Home Short Stories Novel PG Gallery R-X Gallery Cars About Foxcar Email Foxcar
FLIPSIDE
AUTHOR'S NOTE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
EPILOGUE

CHAPTER VII

"You’re drinking too much coffee."

"It’s not my fault you got me up at ten." Mike grumbled, taking another sip.

"That’s over eight hours. More than I got."

"You went to bed the same time I did."

"Yeah, but I had to stay up and relieve all of the tension from watching you pose for two hours." John said with a chuckle.

Mike laughed. "You are hopeless. Of course, knowing you, it probably only took a minute or two."

John sipped his cocoa, deciding against admitting that he was telling Mike the truth. "Well, let’s be open minded, shall we? If you were sitting here with a friend back home, would you joke that way about a woman?"

"I guess."

"Well then, I guess that makes you just as scummy as the rest of us."

"Okay, you win." Mike agreed, adjusting his robe. An idea occurred to him and he grinned mischievously.

"Uh-oh." John said.

"How would you like to completely freak out Doug and Steve?"

John smiled. "What’s on your evil, child killing, man mauling mind?"

"Well, I need clothes, right? I’d like to buy some music, since your collection needs some work. I’ve got a credit card..."

"You can’t mean it."

"Let’s go to the mall! It’s Saturday, so the place will be packed. This would be great! We’ll grab a few guards and go."

John laughed. "Let’s do it!"

They jumped up and got dressed. Mike was waiting in the living room when John came out, sporting a pair of earrings.

"Your ears are pierced?"

"Yeah, aren’t yours?" John asked.

"Let me see." Mike said, grabbing one of John’s ears before he could answer. He looked closely to where John’s ear was pierced on the bottom of the outside edge. Hanging from it was a small silver cross, attached to the end of a short chain. He grinned and let John go. "Is that the only spot?"

"Yeah, what about yours?"

"Pierced ears aren’t my style."

"Why not? Everyone gets them."

"You’re the only one I’ve seen."

"Think of the circumstances. Everyone you know works in a profession where earrings would be unsafe. The guards won’t wear them when working, and Doug, Mark, and I won’t either because of all the lab work we do. I just remembered that I can wear them now."

"What about Gordon and Aaron?"

"I don’t know. Both of them were pierced. Let me see your ear."

Mike tilted his head while John examined his ear. "Your lobe is awful thick. I don’t think they make posts that long. What about up here, where it curls over? That might work." he asked, running a claw along the upper curve of Mike’s ear.

"I don’t want my ears pierced."

"Why not?"

"Just because. What other earrings do you have?"

John showed him back to his room where he opened, of all things, a small jewelry box. He pulled out a number of earrings, some of them half a foot long.

"What do you do with those long ones?" Mike asked.

John gave him a puzzled look before huffing. "I guess you wouldn’t know. Here," he said, holding one up, "This end goes in your ear. This end," he continued, showing it to him, "Has a tiny clip that you fasten onto your fur."

"Where?"

"Anywhere it will comfortably reach. Your range would be a little limited."

"Put one on."

"I usually don’t go that far unless I’m going someplace classy."

"Oh. Well, let’s go."

"Think about it. You’d look cool."

"I’ll think about it."

They went out and confronted Paul, who was sitting by the living room window keeping an eye on a nearby press van.

"Round up the posse, Paul, we’re going to the mall." Mike announced cheerfully.

"Are you sure it’s okay?"

"Of course," John said, looking serious, "Just get three or four other guys and let’s go. You’ll only need a couple to watch the house while we’re gone."

"Well, I don’t know..."

"Come on." Mike said, pulling him out of his chair.

Seeing no point in arguing, Paul got up and called in a few guards. They all went to the garage and piled into a van.

As they drove to the mall, Mike was again confronted with the reality of his situation. Having only a select few near him, it was easy to forget that he was a lone human on a world full of werewolves. As they drove on, it became increasingly easy to remember. It looked like any other Saturday except for the fact that everyone was a werewolf. He sighed as another thought occurred to him.

He would never see another human being again.

"You look gloomy all of the sudden." John said, shaking him from his thoughts.

"It’s nothing."

"Go on and tell me." John prompted.

"I just realized that I’m never going to see another human being."

John put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "I know." he said softly. "We’ll try to make you regret it as little as possible, okay?"

"Thanks." Mike said, refusing to get depressed. In spite of his thoughts, he honestly wanted to savor this. He was taking great pleasure from the idea of how mad Doug was going to be.

The driver pulled into the mall parking lot and stopped at the main entrance. With the van’s dark, tinted windows no one could see inside.

"Are you ready?" Mike asked John. "This is going to be the shopping experience of a lifetime."

"Wouldn’t miss it."

One of the guards opened the sliding door and stepped out. There were five guards in all, and four of them formed a semicircle around the door.

"It’s been a while since I’ve done escort duty." Paul said.

"Just keep me from attacking the innocent." Mike said as he stepped out.

John was coming out behind him when the first person saw who it was within the circle of guards. He froze in his tracks, his jaw dropping open to reveal white fangs. Mike smiled and waved at him as they walked to the entrance. The man raised his hand to about chest height, his mouth still gaping.

"This is going to be a trip."

As soon as they entered they became the immediate center of attention. People stopped and stared in shock. No one could believe what they were seeing. Watching someone like Mike on a newscast and actually seeing them in the flesh were two very different things. Mike was sure that many people simply didn’t believe that he really existed. That was changing very fast.

Men instinctively shoved children behind them. The kids, for the most part, pointed and whispered. They appeared more curious than frightened. Babies were clutched tightly. Mike found it impossible to get a good look at them.

"Where to first?"

"Penney’s, I guess."

