Kit

Part II

by Fel (aka James Galloway)

 

ToC    20

 

This story was written as one book.  To ease reading on portable devices, it has been edited into multiple parts.  The chapters are numbered as though it is still one book.
To:  
Title    ToC    21

 

Chapter 20

 

        It took Kit quite a while to rationalize Jessie’s news, given everything else that had happened in just one day.  The euphoria and relief at finally freeing himself of the chains of his family was just a platform the news of his impending fatherhood used to catapult his mind into a state of near rapture.  It was the next day before either of them thought to start spreading the news.

        News that would have different reactions once it reached certain ears, he was sure.  Some reactions were easy enough to predict.  Vil, Sandy, Sam, the crew, the friends in the complex, the sorority, they’d be ecstatic.  But when word of Jessie’s pregnancy went past Vil and reached the aunts and uncles, he was rather sure that there wouldn’t be any celebration.  Another reaction that would be very hard for him to gauge would be Hannah.  She had been against the marriage, and now her daughter was pregnant, something Hannah would fear given that she was still convinced that Kit was going to leave Jessie within two years.  How would she react?  Some part of her, he was sure, would be overjoyed.  Even if she wasn’t so sure of the ability of the marriage, the idea of being a grandmother would have a certain unmistakable appeal.

        They should have started making phone calls that very night, but Kit was all but shellshocked from Jessie dropping that bomb on him the day he freed himself from his family.  He walked around in a kind o giddy stupor once the true impact of it hit him for most of the afternoon, and Jessie was forced to keep a handle on him, which precluded her from starting the tasks of making phone calls.  Jessie had bee forced to make Kit heel by evening by keeping him entrenched on the couch, snuggling him through his happy disorientation, giving him a fuzz therapy only Jessie could really supply.  When she decided that he had too much nervous energy, she took him back to the bedroom and wore him out.

        Since he was back and had no excuse—truly, had not even told anyone that he was home—the crew was quite shocked to see him all but dance into the office the next morning, a huge, stupid smile on his face.  “Kit!” she gasped.  “I thought you were in Boston!”  She nearly smacked him when he pulled her out from behind the desk and spun her around the lobby, then looked utterly confused when he set her right back on her chair and all but did a jig on his way down the hallway into the main office.  She followed behind him as the rest of the office saw him, and he was swarmed over by the crew.

        “Trial?  Oh, the trial’s over,” he said with a huge grin.

        “Already?  Sheila isn’t back yet,” Rick noted.  “It was supposed to last at least a week—“

        “Well, it’s still going on, I suppose,” Kit shrugged, scratching his muzzle.  “My part of it’s over, I should say.”

        “Why didn’t you call and tell me you were back, son?” he asked.  “And why didn’t Sheila check in last night?  I was about to call her.  She may be up there for her family trial, but she’s also up there to keep us informed.”

        “Call?  Oh, sorry.  It’s been kinda wild since yesterday morning.”

        “Well, why?  We’re dying to know!” Mike chimed in.

        “I think you’d better tell us what’s going on, son,” Rick said, sitting at the main table.

        “There’s so much, I don’t know where to start.”

        “Try starting at the trial,” Barry said.

        The offices emptied and everyone gathered around the big table.  Kit sat on the edge of it and went over what happened the morning before, about what happened at the trial.  They gaped when he told them about him being called to testify, and then the fatal testimony of Basil Hawthorne.  The crew had not known about Cybil’s involvement in Kit’s shooting, and they were floored by that bombshell when Kit described how Vil’s lawyers verbally strangled Cybil’s case when they cross-examined the rabbit butler.  “I have no doubt that Cybil is back in England,” he finished.  “The look on her face when she realized we knew was just sheer terror.  I’ll bet money she had her driver take her straight to the airport after the courtroom adjourned.  If she hangs around here, she might have an arrest warrant being nailed to her door.”

        “Well, that does explain a great deal of it,” Rick said with a nod.

        “Why didn’t they arrest her right then?” Lilly asked.

        “Because Vil got hold of the evidence illegally, and the evidence was itself illegal.  It was part of an illegal federal wiretap, part of that homeland security crap.  I guess they’ve been illegally tapping pre-paid cell phones,” Kit answered.  “But that doesn’t matter in a civil trial.  As long as the evidence is factual, it’s admissible.  And Vil had an affidavit from the FBI and everything to prove it was factual.”

        “Ohhh,” she said, nodding.

        “But, now everyone knows that Cybil tried to kill me,” Kit continued.  “And it was all just a part of a plan to distract my family long enough for her to sneak back to England with half of my family’s money.”

        “What a bitch,” Lilly grunted, which caused nods of assent.

        “Anyway, all of that is over,” Kit said happily.  “I don’t need to be there for the rest of it.  I have no doubt that Cybil is back in England, and the bombshell destroyed her case.  My family has already agreed not to oppose Vil’s case, so I figure that it’ll all be done by Friday.”

        “So, Vil will win and you’ll get the money?” Jeffrey asked eagerly.

        “Vil will win, but I won’t get the money,” Kit answered.  “I’ve already signed an agreement that leaves the part of my bastard father’s will intact that dealt with the division of the family fortune.  Since that was what my family was fighting to maintain, they had no objection to allowing Vil to void the will.  They just care about their money.  The voiding of the will does mean that my sister and cousins can socialize with me all they want without any fear.  In a way, that’s what my sister has been fighting for, getting me un-disowned.  Her case will do that.  I’ll no longer be disowned, but I still will have nothing from the family fortune.  Given that, and Jessie, and my feelings about my family, it’s still the same to me.  I disowned them six years ago.  I want nothing to do with them.”

        “So where exactly does that leave you, son?” Rick asked.

        “At work,” Kit grinned.  “I’m still the poor kid you all know and love.  I signed away control of that money before I ever had control of it,” Kit chuckled.

        “Wow,” Jeffrey breathed.  “You signed away over a billion dollars!”

        “Without batting an eye,” Kit nodded.  “I want nothing to do with it.  That money is curse, it is a curse, and I’m more than happy with this life.”  There was a long silence, and Kit laughed.  “So, get those dreams of yachts and Lamborghinis right out of your heads, you pack of leeches!” he barked with a teasing smile.

        They all laughed, and Rick patted him on the shoulder.  “Well, for one, I’m glad you came home, son.  This place just wouldn’t be the same without you.”

        “Him and Vil,” Mike grinned.

        “Well, that might explain why Sheila hasn’t called or touched base,” Barry said.  “If the Vulpans feel the trial’s over and they won, I think there’s some celebrating going on up there.  Sheila may still be drunk.”

        A few of them chuckled, and Kit could only nod.  “Muffy said something about them going out to celebrate, and Vulpans know how to party.”

        “That’s parrr-taay,” Marty corrected, snapping his fingers.

        “How do your family thinks of you?” Savid asked.

        “They think I’m stark raving mad,” Kit answered honestly.  “They don’t understand. They can’t understand.  All they have ever known is money.  It’s all they know, and all they ever want to know.  They can’t fathom that anyone could ever be happy without it.”

        “Well, I guess I’ll just have to try being happy poor,” Marty said melodramatically.  “All my dreams of a handsome sugar daddy, dashed!  Oh, the anguish of it all!”

        “Keep tryin’, Marty,” Rick chuckled.

        “So, no more extended time off, eh?  You’re gonna be like the rest of us wage slaves?” Mike grinned.

        “Thank God,” Kit said with an explosive sigh.  “Believe me, I appreciate you guys being so understanding.  First I get shot, then the marriage, then this.  I swear, I owe Rick so many vacation days I won’t be setting foot out of the city for two years.”

        “You’ll earn it back, son,” Rick grinned.

        “Now, the other news that rocked my world yesterday,” he said with building excitement, “which was why I was so scattered I never told you guys I was back.”  He put on a foolish grin.  “Jessie’s gonna have a baby!”

        It was as if he dropped a bomb at the table.  There was instant bedlam as the crew all laughed and shouted and jumped up, and he was pulled six different ways as he was hugged and his paws were shaken, often at the same time.  “Ohmygawd, I gotta call Jessie!” Lilly squealed, reaching for her Blackberry.”

        “Jessie’s in class, so don’t bother her!” Kit warned.  “And don’t spread it around just yet.  Me and Jessie are going to tell everyone today, so let us tell the important people.  If Vil finds out from someone other than me, she’ll have a conniption.  And God help us if Hannah hears it second hand,” he said with a shudder.

        “Now that I can understand,” Mike laughed.

        “When is baby due, Kit?” Savid asked.

        “We’re not entirely sure.  Jessie’s only between one and two months pregnant, she got suspicious when she missed her period, and went to the university clinic yesterday and they did a pregnancy test.  One of the things she asked me to do today was start researching obstetricians, we need to find one.”

        “I’ll have her call Martha,” Rick said quickly.  “Our doctor knows every doctor in Austin, he’ll know exactly who to recommend, given how shy and modest Jessie is.  Let me go put her on the job,” he said, then he hurried into his office.

        “So, there’s going to be the puttering of little feet in the Vulpan apartment,” Lilly grinned, hugging him yet again.

        “Not the one we’re in now,” Kit chuckled.  “Lupe says we’ll be in our new apartment around August.  They start construction on the Westwood expansion in a couple of weeks, as soon as they finish getting all the permits, and from what Lupe said, they’re building our apartments first, ours and Lupe’s.  It’s gonna be a townhouse-style condo by the pool.  We’ll be in one and Lupe will be in the one next door, connected to us.”

        “I should talk to Lupe about moving into Westwood,” Jeffrey said.  “My apartment is getting small, and my roommate is getting totally annoying.”

        “Go for it, Lupe’s a great landlord,” Kit told him.

        Kit did have one more important person to tell today, and after he extricated himself from the others and got into his office, he attended to that.  He used his work cell phone, his Blackberry, to call Vil.  Kit was tasked to tell his side of the family and the crew, and Jessie would tell her side of the family and the sorority.  Kit would also tell Lupe and Kevin, that was how they decided to divide the task of letting everyone know.  Vil didn’t answer her phone, it went straight to voice mail, which told him that she wouldn’t answer it.  He realized that she must be in court, since he was pretty sure that the trial didn’t just end yesterday.  They had other things to do, and Vil would be there while it was happening, as would most of the family.  Kit had no doubt that Vil was sitting in the same aisle with his aunts and uncles—except maybe Uncle Tom, he always was a reclusive one—and most of the older cousins.  He couldn’t just let it go, though.  She wouldn’t answer the phone, but he had no doubt that she’d read it if he text-messaged her, something he rarely did:

 

        Sis.  Important news.  Call me ASAP.

 

        He waited for about five minutes, and when she didn’t reply, either by text or calling, he sent her another message:

 

        CALL ME NOW!

 

        He put the Blackberry aside and put his attention on his computer when it beeped, warning him that Rick was putting something in his in-box.  His Blackberry started ringing with the short tone that told him it was a text, and he picked it up as his assignment appeared in his in-box:

 

        Bro, trial still on!  My lawyers moved 2 throw out bitch’s case.  Judge hearing arguments, no ruling yet.  Will call @ lunch break. TTYL.

 

        He texted her back:

 

        OK.  Don’t forget 2 call.  BIG BIG NEWS!!!

 

        He turned his attention back to his job, and saw that he was being assigned another interview.  Rick, that sly dog, was already abusing the connections he’d made during Kit’s wedding, for Kit was being assigned to interview Congressman Lamar Smith.  Smith and Rick had met at the reception and had had a very congenial conversation, ad Rick new that Smith would never dare to decline an interview with Kit, for fear of angering Vilenne Vulpan.  Politicians tread very lightly and carefully around the name Vulpan.  Kit and Barry had interviewed quite a few local and state politicians and election officials already, part of the extensive and detailed overage the magazine had devoted to the upcoming national election, turning the magazine into a real magazine.  Smith would be the first federal office holder the magazine would interview, and Rick was wisely assigning the reporter to which Smith could dare not say no when he requested the interview.

        He considered the assignment.  He’d need to research Lamar Smith exhaustively before the interview.  Kit wanted to know absolutely everything there was to know about the man; his voting record, his personal history, his platform, his vitals, his job goals.  He should also research Smith’s potential competition for his House seat, both any possible challengers in his primary, as well as the candidates in the other party.  And make sure there were no serious third party contenders as well.  Kit wanted to be armed with every possible scrap of information he could find to ask tough yet fair questions to Congressman Smith, so the readers could fully understand where he stood and be able to decide for themselves if he was a fur for which they could vote or not.  He would approach the interview as a neutral observer, with the objective to give the readers as much information about Smith as possible without ambushing him, but also asking tough questions about controversial issues, so the readers would know exactly where he stood.

        He got so involved with his assignment he lost track of time.  The ringing of his phone surprised him as he was putting the finishing touches on a detailed outline of information Kit needed to research to prepare for the interview, and he saved it with the mouse as his other paw picked up the phone and connected the call.  “Lone Star Magazine, Kit Vulpan,” he said in his ritual greeting used on the company cell phone.

        “Now, what’s this big news?” Vil asked, her voice a touch amused.

        Kit laughed.  “Are you sitting down, sis?”

        “No, I’m standing out in the atrium in the courthouse, with a pack of nosy reporters hovering around me.  That’s right, nosy!” she called loudly, away from the phone.

        “Well, this can wait until you’re somewhere more private,” Kit chuckled.  “I don’t want you looking un-Vulpan in public.  Image, you know.”

        “Okay, you just got me real curious,” she told him.  “Let me find an empty room somewhere, and I’ll fill you in on what happened today while we’re moving.”

        “Sounds like a plan to me.”

        “Okay, basically, it’s over,” she began.  “This morning when the trial resumed, Cybil wasn’t here.  She’s back in England.  From what I was told, she went straight from the courthouse to the airport, and boarded the very first plane to Europe she could find.  She ended up in Paris, and took another flight from there back to London.  That bitch was in no mood to stay where I can get my claws in her,” she said with a dark laugh, “but she’s gonna find out I can reach all the way to England.  Anyway, her lawyers tried to ask for a continuance, but the judge shot them down.  Then my lawyers moved to have her entire case thrown out.  They argued about that all morning, and the judge adjourned us for lunch by saying he’d rule on it tomorrow.  We should have adjourned for the day with that, but we’re going back in after lunch so the lawyers for the family can drop their opposition to my case and allow it to move forward with only Cybil opposing it.  That’s much simpler, so the judge should rule on that today, which is really him just acknowledging it.  The main message it sends, though, is that the Vulpans are moving forward united, and that will probably influence the judge’s ruling on dismissing Cybil’s case.  I mean, Cybil doesn’t really have a legal leg to stand on, and now it comes out that she’s the prime suspect in your attempted murder,” she said with a wicked little snicker.  “That does put just a little bit of a shadow over her entire case,” she said lightly.  “We’re also going to introduce the agreement you signed this afternoon, so everyone can just get it in their heads that you’re no longer part of this, and to leave you the hell alone.”  There was a brief pause.  “Okay, I’m in an empty room, bro.  What’s this earth-shattering news?”

        Kit laughed, took a deep breath, then blurted it out.  “Jessie’s gonna have a baby!” he said gleefully.

        Vil actually screamed, a high-pitched squeal, and it sounded like she dropped her Blackberry for a second.  “Oh my God!” she cried ecstatically.  “I can’t believe it!  Congratulations, bro!”

        “Thanks, sis,” he said happily.  “Jessie told me yesterday, but it was so crazy with me coming back and the trial and signing the agreement and all, this was the first chance we’ve really had to start spreading the news.”

        “Who cares about that!” she laughed.  “Oh, bro, I’m so happy I could cry!  I am crying!” she announced, then she sniffled as if to prove it.  “I—I have to call Jessie!  Does she have a doctor yet?  When is the baby due? Have you told her folks?  Please tell me you’re moving out of that closet and getting a proper house!”

        Kit laughed lightly.  “Jessie’s in class, so don’t call her.  Rick and Martha are asking their doctor for the name of a good obstetrician right now, we don’t know exactly when the baby’s due yet, I don’t think Jessie told her folks yet, that’s her job, and we weren’t planning on moving out of the complex.  We’re staying right where we are, thank you very much.  I like not having to mow the lawn!”

        Vil laughed again.  “Don’t even think of telling me I can’t put a paw in about this, bro!  My sis-in-law and my bro are having a baby!  I’m going to find the best OB-GYN on the freakin’ planet and send him to Austin, on me.”

        “I don’t think we have to go quite that far, but I’ll gladly let you pick up the tab for the doctor.  This is about the health of my wife and my baby, I won’t say a word.”

        “You damn well better not!” she said with a happy little giggle.

        “Watch your mouth, young lady!” Kit teased.

        Vil laughed brightly.  “I can’t wait to tell the family.  God, will they ever blow a fuse!  You know this won’t stay secret for very long, bro.  The press has been all but crawling up my skirt since the trial started.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a reporter hiding in the air duct listening to me right now.”

        “That can’t be helped.  I just didn’t want you to look flabbergasted when someone mentioned it to you, sis.  You deserved to hear it from me.”

        She laughed.  “Well, thanks for that much.   I’m gonna be an aunt,” she said with a thrilled lilt to her voice.  “I’m so happy I could walk across the harbor!”

        “Given it’s probably frozen over, I think you might pull it off,” he teased.

        “Stav is giving me the warning, court’s about to go back in session, so I gotta go, bro.  I’ll spread the word up here.”

        “Okay.  Tell Sheila as soon as you can, and you can call Jessie later tonight.  She’s gonna call her folks as soon as she gets out of class.”

        “Alright, I’ll make it a late call,” she promised.  “Talk to you later tonight, bro, and congratulations!”

        “Thanks, sis,” he said, and he ended the call.  He wasn’t done yet, though.  Vil would spread the word to the family and to Sheila, who was up there to attend the trial, but Kit still had two more people to inform, Lupe and Kevin.  He dialed Lupe first, since now it was very important to know exactly how this construction and move was going to go.  Kit didn’t want to be hanging in limbo waiting when Jessie was nine months pregnant.  He wanted to move before the delivery if at all possible, he did not want to try to execute a move with a newborn child.

        “Westwood Apartments, Lupe speakin’.”

        “Lupe, it’s Kit.”

        “Yo, brah!  How’s Boston?”

        “I’m back home.  Didn’t you see me leave for work this morning?”

        “Brah, I was late gettin’ into the office this morning.  Why didn’t you call me or drop by?  What happened up there to bring you home after just one day?”

        “Things were crazy,” Kit chuckled.  “But I’m home for good.  I never have to go back.”

        “That’s good to hear.”

        “Listen, speaking of home, when did you say they’d have our part of the new apartments finished and we could move in?”

        “Umm, July, brah, at least that’s what I was told.  They’re starting construction on them on Thursday, and they’re gonna go twenty four seven til they’re done.  They gotta get the far side up so we can move everyone over and tear down these old buildings.”

        “You’re positive about that?”

        “Pretty sure, yah.  Why?”

        Kit beamed at the phone, which Lupe naturally couldn’t see.  “Lupe, Jessie’s pregnant.”

        He flinched when Lupe whooped loudly into the phone.  “It’s about time, brah!” Lupe laughed.  “All that sex you two have, I’m shocked you didn’t get her knocked up sooner!  Congratulations!”

        “I’d like to be moved before she delivers, Lupe, so it’s kinda important we’re sure about when we’re moving.”

        “Shit yah,” he agreed.  “I sure as hell won’t want you two in limbo with a baby on the way!  Lemme call the contracting company and get a solid estimate, brah.  I’ll have to make sure they’re available to move in before Jessie’s so big she can’t stand up by herself!”

        Kit laughed.  “I wouldn’t say that to her.  She’ll sock you.”

        “When she’s too fat to do anything but waddle, I’ll get all kinds of brave, brah,” Lupe said wickedly.  “Lemme get on this.  I sure as hell don’t want you two trying to move when Jessie’s big, or you already have the baby.  Only problem is, if you move too early, you’ll be next door to a major construction site,” he grunted.  “I dunno if the baby’s gonna like that.  May have to hang in your apartment until they’re about to tear them down, then move over.  Eh, lemme talk to my guys and get an idea.  I’ll call ya back, brah.”

        “I’m at work, so call me here.”

        “Got it.”

        Kit moved on to the last person he was tasked to tell, Kevin.  Kevin, like all associates in his firm, had both a private number that reached him directly and an office number that could reach him through the office switchboard.  The direct line was for his clients, so they could always call him directly without going through the switchboard.  “Kev,” Kit called before he could go through his ten second long introduction.

        “Hey, Kit! How cold is Boston?”

        “I have no idea, I’m back home,” Kit answered.

        “Already?  How did it go?”

        “For me, great.  For Cybil, it was brutal,” he answered, which made Kevin chuckle.  “I have some different news for you, though.”

        “Cool, what is it?

        “First off, don’t tell Sam.  Jessie wants to tell her herself.”

        “I’m interested,” Kevin told him.

        “Kev, Jessie’s pregnant.  We’re gonna have a baby!”

        “Really?  That’s wonderful!” Kevin gushed.  “I’m so happy for you!  When is Jessie due?”

        “We don’t know exactly yet, she has to go to an obstetrician and get an exam,” he answered.  “Now remember, don’t tell Sam.  Jessie wants to tell the sorority girls herself tonight.”

        “No problem.  Let’s have lunch to celebrate!”

        “Sounds good to me,” Kit said. “Chinese?”

        “You know it!  I’ll be down in twenty!”

        “Mind if I bring company?  I doubt the crew’ll let me sneak out, I already told them.”

        “No problem, I’ll bet a couple of partners will want to come too.  They’re still trying to get me to talk you into retaining the firm,” he laughed.  “Just the prestige of representing a Vulpan would be a major coup, even if we never actually did anything.”

        “Them?  Pft, you’re our lawyer, Kev,” Kit snorted.

        “Wow, thanks, Kit,” Kevin said cheekily.  “Does this mean I can bill you for lunch?”

        “Bite me.”

        Kevin exploded into laughter.

        They met at the Little Dragon, and it did turn into an impromptu celebration.  The entire office cleared out, they locked the doors, and hung a note on it as the entire magazine went to the restaurant to meet Kevin, and found that every partner and several associates had come down with him.  The Little Dragon was still about the best place to get Chinese food in Austin, so they had trouble finding enough tables close enough together to remain concentrated. Kevin sat at a table with Kit, Rick, and Delores Kittimer, one of the partners at Kevin’s firm, a small, thin cat with tabby fur and a serious expression.  Delores was one hell of a lawyer, sharp and highly educated, and Kevin always had praise for her when he talked about his bosses around poker.  Delores did break her professional veneer by hugging him and telling him “I’m so happy for you!”

        “Aww, thanks, Delores,” Kit chuckled as several of the crew rushed towards the buffet.

        “I haven’t heard Martha cry that much since the wedding when I told her,” Rick chuckled as they sat down.  “Poor Jessie.  The second she gets out of class, she’s going to be bowled over by calls.”

        “That’s why she left her Blackberry at home,” Kit grinned.

        “Martha’s bringing over a dinner and a cake for you tonight, son,” Rick told him.  “She started working on it as soon as I told her.”  He took a bite out of his sweet and sour pork.  “She doesn’t want Jessie to cook tonight.  She figures you and her will be too busy.”

        “God, I love that femme,” Kit laughed.

        “She’s taken, son,” Rick grinned.

        “Have you told your sister yet?” Kevin asked.

        “And get murdered if she heard it from someone other than me?  Do you think I’m insane?” Kit asked, which caused the whole table to erupt into laughter.  “I have no doubt that my aunts and uncles know by now, and are cursing me out.”

        “Screw ‘em,” Kevin said.  “They have no right to say anything.”

        “Amen,” Kit agreed.”

        The group of them made it something of a celebration, even paid for by Kevin’s firm, and neither the crew nor the firm got back to their offices before three o’clock.  Kit found quite a few messages on his Blackberry—which he’d intentionally left on his desk—and office phone voicemail, all of them from his cousins Sheila and Muffy, Suzy, Clancy, and surprisingly one from his uncle Brian, all of them congratulating him.  Vil seemed to have quickly spread the word, even outside the family, and Kit grimly guessed that the press had to have wind of it by now.  He didn’t get much more work done as he called them back, Clancy first and then Suzy, then Muffy, then Sheila.  He chatted animatedly with all of them, but only breached another subject with Sheila.  “Now that Cybil’s gone, are you gonna change your plans about leaving Austin in the fall?”

        “I’m kinda working on that right now,” she answered.  “I’ll have a solid answer for you probably tomorrow.”

        “Alright.  Were you at the trial today, or out getting drunk?”

        Sheila laughed into the phone.  “Both,” she answered.  “Man, what a circus,” she mused.  “But it’s basically over.  The judge may finish it all tomorrow.”

        “Vil told me about what happened up til lunch.  What happened after that?”

        “That’s the only part of it I caught,” Sheila giggled.  “I was out with the Party Pack last night.”

        “Well, what happened?  You know if you come back with nothing, Rick’ll skin you.  You’re up there to work, you know!”

        The family is letting Vil’s case move forward unopposed,” she told him.  “But made it clear they’ll still fight Cybil.  But that’s a moot point, just about everyone expects the judge to toss out Cybil’s case, even the press.”

        “So, not much.”

        “Nope.  I’m jut glad that the bitch is gone,” she said with a sigh of relief.  “Finally, I feel safe walking the streets of Boston again!”

        “And free to return to your life of sex, drugs, and parties,” he noted.

        “Sex, drugs, and parties aren’t as much fun as they used to be,” she admitted with surprising candor.  “Well, the sex is,” she hummed, which made Kit laugh.

        “Do my ears deceive me, or have Martha and Hannah done the impossible and tamed Sheila Vance Vulpan?”

        “Bite my ass,” Sheila grated, which made Kit explode into helpless laughter.  “I’ll probably be back tomorrow afternoon.”

        “I’ll be here,” Kit assured her.

        “Oh, and grats again, cousin.”

        “Thanks.”

        After quite a few happy parting words, Kit left the office and drove home.  Lupe rushed out of the office an shook his paw, and Mickey and Darn intercepted him before he made it to the door and added their own well wishes.  Jessie still had a half hour before she got home, so Kit put on some water for tea, and had barely managed to take two steps out of the kitchen before the doorbell rang.  “It’s open!” he shouted, and saw Martha rush inside.  The tall great dane laughed and gave him a crushing hug, slapping him almost painfully on the back.  “I’m so happy for both of you!” she bubbled.  “I brought you some dinner, Kit. I’ll get to work heating it up for you.  When will Jessica get home?”

        “In about a half hour or so,” he answered.  “Need help?”

        “Come help me get it out of the car,” she told him.

        The dinner she brought was almost a banquet.  Tupperware dish after tupperware dish put in IGB bags, what had to be six courses, and a large rectangle holding a dark-frosted cake.  “Rick said you were going to ask your doctor about obstetricians.”

        “I talked to our doctor,” she nodded.  “He knows just about all the doctors in town.  He suggested a doctor named Sandra MacNair.  She’s supposed to be the best obstetrician in Austin, but she also has a very gentle and nurturing bedside manner.  Given Jessica’s personality, that’s a very, very important quality.”

        “Yeah, it would be,” he said as he got the last bag out of her dusty minivan and closed the back door.  “She’d freeze up if it were someone with a gruff demeanor.”

        “She’s such a dear,” Martha said with a little smile and laugh.  Since the wedding, Martha looked at Jessie as something of an adopted daughter, and called Jessie at least once every two or three days.  “Have you told Hannah and John yet?”

        “Jessie’s going to do that when she gets home from school,” he answered.

        “I’m so glad I didn’t call them, then!” Martha laughed.  John and Hannah had struck up a very strong friendship with Rick and Martha after they met at the wedding. The two couples called each other often, and Rick was even talking about trying to go on the same cruise that Vil had given his in-laws for a Christmas present, sharing a vacation.

        “Me too. We’d have seen the light from the explosion from here if Hannah gets the news from anyone but Jessie.”

        Martha laughed delightedly as they returned to the apartment.  They unloaded everything on the kitchen counters and dining room table, and Martha swatted Kit on the backside when he started unpacking one of the bags.  “Out, you!” she commanded.  “This is no time for you to be worrying yourself with the little things.  I’ll handle this!”

        “Just wait til I tell Rick you’ve been pawing my butt,” Kit threatened, then he danced out of range as she sought to swat him again, and much harder.  He laughed and evacuated himself from the kitchen, and turned on the radio while Martha’s voice emanated from the kitchen, singing to herself as she took over the place.  In moments, the smell of country fried steak wafted enticingly through the apartment as the matronly canine started heating up the expansive meal she’d brought over, enough food to feed the two of them for five days.

        Jessie got home right about on time, laughing as she opened the door.  Lupe, Mickey, and Dan were with her, Dan carrying her backpack, Mickey a Wal-Mart bag, and Lupe had his arm over her shoulder.  “—just so thrilled for yah, hon!” Lupe was saying to her as they came in.”

        “Aww, thanks, Lupe,” she smiled dazzlingly, then hugged him fondly.  “And I’m not delivering tomorrow!” she accused Dan, giggling as she took her backpack back from him.  “I carried this all day, all by myself, you know!”

        The lion grinned at her.  “Hush, you!  You’re more than entitled to a little pampering.  You deserve it!”

        “Stop putting the moves on my wife, guys,” Kit warned playfully as Jessie gave him a loving hug, and kissed him on the muzzle.

        “Then keep her happy, so she don’t come to Doctor Looove,” Lupe retorted, which made them all laugh.

        “What are you cooking, love?” Jessie asked, sniffing the air in the apartment.

        “He’s not cooking anything!” Martha called, padding out from the kitchen and burying Jessie in a crushing embrace.  “I’m so happy for you, sweetie!”

        “Aww, thanks, Martha,” she said with a laugh, patting the great dane on the shoulder.

        “I’m cooking enough for a good sized dinner, if your friends would like to stay.  I figured you’d have company tonight,” she smiled.

        Lupe laughed.  “I don’t never say no to free food!” he said.  “But, I’ll have to come back later, I’m still working on something.”

        “Yeah, we should give you some privacy to make some calls, hon,” Dan told her.  “We’ll come back around six-thirty or so.  That alright with you?”

        “That’s fine,” Jessie told them.

        “Now if you need any help with anything, you know where we are,” Mickey told her.  “We can’t have you straining yourself in your condition!”

        “Boys,” Jessie accused, pushing them towards the door.  When the three of them left, laughing, Jessie gave Martha a challenging yet fond look.  “I can still cook for myself, you know,” she teased.  “You of all people, Martha!  I’m shocked!”

        “Tosh,” she sniffed, smiling.  “You’ll be much too busy today to cook anything wholesome, and you’re eating for two now!”

        “It sure doesn’t feel like it yet,” Jessie laughed, patting her very slim belly.  “I haven’t even started getting morning sickness yet, knock on wood.”

        “How far are you along, dear?”

        “I don’t really know, somewhere between four and six weeks,” she answered.  “I found out because I missed my period.  And I’ve been paying real close attention to it, kinda hoping this would happen,” she said, smiling at Kit.  “As soon as I realized I missed, I went to the clinic on campus and they gave me a pregnancy test.  They gave me three different ones, just to make sure!  I need to find an obstetrician now so I can get an exam and find out where I am.”

        “I found you a very good one, dear, who came highly recommended.”

        “Really?”

        “Our own doctor recommended her personally,” she answered with a nod.  “Doctor Kantrell said she was the best OB-GYN in Austin, and we trust him explicitly.”

        “Is that who it is?”

        “No dear, that’s our doctor.  Her name is Sandra MacNair,” she said as she padded back towards the kitchen.  “I have her number, and she’s expecting to hear from you tomorrow to make an appointment.  But you have a few other calls to make,” she prompted as she turned the corner and vanished from sight.

        “Yeah, I do,” Jessie said, blowing out her breath.  “I guess we can’t put it off forever,” she said, steeling herself as she pulled her Blackberry out of her purse.  Ever since she got it for Christmas, she almost never used her other cell phone…she just kept that one for emergencies.

        Hannah’s reaction was very much a wild card, and it was one of the reasons that Jessie wasn’t entirely enthusiastic to make the call.  Hannah had just started getting used to the idea that they were married, and now it was going to be complicated by this.  It might make Hannah that much more paranoid that the marriage she felt was doomed to fail would be complicated by a child.  Kit could see that Hannah would feel that Jessie would be that much more vulnerable; pregnant, still in school, and growing increasingly dependent on a husband that Hannah didn’t entirely trust.  That was one way she could look at it—the way Kit expected—but there was also the simpleness of it.  Despite the situation and her reservations, some part of Hannah would have to be happy about the idea of being a grandmother, no matter how problematic it might be for her daughter.  Kit left Jessie to give her a little space to make the call, joining Martha in the kitchen to help her.

        “Is she calling Hannah?” Martha asked as Kit poured Jessie a cup of hot water for tea.

        Kit nodded.  “Now we find out if Hannah will be happy about this or not.”

        Martha tutted.  “She’ll be happy about being a grandmother, dear.  How can she not be happy about that?”

        “Hannah will find a way,” he said darkly.  “You know how she feels about our marriage, Martha. She thinks I’ll abandon Jessie the instant things start getting anywhere near inconvenient.  She’s afraid I’ll abandon Jessie the way her father abandoned her mother.”

        “Kit.  If you have proved anything to Hannah, it is that you are not her father.”

        “God, I hope so,” Kit prayed fervently as he heard Jessie begin to talk.

        There was no shouting from the living room, which was a good sign.  Jessie’s voice sounded reasonable, then she giggled, then she was too quiet for Kit to hear as he poured green beans from a tupperware container into a pot on the stove, and Martha turned on the oven.  Kit got too busy following Martha’s orders to pay much attention, at least until Jessie called his name.  He hurried into the living room, and Jessie held out the phone to him.  “Here,” she said, giving him a warning look.

        “Hello?” he said, almost timidly.

        “That was very quick work, Kit,” Hannah’s voice said darkly over the phone, as if on the verge of an explosion.  Kit’s tail stood straight out in sudden fear, which caused Jessie to erupt into laughter, and he heard Hannah laugh over the phone.  “Congratulations, dear,” she said in a much happier voice, but not too happy.

        “Thank God!” he said explosively.  “I thought you’d be angry!  And you, you little sneak, are in so much trouble!” he said, snapping an accusing finger at Jessie.  “You put her up to that, didn’t you?”

        “Mmmmaybe,” Jessie grinned, putting her paws behind her back and assuming an almost unbearably cute pose and expression.

        He heard Hannah laugh over the phone.  “But seriously, Kit, this has come at a very awkward time.  Jessie still has two more semesters to go.  How is she going to finish school?  What about her hopes to earn a Master’s?”

        “I know,” Kit nearly groaned.  “We didn’t plan this—well, I didn’t.  Jessie’s been hoping it would happen.  But we’ll have to find a way.  Jessie’s so close to graduating.  She just has to finish school!”

        “I’m glad you agree,” Hannah said in a satisfied tone.  “Now, what you two need to do is sit down and seriously think everything through.  There is a lot you need to think about now.  For instance, Jessie needs to find an obstetrician, and quickly.  A girl can never have an obstetrician too soon when she’s expecting.”

        “Martha helped us with that,” he told her.  “She had her doctor recommend one to us.  Jessie’s making her first appointment tomorrow.”

        “That’s very good.”

        “And we will sit down and talk about this.  I’m sure we won’t think of everything though, that’s why I’m so glad we have you, and Rick and Martha, to give us advice.”

        “I’m glad you’ll be looking to them,” Hannah said approvingly.  “They’re good people with a great deal of common sense.  If you can’t talk to me, dear, then Martha is your best alternative.”

        “She’s here with us now,” Kit chuckled.  “When she heard, she rushed over to make us dinner!”

        “She’s there?  Put her on,” Hannah ordered.

        “Martha!  Hannah wants to talk to you,” he called, going into the kitchen and giving her the phone.

        “Hello, Hannah,” Martha said happily.  “Yes!  I was shocked, but I’m very happy for them!  Oh, country fried steak and lots of different dishes.  I want them well fed today,” she chuckled, and Kit wandered back into the living room.  Jessie gave him a kiss, but she squealed and laughed when he grabbed her, turned her side to him, then reached down and spanked her.

        “Bad kitty!  I nearly had a heart attack!” he admonished her as she continued to laugh helplessly and struggle with her gorgeous longhaired tail writhing as he smacked her backside.  Jessie struggled for a moment more, than surrendered by kissing him on the muzzle, which made him give her a gentle embrace.  “How did she take it when you told her?”

        “A lot better than I thought she would,” Jessie answered.  “She was speechless at first, and you know, that’s when you wait for the explosion.  But then she laughed and congratulated me.”

        “How did John take it?”

        “Dad’s still at school.  He teaches an afternoon class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Mom will tell him when he gets home.

        “Well, that’s a hopeful sign, at least,” Kit said.  “I was so afraid she’d blow a fuse when she found out.”

        “I’m sure she’ll be less joyful when it sinks in,” Jessie said.  “But I think as long as I keep calling her and asking her advice, I can keep her mollified to where she doesn’t start thinking negatively.  I have to keep her focused on the good and not let her dwell on the bad.”

        Kit laughed and rocked her from side to side.  “Good God, what did I do to you, my pretty kitty?  What happened to that moral young femme who would never discuss manipulating her mother so blatantly I fell in love with?”

        “I’m a Vulpan now,” she giggled.  “Am I proving it?”

        “Wayyyy too much,” he agreed.  “I have got to get you away from Vil and Sheila before they do any more damage.  But God help me, I love you.”

        “You better. I still own your contract,” she grinned, giving him a passionate kiss that made his knees weak.

        His Blackberry started to ring, and he held onto Jessie with one paw as he dug it out.  “It’s Vil,” he said, reading the display, then he connected the call on speaker so Jessie could hear.  “Hey sis,” he said.  “You done for today?”

        “Yeah, we’re all done,” she said.  “Is Jessie home?”

        “I’m right here, Vil,” she announced.

        “Congratulations, hon!” Vil said brightly.  “I’m so happy for you!”

        “Thanks,” she said with a light laugh.

        “Kit has already knuckled under to me,” Vil said victoriously.  “I want you to go to an obstetrician, Jessie.  Kit said you’d find one yourself, but when you do, give me the number to their office.  I’m going to take care of all the doctor bills.”

        “Aww, that’s so sweet!” Jessie gushed.

        “This is about family, hon, and I won’t let Kit’s pride jeopardize your baby!” she said vehemently.  “You’ll get the medical care you deserve!”

        “Well, I won’t say no, Vil.”

        “You’d better not!” she declared, quite seriously.

        Jessie laughed.  “I’ll call you tomorrow about it, alright?  I’m going to make my first appointment.”

        “What’s the name of this doctor?”

        “Umm.  Sandy MacNair.”

        “Sandra MacNair,” Kit corrected.

        “Give me her number.  I want to call her and arrange paying for your appointment.”

        “Uh, Vil, can I make the appointment before you do that?  She’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.”

        “Oh. Right,” she said in a very unusual tone, which surprised Kit a little.

        “Calm down, sis,” Kit told her.

        Vil laughed.  “I know, but I’m just so excited,” she said giddily.  “Guess I’m going all spazzy on you guys, aren’t I?”

        Jessie laughed.  “That’s alright, I think it shows how happy you are for us,” she said affectionately.

        “God, am I ever!”

        “How did the family take it?” Kit asked.

        “About how you’d expect,” she answered.  “Muffy and Sheila are overjoyed, most of the other cousins don’t really care all that much, and the aunts and uncles are up in arms.  All but Brian, that is,” she mused.  “He seems really happy for you.  He asked me to tell you congratulations from him, he knows you’ll never talk to him if you know it’s him.”

        “He’s right,” Kit said adamantly.

        “But, it was good timing,” Vil mused.  “This news coming right behind us winning the trial.  They’re too busy celebrating keeping their money to worry too much about you.”

        “It’s all over?”

        “Not officially,” she informed them.  “The judge accepted the family’s dropping their objection to my suit this afternoon, and said he’d rule on the motion to dismiss Cybil’s case probably tomorrow.  Everyone’s predicting it’s over, including Cybil’s own lawyers,” she snickered.  “Bro, to say they were floored by our evidence was the mother of all understatements.  You should have heard them today.  They had nowhere to go, they had a dead case, and they knew it.  We murdered their case.  Where can you go when you find out the petitioner tried to have a member of the respondent’s family assassinated just to help you win your case?  Their arguments for not dismissing the case were pretty weak, on top of it.”

        “What happened to Cybil?” Jessie asked.

        “She ran back to England before the judge finished banging his gavel yesterday afternoon,” she answered with a wicked little chuckle.  “She caught the first plane to Europe out of Logan, didn’t even take any luggage with her.  She ran, and everyone noticed it.  It was all over the Herald this morning.”

        “Now what?”

        “Now?  I give her maybe five or six days to think the Vulpans aren’t going to chase her across the pond, get her hopes up, then she wakes up and finds a damning story in the Globe and reporters banging on the gates of her manor in Cheshire,” she said.  “Then I’ll call her and tell her that her bony ass is mine and would she please try to do something about it.  Because I’ll enjoy crushing her that much more if she fights than I will if she just meekly accepts it,” she said with a vindictive growl in her voice.

        “That’s my bloodthirsty sister,” Kit laughed.

        “I’m glad you’re keeping your promise to me, Vil,” Jessie said heatedly.

        “You bet I am, sis, I will make her hurt,” Vil said intensely.  “I will crush her and leave her totally destroyed.  She’ll have nothing when I’m done with her.”

        “My little barbarian,” Kit laughed, squeezing Jessie.

        “So I’m a barbarian,” Jessie shrugged, which made Vil laugh.  “Mind if we call this a little short, Vil?  I still have some people to call.”

        “No problem, Jessie,” Vil said.  “I want you to call me the instant you get that appointment made.  And I want you to push to get it as soon as possible.  Tell her you’ll pay him triple the usual fee if he moves you up to, say, tomorrow.”

        “Her.  It’s a her.  Sandra MacNair,” Jessie corrected.

        “Thank God,” Vil grunted.  “Why males want to be obstetricians is beyond me.  It’s creepy.  I always think they’re sex perverts who are too ugly to go into porn.”

        Kit and Jessie both laughed.  “I’ll see what I can do, I promise,” Jessie said.  “But I do have class tomorrow.”

        “Pft, class is not your biggest priority now, sis,” Vil said seriously.  “You can always take classes over, but you only get one shot to have a healthy pregnancy.”

        “Well, I think I can have my pregnancy and stay in class,” she said.  “I’ll finish this semester before I deliver.  It’s just the fall semester I’m worried about.  I don’t know when I’m due, so I don’t know how that’s going to go.”

        “Well, we’ll find out soon, and then we’ll all sit down and work something out,” Vilenne said confidently.  “Now I’ll let you go so you can get some of that food Martha’s cooking for you and finish making your calls.”

        “I will, thanks Vil.”

        “Aat, call me sis!” Vil said playfully.

        “Sis,” Jessie laughed.

        “There, I feel better now,” Vil giggled, then she hung up before they could say another word.

        “Wow, she’s all pumped up,” Jessie laughed.

        “Yeah, she sounds excited about it,” Kit agreed.  “Now call Sam and Sandy before Kevin spills the beans.”

        “You told Kevin already?”

        “You told me to!”

        “Oh.  I did, didn’t I?” she laughed, taking Kit’s phone from him and speed-dialing Sam.

        Kit could predict the squealing gushiness of Jessie informing the sorority, so he left her to it to go help Martha in the kitchen.  He helped her knead homemade dough for bread while she finished up a pan of spiced cheese potato casserole and popped it into the oven.  “How did Hannah sound to you, Martha?”

        “Excited, but a touch nervous,” she answered.  “The same as any future grandparent.  Don’t worry, Kit, she didn’t sound angry.”

        “I just can’t stop asking,” he sighed as he took his Blackberry back from her.  “I’m terrified she’s gonna change her mind and go against us, somehow.”

        “Show her the same faith she’s showing you, dear,” Martha chuckled, patting him in the shoulder.  “Give her a chance.”

        “You’re right, of course,” he said, pocketing his phone.

        “Of course I am, dear.  I’ve been around the block a few times, after all,” she smiled.

        The dinner turned into quite a gathering.  Rick was the first to arrive, and Kit was surprised to see that he wasn’t the only one that decided to drop in on Kit after work.  Jeffrey and Mike came over with him, since Jeffrey didn’t have much else to do and Mike lived only about two miles away, and as soon as Sam and Sandy heard the news, they rushed over with the other Jessie, Danielle, Sherry, Lisa, and Charlotte from the sorority.  Their apartment wasn’t big enough to hold everyone, so it spilled out into the courtyard as Lupe, Dan, and Mickey came over.  They set up tables, Rick went and got hamburgers and hot dogs, Mickey brought his big grill over, Kevin arrived with a big bottle of wine and a few pizzas, and it turned into a party.  It was a bit chilly for some to be out grilling in February in forty-five degree weather, so Kit handled the grill while friends milled in and out of their apartment.  Everyone was energetic and chatty, as some of their friends who didn’t often see each other interacted.  The sorority didn’t often see the crew outside of Jeffrey, and it was fun to see the wolf, Charlotte, flirt with Mike as Danielle teased Jeffrey and Sandy, and the other Jessie talked to Rick about running his own business; Jessica was a business major herself.  They had a great time.  Jessie was radiant as the center of attention, and Kit was quite content to let her have her moment in the sun.  So often, Jessie was overshadowed by Kit’s family name, and she never complained.  He was glad that this was about her, and almost exclusively her, and it was so wonderful to watch her smile and talk to their friends, and be so completely happy and content.  Yes, everyone congratulated him, but she was the one that was pregnant, and she was the one that was the complete focus of their celebration…and he couldn’t be happier for her.

        God, what a femme.

 

        Sandra MacNair was a gray vixen who wore large-lensed square glasses with gold rims, had a lustrous coat of charcoal-gray fur with a lighter gray ruff, a dark stripe over her muzzle, and sober amber eyes.  She was middle-aged, thin, athletic, and wore a white coat over a University of Illinois tee shirt and a pair of black denim jeans.  She called them by their first names, and insisted they call her “Doc Mac” or just “Mac.”  She didn’t look like the best obstetrician in Austin, but Kit was never one to judge by appearances.

        Someone had definitely pulled some strings, Kit figured.  Jessie had called her first thing that morning, calling between classes from school, and it was just so lucky that Doctor MacNair just happened to have an open slot on her schedule between four and six…and Jessie just happened to get out of class at three o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

        It smelled strongly of Vil.  They’d told her the name of the doctor, and Kit had a strong suspicion that Vil had had Stav or Marcus track down Sandra MacNair, M.D., and convince her to open her schedule for Jessie.

        But, Kit wasn’t going to complain.  MacNair was unusual in that she demanded that Kit be there for the examination, feeling that having the husband there reassured the wife and also kept the husband completely in the know as to the needs of the femme, and it was time that Rick was more than willing to give Kit so he could leave early to take her.  Jessie was just a little nervous and shy, at first, a reaction that got a little more intense when the doctor made her take her clothes off and gave her a thorough exam, which Kit saw in its entirety, even the embarrassing parts.  She then took some of Jessie’s blood and gave her a smile.  “Now, how long ago did you realize you missed your period, hon?” she asked.

        Jessie’s cheeks frizzed a little.  “About a week,” she answered.

        “And your period last month was normal?”

        “Uh, yeah, I think so.”

        “Have you been taking any medicines since last month and this month?”

        “Just Tylenol a few times,” she answered.

        “Alright, now, let me check this tummy one more time,” she said, having Jessie lay back on her exam table, and probing Jessie’s stomach with clawed hands.  Kit wondered how she did her job with those wicked looking weapons sticking out over her fingers, but she seemed to have no trouble.  She gently prodded Jessie in several places from her ribcage to her hips, then she nodded to herself.  “Now, the blood test will give me a clearer picture, but I’m feeling a little something here.  I’d say you’re definitely expecting, and you’re somewhere between three and six weeks into your term.”

        “How can you tell?”

        “Changes in your uterus that someone with training can detect,” she smiled, showing teeth just like Kit’s, normal teeth with elongated canines on her upper and lower jaws.  “Now, those I found with the cervical exam, not this,” she winked, which made Jessie’s fur ruffle again.  “But your abdominal cavity feels entirely normal and capable of letting you bring a pregnancy to term with no problems.  Now, since I need those test results back before I can do much else for you, I’ll let you get dressed,” she smiled.  “You look perfectly healthy, so all I can really tell you right now is keep right on going, don’t change or stop your routine because of your pregnancy.  I want you to keep exercising, but I’d also like you to start taking multi-vitamins and make sure you get plenty of vitamin C and D.  Your pregnancy will put a bigger demand on your body for vitamins, so you need to increase your intake.”

        “Okay.  We’ll stop at the store and buy some on the way home.  Which brand do you suggest?”

        “Any complete multivitamin will do,” she said.  “If you want to buy some expensive specialty brand from GNC, go for it.  If you want to get the cheap Centrum clone from Wal-Mart, that works just as well.  Just make sure it’s a complete multivitamin, and make sure you take in at least a full one hundred percent RDA of Vitamin C and D from today on.  My best suggestion is a glass of orange juice and a glass of milk every morning with breakfast to wash down that vitamin, and you’re just fine.”

        “Okay.  Umm, when will the morning sickness start?” Jessie asked nervously.

        Doctor MacNair laughed.  “It could start tomorrow, it may never start.  But, you’re about to enter the barf window,” she winked.  “So be ready for it.”

        “I will.”

        “Now, since you are pregnant, that means that there are some no-nos,” she said seriously.  “No more drinking, and if you smoke, then stop.”

        “I don’t smoke, and I don’t really drink much, so I won’t miss it,” she nodded.

        “Good.  Don’t take anything stronger than Tylenol or Advil without consulting me first, make sure you keep exercising.  As far as diet goes, at this stage, there’s not much you need to worry about.  Just make sure you get enough to eat, no dieting,” she warned, “and take your vitamins.  Your figure had better be the last thing you’re worrying about right now.  If you want to keep your figure, do it with exercise, not with dieting.  I prefer to see you active right up until your labor, I’ll never put you on bedrest unless you have a complication, so keep right on exercising, hon.  Outside of that, if you wanna chow down on hot dogs and bacon three meals a day, go for it.  Kit, do you take any medicines?”

        “Me?  No,” he answered.  “And I don’t smoke, and the most drinking I do is an occasional glass of wine with dinner,” he added.

        She laughed.  “Well, I’ve found that a femme is more likely to stop when her husband stops with her, so you’re becoming a dry house,” she ordered.

        “Not a problem,” he nodded.  “I’ll give my wine to a friend of mine, so it’s not even in the house.”

        “That’s a good attitude,” she said approvingly.  “And since she needs to exercise, then so do you,” she told him.  “That way you keep each other on the program.  You’ll keep her exercising, and she can take it out on you,” she grinned.

        “We have a membership at the Y,” Jessie told her.  “That’s no problem at all.”

        “When you’re further along, Jessie, I’ll give you some exercise regimens to follow so you don’t stress your belly or endanger your baby.  But for right now, feel free to do any exercise you want as long as it’s not something like boxing.”

        Jessie laughed.  “Alright.”

        “She doesn’t need to train for boxing, doc, she gets enough of that kind of exercise beating me up at home,” Kit said dryly.

        “Ah, she’s a scrapper is she?” MacNair grinned.  “Claws?”

        “Pillows.”

        She laughed.  “Ah, one of those.  Well, she’s free to keep you on the straight and narrow for a while,” she winked at Jessie.

        “I have him well trained,” Jessie said primly.  “Anymore, I only beat him up because he intentionally goes looking for trouble.”

        “Then it sounds like you have a good husband,” she said with a laugh.  “Males who don’t stir up trouble are boring!”

        “I’d have to agree,” Jessie said seriously.

        “Now, I’ve already been contacted by Miss Vilenne, Jessie, and she’s already paid for your visit today, so you’re free to go as soon as you’re dressed.  Stop by the store and pick up some vitamins on the way home, and I’ll call you when your test results come in and schedule your next appointment, okay?”

        “Okay.  Thanks a lot, Doctor MacNair.”

        “Just Doc, or Mac, honey,” she smiled.  “You make me feel old when you call me that.”

        “Old?  You?” Kit said with a scoff.  “You look too young to be a doctor as it is, let alone the most recommended OB-GYN in Austin.”

        “You do have him well trained,” the doctor said with a bright smile at Jessie.

        “Of course I do,” she said with a prim little smile.

        Kit helped Jessie into the Pathfinder after finishing up the visit, and Jessie seemed quite excited.  “I can’t wait to find out when I’m due,” she said happily, reaching over and patting him on the paw as he put it on the gearshift.  “I was almost mortified when she made me undress in front of you!”

        “Uh, love, explain how that matters,” he said.

        She laughed.  “It’s a difference between private and not private,” she told him.  “I don’t mind taking my clothes off for you, it was taking my clothes off for a medical exam in front of you that made it creepy,” she told him.

        He chuckled  “I’m so sorry for compromising your modesty,” he teased.  “I do hope this doesn’t mean you’re gonna start hiding under towels and robes at home.”

        She slapped him on his scarred forearm.  “I wonder how she’ll figure out when I’m due,” she mused.  “Do you think the blood test is that precise?”

        “I think it’s a combination of things,” Kit said.  “But if she couldn’t predict your delivery date, she wouldn’t be a very good obstetrician, would she?”

        “I guess not,” she giggled.

 

        The next day was busy for Kit, and not just because of the life-changing news.  He had an interview to do, and he spent all morning digging every scrap of information about Congressman Lamar Smith out of every dusty back corner of the internet and the Austin Public Library.   Kit assembled an exhaustive bio on the fur, to the point of digging up the names of his four grandparents, then putting it all together to create an overview of his life history, his education, his political career, his platform and ideals, and his known aspirations for the future.

        The crew was still a little giddy, but then again, so was he.  He entertained quite a few pawshakes and hugs through the morning, and not one of them failed to come to his office and ask about Jessie.  He told them all they’d see her tonight, for she was going to come to the office after class, and would get there around five-thirty, right around the time they did their Thursday wrap meeting.

