his wife approached.

“I was talkin’ about the beer!” Randy grinned sideways at the marmot as Janie handed him a bottle.

Janie wrapped her arms around her husband and gave him a rather lengthy kiss before backing up half a step and offering him a beer as well. “How was your flight, honey?”

The marmot took both bottles from her, opened one and handed it back to her, and then opened the other for himself. He put the two twist-off caps in his pocket as he began to describe his day.

As he talked a grubby looking, greenish-brown kaht with slanted, bright yellow eyes wandered out of the depths of the hangar, between the main gear of the Caravan, and up to Janie’s feet. As it approached, the boys could immediately note two things about it. It was a fighter; several small scars etched it’s face, and half of it’s left ear was missing. It was also obviously male, if the two oversize, hairless appendages plainly visible between it’s back legs were any indication. The kaht stared at the two males briefly, and then began to wind itself around Janie’s feet, purring.

The skunk and the marmot looked down at the concrete floor for a moment, and then looked up again. Tim smiled slightly.

“Who’s this?”

“I found him in the hangar this morning after you left,” Janie explained, her tail flicking a bit in concern. “He was curled up on the floor underneath the King Air when I came out of the office to put our new optical drive in the equipment room.”

Randy and Tim glanced at each other, the latter’s grin growing.

“I trust you took care of him.”

The cougar nodded, an impish grin of her own forming as her eyes twinkled. Sometimes her husband knew her almost too well. She’d always had a soft spot in her heart for non-sentient furs, especially felids.

“I fed him some milk in an old coffee mug. Maybe we can get him a bed and a proper bowl after lunch…” Janie flipped an errant bit of brown hair from her eyes with a toss of her head and stared at her husband. The smile on her muzzle held the barest hint of a challenge.

“Uuhhh…”

Tim and Janie looked at Randy, who now wore a slightly concerned expression.

“That mug… it wouldn’t happen to be an old gray porcelain one with the initials “AC” on it, would it?”

Timmy started to chuckle as Janie’s expression changed.

“Oh my God, Randy…” she said with a pained expression as the skunk interrupted.

“S’OK,” he replied as Tim began to laugh out loud. “While you’re shopping for kaht beds and such, I’ll get me a new mug.” The skunk grinned sheepishly.

“I’ll get you a new mug,” Janie said quickly, her expression brightening as she placed a paw on Randy’s shoulder briefly. “If you two gentlefurs will dispose of those beers, I’ll also take you to an early dinner.”

“Can’t refuse that,” Randy said with a wide grin. He took a long pull from his beer.

“So what’s your friend’s name?” Tim inquired as Janie took a sip from her beer.

He almost choked on his own beer, as she replied while he was taking a pull from it.

“What else could I call him? His name is Jules.”






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