Penney’s turned out to be right around the corner from the entrance, and they walked in. A crowd of shocked patrons watched them go from the main mall. Mike looked behind his little group and waved. He saw a cashier across the hall talking frantically on the phone, gesturing toward him.

Mike laughed and turned his attention to shopping. "John, you’re going to have to help me out. I have no idea what’s in fashion around here."

"Sure."

They wandered through the store, clumps of people gathering at a discreet distance. "This is easy." Paul said. "No one has the guts to come close."

"Just wait until the press gets here." another guard said with a sigh.

"Yeah, no shit."

John helped Mike pick out a large pile of clothes. "You need a pocketbook." he said after Mike had finished trying the sizes.

"Parallel universe or not, I will not carry a pocketbook." Mike said emphatically.

"Just look at a few." John said, pulling one down from a hanger.

Mike looked at it and sighed in relief. It wasn’t an actual pocketbook as he knew them to be. It was one of those waist bags that had become so popular back home. He remembered seeing most of the werewolves wearing them.

It was black and fairly simple in design, as they tended to be, although it was bigger than usual. The material was leather.

"Looks good to me." he said as he took it.

"You can wear it around your waist or like a camera bag. Why did you act so put-off? Now you look relieved."

Mike explained what a pocketbook was where he came from and who used them.

"Where do you put all of your stuff?" John asked when he had finished.

"You say: Honey, would you hold on to this for me? Well, unless you have one of these." he finished, holding the waist bag up. "A unisex pocketbook was a godsend."

"If you say so."

They went to the closest counter, threading their way through racks of werewolf clothes. The cashier gaped as Mike deposited his clothes and credit card on the counter.

"Charge, please." he said with a smile.

The cashier glanced between Mike and the card three or four times before picking it up. "Uh, yes sir. Wow!" he said, collecting his wits. "You’re really for real, aren’t you?"

Mike blessed the boldness of youth. "Looks that way."

"Wow! My stepdad says that you’re just a media prank, but wow!"

"I’m for real, trust me."

"Cool!" the teenager said, starting to ring up his clothes. "Is this the first store you’ve been to?"

"Yeah." Mike answered, trading glances with a somewhat older werewolf who was putting his clothes into a plastic bag.

"Aw, cool! Wait until everyone finds out that I was the first one to sell you something!" he said excitedly, setting the receipt down for Mike to sign.

"Good Lord, doesn’t inflation suck?" Mike said to John as he took a pen from the cup. George, as his name tag read, watched in apparent amazement as he sighed his name. He grinned to himself and handed the receipt back, winking and taking his copy.

"Have a nice day, Mike. Can I call you Mike?"

"George, I’m just an average guy. Everyone calls me Mike. And you have a nice day, too."

"This is a blast." John said as they walked back toward the mall.

"It’s different, I’ll say that much."

They reached the mall and started down the long corridor, listening to the exclamations of other mall-goers. Everyone but Mike heard a commotion ahead, and soon he too saw the crowd parting about halfway down the hall. A newsman, carrying a microphone, was running toward them. He was flanked by a camera and light crew.

"Uh-oh."

"Here they come."

"All right, keep it tight, guys."

"Mr. Riggs! Mr. Riggs!"

"Should I jump out and bite him?"

"No!"

"Mr. Riggs!"

"Keep walking."

"Don’t let him get too close."

"Mr. Riggs! Eric Downs, Channel Five! Can I have a word with you?"

"Watch the rest of them."

"I remember you. You were at the press conference." Mike said as the news crew fell into step with them.

"Yes, I was. You remember? What brings you here today?"

"What brings anyone to the mall? I’m shopping."

"What are you buying? You were just in Penney’s, right?"

"Clothes, mostly." he answered, holding up the bags. "I’m a little short right now."

"Is the Bureau paying for it?"

"No, it’s plastic." he answered, grabbing the Visa card from his waist bag and holding it up. "Never leave home without it."

"What else are you buying?"

"Oh, shoes and some music, I guess. That should do it for today. I have to make payments on this thing."

"Anything in particular?"

"I’ll know when I see it."

"Will you be going anywhere else today? Grocery shopping, maybe?"

"If I was, I wouldn’t tell the press!"

"Will you be out in public more now?"

"I don’t know. It depends on what I’ll be doing."

"What will you be doing for a living?"

"You’ll just have to wait and see. I have to make a living somehow. Use your imagination."

"Will you be making movies?"

"Movies? You mean, like wereman movies?"

"Yeah."

"Hell no. That’s the kind of image I’m trying to lose. I’m not a wereman."

"Yesterday we all learned that your world is heterosexual. What do you think of ours? How do you feel about being considered a monster?"

"You just cut right to the chase, don’t you? Oh, hold on, this is my store."

They turned into a record store. By now the entire mall knew he was there, and most people were in the main hall. The record store was deserted. Mike started roaming through the rock section. John already had most of the R & B stuff he liked.

Downs followed them in. "Do you have an answer, Mr. Riggs?"

"Yeah, I have an answer." he said, stopping and facing Downs. "I think it sucks. I hate having people be afraid of me. Everyone I meet treats me like plutonium. The only person who’s treated me like a decent being was a cashier at Penney’s. I just want to be Mike Riggs - no one special."

"Do you honestly think that’s possible?"

"No, it probably isn’t; but that won’t stop me from trying."

"I see that you’re looking at the rock section. What bands do you like?"

"A few. Look, I didn’t come here to do an interview. I knew you or someone like you would show up, but if you want an interview you’ll have to talk to my agent."

"You have an agent? What’s his name?"

"Gordon Cole. Now please go away."

The guards closed in, blocking Downs out completely.

"You heard him." Paul said, towering over the reporter. "Interview’s over. Make some distance."