        Given it was Thursday and the last day of the issue, there was the usual bustle.  Rick and Savid were making last-minute changes.  Marty was riding Lilly about finishing the question posed to her in Ask Away, and was also editing down a mailbag letter that was going into the issue.  Jeffrey was busy drawing for School Daze, working off writing Kit had already given him.  Mike was working on The Scene on the website, for he was about to change the website’s layout.  Barry was out doing an interview with one of the Austin City Councilfurs, part of the election special. Denise was up at her desk, reading something Rick had given her.  It was just another typical day at work.

        But it wasn’t a typical day.  Kit kept daydreaming about Jessie’s pregnancy, often going ten minutes just staring into space.  What would it be like as her belly grew?  What kind of food cravings would she get?  Would she get morning sickness, and if so, for how long?  He’d heard that some femmes had wild mood swings due to hormones, but had also heard that pregnancy seriously mellowed many femmes out.  Both were probably correct, so he wondered which way Jessie would swing.  How active would she be?  Would her being mixed influence her pregnancy in any way?  Would her sex drive change?  Just what went on during a pregnancy anyway?

        Clearly, Kitstrom Lucas Vulpan III, professional researcher, needed to do a little research about pregnancy.  Since this was their first baby, Kit wanted to have an idea of what they could expect.

        Of course, he still got some calls.  Vil called him about an hour before lunch, and she was almost smugly happy just form the sound of her greeting him.  “Let me guess,” he prompted.

        “It’s over,” she declared triumphantly.  “The judge threw out Cybil’s case.  My case went through unopposed, and the judge voided Dad’s will and accepted the agreement we drew up.  Congratulations, bro, you’re no longer officially disowned.  The family’s happy, I’m happy, you’re happy, Cybil is fearing for her life…it’s a wonderful day.”

        “Well, that’s good to hear, sis,” he told her.  “I’m happy it all worked out for you.”

        “Not entirely,” she grunted. “Uncle Zach is still trying to take my job at the company, but at least he can’t badger me about Stonebrook anymore.  Did I tell you he tried to sue me for ownership?”

        “Yeah, you did,” he answered.

        “The bastard,” she growled.  “Anyway, I’m sure that Zach’s gonna lay low a while and get his nerves back after he had to face the possibility of you disowning him, and once he feels himself again, he’ll be back at it.  One good thing about the deal is that Zach had to admit he doesn’t own the estate in writing.”

        “Yeah, but you agreed to let him live there.”

        “He can live there all he wants,” she snorted.  “It doesn’t change the fact that I am the one in the big chair.  And our deal makes it clear to the family that I’m letting him live there, out of the kindness of my heart.”

        “I didn’t think you had a heart.”

        Vil laughed.  “I have a small one, and it’s very well hidden,” she told him playfully.  “But, I’ll enjoy the vacation until he starts stirring up trouble again.  So, what did the doctor say?”

        “To wait for the blood tests to come back,” he answered.  “She estimates Jessie’s three to six weeks into her pregnancy, but she wants to look at the tests before she makes a more precise guess.  Outside of that, Jessie’s perfectly healthy, and the doctor doesn’t foresee any complications.”

        “That’s fantastic news, bro,” she said with a sigh.  “Just to warn you, Muffy’s coming back with Sheila today.”

        “What about her school?”

        “She’s only taking two days,” she told him.  “Sheila said she has to start making arrangements.”

        “Yeah, I figure she’ll go back home as soon as Rick finds an intern to replace her.  Maybe not even that long.”

        “No, she’s making arrangements to move down there.”

        “What?” Kit gasped.

        “She’s serious about it, bro,” she told him.  “From what I found out, she’s made a deal with Harvard.  She’s going to transfer to U.T. and take culinary arts, but still do her business classes at Harvard through correspondence, through the internet and private correspondence with the professors.  Harvard agreed to accept all her U.T. credits and shadow her through the crap requirements so long as she pays the tuition for them, and only come back up here for one semester to do her capstone project.  That way she can graduate with her B.A. from Harvard in business and also get a B.A. from U.T. in cooking, since U.T. will take credits from Harvard.  She has a pretty sweet deal.  She’ll only take cooking classes down there, only business classes through Harvard, and will graduate with two degrees in three years.  I guess she’s dead serious about opening her own restaurant, bro.  She’s taking steps to make it happen.”

        “Well, good for her,” Kit said with a chuckle.  “I’m surprised she wrangled that kind of deal out of Harvard.”

        “Well, bro, the Vulpan name is a big club here.  But, I suspect she probably bribed them to agree to let her shadow the requirement classes, accept her credits for her classes down there, and just do the business classes, and still graduate.  Sheila knows how to schmooze people.”

        “Knowing her, she banged the dean,” Kit grunted, which made Vil laugh.

        “She very well may have,” she agreed.  “But, her setting up this deal shows she’s smart, she knew what to do to get what she wants, and she made it happen.  She acted like a Vulpan,” she said, with a little pride.

        “She did at that,” Kit agreed.  “I think Great-grandpa would be proud of her.”

        “You know, I think he would.  Sheila showed she’s much more of a Vulpan than her mother,” Vil told him.  “After all, that’s what being a Vulpan is about.  It’s about coming out on top despite the odds, about winning, not about being rich.  And Sheila won.”

        “In a weird way, I’m glad she’s staying here.  God help me, I think I’d miss her if she left.”

        “She grew on you, eh?”

        “Like mange,” he grunted, which made Vil laugh delightedly.

        “I can’t deny, I’m kinda fond of her myself,” Vil admitted.  “She’s definitely a piece of work.  There’s a mind hiding under that oversexed exterior.”

        “It took it long enough to start showing up.”

        “No, it just took her believing in herself,” Vil said seriously.  “When she ran down there to you, she found that she can make it on her own, I think.  You and Jessie and Martha were a good influence on her.”

        “Martha and Jessie more than me,” Kit admitted.  “I just put up with her.  Those two nurtured her.  I guess I should tell Lupe she’s here to stay,” he mused, pondering it.  Sheila really did prove that she was quite smart with this move, and displayed amazing logic and methodical execution.  Kit realized that Sheila had, probably for the first time in her life, been confronted with the possibility that she wouldn’t get what she wanted.  But, instead of whining about it or running to her mother to have her make everything just right, she instead tackled the problem herself, took action to accomplish her goal.  She wanted to open a restaurant, learn to cook, and what was most surprising, she wanted to stay in Austin.  So she identified hr goal, analyzed the obstacles keeping her from her goal, devised a plan of attack to remove, circumvent, or counteract those obstacles, then executed that plan.  Kit was quite impressed that his cousin, who seemed a Party Pack femme to the core, would demonstrate traits more in line with her parents or Vil than her other cousins.  It just went to show that even someone like Sheila could change her tune when she wanted something bad enough.  “Pretty amazing,” he chuckled, mainly to himself.

        “Sheila?  Yeah,” Vil agreed.  “Next thing we know, Lynn and Bess will become nuns.”

        Kit laughed so loud that Mike stopped at his open door and looked in curiously, but Kit waved him on.  “I have to ask, did you meddle with the doctor?”

        “Just a little bit,” she admitted cheekily.  “I offered her triple her usual office fee if she could see Jess the same day.”

        “I thought so.”

        “Don’t you dare bitch,” she warned.  “This is about Jessie and your baby!”

        “Did you hear me complain?” he asked calmly.  “I told you, when it comes to Jessie, I’ll turn a blind eye as long as you don’t go nuts.”

        “Good.  You just saved yourself a hell of a lot of grief, bro,” she told him bluntly.

        “Like I think I could derail you over this.  Like I would want to!”

        “Ooh, sounds like I can slip in some first class meddling under the guise of the baby,” she teased.

        “Vil!” Kit barked.

        “I gotta be me,” she laughed lightly.

        “You’ll find your number blocked and your email on ignore,” he warned.

        “Well, better put on your fighting cap, bro,” she taunted.  “Because you and me are going to have a few little chats about your living arrangements.”

        “We like our apartment,” he told her.  “Even Jessie will tell you that.”

        “You’re starting a family, you need a house,” she challenged strongly.

        “But they’re so expensive,” he complained, and immediately winced.

        “Kit!” she gasped in shock.  “You think I’d throw you a key and forget about you?  Shame on you!”

        “But that’s the problem, isn’t it?” he challenged.  “How can I ever prove to myself that I can make it if you’re always standing at the rudder, Vil?”

        “You’re being silly,” she told him.  “You don’t think surviving Dad answers that question?  I’m not trying to take away your life and turn you into one of the Party Pack, bro.  I just want to give you what you need, and what you deserve, after everything our father and our family did to you.  If I really did do what you’re suggesting, you’d be back up here in Boston, living with Jessie in Stonebrook, and you’d be sitting on the lion’s share of the family fortune.”

        “That’s a quick way to make me miserable.”

        “Pft,” she snorted.  “Bro, I think you’d be the best Vulpan to have that money, and the responsibility that goes with it.  You understand what it means more than any of us, even me.  I’ve never lived a day without my comforts.  I wouldn’t appreciate it the way you would.”

        “I don’t want that curse.”

        “I think you can handle it.”

        “I don’t want to find out.”

        “Pft.  Baby bro, you are a Vulpan,” she said seriously.  “Now that you’re doing more than slumming around hiding from me and the family, I don’t see how you could possibly do anything but succeed. I’ll bet you half my shipyard stock here and now that you’re a self-made millionaire by the age of thirty-five.”

        “I doubt Rick will ever earn enough to pay me that much, Vil.”

        “I know you, bro,” she said with a curious little lilt in her voice.  “I know how that mind of yours works.  Where do you keep the business plan you drew up about the magazine one day when you were bored?”

        Kit’s cheeks ruffled.  There was indeed such a business plan, buried in his computer, which was a plan to expand the size and circulation of the magazine by increasing its coverage to more than just the college crowd. He was glad Vil couldn’t see him at that moment.

        “You are a Vulpan, bro, down the marrow in your bones, just like me,” Vil teased.  “Dad always thought you hated business, but he was wrong.  You didn’t hate business, you just loved the idea of being a pilot more.  You hated him never giving you a choice.  But you’ve chosen your battleground now, and now you’ll start climbing that mountain.  I give you one year before you’re a partner at the magazine.  I give you five years before you’re running it, and Rick retires off the income you bring in for him.  I give you ten before you’re pulling down two hundred grand a year net off your profits.”

        “I seriously doubt that, unless you cheat.”

        “Cheat?  Why would I even bother?” she challenged lightly.  “You forget, bro, I talk to Rick.  Who has he taught his accounting, and who does his books when he doesn’t have time?  Who does he send to meet with advertisers when he’s busy?  Who did he talk to when he wanted input on his idea to expand circulation?  You.  You have business in your blood bro, and Rick knows it.  You have enough formal training to let those instincts run wild, and Rick knows he’d be a damn fool not to make use of all your talents.  And Rick is no fool.”

        “Well,” he hedged, but Vil cut him off.

        “So, bro, either take my bet or shut up.”

        “I’m going to pass on that one,” he chuckled.

        “Wise decision,” she murmured.  “I’m making a special note of this day, bro, so when you make that first million, I’ll be sure to remind you all about this little conversation.”

        I’m sure you will,” he teased.

        “Anyway,” she chuckled.  “We’re sending you a little we won gift, bro.  Believe it or not, it’s from the whole family.”

        “No,” he growled.

        It’s not just from me, Kit,” she said seriously.  “I told you, it’s from the whole family.  Think of it as a token of appreciation that you didn’t disown them all and leave them broke and homeless.”

        “What is it?”

        “You’ll find out tomorrow.”

        “I don’t like it, and I don’t want it,” he said hotly.

        “Kitstrom!” she snapped, which got his attention quick. She never called him that unless she was sincerely angry with him.  “You don’t have to like it, but you will not bitch about it,” she said hotly.  “You will accept it with all the fake smile you can muster, and you won’t say a single word!  If you pitch a fit, I will come down there and beat you senseless myself!” she warned in an ugly tone.  “I busted my ass to get Dad’s will voided and get you back to at least this point with the family.  You have no idea what I had to do to make them agree to it!  The family sent you this gift in good faith, in gratitude for you not being an asshole and taking everything from them, and you will accept it with grace,” she railed at him.  “I’ll be damned if I let your temper piss off the aunts and uncles to where they hate you even more than they do now!”

        “Well, Jessie’s pregnancy probably put them over the top.”

        “It certainly didn’t help, but they’re still giving you this gift.  But I swear to you, Kit, if you raise a stink about the gift the whole family sent you as a token of good will, I will never forgive you.”

        “Alright, alright,” he sighed.  He could tell just how serious she was, and he knew better to cross Vil.  She could be the Ice Queen even to him, for she would see his behavior as a direct insult after all the hard work she did on his behalf.  She may love him, but she was still Vil, and he knew it.  “But I don’t want money, Vil.  You know that.”

        “If we send you money, you will put it in a trust fund for your baby!” she told him.

        Kit considered that…it was a pretty good idea.  Knowing his family, they all chipped in their petty cash and sent it to him, the pitiable, broke, destitute Vulpan, who now that he was no longer officially disowned, might affect their social standing if people thought he was still dirt poor despite again being part of the Vulpan family.  So, to alleviate their guilt over his poverty, each member probably chipped in about five hundred dollars, and they were sending him a check for maybe ten or fifteen thousand dollars.  He was certain that it was a cash offering, either a bribe so he wouldn’t embarrass them or some kind of token offer.  Since they had money and he didn’t, they couldn’t understand that he was happy without it.  They just couldn’t understand, so they’d do the only thing that made sense to them, offer him money.

        He wouldn’t touch a penny of it, but that money would do quite well paying for his child’s college education.

        “Now that I can do, sis,” he said in a mollifying tone.  “I’d never touch that money, you know I wouldn’t, but I can’t deny that it would be well spent on my baby.”

        “Good.  I’m going to go now, bro.  I’ll call you later,” she said in a much calmer tone.

        “Alright.  I love you, sis.”

        “I love you too, Kit,” she said, and she hung up the phone.

        He sighed.  That was close.  She was really mad, and she was serious.  He knew better than to rile his sister, so he’d take the cash and just drop it in an annuity for his baby.

        It took him a little time to calm down, but he eventually got back into work.  But after lunch, Doctor MacNair called him with information about the test results.  “Barring any unforeseen complications, Jessica will deliver on September Thirtieth,” she said with absolute confidence.  “I’ve already called Jessica, and her next appointment is scheduled for Monday, February Twenty-fifth, at ten a.m.”

        “Next Monday at ten o’clock, got it,” he said, scribbling it down on his planner.  “You know, Jessie could have told me all this, Doctor.  You didn’t have to call me.”

        “Kit, I make it a policy of keeping the husband fully informed,” she told him.  “It ensures that you never miss an appointment, just in case one of you writes it down wrong.  It also keeps the husband involved in the pregnancy, and as I told you, I like to keep the husbands as involved as possible.”

        “That makes sense,” he agreed.  “Oh, Doc, let me apologize for my sister.”

        “No apologies necessary, Kit,” she chuckled.  “Vilenne’s a sweetheart, and she’s very, very concerned that Jessica gets the best care possible.”

        “That’s one way to say it.”

        “Well, she’ll learn that she can’t buy me,” MacNair said with a challenging little catch in her voice.  “When she called and offered me triple my usual fee to get Jessie in the same day, I already had an open slot from a cancellation,” she admitted to him.  “So I took her money and put your wife in the empty slot.  I got triple fee, and nobody got bumped.  The first time she tries that when I can’t swing it, she’ll find out I’m not quite so easy.”

        Kit laughed.  “You’ll do just fine, Doc.  Not many can swindle my sister.  And you keep right on doing it.  It keeps her on her toes.”

        “Oh, I’ll do that,” she giggled, then said her goodbyes.

 

        Kit hadn’t thought much about the “present” that the family was sending him.  He’d told Jessie about it, warned her that Vil had put some ugly warnings that he take it with a smile to keep the peace, and then let her putter through some banks checking annuity rates while he finished up his Lamar Smith research.  Jessie was rather happy about the idea of it, certain that their child could easily go to Harvard on what that annuity would be worth when the child was 18.

        He was right…and wrong.

        It arrived at nine the next morning, and it was just luck that they were home.  Kit and Jessie had gone to the Y to exercise, he was teaching her how to play tennis and she was teaching him to play racquetball, when the courier arrived.  They hadn’t even been home thirty seconds when the doorbell rang, and Kit answered it wearing his sweatpants and jacket.  He recognized the courier for what he was immediately, a gray-furred wolf wearing a dark suit and carrying a briefcase.  “Kitstrom Vulpan?” he asked.

        “I think you know I am,” Kit said calmly.

        He chuckled.  “The eyes are better than a fingerprint, sir,” he said with a nod.  “I’m carrying a package for you, from Boston.”

        “They told me it was coming,” he said.

        The man stepped inside when Kit invited him in.  “Would you like some tea, sir?” Jessie asked him as she came out of the kitchen.

        “Oh!  Yes, please, thank you very much,” he said with a grateful smile, taking the cup from her and sipping at it.  “Ah, Lipton,” he smiled.  “Always a reliable fallback.”

        “It’s about the best we can get down here,” Kit grunted, which made the wolf nod knowingly.  “These people don’t know anything about tea.”

        “That’s the honest truth,” the wolf nodded.  He drank down the tea despite it being piping hot, then handed the cup back to Jessie.  “Thank you very much, ma’am,” he said with a smile.  “Now, on to the package.  May I sit?”

        “Please,” Kit said, motioning.  The wolf seated himself at the couch and put his briefcase on the coffee table.

        “I have two things here for you, sir,” he said.  “I was told to tell you that one of them is from your sister.  The other is from your entire family.”  He first held out a small packet.  He opened it, curiously, and found himself looking at a thick stack of bearer bonds; special bonds that were negotiable no matter who carried them.  With them was a note, which he read to Jessie.  “Bro, Dad bought these for you when you were born.  They’re yours, and always have been.  This isn’t a handout, it’s giving you what was always yours to begin with,” he recited, then leafed through them.  All of them were dated 1986, which was his birth year.  Each of them was tendered at a face value of five thousand dollars, but that was just their face value. These bonds matured after twenty years, so each one was worth probably about six thousand dollars now, after two years of added appreciation.

        And there had to be about twenty of them.  So, a little over a hundred thousand dollars.  He was impressed, they tried to buy him off with much more money that he expected they would.

        But, he was right about the gift.  Money.  If he just dropped them in a safe deposit box, they’d be worth about three hundred thousand when their baby was ready to go to college, which should be more than enough to go to any college he or she wanted.  Wise investments in annuities, other bonds, and other investments would probably stretch it out to half a million after twenty years.  That was enough to send more than one child to any college they wanted to attend, and get them a Master’s degree.

        That worked for him.  The future of his children was secure, thanks to these bonds.  And in some kind of strange irony, he guessed he had his father to thank for that, a father who would roll over in his grave if he knew, and would rise from the dead to stalk and kill Kit if he knew Kit was married to a cat.

        “What are they, love?” Jessie asked.

        “Savings bonds,” he answered.  “It looks like they were bought when I was born, so Vil wasn’t lying about that.  Yeah, here, this was a week after I was born,” he said, pointing at the date on one of them, which was April 2, 1986.  “These can put all our kids through college by the time they’re old enough, if we invest them wisely.”

        “Good,” Jessie said with a nod.  “If there’s anything I would ever want from your family, love, I just got it.”

        “There’s a second item, Mister Vulpan,” the wolf prompted, taking a small black box from his briefcase and presenting it to them.  It looked like a jewelry box…some old piece of jewelry?  Maybe the necklace his mother had always worn?  Kit took it and opened it curiously, but found no jewelry inside.

        Inside were a set of keys.

        “What is this?” Kit asked, a bit harshly.  “Keys?  Keys to what?”

        “A Cessna 400, sir,” the wolf answered calmly.  “Currently parked at Bergstrom.  I take it you have a pilot’s license, sir?”

        “Well, yeah, I do,” he said, his mind swimming.  They gave him a plane?  And not just any plane, one of the most expensive private planes one could own!  It was one of the biggest planes a pilot could fly with a personal license, so long as they were qualified for instrument flight rules and was rated for a utility plane…which Kit was.  Kit had a commercial license, earned from a Part 141 flight school in Massachusetts, and he was rated on utility class aircraft.

        “Cessna?  What is that?” Jessie asked.

        “It’s a plane, ma’am,” the wolf told her.  “A personal aircraft.  It’s very  nice,” he said with a chuckle.  “I flew it down.  I’m so glad I have utility rating,” he said with an impressed expression.

        “They gave me a plane,” he said, a little dumbfounded.  A seven hundred thousand dollar plane!

        “Well, that’s my delivery, sir.  If you’d just sign this,” he said, taking a form out of his case, which Kit numbly signed.  “Thank you.  You’ll find all the paperwork for the plane in the plane itself, sir.  It’s already registered to you, no doubt through your family’s connections.  It’s parked at Bergstrom, in their general aviation area, slot G fourteen, between hangar one and hangar two.  The keys will get you inside it, and the paperwork is in the glove compartment.  Good day to you, and enjoy your plane.  I did,” he smiled, then let himself out with quiet professionalism.

        “Kit?  Kit?  What’s wrong?”

        “Jessie, love, do you have any idea how expensive that plane is?” he finally erupted.  “It’s almost three quarters of a million dollars!”
        “Woah,” she breathed.  “Kit, we can just give it back.”

        “No.  No, I can’t.  Vil made it clear she’ll disown me if I raise a fuss about this,” he said, thinking furiously.  “I, I’ll have to keep it,” he told her.  “I can buy a space somewhere, maybe there at Bergstrom, maybe at a smaller airfield somewhere near the city.  Space isn’t that expensive.  Buying gas for it won’t be cheap, though.”

        “You don’t sound too unhappy,” she noted, then she giggled.  “So, Vil found something you wouldn’t throw back in her face.”

        “I—well—I guess not,” he laughed sheepishly.  “Jessie, love, having a plane is very liberating.  We can fly to the beach on weekends, or fly up to Cincinnati to see your parents.  Cincinnati would be about five hours from here in a plane like that.  We could leave on Saturday afternoon and come back on Monday evening.  When we can afford the gas, anyway.  It’d cost about a thousand dollars in gas to fly up to Ohio and back.”

        “Well, that does sound nice,” she said.  “Are you sure Vil would have a fit if you gave it back?”

        “You didn’t hear her, love,” he said seriously.  “She meant it.  For some reason, she wants me to have the plane.  And I guess I’ll cave, just like I did with the car,” he sighed.  “I don’t really need it, but what good is having a pilot’s license when I don’t have a plane?”

        “Well, I think you can give yourself a little luxury, love,” she giggled, giving him a kiss.  “And I certainly won’t mind being able to fly up to Cincinnati to see my family on weekends.”

        “When we can afford it,” he grunted, clutching the box holding the keys in his paw.  “We’re still trying to recover from Christmas, and the wedding.”

        She laughed.  “Well, I think we’ll manage, love,” she told him, giving him a gentle hug.  “How much will it be to park the plane?”

        “Depends, probably around a hundred fifty a month.  Then there’s maintenance, and gas, and registration, and taxes, and a lot of other things.   Owning a plane isn’t cheap, Jessie.”

        “Well, I think the first time we go see my folks, it’ll be worth it.”

        “It can pay for itself if you use it a lot, just in not paying to fly commercial,” Kit chuckled.  “But I don’t see me flying all that much.  And don’t expect to fly up tomorrow,” he warned.  “I have to do a lot of work before I can fly the plane.  I’ll have to get familiar with it, make sure my license is still good, and I think it’s time for my yearly physical.  So it’s going to be a couple of weeks before we do more than take it for a spin around the airfield.”

        The phone rang, and Kit sighed when he read the display.  “Vil,” he told Jessie, and put it on speaker.  “Hey sis.”

        “So, can I give gifts or can I?” she said with a laugh.

        “He actually wants to keep it,” Jessie laughed.

        “I’m a little overwhelmed, sis,” Kit said honestly.  “Do you have any idea how much a Cessna four hundred costs?”

        “Well, since I’m sitting here looking at the receipt, yeah, I think I do,” she giggled.  “And don’t worry about paying for it, bro.  It’s a gift, it won’t cost you anything.  I didn’t get you a space at Bergstrom, though, because I can’t find any available hangar space anywhere in central Texas,” she said with a grunt of annoyance; Vil wasn’t used to not getting her way.  “I bought you two months of tie-down space there at Georgetown, at least for now.  I wasn’t sure if you’d want to deal with Bergstrom and the rules for landing there, so I went with the closest small airport that still offered all the services you need.  I’m still trying to find some hangar space, though.  When I get my hands on some, I’ll let you know.”

        “Thanks, sis.”

        “I just don’t want you to have to drive up to that airport every time you want to use the plane, it’s like thirty miles,” she fretted.  “Like I said, let me see what I can get.  Maybe I’ll buy some hangar space from one of the small airlines for you to park your plane inside.  Anyway, I set you up with one of those transport credit cards you can use to buy fuel and pay for parking and maintenance and such at airports.”

        “I, I don’t know what to say, sis,” he said, a little bewildered.

        She laughed.  “Well, you can say thanks,” she said winsomely.

        “Vil, thank you,” he said.

        “It’s the least I can do for my brother,” she answered.  “But I didn’t do it alone.  That plane is a gift from the family, bro.  It’s not money, it’s not an empty token, it’s something that I assured them you would appreciate and find useful.  Everyone chipped in to help pay for it, even Uncle Zach and Uncle Jake.”

        “I think I’d better have it checked for bombs.”

        Vil gasped, then laughed helplessly.  “That may not be a bad idea,” she agreed with a little extra giggle.  “But, I hope you enjoy it, bro.”

        “We were talking about flying to Cincinnati to see my parents before you called,” Jessie said.

        “That’s exactly why I had the family buy it for you,” Vil told them.  “So you have more mobility, more freedom.  You may even be able to use it for work, bro.  Rick can send you out to interview people out of state, and you can do it on the cheap.  You can fly out in your own plane.”

        “Well, it’s a little small to take the whole crew, but I could carry a few passengers,” he noted.  “And when I first interviewed for the job, I told Rick I had a pilot’s license, but wasn’t sure what use it’d be to the magazine,” he laughed.

        “Well, it might be useful now,” Vil told him.  “Is it alright?”

        “What do you mean?”

        “I couldn’t remember what kinds of planes you can fly, so I went with the safest bet.  I remembered that you’re rated to fly planes with two engines, but the new ones I looked at had the same basic abilities as the one I bought.  Hell, that plane I bought you has more range than most of the two engine planes I looked at,” she snorted.  “That plane looked to be really nice, and the dealer said that anyone with a pilot’s license could fly the plane I bought you, and he said it’s about the best single engine plane for flying long distances, even better than some two engine planes.  But if it doesn’t work out for you, or it’s too small or something, I’ll replace it with something bigger.”

        Kit chuckled ruefully.  “I’m not going to complain.  How can I complain about a gift?”

        “Well, that’s sweet, bro, but if that plane doesn’t work out for you, let me know, and I’ll replace it with something that will.  Did you get the bonds too?”

        “Yeah, we have them, Vil,” Jessie answered.

        “Mother bought them for Kit when he was born,” she told them.  “They’re his.  They have nothing to do with the family, and nothing to do with Dad.  So take them and use them well.  Buy a house, invest for the future, it doesn’t matter, so long as you don’t burn them or throw them away.  They didn’t come from Dad, Kit, they came from Mom,” she made sure to stress a second time.  “So don’t throw them away, bro.  You’d insult Mom’s memory if you did that.  Use them.  Invest them.  Do something good with them.”

        “We will,” he promised.  “These bonds are sending our kids to Harvard,” he declared.  “Why did you hold onto them for so long?”

        “Bro, the bonds fell under the proscription in Dad’s will,” she told him.  “I couldn’t give them to you until after it was voided, or I’d lose everything.  Mom may have bought them, but they were considered Dad’s assets because Mom died before you were eighteen.  But notice, bro, that they got to you the day after the will was voided.  I wanted you to have them, I wanted both of you to have them.  I wanted to know that even if you won’t come to me, you’ll always have an emergency nest egg to fall back on when times get tight, and have something to ensure that your kids never have to worry about anything.”

        “You’re such a sweet femme, Vil,” Jessie said with a sniffle.

        “I love you too, Jessie,” Vil said gently.  “And think, bro, if it wasn’t for Jessie, you could have been rolling in money with no responsibilities or cares.”

        “I’ll take Jessie over money any day,” he said with conviction, putting his paw on her shoulder.

        “And that’s why you’re the richest Vulpan of them all, bro,” Vil said thickly.  “Go check out the plane, you two, I want you to pick up that Transport card.  You have to call a number on it to activate it, and I want you to do that today.  And the airport wants you to do the safety briefings and walkthroughs, and they want a copy of your license.”

        “I can handle those later, but we’ll go up and get the paperwork out of it before I have to go to work, I promise,” he told her.

        “Works for me.  I’ll call you guys later, alright?”

        “Alright.  Thanks again, Vil,” Jessie said.

        “Yeah, thanks, sis,” Kit agreed.

        “Any time, bro, any time.  Goodbye.”

        Kit lowered the phone, then hugged Jessie. “God, I love that sister of mine.”

        “So do I, love, so do I.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    20    22

Chapter 21

 

        It.  Was.  Gorgeous.

        The Cessna 400 was brand new, right off the assembly line, and had only been flown once outside of whatever tests the manufacturer did, and that was to fly it from Richmond, Virginia, where it was bought, to Austin.  It was very sleek, with sloping, graceful lines, low wings, and fixed gear in flared housings.  It was painted the same colors as the logo of Vulpan Steel, red white and blue, with a white overcarriage and a blue belly with two horizontal red stripes along the fuselage broken by the registration number, running just under the cockpit and back along the centerline of the plane, with the plane’s registration letters and numbers in red.

        The inside was even more amazing.  It was like a luxury car inside, filled with leather and sleek glass and rich wood.  The control sticks were offset at an angle off the sides of the cockpit, not in the center or between the pilot’s knees, and the seats were beige and covered in leather, split down the back to accommodate tails.  The instrument panel was almost all glass, two panels holding a Garmin navigation system and electronic instruments, with a center console holding the radio, throttle, and some of the controls for the Garmin and other systems.  It was all top of the line, new…it even smelled new.  The doors were gull wing, opening to give them access to a surprisingly roomy cockpit reached by stepping up onto the bases of the wings.

        Jessie gaped inside the cockpit from the copilot’s side, almost afraid to get in, as Kit confidently climbed into the plane and opened the glove compartment, which for the plane was on the side of the center console facing the pilot.  He noticed the sleeves in the side for maps or magazines, and all the little niceties…though it had no sun visor.  The cockpit glass was rounded and high on the front, giving one a fantastic overhead view, but it had no sun visor.  Sunglasses would be a must in this plane.

        “Can…can I get in?” she asked.

        Kit laughed.  “Don’t be silly, pretty kitty,” he teased.  “Climb on in, have a seat.”

        “But there are controls up here,” she protested, pointing at the control stick jutting from the rest on the side of the cockpit.

        “Just ignore it, love,” he told her as he found the paperwork the courier mentioned.  The plane was already registered in his name, which meant that Kit could fly it that day if he wanted.  He rifled through the legal papers to make sure everything was in order, then he pulled out the operator’s manual.  He didn’t really need it, since he’d already downloaded absolutely everything he could find on the Cessna 400 yesterday, which was printed out and in a big binder that was still in the truck, but the manual matched up to everything he’d read online.  And what he’d read told him that he’d need some time to adjust to this plane.  He’d been trained in two planes, a single engine Cessna 172 and a twin engine 341, and had flown a Cirrus a few times, but those weren’t even half as luxurious as this plane, though they did share the Garmin G1000 navigation system.  It had just everything.  TKS anti-ice system, a rarity in a single engine plane, a Mode S Transponder, a 4.2 G rating, which would let the plane do some pretty hard flying, HVAC climate control, speed brakes, TCAS collision avoidance system, multichannel transceiver with push to talk switch right on the joystick, the plane had almost every system someone would find in a more complex plane like a twin engine except retractable landing gear.  The Garmin G1000 system was just godly, incorporating electronic flight instruments, real-time traffic locations on the map taken from transponder data received from beacons, autopilot, computer-assisted navigation, GPS, plane functions, timers, flight plan generators, fuel mix calculations, and since Vil had bought a totally decked out plane, it had XM satellite radio and real-time weather radar imagery, and was also outfitted with a Blue Sky satellite internet system and a wireless router, allowing them to use their laptops in the plane to surf the internet.  From what he read, it was one of the fastest piston engine planes in production, since Vil bought him the turbocharged variant.  It was capable of 254 knots, which was around 300 miles an hour, but that was at high altitude and burning fuel like a son of a bitch.  Its load rating wasn’t the greatest in the world; if he carried four people and luggage, he couldn’t completely fill his gas tanks and still get the plane off the ground, it would be overloaded.  But, given the plane had a range of over a thousand miles on a full tank, he could easily fill to load rating and just land more often for refueling stops.  With just him and Jessie and modest luggage, the plane could fly from Austin to Cincinnati in one leg without refueling, as he could completely fill their tanks.  According to the Garmin’s navigational database, it was 812 nautical miles from Georgetown to Cincinnati, which was nearly 300 nautical miles within the maximum range of the plane with full tanks.  At a listed cruising speed of 174 knots, they could make it in about six hours, including takeoff and landing delays.  Closer to seven hours if he factored in driving to the airport, then driving from the airport in Cincinnati to her parents’ house.

        “Wow, it’s almost like being in a car,” Jessie said, keeping her paws in her lap, fearful to touch anything.

        “It’s just like driving after you get used to it,” Kit chuckled.  “I haven’t flown for like eight months.  I hope I’m not rusty.”

        “Kit!” she gasped, a little fearfully.

        He put his paw on her shoulder.  “I was joking, pretty kitty,” he said, gently.  “I’m sorry if I scared you.  I didn’t realize the idea of flying in a plane made you nervous.”

        “It does, a little.  I’ve never been in a plane like this before,” she told him.

        “Well, love, they’re just as safe as an airline.  After all, how often do you hear of planes crashing?”

        “Not often.”

        “Now think of how many planes are in the air right now,” he said, motioning at the runway of the small municipal airport, where two personal planes were waiting as a third took off.

        “I see what you mean.  They’re really safe, I guess.”

        “Safer than driving, because pilots take flying much more seriously than most furs take driving.”

        “So, when can we go to see my folks?  I’d love to drop in on them!”

        Kit chuckled.  “Maybe next week,” he told her.  “We’ll see how I feel about it after I have some time learning this plane’s systems.  I have a lot to study here, and I’m one of those pilots who takes this seriously.  I need to get comfortable with this cockpit, and learn how the plane’s unique systems and autopilot work.  I’ve never had that in a plane before, at least not a good one.  The 341 I trained in during flight school had autopilot, but it was dumb as a box of rocks.”

        “What were the planes you used to fly like?”

        “Well, when I was in flight school, they were pretty nice,” he told her.  “Cessna one seventy-twos with Garmin navigation, so they were pretty nice to fly, and Cessna three forty-one twin engines, so we could learn complex planes and older navigation systems that weren’t as modern as the Garmin.  After I got my license, though, all the planes I flew were old,” he chuckled.  “I rented planes to keep logging hours after I got my license, but not much else, and old planes are cheap to rent.   I tell you, those old planes made me appreciate the Garmin system in the Cessnas.”

        “I’ve always wondered about that.  How did you afford it?  I mean, I heard that it’s really expensive to get a pilot’s license.”

        “Well, my scholarship and grants covered most of my flight school, believe it or not,” he told her as he settled into the pilot’s seat.  “Since I was in ROTC and I wanted to fly jets after I graduated and went into the Air Force.  Vil helped me with the rest of it.  After the accident, I actually earned money with my license,” he laughed.  “I was paid by my dorm buddies to fly us all to Nantucket one weekend.  And it was even legal.”

        “Legal?”

        “Love, there are different types of licenses,” he told her, “just like with driving.  I have a commercial pilot’s license, because it’s the baseline for flight school in the Air Force.  If you have a commercial license or better, they give your application for flight school much more weight.  I spent over a year in a flight school near campus getting a commercial license, and it wasn’t cheap,” he grunted.  “Anyway, there’s a junior license, which is like a learner’s permit, then there’s a standard pilot’s license, then a commercial license, then there’s a flight instructor’s license, and finally an air transport license, which airline pilots have to have.  Only a commercial pilot or better is allowed to earn money flying a plane,” he explained.  “Commercial pilots are rated for instrument flying, which is huge, and we’re trained to deal with many more emergency situations and to deal with air traffic controllers.  Standard pilot licenses run on what’s called visual flight rules, where commercial and above are allowed to run on instrument flight rules.  Right now, if there was a cloud deck above us, those planes over there waiting to take off would have to wait if their pilots weren’t instrument rated, because they couldn’t see.”

        “Oh.  So, you could land a plane at night in the rain?”

        He nodded.  “I’ll have to learn this plane before I’m comfortable doing that, though,” he noted, motioning at the dashboard.  “It has a hell of a lot more bells and whistles than anything I’ve ever flown before.”

        “You don’t have to take tests on this plane to get your rating?”

        “Nope.  Once you get your license, the FAA assumes you’re responsible enough to know what the hell you’re doing if you fly a plane with a new instrument system that’s in the same class of plane you’re already rated to fly.  But this plane is just a little different than the usual personal plane.  This is what’s called a utility class plane, love, and those have special rules…but this particular plane doesn’t.  Usually, I’d have to be rated on a plane classified as utility—and I already am, truth be told—but this model is part of a loophole.  It technically falls into utility rating because it can go faster than two hundred knots, but it’s also a private model airplane, so the FAA waives rating requirements for it, since it’s not meant for the same utility as other planes in the class.  Most utility planes are helicopters and small commuter planes, like most dual-engine prop planes.  This is a private plane, so while it’s classified as a utility plane, I don’t have to rate on it to fly it, I can treat it like any other private plane.  That means that I’m the one who’s responsible for understanding the plane and being able to operate it safely, and that means studying its systems.  I learned to fly using a Garmin, the same system in this plane, so at least I don’t have to learn that much.  I just need to study the manual and learn how the plane operates, learn how its anti-icing system and such work.  Those are new to me.”

        “Oh.  Well, show me some of this.  If you teach me, it’ll reinforce you.”

        He chuckled.  “Sure, we’ll go through it together,” he told her, pulling out the key to bring up the plane’s electrical systems.  “Maybe I’ll make a pilot out of you,” he grinned.

        “Just think of it, my handsome fox,” Jessie mused, watching him as he put the key in the plane and enabled its electrical systems, causing the dashboard to light up an boot.  “Being able to see my family whenever we want.  I never really thought of what it would mean to have a husband with a pilot’s license,” she giggled.

        “It never really meant anything until right now,” he answered.  “I’ve been too busy with work, and we’ve had no money, I couldn’t really use it until now.  It would be cheaper to fly commercial than it would be to rent a plane to fly to Cincinnati, pretty kitty.  I guess I can’t completely hate my family now,” he chuckled.  “I know they bought me this just to alleviate their own guilt, and maybe pacify Vil a little bit, but I’ll take it.  I guess my vaunted resistance to money is a sham,” he said ruefully.  “The instant they dangled something shiny in my face, I snapped it up like any other greedy bastard.”

        “Not at all,” she protested.  “You accepted what was given to you in good faith, love, and something you could both appreciate and use.  And you didn’t take Vil’s offer to buy you a house or give you a lot of money, did you?  You took one thing, something you can use and will appreciate, and I think that’s all you’ll ever take.  After all, what else do we need?”

        “God, I love you,” he said sincerely, reaching over and putting his paw on her shoulder.

        “I’m so glad you do,” she said with a teasing smile.  “Else I’d have to kill you.”

        He laughed delightedly.  “That’s one way to defend your honor, I suppose.  Knock off the only guy who’s ever besmirched it.”

        “It wasn’t besmirched,” she grinned.  “You did follow through and marry me, didn’t you?”

        “I guess I did.  I have no idea what insanity came over me,” he sighed forlornly, then adroitly put his paws over his head to deflect the inevitable whack.  Jessie did try to playfully smack him, but then her face turned fearful and she looked around.

        “I didn’t hit any buttons, did I?” she asked nervously.

        “Jessie, love, calm down,” he told her soothingly.  “Nothing’s going to happen with us on the ground.  You couldn’t get the plane moving no matter what you hit in here, the parking brake’s engaged.”

        “Well, I could hit that, couldn’t I?  Or start the plane by accident?”

        “I guess you could, but do you know which buttons to press in which order to make the engine start?”

        “Umm, no.”

        “Then don’t worry yourself one little bit,” he chuckled.  “We won’t be here long, I promise.  I know this must be boring for you.”

        “No!  I think it’s really neat!  I have a husband who’s a pilot,” she smiled.  “I’m going to use this for the subject of a paper I’m writing for my English composition class.  Our professor wants us to write a paper based on something in our lives, complete with three topics of research comparing my experience with other people’s.  So I think I’ll do it on people who have pilot’s licenses and how it makes their lives different from others.”

        “Sounds fun,” he said honestly.  “I’m looking forward to seeing how you do it.”

        “It should be interesting.  The professor said it’d be more fun if we picked something that was interesting to us.  She’s right, of course.”

        “Naturally.  Writing about something that’s boring or sucks makes it a chore.  Now, back to what we were doing, showing you how this all works.”

        They spent nearly four hours sitting in the cockpit, interrupted only by trips to the small terminal to go to the bathroom, as Kit studied the plane’s systems and went over the checklists for preflight, startup, takeoff, landing, postflight, and shutdown.  Jessie was right in that teaching her all about it made him pay much more attention, and allowed him to memorize it himself more quickly.  Kit refreshed himself on the Garmin—it had been a year since he’d flown and used one—and had everything come back to him quickly.  The Garmin almost made learning to navigate the normal way obsolete, since it told you exactly where you were, where you were going, and which direction to go.  It even showed an expected time of arrival, elapsed flight time, fuel burn ratios, weather or air restriction warnings, and kept a log of it all.  He moved on to the weather system, a very handy little integrated part of the Garmin that streamed weather data in from XM satellite through the satellite antenna, and also gave him internet connectivity since the Blue Sky system used the same antenna.  With the weather system, he’d never find himself flying headlong into a thunderstorm, it was literally like having weather radar in his plane.  The plane had a very good TCAS system, the same system that had been in the 172s, part of the Garmin suite, which even gave audio warnings in addition to warnings on the right monitor multi-function display, the MFD.  The MFD would let him put up a map that showed the ground terrain, his projected route, other planes in the area, and any weather features all in one easy to read display.  After that, he taught her about radio etiquette, and how it was used.  “Some planes don’t even really need radios,” he told here.  “Small planes flying out of private airstrips using visual flight rules and staying away from restricted airspace, they technically don’t need them, though no pilot in his right mind would fly without one.  If you had an emergency, how would you warn anyone or get help?”

        “I can see that,” Jessie nodded.  “What does VHF mean?”

        “Very High Frequency, it’s a range of radio frequencies set aside mainly for aviation, commercial, and military use.  Virtually all aviation radios use either VHF or UHF, Ultra High Frequency. UHF doesn’t have as much range, though.”

        “Oh,” she said, typing on the laptop she had in her lap.

        Kit did a radio check with the little local tower for her, showing her how it worked, and explained how certain frequencies were dedicated to certain things.  “Love, how do you know where to go?” she asked.  “I mean, you have the plane, but how do you know where you’re going?  Does the GPS tell you?”

        “You mean how will I know where to land if I need gas, or I’m going to a city I’ve never visited before?”

        “Yeah.”

        “Come on, let’s go to the terminal and warm up, I’ll show you,” he said with a smile.

        They locked up the plane, and he took her into the terminal, which was pretty close to where the plane had been parked, in a short-term tie down parking area.  Kit also needed to go in there and find out where the space that Vil had rented for him was located.  She hadn’t really noticed much when they came in that morning because she ran straight to the bathroom, so he took her into the pilot’s lounge, which was actually much more.  He wasn’t sure what they called it here, but up in his old flight school they called it the lounge.  It was a large room occupied by three other furs at the moment, with a huge map on one wall and four computers at desks under it.  Books were lined into bookshelves near the desks, filled with manuals, flight books, and old navigation books.  “This is how we do it, pretty kitty,” he said, motioning at one of the computers.  “Of course, this is the fast and easy way.  When I did my flight training, we had to be able to do it all the old way, using maps and a calculator and lots of books with airport information.  See, the computer has a list of every available airport in North America,” he explained as he sat down at one of them and brought up the nav program.  “I tell it where I want to go, and it gives me a list of available places to land at the destination.  It even tells me things like what radio frequencies the airport uses, how much their parking fees are, if they charge landing fees, if they have maintenance facilities, and if there’s a rental car agency either close by or that will deliver a car to the airport.  Here, let’s put in Cincinnati,” he said, typing it in.  Immediately a list of six airfields popped up, with icons by the names to represent the services they offered.  “Here we go, this is where I’d land if I were going to Cincinnati.  It has overnight parking for visiting planes, it’s real close to your house, they offer a courtesy car for visiting pilots as well as a rental car agency that will deliver a car if we make a reservation, and it has a hotel right beside it.  It’s also a municipal airport, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the crap I’d take landing at a big airport, like Bergstrom.  This one has a control tower and two strips,” he continued, pointing them out when he clicked on the airport.  “It also has a maintenance shop rated for working on all models of piston and small-size turboprop planes.  Ooh, this one has jet mechanics available, too,” he noted.  “Guess some private jets are parked there.  So, now that we know where we’re going and where we want to land, next we’ll file a flight plan,” he said, minimizing the window and bringing up the FAA program.  “Since we’ll be flying above the visual ceiling of eighteen thousand feet, we have to tell the FAA.  They need to know where I’m going, when I’m going, and what altitude I intend to fly at.  So, let’s tell them that we’re going to Cincinnati, and landing at Regional Municipal Airport,” he said, inputting the information.  “Now, we’re leaving next weekend, so our flight plan is for Saturday the twenty-fifth.  So, we’ll tell them we’re leaving at approximately six p.m.  Now, they’re asking here how many stops I need to make to refuel, which is something I’d have to work out using my plane’s weight and the size of my gas tanks to determine my safe maximum range.  Pilots do use math,” he chuckled, pointing at the next field.  “Our plane can make the trip nonstop as long as it’s just the two of us, so I’ll tell it none.  If I did need to make a stop, it would recommend an airfield along our planned flight path where we could land and refuel.”

        “What if you have to go to the bathroom?” she asked.

        Kit chuckled.  “Well, if you’re not carrying a portable urinal in the plane, or you need to a real toilet, then you make an unscheduled stop,” he winked.  “Those are allowed.  These flight plans aren’t set in stone with us private pilots like they are with commercial planes, they‘re just to help the FAA better control traffic.  If we need to stop or change our flight plan, we radio in to whichever controller’s jurisdiction we’re in and tell them.  They make the changes for us and we’re good to go.”

        “Ah, I see.  It’s not that bad, is it?”

        “Not at all,” he smiled.  “Now, if we stayed under eighteen thousand feet the whole time, we wouldn’t have to file a flight plan at all,” he told her.  “That’s visual flight rules.  We’d just have to avoid restricted airspace and obey any traffic control orders radioed to us, that’s the only real rule.”

        “I see.  So, if we fly at, what was it, twenty five thousand, won’t we be sharing the sky with big airline planes?”

        “Not really, miss,” one of the furs interrupted.  He was a tall, lanky canine, looking like a mixed canine mutt, with black fur but a brown face, and a single brown mitten on his right paw.  “The FAA keeps things layered.  The big planes fly over thirty thousand most of the time, while us private planes usually occupy the area underneath.”

        “Oh, I see.”

        “Hi, by the way,” he chuckled, offering his paw.  “Brad Hennings.”

        “Jessie Vulpan,” she smiled, taking his paw.  “My husband, Kit.  He’s the pilot, not me.”

        “Well, it sounds like he’s teaching you well,” Brad smiled warmly.

        “I’m trying,” Kit chuckled.  “Local?”

        “Yeah, it’s my weekend with the plane,” he grinned.  “I’m fractional.”

        “What’s that?” Jessie asked.

        “It means me and a few other pilots jointly own a plane, and we share it,” he answered.  “This is my weekend with the plane, so I’m going to go have a little spin around with my girlfriend.  I’m thinking of going to El Paso.  Never been there.”

        “Nice, what kind of plane?” Kit asked.

        “A Cessna Skyhawk, but we bought it new, so it has a Garmin in it.  It‘s really nice.  What do you have?”

        “We have a, um, Cessna four hundred,” Jessie said, looking at her laptop.

        “Nice!” Brad said animatedly.  “I read that Cessna didn’t change a single thing when they bought out Columbia.  Is it all the same?”

        “I never really looked at the Columbias, so I’m not sure,” Kit said.  “I’ve been kinda out of the game for a while.”

        “Yeah, it can happen,” Brad nodded.  “I went about two years without any logged hours.  God, I hated getting the physical after that,” he laughed.  “I was halfway through my instrument rating, too.  I had to do it all over again.”

        “Eww,” Kit sounded.  “I feel your pain.  Getting IFR was such a freakin’ bitch.”

        “Amen, brother, amen,” Brad chuckled.  “But it’s all over now.  I’m thinking of trying for my commercial.  I have all the logged hour requirements three times over, and I have my IFR.  I’d just have to do the tests.”

        “I’d recommend it.  I did it through a one forty-one program when I went through flight school.  When I graduated, I had my commercial.”

        “That’s the best way,” Brad nodded.  “All at once, no redundant crap.  Thinking of trying for an instructor‘s license?”

        “Nah, not really.  It’s a lot of money for something I’d almost never use.”

        “True.  But, you could teach your wife without having to pay for it,” he grinned.

        “I can do that anyway,” he chuckled.  “They don’t know who is controlling the plane once you take off,” he winked.

        Brad laughed.  “True, true.  I’ve let my girlfriend fly, but haven’t let her land or take off.  You can teach her that way, it just looks a little fishy when it comes time to document for her license.”

        Kit laughed.  “Yah, true.”

        “So, you gonna settle in here?”

        “We live in Austin, the plane was just parked here after I took delivery,” Kit said.  “I need to find hangar space for it.”

        “Good luck,” Brad said with a frown.  “I was on a waiting list for nearly eight months to get a Tee hangar here.”

        “It’s that bad?”

        “It’s bad,” Brad nodded.  “Most of the airports around here are really small and constrained by the towns they’re in, so they can’t expand.  That puts hangar space at a premium.  My Skyhawk spent eight months at a tie down before I got a Tee.  You got an FBO yet?”

        “I’m going to just go freelance until I find hangar space.  No use hiring an FBO until I know where I’m going to park my plane,” Kit answered, to which Brad nodded in understanding.  An FBO was a fixed base operator, which was basically a flight services company…kind of like a gas station, garage, and concierge all rolled into one.  Most of them offered fuel and maintenance for private and business planes, but larger ones also offered services like cleaning inside and out, de-icing, oxygen tank refills, and lavatory maintenance.  Most FBOs also had pilot perks in their hangar terminals like sleeping bunks, showers, lounges, courtesy cars, concierge services, and so on, for they were major selling points for an FBO.  Some of the large multi-airport “franchise” FBOs even offered services like aircraft sales, or offered hangar space to clients to house their planes.  Most private pilots hired an FBO to maintain their planes, but Kit would hold off on that until he knew exactly where he was going to permanently hangar his plane.  Virtually all airports and FBOs offered their services to anyone who paid for them, be it someone who hired them to do the work all the time or a transient pilot who needed one-time service or a fuel tank fill up while flying cross country.  Contracted planes got services cheaper than one-timers, but that option was always there.

        FBOs, oddly enough, often competed with the very airports that housed them.  Georgetown was a good example of that.  There were six FBOs at the airport of various sizes, and two of them offered to sell aircraft fuel.  But the airport also offered aircraft fuel at a public fueling station, and that was where a vast majority of planes would fuel up if they weren’t already contracted to an FBO at the airport—it was where Kit would be gassing up his plane himself.  Many airports offered their own fueling stations, because it helped the airport earn more money on top of the rent they collected from businesses on the airport, aircraft tie down and hangar space rents from pilots, and landing fees they charged to planes that landed at their airports, if they charged them.  Georgetown did not charge landing fees to land there, because it was a small, general aviation airport, and not charging landing fees was often a factor determining if a pilot landed at an airport.  So, instead of charging landing fees, Georgetown offered air fuel, called AVGas, at a public fueling station at competitive prices, which probably earned them more money than the landing fees would.

        That was probably another reason why Vil had his plane delivered here…he had no doubt that Bergstrom charged landing fees.

        “Well, let me sit down and check out airfields in El Paso,” he chuckled.  “Have a good trip!”

        “You too,” Kit returned, and the canine wandered over to a free computer and sat down.

        “Were you serious?” Jessie asked.  “About teaching me to fly?”

        “Would you like to?” he asked.

        “I, I don’t know.  Maybe.  We’ll see, after we fly to Cincinnati,” she said, her eyes speculative.  “But I have so much else to do, and the baby—”

        “Love, it’ll always be here, if you want to learn.  There’s no time limit.  We have all the time in the world.”

        “We’ll see.  Okay, so, what’s next?”

        Under Jessie’s eye, Kit completed the flight plan, then even filed it.  “There.  Now it’s all set, we can go to see your folks next weekend.”

        “You think we can?” she asked excitedly.

        “I think I’ll be ready by next Saturday,” he told her.  “The systems on the plane are much easier than I thought.  I’ll feel confident flying it cross country next week, as long as I break it in,” he said with a sudden smile.  “Let’s take it up!”

        “Go flying?  Don’t we have to—”

        “Nah, we’ll keep it under eighteen thousand, so we can have a little joy ride,” he told her.  “Wanna go for a flight, Misses Vulpan?”

        She laughed.  “I’m a little nervous, but I’d love to, Mister Vulpan,” she replied.

        “The first time is always scary,” he assured her as they stood up.  “My first time in a plane, I nearly threw up.  And my first solo, I almost wet my pants.”

        “I can’t believe that,” Jessie laughed.  “You’d never be that nervous about anything!”

        “Well, you start getting really friendly with God when you’re sitting in the plane by yourself for the first time and heading down the runway.”