Downs wisely backed off, his ears flicking back momentarily. He motioned for the cameraman to keep filming as they move to where they had a clear view, and Downs spent the remainder of their stay talking into the camera; placing himself so that Mike could be seen shopping behind him.

Mike picked out four CDs that he wanted and they repeated their earlier experience at the register. It seemed that teenagers were the only people who weren’t afraid of him.

Moving back out into the mall, they hunted down a good shoe store. Two more news crews arrived, but he spoke to neither. He continued to enjoy himself, watching the crowds react to his presence.

John helped him pick out some shoes. With the exception of sneakers, shoes consisted mainly of sandals.

"Doug’s gonna have a hissyfit." Mike said to John with a smile.

"I can’t wait."

"You didn’t tell him?" Paul asked, shocked.

"Of course not," Mike replied matter-of-factly, "He would have said no."

"Oh my god," Paul cried. "I’m going to get fired, I know it."

"We’ll stick up for you." John said. "We did sort of mislead you."

"I’m going to have to keep a closer ear on you two."

They stopped at the arcade, and Mike and John shared a game of pinball. After that, they fought their way back outside and climbed into the waiting van. Downs and the other crews followed them out, jumping into their own vans.

"Why are they following?" Mike asked as they pulled out onto the street. "They know that they’re just going to get stopped at the house."

"Probably in case we go anywhere else."

"I could eat a roast beef sandwich or two right now."

"No, don’t do this to me." Paul begged.

Mike smiled at John. "Hungry?"

"Sure am!"

"No!" Paul said with a loud growl.

"Oh come on, Paul! Stop growling at me and live a little! We’ll cover for you. A burger joint isn’t going to be any worse than the mall."

Paul considered for a moment. "All right, damn it. Joe, find a burger place."

"One with roast beef."

They drove down the main drag and found the right store. Three news vans pulled in behind them.

"That asshole Downs is still with us, along with the rest of the local media."

"You’ll live." John said.

They got out and walked into the restaurant. It wasn’t too busy, and the few people eating noticed them immediately. The reaction was similar to that in the mall.

"You sit down and tell me what you want," Paul said to Mike, "And I’ll go get it."

"Aw, I want to order myself."

"No. It will go quicker this way."

The news crews burst in and surrounded them, sitting at the other tables or standing wherever there was room. They began a barrage of questions.

"I’m here to eat, damn it, not answer questions. Leave ma alone for fifteen minutes, all right?"

"What did you order?" a reporter yelled.

"Food."

Mike ignored them after that and talked to John, aware that everything they said was heard and recorded. The guards formed a ring around their booth, angering the press by obstructing their view. After a few minutes, Paul came back with their food. Mike thanked him and began dowsing his two sandwiches with barbecue sauce.

"You’re supposed to be able to taste the meat, you know."

"Eat your own food. Who’s paying for this, anyway? I don’t have any cash."

"My treat." Paul said over his shoulder. "I may as well do something constructive with my last paycheck."

"Is this an unauthorized outing?" came a voice from across the room.

"Stop worrying. This pop is flat." John said.

"So is mine." Mike agreed after a sip. "Crazed wereman goes berserk in burger joint over flat pop. Update at eleven."

They finished their food and bullied their way out to the van. Some of the reporters actually tried to touch Mike. Paul and his men batted their hands away, though.

"We’re definitely going to have to buy a paper in the morning." John said.

"Should be interesting, eh? I’ll drive down to the corner store in the morning."

"No you won’t!" Paul growled.

"Steve’s going to have baby."

"Let him. Demons need a life too. We have to get back now anyway ‘cause Gordon’s going to be showing up soon."

The phone was ringing when they walked in. Mike ran to the living room and picked it up. "Hello."

"Are you out of your furless mind?" Doug yelled. It was the first time Mike had ever heard a werewolf yell, and it almost shook his chest right through the phone.

He flinched and pulled the phone away from his ear. John smiled at him wickedly. "Oh, hi Doug. What’s up?"

"What’s up? You went to the mall? Why didn’t you ask or at least say something or leave a message? They’re interrupting TV shows to show you running around the mall and eating lunch!"

"...And?"

"And!"

"Look, Doug, I told you that I wasn’t going to stay cooped up in here twenty-four hours a day. I needed some clothes. I didn’t see any problem. I was going to have to go shopping sooner or later anyway, right? Right now I’m wearing John’s shoes and loaned clothes. I can’t have people running every little errand for me."

"All right, you do have a point; but at least you could have told somebody."

"Okay, I’m sorry I didn’t let you or Steve know. But tell me this; what difference would it have made? If I called you and you said no, I would have gone anyway. I am my own person. What difference does it make whether I went today or a week from now? What would you do, make a public announcement? Wereman will be shopping today, keep the children at home?"

Doug didn’t answer.

"From now on, I’ll check with someone first, all right?"

"They showed that stuff live, you know." Doug said, the volume and growl gone from his voice.

"Good, that means they didn’t have the chance to edit it."

"So far Gordon’s secretary has gotten thirty-two calls for interviews. Did you have to give them his name?"

"We don’t live in a vacuum, Doug. How many more hours do you think it would have taken for that to get out?"

"Maybe you’re right."

John waved at him and pointed out front. "Uh, it looks like Gordon’s here. He’s got a pickup full of stuff, too." Mike said, watching the truck pull up. "That must be my equipment. I guess I’d better go."

"Okay, I’ll see you around. Please let someone know next time you want to go somewhere, all right?"

"Sure. Have a good one."

"You too."

He hung up and looked at John, who had been listening in on the kitchen extension. "I think we pissed him off."

"I’d say that. I haven’t heard him that mad since I lost a whole batch of Jud’s blood samples. It’s all your fault. It was your idea. He’s going to ream me like a dog when he gets the chance."

"Oh, excuuuse me, Mr. Innocent! You agreed to everything, and happily at that!"

"Only because you were talking to me in my sleep again."

"I’ll never tell. Now I guess I’d better go face the music with Gordon."

They went out and helped unload the truck. Mike had a similar conversation with Gordon before they started, and again refused to be too apologetic. They lugged the equipment downstairs to the den and Mike began unpacking, feeling like a little boy at Christmas.

"Okay, give me the rundown while I try this stuff out." he said to Gordon as he began tuning his Jackson.

Gordon went over the details of the contracts, Aaron explaining the various legal aspects.

They had gotten him two guitars, one electric and one acoustic. All the associated equipment was there, including a large amplifier that was even better than the one he had back home. He had plenty of blank sheet music and two packs of pencils. They had gotten everything he had asked for except the piano. "No luck with the piano?"

"We didn’t get around to that one today. We’ll rent you one tomorrow."

"Tomorrow’s’ Sunday."

"Oh yeah, right. Damn, I didn’t even think of that. You’ve actually got these people working on a Saturday. Mike, my boy, I see huge amounts of money in our future."

"If things keep up."

"They should. It’s not going to be easy, though. Now that you’re going to be writing, you’ll need a band. How in the hell are we going to assemble a band? I guess we’ll have to have auditions. I’ll get started on that Monday morning."

"What will you do, put an add in the papers?"

"That’s a start. I’ll have to reserve a local theater."

"Do you think anyone will be interested when they find out who they’re auditioning for?"

"Hell yes, they’ll be interested. We should start by getting some particulars from you on what kind of guys you want to play with."

"Well, let’s see." Mike answered thoughtfully as Gordon grabbed a pen and paper. "No drugs, no heavy drinking, and no one over twenty-six. They have to be very good. The other guitarist has to be able to play intricate, layered parts. They all have to have varied tastes because it’s unlikely that any two of my albums will sound alike. I don’t like the idea of making carbon copy albums." He considered for a few more moments before continuing. "They don’t have to be able to write because I’ll be doing most of that, but they have to be able to read music. They have to live a relatively clean life and be resistant to the more decadent elements of the rock lifestyle. And they have to be healthy; I don’t want to be dragging some big, fat walrus around on tour if the album’s successful. I guess that about does it."

"You don’t ask for much, do you?"

"My lyrics might not find a home in any hymnals, but I want a clean band. No concessions."

"All right, I’ll have this in the papers in, say, two weeks. Will that give you enough time to get some material written?"

"Yeah, but what about demo tapes and that sort of thing?"

"We’ll worry about that after you and the band have had time to get acquainted. Once we narrow the field to the best candidates, you’ll have to get to know each other and learn to play together. Being in a band means more than just plugging in and playing. You have to get a feel for each other and learn how to play off of each other. Depending on how many people respond, it could take two or three days of auditions just to find the right guys."

"A whole band full of studs!" John said happily from his perch on the steps.

"What?" Mike asked.

"You said that they have to be young and healthy. I can’t wait."

"Satyr."

"How many guys do you think you’ll need?"

"I get to be there for the auditions, of course."

"Of course. It’s your band, not mine. By the way, do you have any ideas for a name?"

"I’ll discuss that with them."

"How many?"

"I need at least one other guitarist, a lead singer, a drummer, and a bass player. It would be nice if the singer can play a little guitar and has a broad vocal range. I won’t need a keyboard player per ce, but we’ll need one for the recording and concerts. Oh, and everyone has to be able to sing too, except for the drummer. He’ll be too busy to worry about it. If I’m going to be writing the stuff I think I am, there’s going to be some heavy backing vocals."

"What kind of rock would you classify your music as?"

"It’s hard to say. It will probably be classified as heavy metal since everything is these days. That’s not an entirely accurate description, though. A lot of the songs I’ve got up here," he said, pointing to his head, "Are mid-tempo rock. It doesn’t sound typical, that’s for sure. You know how bands tend to sound alike these days. This stuff won’t sound like anybody, I hope."

"Three guitars sounds pretty heavy."

"For a lot of songs, it’s not so much the force of the guitars as it is the arrangement. For instance, most bands nowadays just play a simple rhythm and solo arrangement. With my stuff, it won’t be like that on a lot of songs. One guitarist will play a note or chord and hold it while the other plays over it. It’s kind of hard to explain."

"That doesn’t sound like what you wrote for Antares."

"It isn’t."

"How many songs do you have in mind?"

"About seventy minutes worth."

"All in your head?"

Mike glanced at John, thinking about their conversation about bands and the songs he planned on writing. "Like I said before, music has always been my hobby. I was always looking to sell songs."

"Okay, about these contracts. You’ve heard all there is. All you have to do is sign. That makes us partners and sets you up to show on Wednesday to shoot the commercial. What do you think?"

"What about the other one, the Adidas?"

"The contract is locked in, it’s just a matter of setting a date. That won’t be for a month and it will take a couple of days to shoot."

"What am I going to do between the commercial and the photo shoot?"

"Write your music and get your band together. You won’t have a lot of free time. Prepare yourself to be very busy."

"I’m just glad you didn’t suggest going on Arsenio or something like that."

"The best time for that is when your album comes out so you can use the shows to promote it. Now that we’ll need it, I think. You could put out the worst album in history and still go platinum on the novelty factor alone."

"No dice, this is going to be a great album."

"That’s what I like to hear. I like your attitude."

"You should have seen his attitude when he first woke up." John said with a smile.

"How would you like it if I starved you for three days and then threw a raw steak at you?"

"Raw steak?" Aaron asked with a laugh.