        Jessie giggled.  “I don’t think I believe you,” she teased.

        “Well, let’s see how fearless you are, Misses Vulpan,” he challenged.  “Trust me enough to take you flying?”

        “Such a silly question,” she retorted.

        Her playfulness turned to nerves when they got in the plane and he started it up, after he performed a thorough preflight check, and had to fight a little with the headset she needed to wear; piston engine planes weren‘t nearly as loud as jets or turboprops, but there was some noise, and the headsets helped block it out.  He helped her adjust her microphone, then put on his own headset and plugged them both in, setting it so only his headset would transmit through the radio, and both sets were set for the intercom.  She was quiet as he went down the checklist for preflight, very still when he started the engines, and was a little fidgety when they taxied out.

        Kit was impressed.  The plane was quiet.  They didn’t really even need the headsets, it wasn’t much louder than a car inside, quiet enough for them to speak in normal voices and be heard, with just a background droning about as loud as it would be driving down interstate with the windows down.  It wasn’t entirely quiet in the cockpit, but it was much quieter than any other cockpit he’d been in.  Amazing acoustic dampening!  “Why do we need this for the noise, there isn’t much noise,” Jessie noted, pointing at her microphone.

        “Yah, this is the quietest plane I’ve ever been in,” Kit agreed.  “You can take yours off, love, if you don’t mind what you hear.  I just had you put it on cause the planes I’ve flown were loud enough for the headsets to help.  Your ears would start to ring after a while, and you’ll probably want to wear them when we’re airborne, since the engine’s going faster, and will be a little louder.”

        “Okay, I’ll leave it on, then.”

        She got a little nervous, clutching to her armrest when they took off, but then she gasped when she looked out the window, as they did a slow banking turn while climbing, heading north and away from the restricted airspace around Austin.  “Wow!” she exclaimed, looking down at the ground through her side window.

        “Yeah, it’s pretty, isn’t it?” he said, looking over at her as he leveled out around four thousand feet and puttered off to the northwest, keeping an eye on his MFD window to make sure no other planes were around; using visual flight rules, he was responsible for avoiding a midair collision, so knowing where other planes were was critical.  Most planes had transponders, and those transponders showed up on his window because the transponder fed that data to the Garmin through telemetry beacons with which the transponder maintained contact.  “We’ll go out about fifty miles and head back in, shouldn’t take more than an hour given I’m gonna be going slow.”

        “No, go fast!” she said excitedly.  “How fast can we go?”

        “Well, you won’t really feel it, but at this altitude, I think about two hundred knots is the best we could manage.  It’ll suck all our gas to do it, though, and that gas is five dollars a gallon, love.”

        “Oh,” she said, a little disappointed.  “What’s a knot?”

        “It’s a little over a mile an hour,” he answered.  “Ten knots is about eleven and a half miles an hour or so.  Our normal cruising speed is hundred seventy-four knots, which is just about two hundred miles an hour.  We can’t really do that down here, we need the thinner air at around twenty five thousand to go at that speed without burning up all our gas.”

        “Oh, so, the lower we are, the more gas it takes?”

        “More or less,” he said.  “It’s a little more complicated than that, but you can sum it up that way.  The air’s much thinner higher up, which lets us go faster and without as much air resistance.  That’s why airliners always cruise above thirty thousand.  Much more fuel efficient, not to mention much less turbulence.”

        “I get it.  It’s not that hard.”

        “It can be for us.  This plane isn’t pressurized, pretty kitty, so if we go over fourteen thousand feet, we have to wear these oxygen breathers,” he said, picking up the white tube that would affix over his nose.  “We only have five hours of oxygen for four people, but that’s not a big deal, since we only have about five hours of flight time above fourteen thousand anyway, and with only two of using it it’ll last ten hours.  We can only carry so much gas.”

        “I never thought of that,” she said with a surprised look.  “Are they uncomfortable?”

        “Try it on, cause you’ll be wearing it when we do go see your parents,” he told her.  “I’m not flying that far at low altitude, it’ll murder our fuel efficiency.  If we want to do it in one leg, without stopping, we have to fly high.”

        The good thing about a decked out plane was that it had all the cool toys.  The plane had XM Satellite radio and was enabled for internet access via satellite thanks to the Blue Sky equipment and account Vil had set up, which was a different system from the Garmin and the weather system, but the Garmin knew the Blue Sky was there and could use it as well.  Since the plane was literally connected to the internet, the Garmin could access internet information, like how the weather system downloaded real-time weather information from the Weather Service.  Kit had Jessie get out her laptop and have it search for networks, and she was a bit astounded when her laptop connected to the internet through the airplane.  They listened to XM radio and chatted while they flew out about a hundred miles, then turned around and headed back for the airport, but the whole time Kit was seeing the unique plane systems in use, after he studied them for hours on the tarmac.  Jessie kept her nose glued to the side window, looking down on the sun-dappled ground below, with the crosshatched farm fields, ranch pastures, roads, buildings, and houses.  They passed over a large stream, nearly a river, and then over the rugged hills that dominated the area north and west of Austin, filled with houses.  She pointed things out to him, like a golf course, or a large cluster of houses winding along a hillside, or a baseball diamond.  They turned on the air conditioner when the cockpit began heating up, and Kit was highly pleased…climate control in small planes wasn’t the best in the world.  But this plane used HVAC for climate control, the same system used in jets, and it kept the cockpit nice and comfortable.  As far as the unusual cockpit configuration went, Kit had no complaints.  It took him a little getting used to the side-mounted angled control stick, but it rested at the natural angle of his arm, and he found he had a very comfortable control of it, able to rest his elbow on the armrest and still keep hold of the stick.  The controls were electrical, fly by wire, and were responsive and sensitive, which made it a joy to fly.  No wrestling with a stick or rudder pedals in crosswinds.  The cockpit layout was nice and practical, and everything was at his fingertips as every flight instrument was right where he expected it, since most of them were displayed on the primary window of the Garmin.  The Garmin’s control pad was on the center console, with additional controls on the dash, surrounding the twin display monitors, but everything was laid out exactly as it had been in his training plane; Garmins were all the same.  After just an hour in the air, Kit felt confident he could fly the plane cross country, since the plane’s systems and displays were either fed into the Garmin or were well organized and easy to read—indeed, the Cessna 400’s cockpit was designed around a Garmin.  He had only one beef with the plane, and that was a silly little thing; no sun visor.  Kit did see that getting some sunglasses was going to be mandatory, though, since the large curved cockpit windscreen had nowhere to put a sun visor…flying northwest hadn’t been entirely fun.  Outside of that one thing, the plane was freakin‘ perfect.  “Alright, we’re going to descend,” he warned her as they approached Georgetown, showing clearly on the map on his right window, the Multi-Feed Display or MFD, and saw that there was one plane about four miles west of them.  “Let me radio the tower and get landing clearance.”

        Jessie was quiet as they landed, and Kit taxied them back to their parking spot using the rudder pedals; the plane had a fixed nose wheel, so it steered with differential braking on the rear wheels.  “So, did you like it, pretty kitty?” he asked as he powered down the engine and started to perform the post flight checklist.

        “That was awesome!” she gushed, giving him a happy look.  “So, can we go to Cincinnati next weekend?  Please?”

        “We already have the flight plan filed,” he winked.

        “Thank you!” she squealed, lunging over the center console and giving him a fierce hug.  “I have to call Vil and thank her myself for them giving you this plane, my handsome fox.  It’s going to be so wonderful to have it!”

        “Love, that makes me glad I took it all by itself,” he told her seriously.  “If you like it, then we keep it.”

        “Yes we’re keeping this!” she told him excitedly.  “I love this thing!” she cried, pattering her paws on the dashboard in rapid staccato, then flinching her paws away as if afraid she might break something.

        Kit laughed.  “I’ll have to find you a flight instructor,” he winked.

        “I would not mind at all,” she said with utter sincerity.  “If we have it, I’d love to learn how to fly it all by myself!”

        “Well, I do hope you’ll let me come along,” he said flippantly, which made her burst out laughing and smack him fondly on the arm. “Let me finish the post flight, then we can lock it up and head home.”

        “Okay.  I gotta go pee,” she said, reaching for the door latch.

        Kit chuckled as she climbed out, dropped down off the wing, then rushed for the terminal.  She’d been bitten by the flying bug.  Now would come the process of converting her to the Dark Side.

 

        The plane was exciting, but there were, honestly, much more important things for him to worry about.  The plane had been a wonderful distraction, but today, Sunday, he had real work to do, so much work that he begged off Sunday poker so he could focus on the task at paw.

        The bonds.

        Kit was quite a savvy businessman, and a savvy businessman never does anything without a plan.  He was savvy enough to know that he didn’t know enough to form that plan himself, so he sought out the advice of someone that did have that kind of knowledge…Vil.

        As Jessie spent the day cooking, doing homework, going over to visit the poker crew and take them some food, and excitedly telling her parents all about their flight and plans to come up over the phone, Kit was on video conference with Vil.  Kit had tried to get Jessie to take part in the discussion, but she just told him that she trusted him to take care of it, that she’d really have no idea what they were talking about anyway, and left it to them to handle it.  After counting up the 15 bonds and calculating their combined worth with interest, Kit found that he had $117,743.28 worth of them, and that much money demanded wise and prudent investment.  One didn’t just stick it in a savings account somewhere.  And that was where Vil came in.  She wasn’t a financial planner, but she was more than well versed enough to know where the good investments were.  Together, over the course of the day, they hammered out a highly detailed and thorough investment portfolio for the money, divesting the capital through multiple investments; stocks, bonds, annuities, certificates of deposit, and commodities, mainly precious metals.  They decided that it was only wise to leave $10,000 of it out as available cash in case of emergencies, which Kit would deposit in a special money market account, giving him access to that money while it earned more interest than it would in another account.  “God, I’m going to have to either hire an accountant or bone up on my tax codes,” Kit grunted as he typed up the plan, which he’d send to Vil to let her check over to ensure he had it all copied correctly.  “I’ll have to file a ten forty next year, no way will we get away with an A or EZ form, not with all this interest and capital gains.”

        “Well, it’s a good kind of pain,” Vil chuckled.  “Much better than you living out of your boots.  Dear God, bro, you have no idea how worried I’ve been thinking about you down there with nothing but your salary, and nothing in the bank and no investments.  I’ll sleep much better now knowing you’re set up.”

        “You shouldn’t worry about stuff like that, sis,” he told her.  “I know how to manage our money.  The only reason we’ve been so broke was because of the wedding and Christmas and the honeymoon.  We kinda went overly crazy in the keys and burned up our savings.  Taking that day trip to Key West broke us.”

        Vil laughed.  “Well, you’re entitled to the occasional moment of insanity,” she grinned.  “But now you have some reserves if that ever happens again, and that’s what makes me so relieved.  Now, if you have some kind of emergency and can’t get hold of me for some reason, I know you have enough held back to get you through until you can get hold of me.”

        “Well, thanks for that concern, sis,” Kit said mildly.  “Oh, and expect a call from Jessie sometime today.”

        “Oh?  What does she need?”

        “Nothing, she’s going to thank you and the family for the plane,” he said.  “She’s hooked.”

        Vil laughed.  “So, you’ve taken it up already?”

        He nodded.  “Yesterday.  I wasn’t planning to, but the control systems in it are so user friendly, I felt safe taking it for a short flight to get the hang of it.  Next time I’m taking some Windex and paper towels so I can clean Jessie’s nose prints off the glass.”

        Vil laughed harder.  “She liked it?”

        “Now she wants a pilot’s license,” he told her.  “She said that since we own it, she wants to learn how to fly it.”

        “Well, that shouldn’t be too hard,” Vil said, waving her hand negligently.  “I’ll—”

        “You’ll let me handle that.  I am her husband.”

        She gave him a quick grin.  “Alright, I’ll leave that one alone.”

        “You’d better.  Okay, sis, here it comes,” he said, saving the file, then uploading it to her.  “Check it over.”

        “No sweat, bro,” she said, her paws working under her, where he couldn’t see.  “You gonna let me handle this, or are you going to do it?”

        “You can help with the stocks, but I’ll get the rest,” he answered.  “You can buy the stocks much cheaper and faster than I can, and I can handle the others over the phone or at a few offices here in town.  I know where to go.  With you doing the stocks, I can do it all in one day.”

        “It’s the Vulpan in you,” she winked.  “Call Jessie over here.”

        “Sure.  Jess!” he shouted.  “My evil bitch of a sister wants to talk to you!”

        Jessie laughed from the kitchen and scurried in.  “hold on, Dad, I’ll give you to Kit for a minute,” she said into the phone, and pushed it at him.  “Stop being mean to your sister,” she chided him, swatting him on the end of his nose with two fingers as she leaned down into the range of the webcam.  Kit traded places with her, standing up and giving his attention to the phone.

        “Did she chew your ear off about yesterday?” he asked John.

        “A little,” he chuckled.  “She seems quite happy and excited about your plane.  She was only mentioning your coming baby and her pregnancy about once a minute rather than every other sentence.”

        Kit laughed.  “Well, I’m glad she’s keeping her priorities straight,” he noted.

        “I have to admit, I rather like the idea of it myself.  It’s very nice knowing you can be here six hours after we call you.”

        “We could do that no matter what flying commercially, but this way we can do it basically for free.  Vil and my family gave me that plane, and you know how Vil sees a gift.”

        “It costs you nothing,” he noted.

        “Exactly.  She gave me a credit card you use at airports to buy gas and pay for maintenance, and she’s paying the insurance and the taxes and everything.  So, we basically have a free plane at our disposal.”

        “I’m going to have to thank Vil next time I call her,” John chuckled.  “How many furs does it hold?”

        “Four.”

        “You couldn’t squeeze someone in between the two in the back seat?  We couldn‘t squeeze Ben in there and fly to Columbus, for example?”

        “It’s not a bench seat back there, John.  A fifth fur would have to sit on the floor, and that’s illegal.  I wouldn’t allow it.  I’d like to keep my license, cause the FAA is really anal about following the rules.”

        “Oh.  Do planes have trunks?  Where do you put your suitcases?”

        “It has a cargo hold, which is a plane’s trunk,” he affirmed.

        “So, you could bring stuff up with you?”

        “Up to a point,” he said.  “Personal planes aren’t good shipping planes, John.  Everything’s about weight in a private plane, and there’s not much extra weight to play with.  The plane only has an extra four hundred pounds of load rating if I fill up the gas tanks, and that four hundred pounds doesn’t go as far as you might think.  That weight doesn‘t include anything, not even the pilot.  So stick two furs in there, and you‘ve just eaten that four hundred pounds.  Then add in their luggage, carry-ons, food, necessities, and the weight gets used up quick.”

        “Yes, I see.  But, with just two of you, you could put some extra luggage in the plane.”

        “With just two of us packing light, yeah, we could.  We’ll have about a hundred pounds of weight open to us.  The old pilot’s assumption is two hundred pounds per fur with average baggage.”

        “Kit, Jessie doesn’t weigh two hundred pounds,” John said with a chuckle.  “If she’s an ounce over one twenty, I’d be amazed.”

        “When you take her and add everything she’s carrying to it, like her suitcase, her purse, and our camera bag, and her laptop, and so on and so on, yeah, it gets pretty close to that,” he answered seriously.

        “Ah, I didn’t think of that.”

        “That’s where the weight goes,” Kit chuckled.  “That and we’ll put some stuff in the cockpit that we might need, like an emergency kit, atlas, a blanket, that kind of thing.  All of that adds to the weight too.  Everything you put in the plane adds weight, and that’s the one thing a pilot never ignores.”

        “Well, think you can take me and Hannah up for a flight?  I’ve never been in a small plane before.”

        “I’d love to,” Kit answered.  “We can do a lap around Cincinnati.”

        “It sounds like it’ll be fun.”

        “Jessie wants a pilot’s license now,” Kit laughed, which earned him a light, playful smack on the knee.  “What?”

        “It’s not a joke!” she protested.

        “I never said it was, pretty kitty!  I just think it’s funny how quickly you decided you want one.”

        “I take it she’s being mean to you?” John asked lightly.

        “Eternally,” Kit answered in a suffering voice, which made John laugh.

        “So, when will you get here?”

        “It’ll depend on when we leave, which depends on when I get out of work on Saturday,” he answered.  “Saturdays are kinda free-wheeling for me.  I’m done when I get my work done, so it’ll come down to how much I have on my plate.  We’ll fly back on Sunday night, since Jessie needs to be in school Monday morning.  But she can sleep on the plane, so we can leave really late.”

        “He never lets me miss even a single class,” Jessie complained to Vil, which made her laugh.  John chuckled when he repeated her words to him.

        “Good, I’m glad you’re keeping her on the path, Kit,” he said approvingly.

        “That’s going to be much trickier when she starts coming to term,” Kit said, “and the baby’s gonna mess with her final semester, but we’ll manage.  I won’t let Jessie get this close to her degree and quit now.  She will graduate.”

        “She’d better, or she’s gonna owe me and her mother sooo much money,” John said, which made Kit burst out laughing.

        “Okay, trade me again,” Jessie said, and she took the phone while Kit sat back down at the computer.

        “So, is it all good?” Kit asked, looking at his monitor.

        “Everything’s right,” she affirmed. “You gonna get to work on that?”

        “I have tomorrow off.  It should all be done by close of business tomorrow,” he promised her.

        “Sounds good, bro.”

        “Kit!  Dad wants to know if you can ask Rick to trade days off,” Jessie called.  “Take Saturday off instead of Monday, and give us an extra day.”

        “Yeah, I can do that, as long as they don’t mind picking us up really late,” he called back.  “I still have a late day on Friday, you know.”

        “Sounds like you should have fun up there,” Vil noted.  “Jessie will get two whole days to listen to her mother carp about getting pregnant.”

        “Hannah’s not nearly as opposed to it as I thought she would be,” Kit said musingly.  “I’m sure she’s going to sit us down and have a very long talk about responsibility and taking care of the baby, but she seems honestly enthusiastic about the idea of being a grandmother.”

        “You know she will,” Vil chuckled.  “I’d take a copy of your portfolio statement with you to wave in her face when she starts complaining that you can’t afford the baby.”

        Kit laughed.  “That may not be a bad idea.  She’ll know that even if I leave Jessie, she can always get half of our assets for the baby,” he winked.

        “Like you’d ever leave Jessie,” Vil snorted.  “You’re a Catholic.  Doesn’t she understand what that means?”

        “Well, we weren’t married under Catholic sacraments,” Kit noted.  “No Catholic wedding, no need for an annulment.”

        “Bro, you’re about ten seconds from getting slapped,” Vil warned in a very unfriendly tone.

        “Sis, get real.  I’ll never leave Jessie, and you know it.”

        “Still, you don’t even joke about something like that,” she told him flatly.  “Sometimes with you, it’s hard to tell what’s a joke and what’s not.  Hannah doesn’t know you as well as I do, bro, and she’d flip out if she ever heard it.”

        “I’m not stupid enough to ever say something like that in front of her.”

        “At least you have that much sense,” she said with a nod.  “Oh, by the way, Sheila and Muffy left here about five hours ago.  They should be getting there any time now.”

        “Today?  Weren’t they supposed to leave yesterday?  I thought they were just too busy clubbing or something to stop by and see us.”

        “Yeah, but Sheila’s parents made her stay over for some reason, and Muffy decided to wait for her.  Probably to grill her about her decision…they’re not too happy about it.  They want her to stay in Harvard.  But, they can’t deny that she’s determined, and I think in a way that makes them happy.  They think she’s finally growing up.”

        “Alright.  Odds are, they’ll spend the evening over here.  I’d better warn Jessie.”

        “She already knows, I talked to her this morning.”

        “Ah, that would explain why she’s done all that cooking.  I thought she was just too excited to sit still.”

        “Well, I’ll let you get to it, bro, I have some work to do here.  A few reports to read, and a termination to write up.”

        “Uh oh, who?” Kit asked.

        “Kelly Parmon, senior vice president of safety,” she said, her face grim.  “He let our ISO certification logs and paperwork get out of date, and I was some kind of pissed off when I found out.”

        “How bad was the fine?”

        “Fifty thousand dollars,” she fumed.  “That’s a pink slip with no warning in this company.”

        “Yeah, I’d say it is,” Kit agreed.  “How on earth did he let that go?”

        “Total absolute incompetence,” she growled, then she used several rather colorful adjectives to more fully describe her feelings.  “It’s not like it’s even that hard to keep that current!”

        “Who are you promoting to take his place?”

        “I’m going inside the family.  Cousin Terry.”  Terry, or Kitstrom Terrence Vulpan, was the second child of uncle Tom.  From what Kit remembered, he was twenty-one years old, just six months younger than Kit, and had graduated from Yale at the age of nineteen…and not because he slacked.  Terry had skipped two grades in elementary school, and graduated from Yale in three years with a bachelor’s in business.  Last Kit heard, he was just starting his Master’s courses at Yale, and was also looking into trying for Oxford the way Vil had done.

        “Terry?  How long has he been working at the shipyard?”

        “About a year, but he’s been pretty impressive,” she said.  “Right now he’s a vice president over in accounting, and he runs a tight ship.  Nothing but good performance reviews out of his department.  I’m sure as hell not giving him the job because he’s a Vulpan.  That’s not a rock job, cause the government will fine our asses to oblivion if he doesn‘t do it right.  He earned his chance to prove himself, so I’m giving him some real responsibility and we’ll see how he does.”

        “I think he’ll do alright,” Kit said.  “Terry is one smart cookie.”

        “No doubt,” Vil nodded.  “He got through school faster than any of us did.  He was only nineteen when he graduated from Yale with his Bachelor’s, and he just finished his Master’s degree in December.”

        “I’m surprised he decided to go into the company.  I always thought he’d go off on his own.”

        “I think he will, but I’ll teach him as much as I can until he does,” she chuckled.  “I won’t mind losing him as long as he goes out there and does something with himself, and also doesn’t go into business competing against me.  Then I’d have to destroy him.”

        Kit chuckled.  “No mercy even for the family?”

        “I’d come after him even harder, cause he should know better than to try to compete against me,” she snorted, which made him burst out into helpless laughter.

        “Dear God, I married a barbarian and my sister is a heartless bitch.  Where did I go so wrong?” he lamented.

        “That’s Miss Heartless Bitch to you, buster,” she teased in reply.  “Now, I really need to go, so I’ll talk to you later, bro.”

        “Alright.  Night sis.  Love ya.”

        “I love you too, you little pain in the ass,” she grinned, and then she disconnected the conference session.

        Jessie was indeed cooking knowing that Sheila and Muffy were coming, for they arrived about a half an hour after he finished talking to Vil.  They’d shed their winter clothes the instant they hit Austin, it seemed, for Muffy was wearing a halter and a miniskirt in the brisk forty-five degree evening, showing off a great deal of fur, and Sheila was wearing a Boston Bruins tee shirt and a pair of khaki shorts.  “Muffy,” Kit greeted, giving her a warm hug, “how’s Boston treated you?”

        “Coldly,” she giggled.  “It’s been freezing up there!  I’m glad to be down here for a couple of days.”

        “What happened, though?  I thought you were supposed to be here yesterday.”

        “We were supposed to leave yesterday,” she growled, giving Sheila a strong look.

        Sheila coughed uncomfortably.  “Well, blame my mom and dad for that,” she said.  “I got the freakin’ third degree from them.  We were packed and like two seconds from catching a ride to the airport when my mom and dad waylaid me and made me explain everything to them again,” she sighed.  “They tried to talk me out of it.  Er, you do know, don’t you?”

        “Of course we do, silly femme,” Kit chuckled.  “Vil explained it to us.  I have to say, I’m impressed, cousin.  Your idea to go to both schools at the same time, that was impressive.”

        “Thanks,” she said with a modest smile, coming over and hugging him as Muffy greeted Jessie, and got a friendly, warm hug, which startled his cousin a little.

        “So, the infamous Party Pack loses a member,” Kit teased.

        Sheila laughed.  “Only temporarily,” she winked.  “Besides, I can always start a new Party Pack down here.  I’m an Austin Vulpan now, just like you.”

        “Ooh, can I be a part-time member of your Party Pack, Sheila?” Muffy asked with a little bounce, entirely overacted.

        Jessie laughed.  “Stop being so silly!” she chided.  “Are you two hungry?  Dinner’s almost ready.”

        “Oh, am I!” Muffy said, getting a bright smile.  “What did you make?”

        “Jambalaya,” she answered.  “With garnished asparagus, stewed beets, beef tips and chunked potatoes, and home baked black bread.  Oh, and I made us some cherry cobbler for dessert.”

        “I haven’t had jambalaya in forever!” Muffy said with a big grin.  “How did you know I like spicy food?”

        “I didn’t,” she admitted with a giggle.  “But Kit does, so I have to indulge him from time to time.”

        “She made me a thank you dinner,” Kit laughed.  “Because I was extra-nice to her.”

        “You should be the one in there cooking for her,” Muffy teased, and she hugged Jessie again.  “Congratulations, cousin-in-law!”

        “Aww, thanks, hon,” Jessie said with a demure smile.

        “Yeah, congrats you two!” Sheila added, hugging Kit, then hugging Jessie in turn.  She put her paw on Jessie’s stomach and patted it gently.  “You proved our cousin’s a real Vulpan, Jess, he knocked you up not three months after you were married!”

        Jessie gave Sheila a prim look, but Muffy continued to dig.  “If he was a real Vulpan, he’d have got her pregnant before they were engaged,” she announced.

        “That would have been a real trick, since we were engaged so quickly after we entered that phase of our relationship,” Jessie said, her cheeks trying to ruffle.

        “Well, Kit’s full of surprises, as well as a few other things,” Sheila said with a sly grin at her cousin, which earned her a punch on the arm from him.

        They sat down to dinner not long afterward, and spent a very pleasant evening catching up with the goings-on up in Boston.  Muffy had arranged to take two days off from school to come down to see him, and Sheila talked about all the work she had ahead of her enrolling in the University of Texas.  “They have a great culinary arts program,” she said.  “I looked around, and it’s the best one in Texas.  It’s just nice that it’s where I want to live, too.”

        “I’m still surprised that you want to move,” Muffy said.

        “I love it here, Muff,” Sheila said sincerely.  “Kit and Jessie are awesome family to have around, and I have a lot of great friends who don’t care that I’m a Vulpan.  Between Jessie and Martha, I’ve already learned so much about cooking!” she said with a bright smile, turning to Jessie.  “I cooked for Higgins last week, and he said I did really good!”

        “That’s nice to hear, Sheila,” Jessie said supportively.

        “Higgins has been helping me since I went back up, teaching me more about cooking.  I wish he’d come down here,” she frowned.  “But he doesn’t want to leave Boston.”

        “He quit?”

        “No, he was one of mom’s servants, so he’s going back to work in her house,” she answered.  “I tried to get him to come down here, but I couldn’t convince him.  I’ll just keep up with the maid service, and cooking for myself will give me plenty of practice, so I think I can manage.  I still wish he would have come, though.  I like Higgins.  He’s a lot of fun for a butler.”

        “How did you pull off that deal with Harvard?” Kit asked curiously.

        “It took a lot of ass kissing, that’s for sure,” she laughed.  “When that wasn’t enough, I had to start threatening to sic my mom on them if they didn’t give me what I wanted.  That got them.  They agreed to shadow me through the filler courses, and I do my business courses in what they call private tutoring,” she said, making ditto motions with her fingers.  “It’s really me just emailing my homework and course assignments to a professor in the business college.  I have to go up to Boston twice a semester to take a midterm and a final, and I also have to attend a full semester when I do my capstone project, they wouldn’t budge on that.  But that’s okay, I should be able to manage it.”

        “What do you mean by shadow?” Jessie asked.

        “It’s a term that means cheating, basically,” Muffy answered.  “Sheila will show up on the rolls of those classes, and won’t do any work in them, but will graduate with a C average in them on the books.  She has to pay double the usual tuition for each course she wants to shadow, though.”

        “Oh.  Some of that under the table stuff Kit says Harvard does for the Vulpans.”

        “Us and a few other very prominent and rich families,” Sheila nodded.

        “Yale does it too,” Muffy added.  “I’m shadowing a couple of courses this semester that I absolutely can’t stand.”

        “The perks of being rich,” Sheila grinned.  “Anyway, I’ll be taking only culinary arts courses at U.T.  Well, those and the courses they require for a degree that Harvard credits won’t cover,” she added.  “I’ll have to actually take those courses.  Eww,” she said, making a face.

        “You can’t cheat at my school,” Jessie grinned at her.  “You’ll do the same work we do!”

        “Another low point for the Vulpan family,” Sheila sighed.  “Being just like normal people.”

        Jessie gave her a startled look, then both Sheila and Muffy began to laugh.  “Be nice,” Kit murmured.  “Remember, she’s feeding you right now.  That’s not a paw you want to bite.”

        “Yes, I think I’ll have to make you something special next time,” Jessie warned.

        Muffy grinned.  “We’ll just bring antacid.”

        “Cousin, there’s nothing you can bring to help when she makes that meal,” Kit said mildly, which made Jessie and Sheila giggle.

        “Oh, do we speak from experience?” Muffy teased.

        “I speak from the experience of never being dumb enough to send her to that spice rack,” he retorted.

        “What are you planning to do while you’re here?” Jessie asked.

        Sheila looked at Muffy, and they both grinned at Jessie.  “Oh, we have plans,” she all but purred in reply.

        “Oh dear,” Kit sighed.  “Love, do we have any honey in the fridge?”

        Jessie laughed.  “It must be time to teach me the recipe for the famous Vulpan hangover tonic,” she giggled.

        “Oh, those plans involve you, Jessie,” Sheila grinned.  “In fact, they start in about a half an hour,” she added, looking at her delicate gold watch.

        “What’s in a half hour?”

        “The Top Hat opens,” Muffy said with a wicked smile.

        Every single strand of fur on Jessie’s entire body frizzed out.  “No way!” she gasped.

        “Oh, yes we are,” Sheila told her with an evil grin.  “You can’t get knocked up by someone else now, you’re a total free spirit!  And we’re going to liberate you from this evil monogamy!”

        “You wouldn’t dare!” she said in absolute mortification, standing up and glaring at the two of them.  “I’d never ever do something like that no matter how drunk you get me, and I’m pregnant!” she shouted.  “If either of you even try to give me a drink, I’ll beat you up!”

        “Relax, love, they’re just teasing you,” Kit said calmly.  “Or at least they’d better be,” he added threateningly.

        The two Vulpan females laughed almost uncontrollably, Sheila nearly falling out of her chair.  “Alright, we’re teasing about that, but you are going with us tonight!” she said.  “It’s femme’s night!  All the male strippers are going to be there, and you can’t miss it!”

        “And you’ll be our designated driver,” Muffy added.

        “I have class in the morning!”

        “It’s only six thirty, you prude!” Sheila accused.  “We can have a good three hours of harmless fun ogling naked males and still get you home in time to get to bed.”

        “I will not!”

        “Why not?” Kit asked her.  “I think you’ll have fun.”

        “You’re sending me to a strip club?” Jessie demanded, a little hotly.

        “No, I’m sending you out with your friends,” he answered calmly.  “If you happen to wander into the Top Hat, so what?  I trust you, love.  I know you’d never do anything foolish, and I’ve told you before, I have total faith in you.  Did you have fun during your bachelorette party?”

        “Well, yeah, but—“

        “Then go have fun, my pretty kitty,” he told her, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek.  “Besides, you’ll get home so hot and bothered that I’m guaranteed some action tonight.”

        “Kit!” Jessie gasped, but then she laughed helplessly.

        “See, you have official permission to be naughty!” Sheila said commandingly.  “So let’s finish this wonderful dinner and get busy!”

        “Oh, you can do me one favor,” Kit said.

        “What is that?”

        “Ask them if Allison still works there.  I want to talk to her.  If she does, either get her phone number or give them my Blackberry work number so she can call me.  If she’s not, see if they’ll give me her contact number.”

        “Woo, now he’s a Vulpan!” Sheila laughed.  “Arranging his mistress in front of his wife!”

        Kit gave her a nasty look, which made Muffy nearly spray jambalaya all over the table.

        “What do you want to talk to Allison for?” Jessie asked.

        “I want to interview her for a story,” he answered.  “I can make her anonymous so nobody knows who I’m talking about and still publish her story.  She’s a very, very interesting young femme, and I think she’d be the subject of an outstanding piece.”

        “Sure, I can do that, cousin,” Sheila told him.  “I’ll ask Benny, the bartender.  He’ll know, and he can pass it on for you.”  She narrowed her eyes.  “Isn’t that the one that’s the chemistry Master’s student who pays for school by stripping and whoring?”

        Kit nodded.  “And that is why she’ll be such a good story.”

        “Yeah, I’d have to agree,” Muffy said seriously.

        Jessie gave him a curious look, but said nothing.  Kit, seeing it there, headed it off by reaching over and putting his paw on her arm.  “Trust me, love, as I trust you.”

        Jessie’s cheeks ruffled, and she nodded.

        Kit picked up the dishes for them after they left, and busied himself by checking to see if Rick had assigned him anything over the weekend.  When his in box came up empty, he sat on the couch and practiced guitar, at least until his Blackberry rang.  He didn’t know the number, so he answered it with his ritual greeting.  “Lone Star magazine, Kit Vulpan.”

        “Hello,” a femme’s voice called.  “I was asked to call you.”

        “Allison?” he asked.

        “Yes.”

        “Good.  I’m not sure you remember me, but—“

        “Kit Vulpan.  Two different colored eyes, missing part of your ear.  I danced for you at a party a few months ago.”

        “So you do remember,” Kit chuckled.  “Listen, I know this is going to sound unusual—“

        “Yes.”

        “Excuse me?”

        “I agree.  Your cousin explained what you wanted of me.  As long as you guarantee my anonymity, I’ll do the interview.”

        “Nice, nice.  Thank you very much.”

        “Be glad your cousin came tonight.  This week is my last here.”

        “Really?  Moving on, moving up, or moving away?”

        “Moving up.  This is my last semester, and I told them I wouldn’t work here beyond that.  They’ve known for two years.  They pressed me on the issue, demanding I stay on, so I quit.  I could have just walked out, but I agreed to work until Friday just so my regulars know and understand I’m leaving, and that I am not interested in any private arrangements.”

        “I’m sorry to hear that.”

        “Oh, it’s about time anyway.  I have more than enough money saved now, I decided I’d work after I get my degree, and I don’t need this job anymore.  It’s certainly not because I was doing it for fun.”

        “Well, that’s something we’ll talk about during the interview,” he said, grabbing a note pad and jotting down some quick notes.  “When would you like to meet?”

        “Any time tomorrow after three, and any time between one and five from Tuesday to Friday is fine.  After Friday, I won’t be here anymore, and I’ll have the whole weekend available.”

        “Hmm.  We’ll be out of town this weekend.  Can you hold on a minute?  I’ll call my wife and ask her if she wouldn’t mind inviting you to dinner tomorrow.  If you don’t mind doing the interview with company, that is.”

        “She’s right here, listening to me,” Allison said calmly.  “Misses Vulpan, he wants to know if you mind if he interviews me tomorrow at your house during dinner.”  Kit waited, a bit anxiously.  “She agrees.”

        “Good,” Kit sighed.  “Don’t tell her this, but she’s just a little jealous of you.  I’m going to interview you with her listening, so she doesn’t get the wrong idea.”

        “I understand,” Allison said with a slight hint of amusement.  “So, what time tomorrow?”

        “How about six or so?  I have some things to do that morning, but I should be done by then.  We can interview while Jessie cooks, then have a good meal.”

        “That’s fine.  What’s your address?”  Kit gave her his address, Blackberry number, and detailed directions on how to get to the apartment from the university.  “I have it.  Hold on.”

        “Kit?” Jessie’s voice came over the phone.

        “Pretty kitty,” he said.  “I do hope you don’t mind.”

        “I understand, love,” she said sincerely.  “And thank you.  You’re so sweet, thinking of me.”

        “I always think of you, my love,” he said impulsively.  “Do you mind terribly cooking for Allison?”

        “I’d be happy to.  And I’ll get to hear her story, too.”

        “You can get a head start, you know.  She seems to be right there in front of you.”

        Jessie laughed.  “Sheila would kill me if I spend all my time in this private room talking to Allison and not out there watching naked guys gyrating around the room.”

        “What’s she doing there, anyway?  I thought it was femme’s night.”

        Jessie repeated that to Allison, then there was a long silence.  “She, umm, said that they entertain the males who came with the femmes upstairs. So she’s working tonight.”

        “Ah.  Alright, I won’t hold you away from the fun, pretty kitty.  Go out there and ogle to your heart’s content.”

        “There’s only one male I like to ogle,” she said with shy daring, being a little bold but a bit self-conscious because Allison could hear her.

        “Well, get all charged up so I can enjoy it when you come home and do that.”

        “Kit!” she gasped, then she laughed.  “Hold on, this is her phone.”

        “Mister Vulpan?” Allison’s voice called.

        “Allison.  Be nice to my wife, she’s a touch shy.”

        “I noticed,” she said knowingly, which made Kit chuckle.  “Tomorrow at six, then?”

        “We’ll be ready for you.  And my wife is an awesome cook,” he added.

        “I’m looking forward to testing your claim,” she said.  “Goodbye.”

        She hung up before he could respond.

        Kit chuckled.  Now that was an interesting young femme.

 

        Jessie got home around eleven, and much as he predicted, she was very amorous.  As much as she said she only had eyes for him, he knew that she was as red-blooded as any other femme, and no femme could look at the fine hunks of male a place like the Top Hat would employ and not get bandy…unless she was some kind of religious zealot or frigid.  And Jessie was neither of those.  Jessie did indeed give him a wild time, but she wasn’t quite so fun when she woke up that morning and had to go to school.  She was almost like a little kid, groaning and pulling the pillow over her head, hiding from reality.  “Nnnnnoooooo,” she whined when the alarm went off.  “Ten more minutes!”

        “Up and at ‘em, tiger!” Kit called from the hallway.  “You have school!”

        “Nnnoooo!!!!” she moaned groggily, rolling over on her stomach and pulling the pillow tighter over her head.

        Kit rolled in and yanked the covers off of her, baring her gorgeous long-haired tail and exquisite backside.  She kicked her feet jerkily, then slid halfway up onto her knees with her head still under the pillow, which revealed all kinds of very interesting things to him when her tail flicked up.  “Pretty kitty.  Love.  Either you get up right now, or you’re going to miss class for an entirely different reason.”

        She froze, realized what kind of position she was in, then laughed helplessly under the pillow.  “Alright, I’m getting up,” she said, putting her tail down and rising up onto her knees, then she looked back at him over her shoulder and winked.

        “You little tease,” he accused as he went back down the hall.  “Breakfast in five minutes!”

        As usual, he had breakfast ready for her by the time she was out of the bedroom and at least partially awake.  A strong cup of tea and a ham and onion omelet awaited her, and she flopped down in the chair wearing nothing but a robe barely belted in the front, leaving half her considerable cleavage hanging out.  “How long will it take you to get all those finances done?” she asked.

        “I should be done around three or so,” he answered.  “What do you want me to pick up for dinner?”

        “Let’s give her something nice,” she said with a yawn.  “Grilled salmon with lemon and rosemary, au gratin potatoes, steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, and you can bake an angel food cake for dessert with cinnamon chocolate icing.  Oh, and shrimp scampi for an appetizer.”

        “Oooh, going for the throat, eh?” he chuckled.

        She just gave him a grin.  “You need to be reminded who feeds you when you’re looking at her boobs.”

        He laughed, leaned over the table, and pulled her robe open.  “These are the only boobs I care to look at,” he winked.

        “Suuure,” she teased, slapping his paws away.  “And who sent me to go ogle naked males last night?”

        “So, you’ll let me ogle Allison?”

        “Only if you do to me afterwards what I did to you last night when I got home,” she said roguishly.

        He laughed.  “You have a deal, pretty kitty,” he told her.  “I’ll drag you into the bedroom and ravish you the instant we push her out the door.”

        “I can live with that,” she smiled.  “And I’m glad you invited her to dinner.  Both to keep me from getting jealous, and so I can meet her outside of that place.  She was naked when you were talking to her!” she said, slightly scandalized.  “Just sitting there on the couch like that was entirely normal!”

        “It was for her, love,” he told her simply.

        “She had her naked butt on a velour couch!” she said.  “I was afraid to sit on it!  Who knows who sits on that couch and doesn’t wipe properly!”

        Kit almost fell out of his chair laughing.

        He sent her to school on time, and then got to work.  He had a lot to do, and since he had a dinner appointment, he had to finish in time to get the shopping done.  He got the first parts of it done, and that was where Vil would help him.  She placed orders for all the stocks they planned to buy, and as soon as he had the cash, he would wire it to her to cover it.  Vil could buy the stocks at a vastly reduced fee, given she could buy them using the company and its buying power.  It was a service the company offered to its executives as well, so it wasn’t like they were doing anything illegal.  Vil was just using her own policy to buy stocks herself, which she would then sell to her brother at cost.  After that was done, Kit called the same accounting firm that handled the taxes for the magazine, whom Rick trusted, and he contracted the services of an accountant who would help them do their taxes next year.  Kit wanted to hire them now, so he had his spot as a client and his accountant would be waiting for him come January; it was always best to be a client well before the tax season rush.

        He was standing outside the bank waiting when it opened, however.  The teller was a bit mystified when he presented the bonds, and it took a manager to assure her that the bank did in fact cash them; they were fairly rare.  The manager helped him personally after she realized he had fifteen of them.  She cashed the bonds, and he scratched two tasks off his list when he bought four certificate of deposits of maturation times between 30 days and six months for a total of $15,000, and opened a money market account with an initial deposit of $10,000.  The CDs were basically “wait and see” investments, short-term no-risk investments with low returns that basically gave him money something to do while he waited to see if any better investment opportunities came along, like perhaps some real estate investments when the real estate market bubble burst and real estate values crashed, which would put investors in a prime position to snap up deflated property and hold onto it for when the markets rebounded.  He also bought a safe deposit box—they miraculously found an open box for him despite a nearly year-long waiting list—and he put the CD certificates directly into the box.  He walked out of the bank with checks and two debit cards for the new account on order, and the balance minus $25,000 in his old account, with plans to keep his original account open to handle day to day expenses and pay bills.

        Sometimes it was funny what money could accomplish.  Jessie would normally need to be there with him when he opened a new account, but they accommodated him by simply pulling the signature card and Jessie’s vital information for their original checking account and using it for the new account, which let him open the joint account without her being with him.  And they only did it for him because he intended to keep around $25,000 in their bank, ten in the account and fifteen in the CDs he’d just purchased.

        After finishing at the bank, he visited a brokerage and bought two commodities.  The first commodity he bought was precious metals; he bought $9,000 worth of gold and platinum.  Those were the most stable metals with solid track records of increasing value over time, and were stable investments.  The second commodity he bought was treasury bonds, guaranteed government bonds that had a good rate of return if one bought 30-year bonds; though not the best way to invest to make money, their rock-solid guaranteed maturation made them a very solid foundation for any portfolio.  Kit bought $20,000 worth of 30-year treasury bonds, which he could also sell before maturity if necessary.  Combined with the precious metals, Kit had built a solid foundation for his portfolio, guaranteed money that grow steadily and dependably over time.

        The CDs and Treasury bills were the “stability” portion of his investment plan, which would appreciate slowly but steadily over time.  He had already started on the “risky” portion with the gold and platinum, though precious metals weren’t really as risky…but weren’t absolutely guaranteed to appreciate in value.  So, Kit classified them as “risk.”  Since he now had the commodities bought, he returned to the bank and placed the bills and metals vouchers showing his ownership of the metals—those would come later, he demanded it delivered to the bank rather than allow some company hold the metals for him—told the manager the metals would be delivered directly to the bank in two days, and then moved on to the next phase.  That was to return home, and wait for Vil to get confirmation to know how much he owed her; often her agents on the floors of the exchanges would delay making a buy if they thought they could get a better price.  And her brokers actually came through.  They saved Kit nearly four hundred dollars by going on their own instincts and catching several of his stocks at inter-day lows, buying them at their cheapest that day.  Sure, waiting to buy a stock after it fell by six cents wasn’t much, but when one bought a thousand shares of that stock, those pennies added up fast.  When they bought all the stocks Vil had ordered bought, she added it up, and Kit called the bank and arranged the wire transfer of that sum to her, which was $64,427.24.

        After adding everything up, and including brokerage fees, safe deposit box rental, and other expenses, he invested a grand total of $117,484.01 of the $117,793.28, which led to a tidy $309.27 net deposit into his regular checking account.  He had cut it almost razor-fine, but their planned investment expenditures had come in under the initial capital.

        All because of careful planning.

        “Is that it, bro?”

        “Yeah, that’s it,” he said, looking at the clock and seeing that he had twenty minutes left before 3:00pm, which was when he had to go buy the food for tonight’s dinner.  “And I even finished on time.”

        “You got everything?”

        “Yup.  Money market account open, safe deposit box bought, CDs bought, T-bonds bought, gold and platinum bought, all our stocks are bought, and I contracted an accountant to help do our taxes next year.  It’s a nearly sixty percent high risk, forty percent low risk balanced portfolio, at least for now since nearly fifteen percent of the capital is available for reinvestment.  You gonna courier those stock certificates to me when you get them?”

        “They should be in your hands by Wednesday,” she promised.  “What’s the grand total?”

        “I have a little over three hundred dollars left,” he said, a bit proudly.

        “We nailed it, then,” she giggled.

        “We did indeed.  Well done, sis.  I expected nothing less when you’re the one helping with the planning.”

        “Well, you’re solvent now, bro.  It’s about time.  Now, what is this dinner you’re making?  Making something special for Jessie?”

        “Kit chuckled.  “The truth?  I’m inviting over a stripper and prostitute to interview her for a story I’m writing.”

        Vil gasped, then laughed richly. “You have to be joking!”

        “Not a little bit,” he answered.

        “And Jessie knows about this?”

        “She’s cooking.”

        “Dear God, bro, what did you put in her orange juice?”

        “Jessie’s a little curious about this one,” Kit told her.  “She works at that sex club Sheila used for my bachelor party.  She was a stripper who’d whore out to the clients in the club, their highest-priced femme, and she used the money to get a Master’s degree at U.T.”

        “Okay, now that’s unusual.”

        “And thus why I want to get her story,” he finished.  “She’s a drop dead gorgeous vixen, sis, and I mean gorgeous.  Jessie’s just a little jealous of her because I’m showing interest in another femme, but my interest is only for the story, not for her.  That’s why she agreed to invite her over.  If I interview her with Jessie here, she’ll see she has nothing to be jealous about.”

        “So she can keep an eye on you,” Vil chuckled.

        “Which is why I offered the interview over dinner, so Jessie could be here to make sure I behave.”

        “Clever.”

        “You didn’t raise a fool,” he chuckled.

        “No, I did not.  I’ll let you go get your shopping done.  I’ll have the courier arrive at the magazine around lunchtime Wednesday, so you can take the stocks straight to the safe deposit box.”

        “I’ll be waiting.  Vil.”

        “Yeah?”

        “Thank you.  You just ensured our children get their degrees.  I owe you so much for all the help you’ve given me over the years, I don’t know how to ever repay you.”

        “For you, bro, anything.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  If you would let me, I’d put you in a mansion and give you every penny I got out of Dad’s will, but I know you’d never let me.  Despite that, you are my family, and I love you, no matter what.”

        “I love you too, sis.”

        “Call me after you finish the interview.  Tell me how it went.”

        “You got it.  Talk to you tonight.”

        “Tonight then.  Bye bro.”

        “Bye.”

        Kit blew out his breath, turning the phone over in his paw.  It was done.  In one day, he had executed the investment strategy he and Vil had drawn up.  With her help and a lot of legwork, he had gotten it all done in only one day.  Truth be told, it wasn’t that hard.  The commodities were easy to buy, as the same brokerage offered to sell both of them to him.  The work at the bank wasn’t hard because it was all in one place.  The most difficult part of it all would have been buying the stocks, but thanks to Vil and her contacts, the brokers she sent out onto the floor of the exchanges to buy those stocks directly, she had saved him a lot of time and a considerable amount of money.

        God, he loved his sister.

 

        Allison was a very interesting young femme.  In some ways, she reminded Kit of Sheila, Vil, Jessie, and Sam, all rolled into one.  She was highly intelligent—to call her a genius wouldn’t be far from the mark—but she had a remarkably practical and grounded outlook on life.  Her practicality was her most pervasive trait, an almost brutal pragmatism that had led her into the life of a stripper and prostitute; she had seen that stripping and selling her body for sex was the most lucrative profession available to her, more than able to cover her tuition and keep her in a comfortable lifestyle.  She could be coquettish and playful, but it was just an act.  In ways, her almost detached outlook, a nearly emotionlessness, reminded him of Vil, when she was fully wrapped up in the persona of the Ice Queen.  She had a very sensible and clinical approach to things, from eating to conversation, which was much like Sam’s well ordered personality.  But, she did have a delightfully wicked and understated sense of humor, which reminded him of Sandy.  She was as fearless as Sheila, but outside of the club, she was as well-mannered and urbane as Jessie, with exquisite manners and a sense of nearly wholesome propriety.  Foxy Firetail the stripper, her stage name, was just an act, a mask she wore, for Allison Gallagher was a very, very different young femme when she was at school.

        Jessie was quite surprised to see her stepping in the front door wearing not a miniskirt, not a bustier, but a sensible blouse and a calf-length pleated brown wool skirt.  Granted, her blouse and skirt did flatter her formidable figure, but the clothes themselves were very modest.

        Kit greeted her, bade her to sit on the couch, and while Jessie cooked for them—he had baked the cake and put the tips and potatoes on before Jessie got home—they talked.  He didn’t need notes or research to know what he wanted to ask her, so he went through every question that had rolled around in his head since the night he met her.  Allison was blunt, direct, and very honest, telling him things that elicited gasps from Jessie in the kitchen, and no doubt caused his pretty kitty’s cheek fur to perpetually stand on end.  She described her past, coming from a broken home of a father that abandoned them when she was thirteen and an abusive mother, who she left the instant she turned eighteen to let her mother sink herself into her addiction to drugs, and how the pitiful sight of her mother, a strung-out junkie, turned her away from a similar fate.  She described graduating from high school and seeing how she would have to be smart, smart and practical, in order to earn the college degree she knew was her ticket to a better life.  She talked about how she got into the business, how it worked, and what it was like to be a stripper and a prostitute.  She talked about the Top Hat and how she earned almost obscene amounts of money stripping and having sex with the members, money that paid for her schooling, kept her in a small, modest yet well built little house in north Austin she owned outright, allowed her to drive a Lexus when not at school and a cheap used Toyota Camry while at school (so as to hide her money), and had put nearly $65,000 in cold hard cash in the bank at the age of 23, all of it spread through wise and well-reasoned investments that earned her a decent return.  She told him about her fears, about her almost monthly medical screenings for AIDS and other diseases, and her many fights with patrons over them using condoms, which was her inviolate rule.  “No rubber, no fun,” was her motto.  She told them with calm reserve about the four times she’d been raped within the Top Hat by irate patrons who refused her condom rule, and how justice was never pursued against the rapists.  The worst that happened was that they were barred from the club from then on.  After all, how could she cry rape without exposing the club and losing her income?  She told them about the lonely life she led, since she couldn’t really socialize with anyone at school.  How could she risk getting too close to a fellow student and having them find out the truth?  The only real friends she had were fellow workers at the Top Hat, who shared her occupation and shared her unique outlook.  Only a fellow stripper could understand the dangers and hazards the stripper’s life held.  But, Allison was much, much smarter than most anyone in the Top Hat, so she felt a little lonely sometimes.  The other femmes couldn’t really relate to her as they could to each other.  They were a little intimidated by her.  While they wasted their money on useless toys, clothes, drugs, and other frivolities, Allison had invested the money she didn’t use on school and living expenses, and she was sharp.  She had built a portfolio as diversified and insightful as the portfolio Kit had assembled that very day.

        Kit wrote her summary of her life word for word out of her mouth.  “My body earns the money, but my mind does something useful with it.”

        She described an average day in the life of a high-priced prostitute in great detail to him.  As he dictated her words into his laptop, she described going to school and doing her homework like any other student, teaching two entry-level chemistry classes both for a little cover for her true income and to help her in her own field of study, and then putting aside Allison Gallagher, graduate student and student teacher, and becoming Foxy Firetail, stripper and prostitute, performing an internal transformation, going from demure, quiet, femme-next-door femme to a seductive, sophisticated, and extremely sexy vixen who earns upwards of five hundred dollars a night stripping, and a thousand dollars an hour selling her body.  She admitted quite calmly that one night, she took home nearly seven thousand dollars, and that was after the Top Hat took its twenty percent of her tips and the one quarter of her prostitution proceeds; that was the success of the Top Hat, she explained, that they took only a small percentage of their male and female workers, which attracted highly attractive workers.  By attracting the most attractive workers, they catered to those with lots of money, who spent large amounts of money in their club.  Allison told them about one night where there was a party, and the Top Hat took in nearly forty thousand dollars, and that was net.  The actual amount of money that changed paws that night was close to two hundred thousand dollars.  It was a huge party for a visiting millionaire, thrown by an Austin millionaire, and attended by quite a few other millionaires.  Absolutely vast amounts of money were flowing through that club, making it truly a club for the rich to play with beautiful or handsome playthings and satisfy their carnal fantasies.

        They took a break for dinner.  Allison wasn’t entirely impressed with the “fancy” dinner Jessie planned for them, for she was much like Kit, accustomed to eating exotic, rich meals.  But her disinterest in the menu changed quickly when she tasted the salmon.  “Oh my,” she breathed.  “Kit, you were not lying.  Jessie, you are a fabulous cook!”

        “Thank you,” Jessie said with a demure smile.  “I wanted to make you something really nice, and, well, I’m a cat, so to me nice is seafood.”

        They enjoyed a sumptuous meal, talking about nothing in particular, and Allison actually laughed when they produced the cake for her.  “You’ll ruin my figure, and my figure is my living!”

        “Not anymore it’s not,” Kit reminded her.

        She actually giggled.  “You’re right.  One big slice, please.”