"Do you want to hear a little?" Mike asked as he finished tuning his guitar.

"Absolutely."

He broke into the opening riff for Tear It Down, playing through the first chorus and doing his best to sing the lyrics. He followed with a few excerpts from other songs. He avoided the ballads and mid-tempo stuff because they would sound wrong with only one guitar. He said so when he had finished.

"Damn, I like it. I like it a lot. I can’t wait to hear the rest."

"I’m going to need a partner for that. John, you don’t play, do you?"

"Sorry."

Mike shrugged. "We can play around with it a little bit at the auditions. Not too much, though. I don’t want to give my stuff away to someone who I won’t be playing with."

"Definitely. So, do you want to get these things signed?" Gordon asked, taking the contracts for himself and Chrysler and holding them out for Mike.

"Sure, as soon as I read them."

"That’ll take a while."

"I’ve got time."

"I think I’m going to take a nap." John said, standing and heading upstairs.

"Have fun." Mike said offhandedly as he started reading.

It took almost an hour and a half to get through it all, even with Aaron explaining things to him. He was trying as hard as he knew how to find any loopholes that might get him screwed later.

They seemed to be fair. As a matter of fact, to the untrained eye they seemed conservative. He said so to Aaron.

"They’re understandably nervous about working with you. They want to make sure that everything is cut and dry. Notice that they were quite in agreement about not announcing this ahead of time. That way they’re protected if it doesn’t work out."

"Why wouldn’t it work out?"

"No reason, really. They just want to cover their throats."

He finished reading and signed the various copies. Gordon pulled out a cooler that he had been hiding from Mike. He opened it and removed a bottle of champagne and three glasses. "Here’s to our first deal!" he said happily as he popped the cork.

"You shouldn’t have."

"Of course I should have." he replied, pouring glasses and passing them around. "Here’s to a long and fruitful career." he said dramatically, toasting Mike and Aaron.

"Here here."

They discussed the task of organizing the auditions as they finished their drinks. After the second Aaron indicated that he should get the contracts back to his office. Gordon agreed and Mike turned off his equipment, following them up the stairs. They all shook hands and Mike quietly closed the door behind them.

He walked up to the main level, glancing into the living room. The top of John’s head was visible on the arm of the couch. He smiled and tip-toed into the room. A guard sitting at the dining room table saw him and placed a finger over his lips, pointing to John.

Mike smiled wickedly at the guard and sneaked up behind John’s head. He couldn’t help but notice how cute John looked when he was asleep. His ears were perked up and his breathing was deep and slow.

Careful not to make any noise, he reached out with an index finger and lightly brushed the long hairs just inside John’s ear.

The ear twitched like a dog’s and Mike suppressed a laugh. It was so funny, in an irrelevant way, how they did that. He looked up at the guard, who chuckled and shook his head.

He brushed the hairs again, watching the ear flick. It was becoming hard to keep quiet and his stomach quaked.

As he tickled the ear some more, John reached up and brushed at it with his hand, quickly settling back into deep sleep.

He did it once more and John’s ear twitched four or five times rapidly. Mike couldn’t help it anymore and burst into laughter.

John’s head snapped up and he grabbed his ear, rubbing hard. Mike fell to his knees, laughing hysterically.

John kept rubbing the ear and wiped his eyes with his other hand. He looked at Mike and growled.

Mike looked up at him and continued to laugh. "I’m sorry, John! It was just so cute, you know?" he said between breaths.

John growled again and got up. He took a step toward Mike, who stood and began backing away.

"I’m going to get you for that. I bet you’re ticklish, aren’t you?"

"No!" Mike lied, holding up his hands.

"Oh, I think so. I saw you trying not to jump when Doug examined your stomach. You’re going to pee yourself if I can help it." John countered, the fur on his shoulders and upper back standing on end.

"My, don’t we look frightening?" Mike laughed when he saw it, still backing away.

John lunged for him, grabbing an arm.

"No! I promise, I won’t do it again!" Mike yelled as he tried to fight John off. He was still laughing too hard to do much good.

John yanked him close and pinched his ribs. Mike twisted and his knees buckled. John pushed him to the floor and continued to tickle him.

"Stop! I won’t do it...!" Mike yelped, squirming.

John laughed and sat on his stomach. Mike fought as best he could, but couldn’t muster the strength to get out from under him.

"Stop! Stop!"

John finally quit, standing to survey Mike’s exhausted body.

"That ought to teach him." the guard said from the dining room.

John smiled at him and looked back at the panting Mike.

"That was unfair." he gasped from the floor.

"How’s that? You were the one itching my ear."

Mike chuckled as he tried to catch his breath. The image returned but he was too tired to laugh. "God, it was funny, though."

"You gonna do it again?"

"No." Mike answered. "At least, not without room to run."

"Uh-uh. Promise you won’t do it again." John said, fighting his way back onto Mike’s stomach. He pinched his fingers in Mike’s face.

"Oof! Okay, okay, I won’t do it again!"

"Promise!" John urged, trying not to get turned on by their position.

"No! What about a year from now? Maybe I won’t be able to help myself then."

"Promise." John said again, poking a rib.

Mike jumped. "All right! I promise!"

John nodded and got up, pulling Mike along with a hand. "Good."

"I had my fingers crossed." Mike said as he ducked into the kitchen.

"You’re hopeless." John accused, turning to the guard. "Give me your gun."

"Don’t!" Mike said from the kitchen, remembering not to yell.

"Are you kidding?" the guard asked. "And miss the fun next time?"

"There isn’t a damned thing in here to eat." Mike said from the kitchen, closing one of the cupboards and opening the fridge.

John joined him. "Want to go out? My treat."

"Don’t you think we’ve caused enough grief for one day?"