        She was startled when she found out that Kit was the one that made the cake.  “I’m a lucky femme, Allison.  I found a male that can actually cook,” Jessie said with a fond smile at Kit.  “I had to train him a little bit, but he’s turned out rather well.”

        “I think he did,” she agreed.

        After dinner, they resumed the interview.  Allison continued to describe the daily life of a student by day, hooker by night in frank, explicit detail, and even touched on how her life affected her personality.  “I guess you can call me jaded,” she said simply.  “I don’t believe in the innocence of fur any longer.  I don’t look at males and wonder what if any longer.  I sometimes enjoy the sex, but it’s just a feeling, a sensation.  There’s no love anymore, at least not for me,” she said soberly, reflectively, swirling wine bought just for her in her glass as they sat on the couch.  “Furs lost being fur in a way to me.”

        “Believe me, that’s something I can understand,” Kit said, almost grimly, glancing at Jessie.  That was almost exactly how he felt about his family.

        “Why is that?” she asked.

        Jessie looked at him, and just nodded.  “I don’t know if you know of my family, Allison, but my relationship to my family is just as jaded.”  He told her about his history with his family, and the towering hatred he had for all of them except his sister and a handful of cousins he either liked or against which harbored no ill will.  “So, all that money, and what do I have to show for my family?  This,” he said, pointing at his damaged ear.  “My family isn’t a family, Allison.  It’s a collection of greedy, hedonistic, egotistical foxes who are bound together by their arrogance and their common name.”

        “And you live like we do?”

        “I used to,” he admitted.  “But my father’s will was voided, and that allowed my sister to give me the bonds my mother bought for me when I was born, which I cashed out for a little over a hundred grand.  It’s the only money I would ever accept from my family, because it came from my mother, and I’d insult her memory not to take it and use it for my family.  It’s all invested now for the future, so I can provide everything our children will ever need.  That money isn’t for us, it’s for our children.  I’ll still work and we’ll still live off my salary—”

        “And mine, when I graduate,” Jessie added.

        “And Jessie’s,” Kit nodded.  “But the money I inherited from my mother will never be mine.  It belongs to our children.”

        “That’s a very beautiful act.  You’re a very strange couple,” she said honestly.  “You, born from the rich, who hate the very money most others dream of having themselves.  And you, a demure and shy femme who moves with seductive grace because you’re jealous of me, afraid I might steal away your husband.”

        Jessie’s cheek fur bloomed in a furious blush.

        “And you’re a femme who grew up like the rest of us, but also see money through your husband’s viewpoint rather than your own.”

        “I used to, but when I saw Kit’s family, I finally understood what he meant.  From that moment on, I haven’t had a single thought about his family’s money.  We’re better off without it.”

        “But now you do have money,” she noted.

        “It’s not our money.  It’s our baby’s money,” she said, putting her paw on her stomach unconsciously.  “We’re going to have a baby, Allison.  And that money is for our babies, not for us.  That’s why Kit locked it all away in investments, so there’s enough to send all of our children through college when they’re old enough.  This one won’t be the only one,” she said, giving Kit a loving smile.

        “Congratulations on your blessing,” Allison said with a smile and a nod to them.

        “Thank you,” they said in unison, and they both laughed.  “So, we’ll live as we always lived, on our salaries, while the money given to us by Kit’s mother will let our children go to Harvard if they want to,” Jessie finished.

        “A very responsible plan.”

        “We’re responsible furs,” Kit chuckled.  “And we’re just like any parents anywhere.  We care more about our children than we do ourselves.  Besides, it’s not like we’ll be living out of soup cans.  We make a decent living, and I love my job.”

        “I can only hope I like my next job more than my last one.”

        “If it’s what you want to do, how can you not like it?”  Jessie asked simply.

        “Hopefully.  I was looking at either two to three more years in the Top Hat before I had enough invested to retire, or taking my degree and looking for a real job.  I think that a job gotten from a Master’s degree would take me maybe eight to ten years before I have enough saved to retire.”

        “Then what?”

        “Honestly?  I don’t know,” she shrugged.  “Maybe I’ll open a little bar somewhere, or a bed and breakfast.  Or maybe I’ll let my practical side take over and get involved in the sex trade from the provider side rather than the worker side.  I think I’d make a fairly effective madam,” she said with a slight smile.  “To me, retirement means freedom.  Freedom to do whatever I want.  Even if I have no idea what to do, to me, it means that I’ve made it.  I can do nothing if I want, sit around, get fat, and watch TV until I keel over from a heart attack.  But I’ll have earned that right.”

        They were quiet a long moment, and then Kit sighed and leaned back.  “I’d say you have,” Kit said.  “I’ll try to run this in the Friday edition, Allison.  I should have the article finished by tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I want you to come by here, or stop by my office, and review the article to make sure you agree to it, that I’ve made it sufficiently vague enough to protect your identity.  You’ll have total control over it, Allison.  If you want anything changed, its gets changed.  If you want me to kill the article completely, it dies.”

        “I can live with that,” she said with a nod.

        “Just call me when you’re ready to come see the article.  You still have my number?”  She nodded.  “Then call when you’re ready.  If I’m done, I’ll let you read it.  If I’m not, I’ll let you see what I have and give me feedback on if you like what you see.”

        “Alright. I teach a class at one, so I’ll call you around three.  Is that alright?”

        “That’s just fine,” he assured her.  “I’ll be in my office then, but if you don’t want anyone there to see you, we can meet wherever you want.”

        “That works for me.  How about John’s Pizza?  Do you know where that is?”

        Kit and Jessie traded a look, then laughed.  “We had our second date there,” Jessie told her.

        “I know where it is.  I’ll meet you there at three thirty.  That sound good?”

        “I can make it.”

        “Do you mind if I come too?  I’d like to see the article.”

        “You’re welcome to,” Allison told her with a nod.  “But I rather expect your husband will show it to you long before I see it.”

        Jessie laughed.  “I guarantee you, he’ll retreat into the den the second you leave, and I won’t see him again until tomorrow morning,” she grinned.  “Then he’ll hustle me off to school and run to work, and he’ll shut himself up in his office and won’t come out until he either finishes or it’s time to meet you.”

        “She knows me well,” Kit chuckled.

        “You really think it’s that good of a story?”

        “Allison, I’ve heard more stories than you can imagine, and none of them are as compelling as yours.  I just hope I can do it proper justice.”

        “Well, we’ll see if you can,” she said, sipping on her wine.

        “Just answer me one thing, Allison,” Jessie said, quite seriously.  “Why did you tell us your story?”

        “Because life is a transient thing, Jessie.  If I were to die tomorrow, then no one would ever know.  And I think I’d like at least one fur to know.  Or two, in this case,” she smiled.  “If I say no to the article, at least you know.  And for some reason, that makes me feel…better.”

        Jessie got up, walked over to the chair in which Allison was sitting, then leaned down and kissed her wordlessly on the cheek.  “And I feel better knowing your story,” she said seriously.

        “Well…thank you, Jessie,” she said, with sudden, surprising demureness.  “I should get going.  I have a lab in the morning, and a class to teach.  Tomorrow, three thirty, John’s Pizza.”

        “We’ll be there,” Kit said with a nod, then he stood up and offered his paw to her.  She took it and allowed him to help her to her feet, then he walked her to the door.  “Thank you for a wonderful evening, Allison, and the privilege of hearing your story.”

        She laughed suddenly.  “Strange, the way things work.  When I first met you, it was your trying to talk to me, with no expectations, no reservations, that made me give you my real name, told you what I did then.  You made me feel…important.  And that made me want to tell you something I’ve never told another living soul.”

        “We’re all important, Allison,” he told her.  “And don’t think that just because I’ve heard your story, I never want to talk to you again.  You have my number.  You know where we live.  When you want to talk, if you want to just come over and hang out, you know where we are.”

        “And you’ll always be welcome here,” Jessie said with total sincerity.  “Our door is always open for you.”

        “That’s very kind of you,” she said with a smile.  “But I’m not sure I’ll ever accept that offer.”

        “It’s there anyway,” she replied calmly.

        “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.  She shook Kit’s paw, then Jessie’s paw, and then she opened the door.  “Good night, and thank you.”

        “We’ll see you tomorrow,” Kit told her.

        She nodded and walked out.  They watched her go, and Kit put his arm around Jessie, watching from the door as she got into her Lexus, and then drove away.  “What do you think?” he asked her.

        “That’s the most fascinating, and messed up, femme I’ve ever met,” she said with sincere pity.  “If anyone ever desperately needed a friend, it’s her.  She’s totally alone, and she’s shut herself off from everyone.  But it’s like she just shut that part of herself away, and when she retires, she’s going to go looking for it again.  Like it’s her second chance to find herself, without any responsibilities or distractions.”

        “That’s exactly what she’s like.  She gave up a part of herself when she sacrificed her morality to pursue her goal of getting a degree.  And now, she wants to find herself again now that she doesn’t need to hide behind her mask anymore.  That’s why she opened up to us.  She’s starting down the road that will lead her back to herself, and she had to admit what she was to herself instead of hiding from it behind a false front.”

        “Why do we seem to keep coming across femmes like her?” Jessie asked curiously.  “First Sheila, now her.”

        Kit gave her a look, then shook his head soberly.  “They’re nothing alike.  Only on the surface.  Underneath, Allison is nothing like Sheila.”

        “True,” she agreed after a moment’s thought.

 

        Jessie was absolutely right about Kit.  Five minutes after Allison was gone, Kit was in the study, poring over the copious notes he wrote in his laptop.  He spent nearly an hour organizing them, arranging them, and then he started on the outline of the article.

        He decided immediately that to maintain the impact of the article, certain truths had to remain, but he could protect Allison by being intentionally misleading about where and when he met Allison.  He would claim that Allison was merely one of the many furs he met on his six months of working his way across America, meeting her “somewhere between Atlanta and Austin.”  He would tell her story from the past tense, as if it was already over, and that Allison had been retired from prostitution for some time.  He also decided to intentionally change her breed.  Allison would transform into a ferret for the article, though still quite attractive; he knew how to describe a femme ferret to make her sexy.  He could do all of this because of the disclaimer that appeared with all his Through My Eyes articles; that the stories told may not be real, though the furs that told them most certainly were.  That disclaimer gave Kit license to change many relevant facts about Allison to protect her anonymity.

        He decided on a title for it:  Second Chances.

        After he had his planned changes noted in his outline and notes, he began.  He worked almost without interruption, stopping only to go to the bathroom and make himself tea.  Jessie knew better than to bother him or wait up for him, so she went to bed and left him to his work.  He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, telling the story of Allison’s life in simple, almost simplistic terms, focusing on the events, but never forgetting about the femme who experienced those events.  He highlighted Allison’s resolve, her drive, and in a way, the hard choices she made when she abandoned sentimentality for hard practicality, giving particular focus to that fateful moment when she realized that working as a stripper and prostitute was the most economical means of achieving her goal, embracing pragmatism over morality, giving up the dream of love and, while not becoming hard or cold, instead becoming aloof, separating herself from a job she despised, and forced to maintain that illusion to hide that job from the rest of society until it became second nature to her, until she became so wrapped up in protecting herself behind a persona, she lost the real femme inside her for a time…but she also had no regrets.  She had survived, even thrived, and her success made her happy in her own way, filled the void caused by the sacrificing of a child’s dream.  Hers was not a happy story, but it had something of a happy ending in that she had survived her time buried in the dark underside of American society, and had come out of it both emotionally unscarred and financially well off.  She had given up the child’s dream and the hope of love to pursue her goal, but she had gained independence and freedom in return.  To her, that was a fair trade, since now that she was independent and wealthy, she had time to rediscover the child’s dream, and find within her the ability to love.  Hers was an innocence sacrificed, but a hope maintained, for everything she had done was done with the goal of retiring and having the chance to discover the true femme buried for so long within her, to find out who she was, who she really was.

        Gaining a second chance for happiness.

        He realized he finished the article, but it was nine pages long, so he went back and tried to edit it.  He chopped it up and rewrote it, keeping select passages and paragraphs intact, and again he found it running nearly ten pages, which was way too big to be an article.

        All through the night, he worked on it.  He redrafted, and redrafted, and redrafted, edited it down, and still could not get it under seven pages without completely destroying the essence of the article.  Allison’s story was so hard to tell in just a few words.  Few words did it a grave injustice.

        He drafted it again, and making a few painful choices, he cut it down to five pages.  After he got it to five pages, he scrubbed his face and realized that he had to make breakfast for Jessie.  It was almost 7:00am.  He’d been up all night writing, and aside from an achy back, he was not tired in the slightest.  He was too excited, too absorbed in his work to even feel tired.  He rushed into the kitchen and put on some eggs, sausage, and toast for Jessie, made he a pot of tea, and then found her already up, droopy-tailed, heading for the bathroom.  “Breakfast’s on the stove, don’t let it burn,” he said, hurrying back to the den.  He transferred all his work into his laptop, and was on his way to work with just a quick kiss on Jessie’s cheek as she dragged herself into the kitchen.  He was the first one in, so he left the door unlocked and hurried to his office, then transferred all his work into his workstation and went back to work.  He kept rewriting passages and trying to edit, but could not get it under five pages no matter what he did.

        The door opened, and Rick looked inside.  “Son, it’s nearly eleven, and you haven’t even come out to get your tea.  What’s wrong?”

        “I…have a problem,” he said.  “Come in.  Close the door.”

        Rick gave him a curious look, but did what Kit asked.  Kit brought up his original article, the unedited one, which was nine pages long, then brought up the edited five page article.  “Read these.  Then tell me what the hell to do.”

        Rick took Kit’s chair when he vacated it, then he read the article.  His expression never changed for over twenty minutes.  He then read the edited article, and again, his expression never changed.  After nearly forty minutes, he leaned back in the chair, his expression neutral, but his eyes reflective.  He then picked up the phone and dialed a number.  “Dan.  Rick.  My next issue is going to run long, just to warn you.  It looks like it’ll run about forty pages.  I just wanted to give you a head’s up.  Okay.  Later, friend.”  He hung up the phone, and looked at Kit.  “We run the long one,” he said.  “There’s no way you can edit that piece, Kit.  No way.  It’s…wow.”

        “Don’t make plans for it yet,” Kit said.  “I have to get final approval.”

        “From who?”

        He gave Rick a steady look.

        “I see.  When will you know?”

        “This afternoon.  I’m meeting Jessie for a late lunch at three thirty.  I’ll know after it’s over.”

        “Call me the instant you know.”

        “I will.”

        Kit was at John’s Pizza at two, with his laptop.  He sat in a booth and nursed the same glass of tea, exhausted but pleased, just sitting and reading the article over and over, looking for ways to edit it, tweak it, try to do it more justice.  He was so absorbed that he was honestly startled when Allison knocked on the table, making him snap his head up.  She was wearing a baggy tee shirt and a pair of faded jeans, and to his surprise, a pair of silver rim glasses.  “You’re early,” she noted.

        “I am?  I am.  What time is it?”

        “Three fifteen,” she answered.  “Are we eating?”

        “Yeah.  Yeah,” he said, motioning for her to sit opposite him in the booth.  “Here.  Read this,” he said, turning the laptop towards her.  “I’ll order us a pizza.  What kind do you like?”

        “Anything,” she said with a negligent wave of her paw.

        Kit ordered them a large pepperoni pizza, and waited at the counter for it, almost afraid to go back to the booth.  Fortunately, though, he didn’t have to wait long, for John’s kept pizzas all but ready to bake.  Ten minutes later, the pizza was ready, and he carried it back to the booth.  Jessie was there now, quiet, waiting patiently as Allison read from his laptop, her expression sober.  He received a kiss from Jessie on the muzzle as he set the pizza down, and she reached for a slice.  “Have you eaten at all today, my handsome fox?” she asked in a subdued tone.

        “I…I don’t know,” he said, a little wearily.

        “Here.  Eat!” she commanded, pushing the slice at him.

        “I’m not hungry,” he said.  “Not yet, anyway.  I’m too nervous.”

        She gave him a compassionate look, then tore a piece of cheese off the tip and pushed it slowly and gently against his lips.  He nibbled at it, and as if that one taste unleashed a monster inside him, he was suddenly ravenously hungry.  She gave him the piece of pizza, and he attacked it like a man dying of hunger.  She took a piece herself and ate it with her usual speed, but she kept her eyes on Allison.

        After what seemed like an eternity to Kit, Allison finally raised her eyes from the screen of his laptop.  She said nothing, for a long, long time.  Kit felt his heart was about to leap out of his throat, that he was about to throw up the piece of pizza he’d just eaten, and then she gave a single, eloquent nod.

        Then she said something that totally baffled him.  “Why a ferret?” she asked.

        He was dumbstruck.  He tried to find words, which came out as several incoherent rasps, then he laughed helplessly.  “Why not?” he asked.

        “Can he use it?” Jessie asked, wanting to hear her say it for some reason.

        She nodded.  “I’m…touched, Kit.”  She reached down for a piece of pizza, then took a bite out of it.

        “Do you want me to make any changes?” he asked.

        She shook her head while chewing, swallowed, then said “no.  It’s fine just as it is.”

        “Did I do it justice?”

        “I think you did.  But what is my opinion?” she shrugged.  “Here, Jessie.  Your turn,” she said.

        “Good, cause I haven’t seen it yet,” she said, turning the laptop around and scrolling the article back to the top.  Kit and Allison ate in silence, the calm silence of two people content to share a meal and not discuss what was certainly an emotional issue in public.  Jessie sniffled once, and then her eyes misted over as she reached the end, closing the screen of the laptop.  “Kit, that was beautiful,” she whispered.  “Stark, but beautiful.”

        “The story was told,” Allison said simply.  “And now someone will know.”

        “They will indeed, Allison,” Kit assured her.

        Jessie was misty-eyed the rest of the time, as they ate pizza and talked of nothing important at all, as if they were pointedly avoiding the subject of the article.  Allison complained about her stupid students, who were taking introductory chemistry either as degree requirements or because they had this strange idea of what chemistry was, and Jessie told her about her English classes.  Kit told her about his work, and then Allison abruptly cut them off.  “I have to go,” she said.  “I promised them I’d stay until Friday.  I have to go get ready.”

        “This is my cell phone number,” Jessie told her, her eyes grave as she wrote on a napkin.  “I want you to call me every day until you leave there.  I want to make sure you’re okay.”

        Allison looked at her with her eyes a mystery, then took the napkin and nodded silently.  “I don’t get off work until late.”

        “Then wake me up,” Jessie said immediately.  “Knowing you’re okay is going to let me go back to sleep that much happier.”

        “I will.  I promise.”

        “Don’t be a stranger, Allison,” Kit told her.  “You have friends if you want them.”

        She gave both of them a long, emotionless look, then nodded to them, got up, and left without a word.  Kit blew out his breath, and Jessie put her paw on his shoulder.  “Are you alright, my handsome fox?”

        “I’m very, very tired,” he said, digging his phone out and calling Rick.  “But I have more to do.  Rick, it’s Kit.”

        “What’s the word?” he asked.

        “The word is yes.  As is.”

        “Thank God,” he said.  “I don’t think it needs anything, son.  You did a fantastic job.  I’ll just spellcheck it and work it in at nine pages.”

        “I hope it’s worth the extra cost.”

        “Son, between this and Barry’s interview of the Austin election commissioner, yes, it’s worth it,” he said bluntly.  “Go home, son.  When you left here, you couldn’t walk straight.  Go home and get some sleep.  You deserve it.”

        “I can’t yet,” he said.  “I have to come back to the office.  I made a promise, Rick.  I have to wipe all my notes off my workstation.  The article will be all there is.”

        “Alright, but don’t push it.  Come in, clean up, and then go home.”

        “Alright, Rick.  I’m on the way in.”  He disconnected the call, and looked to Jessie.  “Go on home, love.  I’ll be along as soon as I’m done.”

        “Do you want me to do that at home, too?”

        “No, I’ll get it.  I’m going to keep one copy of my notes.  I’ll burn it on a DVD, encrypt it, and hide it somewhere.”

        “Okay.  I’ll be waiting for you at home, my handsome fox.  Please come home soon.”

        “Believe me, I will,” he said with a yawn.  “I am beyond tired.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    21    23

Chapter 22

 

        It had been a great day to fly.

        Jessie had given over gawking out the window to settle in with a book, one of her reading assignments, a cockpit light turned on that was basically a map-reading light for the copilot’s side and her oxygen tube affixed over her nose.  It was 8:42pm by the clock on the dashboard, and the GPS window in the Garmin display showed them at 47 nautical miles south-southwest of Heather Municipal Airport, which was six miles northeast of Cincinnati.  They’d be landing in about twenty minutes, and Kit was about to begin his descent and swing around to the east side of the city to avoid restricted airspace around the city and its main airport.

        They’d left on Friday rather than Saturday, leaving after only three hours at work, which he spent securing a day and time to interview Lamar Smith and do some easy research jobs for both Lilly and Marty.  Kit had arranged to work on Monday to cover his Saturday, and Rick had also given him some flex time off, given he’d worked for nearly 17 straight hours on Allison’s article.  Then again, Rick was in love with that article, and right now Kit could burn down his ranchhouse and rape Martha, and Rick would just tell him he was a naughty boy and don’t do it again.  Everyone else in the office thought it was a great article, too.  Barry had been speechless, it made Lilly and Marty cry, and Savid spent nearly an hour sitting at his desk, tapping his template pen on his temple, lost in contemplation.  Kit still felt that it could be better, but Rick had locked the article in literally as is, and printed it on page four, taking up ten pages once it was reformatted into the template format and the font was dropped down to the magazine’s standard, but not editing out a single word.  Rick had left the entire article just as it was written, printing it contiguously, and just pushing back the other usual features of the magazine to pages further back.  Kit wasn’t the feature article, though; Barry’s outstanding interview with the head of the Texas Election Commission was the lead article, taking up the entirety of page three and one column of page four.

        Kit had a copy of the magazine with him, since it was printed and distributed today, packed in his overnight.  They’d left the apartment at three, telling Lupe to keep an eye on things—Lupe had a key to their apartment and the code to the alarm—and were in the air by 4:45.  Kit had to file a new flight plan because he intended to try the plane out at its maximum service ceiling, but that was not meant to be; there was some kind of snafu going on with the flight plan servers.  It usually only took thirty seconds to get confirmation, but for some reason the system wasn’t working.  Kit abandoned trying after twenty minutes, deciding to fly under VFR, and then it took twenty minutes to get into the air since he’d already done the packing and preflight inspection of the plane before coming to get his flight plan in.  Jessie had spent most of the flight looking down at the ground, or staring at the clouds around them as they flew over most of them, having to ascend through a partial cloud deck when they took off…which was why they got off the ground so quickly.  The cloud cover grounded all the VFR pilots, giving Kit a quick line to the runway.  She got to watch a gorgeous sunset out of the left side of the plane, having to look across Kit, a sunset at 17,500 feet, the sun sliding behind a rippled horizon of gentle hills.  Once the sun went down and she couldn’t see the ground, she started reading.

        The plane was a dream to fly.  The Garmin made navigating ridiculously easy, and the autopilot was both very easy to use and very versatile, allowing the pilot to control virtually all aspects of the flight while the autopilot was engaged.  Kit let the autopilot fly for about an hour, but had kept manual control of the plane for most of the rest of the five hour flight, just so he could get completely used to the unusual stick placement.  On the trip home, the autopilot would be doing a great deal more work.  Kit had flown most of the flight at 17,500 feet, just on the upper edge of VFR airspace, where they had a steady tailwind and clear, cloudless skies both above and below.  They averaged 170 knots relative airspeed to ambient air, what was called TAS airpseed—which translated to about 185 knots true speed relative to the ground, or around 250 miles an hour—with a very efficient fuel mixture thanks to the favorable weather conditions.  They’d land with enough gas in the tanks to go another hour, where he expected to land with only enough gas for another thirty minutes, not counting reserves.  They wouldn’t get that kind of efficiency at lower altitudes, which was why they had gone high enough to require oxygen.  The oxygen breathers themselves weren’t uncomfortable to wear, slim nose tubes much like the portable oxygen tubes worn by people with lung problems, much better than wearing a full mask and much more efficient, and the plane’s superior climate control kept them nice and warm in the frigid air nearly 18,000 feet over northern Kentucky on a late February night.

        “Alright, my pretty kitty, we’re gonna start descending,” he warned.  “When we get under fourteen thousand feet, you can take off your breather.  After that, you need to pack up your books and stow them.  And after that, it’ll be time to pull out the winter coats and boots from the back seat.”

        “Sure thing, love,” she said.  “Should I put my seat belt back on?”

        “Not yet,” he answered.  “But I do want you to have it on when we land.”

        “It doesn’t bother me, love, I just couldn’t slouch down in the seat to read with the belt on,” she said, giving him a smile.  “I’ll be glad to get on the ground, though.”

        “Yeah, I have to pee, too,” Kit laughed.  “I’ve been holding it for the last half hour.  I knew I should have bought a portable urinal, but it’s been a crazy week, and we got a late start because of that damn flight plan server.  I don’t want your folks to be up all night waiting for us.  They certainly sell them out of the little store there at the Georgetown airfield, and the shop at Heather should have them too.  I’ve never seen a terminal shop that doesn’t.  I’ll have to get one before we fly home.”

        “Well, you’re a boy,” she said, almost accusingly.  “You could do something like that.  Girls don’t have that option,” she said primly.

        “Well, you do, actually,” he said.  “They sell female urinals too.”

        “They do?  How would a girl, umm, you know.”

        “You’d hold it in place, I imagine,” he shrugged.  “They’re specifically designed so you can use them sitting in a seat.  They come with this flared and shaped opening, so I guess you could just hold it tight up against yourself and prevent any leaking.  They also sell bedpan-style ones that you can actually sit on, which seal so nothing leaks out.  You could put it on the back seat and sit down if you don’t like the idea of holding a urinal to yourself.”

        “That’s a creepy thought,” Jessie mused.  “And kinda embarrassing.”

        “Well, it’s an option.  And think, love, there’s nobody up here to see anything except me,” he chuckled as he turned the plane and started descending, following the Garmin’s suggested course correction.  “You can just drop your jeans and have a seat, or hold the urinal in place.  It’s not like you’ve never done it with me in the bathroom before.”  He clicked his teeth absently.  “I’ll have to find one for our return trip.  Trying to hold your knees together isn’t good when you have to put your feet on the rudder pedals.  I should have thought to get one before we started up, but we were in such a hurry, I forgot it.”

        “That or a soda bottle,” she winked.

        He chuckled.  “That would work for me.  It would be a bit of a challenge for you.”

        They were on the ground about fifteen minutes later, and the ground controller directed him to an open space he could rent for the weekend.  Jessie was out of the plane as soon as the propeller stopped, not even putting on her winter boots and running with her coat in her paw, running for the terminal.  He followed her and saw the terminal clerk to pay for three days of parking and a recharge of the oxygen tanks on the plane, whose desk was right inside the lobby of the small terminal, so visiting pilots could not possibly miss it.  “Your shop still open?” he asked the badger.

        “Yeah, closes in twenty minutes.”

        “Good.  I didn’t have time to buy a urinal for the plane,” he grunted.  “We had a late start, and we just got our plane a few days ago.  This was our first long distance trip in it.”

        “Well, congratulations,” the badger said with a smile.  “Ah, so, that would explain why that cat ran through here,” he laughed.  “She with you?”

        “My wife,” he nodded.  “I’ll be following her as soon as I pay for parking,” Kit confided, which garnered another chuckle out of the badger.

        While Jessie called her parents, Kit used the bathroom, and got to their shop before it closed.  It was filled with everything a pilot might want in or for a plane, from sunglasses to clip-on map holders to little hand-held electronic maps to portable DVD players to decals to Game Boy and Playstation Portable games to magazines to puzzle books to clip-on battery powered book lights to 12 volt outlet adapters to run small devices and such.  They did have portable urinals, as he knew they would.  Jessie came in with him, and blushed a little when he pointed out the urinals, since the clerk in the store was a male.

        Kit spent nearly two hundred dollars in that shop, but it was money well spent.  They bought two hybrid male/female portable urinals that Jessie didn’t think would be too embarrassing to use, two power adapters for their laptops; airplanes were just like cars, they had 12 volt DC power outlets in the cockpit to run external devices.  He was a bit surprised that they had power adapters for a Sabletech at first, but then he thought about it and realized that most people who could afford to fly their own planes could afford a laptop like a Sabletech.  He bought a nice pocket pilot’s atlas so he’d always have a map and it wouldn’t add much weight to the plane, and even bought a copy of the FAA flight plan program to install on his laptops so he could file flight plans from his laptop.

        Jessie gave him a curious look when they came out of the gift shop carrying two huge bags.  “I realized we don’t have power adapters for our laptops that’ll work in the plane,” he explained.

        “I never said a word, love,” she chuckled.  “I’m the one that went out and bought that camera when we were poor.  And they are kinda necessary.  The battery in my laptop won’t last five hours.”  Her phone rang, and she dug her Blackberry out and answered it.  “Mom, what’s wrong?” she asked, and listened for a moment.  “Do you want us to take a cab instead?”  She giggled.  “Oh, okay.  Just go to the terminal building when you get here and call, we’re going back to the plane.  Kit has to tie the plane down, and hee bought some toys for it and we have to put them in the plane, so we may still be there when you get here.  You know how boys are with their toys,” she giggled.  She put her Blackberry back in her purse.  “They’re going to be a few minutes late, there was an accident down on Wilkerson and they’re waiting for the cops to let them through.”

        “I hope everyone’s okay,” he said as they walked back to the plane under the bright lights of the tarmac.

        They returned to the plane to stow their purchases and get the luggage.  He gave Jessie a sly smile and set the urinal down by the center console, which made her cheeks ruffle and made her laugh.  “You are so not watching me use that!” she teased.

        “Let’s just say that I’m glad the plane has autopilot,” Kit told her, which made her laugh helplessly.

        To their surprise, Jessie’s family didn’t wait at the terminal when they arrived.  They instead drove right up to the plane from the back side, along the car path, and got out.  Jessie ran over and gave her parents a big hug, and Kit climbed down and embraced Hannah warmly.  “Hello, Hannah.  We’re here,” he chuckled.

        “It’s good to see you, dear,” she returned.  “And I’m glad you got here safely.”

        “Thanks for coming to pick us up.  We really appreciate it.”

        “Well, I have to make good use of the van your sister gave us for Christmas,” she said with a light laugh.

        Kit shook John and Ben’s paw in quick succession as Hannah started animatedly talking to Jessie about her pregnancy.  “So, this is the plane,” John chuckled.  “Care to show us the inside?”

        “You’re going to fly in it tomorrow,” Kit said with a smile.  “But sure.  Step right there, and get up on the wing, but stay within the line you see right there.  That’s the safe zone where the wing can support you,” he cautioned.  John and Ben were going to just look inside, but Kit had them climb into the front seats, and Kit pointed things out from the outside, showing them the control surfaces, and letting Ben push the rudder pedals.  “You won’t do anything, the plane’s turned off,” he said with a chuckle.  “The plane is fly by wire, the controls don’t work with it shut down like this.”

        “Ah, good, I was afraid I would accidentally deploy flaps or make the plane lurch or something,” Ben chuckled.  “But it’s really cool.”

        “Very, very nice.  Almost like the inside of a car,” John noted.

        “Just about.  Now get out and help me with the luggage,” Kit said with a grin.

        “Isn’t it neat?” Jessie called from the ground.  “Kit’s going to teach me how to fly it!”

        “She wants a pilot’s license,” Kit elaborated to her father and brother.  “She’s already addicted,” he winked.

        “Ya know, it’s not a bad idea,” Ben said speculatively.  “If I make it in the NFL, I could afford to buy a plane, and it would be kinda nice to be able to fly down and see the folks whenever I want.”

        “How long did it take to fly here?”

        “About seven hours total, if you count it from the minute we left the apartment, since the airfield where I keep the plane is thirty miles from my house.  The actual time in the air was a smidgen over five hours.”

        “That’s not bad at all,” John said with a nod.  “When you compare it to about sixteen hours by car, and the five or so hours it would take by airliner given you can never get a nonstop flight, that’s really nice.  How much is gas for planes?”

        “About five a gallon right now,” Kit said as he helped John back to the ground.  “Ben, can you close that side?  Just pull it down, I’ll come around and lock it before we go.”

        “Sure thing, Kit.”

        “Anyway, I don’t really have to pay for the gas, Vil does.  So all it cost us was time.”

        “And two hundred dollars in the terminal shop,” Jessie added.

        “Yeah, but we need everything I bought,” he challenged.  “Or would you like to spend another hour flying back waiting to go to the bathroom?”

        Jessie’s cheeks ruffled, then she laughed helplessly.

        “What does that mean, Kit?” Hannah asked.

        Kit climbed back up onto the wing, and as Jessie protested, he reached in and pulled out the urinal and showed it to them in the floodlights of the tarmac.  John and Ben laughed, and Hannah’s fur seemed to want to stand up for a second.  “We were in too much of a hurry for me to buy one when we started out, but this little eight dollar piece of plastic is one of the most important things you can ever have in a plane when flying cross country.  It prevents all kinds of unscheduled stops.”

        “Not much privacy in there,” Ben noted with a chuckle.

        “Well, then it’s a good thing we’re married,” Kit replied urbanely.

        The Williams males helped him finish tying the plane down, then they transferred the suitcase and two carryons to the van in the brisk February night, and then they were all in the van as Hannah drove them out of the airport.  “Any trouble finding this place, Hannah?”

        “No, dear, I’ve been past here many times,” she said.

        “Don’t let him drive your van, eh?” Kit noted.

        She glanced back at him through the rearview mirror.  “He has his SUV, I have my van,” she said calmly, which made both Kit and John chuckle.

        “How’s the Mustang, Ben?”

        “Heavenly,” Ben said from the back row.  “Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever driven it faster than sixty miles an hour.  All my friends accuse me of being an old femme,” he said, which made everyone laugh. “Miss Vil asked me to be careful with it, and I’ll do just that.”

        “I’m glad I have at least one responsible child,” Hannah noted.

        Jessie bristled.  “Hey!”

        “Jenny isn’t nearly so careful,” John said sourly.  “She’s had it all of three months or so, and she already has two speeding tickets.”

        “Why does that not surprise me,” Kit chuckled lightly.

        “I’ve visited the apartments your sister arranged for them, Kit,” Hannah told him.  “They’re very nice.”

        “Heck, are they,” Ben said in agreement.  “I went with her to check out mine.  It’s huge!  It’s got really nice furniture in it, and it has everything but a TV and a stereo as far as appliances go.  It even has its own little washer and dryer, no laundramats for us,” he said happily.  “It’s in a fenced compound, I have an assigned parking space inside the fence so my car is safe, and there’s a pool and a gym in the complex.  It’s only a mile from campus, and it’s a straight shot.  You turn right coming out of the complex and the street goes straight to the east side of campus.  I can easily walk it, cause I’ve heard trying to park around campus is absolute murder.”

        “Jenny bought a bicyle,” Hannah told them.  “It must be cold to ride in the winter, but she uses it to get to campus when it’s not raining.  “She also bought this ridiculously large TV and stereo system for her apartment,” she said disapprovingly.  “It cost her nearly three thousand dollars!”

        “Sounds like she’s trying to burn up all the money Vil gave her at Christmas,” Kit said with a grunt.

        “At the rate she’s going, she will,” Hannah said with a little heat in her voice.  “I mean, Vil bought her that DVD combo player and that very nice portable stereo and that Playstation with all those games and that portable TV, but that does not mean she has to go out and buy a three thousand dollar home theater system to use them on,” she complained.  “She could have bought an entirely decent thirty two inch widescreen television for five hundred dollars, and a very nice component audio system for three hundred.  That little girl needs to have me pull sharply on her reins.  She‘s being entirely wasteful and disrespectful of the wonderful gifts that Vil gave her.”

        “Let her learn from it, Hannah,” Kit said calmly.  “When she uses up all that money Vil gave her, when she calls home begging for money, snub her.  Let her learn that if she can’t manage her money, then there will be times when she’s going to starve.”

        Hannah nodded sharply.  “I can agree with that advice, dear,” she told him.

        “Well, you won’t see me doing that,” Ben said.  “I haven’t used a penny of the money Vil gave me yet.”

        “Well, you’ll need to buy a TV and stereo and a few other things, son,” John told him.  “And you will need to eat and buy gas when you’re at school, and there are also expenses like books and such.  And for that, Vil’s money will be very useful.  But you don’t have to follow Jenny’s example.  If you manage that money wisely, you’ll easily get all the way through the year.”

        “I hear ya, Dad,” Ben nodded.  “Since I’m not paying rent or utilities or car payments or insurance, if I can’t live off ten thousand dollars a year, I should be shot.”

        “Well said, Ben,” Kit said with a sober nod.

        The Williams house was a warm place which Kit rather liked.  It hadn’t changed a bit outside of a little table that had been in the basement now standing in the place where the Christmas tree had stood when Kit was there last.  Kit and Ben carried the suitcase and carryon bags up to Jessie’s old room while Hannah made some coffee and put water on for tea, and put some leftover roast beef in the microwave.  “I know you must be hungry,” she told Kit when he came back down.

        “A little, thank you,” he said.  “Are we going to have our long talk tonight or tomorrow?”

        She gave him a look, then laughed.  “Well, I think we can save that for tomorrow,” she told him.  “There are a great many things for us to talk about, and they aren’t joking matters.”

        “I know they’re not, Hannah, and I’ll welcome your advice.  This is unexplored territory for both of us.  I don’t know how Jessie will take it, but I’ll take any advice you and John can give me.”

        “I’m very glad you feel that way.”

        “This is my wife and child we’re talking about.  You better believe I’m serious about this.”

        She gave him an approving pat on the arm as she took some green beans in a glass bowl out of the refrigerator.  “Would you like some potato salad too?”

        “Please,” he said as John wandered into the kitchen at the smell of coffee emanating from the coffee maker.

        “Mmm, thanks dear,” he said as he pulled his mug out of the strainer in the sink and standing near the coffee maker, waiting.  “So, you’re taking us flying tomorrow?”

        Kit nodded.  “I can only take three of you at a time, though.  So we can do two trips.”

        “I think Jessica can wait for us in the terminal, or here at home,” Hannah said sharply.  “After all, she gets to ride in the plane whenever she wants.”

        Kit chuckled.  “Good luck convincing her,” Kit told her.  “She really likes that plane.”

        “You’re right I do,” Jessie giggled as she came into the kitchen.  “It’s a little scary right at first, then it’s just awesome!”  The water started to boil for tea, so Kit took down two cups while Jessie fetched the tea from the pantry.

        “Well, I think you can sit out a ride, dear, so Kit doesn’t have to take two trips.”

        “I don’t mind, Hannah,” Kit assured her.  “Heck, I could fly to Columbus and pick up Jenny.  I could take two with me on the way to get her, and two with me on the way back.”

        Hannah’s eyes lit up.  “Can you really do that?” she asked quickly.

        “It’s about an hour to Columbus from here,” he shrugged.  “I could leave tomorrow morning and get her, and take her back the next day.  I could take Ben and John tomorrow to pick her up, and you and Jessie when I take her back.”

        “John,” she prompted.

        “I’ll call her right now,” John chuckled, pouring himself a cup of coffee and scurrying towards the living room.

        “Heck, from now on, we can fly from Austin to Columbus first to pick her up, then drop her off on the way home,” Kit added.

        “That’s very thoughtful of you, dear,” Hannah said with a nod.  “I’m starting to understand you when you said that Kit’s plane could be very useful, Jessica,” she added to her daughter.

        “Yeah, it’s really awesome.  It just opens up so many possibilities,” Jessie agreed.

        “I’ll need to get back to the airport early tomorrow,” he said.  “The earlier I go get Jenny, the more time we have together.”

        John came back into the kitchen, holding the phone to his face.  “Kit, which airport does Jenny go to?”

        “I won’t know until tomorrow, when I get to the airport and look up Columbus,” he answered.  “We can call Jenny after we know so she can meet us there.”

        John relayed that, then asked another question.  “She wants to know if she can park her car at the airport overnight.”

        “Sure.  She might have to pay for it, but I’ve never heard of an airport or airfield that didn’t have extended parking.”

        John relayed that, then hung up after a minute, and after telling Jenny to go buy a road atlas of Columbus, so she could find the airport.  “She sounded excited at the idea of it,” John said.  “And Kit, thank you very much for this.  You certainly don’t have to go so far out of your way for our benefit.”

        “John, you’re family,” he said simply.  “I’ll be happy to do this for you.  Heck, I like Jenny, I won’t mind at all,” he chuckled.

        Hannah’s cooking was as good as he remembered.  The whole family sat at the table with Kit and Jessie as they ate the offered leftovers, chatting over little things.  Jessie did tell Hannah about Kit’s article and Allison, so Kit pulled out the magazine so they could read the article.  To Kit‘s delight, Jessie made sure to refer to her as Foxy to maintain Allison‘s anonymity.  “She doesn’t work in that place anymore,” Jessie said.  “Well, not after tonight, that is.  She’s supposed to call me when she’s done, so I know she’s alright.”

        “You associate with this femme, Jessica?” Hannah said, a bit coldly.

        “God knows she needs someone to be her friend, mom,” Jessie replied.  “She may not be an angel, but she’s a nice girl, and I’m worried about her.”

        “I don’t see how a tramp can be nice,” Hannah said frostily.

        “She’s not a tramp, Hannah, she’s a realist,” Kit said simply.  “She saw that the only real way she could get her degree was to do work she found repugnant.  She made a very logical decision and swallowed her repulsion to do it.  That’s the story of quite a few prostitutes, you know.  I’ve never known a prostitute that liked doing it.  They did it because they had to.  Foxy may have had other choices, but none of them would have let her do what she wanted.  So she made a practical decision.”

        “And just how many prostitutes do you know, Kit?” Hannah challenged.

        “Quite a few,” he said honestly.  “I met a bunch of them in homeless shelters as I was working my way towards Austin.  I have a bunch of stories they told me in my journals about what it’s like, people they’ve met, so on and so on.  But none of them had a story anywhere near as interesting and unique as Foxy’s.”

        “Well, I don’t approve,” Hannah announced.

        “I’m sure she doesn’t entirely approve of her old life either, Hannah, else she‘d have kept doing it after she graduated from college, or just dropped out of college to focus only on that.  But she did it.  She did it because she couldn’t see any other way to achieve her goal.  You can hate what she did, but you can also respect her determination to achieve her goal.”

        “Not at that price, I won’t,” Hannah said bluntly, crossing her arms beneath her breasts and putting on an affronted expression.

        “Just read the article, Mom, then you’ll understand what Kit’s saying,” Jessie urged.

        “Well, I’ll read it,” she said.  “But I doubt that it will change my mind.”

        “I think I’d like to meet her,” Ben mused.

        “You will not!” Hannah snapped.  “It’s bad enough that Kit’s cousin is chasing after you!  I won’t have another tramp trying to grab your tail, Ben!”

        “Still?”

        “She calls me at least twice a week,” Ben said dismissively.  “She wants to fly me down to Mexico during spring break, but Mom won’t let me go.”

        “She’s not the only one,” John said mildly.

        “Well, at least she’s not giving up,” Kit chuckled.  “The new Sheila is quite a bit more tenacious than the old one.”

        “We didn’t tell you, she’s staying in Austin for good,” Jessie added.  “She’s going to get a degree in cooking at U.T. and open a restaurant after she graduates.  So she’s down with us to stay.”

        “She left Harvard for U.T.?” John asked in surprise.

        “Not entirely,” Kit said, a bit delicately.  “She’s going to do her business degree requirements at Harvard by correspondence and internet classes while she takes culinary arts classes at U.T.  Her plan is to get two Bachelor’s, one at each school.  Her plan is actually pretty good,” he said approvingly.  “She really put a lot of thought into it.”

        “I don’t mind, I really like Sheila,” Jessie said.  “She’s wild, but she’s also very sweet and thoughtful. She’s been a good friend.”

        “Hmph,” Hannah sniffed.

 

        Jessie’s old bed still didn’t agree with him, so he was quite stiff when he woke up at six to go to the bathroom, and decided to just stay up since he’d need to get up in about a half an hour anyway.  Hannah was still asleep--the first time he’d ever woke up before her--so he invaded her kitchen and started cooking breakfast, using Hannah’s well stocked refrigerator and pantry to start quiche.  He had all the vegetables cut and the bacon and sausage cooked by the time Hannah appeared, wearing a full length terrycloth bathrobe, hurrying down to find out what was going on in her kitchen.  “Morning,” he said pleasantly as he swept a cutting board of onions into a bowl.  “Want to help?”

        “I’ve told you about this kitchen, young male,” she told him, her face stern.

        “You’ve cooked for me so many times, Hannah, let me do something for you, at least once,” he smiled.

        “What are you making?”

        “Quiche,” he answered.  “I have everything cut up and the meats cooked, now I just need to mix up the egg filler, sautee the veggies, and pop it into the oven.”

        “Well, let’s see how you’re doing this,” she said professionally.

        Hannah quickly took over his attempt to cook, relegating him to a purely helping position, but she did follow his recipe instead of trying to finish it using her own.  Between the two of them they had the quiche in the oven and merrily baking in short order.  Hannah went on to make coffee while Kit reheated the teapot, for he knew Jessie wouldn’t be asleep much longer.  Kit cut grapefruits into halves to go with the quiche as Ben and Jessie appeared at the same time, Ben in a pair of shorts and a tank top and Jessie in a long nightshirt and pajama bottoms, which she only put on to come downstairs.  Jessie slept nude, even here at her parents’ house.  “That smells great, what is it?” Ben asked.

        “Quiche,”  Kit answered as he poured water into a cup for Jessie’s tea.

        “It’s Kit and Jessica’s recipe,” Hannah said, almost disapprovingly.

        “Well, it smells good,” Ben said.  “When are we leaving, Kit?”

        “After we eat, so go wake up John if you don’t mind.”

        “He’s already up.  He should be down in a second.”

        They all dressed while the quiche was baking, and then Hannah got a little offended when John and Ben complemented her on such a good breakfast.  But, after they were done, Kit herded Ben and John into Hannah’s van, and John took them back to the airport.  “This is gonna be soooo cool,” Ben said expectantly as they pulled into the airport.

        “Where do I park, Kit?”

        “You can park behind my plane, same as last night.  That parking space comes with the airplane spot, so you don’t have to pay anything.”

        “Okay.”

        It was rather chilly as they piled out of the van and walked over to the terminal.  John chatted excitedly with the terminal clerk while Kit used their computer to look into the flight.  Columbus wasn’t far, only about 120 miles, or about 100 nautical miles, so there was no earthly reason to go over 18,000 feet and require a flight plan.  He’d fly on VFR.  They could be there in 35 minutes…and that was with him piddling along.  He could be there in 20 minutes if he opened the throttle to max and hauled ass over there in an arc that let him gun it through thinner air.

        “So, how does this work, anyway?” Ben asked.

        Kit chuckled, and gave Ben a brief explanation of the computer.  “I’d use it to file a flight plan if I was going to fly over eighteen thousand feet, but I’m not going to do that.  Columbus is only 95 nautical miles out, that’s like a hop, skip, and a jump from here.  There’s no reason to go over eighteen thousand for such a short trip.  Besides, you’ll get to see more if I fly low.  John!” he called.

        John scurried over.  “Yes?”

        “Call Jenny, I know where I’m landing,” he said, clicking up a map of Columbus on the computer and pointing.  “Here.  Bolton Field Airport.  It’s not that far from Ohio State’s campus, and I won’t have to go through all the procedural crap I would if I landed at the international airport.  Hold on, they link to Mapquest, we can get driving directions for her.”

        John called his daughter, and then read off the instructions to her when Kit brought them up on the monitor.  “How long til we get there?” he asked.

        “Tell her it’ll be about an hour,” he answered.  “I have to gas up the plane before we leave.  Oh, and tell her that the terminal employee can tell her when we land, so she can wait in the terminal and we‘ll come get her there.”

        They went back to the plane, and after Kit unlocked it, Ben and John had a bit of a row over who got to sit up front as they removed the tie downs.  Kit listened to them jostle for position, then chuckled and broke it up.  “You can switch in Columbus.  Jenny can ride up front when I take her home, and Hannah can ride up front on the way back.  Jessie can stay in the back seat, she gets to fly home,” he told them.

        They both laughed.  “I’ll flip you for it,” Ben offered.  “I sure as heck don’t want to be back there when Jenny’s in the plane.”

        They did indeed flip for it, and Ben won the toss.  That put John up front on the flight over.  They loaded themselves into the plane, and Kit turned on the electric heater for them so the plane could warm up as he stayed out in the cold and did the preflight walk around inspection.  After that was complete, he climbed into the plane and performed the preflight checklist, which included starting the engine.  “So, we’re on the way?” Ben asked as Kit released the parking brake.

        “Not quite yet.  I told you, I need gas first, and that means we head to the pump,” he answered.  “This isn’t an airliner, Ben, us private pilots pump our own gas in airports where they don’t offer a truck fueler or I get it at a service hangar, and I’m not.  I’d rather just get it myself.  I don’t want to wait around for the fueler or attendant, not since they have a self-serve station right over there.”

        “I didn’t know that,” he mused.

        Kit followed the signs to the fueling station, and had to wait as a little Piper gassed up.  After it was done, the pilot waved to him before he climbed into his little two-seater, then Kit replaced him at the fueling pump.  “So, how do you pay for it?” John asked curiously.  “I don’t see an attendant.”

        “It’s a credit card pump, John, just like at a regular gas station,” Kit said, pulling out his wallet and removing his Transport card.  “But it’s a lot more expensive.”

        “How much will it cost?”

        “Well, I’m about to put about sixty gallons in this thing, and it’s, um, four sixty a gallon,” he said, looking at the pump before he opened his gullwing door.

        “Ouch!” Ben said.  “That’s like three hundred bucks!”

        “About that,” Kit agreed.  “Flying isn’t a cheap hobby, Ben,” Kit chuckled as he climbed out.

        “Actually, if you compare it to driving, it’s really not that much more expensive,” John said after a second’s contemplation.

        He gassed up the plane in the cold morning, as the sun peeked through some wispy clouds near the horizon.  It takes a little bit of time to pump seventy gallons of fuel, so Ben and John had to wait inside for a bit.  Kit finished up and took his receipt, closed the fuel tank cap and door, then climbed back into the plane.  “Now we’re ready to go,” he told them as he restarted the engine, then disengaged the parking brake.  “We’ll be in the air about half an hour or so, guys, so if you need anything, say so now.”

        “I think we’ll be alright,”’ John said, reaching down and picking up the urinal.  “After all, we have this,” he chuckled.

        Kit had them in the air about ten minutes after fueling up.  Both of his passengers were reverently silent as they took off, Ben gaping down at the ground as John looked out the front windscreen, wincing against the sun.  “I should have brought sunglasses,” he complained.

        “Jessie left hers in her nook,” Kit said.  “They may make you look a bit silly, but it’s better than your eyes watering for the rest of the flight.”

        “Where is that?”

        “Reach down the side of the center console, there’s a little nook down there,” he prompted.

        He reached down and produced Jessie’s sunglasses, then put them on and sighed in relief.  “Much better,” he noted.  “Okay, explain this dashboard while we’re flying.”

        Kit chuckled, and spent much of the flight explaining the flight instruments and how he navigated using the Garmin and GPS.  He explained the MFD, which showed them where they were, showed them the locations of other planes on the map which were his responsibility to avoid, and pointed to Bolton Field in the top right corner of the MFD map.  “We’ll be there in about five minutes.  I guess you could call Jenny and tell her we’re almost there.”

        “You can use cell phones in planes?”

        “Sure, it won’t mess with my avionics, and we’re low enough for you to get a signal,” Kit assured him.

        “How high up are we?” Ben asked.

        “Four thousand and thirty seven feet,” he said, pointing at his altimeter.  “Let me radio Bolton Field and get landing instructions, they have a tower there.”

        “You make it sound like not all of them do.”

        “Nope,” he said.  “Most airfields don’t have towers.  That’s one of the main differences between an air field and an air port.  Some airfields have control towers, most don’t, it depends on how much traffic the airfield has.  But all airports have a tower, no matter how large or small they are.”

        “Wow, there’s a lot more to this than I thought,” Ben said musingly.

        “You should see the written test you have to take to get your license,” Kit chuckled.  “And that’s just the beginning.  If you want to get rated for flying only by instruments, you have to know a heck of a lot more.  And you have to know a heck of a lot more than that if you want a commercial pilot’s license.  And it only gets worse as you go up.  The test for an air transport license, the airline pilot‘s license, is an absolute beast.”

        “What kind of license do you have, Kit?” John asked curiously.

        “A commercial license,” he answered.   “I got it because if you apply to military flight school and you already have a commercial license or better, they give your application much more weight.  So, I went to a flight school that did commercial pilot training, called a one forty-one school.  If you ever want a license, Ben, I highly recommend you do a one forty-one.  The requirements to get a commercial license are much less stringent if you do it in a one forty-one program, since you’re being specifically trained for it.  If you get a standard license first and then try to upgrade, it’s a headache.”

        “I’ll remember that,” Ben said, “cause I guess I’m like Jessie.  Seeing this plane and how you just flew up here for the weekend, it seems awfully convenient.”

        “It is at that,” Kit chuckled.  “Now excuse me while I do the pilot thing and radio in.”

          He set the radio so they heard it on their headsets as well so they could hear the tower, and they listened in interest as Kit got landing instructions.  Kit landed behind a Citation jet, which was taxiing back towards them on the ramp as they landed, heading for a small hangar near the terminal.  Kit was directed to a short-term parking area near the terminal, for he told the ground controller he was just staying long enough to pick up a passenger, and John called Jenny and told them that they were on the ground.  “She’s in the terminal waiting, and she says she’s already got a parking place.”

        “I told you they’d have them.  It probably cost her about ten bucks.”

        John told Jenny that, then he laughed. “She said you’re way off, it cost her twenty.”

        “Then this airport’s a ripoff,” Kit noted.  “God help me if I wanted to park my plane overnight, if they charge that much just for a car.”

        Kit parked, and they didn’t have to go in after her.  She must have been waiting at the doors, watching planes, for she ran out carrying a small carryon as soon as Kit and John appeared behind the opened doors.  John climbed down and hugged her when she reached them, and she came around and gave Kit a crushing hug.  “Hey, you!  This is gonna rock!” she said happily.  “I’ve never been picked up in a private plane before!  Oh, and congratulations!”