"Call Doug and see what he says. Or better yet, call Gordon. Maybe he can get us a whole section reserved."

"That’s a thought." Mike agreed, heading for the phone. He pulled Gordon’s card from his wallet and dialed his home number.

"Hello."

"Hello, Gordon?"

"No, this is his husband. May I ask who’s calling?"

"This is Mike."

"Mike who?"

"Sorry, Mike Riggs."

"Oh, okay, hold on."

Mike heard him call for Gordon. He barely raised his voice to do it. "You know, he hasn’t stopped talking about you for days." Gordon’s husband said.

"Apparently I’m a gold mine."

"Can’t say that I don’t hope so. Here he is."

"Nice talking to you."

"You too."

"Mike?"

"Yeah. I have a question for you."

"It’ll have to be quick. I’ve got half of America on hold."

"Hold on a second." Mike said, covering the mouthpiece. "John, where do you want to go?"

"Red Lobster."

"I was wondering if you could reserve a section of Red Lobster for me. John and I want to eat out."

"Not again!"

"There’s nothing here that we feel like eating. Come on, can you?"

Gordon sighed.

"Tell them that your client is a big tipper."

"To do that sort of thing, you usually need a big party."

"Have you started supper yet?"

"No..."

"So bring the hubby and invite some friends."

"Well, I don’t know. Hold on."

He waited while Gordon’s muffled voice conversed with his husband.

"Okay, I’ll get with the guys from Eagle and Adidas. They’re at a hotel in town for the legal work anyway. This might be a good time for you to meet them. I’ll call you back, all right? I imagine that their spouses are in town with them and will come along."

"How long will this take?"

"Not long. I’ll be right back with you, okay?"

"Okay, I’ll be here."

"Bye."

"Well," he said, hanging up and turning to John, "I hope you weren’t expecting an intimate little dinner. Gordon said that he can’t get the space reserved unless there is a large party. So he’s going to call back."

"I heard. And here I am, a lowly zoologist, dining with the big guns."

They watched TV while they waited for Doug to call. Mike sat in a daze watching werewolves act out a popular sitcom. Gordon called back a half-hour later.

"So, what’s the deal?"

"I’ve got Red Lobster’s party room reserved for seven. Two guys from Eagle, three from Adidas, and their wives and husbands will be there. I assume you’ll be bringing the guards?"

"About three or four. They’re eating now, so they won’t need to eat there. Does Red Lobster know who’s coming?"

"No, and they won’t be calling anybody about it once we’re there. I’ve got a little bribe money saved up."

"I thought you were an honest businessman. Just tell them that I’ll eat them."

"Now, now, don’t go scaring the natives."

"Okay then, we’ll see you there. We’ll take John’s car so the press outside is less inclined to follow."

"Is it in the garage and does it have tinted windows?"

"Yes and hold on. John! Does your car have tinted windows?"

"Yeah. And I’m two hundred miles away."

"Sorry. Yeah, he’s got ‘em."

"I’ll see you there."

"Bye." Mike said, hanging up and walking back to the living room. "It’s on. We’re taking your car."

"How are we gonna stuff ourselves and four guards into my car?"

"We can take three, then. Do I talk too loud?"

"Yeah, a little." John answered honestly.

"Is it overbearing?"

"Only when you yell from ten feet away." he said with a grin.

"I’ll try to remember, but you have to remember that I can’t hear you from far off unless you raise your voice."

"I’m getting used to it. I guess you’re not aware that I usually call you nine hundred times before I get your attention."

"Nope. What else is on? I hate this show." Mike asked, recognizing the introduction to his most hated sitcom.

"I like it."

"I’ll eat your arm if you don’t change it."

"Then you won’t be able to eat your seafood." John said smugly, holding the remote away from Mike.

"I have a big appetite."

"It’s a part two, and I want to see it."

"All right, we’ll watch it. Actually, since we have half an hour, I’m going to go write a little. Come and get me at about six-thirty."

"Okey dokey."

Mike went downstairs, digging out the sheet music and turning his guitar on. He played a few intros, getting the timing and chords right. Once he had that done, writing the rest was fairly easy. He kept time by tapping his fool and playing the song out in his mind.

He had the first guitar track written and was working on the second when John came down. "Time to go. How’s it going?"

"I’m pretty far into the first song. I’ve got the words down and one guitar track."

"That was fast."

"It’s not so bad when you’re writing from memory instead of scratch."

"Is it one of the ones you played earlier?"

"Yeah, Pour Some Sugar On Me."

"I liked that one. Let me read the words."

John started reading the sheet Mike handed him, smiling occasionally. "Am I supposed to interpret this literally or figuratively?"

"Whichever way you want to."

"Both seem pretty fun to me." John said, glancing through the gap in the front of Mike’s shirt. "Of course, you have a lot more room to pour sugar on than most of us."

"I guess fur and maple syrup don’t mix too well, Huh?"

"Maple syrup? I hadn’t thought of that one. Should be a great video. Are you going to release this one?"

"If all goes well it’ll be the first single. I wonder who decides which ones to release? What if I say that I want to release one song, and the record company says that we should release another?"

"What did your contract say?"

"It didn’t mention that."

"Well, make sure you have that power ahead of time."

"Yeah, you’re right." Mike said as they headed upstairs. "I’m for damn sure not going to be taken advantage of."

"Looks like the guards are already ready."

"Can I drive?"

"What?"

"Can I drive? Oh, I know it’s your car and it’s fairly new, but come on, I haven’t driven in over two weeks."

"I don’t know..."

"Come on, I promise I’ll be good."

"You are never good."

"When have I been bad when I said that I’d be good?"

"Well...all right. Just don’t hit anything, okay? I’m still paying for it."