        “Thanks.  I hope you like it,” he said as Ben climbed over the center console and got into the copilot’s seat.  “Now let’s get you in, you’re in the back.”

        “Aww!  I wanna sit up front!”

        “We already drew up a schedule,” John told her with a chuckle as he went around the plane.

        “You get to sit up front on the way back to Columbus tomorrow,” he promised her.

        “Oh, okay!  I can live with that,” she said.  “Where do I put my bag?”

        “There’s a compartment behind the back seat, or I can put it in the trunk.  Your call.”

        “I’ll keep it, I wanna take some pictures!”

        “I should have thought of that!” John said, slapping his forehead as he climbed up onto the wing, preparing to get back in the plane.

        “No sweat, Dad, I’ll sell you a few of mine,” Jenny winked as Kit helped her up.

        Jenny was almost annoying excited as everyone got in, Jenny took off her coat in the warm cockpit, and everyone buckled up.  Kit got in line to take off as he tried to cope with about a thousand questions spewing out of Jenny’s mouth, thrown out at blazing speed as she snapped pictures of everything; the cockpit, her father beside her, the tarmac, the taxiway, everything.  She gave an excited yell as Kit, who was idling at the end of the runway waiting for clearance, throttled up.  She screamed and laughed when the plane lifted off, then took pictures out her window at the ground below as Kit did a slow banking turn to point them back to Cincinnati, which dipped the wing on his and Jenny’s side of the plane.  “Are we going up really high?  Can I still see everything?  How long will it take to get there?  What happens if the engine quits?” she rattled at high speed.

        “I’m getting a muzzle for you when we fly back,” Kit told her, which made her laugh.

        “Can we fly over the campus?  I’d love a picture of it from above.”

        “Afraid I can’t, the campus is back there,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, towards her.  “And I’m not turning around.  Besides, it’s restricted airpsace, I’d have to be so high over it that your picture wouldn’t really show anything.”

        “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

        “There’s a ceiling over most big cities we can’t go under except when we‘re in set flight lanes,” Kit told her.  “Not since nine-eleven.  If their radar caught me flying too low over a city, they might think I was going to try to crash into a building or something, and I‘d get in big trouble.   They have me on radar and the transponder in the plane tells them exactly who I am, so they’d bust me when I landed.”

        “How high is it?”

        “Depends on the city, but most of them are two thousand feet, which is too high to get the kind of picture you want,” he answered.  “Some really big cities don’t allow private planes over them at all, like Washington D.C., but other big cities will let private planes fly over, as long as we stay high enough.”

        “Cool,” Jenny said energetically, accidentally kicking the back of his seat.  “Can you do a loop the loop?” she asked with a giggle.

        “I’m not sure everything’s stowed for a move like that, I don’t feel like getting whacked in the head by your carryon.  But, if you just want a ride, well,” he said, looking to make sure everyone still had their seat belt on, then he jacked the stick hard to the left.  The plane rolled, rolled hard, well past vertical, turning the plane upside down.  Ben grabbed the dash and John cried out in alarm, but Jenny was laughing.  He ran inverted for nearly ten seconds, then turned the plane back over, which caused John to give a startled cry, but made Jenny give an excited whoop.

        “Yes, this plane can do a loop, by the way,” he said lightly.  “It’s rated for 4 Gs, that lets it do a few stunts.  But I’m also not going to give myself a concussion or plow my plane into the deck just to amuse you, Jenny.”

        “Warn an old male next time!” John complained, which made everyone else explode into laughter.

        They got back to Columbus at a fairly decent clip, and landed and taxied back to the same parking space.  Jenny was too excited to sit still as they drove back, and then ran into the house.  “Such a spazz,” Ben sighed as they got out behind her, which made Kit laugh.

        With Jenny there, it was like a little family reunion.  Jenny gushed over Jessie’s pregnancy for several minutes, then settled down some.  Kit and Jessie showed them pictures of their honeymoon, and Jenny showed them pictures of her apartment, proudly pointing out her “awesome TV and theater.”  John and Hannah took her to task for wasting so much money, and Hannah threatened her quite effectively by making it clear that between the debit card Vil got her and the campus card she got from her parents for Christmas, she would not receive any more money from them.  She had to survive on her own on the money she had.  That made Jenny quite flabbergasted at first, then she turned sulky, despite the fact that she said she still had nearly six thousand dollars to last her until next September.  “Vil said we could enjoy her gift!” she protested.

        “Enjoying it is fine, but you are wasting it.  You could have bought a much cheaper TV and stereo and still had quite good ones, but instead you go out and buy something entirely too expensive,” Hannah told her frostily.  “Are you determined to show your sister-in-law how much like her family you can be?”

        That brought Jenny up short.  She turned to Kit for support, but was snubbed just as flatly as Hannah had.  “Don’t look at me, I think you’re being a touch ridiculous,” Kit told her.  “Your mother is totally right.  Enjoying money doesn’t mean going nuts with it.”

        “So says the guy with his own plane,” she pouted, then she stalked off.

        “She’ll get over it,” Jessie giggled.  “She always does.”

        Ben went to work out, and Jenny went to see some old high school friends to give them a little space, and Kit and Jessie sat down with John and Hannah and had that serious talk, that lasted over three hours.  They were very frank, explaining that they were very worried about the pregancy because the two of them were young, Jessie was still in school, and Hannah was still not convinced that their marriage would last.  Kit and Jessie had to talk quite a while, assuring them over and over that they were okay, their marriage was still strong, and they were taking the pregnancy very seriously.  Jessie told them about her visit to the obstetrician, and how Kit was both making her do everything the obstetrician said, and also making her go to school.  Both of them stressed heavily that Jessie’s education was still a priority, and while she would lose a semester when she delivered and their baby was newborn, she would finish her degree.  After she got her Bachelor’s, then Jessie’s future was much more ambiguous.  John spoke of seeing her go on to get her Master’s a teach, or even get her Doctorate and be a professor like him, while Hannah favored her settling down to be a housewife, devoting herself to her baby as Hannah had done with her own children…but still absolutely adamant that Jessie get her Bachelor’s, so she would always have it and the doors that it would open for her if she ever had to work.  “The baby’s just a delay, not a derail,” she said for the tenth time.  “Not that I’m not overjoyed to be pregnant,” she said with a giggle, “but I do still want to teach.  I can do both, I know I can.  Femmes do it all the time!”

        “I’m torn about that idea,” Hannah said honestly.  “I would like to see you devote yourself to the baby, but I know that’s just impossible nowadays.  But, I’ve seen you work so hard and come so far, to see you abandon it now, so close to earning your degree,” she said, then trailed off and sighed.

        “Don’t ever think I’d never think my child doesn’t come first, Mom,” Jessie said, with a little heat.  “But I can be a good mommy and still go to school, and then to work.  We’ve already discussed how we’re going to handle it.  Kit can take care of the baby when I’m at class, because I’m going to arrange to take afternoon and night classes after I deliver.  We may not see much of each other for a semester, but I’ll graduate by then.  I’m going to take some time off after I graduate to care for the baby, then start my Master’s program.”

        “I’m already supporting both of us, so I’m not too worried about money,” Kit continued.  “Jessie can still work on School Daze for money, that’s not very hard, and that’s at-home work.  But, it’s her decision about all of that,” he told them.  “If she wants to work, I’ll support her. But if she wants to be an at-home mother, then I’ll support her.  My only position in this is to make sure Jessie gets to do what she wants.  That’s what being her husband is all about,” he said, putting his paw on Jessie’s arm. “Making her happy.”

        “Aww, you’re so sweet, my handsome fox,” she smiled in reply.

        “Well, you did think about it,” John noted approvingly.  “Thoroughly.”

        “But there’s a lot more we haven’t considered, mainly because we haven’t thought about it,” Kit said.  “And that’s where we need you.  I expect to be burning up the phone lines between here and Austin over the next seven months.”

        Hannah sat up a little straighter, unconsciously assuming the matronly role.  “As well you should,” she told them.  “We’ve been through three pregnancies, dear, we’ve experienced most of it.  And you should also talk to Rick and Martha.  They’re also quite experienced, and they can help you with the little problems that takes being there to best address them.”

        “Oh, we will, that’s a promise,” Jessie said with a nod.  “Martha thinks I’m her long lost daughter, she won’t let me get away with not letting her be involved with my pregnancy,” she laughed.

        “She hosted you and helped you put on your wedding dress, Jessica, and you two have been very close to her and Rick for as long as Kit has worked at the magazine.  Of course she sees you as all but her own daughter.  Martha will make sure I know what’s going on, even those things you’ll either forget to tell me or refuse to,” she said flintily.

        “I knew there was a downside to having in-laws,” Kit said morosely, and he laughed as she ducked out of range of Hannah’s paw.

        “The big question is, Kit, can you afford to support three?” John asked.  “A baby is a very expensive addition, if a welcome one.  Jessica might have to work.  And then there’s the expense of raising the child, and then there’s college.  You really need to think this through, and come up with some kind of plan, because I haven’t heard either of you mention that yet.”

        Kit and Jessie looked at each other, then Kit shook his head.  “We have nothing to worry about, John,” he said.

        “Not anymore,” Jessie agreed.  “Our baby’s future is set.”

        Kit told them about the bonds.  “I’d never take a damn penny from my family, but the bonds are different.  My mother bought them for me, and Vil was smart to tell me that when she sent them.  I’d never turn down something from my mother, because she loved me,” he said simply.  “I’d insult her memory if I threw them back in Vil’s face.  So, I took the bonds, cashed them, and invested them.  We have ten thousand dollars in the bank for emergencies, and the rest of it is invested so our children can go to any school they want when they graduate.”

        “That money belongs to our children, not to us,” Jessie added.

        John and Hannah looked quite surprised, and were silent for a long time.  Finally, John leaned forward on the table.  “A hundred thousand, you say?” he asked.

        “More or less.  The invested portion is closer to eighty-five thousand, but that’ll mature nicely in the investment portfolio that me and Vil hammered out.  Our children will want for nothing, and the interest off the investments will more than support us as a second salary in case Jessie wants to be a stay-at-home mom.  She doesn’t have to work.  We have the investments for the future, the ten thousand put back in case of a disaster, and now we just sit back and let the money do the work for us.”

        Hannah looked…strange.  He wasn’t sure if she was happy or angry or what.  “And how is this money arranged, Kit?  In your name?”

        Jessie almost knocked the chair over as she jumped to her feet.  “Mother!” she gasped, utterly outraged.

        “It has to be asked, Jessica,” Hannah said, a bit sternly.  “If your marriage fails, then what happens to this money?”

        Kit gave her a hard look.  “If you want me to sign a contract right here and now that sends every dime of that money to Jessie if we divorce, then go type it up,” he told her with an intense stare.  “But don’t ever assume that I’d leave my child hungry and abandoned.”

        John put his paw on Hannah’s forearm.  “I think that’s about enough discussion, before you say something that causes your daughter to punch you in the mouth,” he said mildly.

        “I can’t believe you, Mom!  Hasn’t he proved himself to you by now?  Has he ever lied to you?  Doesn’t he bend over backwards for you?  Has he ever given you any reason to doubt him?”

        “No, he hasn’t.  But I had to ask, Jessica, for the sake of your child if nothing else.  I had to be sure.”  She looked at Kit and nodded.  “And now I’m sure that he will be a responsible male should your marriage fail and take care of Jessica and your baby.  I believe you, Kit, that you’d sign all the money over to Jessica.”

        “Thank you for that much, Hannah,” he said, not very cordially.

        “Alright, let’s all go calm down before we have a war here,” John said in a commanding tone.  “Jessica, Kit, don’t be too angry.”

        “I’ll get over it,” Kit said.  “I’m sure Hannah didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

        “No, no, I didn’t mean to offend, Kit,” she said, just a little placatingly.  “But I did have to ask, and we did deserve an answer.”

        “I’ll admit that you did,” he nodded.

        Kit took Jessie down to the basement while Hannah cooked and calmed her down.  Hannah had been quite tactless, but Kit wouldn’t begrudge her her right to know the answer to that question.  She just should have been a little more diplomatic about bringing it up.  Kit soothed Jessie for over an hour, after Jenny and Ben both came back and wisely stayed upstairs, until he had to resort to her own tactic; laying her down on the couch with her head in his lap.  One paw tousled and played with her hair, while the other kneaded through her silky longhaired tail, and he kept her contained until she calmed down.  She surrendered to him, let him pay special attention to her, and nearly dozed off by the time John came down the stairs.  “Dinner will be ready in a minute,” he said.  “Are you coming up?”

        “We’ll be up in a minute, Dad,” Jessie said, sitting up.

        “I’m sorry that happened, sweetie,” John told her sincerely.  “Your mother just said it wrong, that’s all.”

        “It’s…it’s alright, dad,” she said with a sigh.  “I can believe that she didn’t mean to sound that shrewish.  Maybe four months ago I’d have believed it, but not now.”

        “Alright, we’ll set places for you,” he said, then went back upstairs.

        “I’m sorry, Kit,” Jessie said, snuggling up to him and putting her muzzle under his chin.  “I’m sorry she said that to you.”

        “It’s alright, love,” he told her.  “She took a question she was entitled to ask, and just had it come out wrong.  I don’t blame her.”

        “I thought you were going to come over the table at her,” Jessie said.

        “Only to get between you and her,” Kit told her, which made her giggle.  He caressed her shoulders and back, which made her start to purr.  “Now, ready to go up and be nice to your mother?”

        “I guess so,” she told him.

        “Come on, I’m hungry.  And I’d much be up there eating than down here with you.”

        “Why you little jerk!” she barked sharply, and he laughed when she bulled him down to the couch and started tickling him.  “More concerned about your stomach than your wife?  Just wait til I get you home!” she shouted as he laughed helplessly, squirming under her.  “I’m making you a meal from that spice rack!  Then you won’t have to worry about being hungry anymore!”

        “P—P—Pizza,” he wheezed, which made Jessie laugh and collapse on top of him.

        “I love you, Kitstrom Lucas Vulpan,” she told him, then gave him a lingering kiss.

        “And I love you, Jessica Desdemona Vulpan,” he returned with a loving smile, patting her on her waist.  “Now let’s go get some dinner.  You have to keep our baby healthy and developing.”

        “I just hope the morning sickness bug passes me by,” she laughed as she got off of him.

        “Keep dreaming,” Kit noted as they went upstairs.

 

        Since there was no football, there was little for John to do on Sunday.  Since Ben was training for Ohio State, though, he had started going out with his son on Sundays to help him practice, since he knew how to throw a football, and despite his small and wiry frame, he could put some surprising air under a pigskin.

        While John and Ben were out in the cold, Jessie and Hannah, who were speaking again after a rather contrite dinner, had a long and indepth talk about what Jessie could expect as the weeks went by and her pregnancy progressed.  Kit didn’t listen too much to that, since he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know what kind of physical changes Jessie could expect, so he and Jenny spent the early morning and afternoon down the basement playing X-Box, in what Jenny cheekily called the “no pregnacy talk zone.”  She’d calmed down a lot since the flight, and was back to the normal Jenny he remembered, all smiles and energy and a wicked paw at Halo 3.  Jenny would make some guy out there either the happiest male in the world or unbelieveably jealous, since Jenny was a total sports nut and was a hardcore gamer femme, the mythical “femme who likes video games and sports.”  She wasn’t the only one, though; Vil had been known to pick up a game controller from time to time, and she was no slouch herself.

        Not many Fortune 500 CEOs had an X-Box 360 in their offices and Civilization IV installed on their work computers.  Vil loved simulator games like that, where her amazing analytical mind and attention to detail could shine.

        About two, though, after an indulgent early dinner of beef shishkebabs, it was time to take Jenny back to Columbus, since she had some homework to do.  It was Jessie and Hannah’s turn to go, so, Kit found himself in a van with three femmes, who all talked about “femme things” all the way to the airplane.  But Hannah and Jessie got quiet, sharing the back seat, while Jenny asked a zillion questions and had to resist the urge to press buttons up front as Kit taxied out of the parking space after his preflight inspection and checklist.  “Don’t we need gas?” Jenny asked as they pulled out onto the main taxiway leading to the runway, getting in behind a Citation and with a Cirrus pulling up behind them.

        “I filled up when we came to get you,” he said, pointing to the monitor.  “I still have plenty of fuel, enough to fly to Columbus and back twice with plenty to spare.”

        “Oh.  I guess you’d pay attention to that,” she giggled.

        “Checking your fuel status appears three times on the preflight checklist,” he said calmly as he pulled up to take the place of the Citation that pulled out onto the runway, preparing to take off.  “So you can’t possibly miss it unless you’re stupid.  Now excuse me as I get us airbone,” he said as the control tower called him, and he bent his attention to the task at paw.

        They were airborne and heading northeast, and Jenny went right on asking him a thousand questions.  He answered them as best he could, then when she asked how hard it was to fly, he chuckled and looked at her.  “Want to try?”

        “Would I!” she said with a squeal, almost reflexively reaching for the control stick.  “Um, can I grab it?”

        “Kit, this is not a good idea!” Hannah said with sudden concern from the back seat, leaning forward.

        “Trust me, Hannah, I won’t let her crash us.  My sister would kill me,” he said, which made Jessie laugh.  “Alright, now, grab hold of the stick.  Don’t bother putting your feet on the pedals, you won’t need them.”

        “Okay,” she said, taking hold of the stick in her right paw, since it was on the right on her side of the cockpit.  “Now what?”

        “Now hold it steady and in the center, centering a stick makes the plane go in the same direction,” he instructed.  “It’s spring loaded, so just let it go back to its rest position.”

        “Okay, it’s there,” she told him, relaxing her grip on the control.

        Kit toggled a switch on the center console to enable the controls on both sides of the cockpit and let go of the stick.  “There, you’re flying,” he told her with a smile.

        “I am?  I am!  I’m flying the plane!” she said with a laugh.  Her laugh caused her paw to shift on the stick, and that shift caused the plane to shift a little, rolling just slightly to the right.  Hannah gave a sudden cry of alarm, but Kit didn’t shout at her.  “No problem, see this white line right here on the dash?  Make it level by pushing the stick just a little to the left, then center it when you get there.  Just nice and slow,” he told her.

        She did as he ordered, slowly leveling the plane, and she did a fairly good job of it to boot.

        He let her fly for nearly five minutes, pointing out the other planes on the MFD.  “Each blip is a plane,” he explained, “and these letters pointing to it tells me who it is.  It tells me if it’s a private plane like mine, or an commercial airliner, or military.”

        “This plane has radar?” Jenny asked.

        “No, that’s too expensive and heavy.  It gets all this information from transponders and a radio,” he told her.  “Transponders are little radios that broadcast a unique ID signal that identifies us.  Each plane’s transponder radios to a beacon, which includues who we are and where we are.  Our GPS location, altitude, speed, and direction are all part of the information the transponder sends, which the transponder takes off the flight instruments in the plane.  The beacons all combine the information with a common computer, and then the computer sends data back to the beacon.  Then the beacon sends out what you see to all the planes so we can see each other without needing radar for each plane.  It’s not radar, but it’s just as good.”

        “Ah, that’s pretty smart,” she said approvingly.

        “The skies got much safer when the FAA mandated the upgrade to Mode S Transponders, which are what allows what you see on that monitor,” he told her.  “Now let me take back over, we’re getting close to Columbus.”

        Kit did get Jenny one thing, and that was a flyover of Ohio State.  He had to stay above two thousand feet and stay inside a narrow corridor arranged by a controller since he was close to an approach path to the international airport, but Jenny had a good zoom on her camera.  She got a few good pictures of the campus and the stadium, and then they turned around and landed at Bolton Field.  He again parked in a temporary parking zone near the terminal, then killed the engine.  They all got out of the plane, and then they hugged Jenny by turns.  “You be good, sis-in-law, or at least good in comparison to how you usually act,” Kit teased when it was his turn.

        She laughed.  “I’ll try,” she grinned.  “Thanks for letting me—uh, for doing that for me,” she said, looking around.

        Kit laughed.  “It’s our little secret,” he whispered in her ear, then kissed her on the cheek.

        “Woo, baby,” she said with a grin, throwing her arms around his shoulders and slashing her tail behind her aggressively.  “Soon I’ll be having an affair with you!  You do have the sisters fantasy, right?”

        “Jennifer Ophilia Williams!” Hannah barked, which made both Jenny and Jessie laugh.

        “Be good, sissy,” Jessie told her, giving her a hug.

        “I’ll never be that boring, sissy,” she winked.  She waved to them and shouldered her bag, then hurried towards her Mustang, which was visible in a parking lot beside the terminal.

        “Someday that girl will grow up,” Hannah complained.

        “I don’t know, Hannah, sometimes when you act young, you feel young,” he chuckled.  “Now let’s get out of this cold and back into that warm cockpit.”

        “I still can’t believe you let her handle the controls,” Hannah said, a bit accusingly.

        “Well, I’m going to let you fly too,” he grinned as they turned back to the plane.  “If I can trust Jenny not to crash us, I’m positive you won’t.”

        Hannah’s cheeks seemed to ruffle slightly.  “Well, I might give it a try,” she said speculatively.

        Hannah wasn’t that bad at it, actually.  He let her fly in a straight line for a while, but when it came time to make a course correction, he let her do it, walking her through the process of stick, rudder, and throttle involved in making a turn.  She really didn’t have to use anything but the stick and rudder pedals—the stick itself actually—but she did well.  Kit let her control the plane for about ten minutes, but took over when it was time to get serious about it, when he started descending and circling Cincinnati to get in the proper landing lane for Heather, which was using its southwest approach for landing today.

        “Well, that was quite interesting,” Hannah said in her manner as they slowed to a stop in the parking place, and Kit turned the plane around to face the tarmac.  “It was much different looking out the front window rather than a side window.”

        “Yeah, gives you an entirely different perspective,” Kit agreed as he killed the engine.  “Alright, we’re done, let’s go back to the house.”

        It was a very enjoyable afternoon.  Hannah was still just a little contrite about her faux pas the night before, so it made her very accommodating.  She made them a big dinner, and then they all sat around the Bengal Den and watched movies while they talked.  Jessie talked about the baby, Ben talked about his excitement at the idea of going to play for his favorite college team, and John talked about the cruise that he and Hannah were taking next month through the Bahamas.  Vil had very thoughtfully set the cruise date so one of the two weeks fell on Cincinnati’s spring break, so John had to arrange replacement teachers to cover his classes for the other week he’d be gone. The university wasn’t entirely happy about his extended vacation, but he had been there for nearly twelve years without missing a single day of work and he had tenure.  The fact that he was the head of the English Department made him just a little hard to replace, so they wisely gave him his week off.

        Kit did talk a little bit about his work, telling them about their election coverage, which surprised Hannah.  “Why would a student magazine cover something like that?”

        “Because Rick wants to bring substantial information too, Hannah, not just where the cool bars are.  He believes in providing everything a student might want to know, and some students are interested in politics.  Besides, perhaps the election series will make us youngsters get interested in politics,” Kit added.  “I’ve been registered to vote since I was eighteen, but this will be the first year I actually do it.  Covering politics made me interested enough in the process to want to take part in it.”

        “Well, then I’d say it’s a good thing,” John said with a nod.  “Young furs need to be involved.  If they don’t use their voice, they let all the old fogeys make their decisions for them,” he chuckled.  “So, who are you voting for?”

        “I’m something of an independent who’d like to see some real change in Washington, so I’m supporting Ron Paul,” Kit grinned.  “My sister and most of my family are hardcore Republicans, but that should be no surprise, since she’s rich.  She’s all for Mitt Romney.”

        “I’ve never thought to ask her about politics,” John chuckled.

        “Don’t tell me you’re one of those nutzoid liberal college crackpot professors,” Kit teased.

        “Nutzoid crackpot, no, liberal professor, yes,” he smiled.

        “And he’s entirely wrong, of course,” Hannah said simply.  “This is a true mixed marriage, Kit.  He’s a liberal Democrat, I’m a moderate Republican.”

        “That must make for some fireworks come election time,” Kit noted.

        “On the contrary, our debates are quite calm. I tell him how much he’s wrong, and he keeps refusing to listen,” Hannah said loftily, which made Kit laugh.  Hannah had a very subtle sense of humor.

        “Well, I’m going to register to vote when I get home,” Jessie said.  “I’m going to register as an independent, since I’m not really swayed by either party.”

        “Thought about the election, Jessica?”

        She made a noncommital sound.  “I’m still listening to all the candidates.  I haven’t really made up my mind yet.”

        “Always good to keep an open mind,” John nodded.

        “Did you read the article about Foxy, Mom?” Jessie asked.

        “I did,” she answered.  “And I have to admit, Kit, you did make her sound like something more than a tramp.  I still say she’s a tramp, but she has much more of a story than I believed at first.”  The phone rang, and John reached over to pick it up.  “But I still can’t agree with her decision.  She seemed a smart femme, she could have found some other way to get her education.  Student loans, work, something.”

        “Well, we’ll have to disagree on that point, Mom,” Jessie said.  “You haven’t met her, or talked to her.  She’s nothing like what I expected.”

        “I’m afraid this isn’t a good time to talk,” John was saying into the phone.  “Yes, I can understand that, but we have company right now.  No, Monday evening is fine.  Talk to you then.  Goodbye,” he said, then he hung up the phone and gave Kit a serious look.  “Kit, that was your uncle.”

        “Uncle?  Who?” he demanded.

        “He said his name was Brian,” he answered.

        “What did he want?” Kit asked, a little suspiciously.

        “To talk,” John said honestly.  “He said he wanted to get to know us.  He said right up front that he wanted to try to reconcile with you, so learning about us was one step towards it.”

        Kit frowned.  Brian was…well, he was a wild card in the family.  He was an uncle and as such he was fully cognizant of what the family did to him, but he was also the only elder in the family that showed any kind of remorse or reluctance.  Kit had no idea what he was up to, calling Jessie’s family, but he was also damn well going to find out.  “Let me call Vil,” he said, standing up.  “They know better than that.  They are supposed to leave me alone, that’s part of the deal.  I didn’t make this agreement and give them back their money just have to have them start interfering with my life.”

        Kit retreated upstairs to make the call.  Vil answered on the third ring, and from the sound of it, she was on board her jet.  “Hey bro, what’s up?”

        “Vil, Uncle Brian just called here,” he said.

        “I know.  He asked for their number,” she said calmly.

        “What?  You let him?” Kit asked, almost astounded.

        “Of course I let him,” she answered simply.  “Brian seems quite sincere, Kit.  Of all the elders, he was the only one that ever showed any real concern for you.  That’s why I tried so hard to get him to help you,” she explained.  “You know, it’s really weird.  Sarah was so close to Dad, I always thought that she was the one that would have been easiest to convince.  But, I guess she was in Dad’s pocket too much,” she sighed.  “Of course, Uncle Brian never went against Dad either, but he did show some concern for you.”

        “Sis, we had a deal,” he protested.  “They leave me alone, I leave them alone.  I don’t want Brian nosing around my life.  I will never forgive him.  You tell him that.”

        “I think you’re being a little too harsh, bro,” she said honestly.  “The will is voided.  Let him at least try to prove himself to you.”

        “I think I’m not being harsh enough,” Kit returned.  “Where was his concern when I needed him?  Where was he when I had a broken back?  Protecting his money, that’s where,” he snapped.  “He only decides to try to get back into my life after it’s safe for him to do it.  He never risked anything the way you did, sis.  He made his decision, and now he has to live with it.  He chose his money over me, and I’ll never forgive him for it.  So tell him to back off.  I don’t want him contacting Jessie’s family, I don’t want him contacting anyone in Austin, I don’t want him anywhere near me.”

        Vil sighed.  “Are you sure you won’t even hear him out?”

        “I won’t even give him the time of day,” he declared bluntly.

        “Alright, I’ll talk to him,” she said, in a disappointed voice.  “But I think you’re being too stubborn about this, Kit.  I worked very hard to get you back into the family, and despite his disapproval of your marriage, Brian is at least trying.  You should at least try in return.”

        “He’s trying about two years too late,” Kit said bluntly.

        “Alright.  I need to hang up real soon, bro, we’re about to take off in a minute or so, and I’ve found that my phone doesn’t get good reception in the air.”

        “Where are you going?”

        “Washington.  I have to testify in front of the Armed Services Committee tomorrow, and I didn’t want to fly down on the same day.  I have a friend down there I want to see, anyway.”

        “A friend?  Who?”

        “A friend from Oxford,” she said, suddenly demure.  “He’s over visiting some friends who work in the English embassy.”

        “Oho, is this the answer that that ticking clock you were hearing around Christmas?” he asked lightly.

        She laughed.  “Maybe,” she admitted.  “His name is Kendall Brighton.”

        “The Brightons?  As in Brighton Industries?”

        “That’s them,” she affirmed.  “So it would be a marriage of equals, and a good business arrangement.  They’re Britain’s version of Vulpan Shipyards, so at least he’s someone I have a lot in common with.”  She laughed.  “His father introduced us at a mixer at Oxford, which I didn’t completely appreciate at the time, since I had the feeling he was throwing his son at me.  That opinion changed after I talked to him, though.  Kendall just graduated in December.  He’s tall and handsome, with this little black dot under his chin that’s cute,” she said with a surprising giggle.  “Outside of that, he’s exactly what you’d expect from a British fox from a family like the Brightons.  Sophisticated, well mannered, educated, and intelligent.”

        “I’ve never heard you talk like this about a male,” he teased.

        She laughed.  “I’ve been too busy being the Ice Queen to act like a femme,” she said.  “I certainly don’t love Kendall, at least not yet, but at least he’s interesting enough for me to see what’s there.”

        “Well, good luck, sis.”

        “You should come meet him,” she said.  “Can you fly over?”

        “No, we’ll have to do that some other time,” he told her.  “I have to fly back to Austin tonight, and I’d rather spend this time with Jessie’s family.”

        “Okay then.  But you do need to meet him, bro.”

        “He’s the rich guy, he can fly down to Austin.”

        Vil laughed.  “Say the word, and you can be rich too,” she told him.

        “No thanks,” he said dryly.  “I’ll earn my own millions, thank you.”

        She laughed.  “Then get to work, bro!” she teased.  They said their goodbyes, and Kit went back to the living room.

        “What did she say?” John asked.

        “Brian won’t call you again,” Kit said, a bit sternly.  “I want him nowhere near me, and nowhere near you.”

        John and Hannah traded a brief look, then Hannah changed the subject.  “Have you decided where you’re going to live?  Jessie mentioned that the apartments will be under construction.”

        “We’re still talking to Lupe about that,” Kit said.  “We can stay in our old apartment until the new ones are done, that’s not a problem, but I’m not too keen on doing the move into a new apartment close to a construction zone with a newborn.  We’ll either stay in our apartment until they’re totally done on the far side of the block, or we’ll move into another apartment somewhere else temporarily if we can’t do that.”

        “How long is it supposed to take them to do the construction over on the other side?”

        “Lupe says they’ll be done in about five months for the duplexes, and six months for the other buildings,” Kit answered.  “He has three contracting companies over there working under the architects.  One company will be building the community center, one will be building the duplexes, and the third will be building the apartment buildings to give the current tenants somewhere to live when they tear the old ones down.  They’re putting so many workers on the project because the bank demanded that the construction schedule had the entire project completed within a year in order for him to get the loan.”

        “That’s a strange condition,” Hannah noted.

        “Not really,” Kit answered.  “Apartment complexes don’t earn any money if they can’t hold tenants.  The bank wants to see some returns on their investment, so they were willing to loan Lupe enough to hire enough workers to get the work done in a year.  That assumes that there are no delays, which are common in construction.  But that’s not Lupe’s problem.  The bank can’t penalize him if the actual construction takes longer than a year if it’s an issue with the contractors.  But that’d be the contractor’s loss.  They get a bonus if they finish on time, and an even bigger one if they finish early, and they’ll lose it if they run over.”

        “Won’t that encourage them to cut corners?”

        “You’ve never built anything in Texas, John,” Kit chuckled.  “The regulators there are pretty strict.  They’ll inspect all of the contractors’ work before they sign off on it and let Lupe start moving furs in.  If the contractors cut corners, they have to fix everything, and that runs them over time and they lose their bonus.  They’re best off just doing the work and doing it right.  They’ll earn much more money than if they try to cheat.”

        “I hope you move before the baby comes,” Hannah said.  “A baby needs a stable environment.”

        “I hope so too,” Kit agreed.  “The three companies are supposed to combine into a single force to build the rest of the complex after they finish that part of it,” he continued, reciting what Lupe had told him a few days ago.  “Lupe said there should be a small army there doing the work.  It’s going to take an army to build a complex that takes up an entire city block from the ground up in a year.”

        “Lupe’s sure they can do it,” Jessie added.  “He said his project manager is positive they can finish, that they’ve set up a schedule that finishes in eleven months.”

        “Well, we’ll see,” Kit noted.

 

        It was a great visit.

        Kit and Jessie enjoyed a wonderful early dinner prepared by Hannah, and then, at six o’clock, Jessie’s family drove them back to the airport.  There were the usual goodbyes and promises to call, but there was also reality, the reality that Kit had work in the morning, and Jessie had school.

        For the flight back, Kit did manage to get a flight plan filed, and that let them fly home with him trying out the plane at its service ceiling of 25,000 feet, where he would get some serious fuel efficiency.  Flying that high again required oxygen, and also introduced Jessie to one of the little annoying parts of altitude flight…pressure differences.  She spent nearly ten minutes trying to get her ears to pop, but once she finally did and the cockpit warmed up, she was comfortable flying at such high altitude.  Kit felt a little restricted flying on a flight plan, but it was worth it with that gallons per hour number on his display.  He didn’t have the tailwind this time, but he was still going to get home without stopping for gas, and do it without landing while running on fumes.

        She did her homework in the plane, balacing her laptop on her lap and typing on it as Kit took advantage of the autopilot and used his own laptop to surf the net…just because he could.

        Jessie didn’t let him get away with it, though.  He’d let Jenny and Hannah fly the plane, so after she finished her homework, she demanded her own turn.  Kit laughed and complied to her request, teaching her the rough basics of the idea of flight, about the three axes and the controls that moved the plane along them, then enabled the copilot controls and let her have at it.  She flew the plane for nearly twenty minutes, and he let her make a couple of very slow and gentle turns in a zigzag that put them back on their original course, then let her descend to 23,500 feet before going back up to the cruise altitude of 24,500 feet…then getting bitched out by the traffic controller for deviating from his flight path’s assigned altitude.  He passed it off as an autopilot snafu, which made Jessie giggle as he lied baldly over the radio.  After that, they put it back on autopilot, and Jessie finally broached a subject she’d been avoiding.

        “Alright, my handsome fox,” she said in the tone of a femme about to do war, reaching down and picking up the portable urinal.  “Look out the window.”

        Kit almost knocked the plane off course laughing.  It was a good thing it was on autopilot.

        He certainly didn’t make it easy on her, giving a grinding vocal rendition of stripper music, which earned him a smack, but she did eventually manage to get her business completed satisfactorily.  “I’m putting a towel or a bag in here to hide these when we take them out of the plane,” she declared, which made him laugh again.

        They got home a little after midnight, landing in the chilly night as Jessie took video of them landing to send back to her parents.  They were in the door about 1:00am, and since Jessie had napped on the plane, she wasn’t as tired as Kit was when they carried their luggage into the apartment.  “I’ll make you a cup of tea, my handsome fox,” she offered.

        “No, I’m just going to bed,” he told her.  He then found her all over, him, giving him a crushing hug, and receiving a passionate kiss.

        “Thank you, my handsome fox,” she smiled.  “Thank you for taking me to see my folks.  And thank you for being so wonderful.”

        He laughed.  “You can show your gratitude by coming to bed,” he told her, dropping their suitcase by the couch.  “I can’t sleep without someone to snuggle, and I’d rather not go wake up Sheila.”

        Jessie laughed and took his paw, then shooed him towards the bedroom.  “I’ll lock up and set the alarm,” she told him.

        Kit showed pictures of their trip at work the next day, and even showed them the video Jessie made of them landing at Georgetown.  They were all impressed, and he had to field quite a few questions and inquries as to if he could fly them out to South Padre Island or Houston.  But the serious part of the day happened after that, when the office was visited by two male furs wearing dark suits.

        Kit was working on the questions he was going to as Congressman Smith tomorrow at their interview when they came into his office.  One of them was a cat with gray tabbied fur and the other was a badger, and they came in and closed the door.  “Kit Vulpan, I’m Sergeant Brown of the Austin Police,” the cat said, showing him his badge as he approached his desk.  “My partner, Sergeant Wilson.”

        “APD?  What can I do for you?” Kit asked, in a bit of confusion.

        “It’s about the article you wrote,” the badger told him.  “The one in your Friday issue.”

        “What about it?”

        “We’d like for you to answer some questions about this femme you called Jane Doe and where she works,” the cat told him.  “The commissioner of the Austin Police read your article, and he wants to find and shut down the illegal brothel if it’s operating in this city.”

        “I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” Kit said immediately, quickly forming his thought so he gave away nothing about Allison, not even her gender.  “That fur was an anonymous source for a journalism article.  I won’t reveal anything about him or her, nor will I answer any questions about the article.”

        “Aren’t you interested in helping the femmes that might still be forced to work there?”

        “What I want or don’t want makes no difference,” Kit told them.  “I made a promise to keep my source’s identity a secret, and I will not break my word.  I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anything.  It’s nothing personal, I assure you.”

        “Your article said you met her somewhere between here and Atlanta. Is she even in Texas?” the badger asked.  “If you tell us that much, we can leave you be and refer the matter to another state.”

        “I’m sorry, but if I answer one question, you’ll expect me to answer other questions.  So I’m afraid I will answer no questions about my source or about the article.  It’s a journalist’s right to protect his sources.”

        “I’m not entirely sure we’re willing to take that answer, Mister Vulpan,” the cat said.  “The DA is already starting an investigation.  He may subpeona you.”

        “Let him, I’ll just sit on the stand and repeat what I just told you.  Like I said, it’s nothing personal, but I cannot help you.  Now, in the interests of keeping things cordial and polite, I’ll ask that you kindly take your leave and let me get back to work.  Because I’m afraid I can’t say anything more.”

        The two officers looked at each other, and the cat nodded.  “Thank you for being polite, at least,” he said, offering his paw.  Kit stood and shook it.  “I’m obligated to leave you my card in case you change your mind.”

        “I understand,” he said, taking the officer’s card when he offered it.  “And thank you for being polite as well.  It raises my respect for the Austin police.  Have a good day, now.”

        “We will, thank you.  By the way, off the record, I thought it was a damn good article,” he smiled.

        Kit chuckled.  “Thanks,” he said.

        That was the first indication that the article had caused a reaction.  He found out around lunch just how much it did, for Marty was inundated with emails about it.  Furs commenting on it, asking questions about it, asking where this femme really was, both emails asking to help Allison and a few crude ones asking to hire her, there were hundreds of emails about it, many of them requests for the magazine to put the article up on their website.  Mike had done so, as well as opening a forum on the site so furs could discuss the article on a message board…and boy, did that stress the servers.  All those different viewpoints flying around, from religious zealots who denounced Allison to the snarky cheeseballs who were asking for her number to the femme-rights militants who used the article as a springboard to spout rhetoric about how unfair the world was to femmes.  Quite a few furs supported Allison, quite a few denounced her, much as Hannah did, unable to look past what she did no matter how logical a decision it was for her.  Mike had to go in and moderate it when the messages started becoming flames.

        But, the one thing that mattered to Kit was that a great many furs thought it was a very thought-provoking article.  It made furs think, it made them take an issue and see it in an entirely new light, from a startling new direction, letting them look inside something dark and unpleasant and see that things were not what they always appeared to be.

        And that was one of things journalism was all about.

        Rick told him that there wasn’t an issue to be found anywhere on campus, and for the first time ever, it had sold out in College Station and San Antionio in the limited news stands where it was sold.  But, Rick told him, it wasn’t just Kit’s article that did it, for Barry’s election piece had also generated quite a bit of email traffic.

        But what was most flattering to Kit, ten separate magazines and websites had contacted the magazine, looking to lease the right to reprint it.  Rick would earn some money by selling those rights, and the magazine and Kit himself would get more visibility because the article would retain his byline and give credit to Lone Star as the original publisher.  But, what mattered more to Kit was that Allison’s intriguing story would reach more readers.

        “It’s not just this one,” Rick told Kit, who was working on Monday in place of the Friday he took off, as Kit sat in Rick’s office and Rick both talked to him and typed on his workstation.  “The statewide magazine The Texan asked to lease reprint rights on all the election articles we’ve done so far and for ones we’re gonna do, and I also got an offer from the American Statesman to reprint the articles for a section they’re going to do starting next Monday, since we’re coming up on the primary.  They said we did a lot of their work for them,” he grinned.

        “Are you going to do it?”

        “Sure, they’re paying for it,” Rick chuckled.  “And we keep the byline, so it’s also free advertising.”

        “Well, both of those are good.  Does that mean we’re getting raises?” Kit asked with a playful grin.

        “You wish,” Rick growled in reply.  “I’m going to reinvest that money.”

        “Hey cousin,” Sheila called from the door.  “Wanna do lunch?”

        “Sheila, it isn’t even ten yet.”

        “Yeah I know, just lockin’ you down,” she told him.

        “Well, sure then.  Where do you wanna go?”

        “I got plans,” she winked.

        “Alright, I’ll let you surprise me,” he said, then Sheila padded off when Savid called for her.  “Okay, now back to this raise,” Kit prompted.

        Rick laughed.  “I’m going to invest that money in the magazine,” he repeated.  “I’m going to expand our pages per issue, increase our circulation, and I’m thinking of hiring someone with professional photography experience.  Lilly and Rick are good, I’ll never take that from them, but I’d like someone with some formal training on staff, so they’re not always running around taking pictures when they could be doing their normal jobs.”

        “Sounds good.  Where’s the extra money coming from?”

        “I’m gettin’ a hell of a lot more advertising offers,” he said.  “That’s one reason why I’m plannin’ on expanding our pages per issue, that’s more net revenue.  Always before, fillin’ those extra pages with viable content was the trick, but that’s not hard anymore.  Things have really grown here, son.  Lilly’s started doing some real writing, I have your journals, School Daze, you’re a damn good writer on top of researching, Barry’s work has become fantastic since you came on and took the researching pressure off of him, and that lets both of you put out a lot more content than before.  There’s that, and I also want to start both a photo spread and a submitted reader photo page, just random nice shots, as well as a couple of new weekly features I’ll be introducing at our next major staff meetin’.”

        “Which is why you want a staff photographer.”

        “Yeah.  Things are really moving here, son, and I want the magazine to keep pushing the envelope.  I want us to be a magazine for school kids that’s read by more than just school kids.  I want to see expanded circulation, more sale units distributed, and thirty-eight pages per issue as our new target length.”

        “I’ve noticed.  You’re putting Barry on more and more real news, and there’s the election special, and Lilly’s been pulling some actual writing assignments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when she’d usually just spend all day dicking around with the Scene page or going out and taking the pictures you need.”

        Rick nodded.  “It’s not going to be entirely cheap to expand, but I think we can make it.  It’s gonna be tight for a few weeks, when our expenses outrun our revenue until it all evens out.”

        He said it impulsively.  “Well, Rick, if you’re interested on taking on a partner, I’d be willing to invest,” he said.  “I work here, after all, if I can’t believe we’d turn a profit, I should get another job.”

        Rick gave him a serious look.  “You mean that, son?  I thought you were broke.”

        “Not as broke as I was two weeks ago,” he said, then he explained about the bonds.  “I have fifteen thousand bucks sitting around waiting for an investment opportunity, at least I will after three months when the CDs mature, and what better opportunity than right here?”

        “Son, you and Jessie need to come over for dinner tonight,” he said quickly.  “Let’s sit down and talk about it.”

        “I’d be happy to.  I’ll bring over a business plan I wrote up a while ago, and we’ll see if my ideas for the magazine come close to yours.”

        “Bring it.  I’d love to see your ideas.”

        “I keep it in the bottom drawer of my desk,” Kit laughed.

        “Go get it.  I’ll look it over and we’ll discuss it at dinner tonight.”

        “Sure.”

        Sheila’s lunch plans were not for an intimate family affair.  They went to the Burger King by campus, and as they sat down at a booth, Allison came in.  She waved to them, then came over and sat down.  “Hey,” she said.

        “Heya,” Sheila smiled.  “I brought him.”

        “Thanks.  It’s good to see you,” she said, shaking his paw.

        “How you been?  Enjoying the lightened workload?” he asked carefully.

        “Yes, school is much easier now that I’m not working,” she told him with a light smile.  “I saw your article.  I liked it very much.”

        “Thanks,” he told her.  “I didn’t know you knew my cousin.”

        “Well, she’s very interesting,” Allison said mildly.  “I find her easy to talk to and fun to be with, so we’ve been palling around since we, ah, met each other last week.”

        Kit gave Sheila a surprised look, and she nodded with a grin.  “We get along well together.  Ally rocks,” she winked.  “Way more fun than you two,” she teased.

        “I’m, I’m really glad to hear that, Allison, and Jessie will be too.  She’s really worried about you.”

        “That’s very kind of her.  Your wife is very sweet.  A little naïve, but very sweet.”

        “Well, I like her that way,” Kit said with a chuckle.

        Allison ordered some food, and they had a very nice lunch.  Again, they made smalltalk, leaving Allison’s article and her history alone since they were in public, but Kit was just glad to see her, and what was more important, overjoyed that she’d found someone to be her friend.  Sheila wouldn’t care a whit that she was a former stripper and prostitute; in Sheila’s eyes, that just made her more fun.  Sheila would be a good friend that would push Allison and try to make her have fun, keep her engaged, and help her try to find herself by being someone she could talk to about anything, someone with whom she could be honest without being judged.

        After looking at it for a moment, he realized that Sheila was the perfect choice for a friend for Allison.  Someone fearless and fun-loving, and someone that knew the truth of her and didn’t care a bit.  Sheila would reintroduce Allision to the world, slowly integrate her into her circle of friends, which were also Jessie and his friends, and slowly wear down the protective shell she kept around herself until she could break out of it and be her own femme.  He realized that Allison would slowly become part of the circle of furs that were their friends…and he didn’t mind at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    22    24

Chapter 23

 

        The honeymoon between Jessie and their baby was over.

        She scrambled out of bed five minutes before the alarm went off, rushed down the hall, and Kit heard her noisily retching into the commode.  It might have concerned Kit to hear his wife throwing up if he didn’t know she was pregnant, for that was the first time she’d done it.  Much to Jessie’s discontent, morning sickness was not going to pass her by.

        At least she was ready for it.  Docter MacNair had explained the phenomenon to them thoroughly at her last exam, how it was inconsistent in when it struck and how long it would make her nauseous, and that it did not, as the name might suggest, occur only in the morning.  The doctor had given Jessie a series of useful tips if she was struck with the condition, and from the sound of it, Jessie would start following those helpful hints today; eat small meals, avoid hot rooms, eat soda crackers or salty potato chips to settle her stomach enough for a meal if she felt queasy, take short naps, and avoid laying down after a meal.

        But, Doctor Mac had been almost dead on with her prediction, Kit noted.  She said that morning sickness tended to begin showing up during the sixth week of pregnancy, and the March 5 day showing on the calendar near the bed showed that Jessie was about halfway through her sixth week.  Doctor Macnair said that Jessie conceived somewhere between January 26 and January 28, an actual estimate of January 27 with a little margin for error, and that put March 5 three days into her sixth week of pregnancy.  That calendar, the Countdown Calendar as Jessie called it, was segmented by weeks of pregnancy and indications and other features that Doc Mac told them to expect.  He knew that Jessie had already, rather morosely, scribbled start getting fat on the May page.  That was the month that Doctor Mac said that Jessie would start showing visible signs of her pregnancy obvious to the casual observer, her “baby bump.”

        Though she was modest, Jessie was still proud of her sexy physique, and the thought of getting fat was not the greatest thought in the world to her.  But, it was what she called her “happy sacrifice,” and she could always get her figure back after the delivery.

        Outside of this morning sickness, things were going swimmingly with Jessie’s pregnancy.  She was almost disgustingly healthy, as Doctor Mac put it, and their baby was perfectly healthy inside her.  Her pregnancy was progressing in an almost textbook manner, and Doctor Mac joked that their baby shared its parents’ love of routine and preparation, habits ingrained in his job as a reasearcher and her preparation to become an English teacher.  “You’re giving birth to a banker,” she teased them.

        In the two weeks since they’d gone to see Jessie’s family, there had been quite a bit going on in their lives.  Kit and Jessie had sat down and talked with Rick and Martha about investing in the magazine, and Kit had found that nearly 90% of what he put in the business plan he’d drawn up for the magazine was also in Rick’s plan.  Over dinner, Rick and Kit drew up a contract which would let Kit buy into the magazine as a part owner, and receive a percentage of the profits in return for a $15,000 investment which he’d pay in installments, as the CDs he’d bought matured and he could cash them out.  He did begin with a $5,000 initial payment, taken out their crisis reserves, which would be replaced as the CDs holding that money locked up matured.  That $5,000 would help the magazine afford expanding their pages per issue for those critical three weeks between the increase and securing enough advertising to pay for it, as that meant it cost more per unit to have the magazine published.  For those three weeks, Kit’s money would literally be paying everyone’s salaries…including his own.

        A touch ironic, that.

        That salary would include the photographer.  Rick had already put the ads out in the paper, Monster, and other online sites, as well as telling the Job Placement Services office at U.T. what he was looking for in case any recent graduates were looking for a job.  Rick already had a lot of experience dealing with U.T., for he’d finally arranged the intern deal with them to replace Sheila.  Starting with the summer semester, the office would have two unpaid interns, changing every semester, who would be learning about journalism from inside a magazine.  Rick had only wanted one at first, but the school concinved him to take on two, since the university was having trouble finding enough intern positions for its journalism school.  The jounalism school took Lone Star a hell of a lot more seriously now than they did just six months ago, for the magazine had evolved from a quaint little Friday student rag to a magazine that put out real news and had some unique and innovative features.  It said a lot for the magazine’s credibility that the school of journalism actually lobbied Rick to take on two interns rather than one.

        And that was just one of the busy aspects of friends involved with their daily lives.  Lupe had been running around like a maniac for over a month, because a virtual army of construction workers had descended on the far side of the new pool.  Kit was astounded at how fast they moved.  When they first arrived, the combined companies knocked down every building left on the block and ripped up their foundations, working 24 hours a day despite Lupe’s assurances they’d only be working 10 hours a day, while the pool builders finished pouring the concrete and let it cure.  They couldn’t run heavy machinery around the pool area as the concrete cured.  Despite working around the clock, though, the denizens of Westwood really didn’t mind all that much.  They didn’t do any loud work after sunset, mainly just cleaning up and laying out their planned construction, and the worst complaints Lupe had to deal with were the lights they used after dark to illuminate the job site.  After about a week, after an inspector had signed off that the pool cement had cured properly and the pool builders could start on the deck, diving boards, and slides, the three companies broke up to begin their individual tasks.  In the week since they started their individual assignments, there was already significant visual signs of progress.  The foundation of the first duplex row and the the first apartment building had been laid out, and work had already begun on them.  The third company, building the large community center that would anchor the pool, had started excavating so it could lay the pipes that would go into the foundation.  Inspectors and workers from the water service, city sewer authority, power company, cable company, phone company, and gas company were already on site, coordinating with the contractors to set up the utilities the buildings would use.  The old Westwood was all electric, but the new Westwood would offer natural gas hookups for kitchen stoves and kitchen stoves only.  Dryers and air conditioning units would still only be electric.  Gas would also be hooked up to the community center, though, running its heat during the winter and supplying gas for the large kitchen that would be in the building.

        The utilities were taking advantage of the construction, too.  Lupe had already contracted with the phone company to allow them to build a major repeater station in the basement of the community center, acting as a hub for their DSL service, which would give any DSL users in the complex very high speed; the further from a repeater one was, the worse DSL was.  Being literally in the same complex as the repeater would give all the complex fast and reliable DSL.  The cable company decided to use the complex as a hub as well, already planning to run a new heavy bandwidth trunk line to the complex to radiate out to the surrounding neighborhood as part of their broadband upgrade project in Austin.  The fringe benefit for allowing them to do that for Westwood was a dedicated low-population trunk feeding off that major line, which would give cable modem users in the complex blazing speed with virtually no slowdown during peak use hours.  Be it DSL or cable, the complex would have some screaming fast internet.  The power company was already starting work on the surrounding power lines to prepare for the increased demand on the block, and the water company was also looking at installing a larger main to service the new apartments.

        Kit gave Lupe his fifteen minutes of fame.  He did a story on the new complex and interviewed Lupe professionally, then Rick ran it in last week’s issue, along with Kit’s interview of Lamar Smith.  They put in some architect’s sketches of what the new Westwood would look like, and the article talked about the number of units there would be, what services the new complex would offer, and highlighted its proximity to U.T. and the fact that the AMTA had agreed to start a shuttle from the complex to the school once the complex was finished, which would give students a special reduced fare bus ride to campus and back with arrivals and departures every 20 minutes from 7am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 7am to 5pm every half hour on Saturday, and special service directly to and from the stadium on home game days.

        Kit had promised Lupe space in the magazine, and the complex was of interest to students of U.T. since it was being built aimed at housing them, so the article more than deserved to run in the magazine.  And maybe it would help Lupe fill up with signed leases to show the bank when they started doubting the sanity of giving him so much money to get the complex built so fast.

        Allison had faded into the background of their lives over the weeks, but still reared her head indirectly.  Sheila and Allison were almost inseperable, and as a result they didn’t see Sheila quite as often.  She came over only about once a week and still came to poker, but going out with Allison now took up most of her time.  The two of them were the anchor of a brand new Party Pack made up of Sheila, Allison, and members of the sorority, mainly Danielle, the other Jessie, Sandy, and Lisa.  Much as he expected, Allison had been integrated into Sheila’s circle of friends, and Sheila had told him that she got along very well with the sorority girls.  They had no idea just who she was—well, Sandy did because she’d seen the picture of Allison giving Kit a lap dance, but she kept it secret from the others—and treated her well, if being just a bit jealous of her.  Allison was drop dead gorgeous, and femmes sometimes couldn’t help but feel a little threatened by another femme who was so much prettier than they were.  But, Allison gelled well with Sheila, and Kit was sure she’d be just fine.  Sheila would teach her how to have fun again, something that she’d forgotten in the years she’d been a stripper and prostitute.

        But her impact on his life was still front and center.  The article had attracted huge attention, and Rick had received four requests to reprint it from other magazines, as well as continued emails coming in about it.  Sheila kept Allison informed, joked with her that she was a rock star now.  Kit had also received another visit from the Austin Police, trying to get him to reveal anything about the article.  Their last visit was them nearly begging just to have him answer if he met the femme in Austin or some other city, just so they’d know if they could retire the matter, but Kit would not budge.  He would not answer any question, for if he answered just one question, they would try to make him answer another, then another, and so on and so on.  He kept Allison’s identity an absolute secret, and there were only four furs who know that secret outside of him and Allison.  Jessie, Sheila, Sandy, and Mike were the only ones who knew, for Sandy had heard him talk about Allison and seen the picture of her, and Mike had been there when he asked her all those questions and wasn’t drunk enough to forget it.  He pieced it together after he happened across Allison’s picture while going through old photos, but he agreed along with his family and Sandy that it had to be kept an absolute secret.  He even deleted all his copies of Allison’s pictures he had from the bachelor party.

        Kit sat up in bed, arched his back until it popped, then swung his legs out.  Today was a big day for him, for his medical certification had expired without him realizing it, nearly two weeks ago.  He’d literally flown to Cincinnati with four days left on his eligibility, and since he’d not left the FAA a forwarding address, they’d had no way to send him a reminder to renew his medical certification until Vil registered his plane in his name.  The expiration warning had arrived last week, a week after his medical certification expired, and he’d had scheduled this exam to get it back.  He wouldn’t have any penalty for it, he just had to either visit the FAA office at Bergstrom or fax in a copy of the certification to them, and they’d send him his new license.  The license part of his license didn’t expire for eight more years, only his medical clearance had to be renewed.  Today, he had an exam scheduled to get his medical certificate for his pilot’s license, which would grant him another year of flight status.

        And it would be a war.  Kit’s injuries had caused him a huge hassle last year, for the doctor examining had deferred him, put his filght status on suspension so the FAA could examine his physical health and determine if he was flight worthy.  His doctor had given him six hours worth of tests and exercises to prove his back wouldn’t prevent him from flying safely, then he sent it all to the FAA for their determination…and that took two months.  He’d gone for his physical in late December, got deferred and went back for the follow-up tests in early January, and it was late February when the FAA finally approved him and sent him his license.  He knew that this doctor as well would question the condition of his back, but this time he was armed with all the tests and results of his last physical to show the doctor that he’d already been thoroughly examined, and passed by the FAA.  He knew he’d still be facing an exhaustive examination, but he was positive he wouldn’t get deferred this time.  It would just take all day.

        A fun way to spend his day off.

        Jessie came back into the bedroom and sat on the bed by him, smacking her chops with an unpleasant expression.  “I need to brush my teeth,” she complained.  “I’d kiss you, my handsome fox, but you do not want to do that right now.”

        He laughed.  “I’ll dare the Godzilla breath,” he said, leaning over and giving her a quick peck on the lips.  “Better now?”

        “Mmm,” she nodded, putting her paw on her lower stomach gingerly.  “I don’t think our baby liked that lasagna we had last night.  And I was hoping I wouldn’t get morning sickness,” she complained, flopping back on the bed.  “I hope it doesn’t last long.  Doctor Mac said it could last a few days, or a whole month.”

        “Well, let’s wait and see.  Just keep her tips in mind.”

        “Yeah, I’ll go buy some Lays after class, some of those little lunch size bags, and carry them around with me.  She said they were the best thing to squash my nausea while I’m at school.”

        “If you leave a few minutes early, you can swing by Circle K and pick up a couple of those little grab bags,” he told her.

        “That’s a good idea.  Let me get into the shower, then,” she said, standing up.  She started forward, but Kit grabbed her by her longhaired tail and stopped her.  “Turn around,” he ordered, making a circling motion with his finger.  She laughed and complied, turning to face him, and he gave her a thorough visual inspection.  “Nothing yet,” he reported.

        She laughed, striking a little pose for him, which was really sexy since she was nude.  “So, I’m still your supermodel?” she teased.

        “You always will be, even when you’re about to deliver,” he answered.  “Now go hop in the shower, I’ll start breakfast.”

        “No thanks,” she said, making a face.  “I’ll leave a little early and grab something at school, I’m not in the mood to eat right now.”

        “Okay.  But take your vitamins, and I’ll start the tea.”

        “Make me some Earl Gray,” she said, turning and heading for the bathroom.  Kit put on a pair of shorts and wandered into the kitchen and got the water for the tea going.  He turned off the alarm and went out for the paper, and found the door opening behind him.  Sheila came in wearing her workout shorts and a tank top despite the thirty degree morning.  The weather the last week or so had been really wild.  It would be in the 30s in the morning but rise up to the 70s during the day.  That was usual, the crew told him, the precursor to the hot Austin summer.  Spring came early in Texas.

        “Kit,” she called.  “You ready?”

        “Do I look ready?” he countered.  “Let me get the tea going, you want some?” he asked.

        “Sure!” she said, closing the door.  “She in the shower?”

        “Yeah.”

        “She coming?”

        “She has school today, and she says you cheat.”

        Sheila laughed.  “She just doesn’t have the guts to play racquetball with me,” Sheila teased.  “She spends half her time running away from the ball.  Where’s your bag?”

        “In the den,” he said.  “But we can’t play a full set, I have that physical at eight thirty.”

        “No problem, Rick always bitches when I come in late anyway,” she laughed.  “Oh, I do have something to show you, though.  I got the new Iphone!”

        “Such a lemming,” he teased.

        “It’s awesome,” she countered.  “It can do so much!”

        “I’ll keep my Blackberry, thanks,” he said, pouring water into teacups.  “Come get it.”
        She bounded into the kitchen and took the cup of steaming water, then went to the cupboard where he kept tea.  He’d finally broke down and started having Connecticut Tea Company tea shipped to him, buying direct from their website, so they finally had decent tea.  The only problem was that he had to order large boxes, so it was rather pricy.  He had bought regular tea, a box of Earl Gray since both he and Jessie liked to drink it from time to time, and a gift box filled with a variety of flavored and herbal teas to satisfy Jessie’s curiosity and occasional taste for something new, but Sheila went for the regular tea.  “Get me a regular too, please,” he said as he finished pouring the water.  One of the things he liked about it was he bought loose leaf tea, which came in little packets, rather than tea bags.  He’d always favored loose leaf tea over bags, it just tasted better.  Jessie had to get used to the idea of that, but she rather liked it after she learned how not to drink too much of the loose leaf.

        “What’s Jessie drinking?”

        “Earl Gray,” he answered.

        “She been trying out the flavor box?”

        He nodded as she handed him a packet.  “Tries a different flavor every night.”

        “I need to order another box,” she noted to herself.  “I’m down to my last week’s worth.”

        Jessie came into the kitchen wearing a robe, and took the tea Kit had prepared for her with a grateful nod.  “Hey Sheila, come to take him for racquetball?”

        “Yeah.  You gonna come play soon?”

        “When you stop hitting the ball at me on purpose,” she accused.

        Sheila laughed.  “Then never,” she winked.

        “I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll play racquetball with you tomorrow if you play tennis with me on Saturday.”

        “You drive a hard bargain,” she accused.

        “Well, Kit’s too good, I can never beat him,” Jessie complained.  “He makes me run all over the court!”

        “Well, we do play for the exercise,” Kit noted calmly, which made Sheila laugh.

        “You make it Thursday afternoon, you have a deal.”

        “That’s fine, just remember I don’t get out til after five.”

        “Just wait for golf season,” Sheila grinned.  “I already joined a country club, and they open for the season on Saturday,” she said eagerly.

        “I didn’t know you play golf,” Jessie said with surprise.

        “I love it.  Kit, not so much.”

        “I don’t mind golf, but swinging the club makes my back ache after a while,” he said mildly.  “So I don’t play very much.”

        “See?  But I’ll need a partner, and hey, you said you’d try almost any sport once.  So, wanna play golf with me?”

        “Sure, I’ll try it,” Jessie said with a nod.  “Is there some place I can rent or borrow some clubs?”

        “We’re about the same size, we’ll see how you do with mine,” Sheila told her.

        “You’re gonna let a whiffer use your driver?  You’re brave,” Kit noted, which made Sheila laugh and Jessie give him a flinty look.

        “Oh, since I have both of you here, I wanted to ask something,” she said.  “Kit, would you do me a huge favor?”

        “What?”

        “Can you fly me, Allision, and Danielle out to South Padre Island on Friday morning, then come get us Sunday evening?  I’ll pay for the gas,” she offered.

        “I guess I can.  Did you ask Rick for Friday off?”

        She nodded.  “I’m gonna work next Saturday to make up for it.  So that’s all set.”

        “Well, I can manage it, as long as I pass my physical today,” he chuckled.

        “How long will that take to get your license back?” Jessie asked.

        “Back?  You lost it?” Sheila asked.

        “My medical certificate expired,” he explained to her.  “And it’ll take all of one day to get my license back.  I get my physical certificate, make a phone call and fax it to the FAA, or take it to the satellite office they have at Bergstrom, and I’m legal again.  If I go to Bergstrom, I’ll walk out with a temporary license til my new license gets here by mail.  If I fax it in, they’ll mail it to me, and fax me a temporary license like I’d get if I go to Bergstrom.”

        “Oh, cool beans,” Sheila said.  “So, it’s a go?”

        “I’d be happy to take you,” he said with a nod.

        Sheila gave him a huge grin.  “You’re the best, cousin!” she said excitedly.

        After racquetball, he was there on time at the office of Doctor Enrique Valguerro, an FAA-approved flight surgeon who had his practice about two miles from Bergstrom.  Doctor Valguerro was a pilot himself, and had been in the Air Force, stationed at Bergstrom back when it was an Air Force base.  He moved back to Austin after he left the military, and he came highly recommended on the airfields around Austin as a doctor who knew.  Valguerro was a plump brown-furred chinchilla, looking like he could be Sandy’s uncle, and he did indeed know.  He’d administered this examination many times, so he knew exactly what he was doing, and gave Kit the only complication he was expecting.  When he reviewed Kit’s medical records, he made note of the screws in his back, and also his passing medical examination and official FAA documentation showing that the FAA was aware of his past accident, but had cleared him to fly after his last exam, after a thorough check of his back. “I see they deferred you last time, but you passed the subsequent physical, and you have all your waiver documentation right here.  Have the screws caused any problems since your last certification physical?”

        “None,” he said.  “I still have full range of motion and it doesn’t hurt at all when I fly, even when I’m doing G maneuvers to scare my passengers.”

        Valguerro laughed.  “You’re lucky you brought these records, or I’d have to file for deferral for you again.  But, I’m afraid I’ll have to make you do some pretty extensive exercises and tests so I’m sure you’re still in flight condition, my friend.  That’s something I have to check thoroughly before I sign off on you.  I hope you understand.”

        “Completely, and I don’t mind at all,” he said with a nod.  “I’ve been through this before, as you saw when you checked over my records.  My last doctor did a six hour exam and a bunch of tests on my back to send in with the rest of my records when I filed for my waiver.  I had to wait two months for the FAA to look over my case and approve me,” he grunted.

        “Well, your last doctor was doing his job,” Valguerro said with an approving nod.  “And I doubt it’ll take that long this time.  You got passed last time, and I won’t have to defer you again since you have all your waiver paperwork.  So, after I make sure your back is still in flying shape, you’ll be good to go.”

        Then came the tests he knew were coming.  He went through X-rays of his back, a very thorough physical inspection and examination of his entire spine and musculature and tissues surrounding his spine, and then he did nearly an hour’s worth of range of motion exercises and pressure tests simulating G forces Valguerro demanded without any trouble.  The doctor put him through every possible test he could think of to make absolutely sure Kit’s back was capable of the stresses of flight.  After all that, he was back on the exam table, and Valguerro continued the examination, moving on to the normal parts of the exam.  “So, what are you flying these days?” he asked.

        “I lucked out and got my paws on a Cessna four hundred,” he said.

        Valguerro whistled.  “I had a fractional on one when it was a Columbia, before Cessna bought them out, and it was a sweet plane,” he said.  “I’m flying a Centurion now.  I wanted something pressurized.”

        “Nice,” Kit told him.  “Fractional?”

        “Nah, I own the whole thing,” he grinned.  “You rated on twin engines?”

        Kit nodded.  “I don’t have seaplane, rotor, or any jet ratings, but I have about everything else…Cat two and three, IFR, high altitude.  I’ll have to get those some day,” he chuckled.  “I was trying to get my first jet rating before the accident.”

        “I never bothered trying for one.  Why did you want it?”

        “Before these screws were in my back, I wanted to fly fighters for the military,” he said.  “So I was trying to get rated on a jet while I was in ROTC, so they’d see I had jet experience.”

        “Ah, I understand, amigo,” he said, patting Kit on the shoulder compassionately.  “Which one were you doing?”

        “Citation CJ-2,” he answered.

        “All those ratings at such a young age?  That had to be pricy.”

        “Eleven thousand dollars was the final price tag.  I was on scholarship, and I finished flight school before the accident.  It paid for most of my commercial license.  The expensive part for me was renting planes after I got my license to keep logging hours to pad my application to Air Force flight school, and I was also starting on that Citation jet rating right before the accident.  I’d done about half of the ground training and flown my first jet the day before it happened.  That was very expensive,” he grunted.  “Renting a jet to log hours is almost ridiculously expensive.  It was like four hundred bucks a day.”

        “Well, that’s quite an accomplishment for such a young pilot.”

        “No, it just took money,” he said calmly, which made Valguerro laugh.  “I got my commercial and my extras in a year in a one forty-one program through the University of Massachussets.  It was one of those comprehensive programs that rated us for both single and multi props as a commercial license, Cat two and three, IFR, high altitude, the whole shebang, so when I graduated, I had to take both single and multi tests, then do two check flights for the first test.  Then we had to do it all over again for our IFR ratings on both types, then do it again for the commercial test. God, that took a lot of studying, because I was taking fifteen credit hours a semester on top of that.  It was like working two jobs,” he chuckled.

        “Well, you got through it.  So you didn’t rock much in flight school?” he asked, using an old Air Force term that they also used in ROTC.  To rock meant to fail.

        “I was paying very close attention,” Kit chuckled.  “The scholarship would be withdrawn if I went under a three point zero GPA, and my flight school was through my scholarship, so I couldn’t fail any major section or it would be withdrawn.”

        “That’s motivation,” Doctor Valguerro said with a nod.  “I rocked way too much when I got my license,” he laughed.  “It took me a year to get my standard pilot’s license.  But, I was doing it on base, so it was way cheaper than it would’ve cost me elsewhere.  But, after I had it, I moved to flight medicine, and I’ve never regretted it.”

        After another three hours of exhaustive tests of his vision, hearing, reflexes, general physical health, even a psychological evalutation, Valguerro had Kit dress as he went over some lab results.  “You’re good to go, my friend.  I’ll sign off on you, so you’re back on flight status.”

        “Thanks, Doctor,” Kit said with a smile.  “I’m glad of that, I’m taking my cousin to South Padre on Friday, so I kinda need my license.”

        Valguerro laughed.  “Finish dressing, I’ll fill out the forms for you.”

        After six hours of being examined, Kit got his completed form, and then went to the FAA office on the grounds of Bergstrom International Airport, in a building not far from the smaller south terminal.  He sat around waiting for an hour, finally got a clerk, then sat and waited as the short, thin male marten clerk reviewed his license history, inspected the certificate issued by Doctor Valguerro, then called Valguerro to personally confirm Kit had passed his physical because of Kit’s previous deferral on his physical from last year, due to his prior injuries.  “I have to ask,” the marten said with a slighty shy look, “you’re that Kit Vulpan, right?”

        Kit smiled. “Afraid so.  You won’t hold that against me, will you?”

        The marten laughed.  “Why should I?  A co-worker pointed me to an article you wrote, and I thought it was pretty good.  Let me print out your temporary license.  You know the drill with the real one?”

        “Yeah, I’ll get it in the mail about a week before it expires.”

        He laughed again. “That’s about right,” he admitted, turning to his keyboard.

        At four o’clock, he walked out of the FAA office on Bergstrom holding his temporary pilot’s license, which would expire on March 6, 2009.  He had a full year before he went through another six hour physical, but he would to back to Doctor Valguerro when that time came, since he already knew about Kit’s back and wouldn’t be so hard on him next time.

        He also noticed that there was a flight school there at the airport.

        He called Jessie as he walked back to his truck.  “Hey baby,” he said.  “I’m done.  Need anything before I come home?”

        “Now?  What took so long?” she demanded as the sounds of dishes clinking chimed in the background.

        “My back,” he said simply.  “The doctor had to make absolutely sure my back doesn’t disqualify me.  I told you this would take all day,” he noted.

        “Yeah, you did,” she agreed.  “Well, you can swing by IGB or Wal-Mart and pick up some nutmeg, I’m almost out.  And you can buy me some of those little bags of potato chips, I haven’t done that yet.”

        “Will do,” he promised.  “Any nausea today?”

        “A little, right after lunch, but thank God I didn’t throw up,” she said with relief.  “Nothing is more humiliating than kneeling in a public bathroom and having everyone listen to you barf.”

        Kit laughed.  “Anything else?”

        “Grape juice?”

        “Don’t ask, silly femme, demand.  I don’t respond to wishy-washy little girls.”

        “Then get grape juice, you little jerk,” she retorted playfully.  “And keep an eye over your shoulder when you get home!”

        Kit laughed lightly.  “Always do, pretty kitty, always do.”

        Kit bought what Jessie wanted, and gave her a loving kiss when he got home.  He put his paw on her belly, almost reflexively, and she laughed and responded with her pattern “not yet, my handsome fox.”

        “Someday I’m gonna feel him kick.”

        “Someday you might feel her kick,” she said with a giggle.  “After she starts making me fat.”

        “You won’t be fat, you’ll be pregnant,” he told her, wrapping his arms around her from behind and rocking her gently from side to side.  “And you’ll be beautiful.”

        “So you say now, when I’m still skinny,” she giggled, reaching behind his head and patting him on his damaged ear.

        “To be fat, you have to have fat in here, not a baby,” he teased, kissing her on the side of her neck as he patted her flat belly with his dark-mittened paw.  “Now stop being silly, my pretty kitty.”

        “I’m not being silly!  I’m making sure my male will still love me when I’m fat and ugly.”

        He laughed lightly.  “You will never be either of those,” he told her.  “You’re a gorgeous cat, love, but it wasn’t your face or body I fell in love with.  What’s in here is what I love the most,” he said, tapping her just under her ear.  “The body and face are just window dressing.  Gorgeous window dressing, but still window dressing.”

        She giggled, and leaned against him.  “I need to record that so I can play it back at you when I’m fat.”

        “Be my guest.”

        After dinner, Kit relaxed with Jessie on the couch, practicing guitar while she wrote part of her paper about flying.  She asked him all kinds of questions, how long it took him, what kinds of licenses there were, and so on.  Kit explained pilot’s licenses to her, and the various ratings for different kinds of planes, and the levels of licenses.  “So, if I wanted a license, what would I have to do?” she asked, looking at him and ready to type on her laptop.  He explained the way that worked too, how one could go to flight school or take private instruction, and explained the difference between a program for a standard license and a program for a commercial license, a part-141, like the one he’d taken.

        “That’s the best way to do it,” Kit told her.  “When I graduated from flight school, I had my commercial license and I was rated for two classes of aircraft, single engine prop and multi-enging prop.  It took about a year, but it also cost over twelve thousand dollars.  If I’d have done a standard license, I could have graduated in four months or so and did it for about six thousand dollars, but I wouldn’t have even a quarter of the privileges I have with a commercial license.  My commercial license lets me land at almost any airport, because I know air commercial traffic control procedures and I can fly by instruments alone.  Those are skills that standard pilots aren’t required to have.”

        “Okay, so, how does having a license make life different for you compared to other furs?”

        She was serious about this, he realized.  She was approaching it like a reporter, and she’d seen how he did his prep work enough to know what to ask to get the information she wanted.  “Well, I guess it’s a matter of freedom,” he said.  “I can fly a plane, which lets me go much further than someone in a car.  In the same time it takes someone to drive to San Antonio, I could fly to Dallas or Brownsville.  It’s not a cheap thing to do, but it’s an option.  But most pilots don’t fly so they can go places faster, they fly because they enjoy flying.”  He chuckled, strumming his guitar.  “And you got a taste of how it makes things different, love.  How many of your classmates can fly home to visit their parents on the weekend?”

        She giggled.  “Yeah, I guess so,” she said.  “Thanks love.”

        “When’s that paper due?”

        “Next month, but why wait?”  She glanced at him.  “Do you have any plans for my spring break?”

        He laughed.  “Love, I’m still so far in the hole on time off I’ll be making it up to the magazine for ten years,” he told her.  “But, I did have a couple of ideas.  We haven’t gone out on a date for a couple of weeks, you know.”

        She gave him a shy yet loving smile.  “Where do you want to go?”

        “I was thinking of dinner in New Orleans,” he said with a smile.  “And a night in a French Quarter hotel, then a ride in a riverboat after we explore the Quarter.”

        She gave him a bright smile.  “I’d love to,” she said.  “Can we afford it?”

        “A dinner, a night in a hotel, and a riverboat ride?  Of course we can,” he told her.  “I can land at Lakefront Aiport there in New Orleans, so we can take a cab into the city easily or rent a car.”

        “I’d love to go,” she said with a smile.

        “I’d love to take you.  I have to start looking at other airports, though.  Driving up to Georgetown kinda sucks, but I guess I have to go where I can find hangar space for the plane.  Leaving it outside tied down to the flight line isn’t the best thing in the world for it.  I want to get hangar space so we can store it out of the weather, and hangar space is always in demand.”  He gave her a sly little look.  “They have a flight school at Bergstrom, you know.”

        “Really?” She said with a smile.  “Have you been looking at flight schools for me, love?”

        “A little,” he winked.  “I noticed the signs for it when I was at the FAA office getting my license renewed.  I’ll look into it for you.”

        “I’d love to, but didn’t you say that flight training was expensive?”

        “If you want to learn, pretty kitty, I’ll find a way to pay for it.  It’s just that simple.”

        “I’ll think about it,” she said.  “But the baby comes first.  Maybe after I deliver I’ll think about it, but I’d rather not have something like that on top of school with me being pregnant.”

        “Love, there’s no time limit,” he chuckled.  “We have plenty of time for you to decide.”

 

        Jessie wasn’t too keen on the idea of starting flight school while pregnant, but Kit could understand her position.  She was in school, and she was pregnant.  She had a lot more important things on her mind right now, and flight school did take some concentration and devotion.

        He did, however, thoroughly research every flight school in the Austin area. There were six of them, and he finally settled on the Austin Aerial Instruction Academy, which was based in the general aviation section of Bergstrom.  They were almost exactly like his own old flight school in that they offered all levels of flight instruction, from standard to flight instructor, and they also offered ratings on multi-engine and instrument flight rules.  They had a 141 program which would graduate someone with a commercial license in 10 months, and what was most important, all of their flight school trainer planes were late models with impeccable maintenance records. Their oldest plane was a 2002 Cessna 172.  Three of their trainers had Garmins, and they also had a Beech for people who wanted to earn a twin engine rating.  The only difference between their flight school and Kit’s was that Kit’s school included a twin engine rating with their commercial program, where it was an optional choice for AAIA’s commercial program, and cost extra money to get if one took it.

        What he looked around for himself was a flight school that offered training for rating on jet aircraft.  Despite what he told Avery back at his wedding, he really wouldn’t mind getting a jet rating now that he was in a position to be able to use it.  Renting a jet would be cheaper for the magazine than flying 8 furs to the same place, but only so long as Kit could fly it, and for that he’d need a rating on the specific kind of jet he rented.  Having a commercial license and his multi engine rating opened the door to getting a jet rating, which was specific to the type of jet he intended to fly.  His multi-engine rating and his authorizations in most aspects of jet flight would let him rate to a jet, which required training in that particular class of jet, like Citations.  Getting rated in a Citation would let him fly Citation class jets, which was what he’d been doing right before the accident, trying to earn a rating on a Citation CJ-2.  Some pilots also pursued the authorizations entailed in jet flight at the same time while rating to a jet, like complex aircraft and high-altitude operations, since one could cover those things during training for the jet.  It could take as little as a couple of weeks or as long as a few months, it depended entirely on how much money he had to afford renting a jet to complete the rating.

        He knew it would be hard, and expensive.  To get a rating that mattered, he needed to find someone willing to rent him a jet to fly, then rate on that jet.  He’d also need a second pilot, since most jets required two pilots on board…but, if he could find all of those things, then it would be viable.  If they got a small enough jet that only required one pilot, like a 6-seat Citation, and he was rated on it, they could rent a jet and fly it and save money over flying 6 furs commercial.  It would cost about $2,000 in rent and jet fuel for a two day trip in a CJ-1, where it would be about the same cost to fly 6 furs on airlines, with the added bonus of having total control of when they left and when they arrived.

        Sure, it wasn’t exactly cost-efficient or really that useful to go to all that trouble to maybe fly a jet for the magazine once, but it was more about finally getting that holy grail of pilot ratings, a rating on a jet.  Finding an excuse to do it was justifying itself in his mind.

        He did dream about it while flying Sheila, Allison, and Danielle down to Brownsville on Friday.  Kit was reading the newest issue of the magazine, seeing it in print rather than on computers, while the autopilot kept them on course, trying to tune out the excited babbling of Sheila and Danielle, where Allison comported herself with her usual quiet reserve.  They were only twenty minutes from Brownsville’s airport, the closest airfield to South Padre Island, but Sheila already had hotel reservations and a rental car that was supposed to be waiting for them at the terminal at 9:00am sharp.  Kit had agreed to take them, but only in the morning, so he didn’t miss work.  He had enough time to get back home and even relax a little while.  He still wasn’t sure why they were going now, since Danielle and Allison were missing a day of class; U.T.’s spring break started a week from today…but then again, maybe that was why they were going now.  Next weekend it would be crowded, where this weekend they had the beach to themselves.

        Wow.  Wow.  Barry had interviewed State Senator Chris Rivers as part of the election special, and—wow.  What a fantastic interview!  Barry took it to Rivers, but not in a confrontational manner.  Much as Kit did, he asked hard, difficult questions, but also gave Rivers a chance to display his strengths, state his platform, and try to woo people to vote for him.  He’d ask a very tough question challenging his views, then turn around and ask a supportive question that aligned with Rivers’ platform.  It ran five pages, and was the lead article.  Next week, they would release their first expanded issue, going for a target of 38 pages.

        But the TCAS woke him up.  It gave an audio warning of a nearby plane, and Kit knocked it off autopilot and checked the MFD; there was another private plane coming at him from an angle, but a good mile under him.  Kit was cruising at 11,000 feet, but that plane was at 6,000 feet.  Kit bumped his auxiliary radio over to the accepted pilot chatter frequency for Texas pilots and called the plane.  A femme answered, and he chatted with her for a few minutes before saying goodbye when Brownsville air traffic control called him on the primary radio, still tuned to traffic control frequency.  “Belt up, femmes,” Kit called over the intercom as he answered the controller, descending to enter a holding pattern around the airport.  “We have to sit in a holding pattern for a little bit,” he said.

        “Are we gonna run late?  That car’s supposed to be waiting for us,” Sheila warned.

        “Call them, we’re close enough to the ground for you to get a signal,” Kit answered.  “But I don’t think we’ll be waiting long.  I don’t see much traffic around us,” he noted, looking at the planes on the MFD.

        They were in holding for only ten minutes, and he landed only five minutes later than expected, and rather happily; Brownsville wasn’t going to charge him a landing fee.  He taxied up to a temporary parking area by their terminal, giving the girls access to their terminal through a concourse door, then powered down.  “Alright, girls, you can get out,” he said as he set the parking brakes and disabled all flight controls and control surfaces.  “Remember to stay next to the plane and walk straight to the door when you’re ready.”  There was no reason to go through postflight since he was going to start the engine back up as soon as they unloaded.  Kit got out and opened the cargo door, and then started pulling out the three small suitcases they brought.  “Remember, right here, Monday, six o’clock,” he told them.  “I’ll call you before I start out, Sheila.”

        “Thanks a million, cousin!” Sheila said, hugging him.

        “Yeah, thanks, Kit, you saved us a ton of money and time!” Danielle added, giving him a hug of her own.

        “Don’t let Jessie see you do that, or she’ll shave the fur off your tail,” Kit told her, which made her laugh.  “Have fun, Allison,” he said, taking her paw, rather formally.

        “I’ll make sure she does,” Sheila grinned.  “Let’s go find our car, femmes!  It’s still a half hour to the island, and we have beer to drink and guys to lay!”

        Danielle’s cheeks ruffled up as she gave Kit an apologetic look, which only made Kit laugh and shoo her along, then he started out for the terminal so he could pay the landing fee for the airport.

        What he thought would be a nice quiet solo flight back turned into anything but.  Vil called him while he was sitting on the taxiway, waiting for a commuter plane to cross through the intersection so he could get to the runway.  He ignored her until he was in the air, when he could put it on autopilot and get the phone out.  He hooked up the hands-free headset for it and pulled his aircraft headset off one ear to put the Bluetooth in his ear.  When she answered, he heard her gasp.  “Where the hell are you, and what’s all that noise?” she asked.

        “I’m flying back from Brownsville, I just dropped Sheila and some friends off there for the weekend.  What did you need?”

        “I don’t need anything so badly I’ll listen to that droning,” she told him.  “Call me when you’re back on the ground.”

        He did so when he got back to Georgetown, talking to her as he tied down the plane in a rapidly warming morning.  “Alright, I’m on the ground, now what did you need?”

        “I got news for you, bro,” she told him.  “I made a deal with a commuter airline at Bergstrom for your plane.  They’ll give you some hangar space in their hangar down there until we can get a permanent hangar.  I’m going to give you a number for their hangar manager down there, and she’ll tell you about it.  Remember, though, this is just temporary, bro.  They have some empty space in one of their maintenance hangars because the plane that usually takes it is assigned somewhere else, but she’ll be happy to rent you that spot until the plane comes back in four months.  The plane’s in Europe somewhere right now.”

        “That sounds good, sis, thank you,” he said as he tugged on the guide line securing the tail of the plane.  “Cause it sucks having to tie this thing down every time I’m done.”

        “Hey, that’s one of the things I’m here for,” she chuckled.  “That and trying to spoil you rotten, that is.”

        “Keep trying,” Kit chuckled, “though you’ve certainly started tempting me because of this plane.”

        “Oh?  I’m starting to taint that purity, eh?” she giggled.  “And just how did I manage this miracle?”       “I’m not sure I should tell you.  It just gives you a new angle of attack to use against me, after all.  Why should I give you ammunition?”

        “Humor me.”

        “Well, alright, I guess.  I’ve been pondering getting a jet rating,” he told her.  “If there’s ever a time Rick wants to take most of the office somewhere, we’d all have to take commercial flights.  It would be cheaper if I could fly us, but flying eight people would take either a multi-engine prop or a jet, and, well, jets are faster and more comfortable.  If I could fly us, we‘d save money renting a jet over flying six or seven furs commercial.  The only drawback to that is that most jets that can hold eight or more require two pilots to be on board, by law, and there’s the fact that I’d have to rate on a specific model of jet, so there would have to be that particular jet available for charter when we went to go rent it.  Getting an eight seater would require an extra pilot, but there are some six seat jets that can be flown with just one pilot.  It really wouldn’t be cost effective to rent a jet big enough to fly the whole magazine, but a six-seat jet flown by just me would actually be cheaper to rent, since we wouldn’t have to hire a second pilot.  It’s not really all that important, but I was working on a jet rating before I was hit by the car, and, well, you know.  It’s something I never got to finish, and something I’d always wanted to do.”

        “Hmm.  What does it take to get this rating thing?”

        “That depends entirely on the jet,” he answered.  “There’s no generic rating for jets, Vil, it’s specific to the jet I want to fly.  So, I’d have to know what jet I could charter and train to fly that particular jet.”

        “Let me make some calls, bro,” she offered.

        “No, I’ll do it myself,” he said, a bit warningly.

        “Bro, I can help with this, and I promise I won’t throw money around.  I’ll just ask around and see if there’s anyone around Austin willing to let you tag along on flights they’re already taking so you can log hours at the controls.  Doesn’t that help you get your rating?  It’s what you did when you got your license.”

        “It’s not quite that easy, sis.  I’d have to do ground training on the jet, be officially working for the rating to fly the jet.  And the pilot that was with me would have to be a flight instructor certified to train me for that jet rating.  Those aren’t exactly easy to find outside of the professional flight schools or the aircraft builders.”

        “I’ll keep that in mind.  But, if I can find you something like that, will you take it?”

        “Well,” he said hesitantly, considering it.  “If you promise not to just rent the jet, I guess I will.  It would be really nice to be able to sit in the co-pilot’s chair of a jet on a flight.”

        “I’m glad you will.  You’ve denied yourself what you rightly deserve for a long time, bro.  If I can help you get something you want, even if it’s something you don’t need, well, you know I’m gonna meddle.  And after all, your birthday is coming up at the end of the month, and I have to get you a good present,” she said with a little chuckle.  “I know how hard you worked to get your pilot’s license.  I’d love to help you keep going with your flight training.”

        “I appreciate your concern, sis, but I can do without the manipulation.”

        She laughed.  “I’m glad you’re using your gift.”

        “I love it, sis.  Thank you again.”

        “How does it handle?  What’s it like to fly in it?”

        “Why don’t you come down and take a joy ride with me?”

        She laughed.  “Give up my private jet with my personal bedroom to come down and fly in a little single engine propeller plane?  Sure!” she said brightly.  “I’ll have to clear some space on my calendar, though.”

        “We’d love to see you, sis,” he said.  “It’s been months since you’ve been here.”

        “Since the wedding,” she affirmed.  “Okay, so, while I’m doing this, you look into that ground training you said you need, see where you can get it.  With luck, I’ll find someone able to do me a favor by the time you’re done.”

        “Remember, no cheating.”

        “I’ll do my best to hold to that, or at least cover it up so you can’t tell I was cheating,” she giggled.  “I’ll look over my schedule and find a good few days to come see you.  Hmm, Jessie’s spring break is next week, right?”

        “A week from today is when it starts, then she doesn’t have to be back until the following Monday.”

        “Let’s see if I can wrangle a day or two somewhere in there, so me and her can spend some quality time together.”

        “She’d love to see you.”

        “I’d hope so,” she chuckled.  “Alright, let me go juggle my schedule some, baby bro.  I’ll call you back when I have something solid.”

        “Alright.”

        “I’ll text you the name and number of that fur about the hangar.  She can give you all the details.”

        “I was just about to make note that you haven’t given me his number,” he chuckled.

        Kit wasn’t sure how to feel about Vil meddling.  On one hand, he wasn’t asking her for money, he was asking her to use her influence and power to secure a favor for him.  That, though, went paw in paw with that money, for her money gave her that power.  Vil had incredible power as the CEO of the Vulpan businesses; he had no doubt that she could effectively bully the President of the United States.  But, he’d also have to admit, that power was useless unless it was used, and at least he wasn’t asking for anything outrageous.  He didn’t want her to arrange any special favors, he just wanted her to look around and see if she could find him a jet that would let him tag along when they went on a flight.

        Kit called the hangar after he got home.  The fur he had to talk to was named Alice Darrow, and he found her to be a pretty laid-back and friendly young femme.  She was the hangar manager for Avia Commuter and Charter Airlines, which had seven offices; Austin, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Louis, and they’d just opened a new office in London flying commuter and charter flights between London and European cities.  The office here had originally been based in Houston, but they’d moved the home office to Austin when Bergstrom was built because they got their paws on a brand new hangar that had a hell of a lot more office space than their Houston hangar.  There was enough traffic for them to keep a flight operation here in Austin, enough for two planes, but they had their main maintenance facility here as well, having moved that from Houston because they had much more room.  “The space was originally for a Lear four fify, so I’m sure your plane will fit in it,” she told him.  “What have you got?”

        “A Cessna four hundred,” he answered.

        “Oh, nice, and that’ll more than fit,” she chuckled.  “The spot’s in the back of the hangar, but you’ll have no trouble at all moving in and out, it’s a big hangar.  I’ll give you a clicker that’ll open the hangar door if you fly in after hours.”

        “Sounds good.”

        “We have an AVGas pump right inside, and we only have one turboprop that uses it,” she said temptingly.

        He laughed. “Yes, I’ll buy my gas from you, if you take Transport.”

        “Of course we do,” she said with a giggle.  “Now, were you told that this isn’t permanent?”

        “Yeah, my sister said I can have the spot for four months.”

        “Yeah.  Our plane’s coming back after the London office takes delivery of a new eight fifty that’s scheduled for delivery four months from now.”

        Kit whistled.  “Expensive.”

        “Worth it, our London expansion is really busy,” she said.  “The new tunnel dropped off charter travel to Paris, but there’s lots of other European cities, and London’s a big arrival point for business.  The eight fifty’s gonna do commuter routes from London to other cities.  Our number crunchers say the plane will pay itself off in five years.”

        “Sounds like it was a good investment, then.”

        “I certainly hope so,” she laughed. “I’d prefer you come to park the plane when I’m here.  Can you bring it here today?”

        “Well, if my friend is home, I think we could get it done before I have to go to work,” he said, looking at the clock.

        “Well, you have my number, call me if you can.”

        “Sure.”

        Lupe was indeed home, and he was willing to give Kit a hand.  Lupe drove with him as he went up to Georgetown, telling Alice he was on his way on the phone on the way up, and he parked his truck behind his plane at the airport.  “Now, you know where to go?”

        “Yeah, brah, the backside of the airport.  You have to go down one seventy-one to get there.  Avia, right?”

        “Yup,” he said, getting out of his truck and giving Lupe the key.  “Do not burn out my clutch,” he warned.

        Lupe laughed.  “I know how to drive a stick, brah,”  he assured him.

        “I should be there waiting for you,” Kit told him, which made Lupe laugh.

        “You better be.  If you got beat somewhere by a car, you’d have to hand in your license in shame.”

        “Oh, it can definitely happen, Lupe,” he said.  “If they stick me in a holding pattern, you might get there before I can land.”

        “Well, let’s hope it don’t happen.”

        Kit took off for the second time that day for a five minute flight from Georgetown to Austin.  He barely managed to get over a thousand feet before he was descending again, being guided down by a controller at Bergstrom.  Bergstrom had two full-length runways for jets and two smaller runways to the southeast of them for small planes, and that was where Kit was sent to land.  He relied on an airport layout graphic he brought up on his laptop computer, sitting in the copilot’s seat, to guide himself to the Avia hangar, and he called Alice from inside the plane as he was taxiing down a long line of hangars.  “I’m on the ground and coming to the hangar,” he told her.

        “Okay, park outside and I’ll show you around before you taxi in.”

        Alice was a small collie, short and thin, but she was bouncy.  She explained the procedures they used in the hangar while they walked down the clearly marked center line, showing him how the hangar was divided into four quadrants for the four planes that would be parked there.  The two planes in the front of the hangar were both Citation business jets, the little CJ1 models, the six seater versions, obviously in for maintenance.  The front two bays were their maintenance bays, while the back of the hangar looked to house two planes.  The plane in the back on the left was a Cessna 421, an eight passenger turboprop, which was the one permanently assigned to Austin, while the back right area, cordoned off with yellow paint on the floor, was empty.  There was an open garage door on the left side of the hangar, between the Citation and the 421, probably for maintenance trucks or clients, and there were doors that looked like they went to offices behind the empty area that would be his parking spot, which was in the back of the hangar on the right side.  “Okay, this is yours for four months,” she told him, pointing to the empty marked area in the back right of the hangar.  “Everything inside the paint.  The AV pump is right there, and the hoses should easily reach your plane.  Just log how many gallons you pump and we’ll bill you for it,” she assured him.  “You’re free to taxi in and out without getting a tow since your plane is so small, just warn everyone before you do it.  I’ll give you a remote for the hangar and garage door so you don’t have to get in and out to open it, it’s an auto-open one.  We own the six tie down spots outside the hangar too, so if you can’t get the doors open for some reason, tie down out there, so you won’t have to pay to park.”

        “Can I drive into the hangar?”

        “Sure, we let clients do it all the time.  That‘s what that garage door over there is for,” she said, pointing to the open double-sized garage door.  “The clicker I‘ll give you opens that door too.  Just drive down the middle between the red lines, stay out of the plane areas.  I’ll even let you park your car in your plane spot, since your plane’s so small.”

        “Wow, thanks a lot, that’s nice of you.”

        “No sweat,” she shrugged.  “You’re paying rent, after all, so may as well let you get your money’s worth,” she winked.  “Let’s go up to the office so you can sign the contract.”

        Lupe was waiting in the lobby when he came in from the back.  He waved to Kit, and gave Alice a curious, assessing look he saved for femmes that caught his interest.  Kit had to chuckle; Lupe would lay the moves on her when they were done.  After Kit read and signed the four month lease agreement, he went back out and taxied his plane into the hangar.  He had no trouble at all getting it to his area, which was entirely too big for his plane, so much room he could easily turn the plane around with his Pathfinder parked inside the yellow lines within the spot.  Alice and Lupe were talking near the door leading to the offices as Kit got out of his plane and locked it up, then he greeted one of the Avia workers who wandered over to admire his plane.  They chatted a minute, until a stern look from Alice sent him scurrying back to the 421 and what he was doing.  But her entire demeanor changed when she turned to talk to Lupe again, becoming all demure and coy.  Kit saw that she was interested in Lupe, and was already playing the game with him.

        Kit had to stand there and listen to them exchange goofy lines, then exchanged phone numbers, then Lupe finally asked her out.  “So, how does dinner and a movie sound?” he asked her.

        “Well, I think I could go for that,” she said with an appealing little smile, looking up at him.  Lupe wasn’t very tall, but at least he was taller than her.  “How about tomorrow?”

        “Tomorrow’s fine with me,” Lupe grinned.

        “Lupe, I have to go to work,” he reminded him.

        “Oh. Oh, yeah.  Sure.  Gotta go, babe.  I’ll call ya.”

        “You’d better,” she said with a smile, which made Lupe chuckle.

        “Damn, she’s cute,” Lupe said as they walked to his truck, the garage door opener-like control in Kit’s paw.  Lupe had parked in the lot outside the side of the hangar facing the public, which was covered in white stone and had the Avia logo painted in blue over the glass doors.

        “She’s a smart one, Lupe, be careful.”

        “We’ll see,” Lupe grinned.

        “And remember she’s in control of the space I’m renting for my plane,” Kit added.  “You piss her off and get me evicted, we’re gonna have words.”

        Lupe gave him a look, then laughed delightedly.  “Then somebody’d better take a dive during poker on Sunday,” he grinned.

        “Ohh, it sounds like someone doesn’t want rummage rights through our leftovers.”

        Lupe winced.  “That’s dirty pool, brah.”

        “Vulpans go for the throat,” Kit noted in a calm voice.

        Work turned out to be nearly as exciting as that morning, for when he showed up at one, nearly late, a small ocelot in a dark suit was standing in the main office waiting for him, with several uniformed members of the Austin Police behnind her.  Two furs he didn’t know were in his office, sitting at his desk, going through his computer.  She stepped up to him and handed him a two folded sheafs of papers wrapped in blue, and Kit knew what they were.

        A search warrant.

        “What now?” he sighed.

        “We have a search warrant, ordering you to surrender all notes, transcripts, drafts, edits, and or recordings pertaining to an article written about an illegal brothel,” the ocelot told him.

        “Well, I don’t have any of it,” he told them.  “They were all destroyed as part of my agreement with my source.”

        The ocelot gave him a dark look.  “If you’re lying and covering for your source, sir, you can be charged with obstruction of justice if we find anything.”

        “You’re already snooping, go right ahead.  You’re not going to find what I don’t have.  I’ll guarantee you you won’t find anything.”

        And they didn’t.  Mike was no fool; because they worked in a magazine, every workstation in the office had a program that eradicated data off of the hard drive by zeroing the disk, causing the hard drive to write blank data over what one wanted deleted from the hard drives, which destroyed it.  Kit had that same program on his laptop and home computers, and he had run it there as well.  They couldn’t use a disk snooper to reconstruct that data, because the hard drive had completely written over all of it, permanently destroying it.

        The computer techs in his office were quick to realize that.  “He has Data Wiper on his workstation, counsel,” the short cat told the ocelot.  “If he ran it, we won’t recover anything off this computer.”

        “Like I told you, I destroyed all my notes,” Kit said simply.  “And I’m not naïve enough to think that just hitting delete on my computer erases it forever.”  He offered up his laptop as well.  “And you’ll see I have that program on my laptop too.”

        The techs took his laptop, started it up, then frowned when it was up and running.  “We can check, counsel, but I doubt we’re going to find anything.”

        “Check it.”

        The DVD he burned did, however, come up.  “I see here that you burned word documents to a DVD,” the tech said after he worked with his laptop.  “Where is this DVD?”

        “I’ve burned quite a few DVDs,” he said simply.  “What file names?”

        When the tech repeated them, Kit knew that those were the research notes because of the dates they were burned to the DVD.  They weren’t given names that anyone but him would really understand; they didn’t say Allison’s notes or anything like that, they were listed by the evolution of the article, with names such as base notes or outline or second draft.  Since Kit never worked on more than one article at a time, he never felt any need to differentiate; that came when he archived the information.  When he archived it, it was bundled under the title of the article then all the individual files were renamed to reflect the archive, since he often changed the titles of articles halfway through writing them.

        Besides, using the same names for all his research files always put the same names in his documents list on his shortcut window.  After archiving, he just cleared everything out of the files and started over.

        “If you can see I’ve burned DVDs, why don’t you keep looking?  I burn DVDs of those same files over and over, it’s part of my archiving system that keeps things standardized.  Since I do the archiving for all the writers, I change the names of their research files to a standard format then burn it.  We keep three copies of all our notes and background information.  One copy is in our server, another is the backups of the server, and the last is kept on DVDs in hard storage in case of some kind of cataclysm that wipes out all of Mike’s backups of our network data.”  He pointed at the wall.  “Two doors down, you’ll find our storage room with a few boxes of DVDs, all organized by week.  That’s our hard storage archive.”

        “So, you burned a DVD of the information we want?”

        “Do I look dumb to you?” Kit asked simply.  “I promised my source I would destroy all notes.  Why on earth would I burn a DVD of notes I intended to destroy?”

        And that was the easy way to avoid answering the question—and maybe get busted for perjury—while giving an indirect answer they’d buy.

        Vil didn’t raise a fool.

        “Then what did you burn on this DVD?”

        “That week, I’d say it was Barry’s interview with the head of the Austin Election Commission.  Either that or background notes on instances of gay hate crimes committed around the U.T. campus.  Maybe both.  I don’t recall exactly.”

        Kit waited patiently for them to go get the DVD, silently praying that they took him on his word and didn’t actually check the DVD to see if its volume number matched the number of the DVD he burned.  That would require them to load the DVD, where the DVD they’d go get would have the same week written on it as the DVD he burned.  He almost held his breath when they came back, and was silently gleeful when he saw they did not have the DVD with them.

        “It’s there,” the tech told the ocelot.  “Right where he said it was.  Two DVDs burned that week.”

        “Did you see what was on them?” the ocelot asked.

        “Do you really think he’d leave it out like that?” the tech asked.

        “Check.”

        Kit was again inwardly nervous as the tech went and got the two DVDs he’d burned that week, then checked them one by one.  One of them had the same list of files he’d burned to the DVD, matching up exactly.  “This is it,” the tech said, holding up the DVD.  “It’s the one about the election commission.”

        Thank God he was such a creature of habit!  And thank God they were just looking at file names!  And thank God he didn’t just merge everything to one DVD and burn it all together like he usually did!  But that week was so wild, so messed up, he’d not done it all together.  It was the only week in the box that had more than one DVD for it.  That little mistake was saving his ass right now!

        “We’re done here, counsel,” the tech said.  “There’s nothing here.”

        “Alright then.  If you’d come with us, Mister Vulpan, we’ll go check your house and home computers.”

        Kit didn’t entirely like them coming into his house, but when they arrived at his apartment, he showed them to his den and let the techs go after his computers while uniforms searched his house.  One of them did come up with a DVD, taken out of the closet, and Kit’s cheek fur ruffled a little when he realized just what that DVD was.  “Uh, if you’re going to look at that one, I’d ask you clear the room of the males,” he said quietly to the ocelot.  “That one has some pictures on it of my wife that I don’t think I’d like seen by anyone but a femme.”

        She was at least accommodating in that regard.  He let her use his laptop to investigate the DVD.  After bringing up a text list of files, then seeing they were all picture files, she quietly removed it and gave it back to him.  “It clearly has no documents on it,” she said.

        “Thank you, ma’am,” Kit said sincerely, putting it back in the case.

        It was a very nervous hour.  Kit did in fact have that DVD in the house, but it was hidden in a rather ingenous way; in plain sight.  It was in the entertainment center, inside a Pretty Femme DVD movie case.  The movie DVD itself was over at Sheila’s apartment, and he wanted that DVD where he could get at it quickly and easily but also keep it hidden, so he Lightscribed a copy of the DVD art of Pretty Femme on the DVD, and then put it in the case.  The police did go through his entertainment center, but thankfully, they didn’t check every single disc in all his DVD and game disc cases.  The Pretty Femme box was just shuffled aside after the uniform officer opened it and just glanced inside, saw Pretty Femme printed on the DVD, and then moved on.

        They had missed it.

        After an hour in his apartment, the techs and police came up empty.  The ocelot then handed him another piece of blue-wrapped papers.  “This is a subpeona, Mister Vulpan,” she told him.  “Since there’s no notes, you’ll have to testify about it in person.  Wednesday, March fifteenth, ten o’clock at the courthouse.”

        “Oh joy,” he said blandly.

        “We’ll take you back to your office, then,” she said.

        Once he got back, Rick, Savid, Barry and he all congregated in Rick’s office, and they talked about it.  Kit made it plain that he was not going to give them any answers at all, which was what Rick wanted to hear from him.  Rick and Savid basically gave Kit their full support, since they were listed as the editors of the magazine and they’d probably get subpoenaed next, but they were relieved when Kit said he’d talk to Kevin about it.  Kevin was his lawyer, so this was his domain.  “We should have called him as soon as they started searching, son,” Rick told him.  “Because I’m not entirely sure that search warrant was entirely legal.  Did they cause any trouble?”

        “No, they didn’t trash our house or anything like that.”

        “Did they find anything?” Savid asked.

        “I destroyed all of it,” he said, giving Rick a look that told him he was lying, mainly for Barry and Savid.  Rick already knew that he intended to keep one copy of his notes, and that DVD…and it would get moved tomorrow.

        It was time to abuse his family’s connections just a tiny bit more.

        He called Vil as soon as the meeting broke up.  He needed her help, but he was also fearful that they were tapping his phone, so he was very careful.  “Sis,” he said, “can you do me a favor?”

        “Well, sure.  What is it?”

        He was quiet a second, then spoke in a voice that told her that he was deadly, deadly serious.  “I just had the Austin police search my office and my house,” he told her, “and I got subpeonaed.”    

        What?  Oh, like hell they did!” she said with sudden heat.  “I’ll—“

        “You’ll leave it alone,” Kit told her.  “Let me call Kevin and see what kind of legal options I have before you start going Rambo all over everyone.”

        She actually laughed.  “I have every right to protect my little brother from being harassed,” she declared.

        “Yeah, well, let me talk to Kevin first.  I have the right to protect my sources, so I don’t think they can really make me testify.  But I want to talk to Kevin first.”

        “I’ll—“

        “Vil, don’t talk, listen.  Let me handle it.  But, there is something you can do for me.  Is that lawyer you went to school with still here in Austin, the one that used to work as a courier?  I’d like to talk to him about it, and I know he’s good.  I want to talk to him face to face.  If they subpeonaed me, well, they may be doing something I’ve seen done before, so I’d rather not use the phone.”

        She was silent just a second.  “Yes, my lawyer friend is still in Austin,” she answered in a tone he knew meant she understood what he was really asking.  “I’ll call him and have him drop by your office tomorrow morning to talk to you about it.”

        “Thanks, sis.”

        “Any time, bro.”

        Take that, the District Attorney of Travis County.  If he trapped Kit into admitting that hard copies of his article notes existed, and he wanted that information, he was going to have to wrestle Vil for it…and Kit rather doubted he had the balls to try.

        “Now, let me make a few calls,” she said in a grim voice.  “They’re not gonna push around my little brother,” she actually seethed.

        “I can take care of myself, and like I said, let me call Kevin before anyone does anything.  Let’s see where the law is before we start going Vulpan all over people.”

        She laughed helplessly over the phone.  “Going Vulpan!  God, is that ever the truth!”

        After talking to Vil, he called Kevin.  Rick was probably right that they should have called Kevin when the cops were searching, but on the other paw, they left without finding anything.  Had they backed him into a corner, odds were he’d have called Kevin to come help.  Kevin was startled to hear about it, and was in the office not ten minutes later, reading the copy of the search warrant he was given as well as the subpeona.  “Well, this search warrant is legit,” he said, turning it over.  “I’d have had to argue against anything they found in a hearing after the fact.  It’s signed by a judge, that’s all they really need, and I know that judge’s signature.  I clerked for him.  Since they came up empty, they’ll have a hell of a time trying to get another one for the office and your house, but they could try to get one to search your cars, your plane, or your safe deposit box.  If they try, call me immediately and don’t let them start searching until I get there.  But this subpeona, this doesn’t sit right with me.  I need to go look up some cases, but there’s something about it that’s not ironclad,” he said, looking at it.  “I’m almost positive we can get you out of it.  Let me go back to the firm and talk to Delores.  I may be your attorney, but she’s also my boss and always makes me tell her about any work I do for you, to make sure I do it right.  She’s also very well versed in criminal law.  If there’s any hole at all in this subpeona, she’ll find it, and then we’ll quash it.  Can I take this back to the firm?”