They all climbed in and Paul raised an eyebrow when Mike sat behind the wheel. "You’re going to drive?"

"Paul, I walk and talk and wear clothes, don’t I?"

"Sorry, no offense. This is all kind of weird, you know."

"None taken."

He started the car and put it in gear as the garage door opened. "Thank God you don’t have an automatic. Those things turn a decent car into an appliance. Which way do I go?"

"Left out of the driveway."

He backed out and turned around, enjoying his chance to drive again. He smiled, gave John a quick glance, and floored it after shifting into second. They jumped forward.

"Hey!" John yelled as Mike shifted into third at redline. "You said you would be good! What are we going to do if we get pulled over?"

"Okay." Mike said, slowing down. "Sorry. Sure felt good, though. This thing isn’t my Talon, but it’s got pep."

"We’re all going to die." moaned Paul from the back seat. "There’s a furless madman at the wheel."

"I’ll be good." Mike said, giving John a punch.

They drove on, John giving directions. He kept to his word and didn’t go too fast, but that didn’t stop him from having a little fun.

"Taking those corners kind of fast, aren’t you Sulu?"

"More power, Scotty!" Mike yelled. "I need more power!" He downshifted to third and sped around another sweeper.

John laughed. "I canna give ye anymore, sair! It’s only a wee vee six!"

"Will you two stop!" a guard yelled. "I’ve got kids to feed!"

"Make a left at this light, and it’s right there on the right."

John said.

Mike stopped at the light. There were two lanes turning left, and another car pulled up beside them. The passenger, a black and gray wolf, looked over casually and did a double-take.

Mike smiled and waved. The man gawked back, poking the driver without taking his eyes away. The driver leaned forward and stared. Mike waved again. A small kid in the back seat poked his head out and yelled. "Look stepdaddy, it’s the wereman from TV!"

"The light’s green." John prodded.

Mike took off, waving at the boy. They were almost out of the intersection before the other car moved. Mike pulled into the parking lot and parked close to the door.

"Us first." Paul said.

They walked in together and the host froze in shock.

"We’re here for the Cole party." Mike said to the amazed man.

"Uh...right. Uh, th-this way." he said, walking sideways toward the back of the restaurant. He never took his eyes from Mike.

"It’s not polite to stare." John said, smiling at him.

"Sorry." he replied, looking away long enough to make sure he didn’t run into anything. He led them to an enclosed section in the back, leaving shocked diners in their wake. Gordon was standing outside the swinging doors with another wolf.

"Hey Gordon, what’s up?"

"I’m starving, that’s what. And on top of that, we got robbed trying to get a baby-sitter on such short notice. Little thief."

"In three days you’ll have plenty of baby-sitter money."

"That’s the truth. Mike, John, meet my husband, Don." he said, indicating the short wolf standing next to him.

"Hi." Mike said, shaking his hand. He didn’t seem to nervous, though his ears wouldn’t stay still.

"I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Like I said earlier, you’re all he talks about."

"I hope he’s not boring you." Mike said as Don shook John’s hand.

"Not yet."

"Well, let’s sit down. Is anyone else here yet?"

"No, you know executives; they’ll be fashionably late."

"We made pretty good time getting here. Mike drives like he looks." John said, nudging him.

"You drove?"

Mike rolled his eyes. "I am a grown boy now."

"Sorry, let’s sit down."

"We freaked a couple of guys out at that last light, too." Mike said as he sat toward the back of the room.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. It must have taken them ten seconds to come to their senses enough to pull out."

"You didn’t cause any accidents, did you?"

"Who, me?"

"Silly of me. Did they see you come in here?"

"I don’t think so." John answered.

Menus were set out at each place on the table, and Mike grabbed his.

"What are you getting?" John asked, picking his up as he sat beside him.

"Alaskan king crab legs. Can’t beat ‘em."

"I think I’ll have the lobster tail. I haven’t had that in a while."

Their host came back, ushering in six wolves. Everyone stood as they came in. Gordon introduced them, identifying them as executives from Adidas and their spouses. As everyone found their seats the host asked if they wanted drinks. Mike ordered a strawberry daiquiri.

"Do you guys have any idea exactly what this photo shoot is going to involve?" Mike asked them. "I know it’s still a ways off yet."

"We’ve already picked out the clothes you’ll be doing. We did that yesterday while your contract was being finalized and faxed."

"What are they?"

"Sports clothing, mostly; shirts, pants, and sneakers. You do remember that we’ll be shooting outside of LA, don’t you?"

"Yeah, and a chartered jet. Nice."

"I can’t wait." another executive said. "After those pictures Gordon sent us, you ought to look fantastic."

"What pictures?" Mike asked, looking at Gordon.

"I got a few pictures from your stay at the lab. Doug gave them to me. I’ve been circulating them to stir up interest."

"I was naked in those!"

John choked and spit water back into his glass. He covered his mouth, embarrassed.

Gordon laughed, holding up a hand. "The pictures had the, uh, private parts blacked out.

"They better have."

"Those pictures of you running around shirtless in the papers helped a bit, too. We’re going to want you to flex a bit."

"Will it be just me or will I be working with other guys?"

"Both."

The host returned with the two Eagle men. They also had husbands with them, and everybody went through another round of introductions.

"Well, it appears that Mike here has been practicing for the commercial." Gordon said to one of them.

"Oh?"

"He drove us here." John said, shaking one of their hands. "We like to think of it as ‘making good time.’"

They all chuckled. "So, Gordon tells us that you used to own a Talon."

"I sure did. A black TSI All Wheel Drive."

"How long did you have it before your, uh, accident?"

"About a year."

"How did you like it?"

"Best sports car I’ve ever driven, and I drove just about everything under twenty-five grand when I was looking."