        “It’s all yours,” Kit told him earnestly.  “I take it you’re now on retainer?”

        He laughed.  “Nah, I’ll do the research and file the motion for you pro bono, especially since you helped me set up that entertainment center last week.  This is no big thing.  But, if I have to go argue in a courtroom, that’s another matter,” he said delicately.

        “I don’t mind paying, Kev.  You are my lawyer.  I don’t expect you to do this for free.”

        “I’ll do the easy stuff free, at least what I can hide from the other partners but Delores,” he grinned.  “Delores won’t say anything.  I can’t really hide doing real work if I’m going to the courthouse to argue a motion.”

        “I told you, no problem, Kev.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re on retainer right now.”

        “That’ll make Delores happy,” he chuckled.  “You know, I’m amazed they’re doing this.”

        “What do you mean?”

        “Kit, you may be down here, but you’re a Vulpan.  The DA has to know that if he pisses off your family, they’ll destroy him.  Someone like Vil could ruin him with a flick of her wrist all the way from Boston.”

        “Well, I’m outcast from the family and it’s basically common knowledge, so I guess he’s willing to take the risk.”

        “If I were the DA, I’d never have the balls to try it,” he admitted.  “I value my life.  But, from what I’ve heard of the DA in office now, he’s one of those crusader types.  You know, war against drugs, war against crime, war against indecency.  But if he thinks he’s big enough to play in the Vulpan’s sandbox, he’s either really brave or really stupid.  It’ll be a rude awakening for him the first time he deals with your sister.  Anyway, let me take this back and talk to Delores.  I’ll call you when we have something, either tonight or early tomorrow.”

        Kit called Vil back and told her what Kevin said.  “See, there’s no reason for you to come down here and buy out the city in a snit,” he told her.  “Kevin’s pretty sure that the subpeona is flawed, and he’s talking to Delores Kittimer about it.  They’ll let me know more either tonight or tomorrow, but Kevin said the outlook is very good.  So just leave this one alone for now, sis.  Let’s hear what Delores has to say first.  Until then, leave it alone.”

        “Well…alright.  I don’t like it, but alright.”

        “You have to let me grow up eventually, big sister,” he teased.

        She laughed.  “I guess I am being a nosy mom,” she admitted.  “If I start acting like Hannah, you have official permission to smack me on the nose.”

        The search and subpeona were a surprise, but it also didn’t grind the office to a halt.  They all had work to do, and a lot of it, since next issue was expanding by 14 pages, from the old target length of 24 pages to the new target length of 38.  That was 14 pages of additional information, 14 pages they had to fill with interesting, viable stuff, and not just ads.  Rick was absolutely adamant about his ratio of material to ads, and that meant that 79% of those pages had to be filled with articles, pictures, or other features.  It was a noticeable increase in work for the four staff writers, for now Lilly and Marty were doing real writing, Barry was doing an extra article, and Kit was doing an extra article on top of his researching duties.  Barry’s article was about the lack of swimming pools for recreation for students in Austin, and Kit’s extra article was about spring break destinations for students either with low money or no car of their own to get around.  Kit had to research the data for both of those articles, as well as research for the closing of The Pit for Lilly’s article, and the statistics Marty needed for his article about gay hate crimes on the U.T. campus, for there had been just such an incident four days ago that involved the spray painting of an anti-gay slogan on a car parked near campus.  It was work for everyone else too, for Savid and Jeffrey had a lot more graphics to design, Sheila wasn’t there, so Mike and Denise were running everyone’s errands, and Rick had to manage it all.  The only ones that didn’t have a huge workload increase from the expansion were Denise and Mike, but they did anything and everything they could for everyone else.  Mike also spent that time going out to take the photographs they needed for the issue, he did proofreading and formatting for the writers, he volunteered to do some footwork tonight to cover some nightclubs to help Lilly with her The Scene duties, and he also expanded the website by adding a new page where people could submit photos for the new feature they were introducing next week, named Student Snapshots.  Denise had taken over for Sheila doing the little things as best she could, often rushing back to her desk to answer the phone, trying to help everyone as much as she could.  Rick rewarded her by giving her a piece of Marty’s usual duties, letting her pick some of the letters for the mailbag which she had to proofread and edit to fit in the allotted size without changing the meaning of the writer’s intent.  It was her first real journalism project since working for them, and she was happy to take her shot at it.

        It was really busy in the office, with a focus that they didn’t often show.  They’d all lost time because of the search that disrupted the office, and in a magazine working on a deadline, losing an afternoon was a bad thing.  Everyone felt like they were already close to deadline, so there wasn’t as much bantering and visiting, but there was a hell of a lot of work.  Mike went out for pizza for everyone since nobody wanted to leave for lunch, and Jessie showed up with Sandy, Charlotte, and Sam around four.  “Wow, it’s so quiet,” Jessie noted as Sandy went to Jeffrey’s office, and Charlotte stood out in the main office talking with Lilly, who had come out of Rick’s office.

        “We’re kinda busy,” Kit told her as Sam and Charlotte wandered in behind his wife, sending Marty’s research off to him, then looking at Sam and Charlotte.  “Guys, can we have a minute?”

        “No hanky-panky at work,” Charlotte teased, but the serious look on Kit’s face deflated her humor a little. “Uh, sure.  We’ll wait out in the office.”

        “What’s going on, handsome fox?” Jessie asked.

        “They served a search warrant on me this morning and searched the office and our house.  And I got subpoenaed.”

        “What?  Why?” she asked, her face aghast.

        He explained it to her quickly, then leaned back in his chair.  “They didn’t find anything, of course.  I’ve been around the block enough times to get past it.”

        “Did you tell Vil?”

        He nodded.  “She’s going to help, in her own way, but I did talk to Kevin.  He said there’s nothing we can really do about the search warrant, and not to really worry about it, especially since they came up empty.  They can’t really ask for another one since they didn’t find anything this time, unless they get a warrant for our safe deposit box.  But they won’t find anything in there either.  But, he also thinks the subpeona is illegal, so he’s filing a motion to quash it.  He said Misses Kittimer is going to let him handle my case, but she’ll be watching over him personally to make sure he does it right.”

        “Well, that does make me feel a little better,” Jessie said.  “I mean, I love Kev, but he is just starting.  Misses Kittimer is a partner, she’s got lots of experience.”

        “I’m sure they’ll handle it.  Kev said it’d just take a quick brief and a few hours of research, then the hearing to quash the motion.  He’s not charging us for anything but having to go to court, though, which is really nice of him.  Kev knows we’re not exactly rich, and I appreciate them not making us dig into our crisis fund.”

        “They searched our house, didn’t they?”

        He nodded.  “They didn’t tear it up, I was watching them.  They found our honeymoon DVD, but they didn’t see anything on it.”

        “Oh, thank God!” Jessie said, her cheeks blooming.

        “So, that’s the big news.  They didn’t find anything, and they never will.  The firm is on the case to defend me against the subpeona, so we’re just waiting to hear back from Kevin.”

        “I’m going to feel weird in our house now, knowing a bunch of strangers went through our stuff,” she said, a bit indignantly.  “It’ll take time for it to feel like it’s ours again.”

        “I know the feeling.  Anyway, as far as non-earthshaking news goes,” he said, which made her giggle, “I also moved the plane this morning.  Vil found me a temporary place to park the plane on Bergstrom that’s inside a hangar, renting a spot from a commuter airline that had an extra space in their hangar.  But I can only use it for four months, then the plane that occupies that space is going to be back.”

        “Well, that’s better than nothing,” she noted.

        “Yeah.  Lupe took me up to Georgetown and picked me up at Bergstrom, and he already has a date with the hangar manager for the airline,” he grunted.

        Jessie giggled, obviously starting to feel a little better.  “He’s such a dog,” she said.

        “No doubt there, but at least he has enough sense not to go after Sheila.”

        “You think there’s going to be a lot of trouble over the article?”

        He shook his head.  “I have rock solid constitutional rights,” he said.  “This is about protecting a source, and they can’t do anything about it.  They’d never even try this if I worked for the newspaper or a big magazine.  They think us little rinky-dink city magazines don’t know our rights, so they’re trying to intimidate me into giving up my source.”

        “I hope so.”

        “I know so,” he said confidently.

        “Well, let me get my work done, love,” she said.  “I have some writing to do for Jeffrey.”

        “So, when’s the wedding?” he asked with a grin, referring to her Missy and Cutler strips.

        “As if I’d ever tell you,” she said primly.  She kept the plot evolution of her strips a secret, even from him.  “There may not even be a wedding!”

        “Suuuure,” he teased.

        “Just for that, I’ll make sure there’s not,” she teased, turning her back and flicking her tail at him insultingly as she strode from the office.

        Jessie went home after about an hour, which Charlotte and Sandy spent in her office with her and Sam spent out in the big office on the phone with Kevin.  The four of them were going to a movie tonight, since it was Kit’s late night and Kevin wasn’t able to go out because he had in the middle of his second trial before Kit dropped this on him, and he didn’t like to go out while actively trying his case.  Sam certainly understood, and gave him the space he needed so he could give his clients all the attention he deserved.  Lilly and Mike left to do their footwork for The Scene, and Rick, Savid, and Jeffrey called it a night around nine.  Kit stayed in the office to finish up Lilly’s research, then got home around eleven.  By doing it tonight, he could leave a little early on Saturday.

        He got home to find the lights out everywhere but in the bedroom.  He set the alarm and dropped off his attache by the couch on his way back, and found Jessie laying in bed on her side, wearing a seductive lace teddy that he noticed immediately.  “Welcome home, love,” she said to him, swishing her tail behind herself sensually.  “After all the stress today, I thought you could use a little relaxation therapy.”

        “What a welcome,” he said with an eager smile, which turned into a hurried act of obedience when she crooked her finger at him.

        Saturday was just as busy, and a big relief for him.  Not a minute after he arrived and unlocked the office a few minutes before nine, a fur in a business suit came into the office and called out.  When Kit came out of his office, he introduced himself as an old friend of Vil‘s and showed him his Vulpan Shipyards ID card and Massachusetts driver’s license, which was what Kit wanted to know; this fur was Vil‘s courier.  They talked for about five minutes, then Kit gave him his encrypted DVD.  He was gone before anyone else made it into the office.

        Mike had come in on his day off to help Lilly compile her club information for The Scene, Marty was in, Barry was in, and Kit, as usual, was in before everyone else.  But Kit had finished all the research for everyone else’s articles, so he only had to worry about his own article today.  He did, though, have some advance research for planned articles in a few weeks dealing with the elections.  There was going to be a Democratic debate in Austin in late March at big auditorium in U.T., and they were planning to cover it.  Rick had already secured press passes for himself, Kit, Barry, Lilly, Marty, and Mike, and he was currently busting his ass trying to secure at least one interview with at least one candidate.  He doubted that he was going to pull off that miracle, for why would a Presidential candidate bother to interview with a magazine that circulated in two mid-sized cities and a small town near them, but he was trying.  Rick had spent almost all day yesterday calling campaigns trying to arrange an interview, with no luck.

        The day started off rather well.  After getting his DVD into Vil’s safe paws, Kevin called him back in a conference call with his boss, Delores Kittimer, who was a partner at his firm.  “Kit, we can quash your subpeona,” Kevin told him right off.

        “The subpeona violates precedents Texas law follows called bad faith subpeonas,” Delores explained.  “If a subpeona serves no purpose other than to try to force a journalist to reveal his source, without any other evidence, then Texas law has followed a precedent that says that’s not allowed.  I talked to the DA’s office, and they have nothing.  All they have is the article, no evidence, not even any certainty there was even a crime and if it happened in their jurisdiction if there was, and that’s not enough.  I’m completely confident we can quash the subpeona.”

        “Thank God,” Kit said with a sigh.  “When will it happen?”

        “We talked to the judge yesterday afternoon.  Since the court date is so close, he’ll listen to our motion to quash it when you have to show up to testify, to give the prosecution a chance to present any other evidence first.  He’ll listen to the motion and then rule then.”

        “Okay, so I still show up at the courthouse on Wednesday?”

        “Yes.  We’ll be there with you,” Delores told him.  “Kevin will be chairing the argument.”

        “And Misses Kittimer will be right there to make sure I do it right,” Kevin chuckled.

        “That’s my job as your boss, Kevin,” she chuckled in reply.

        “Thank God,” Kit sighed.  “Thank you, guys, thank you so much.”

        “We’re your attorneys, Kit,” Delores said gently.  “It’s our job and our privilege to be there for you when you need legal representation.”

        “Well, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, especially since you didn’t charge me at all.”

        “Well, what we did before, checking out the subpeona, that was pro bono.  But, I’m afraid we’ll have to bill you for the court date.  Not me, just Kevin,” she said quickly.  “I’m just going to be there as an observer, on my own time.  Kevin will be the only one billing hours.”

        “I don’t mind at all, Misses Kittimer,” Kit told her honestly.  “Kev said he’d check out the subpeona as a favor, since I did him a favor last week.  I never expected you to do it for free if you had to do real work for me, so bill me for whatever real work you had to do.  It’s only fair.”

        “I’m glad you feel that way.  We’ll only bill you for whatever time it takes at the hearing, though.  It only took me about two minutes to find the holes in the subpeona and call a friend in the DA’s office, and I won’t charge for two minutes.”

        Kit laughed.  “Well, I do truly appreciate that, Misses Kittimer,” he told her.  “I’m not sure I could afford two of your minutes.”

        She giggled girlishly.  “They would be very eventful minutes,” she said with feigned seriousness.

        Kit called Vil almost immediately after he was off the phone.  “Delores said—“

        “I know what she said, she told me before she called you,” she told him, rather smugly.  “I’ll give over on this one, bro.  I’ll let your lawyers handle it, because Delores absolutely promised me she’d kill this subpeona and get them off your back.  If she fails, I’m gonna take a huge bite out of her ass.  You don’t double-cross a Vulpan,” she said, a bit vindictively.

        “I’m happy to hear that, sis.”

        “I’ll still be watching, though,” she warned.  “And if Delores fails, I’ll take care of it.”

        “I won’t say a word if it does,” he promised, “because I promised my source I’d keep her secret, and I’ll go to jail before I break that promise.  But I’m not too keen on the idea of being thrown in jail,” he admitted with a chuckle.

        “You leave that to me,” she told him.  “If they try to send you to jail, call me.  I’ll step on that DA so fast he won’t have time to squeal.”

        “It’s a deal.”

        Saturday was his flex day, and he often had the luxury to leave early when he got all his work done.  But Kit hung around to do some accounting work for Rick, as Rick had taught him his books and often let Kit enter payments and charges to their accounts so long as Kit left a detailed ledger of what he’d done.  That put Kit in a position to know the financial health of the magazine better than anyone else.  They were going to be in the red for the first expanded issue, but Rick’s notes and advertiser database showed him that they’d break even for their second, and show a profit for their third and beyond.  Rick had secured more advertisers than he expected for the expansion, and some of them already had print ads designed and ready to go rather than having to get them created.  That would get the magazine back into profitability much faster than Rick had planned…though Kit’s investment was still a huge benefit.  It was literally paying their salaries this week, and would help pay them next week.  As he invested more money, it would be capital the magazine could keep in reserve in case of an emergency, and also give them the ability to buy some new equipment if they needed it.  Rick, for example, was considering buying a car titled to the magazine, which he could then drive and claim against taxes for both the car and for the gas and other expenditures he paid out for it.  In effect, Rick was going to drive a company car, which let him claim every penny of expenses he shelled out for that car against taxes, which he couldn’t do with his truck.  Kit thought that that was rather clever, and Rick did deserve to get something back for all the hard work he’d put into the magazine.  Replacing his 12 year old truck would be suitable reward.

        He keyed in a series of expense reports Barry had submitted for little things like batteries and gas for his car when his Blackberry rang.  Rick did compensate them for gas but not the other little things, and they were tax deductible as business expenses, for either the magazine and for them.  Rick claimed the compensation for gas against the magazine’s taxes and kept track of other expenses for the reporters, which would help them when it was time for them to claim the expenses against their taxes.  Kit kept every receipt of everything he spent for the magazine, for he fully intended to claim it on his taxes next year.  He picked up his phone and saw it was Martha, so he put it to his ear as he finished putting in an expense on the Excel spreadsheet.  “Hey Martha, what‘s up?”

        “Kit,” Martha said quickly.  “You need to come to Austin General.”

        “What’s wrong?  What happened?”

        “Rick broke his leg,” she said quickly.  “He was fixing the roof on the barn and fell off.”

        “Oh my God!  Is he okay?”

        “He’s in surgery right now, dear.  His leg was pretty badly broken.  The bone was sticking out,” she said, then he gave her a second to recover herself.  “Can you get down here?”

        “I’ll be right down.  Let me call Jessie and go pick her up, then I‘m on the way.  Do you need anything?”

        “No, dear, no, thank you.  Just come down.”

        “I’m on my way.”

        “Thank you, Kit.”

        “Any time, Martha.  See you in a few minutes.  Bye now.”

        When Martha hung up, he snatched up his Blackberry and speed dialed Jessie.  “Hey, my handsome fox,” she said sweetly.

        “Love, be ready for me to pick you up, we have to go to the hospital,” he told her quickly as he rushed for the door.  “Rick broke his leg.”

        “Oh no!  Is he okay?”

        “Martha said he had to have surgery, it was a compound fracture.  Can you call Mike and have him spread the word?”

        “Sure, sure I can.  I’ll call Vil and tell her too, she’ll want to know.”

        “Okay.  I’m setting the alarm right now, so I should be home in about ten minutes or so.”

        “Alright, I’ll be waiting.”

        Kit drove perhaps a little too fast, and found Jessie standing by their assigned parking space with her phone to her face.  She climbed into the Pathfinder quickly when he pulled up without pulling into the space, holding up traffic while she got in, then they hurried off.  “No, I don’t know, Lilly,” Jessie was saying into the phone.  “Kit said Martha said Rick was in surgery.  I don’t know which room.  Just get to Austin General, that’s where we’re all headed, we can meet in the lobby and figure it all out.  Okay, let me call Jeffrey, you make the calls and I’ll see you at the hospital.  Bye-bye.”  She lowered the phone and scrolled through the numbers on her display.  “I’ve told Mike and Lilly so far,” she told him.  “Mike said he’d call Barry and Savid, and Lilly said she’d call Denise and Marty.”

        “Good,” Kit said as he turned.  “Did you tell Vil yet?”

        “No, I’m starting local and working my way out,” she said.  “Mike was asking me a million questions I couldn’t answer.”

        “We should call Sheila and let her know too,” Kit said.  “She can’t get back up here til I go get her, but she does deserve to know.  She works there too, after all.”

        “Okay, I’ll call her next.  Jeffrey?  It’s Jessie.”

        Kit got them to the hospital in seven minutes, by nearly running a few red lights.  He parked in the visitor lot, and Jessie was calling Sheila as they hurried towards the main entrance.  Kit called Martha’s cell phone to find out where in the hospital she was, and he and Jessie finished at almost the same time.  “Sheila asked you to come pick them up tomorrow morning,” she said.  “They’re going to cut their trip short.”

        “I can do that.  Martha’s on her way to the third floor from outside, in the waiting room just off the elevator,” he told her.  “She doesn’t know how much longer he’s going to be in surgery.”

        “Okay.  I’ll call Vil, so I‘ll see you up there.”  Austin General was one of the few hospitals that allowed the use of cell phones inside, but only in hospital rooms.  They didn’t allow anyone to use them in waiting rooms or hallways to keep cell phone users from disturbing other furs, so Jessie already knew that she had to wait outside by the front doors to call Vil from her cell phone.

        He met Martha in the third floor waiting room.  The tall, slightly plump great dane gave him a crushing hug, twinging his back a little bit, and he patted her on the back as she held onto him for a long moment.  “It’s going to be alright, Martha, it’s just a broken leg,” he told her assuringly.

        “I know, dear, but surgery is surgery,” she answered.  He pushed out enough to look into her eyes, holding her paws in his own.

        “What happened  exactly?”

        “Well, Rick was working on the barn, fixing a leak up on the roof, when he just slipped.  He slid down the roof and right off the edge.”

        “He should have asked for help,” Kit grunted.

        “Our next-door neighbor was helping him, dear,” she said.  “It was just an accident.”

        “How long has he been in surgery?” he asked.

        “He just went in when I called you,” she said.  “It was the first chance I had to tell anyone.”

        “I understand, Martha,” he said, patting her forearm.  “Are you alright?”

        “I—it’s just frightening, dear,” she told him.  “I know it’s not life threatening, but you didn’t see it.  It was horrible,” she shuddered.

        “Well, the docs will get him all patched up, don’t you worry.”

        Jessie came out of the elevator and rushed into Martha’s arms, giving her a long, compassionate hug.  “It’s going to be okay, Martha,” she said.

        “Thank you, dear,” she said.

        More and more furs arrived, both ones he knew and ones he didn’t.  A portly doberman shook his paw and introduced himself as Bill Wilson, who was the fur helping Rick with the roof when he fell.  “I tried to catch him, but he just,” he said, whistling and sliding his paw over his other quickly.  “Was over before I could even reach out.”  He met a few other of Rick’s neighbors, all farmers and ranchers, where Rick lived on a tiny ranch that didn’t have any animals or stock.  Rick had bought it for a song from an elderly couple who couldn’t work it anymore when he moved back to Austin ten years ago, after leaving a job with Newsweek to strike out on his own in the journalism world.  Rick was a native son, who had left to work with Newsweek, then had returned because his high-school sweetheart wanted to go back home.  Rick had worked at the newspaper a few years, “trading down” as some had accused him, but that was only extra income for him to help raise enough capital to start his own magazine.  The waiting room filled up as not just the crew came in, but with other friends.  Sam and Kevin hurried in, no doubt told by Jeffrey through Sandy, and the sorority wolf, Charlotte, showed up out of the blue.  “We met at the wedding,” she said in explanation to Kit.  “Rick was really nice.  I hope he’s okay.  Any word?”

        “No word yet,” Kit told her.  “He’s been in for about an hour.”

        After nearly everyone was there, Kit got a text from Vil to have him call her.  He went outside and speed dialed her, and she picked up before it even went half a ring.  “Bro,” she said.  “I’m over Ohio right now.  I should be there in about three and a half hours.  How is he?”

        “No word yet,” he answered.  “He’s still in surgery.”

        “Kit!  Kit, he’s okay!” Jessie shouted, running out of the front doors towards him.  “He’s going to a room!”

        “Oh thank God,” Kit said explosively.  “He just got out of surgery,” he told Vil.  “Pretty kitty said they’re moving him to a room.  Let me go up and see him, I can call from the hospital room.”

        “Okay, call me when you get up there.”

        Holding Jessie’s paw, Kit rushed up the stairs with her to the second floor, and down a corridor.  They entered a private room filled with furs, and Rick was the center of attention.  His lower left leg was wrapped up thick bandages and braces, and his tail also splinted in a brace.  “Rick,” Kit said thickly, supplanting Savid and taking Kit’s paw at his bedside.  “How you feeling, friend?”

        “Very groggy,” he said.  “But, they said I’ll be fine.  Outside of a broken leg and fractured tail, no major damage.”

        “Thank God,” he breathed.  “Vil’s on her way down.  The instant she heard you were injured, she rushed straight to the airport.”

        “She’s such a sweet femme,” Martha said with a sniffle.

        Kit called Vil to tell her, and Rick spent a moment talking to her on Kit’s phone as Martha pulled him aside.  “The doctors said there was no major damage, but the way his bones were broken is going to make it hard for him to get around,” she told him.  “He’ll have to be in a wheelchair for a few weeks, they said.  He can’t put any weight at all on his leg, not even for crutches.”

        “Well, your house has a big door,” he said.  “And we can build a ramp to go up the porch steps.”

        “Kit,” Rick called.  He and Martha went back to his bedside, and he gave him back his phone, but not to talk to Vil.  The call was ended.  “Vil said she’ll call you when she gets in,” he said, then he put his paws out to both him and Savid, who was on his other side.  “Kit.  Savid.  They said I’ll be laid up for at least a week, and won’t let me go to work.  They won’t cast my leg until they’re sure it won’t get infected, so I’m stuck in here for a few days.  Then I’ll have a couple of weeks in a wheelchair,” he grunted.  “You two are going to have to hold down the fort for me.”

        “We can do easily, Rick,” Savid told him.

        “Savid, you handle the editing for the issue.  Marty can help you, and I want you there with him, Kit, so you can learn more about it.  Kit, I need you to do the rest of my job.  I know you know how.  I trained you for it myself,” he said with a smile.

        “We’ll keep the place from exploding for you, Rick,” Kit told him.

        “I know you can, son.  I have all my appointements in my computer, you’ll have to go in my place.  I know it’s gonna make it hard on you, son, doing my job on top of your own, and I’m sorry.”

        “Rick, we’re a team,” Lilly said with a tut.  “We’ll all help pull up the slack.  We’ll show you we don’t need you around,” she winked.

        “Someone always has to watch you, you naughty femme,” Rick teased in reply, which made her laugh.

        “I can do a little of my own research for a week,” Barry chuckled.  “I’d rather do research than go try to wheedle money out of advertisers,” he grinned at Kit.

        “I don’t wheedle,” Kit said primly.  “I tell them my sister will crush them like a bug if they don’t buy space in our magazine.  Vulpans prefer coercion and blackmail to weak-position tactics like wheedling,” he said, which made everyone laugh.

        “It’s the tactical use of available assets to gain an advantage against business rivals,” Jessie added.  “Vil says so.”

        “She’s corrupted my wife,” Kit grunted.

        “She doesn’t look all that corrupted,” Charlotte giggled.

        “Wait a few months for the corruption to show,” Sandy laughed.  “She has pure evil growing in her belly!”

        “Then you don’t need to be at the baby shower, do you Sandy?” Jessie asked, which made Sandy laugh raucously.

        The doctors let them visit for nearly an hour, as Rick mainly talked to Kit and Savid about what he wanted them to do while he was laid up, then they were hurried out so the doctors could do a check on him.  Rick’s neighbors agreed to meet at Rick and Martha’s tomorrow to build a temporary ramp that would go up the porch.  Jessie and the crew also agreed to come, to turn it into a “ramp raising party,” but Kit had to bow out.  He was going after Sheila and the others tomorrow.  While many of the others went home, promising to come visit tomorrow after the ramp was built, several stayed at the hospital with Martha.  Kit and Jessie stayed with her, as did Savid and his wife, an Indian mongoose named Nawa, and Sam and Kevin.  Jessie sat with Martha, holding her paw as they waited for the doctors to let them back into his room, as Kit paced the room, going over in his mind how he was going to juggle his schedule to get those appointments done as well as get his normal work done.  He had another major project coming up in an interview with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, but Barry was conducting that interview where Kit would be handling the research for him; Kit got the Smith interview, it was Barry’s turn to get a major interview under his belt.  There was also the Democratic debate that was coming up in a couple of weeks, and there was a hell of a lot of research to do for that, on the candidates, on the school, on the auditorium itself.  On top of those major projects, there was an upcoming piece on the college of science’s winning of several grants and their story on the debate over building a new sports facility that would house the basketball and volleyball teams, and the opposition by some students and officials because it would take one of the larger student parking lots as well as reduce the amount of sports facilities offered to the students by tearing down the student sports pavilion and replacing it with a much smaller one.

        They let them back in his room after about ninety minutes, but Rick wasn’t his usual self.  They’d given him pain medication, so he was a little groggy and unfocused.  He had this huge amalgamation of stitched canvas and chrome buckles around his left leg, a soft cast holding his broken bones in place, which was also elevated in traction, cradled in a sling of canvas held up by sturdy white cords.  Sam noted that they were elevating it to reduce swelling when they went back into the room.  Martha sat by his bed, patting his paw as he drifted through coherence in a manner Kit knew all too much, having experienced it from the inside more than once.  The first couple of doses of a strong pain medication always put a fur out of it.  Kit knew he’d be more coherent after the surge of the initial dose faded, which would put him in that “zone” of both coherence and lack of pain.  Then the pain would creep back in, slowly, like some kind of insidious invader, until they gave one another dose.

        Martha fed Rick some of the mediocre fare offered by hospitals when Vil arrived.  She hurried into the room, hugged Jessie, hugged Kit, then sat by Rick’s bedside.  “Hey, old male,” she said with a smile, patting his cheek and muzzle. “This is some way to get me to come down and see you.”

        He chuckled.  “I don’t recommend it,” he said.

        “I talked to the doctors, they said you’ll be right back to kicking tail in about six weeks,” she smiled.  “How did you break it?”

        He laughed ruefully.  “I fell off my barn’s roof,” he admitted.

        “You have a whole stable of young males working for you you could have made come out and fix your barn,” she grinned.

        “And most of them have no idea which end of the hammer to hold,” he retorted.

        “Well, that might be true.  I certainly don’t know how to swing a hammer,” she admitted.  “What are you going to do about the magazine?”

        “I’ll have Savid and Kit mind the shop until I’m back,” he said.

        “Well, that’ll work,” she said with a nod.  “Now, what were you doing up there?”

        Rick again recounted the tale of breaking his leg to Vil, and how Bill and Martha trussed it up waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  “I’m just glad my wife and neighbor don’t panic,” he said.  “I told them what to do, and they did it just fine.”

        “You were supervising your own first aid?” Vil asked.

        Rick chuckled.  “I was in the army, young femme,” he said. “We’re trained for basic first aid.  I knew what we had to do when I realized how bad my leg was broken, just like how I knew what to do when Kit was shot.”

        “Well, that training has certainly paid off for you,” she smiled.  “It saved my brother and helped you in your own hour of need.”

        “It never hurts to know what to do in an emergency,” he said.

        “Well, don’t you worry yourself one little bit, Rick.  I’ll make sure this doesn’t put you in the poorhouse.”

        “Well, I do have insurance, Vil,” he chuckled.

        “Yes, I know, and we need to talk about when you’re going to offer health insurance to the magazine,” she said, a touch flintily.

        “Dear, if I could afford it, I’d gladly do it,” he answered honestly.

        “Vil, you didn’t fly all the way down here to pick a fight,” Martha said, a touch sternly.  “Or talk business.”

        “I know I didn’t.  Guess you just can’t take the businessfemme out of me,” she chuckled ruefully.

        They visited for nearly an hour, until the medication and the weariness of surgery caught up with Rick, and he started dozing off.  They broke up then, and Vil took Martha home with Jessie and Kit driving behind them, and Stav driving Martha’s car.  Rick and Martha owned a small ranch east of Austin, out in the hilly scrub of mesquite trees and browning pastureland.  Their small three acre ranch was surrounded by larger ranches and farms, and it was Martha’s dreamhouse.  Martha had always wanted to live on a small ranch, and Rick had bought it for her, since he’d grown up on a ranch not two miles from where he lived now.  Their ranch was small because the former owner was a small horse caretaker, who had a ten stall barn and corral with about two acres of pastureland behind the ranch house for the horses.  Rick and Martha used to have three horses, one for each of their sons, but when Rick got so busy with the magazine and the boys moved out, they sold them.  Their property was a mirror of its owners.  It may have been a small ranch, but it was clean and neat and impeccably maintained.  Though the barn behind their two story ranch house now just held their tractor, it was freshly painted, and their ranch house was surrounded by well manicured shrubs and flowers and small trees.  Martha was a gardener by hobby, as much as Jessie was a knitter, and her yard was her pride and joy.  Five cars pulled up into their driveway, with Vil’s rented limo pulling up the rear, and Martha led Kit, Jessie, Bill, Sam, Kevin, and Vil into their house.  It was filled with furniture from the 70s, with an earthy, old-fashioned feel, but everything was clean and neat and orderly.

        “I’m afraid this ate up my visit,” Vil told Kit and Jessie when Martha offered to make coffee for everyone.  “I won’t be able to make it down next week.”

        “That’s alright, sis,” Kit told her.  “I’d much rather you be here for Rick than come down just to piddle with us.”

        “How long can you stay?” Jessie asked.

        “I have to leave tomorrow morning,” she answered.  “I just had to come down and see him.”

        “We all appreciate it, Vil,” Martha told her, coming out of the kitchen and giving her a warm little hug.  “I just hope he’ll be okay.”

        “I’m sure he will, hon,” Vil told her, patting her on the arm.  “We’ll make sure of it.  Kit and Savid can keep the magazine going, and I’ll be watching from Boston to make sure he’s healing just fine.  And there’s plenty of furs here ready to run when you send out a call for help.”

        “Amen,” Bill said.

        “That’s right, Martha.  You call me, and I’m on my way,” Sam told her with quiet resolve.

        “I’ll leave my numbers with you, hon,” Kevin told her.  “I’m here if you need me.”

        “Such good kids,” Martha said thickly, giving Sam and Kevin a hug.

        “Only to good people,” Kevin told her with a smile, which made her chuckle and pat him on the arm.  “I’m mean to jerks.”

        “That’s something I’d expect Kit to say.”

        “Well, that’s why we’re friends.  We think alike,” Kevin winked.

        “Well, I hope you know how to swing a hammer, youngun,” Bill told him.  “Be here at nine tomorrow and we’ll get that ramp up.”

        “I’ll be here, Bill,” Kevin told him.

        “I’ll bring a couple of the girls from the sorority,” Sam said.  “We’ll have enough paws here to get anything done that needs to be done.”

        “Well, between me, Tom, and Jake, I’m sure we’ll have enough.  Building a ramp we’re just laying over the stairs shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.”

        “Well, still, Jessie and Charlotte will want to come.”

        “The other Jessie,” Jessie said with a giggle when Bill looked at her.  “There’s another Jessie at the sorority.”

        “That’s why we call her JD,” Sam said, pointing at Jessie.  “You guys will need to be fed, and we won’t make Martha do all that cooking.”

        Martha chuckled.  “I’m used to cooking for a pack of hungry males.  I had three sons and Rick to feed,” she told them.

        “Yes, but you’ll be at the hospital,” Sam told her.  “If you trust us to build your ramp, we’ll take care of it while you take care of Rick.  And we’ll bring you a nice home cooked meal when we’re done.”

        “Of course I do, dear,” Martha told her, patting the skunk on the shoulder fondly.  “And I’m sure both of us will appreciate you cooking for us.”

        They started filtering out after Martha had time to calm down and relax.  Kit, Jessie, and Vil were the last ones behind, as Jessie assured Martha she’d have plenty of help and Kit and Vil assured her that Rick and the magazine would be cared for quite lovingly.  “We’re partners now, after all,” Kit smiled.

        “You just focus on Rick, hon, let us handle everything else.”

        “I’ll even do the shopping for you,” Jessie assured her.

        “At least Rick had good timing, he broke his leg right before spring break, which gives Jessie plenty of spare time,” Kit winked, which made Martha gasp, then laugh in spite of herself.

        “I’m sure he had it all planned out,” Martha chuckled.

        They kept Martha in good spirits until she was tired, and then Jessie and Vil tucked her into bed.  “I’m going to stay here tonight,” Jessie told them when they came downstairs.  “I want to be here if she needs me.

        “I’ll have Stav bring your car here,” Vil said.  “I’ll be here tonight, but I’m going to have to go back to Boston in the morning.”

        “Which hotel are you going to stay at?” Jessie asked.

        “I’ll stay here tonight, if there’s room,” she said.

        “They only have two spare bedrooms,” Jessie said.  “There’s not enough room for everyone.”

        “Ah.  Well, damn,” Vil sighed.  “I’ll just go down to the Regency, then.”

        “Stav, Marcus, you can borrow my truck to go pick up Jessie’s car,” Kit told them.  “That should make it easier for you.”

        “Yes, it will, thank you,” Stav said with a nod.  “We can stop by the grocery store on the way back to pick up enough food for everyone tomorrow as well.”

        “And thank you, it’s sweet of you to do this for us,” Jessie added.

        “It’s more than our job, it’s our privilege,” Marcus said with a rare smile.  “Often we serve to prevent something bad from happening.  It’s always a joy to serve to help with something good.”

        “Now you see why I pay their outrageous salaries,” Vil said with a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    23    25

Chapter 24

 

      Rick was certainly in good spirits the next morning.

      Kit stopped in to see him early that morning, talking the nurse into letting him in before visiting hours just to say hello, and he spent about five minutes with him.  Rick was in that window of comfortable lucidity between pain and high from the pain medication, but both Rick and the nurse who came in with him gave him a very good prognosis.  “They said I should make a full recovery with nothing but surgery scars to prove it ever happened,” Rick chuckled.  “I just hope mine don’t do what yours did.”

      “In that riot of patchwork you call fur, how could anyone tell?” Kit teased in reply.

      “They said I’ll be about two to three weeks in a wheelchair before they’ll let me go to crutches,” Rick grunted.

      “That’s better than six weeks in a wheelchair,” Kit told him.

      “True.”

      After stopping by to see Rick, Kit got back to business, and business was going to get Sheila.  He arrived at Avia at eight on a Sunday morning, and found the hangar open and workers there.  They had never seen him, but they also didn’t challenge him when he pulled his Pathfinder into the hangar through the car entrance…mainly since Alice had given him a little placard to put in his windshield.  He parked near the hangar wall behind his plane, then went from car to plane in almost record time, performing a thorough yet fast preflight.  He pumped off thirty gallons of AVGas from them, logged it on the use sheet, then he warned everyone he was about to taxi out with a shout across the hangar.    He got in the plane and performed startup, then slowly taxied the plane out along the wide center line through the hangar, the designated aircraft taxi route to the open double doors.

      Since he was at a major airport, he had to wait a little bit to get air traffic on the horn.  But, once he had it, he was quickly given clearance to taxi, got his weather information for takeoff, and was in the air and on the way south-southeast.  He spent the hour in the air going over the checklist he had on his laptop dealing with his workload, for he’d sat down and organized everything in a spreadsheet.  There was a lot for him to do, so much that he’d have to go into the office today so he didn’t fall behind.  He had to finish entering those reports into the books, and he also wanted to look over everything and make absolutely sure everything looked right, since he’d be the one responsible for all of it for the next week or so.  He called Sheila while in the air, about a halfway there, and she complained about it.  “Kit, really, call before you leave next time!” she told him.  “All I hear is mmmmrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

      “Can it.  Are you at the airport?”

      “We’re almost there now,” she said.  “We’re pulling into the rental car lot.  The rental furs will take us out to you.”

      “Sheila, thanks.  I appreciate you leaving early.”

      “It’s not for you, cousin, I want to see Rick and make sure he’s okay.”

      “And that’s what I appreciate,” he told her.

      “How is he?”

      “Aside from his broken leg, he’s fine,” Kit answered.  “The surgery they did to fix his bones went off without a hitch, they didn’t even put any screws or plates in his leg.  They reset the bones and sewed his leg back up, and they were done.  He’ll have to stay in a wheelchair until his bones can support him walking on crutches, though.”

      “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad,” Sheila said.  “I’ll still be happier after I see him.”

      “He’s looking forward to it.  I’ll be landing in about fifteen minutes or so, I’m about to take it off autopilot, so let me get off here and get my mind back on what I‘m supposed to be doing.”

      “We’ll be waiting.”

      Kit landed for a second time at Brownsville and taxied out to the general aviation terminal, and saw that Sheila and the others were definitely waiting in an overcast, mild morning.  Kit pulled in and went through engine cutoff, then opened the door.  “Hurry up, femmes, there’s weather coming,” he called.  They hurried up to his plane, and he helped them stow their luggage.  Danielle fought a little with Sheila over who was going to sit up front, however.

      “You were up front last time, and he’s your cousin!” Danielle protested.  “You have a way better chance of riding in the plane again than me!”

      “Well, he is my cousin, and I got us this weekend!” Sheila replied.

      “I’ll make both of you walk if you don’t get in the plane,” he said bluntly to them, helping Allison up onto the wing on his side; she intended to sit behind him this time.  “Just flip a damn coin, we gotta go!”

      Danielle rather smugly won a coin toss, and he had them all strap in as he restarted the engine.  “Alright, get your headsets on, femmes,” he called as he radioed the tower, then used the MFD to check the radar for the region.  As he feared, the front that he’d seen edging in on the west side of the display was moving at a fair clip.  “Damn,” he growled.  “Well, I hope you don’t get airsick,” he told them.

      The ride home was a bit more challenging than the usual flight, for he hit the front about ten minutes from Austin, and the whole time, he was too busy watching the Doppler radar to pay much attention to what the femmes were talking about.  He had more important things on his mind.  When they hit the leading edge of the front, which created sudden crosswinds and turbulence, Danielle looked a little frightened, but Sheila just laughed as the plane rocked in turbulence as he descended in preparation for landing.  “There’s some crosswinds at the airport,” he told the girls, “so be ready for the plane to rock a little as I make our approach.  Don’t be scared.  I’ve landed in worse than this.”

      As Kit predicted, the landing was a little bumpy, but it was also by the book.  The small runways weren’t in much use during weather, so Kit didn’t have to wait at all to land.  As the rain intensified, Kit taxied off the runway and along the ramp.  “Isn’t this a different airport?” Allison asked curiously.

      “Yes, this is Bergstrom,” he answered.  “Vil managed to find me at least a temporary place to park the plane inside a hangar, which is much preferable to parking out on the tarmac, especially in weather like this.  So we won’t have to unload the plane in the rain, and I won’t get soaked tying it down.”

      “Well, that’s good at least,” Danielle said.

      “I’m sorry again, girls, about cutting this short,” Sheila said as they turned along the ramp that led to Avia’s hangar.

      “No problem, we understand,” Danielle answered.

      “Did you at least have fun while you were there?” Kit asked.

      “It wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be,” Sheila said.  “I was hoping for at least some eye candy for us to look at, but it was all families and crap.”

      “It was the wrong weekend for it, spring break starts next weekend,” Danielle giggled.

      “I know, but I thought it’d be nice to go scope out the place before spring break, so we’d know where all the good places were,” she grinned.  “And I think we might see if we can get Kit to take us down next weekend too,” she winked.

      “Nope, I have plans,” he said.  “If I take you, getting back is your problem.”

      “Well, we could always drive,” Allison said.  “It’s only a few hours to Brownsville from Austin.”

      “Well, yeah, but it’s so much more stylish to be flown down by our own personal pilot,” Sheila said grandly.

      “This personal pilot’s gonna start charging you,” he said as they pulled up to the hangar.  “Gas for this thing isn’t free, you know.”

      “It is for you, Vil pays for it,” Sheila teased.

      “And is that a reason to let you abuse her hospitality, or mine?” he challenged as he carefully guided the plane down the center aisle, and then pulled into his spot and turned the plane around, putting it almost exactly where it had been when he pulled out that morning.  A few button presses shut down the engine.  “Alright, go ahead and get out while I do post flight.  Shouldn’t take but a minute.”

      By the time he was finished with his post flight, all three femmes had gotten out from Danielle’s side.  Kit opened the cargo door and helped them unload their luggage, then he waved to the others in the hangar and herded his charges into his Pathfinder.  “Alright, back to the sorority,” he said, for that was where he’d picked them all up.

      Sheila followed him to the hospital, and they went up to see Rick.  He looked much healthier and more alert than he had just that morning, mainly because Martha and Jessie were there.  Sheila gave him a big hug, and Rick teased her about her outfit.  “I’m supposed to be recuperating, and you saunter in here wearing shorts and a half shirt,” he told her.  “That does little for my blood pressure, you know.”

      “Oh, do I get the old heart going there, Rick?” Sheila said with an outrageous smile, turning in place to let him get a good look at her.  “You should have seen me on the beach.  I was rocking in my bikini. Some serious square footage of my white fur was on display,” she said with a wink, patting her white-furred belly.

      “I hope you got pictures.”

      “I hope you like hospital food,” Martha told him, which made Rick laugh.

      “You missed it all, Rick,” Sheila pressed.  “Me and Ally were having a contest to see how much fur we were willing to show off, while Danielle tried to pretend she didn’t know us,” Sheila grinned.

      “Ally?” he asked.

      “Allison, a friend of mine,” Sheila told him.  “She’s a red vixen too,” she winked.  “And she’s almost as fearless as me.  There was all this white fur all over the beach, a whole bunch of boys following us, and Danielle looking about ready to die of embarrassment.”

      “Sheila, I’m going to box your ears if you keep this up,” Martha warned, which made Sheila laugh delightedly and pat the matronly femme on the shoulder.

      “I’m just playing, Martha,” she said.  “I tease him all the time at work.”

      “You tease everyone at work,” Kit said mildly.

      “It keeps work fun,” she said shamelessly.

      “She’s like this at work?” Martha asked.

      “She once mooned Barry for a over a five dollar bet,” Kit told her, which made everyone but Martha laugh.

      “Sheila, that’s very improper.”

      “I’m no lady,” Sheila grinned.  “And I’m five bucks richer.  All it cost me was showing Barry my bare butt…which I might have done for free if he‘d asked nicely.”

      “But you compromised your modesty!”

      “Give me five bucks, and I’ll compromise it right here and now.  For ten I‘ll show you all my white fur.”

      “You’re incorrigible!” Martha laughed helplessly.

      “Yeah.  Fun, ain’t it?” Sheila agreed, then she burst into laughter when Rick started padding his hospital gown, looking for his wallet, which earned him a smack from his wife.

      Despite being much more toned down, Sheila was still Sheila.

      Kit stayed with them for about two hours, but then he had to go.  He went into the office, and spent most of the early afternoon going over everything so he was sure it was all in order, and going over Rick’s schedule next week so he’d know what was going on.  Just like Kit, Rick kept a very detailed appointment calendar, which told  Kit absolutely everything that he needed to know about what Rick was going to be up to next week.  There were seven advertisers to visit, calls to make about the upcoming debate they intended to cover, and more calls to try to secure interviews with other political figures.  Rick was still trying to wrangle at least one interview with at least one Democratic candidate, but even the longshots like Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich had declined an interview with the magazine.

      Kit brought up his own calendar, then compared the two.  It was going to really, really load down his schedule, but he could do it all.  He’d be working late every day, and he’d have to come into work tomorrow as well…but that was the breaks.  He owned a stake in the magazine now, and its profitability was necessary for him to get his investment back.  That meant that he’d have to take over for Rick for a week, until the hospital cleared him to come back to work.  Kit would still be doing the outside appointments until Rick was ambulatory again, but at least when Rick was cleared to return, he could do all the deskwork and phone calls.

      No pain, no paycheck.

      He decided to get a head start on it all by tackling some of the research he intended to do tomorrow, for Barry’s Hutchinson interview.  He did, though, call Lupe and tell him he wouldn’t be there for poker.

      “Brah, this is two weeks in a row.  We miss ya!”

      “It’s gonna be three, next week I’m taking Jessie out, and we won’t be back until Sunday night.”

      “Aww, hell.  Well, if you can’t show up for poker, the least we can do is swing by and bring ya something’ to eat.”

      “Nah, you don’t have to go that far out of your way, bud,” he declined.  “I’ve got food here already, and besides, Jessie would think you’re making a pass at me if you start usurping what she sees as her domain.”

      Lupe laughed.  “God forbid she thinks I’m muscling in on her turf.  She’s a sweetie, but she can be jealous.”

      “It just means she loves me,” Kit chuckled.

      “Dude, has she ever clawed you?” he asked.

      Kit laughed.  “Never on purpose,” he said.  “She prefers to whack me with pillows when I’m being bad.  And of course, I’m bad as much as possible.  There‘s not a pillow in our apartment that doesn‘t have an imprint of my face on it somewhere,” he said, which made Lupe howl with laughter.

      Jessie joined him a little after noon, fulfilling her self-appointed role of nurturer and caretaker by bringing him some stuffed peppers.  “How much longer are you going to be, handsome fox?” she asked.

      “I’m not sure, pretty kitty,” he answered, motioning at the computer.  “I’ve got a lot of work to do, and it got tripled when Rick went down.  I’m here now doing work I’m supposed to do tomorrow so I can hopefully get home before dark tomorrow night.”

      “I can understand that, but can’t someone help you with it?”

      “Not with this,” he said.  “I’m halfway through the research I’m doing for Barry’s interview with  Senator Hutchison, and he wouldn’t have any idea where to pick up where I left off if I left it for him to finish.”

      “Well, you don’t have to do it all alone,” she said, giving him a firm look.  “Let me go get my laptop, and you can tell me what to go find.”

      “You, little missy, have homework,” he said firmly.

      “I’ve finished my homework,” she said imperiously.

      “I don’t want you stressing yourself over it, pretty kitty.”

      “I’ll be more stressed waiting for you to come home,” she told him.  “Now stop playing the noble sufferer and let me help you.”

      He chuckled.  “Alright, alright.  My laptop’s in my attaché, you can use that one.”  She pulled it out and pulled up the chair that sat in front of his desk, then sat it down and opened it.  “Okay, first thing you can do is go to the National Library of Congress and run a search for words Kay Bailey Hutchison Senate Bill sponsor.  It will return every piece of legislation she’s introduced or co-sponsored.  When you have them, compile them into a list of titles, note what kind of bills they are, like environmental, spending, transportation, defense, and so on, and send it to my workstation.  After that, run the words Kay Bailey Hutchison vote, then put the words Legislative Session in quotation marks.  That will bring up a list of every vote she‘s made, sorted by legislative session.  You‘ll get a listing of PDF files.  Download each one, then save it and send it to my workstation.  I‘ll go through them later to compile a list of every major or controversial vote she‘s cast, and how she cast it.”

      “Don’t they keep a list like that somewhere?”

      “Sure, but most often it’s kept by the Senator’s office or some other organization, and they like to conveniently leave out certain votes they’d rather not let furs know she made.  The only way to get a full and unbiased list is to pull it right out of the Library of Congress.  That can’t be altered, they pull it right out of the Senate records.”

      “Oh.  Alright, handsome fox, the computer’s up, so let me get started.”

      Jessie actually helped tremendously.  With her to do a lot of the tedious searching, Kit was able to compile and extrapolate the data into an easy to read format that Barry could skim quickly in order to compose his questions, then have that data on hand in his PDA to use as ammunition if the Senator lied about something in the record.  What would have taken him five or six hours of searching and compiling only took three hours.  Jessie was an English major, so she knew how to research to some degree, and that helped when it came to her using Google.  Jessie could google like nobody’s business.

      The pair became a trio when Barry came in, poking his head into the office around four.  “Did you see Rick today?”

      “Of course we did,” Kit told him.  “Why do you think I’m here?”

      Barry chuckled.  “I came to do that research on Hutchison.  I think you’re going to be too busy to do it.”

      “We’re almost done with it,” Jessie told him, with a bit of a smug little smile.

      “Yeah, I came in today to get that done for you.”

      “Aww, damn, Kit, you didn’t have to do that.  You’re going to be too busy with Rick’s work this week.”

      “Barry, I’m the researcher,” Kit told him.  “And I’ve seen your research.  It’s the researching equivalent of a kindergartner with crayons.  Think I’d let you go into that interview with what you prepared yourself?”

      Barry gave him a hot look, but when he saw the lightness in Kit’s eyes, he laughed helplessly.  “I did just fine doing my own research before you got here,” he said with mock imperiousness.

      “Thank God I got here then,” Kit grinned at him.  “I have a certain standard I expect out of research done for this magazine, and you, sir, simply just don’t cut the mustard.”

      Barry laughed.  “That’s it, it’s so on now, buster,” the bear grinned.  “Just wait til the next time you do an interview, and I have a chance to rag on your invasion of my territory.”

      “Bring it, little cub,” Kit grinned in reply.  “Now let me finish this up.  You can help by sending me that work you did on the board of governors meeting, so I can archive it for the database.”

      “Sure thing.”

      “There’s an extra stuffed pepper in the fridge if you want it,” Jessie added.

      “Woo, thanks Jessie!” he said excitedly, then hurried towards the break room.

      Kit was too tired to do much of anything that night, but he did manage to go see Rick and fill him in on things.  He went over the schedule he’d drawn up with his boss to make sure Rick didn’t have anything planned that wasn’t on his schedule, and found that Rick didn’t have anything to add, and probably wouldn’t have said anything even if he did, since Kit was going to be so busy.  “Son, I can’t thank you enough for this,” he said.  “You’re going to be so busy til I’m back on my feet, and on top of all that, Jessie‘s gonna have a baby, which has to be on your mind all the time.”

      “Well, let’s just call it a clean slate when it comes to the vacation time I owe,” Kit said, which made Rick laugh.  “Oh, and there’s one more thing.  Saturday and Sunday, I am going to take some time off.  I promised Jessie I’d take her to New Orleans, and I’m not going to break my promise.  I’ll just have to make sure that I get everything done this week, so we have that time.”

      “Abandoning me in my time of need, are ya?” Rick asked with a sly grin.

      Kit laughed.  “As if.  You should be home by then, and I’ll still be a call away if you need me.”

      “Did they build that ramp like Bill was saying they would?”

      “I’d guess so,” Kit answered.  “I haven’t been over to your house today.  Jessie’s over there now, you can call her and ask her how lopsided it is.”

      “With Bill doing it, that’s entirely possible,” Rick said seriously.  “He’s a great friend, but he can’t eye up a straight line with a yardstick.”

 

      Kit had been right about how busy he’d be, but he was also right about a couple of other things.

      On Monday afternoon, Barry almost had an interview with Senator Hillary Clinton, Presidential candidate.  Kit called the national headquarters of her campaign, identified himself and the magazine, and asked for an interview for the magazine, ten minutes miraculously cleared itself in Senator Clinton’s heretofore full schedule.  However, the campaign worker told him that the interviewer would have ten minutes to ask the Senator questions, but only questions pre-submitted to the campaign at least three days in advance, to which Kit replied “that‘s not an interview, that‘s a sound bite,” and threatened to publish the fact that the campaign had tried to do something like that, to turn the interview into a milktoast softball photo op about how Senator Clinton was the furs‘ candidate who even did interviews with little city magazines.  The staffer seemed quite miffed, and made a fatal mistake.  “I was being nice enough to offer your magazine time with Senator Clinton out of respect for the Vulpan family.  I didn‘t have to offer you anything, since if I recall, you‘re the earless outcast Vulpan who has nothing but a family name to throw around, and lives exiled from the family in Texas.  What does it matter to me that some little backwater campus paper prints something about us I’ll just dismiss as the lies of a little fur who gets by after being disowned by exploiting his family‘s name while writing for some quaint little school newspaper?  Who are people going to believe, a little mom-and-pop ten page mimeographed school paper and a disgraced rich kid that regular furs will hate because he‘s a rich brat, or a national campaign spokesfur?  You have no teeth, Mister Vulpan, and I believe the Senator‘s schedule just filled up again.  So, you can go to hell.”  Then he hung up the phone.