"Glad you like it. Will you be buying another one?"

"I don’t know. It’s going to be a while before I buy a car. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to drive in public any time soon. If things go well, it won’t be long before I can afford something a lot more expensive. But then again, I just might buy one anyway. There’s no sense in not having what you like just because you can afford something ritzier."

"Good. Glad you like it." he replied, leafing through his menu.

"You all can take solace in one thing." Gordon said to everyone. "One of the conditions of my contract with Mike is that he won’t advertise for anything he doesn’t like or use."

"He was wearing Adidas jogging pants when we found him." John said.

"Yeah, but I was wearing Nikes."

"Oh." said one of the Adidas men.

"Don’t worry." Mike added. "As far as sneakers are concerned, anything comfortable will do. I only happened to be wearing them because they were on sale. I’d just as soon wear a good pair of Adidas."

A waiter came in, approaching nervously. "Is everyone ready to order?"

Everyone was.

"Will this be on one check?"

"Mine." Gordon said.

"Gordon, that’s a big check!" Mike said. "I wasn’t expecting you to pay for mine, at least."

"Expense account." Gordon replied with a smile. "It does wonders."

The waiter took their orders, glancing at Mike occasionally. As he left, he looked over his shoulder at least twice before reaching the door.

"I forgot if the guards outside wanted anything." Mike said.

"If they want anything, they’ll order it. All they have to do is sit out there and make sure no one comes in."

"Or sit in here and watch you eat." Paul said from his seat near the door.

"Want anything?"

"No thanks, I was kidding."

They ate, talking over the various aspects of Mike’s new career. Both were talking long-term if the current projects worked out. The Eagle guys suggested advertisements for other Chrysler cars, and Mike managed to come up with a tactful way to decline.

They all seemed a bit nervous of his intentions for after he had fulfilled his obligations. They were unsure of whether or not he would work out, but they were more concerned about him going to someone else. That fear had been reflected in the amount of money they were willing to pay him.

One of the Adidas executives tactfully made the suggestion to Gordon that it would make Adidas look bad if Mike was to go with another manufacturer. It would appear that the other had stolen Mike with more money or that Mike had been somehow unhappy with Adidas.

Gordon eased his fears by telling him that although Mike may advertise for more formal styles of clothing, no one but Adidas was going to have him for sportswear; at least, as long as a contract was in effect. He dropped a suggestion about a line of signature clothes.

"What was that?" Mike said, catching the end of the conversation.

"I just mentioned that if things work out early, it might be something to consider."

"Signature clothes?"

"Yeah, you know, a line of clothes with your signature as trademark."

"I hardly think I have the star status for something like that."

"I don’t know." said one man. "It may be something to look at in the future. That would definitely be a long-term thing."

"Long-term as in ‘a long time from now’ or long-term as in ‘last for a long time?’" Mike asked.

"Both, to a degree. It would probably last longer than it would take for us to decide to do it. Either way, we’ll have to wait and see."

Gordon winked at Mike.

"Go get ‘em, tiger." Mike thought.

They finished eating and talked for a while longer. The conversation wound down eventually and everyone got up to leave. Gordon paid the bill with a credit card.

Mike shook hands and said goodbye to everyone. Gordon was given the necessary information for their flight to LA. As they were leaving, the waiter approached with a piece of notebook paper and a pen.

"Mr. Riggs?"

"Call me Mike. What can I do for you?"

"Uh, could I get your autograph?" he asked, holding out the paper in a trembling hand.

Mike smiled, surprised at the request. He looked at John, who shrugged and said, "Must be nice."

"I guess it is. My first autograph." He took the pen and paper and leaned over the nearest empty table. "What’s your name?"

"Greg."

"Greg, here’s my first autograph. I hope you like it." he wrote in large letters. He signed his name at the bottom, avoiding the temptation to add a little extra flourish."

The kid took it, smiling nervously. "Thanks." He hesitantly extended a hand.

Mike shook it. "Sure, and hang on to it. Maybe it will be worth something someday."

They continued out, said their good-byes again, and hopped into the car. John drove this time.

"I wonder what that’s worth, anyway?" John mused as he started the car.

"The autograph? I’m sure it will make good toilet paper."

"I’m serious." You probably just made that kid a millionaire."

"Oh please. What makes you think so?"

"Think ahead, Mike. What about years from now, when you retire? You’ll be in the public interest for years to come. Even after you die you’ll be big money. Everything you ever touched will be worth a fortune. You’ll probably end up being another Elvis. Some day, if that autograph survives, it will be worth a mint. Damn! Why didn’t I think of that? I could be holding that thing right now! I want the second one!"

"Another Elvis? Anything but that. I’ll have to arrange an obvious, inarguable, public death so there’ll be no question."

John laughed and pulled onto the street.

"We missed the game." Mike remembered.

"Who was it tonight?"

"It wasn’t the Bulls, so we’re all right there."

"So, what did you think of dinner?"

"It was great. I haven’t had crab legs in a while."

"I meant the company."

"Oh. Now bad, I guess. They seemed like typical company types. You can tell that they’re scared to death of how this will turn out."

"I’m sure the public will go for it."

They drove home in silence, Mike watching people as they went. When they reached the house, Paul and the other guards checked in with their replacements and left.

"I think I’m going to go to bed early for a change." Mike said as they walked in.

"So will I. We gonna run in the morning?"

"Yeah, sounds good. I’ll see ya then."

"Will you do one thing for me before you go to bed?" John asked as they walked down the hall.

"What?"

"Give me the I’m-about-to-jump-your-bones look."

"No way! I’m not going to be responsible for another night of lost sleep."

"I promise I won’t let it get to me."

"No. Go to bed."

"Meaney."

"Good night, John."

"Sweet dreams."