      “Oh, you sorry little son of a bitch!” Kit shouted into a phone that was now dead.  “Toothless, am I?  I’m about to bite you in the ass, you political hack!”  He went on to swear sulfurously, which got about everyone in the office looking into his office door.  “We’re about to declare war on the Clinton campaign,” he told them, which made them all laugh.

      “Ooo, I need some color-coordinated war paint!” Marty said eagerly.

      That nameless staffer did the one thing one should never, ever, ever do.  He made a Vulpan angry.

      Like his family, Kit didn’t anger in the same way as most furs.  The reaction of most furs to anger was to get, well, angry.  Yell, shout, throw things, maybe do something rash, that was the common reaction to anger.  But Vulpans approached anger from a different angle.  Kit had gotten his initial ire out of the way, and now all that was left was the cold, seething side of anger that made him focused on his task, and that task was to take that unnamed staffer over his proverbial knee and spank him.

      Still fuming, Kit sat down and typed out a blistering, savage, vituperous editorial comment that would run in the opinion section of the magazine, which was part of the mailbag.  It was a rare thing for the magazine to run an op-ed, but Kit was furious, and not just furious that he’d been personally insulted.  The staffer had dared to pull his pants down and piss on the journalism society in general, and seemed to forget that even little “mom and pop ten page school papers” had the power to reach readers.  He blistered the campaign for the behavior of its spokesman, then added a final comment.  “I may be the exiled outcast of one of the richest families of America, as you so succinctly put it, but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t have a voice, and the right to use it in the political process.  Never once have I ever tried to use my name to gain unfair advantage, for if anyone knows anything about me or my family history, they know that I have no love for the family whose name I bear, and would wish to be divorced from association with the vast majority of them.  To threaten to attack me for printing the truth of your own words by exploiting my family and my background is the most base and cowardly of attacks, equal to attacking the wife of a candidate for something her brother did twenty years ago.  It is typical political flim-flammery of the sort that the American voters are growing tired, making an outrageous attack with absolutely no connection to the matter at hand in hopes that the outrage will obfuscate the truth.  When you threatened to attack my credibility based on my family name and the unfavorable image created by the idea of spoiled rich brat whining because he was denied a shiny bauble, which has absolutely nothing to do with the issue, you proved that you and the campaign you represent are nothing but more of the same.  And America grows tired of same old same old.  And you may accuse me of whining in this article, crying to the readers of our “quaint little mom and pop mimeographed school paper,“ but to do so would be merely proving my own point.  The onus is upon you, sir, to prove that I am what you say I am using logic, reason, and debate, which is something which seems to be utterly lacking in the discourse of this campaign, from every campaign, not just the one you represent.”

      Kit did edit his initial lambasting of the Clinton campaign to carefully remove all references to the Senator herself, who probably had no idea what her staffer had done.  Then, realizing that that too was not maintaining journalistic integrity, he broadened it again, omitting all references to the Clinton campaign and just naming it “one of the campaigns.”  But he left that same sense of outrage that a campaign could be that arrogant, accusing it of “forgetting its connections with the common furs,” and “scornfully dismissing the little fur in favor of the well oiled political machine, which proved that no matter how much campaigns said they were campaigns of the furs and with furs in their hearts and minds, that they would listen to the needs of the common fur, they were still nothing but cold calculating number crunchers that would bleed a newborn if it would milk one more vote out of the machine.”  He went on to wonder if the campaign approached every phase of its campaign the same way, if it was the needs of the furs that the campaign would address when elected, or the needs of the special interest groups who had the influence to hold the candidate’s ear.  “To deny a common citizen the same access you grant a rich corporate executive because they cannot pay you in the form of campaign donations is akin to bribery, and it makes one wonder just what you must repay to that rich executive should you be elected to office,” he finished with his final paragraph.

      Kit showed the various versions of the editorial to Rick in his hospital room that evening as he sat down with his boss to discuss what he’d managed to get done that day.  Rick gave him a steady look after he read it.  “Did you drop your name on him on purpose?  Did you come out and say that the Vulpans would like it if the Senator gave the magazine an interview?”

      “No!” Kit said.  “I just identified myself as Kit Vulpan, which is only polite, and then asked for an interview for the magazine.  I admit, I figured them hearing my name might open the door, but I didn‘t do anything overt.  I‘m smarter than that, Rick.  If I threw around my family name like that, Vil might wring my neck.  It might affect her, and she won‘t stand for that if her renegade little brother is out there claiming to speak for the Vulpan family.  My sister may love me, but she is a Vulpan.  She‘ll come after me even harder than she would someone else if I cross her, because I‘m supposed to know better.”

      That made Rick laugh richly.  “Alright then.  Run it.  It’s brilliant.  Just make one change.“

      “What?“

      “Let’s go with the original idea.  Identify the Clinton campaign, but keep the paragraphs about all the campaigns acting like that too.”

      “But that’s being biased.”

      “This is an op-ed, son, you’re allowed to be biased.  If Clinton can’t keep her campaign staff civil, there’s no reason we need to be civil in return.  She’s responsible for the actions of the furs she employs to speak for her.  So, let’s go after them.  Leave them with me, I’ll edit them so they merge.  It’s pretty clear you have two separate articles here, they’ll look strange if you try to just paste one to the end of the other.  Besides, it’ll give me something to do.  It’s borin’ in here,” he complained.

      “God do I know that feeling,” Kit said seriously.

      “We’ll knock the starch out of a few collars,” he said with a bright smile.

      That was the memorable first day of his week, but he was too busy to dwell on that.  He spent his days doing the work of two furs.  He was going in at six in the morning and leaving at six or seven at night, doing his research and other duties in the morning, then attending to Rick’s business that afternoon.

      Kit ended up taking the accounting home with him, sitting at the table with his laptop as Jessie cooked dinner for him.  “How was racquetball?” he asked her.

      She snorted.  “Your cousin cheats!” she accused.  “She tries to hit me with the ball!”

      “She’s a Vulpan, love,” Kit said absently, sipping his tea.  “You’ve shown weakness.  Now she’ll exploit it for everything she’s worth.”

      “Well, it’s no fun to play if I’m spending all my time dodging the ball!”

      “Learn to hit it back,” he shrugged.

      “Just wait til I get her on that tennis court Saturday morning,” Jessie fumed.

      “Pretty kitty, you know what she’s going to do, and you’re a damn good racquetball player.  You taught me, after all.  Use it against her.”

      “I’d rather play you.”

      “I’d rather play tennis.”

      “You’d rather run me all over the court,” she accused.

      “Yes, I love watching you jiggle in that sexy little tennis outfit,” he said immediately.  “I need to buy you one of those little personal trampolines,” he mused, which made her gasp from the kitchen, the burst out in helpless laughter.

      “I should smack you, but how can I be angry that you like looking at me?” she admitted.

      “All day, every day,” he said, saving his spreadsheet.  “I’m done, pretty kitty.  Need help?”

      “No, I got it, handsome fox.  Go rest a little. You deserve it!”

      “You’re the one who deserves a little rest.”

      “Don’t go all psycho protective on me now,” she giggled.  “Doctor Mac said I need to stay just as active.  After all, you let your cousin beat me with racquetballs today!”

      “No, you let her beat you up with racquetballs.  Learn to play your game your way, or keep dodging little blue blurs.”

      “Abused by my cousin-in-law and ridiculed by my husband.  Whatever is a poor little kitty to do?” she said in a melodramatic tone.

      “Grow some fangs, you weenie,” Kit called.

      He knew immediately that he would face dire consequences for that one, but Jessie decided to extend the anticipation…for all of five seconds.  He felt her grab the back of the collar of his tee shirt, then an icy shockwave roared through his back when Jessie poured ice down the back of his shirt.  He yelped and jumped out of the chair, holding the back of his shirt out, but he was also laughing lightly as she strutted back into the kitchen holding an empty ice tray.

 

      The week both seemed to crawl and rush by.

      Kit was working more than twelve hours a day, doing his work in the morning and Rick’s work in the afternoon, but he was no replacement for Rick.  They all felt his absence most keenly, for he was the calm rock that kept everyone confident and the gentle joker who lightly teased and was teased by in return.  Kit did Rick’s work in his own office, not even pretending to take Rick’s place now that Rick wasn’t here to claim his own desk.  It was just fine to sit at Rick’s desk when Rick was here and all the materials were in his office, but now, with Rick another week days to go in the hospital before his planned release date of Tuesday, when they planned to replace his stitches with ones that would dissolve on their own and then put his leg in a cast, which was the green light for him to go home.

      Rick tried to stay as engaged as possible, mainly through his laptop.  Kit and Savid would send him things, and he would look them over and send back his opinion.  But Kit and Savid were the ones that did the real work.  Savid was responsible for the layout of the magazine that week, and what was more, a magazine with 14 more pages than before.  Kit’s responsibility was filling those extra pages with ads to pay for it.  Rick had secured about half of the new advertisers, but it fell to Kit to land the rest of them.  He spent his Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons hurriedly bargaining with advertisers over ad space, offering the design skills of Savid and Jeffrey if they didn’t have a print ad of their own, and then negotiating over how much space they wanted and how long they wanted it.  He managed to secure all the advertisers they needed, fulfilling the 21% threshold of advertiser space Rick maintained to keep the magazine from looking like a NASCAR race car—barring certain exceptions, like half or full page ads, which were exempted from the advertiser ratio—that made the magazine look like a real magazine, and not another campus ad sheet with a little news in it.  Some of those ads wouldn’t show up for a couple of weeks, but they were contracted, and the magazine was paid for it.

      Thursday was…weird.  They had their first ever issue wrap meeting without Rick, and nobody liked the feel of it at all.  They went through the motions, though.  Savid chaired the meeting, going over the issue page by page, feature by feature, article by article, looking for feedback, opinions, or comment.  Everyone felt a little subdued, and even more so because Rick refused to make the final call on wrapping it.  “This was your issue, so it’s ready for print when you say it is,” he’d told them in a conference call between himself, Savid, and Kit just before the meeting.  The cover had a picture of Rick on it, much as Kit had covered the issue when he was shot, Rick in the hospital with his leg in traction with the headline Oh No, Not Again! over him in big white letters, and below that was the caption Lone Star head dingo injured in home accident.  Barry had done an article about the accident, and they also ran a tongue-in-cheek list of do’s and don’t’s for furs working on the roofs of their barns, cautioning against such activities as ballroom dancing, jump rope skipping, and pole vaulting while working on top of a barn roof.

      Rick’s biggest contribution to the issue was Kit’s edited evisceration of the campaigns.  Rick had seamlessly turned Kit’s rant into a devastating butt-whoopin’ of all the Presidential campaigns in general, but taking the Clinton campaign to task in particular for its unprofessional and downright childish response to the magazine’s attempts to get an interview, making sure to leave in the campaign staffer’s cruel mocking of Kit’s family situation, and Kit’s personal response to it.  Rick had rearranged Kit’s material and added some lines of his own to fill the gaps, joining it all together.  He changed it so much that Kit added Rick to the byline for the article, giving credit where credit was due.

      It went to the printer right on time, and they called it a day…at least everyone but Kit did.  He stayed behind to get some work done, clearing space for his weekend, for he still fully intended to take Jessie to New Orleans that weekend.  He had promised her, and he never broke his word to his wife.  He accepted two applications for the photographer’s position from the mail, and printed three more filed through internet postings.  He did more accounting work, closing out the week in the books, which coincided with the last day of the magazine’s activity cycle.  He called back two advertisers who had shown interest in the magazine, did some research on possible photographic equipment their new hire might want, sent off a copy of the end of week reports to Vil, who still watched the magazine’s finances to ensure her investment was maturing satisfactorily, then dropped by the hospital to deliver the resumes and the end of week reports to Rick.  “I think we got everything,” Kit told him.  “The wrap meeting went alright, but it was my first time closing out the week.”

      “I’m sure you did fine, son,” Rick told him.  “Did you send a copy off to Vil?”

      He nodded.  “If I messed it up, I’m sure she’ll call me to point it out,” he chuckled.  “I also sent her a thank-you note with it for her coming down.”

      “Yeah, I need to do that too.  By the way, the docs did some tests on my leg.”

      “And?”

      “They’re going to do another minor surgery,” he answered.  “They said it’d be just a local anesthetic and a twenty minute procedure.  Something in there isn’t healing exactly the way they want, so they’re going to go in and fix it.”

      “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.”

      “It’s not, but they’re doing the surgery Monday morning, then they’re gonna hold me for three days afterward to make sure I don’t have an infection before casting me.  They’re really anal about that.  I tried to get them to send me home earlier, but they kept saying that since the surgery area will be inside the cast, they’re taking no chances.  So I’m looking at not getting out of here until sometime next week.”

      “Ouch.”

      “Yeah, ouch.  Think you guys can hold on, son?”

      “I’m sure we can, Rick.”

      “Good.  When’s your court date?”

      “Wednesday.”

      “You still taking the weekend off?”

      Kit nodded.  “I should have my slate clear by tomorrow afternoon so I’m not burdening anyone, then I’ll be in New Orleans with Jessie on Saturday night and Sunday.  I’ve already got our reservations at the Hyatt Regency and Antoine’s.”

      “A restaurant?”

      “Yeah.  I worked there for a week when I was in New Orleans, until I got fired because the maitre’d didn’t like the looks of me.  He said that someone that looked like a street ruffian had no business working in a respectable restaurant like his.  It’ll be fun going in as a customer,” he chuckled.  “I can be an ass to the manager, and he can’t say a word to me.”

      Rick laughed.  “Give him hell, son,” he grinned.

      “Where’s Martha?”

      “She went home about twenty minutes ago,” he answered.  “She’s bringing me some pot roast,” he said with a hungry lick of his lips.

      “I wouldn’t mind staying to steal it from you, but Jessie’s waiting for me.”

      “Get yourself home, son, and thank you so much for stepping up to the plate when the magazine needs you.”

      “Hey, I’m a part owner.  I have to secure my own paycheck.  Yours, well, who cares,” Kit said flippantly, which made Rick laugh so hard his leg shifted, and caused him to wince.

 

      The true beauty of an airplane was doing things just like this.

      It was a brilliant, cloudless late afternoon as they soared at 12,000 feet, with the Gulf of Mexico visible on Jessie’s side of the plane and them over the wetlands of Louisiana, and the sun low and behind the plane, painting the marshlands and little towns below in gorgeous golden light.  Jessie had her earphones tuned to XM while Kit had his laptop balanced on his knees, surfing some websites to get a basic overview of his next major research project, the Democratic debate.  They were an hour and a half into a two hour flight, en route to New Orleans.  Instead of them wearing comfortable fare of jeans or shorts and tee shirts, Kit was wearing a suit and Jessie a breathtaking blue dress with sequined straps fastening behind her neck, splitting into four lines to form the border of the bodice, two going outside her breasts and the other two crossing between her breasts to form a border filled with blue satin, then looping around to form the border of the low back of her dress.  It was calf-length, and her high heels were laying on the floor by her feet, ready to be slipped back on when they landed.  They would be going from the plane to the hotel with just enough time to check in and drop off their single overnight bag and laptops, then would go directly to the restaurant.  The clock on his PFD showed that they were right on time.  They could call a taxi from the airport to take them to the hotel, and it would wait there while they checked in before taking them on to the restaurant.

      “Wow!” Jessie gasped as the plane crossed over marshy wetland, the border of the sea and Louisiana looming to the south.  “That’s so pretty!  I gotta get a picture!”

      “That’s Vermillion Bay over there on the horizon,” he told her, pointing to Jessie’s side of the plane.  “We’ll fly directly over Thibadoux soon on our way to New Orleans.  That’s all wetlands and swamp down there, what they call bayou country, or cajun country.  When we approach the airport, you’ll see Lake Pontchartrain, the airport’s built right on the shore,” he told her.  “Depending on how they make me land, we may swing out over it.”  A controller called his plane’s number on his headphones.  “Excuse me, love, I’m being called,” he said, then he pushed the key on his joystick and answered.  The controller was basically just identifying him and learning where he was going, which wasn’t unusual when a private plane on visual flight rules wandered into airspace controlled by a new airport, for he was close to Lafayette.

      It took them another twenty minutes to reach New Orleans, after they stowed everything and Kit took the plane off autopilot.  They did indeed get to fly over Lake Pontchartrain, landing at Lakefront airport from the north, almost feeling like he was landing on an aircraft carrier when he approached the runway from over the lake.  Lakefront was a big airport for a general aviation facility, and because of that it didn’t run temporary parking for planes precisely the same way.  Kit didn’t talk to the airport about it, he had to talk with one of the three aircraft FBOs, Fixed Base Operators, who owned the hangars and tarmac space in the airport.  Kit just picked the one closest to the runway, Aero Premier, called them on their radio frequency, and secured himself overnight parking in their brand new north complex hangar, which was literally right off the taxiway…after he taxied all the way back up from the south end of the runway.  But, it was worth the taxi to park his plane in a hangar that was open 24 hours and offered to call a taxi for them while they were still taxiing to the hangar.

      After landing and reaching the tarmac area controlled by Aero Premier, Kit was met by a signal truck who guided him into the huge hangar and parked him in the middle of a large collection of other private planes.  Then the driver helped unload their suitcase and drove them to the front desk in the signal truck, where Kit paid for a night of parking, refilling his plane’s fuel tanks, and a $10 landing fee charged by Lakefront airport.

      At Georgetown, and the airport in Brownsville, visiting pilots weren’t charged landing fees, the airports getting their income from pilots by selling their own AVGas and jet fuel.  Here at Lakefront, though, the airport offered no services they themselves oversaw and they charged a small $10 landing fee for all landing aircraft not based at the airport…which Kit didn’t find to be overly outrageous.  It was entirely acceptable to him to pay $10 so the airport was there and in working order in case he ever wanted to land here again.  The FBOs that offered parking, fuel, and services to visiting planes collected those fees, and probably split them with the airport.

      The two FBOs at Bergstrom were Atlantic Aviation and Signature Services, both of which were “franchise” FBOs that had businesses at quite a few airports, didn’t have to do that; Signature was the FBO Vil used when she landed in Austin, it was to their hangar and tarmac that Kit went when they went to meet her.

      That there were only two FBOs at Bergstrom that Kit could contract to take care of his plane, if that was eventually where he parked his plane after getting permanent hangar space, might seem odd.  But in reality, it made sense from a business standpoint.  Little Georgetown Airport charged no landing fees and was focused entirely on private aviation, was more friendly to businesses that focused on the private pilot with his personal plane, and as a result there were 7 FBOs there that offered a variety of services, on top of the services the airport itself offered in fuel and their pilot terminal.  Bergstrom, a big international airport that had airlines landing there and also charged a landing fee to planes that weren’t based there—and thank God Kit’s plane was considered based there because of his hangar deal with Avia, so he didn’t have to pay landing fees as a private aircraft since the airport got rent from his parking space—didn’t really focus on its small general aviation section as a source of profit, so they weren’t as friendly to small FBOs that might want to set up shop there.  There were only two nationally based FBOs that had settled in to serve private and general aviation at Bergstrom…because they were big, national FBOs who had the clout to bargain reasonable deals with the airport over rent, and one large flight school that probably had had to pay through the nose to set up their operations at the airport; but given the kinds of planes the school used, they were certainly successful.  The biggest sticking point for Kit was that there was no hangar space, and until he found permanent hangar space, he’d not hire an FBO to maintain his plane.  Some big FBOs offered hangar space as part of their services, but there wasn’t an empty hangar spot anywhere in Austin.  Where he’d eventually get hangar space was the major determining factor of which FBO he chose.

      The taxi was sitting out front of the Aero Premier hangar waiting for them.  Kit helped Jessie in and then got in himself, and told the cab driver, a scruffy-looking jackal who was very jovial and polite, where they were going.  “I will have you there in no time,” he said in accented English.  “Safely and surely!”

      Jessie looked out at the city as they drove down through it, at its mixture of new and old architecture, then they entered the glass and steel canyons between the thirty story skyscrapers in the central business district.  “I will wait for you here,” the taxi driver told them when he pulled up into the Hyatt’s traffic circle by the front door.

      “I’d appreciate it,” Kit said.  “We’ll be going to Antoine’s after we check in.  I know you know where that is.”

      “And I know to drop you off at Decatur and Saint Louis,” he said with a smile and nod.

      “Then you’re just the cab driver I need,” Kit grinned.

      It took then all of ten minutes to check in and drop off their suitcase and attaché, then they were again in the cab on their way to the French Quarter.  Antoine’s was in a rather awkward place on the back side of the Quarter, on Royal Street near Esplanade, and so it was always best to go in through the back way, via Esplanade, and walk to the restaurant from there.  Some cabbies tried to drive down Royal, which was a very slow process at night in the Quarter, because of all the foot traffic heading for Bourbon street.  Kit gave the cabby a healthy tip when he dropped them off, which made him smile brightly.  “Thank you, my generous friend!” he said.

      “It’s best to repay a kindness with a kindness,” Kit said sagely.  “What’s your name?”

      “Avrad, good sir.  I hope to carry you again.  Good evening to you.”

      “Good fur there,” Kit said as they watched his cab drive off, and Kit took special note of his cab company.

      “He seemed nice,” Jessie said.

      “He knows his way around this city,” Kit told her.  “That’s an important trait in a cab driver in New Orleans, because the streets here are really weird.  If we ever come back, I’ll call his company and ask specifically for him.”

      “Does he know his way around?  Where’s the restaurant?”

      “He knows his way around because he didn’t drop us off in front of the restaurant,” he told her.  “Come on, I’ll show you why.”

      It was so, so satisfying to enter Antoine’s.  The hare maitre’d that got him fired was standing at the podium near the door.  The hare certainly remembered him, but his gray-furred face was confused by Kit’s suit and Jessie’s elegant dress.  “What are you doing here?” he finally asked.

      “Vulpan, party of two, eight thirty,” Kit said, giving him a malicious smile.

      The hare’s eyes darted to his appointment chart, then widened when he saw the appointment there.  The look of shock, chagrin, and fear blooming on his face just made Kit feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  “Uh, F—Follow me,” he said, motioning with a gloved paw.

      They were seated in the main dining room, with its elegant carpet and crystal chandeliers, at a table clothed with a sheer coverlet.  The walls were covered with memorabilia of famous past guests, along with tasteful paintings and one small tapestry with the fleur de-lis.  When they were brought menus, Jessie’s eyes widened, both at the prices and at the seafood.  “Kit, can we afford this?” she asked in a whisper.

      “I told you we can, and this is one of the best places in the city for Creole seafood, so drool away, love,” he smiled.

      It was a heavenly meal.  Kit had crawfish bisque for his first course, oysters Rockefeller for his appetizer, no salad, and lamb chops with mint sauce for his main course.  Jessie went with the shrimp remoulade for her appetizer, she tried escargot at Kit’s dare for her second course, which she didn’t think were that bad at all, and grilled trout with crawfish tails and shrimp for her main course.  Both of them opted for the steamed broccoli to go with their entrees, and for dessert, Kit had peach melba while Jessie opted to try the chocolate mousse.  As usual, Jessie finished her meal much faster than Kit, and was forced to sit and wait for him.  She was much better at that now, though; months of eating dinner with him had slowed her down a little.

      “Now, wasn’t that worth the flight?” Kit asked with a bright smile.

      “I thought this was about getting revenge on that fur that got you fired,” she giggled.

      “Oh, I already got that.  I’ll remember that look on his face for years.”

      Jessie laughed.

      Their hotel room was by no means as luxurious as their $150 meal, but it was nice in its own right.  For one, the bed actually felt nice to his back, and for another, their tenth floor room had a nice view of the river.  Jessie avoided laying down to combat her morning sickness, following Doctor Mac’s tips, so they decided to go down and check out the casino.  “Remember, don’t bring any money into the casino you can’t afford to lose,” Kit winked at her.

      “Then give me twenty dollars,” Jessie told him, looking around in curiosity.

      It turned out that twenty bucks went a long way, because, to his shock, Jessie was good at blackjack.  They were there for over three hours, and though they left without the $20, it gave them three hours of fun.  Kit watched Jessie play blackjack for nearly an hour before going off to play nickel slots, his own little mindless diversion of fun.  At one point, Jessie had been up to $75 while Kit was playing slots.  When they were finally done, Jessie was angry with herself for not quitting when she was ahead.  “Seventy-five dollars, my handsome fox.  Seventy-five!  Why didn’t I quit!”

      “We were there to have fun, pretty kitty,” he told her mildly, as he flagged a cab outside of the casino.  “Did you have fun playing blackjack?”

      “Well, yeah, but—“

      “Did you lose a fortune?”

      “No!  I only played the twenty.”

      “Then wasn’t the three hours of fun worth the twenty dollars it cost you?”

      She gave him a curious look, then she laughed. “I guess it was,” she agreed.  “But it would have been more fun if I won.”

      “So says every gambler on the face of the earth,” he winked.

      That Sunday, they traded dinner attire for tourist attire.  It was as warm in New Orleans as it had been in Austin, so they left the hotel with their suitcases that morning wearing summer clothes, Jessie in a pair of khaki shorts and a tank top, and Kit in a pair of jeans and a faded Longhorns tee shirt, with the Texas flag on the back.  He had a cab take them back to the airport so they could pack their luggage in the plane, then it took them back to the French Quarter so they could sightsee.  They explored the quarter thoroughly, from one corner to the other, browsing tee shirt shops with naughty tee shirts, to the strip clubs on Bourbon street that Jessie made sure Kit got nowhere near, to the antique shops along Royal street.  Kit took her into Saint Louis Cathedral just as mass was letting out, sneaking in, and they walked up to the French market.  They ate lunch at Café du Monde there by the market, watched street performers across the street from Jackson Square, then went to the Riverwalk.  Kit bought them tickets on a noon cruise on a riverboat, and then they spent four hours standing at the rail of the boat as it cruised the river, taking lots of pictures and video.

      But, no matter how fun the day was, it had to end.  Almost regretfully, they hailed a cab at the Riverwalk mall’s entrance around 6:30, and went back to the airport.  “That was so much fun!” Jessie said exuberantly as the cab pulled up to the hangar at the airport, and Kit paid the cabby.  “I can’t wait to show the gang the pictures!”

      “Yeah, I had a ball,” Kit agreed as they got out of the cab.

      Jessie was totally used to the plane by now.  She got in confidently and strapped in as Kit did the preflight walk-around, then she pulled out the video camera from their carryon stowed in the back seat as he climbed in himself. “For the gang,” she grinned, pointing it at Kit.  “And here we are in the hangar, getting ready to start the engines and go home,” she announced as the camera recorded.  “Say hi, my handsome fox!”

      “Hey guys,” Kit waved to the camera, then he reached overhead and began the startup sequence.  “If they find this in the smoking wreckage, we love you.”

      “Kit!” Jessie gasped, then she laughed.  “Now do you see what I put up with, guys?”

      “I have never tried to scare you on purpose. I did that to your father,” he added absently, which made Jessie nearly drop the camera as she laughed.

      Jessie narrated the startup checklist, knowing it so well, then she talked loudly over the engine as she panned out to show them taxiing out of the hangar.  “Which way are we taking off, love?” she asked him as they came out onto the tarmac.

      “Not sure, lemme ask,” he said, then asked traffic control for instructions to take off.  When they answered he relayed it to Jessie. “We’re taking off going south, over the city,” he told her.

      She panned the camera all around the plane, then focused it on the Garmin screens, then she pointed it out her side window at a forward angle when Kit taxied out to the end of the runway.  “Okay, heeeeere we go!” she called as Kit throttled up to take off.  Kit made sure to dip his starboard wing slightly so Jessie got a good view of the city as they took off over it.  “Oooh, there’s the Superdome!” Jessie said, pointing her camera a bit more towards the wing.  “And those big bridges they talked about when they showed the Hurricane Katrina coverage!  And now we’re moving out over the swamps southwest of the city as we slowly turn more west to fly home,” she continued, pointing the camera out over the wing.  “How long til we’re home, love?”

      “About two hours,” he answered, adjusting to course he’d programmed for their return flight before they left Austin, following the most efficient pilot’s arc south from New Orleans to Austin.  “We could make it in about seventy-five minutes if I felt like burning all our fuel to get there, though.”

      “We’ll be landing at night?”

      He nodded.  “That should be interesting to tape for the gang too,” he said with a smile.

      “Oh, they’re going to see almost all this flight,” she smiled at him, turning the camera back on him.

      “It’s going to be awfully boring for them,” he chuckled.

      “We can edit out the boring parts,” she winked.

      “Like when I’m yelling at my laptop, accusing Chess Masters of cheating?”

      She laughed.

      Jessie did tape a good part of the flight, getting them a beautiful shot of the sunset at 12,500 feet as they neared Port Arthur.  She got great shots of the city of Houston’s lights as they flew over it, and then put the camera away until they got ready to land.  She taped the whole landing, panning between the MFD window showing their map location and the lights outside, as Kit put the air traffic on speaker so the camera’s microphone could pick it up.  “Aaaaaand…touchdown!” Jessie called when they landed, and Kit throttled back.  “There you go guys, our flight from New Orleans to Austin in our Cessna four hundred!  I hope you enjoyed it!”

      “I know I did,” Kit smiled, reaching over and taking her paw.  “Enjoy our date, pretty kitty?”

      She leaned over and kissed him on the muzzle tenderly.  “Thank you,” she told him.

      “Enjoy it while you can.  When the baby comes, we’ll be chained to Austin.  Not that that’s a bad thing,” he added with a dreamy little smile.

      “Do they sell baby seats for planes?” she asked absently.

 

      Kit found himself back up to his ears in work on Monday, but that wasn’t the only issues of the day.

      Rick’s surgery took place at 8:00am, and went off without a hitch.  They went in and fixed a slight herniated segment of muscle, which must have torn free after the first surgery, and Rick was being told he’d be casted and on his way home bright and early on Thursday morning, which was a very, very good thing.  The doctors had cleared him to return to work, and they had an elevator here in the building, so Rick would have little trouble wheeling in to do desk duty.  Kit would still be doing all the legwork for Rick’s job, but Rick being back in the office would take a lot of work off Kit’s shoulders.

      The blistering op-ed they ran also caught just a little attention.  Just a little, like, say…from CNN.

      He fielded the call at eight o’clock Monday morning, just as Rick was going into surgery, as he was researching the nine Democratic candidates for President in preparation for the upcoming debate, which was now next week.  Denise wasn’t in the office yet, so the switchboard call came straight to Kit’s phone; usually it went straight to Rick’s, but Denise had reprogrammed it while Rick was recovering from his injury.  “Lone Star Magazine, Kit Vulpan speaking,” he said absently, copying a bunch of text off a campaign website into a Word file.

      “Mister Vulpan?  This is Dan Larkin, associate producer from CNN.”

      “CNN?”

      “Cable News Network,” he said.  “We’d like to interview you over an op-ed you wrote, which has become something of a viral piece roaming around the web.”

      “Huh, really?  I hope I get royalties for it,” he noted, which made the producer laugh.

      “So, are you interested in four minutes of on-air interview around four twenty?”

      “No.”

      “I—what?”

      “No thank you.  I may be a journalist, Mister Larkin, but I also don’t appear in public.  I do my public speaking from behind a keyboard.  It’s an agreement I have with my family.”

      “I—well, I guess I could understand that.  Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”

      “Not any time this century, no.  Thank you for the offer, I do appreciate it, but no thanks.”

      “Well, I’d like to leave you my number, in case you change your mind,” he said in an obviously disappointed voice.

      “That won’t happen,” Kit said with gentle adamance.

      “Alright then.  Thank you for your time.”

      “Thank you.  Goodbye.”

      Then he hung up.

      He didn’t pay it much more mind until Mike got there.  He came straight to Kit’s office and pointed a finger at him.  “You crashed my server!” he accused, though he was grinning.

      “Excuse me?”

      “The server crashed yesterday!” he said, then he laughed.  “Too many hits on the website!”

      “Would this have something to do with the op-ed?”

      “Hell yeah,” he grinned.  “I put it up on the site, and the server crashed from overload.”

      “I was just called by CNN asking for an interview.”

      “Holy—wow!  Did you take it?”

      “Nope,” he answered.  “I don’t appear in public, Mike.  I’ve lost my taste for it.”

      Mike’s eyes flickered to his half-missing ear, then could only nod in understanding.  “But yet you work for a magazine,” he grinned.

      “That’s all done behind a computer,” Kit said with a little smile.

      “Point.”

      Kit tried to get his work done, but the op-ed made that hard.  There wasn’t an issue of the magazine to be found anywhere, for those that had one weren’t leaving them laying around as they usually tended to do on campus, and the server was still logging huge traffic, way, way more than normal. Mike showed him a graph of the server’s load after he got it off the server.  Somehow, word of the op-ed had gotten out, and it was attracting attention from the internet.  From what Mike was saying, the issues were all snapped up because of the internet.  The traffic started early on Sunday morning, according to the graph, while Kit and Jessie were in New Orleans, and then it grew steadily through the morning.  The server crashed at 2:28pm yesterday, which caused the backup server to kick in and also text an emergency code to Mike, who had to come in to get everything all straightened out.  “I have the server and both backups trying to keep up with the demand,” Mike said with a happy grin.  “You need to write a comment about it I can put up, like saying you don’t do TV interviews.”

      “I can do that,” Kit chuckled.

      Rick was absolutely thrilled about it, calling at five minutes to nine to report in with the good news about his surgery. When he called, Kit didn’t have to tell him about anything, because he already knew about the server crash.  Rick told him the good news about his leg first, then went straight on to the op-ed.  “Son, this will drive interest in the magazine through the roof!” he said excitedly.  “This is three weeks in a row we’ve totally sold out our sale units and the magazine has vanished off the campus.  I want you to call the publisher and tell him we’re increasing circulation by twenty percent on the next issue as a test to see if it holds up, and send a blanket warning to all our advertisers that they’ll see a rate increase if our increased circulation holds.  I don’t think they’ll mind too much,” Rick chuckled.  “Oh, and accept every reprint request that comes in about the op-ed.  And bargain for five percent over the going reprint royalty.”

      “Alright, I can do that,” he answered.  “CNN called for an interview.”

      “Did you take it?”

      “I don’t appear in public, Rick, you know that.”

      “Damn.  Well, I can respect that, son,” he said.  “But I will,” he chuckled.

      “You are on the by-line,” Kit noted.  “Call CNN and tell them you’ll do the interview.”

      “Did the CNN guy leave his number?”

      “No, but I can get you the number for CNN’s Houston bureau in about ten seconds,” he said, already bringing it up.  “Just tell them you’re trying to get the number for Dan Larkin about an interview he offered to us.”

      “I’ll have to do it over the phone,” Rick mused.

      “We’ll send them a nice picture of you they can put up on the screen,” Kit chuckled.  “You seem awfully giddy about this.”

      “God, son, you have no idea how hard it was to resist calling you when the server crashed,” he laughed.  “But I didn’t want to intrude on your time with Jessie.”

      “Aww, thanks, boss,” Kit said sincerely.  “That was very thoughtful.  I really appreciate that.”

      “You get to work on that, let me call everyone and tell them I’ll be home Thursday morning.”

      And that basically wrecked his day.  Kit was doing two jobs, but since one of his jobs entailed dealing with magazine business, he found himself spending half the day wearing a phone earset lent to him by Denise so he could free up his paws while he fielded calls for half the day.  They were offered 19 reprints, and Kit bargained for five percent over standard royalty for each one.  A couple of editors grumbled a bit at that, but they also accepted it.

      Lone Star made some money that day.

      Jessie was on her spring break now, so she came in around noon, bringing Kit some beef stroganoff and broccoli with cheese sauce for lunch.  She hung around to do some writing for her strip, then decided to just sit quietly in his office knitting, just being near him, which Kit did not mind at all.  “I’m going to go have my first golf lesson with Sheila tomorrow afternoon,” she said.  “We’re going to a driving range.”

      “That’s no surprise,” Kit told her.  “It’s a lot harder than most furs think to hit a golf ball.  It takes some practice.”

      “How long will you be at the courthouse on Wednesday?”

      “Dunno, love,” he answered.  “The hearing is at ten, and I doubt it’ll go much past six, so any time in between.  It’ll depend on how many times the DA likes to hear me say no.”

      Jessie giggled.  “I’ll make sure to keep the checkbook handy if I have to bail you out of jail,” she winked.

      “I may need it,” he said with a sober nod.

      Rick did the interview with CNN instead of Kit, by phone from his office, and the whole office watched it on TV.  It ran at 3:21pm Central time, where Rick told the CNN anchor, Don Lemon, about how the Clinton campaign staffer, who was unknown to them, had been almost vicious in his rejection of an interview request, and how that act had caused the magazine to release an op-ed about all the campaigns and how they were treating the “little furs,” how the campaigns were showing how they were so unlike the images they were trying to project.  Rick told them about his own experiences with arrogant campaign officials who not only brushed off his interview requests, but did so with snide and snarky comments…though none matched the sheer hate spewed on Kit by the Clinton staffer.  “How can a campaign say he or she is a champion of the common fur when the common fur gets treated like a criminal when trying to communicate with the campaigns?  How can John Q. Taxpayer compete with Corporate Bigwig when trying to communicate his concerns to the candidates, when anyone without a name or a campaign contribution check is shown the door?”

      “But you’re not a common citizen, Mister Sanders, you’re a journalist,” Don Lemon pointed out respectfully.

      “Listen, we know we’re a small magazine, barely more than a campus mag for the University of Texas, but we’re also professionals.  And when you don’t treat a journalist with professional courtesy, you can expect that journalist to use a journalist’s outlets to voice his or her indignation.”

      That made Don Lemon chuckle.  “Indeed they can,” he agreed.  “The Clinton campaign released a statement saying that the co-author of the op-ed who tried to arrange the interview, Kitstrom Vulpan the third, tried to use his family influence to get an interview, and was rebuffed by the campaign because of it.  Any truth to this statement?”

      “Sir, if you knew anything about the Vulpan family, you’d laugh at that statement,” Rick said seriously.  “He has no family influence, and the staffer knew it.  That was why the staffer was so nasty to Kit, calling him ‘the earless outcast Vulpan.’  If the staffer is saying Kit was trying to use his name to get an interview, then why did he bring that up?  The staffer got very personal, and we couldn’t let such an uncalled-for action go unchallenged, so we wrote the op-ed.”

      “But wouldn’t an explanation be that the staffer made note of it because Mister Vulpan was doing just that?”

      “You don’t know the Vulpan family, Mister Lemon.  If he ever spoke for his family, his family would definitely have something to say about it, and that’s something Kit would never do.  He just made peace with his family and reconciled to them in order for him to be able to communicate with his sister and his cousin, both of whom he dearly loves, but that peace doesn’t include him speaking for the family.  I doubt he’d do anything to jeopardize that peace, because it would strip him of his contact with his sister and cousin.  He’d never do such a thing, because his family would be rightfully angry if he tried to use his name in a way that they didn’t approve.  After all, the name doesn’t belong to only him.”

      “So you challenge the press release by the Clinton campaign?”

      “I certainly do.  And I stand behind every word in our op-ed.”

      “Well, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thank you, Rick.”

      “Thank you, sir.”

      “That was Rick Sanders, head editor of Lone Star magazine,” Don Lemon said, which made the office explode into applause.

      Kit just blew out his breath.  Rick had saved himself, and Kit, a lot of grief, for he followed the cardinal rule:  never speak ill of the family.  Rick had danced on the razor’s edge communicating the outrage the family would feel if Kit was exploiting his name openly—openly being the key word there—while also defending their right to feel angry if he did, for that was a violation of the unspoken rules of conduct of family members…even disowned ones.  Kit was impressed anew with both how intelligent Rick was, and how subtle he could be.

      “Did you hear that, cousin?  You love me,” Sheila said, throwing herself into his arms.  “Let’s elope!”

      “And the banjo starts playing,” Mike said ominously, which made Kit laugh.

      “He’s already married, Sheila,” Jessie said primly.  “You had your chance when you were kids.  He’s mine now.”

      Sheila laughed raucously.

      His phone rang, and it was Vil.  “I didn’t do it,” he said immediately upon answering it, pushing Sheila out of his arms.

      She laughed.  “I’m calling just to say you’re fine,” she told him.  “I don’t disapprove of what Rick said.  He defended the family honor while also defending yours.  He did well.”

      “You were watching it?”

      “Of course I was.  CNN tried to get me to comment, so I fished and found out Rick was going to be interviewed today,” she answered.  “I read the op-ed, too,” she laughed.  “I can certainly tell which parts you wrote and which parts Rick did.”

      “Yeah, it was a collaborative effort,” Kit chuckled as he went back into his office, while the crew high-fived each other.  “He took my disjointed rant and put some structure in it.”

      “I do have to protest one thing, though.  As one of those rich special interest groups, I protest you trying to restrict my access to buying politicians,” she teased, which made Kit laugh helplessly.

      Kit had to work late to get all his work done, since he spent most of the day doing Rick’s work, but Jessie stayed with him, so that made it much easier.  She went out and got them Chinese for dinner, then helped him again with some of the easier research, digging up the easier facts for him and arranging it.  She’d seen his research work often enough to be able to duplicate his basic format, which made it much easier for him when he incorporated her work into his own.  “I should have Rick pay you for this,” Kit said as he merged her work with his.

      She giggled.  “I think Rick has more important things on his mind.  Are we gonna go see him?”

      He nodded.  “I have to give him the daily briefing.  I hope the docs stay with letting him go home on Thursday.  He’ll be in a wheelchair, but at least he’ll be home.”

      “I wonder how long he’ll last til he comes to work,” Jessie mused.

      “I give him one day,” Kit said honestly.  “I’ll bet ten bucks he’ll be in his office Monday morning.”

      “He probably will,” Jessie agreed with a nod.  “Not sure how he’s gonna manage the bathroom in that wheelchair, though.”

      “He’ll find a way,” Kit chuckled.

 

      Courtrooms sucked.

      Kit arrived on Wednesday after having been dropped off by Jessie, who had liked trying her paw at driving golf balls that she was going to go back to the driving range this morning and practice some more.  She’d wanted to go with him, but he didn’t want her to worry.  Besides, he was coming armed for bear.

      Kevin and Delores met him in the lobby, just on the other side of the metal detector, which had a fit when Kit went through it and forced them to use a wand to determine that he did indeed have metal in his body.  The skunk looked quite dapper in his dark gray suit and red tie, and the tabby cat wore a very modest gray business skirt and blazer.  He shook their paw when he got to them.  “Thanks for coming,” Kit said.

      “I am your lawyer,” Kevin grinned.  “We’re ready to argue the case, so don’t you worry a bit.”

      “I made sure he’s ready for this,” Delores assured him.  “This will be very good practice for him.”

      “We have the subpoena all but quashed, the only real thing they can do is try to search again using search warrants.”

      “Well, it won’t help them all that much if they do, because I destroyed my notes,” Kit said carefully.  “I don’t have them anymore.”  And that was technically true, for he no longer had the notes.  Vil did.

      “Well, they can still try,” Kevin told him.  “But we’ll be ready for them if they do.”

      At ten, Kit, Delores, and Kevin entered the courtroom on the subpoena.  The DA was already there, a raccoon wearing a dark suit, a gray-furred rabbit judge, a burly bear bailiff, and there were eighteen furs in a jury box to the side of the judge’s bench and witness stand.  Luckily, at least to Kit, there was no one else in the room.  As soon as Kit and his lawyers sat down in the audience seats, the judge banged his gavel, and the burly bear bailiff called the court to order.

      “Alright, proceed, counsel,” the judge told the raccoon.

      “The state calls Kitstrom Vulpan to the stand,” the raccoon said.

      “Are you still moving to quash the subpoena, Mister Vulpan?” the judge asked.

      “Your honor, I’m counsel for Mister Vulpan,” Kevin said in a strong voice after he stood up.  “I’m here to represent Mister Vulpan on the matter.”

      The raccoon looked a little irked, but said nothing.  The judge, on the other hand, looked slightly amused.  “Bailiff, see the jury back to the deliberation room,” the judge said, “while I hear the arguments.”

      Once the jury was removed, Kevin and Kit were allowed to move into the well, sitting at the opposite table, while Delores remained behind them, silently observing but allowing Kevin space to do his work.  Kevin stood up and began.  “Your honor, as you know, Texas law based on reporter’s privilege is weak and unclear, relying mainly on the First Amendment, various appeal cases, and Branzurg versus Hayes.  Reporter first amendment rights have always been weak in grand jury cases, but in each case the district attorney was asking specific questions about specific cases with a specific objective, and with supporting evidence.  None of those conditions appear in this case.  The district attorney is, to coin a term, fishing.  He has no idea if there even was a crime involved in this case, and if there was, he can’t even claim that it occurred within his jurisdiction.”

      “That’s why Mister Vulpan was subpoenaed, to find out,” the DA cut in.

      “But, since there’s no definitive case here, no specific questions, not even a certainty of jurisdiction, the subpoena fails the balancing test put forth to subpoenas against reporters in most criminal cases,” Kevin said.

      “This isn’t a criminal case, it’s a grand jury,” the DA said, a bit testily.

      “But where is the case, your honor?” Kevin asked.  “All we have here is a series of vague questions and uncertainties.  Can the district attorney even prove a crime was committed and present enough evidence to bring charges?  Charges against whom?  All we have here is a paper-thin set of accusations brought against no one, in a place that may or may not be in the district attorney’s jurisdiction, where the only possible lead they have to go on is an article that appeared in a campus magazine, that may not even be truthful, as the article’s disclaimer clearly states.  All this subpoena is trying to do is intimidate the author of the article into violating his relationship with his source, it serves no other reason, because the district attorney has nothing else.  That, your honor, is a bad faith subpoena.  And because of that, the subpoena should be quashed as by the precedent set by Branzurg, which the state of Texas follows.”

      The judge was silent a moment.  “Counsel?”

      “The subpoena clearly states our position, your honor,” the raccoon said.  “The purpose of the subpoena, and this grand jury, is to determine the very questions counsel brought up.  Was there a breaking of the law?  If so, where?  The subpoena is clear in that it isn’t demanding every single scrap of information from Mister Vulpan.  We only want two questions answered, your honor.  Where is the brothel in which the subject of the article worked, and when did the source work there?  If those questions are answered, Mister Vulpan is free to go about his business.  He doesn’t have to name his source.  We don’t want details, we just want to know if this is a matter that falls within our jurisdiction, and if it falls within our jurisdiction, we’ll pursue the matter from there without Mister Vulpan’s help, since that’s a battle over privilege I know I’ll lose.”

      “Sir, to do that would cause me to break my word to my source,” Kit said, standing up quickly.  “I gave my source my solemn word I would protect their anonymity, and revealing anything about what I was told would violate that promise.  Because of that, I can’t answer any questions at all about the article.”

      “You’re speaking out of order, Mister Vulpan,” the judge told him.  “Please sit down and remain quiet for the remainder of the hearing.”

      Kit listened to Kevin and the other fur argue back and forth, rephrasing their core arguments as both sides quoted other cases to the judge, for nearly half an hour.  Then the judge seemed satisfied.  “Let’s break for an early lunch.  I’ll return with my decision.  We’re adjourned until twelve o’clock.”

      “All rise,” the bailiff called mechanically.

      “How do you think we did?” Kit asked as the two of them left the courtroom.

      “I think we’re fine,” Kevin answered.

      “You did very well, Kevin,” Delores told him with a nod.  “Assertive, confident, knowledgeable, respectful, and always in control.  You’re going to be an excellent trial attorney.”

      “Thanks, Misses Kittimer,” Kevin said with a happy look.

      Kit was a little nervous as they ate lunch at the cafeteria.  The thought of going to jail was actually looming on his horizon, because he wasn’t about to reveal anything about Allison.  If the DA won, he’d have to answer questions that he would not answer, and he’d be found in contempt of court.  He wondered if they’d let him bail out, or hold him in jail to force him to testify.  Kevin kept trying to distract him from those kinds of thoughts, keeping a cheery, positive attitude, so much so that he was joking with Kit when they went back into the courtroom at noon.  Kit was very nervous when they sat back down, after the judge entered and called the court to order.  “Despite the general, non-confidential information being sought by the district attorney, precedent falls squarely on the side of Mister Vulpan,” the judge announced.  “No matter how general you’re trying to be, counsel, you have no case other than attempting to force a reporter to reveal a confidential source in order to support your case.  That is the textbook definition of a bad faith subpoena.  As such, I rule that the subpoena is quashed,” he announced.  “Since there seems to be no other evidence the district attorney can present at the present time, I’m inclined to end this grand jury proceeding.  However,” he warned, looking at Kit, “if the district attorney can re-present this matter to a grand jury with an external source of evidence to support the hearing, then I won’t rule to quash a subpoena again,” he warned.  “Because in that situation, the grand jury proceeding will be examining actual evidence, and the district attorney isn’t calling you to testify for the sole purpose of forcing you to violate your relationship with your source.  Understand, Mister Vulpan?”

      “Yes, sir,” Kit said, a little nervous and also at the same time quite relieved.

      “Alright then.  Bailiff, dismiss the grand jury if you please.  This case is hereby dismissed, with the district attorney’s leave to re-present the case at a later time once he meets the conditions I set forth.”

      And with a bang of the gavel, Kit felt very much like the fish that slipped off the hook.

      He left the courtroom with Kevin and Delores, who patted him on the shoulder.  “I told you you’d get out of it,” he said.

      “Yeah, but the judge said I would have to testify if the DA brings it back.”

      “Yes, but without your testimony, I seriously doubt that they’ll ever manage it,” Delores told him honestly.  “I talked to a friend of mine in the DA’s office.  They have absolutely no leads.  Nothing at all.  All they had was your testimony, and we just stopped them from getting it, so they’re beyond helpless.”

      “They don’t even know if the brothel where your source worked is in Austin,” Kevin continued.  “I mean, they don’t even know if there was a crime, and if so, where it was.  They have nothing, Kit.  I wouldn’t worry about it.  Trying to bully you into answering their questions was their last resort, their Hail Mary.  It failed, so I’d just sweep this one under the rug and forget about it.”

      “Well put,” Delores agreed.  “Oh, excuse me a minute, boys, I see an old friend from the DA’s office,” she said, then she hurried towards a dark-furred male cat in a black suit near the stairs.

       “That’s easy for you to say, Kev,” Kit said with a sour grunt.  “I will worry about it, for quite a while.”

      “Well, don’t let it make your fur fall out,” Kevin chuckled, playfully punching him in the arm.  “You gonna make poker this weekend?”

      “I’m going to try,” he answered.  “But with Rick out, it’s not a guarantee.  I’m still doing both our jobs right now.”

      “And with Jessie pregnant, too,” Kevin grunted.  “That must be a lot of stress.”

      “Vulpans live on stress,” Kit said lightly.  “How’s it been going with Sam?”

      “Wonderful,” he answered.  “I’m going to go meet her folks next month, as soon as I get this criminal trial out of the way.  My first,” he said with pride.

      “Oh?  What happened with the infringement case?”

      “Won it,” he grinned.  “Got my client nearly four hundred thousand dollars in damages.”

      “What kind of criminal trial are you doing?”

      “I’m defending someone from petty larceny charges.  A mid-level manager at Motorola accused of shoplifting.  It’s just a misdemeanor case over a five dollar box of candy, but he pled not guilty, and the firm put me on his case.  Sorry if I can’t really go into specifics.”

      “No problem.  I should do an article about you,” Kit chuckled.  “I’ll call it Life After College, showing furs using their degrees, showing you cutting your teeth after graduation from law school.  You’d be a perfect first subject.”

      “I guess I could let you do that.  It’s free advertising for the firm.”

      “We’ll have to talk about it, and talk to Rick about it.”

      “You know, you fall into that as well,” Kevin grinned.

      “Nah, I cut my teeth as a homeless vagabond,” Kit winked.

      “Such a waste of a history degree, since you’re solidly in journalism now,” Kevin grinned.

      “I should go take classes on journalism,” Kit shrugged.  “I really have no idea how to do it.  All I really know is what I learned at the magazine and what Rick and Barry taught me.”

      Kevin laughed.  “I think you’re doing just fine as it is,” he said.  “And not just you.  Rick has something special going on over there.  Lone Star is like no other magazine I’ve ever read.  It’s news for young furs, things that matter to us.  It’s the only magazine I know of that has news on the election on one page, then a review of the latest video game release on the next.  It has The Scene, School Daze, Ask Away and all those other features that makes the mag much more fun to read.  It’s way more than a campus mag now.”

      “Yeah, Rick’s got vision,” Kit agreed.  “And a damn fine group of furs working for him.  Hmm,” he mused.

      “What?”

      “I should ask Rick what he’d think if we had Mike actually start writing,” he said.  “Mike’s our resident tech-head, maybe we should have him do articles about tech reviews, advice, so on and so on.  It’s the only thing we really don’t do ourselves, Rick always buys articles from other sources for stuff like that. Why should we when we have a perfectly good computer god right in the office?  After we hire a photographer, a lot of his workload is going to dry up, since he and Lilly are our primary photographers right now.  We’ll have to keep him busy.”

      “Computer god?” Kevin asked with a laugh.

      “Just about.  Mike knows everything about computers and gadgets.  He knows how to network, he knows programming, he knows hardware and software, I’ve never seen anything he couldn’t do when we asked him.  I think he can even program a VCR.”

      “That is truly the ultimate test of any tech guru,” Kevin said with a solemn voice, then both of them exploded into laughter.

      Delores returned.  “My friend tells me that with the subpoena quashed, they’ll let this fade away, at least if the assistants have their way.  He said that off the record, of course,” she said with a light smile.  “He said the DA himself was the one that pushed it, over the advice of the assistants, because there’s so little there.  But then again, the DA has always been a moralistic crusader.  He’s gone after things like this before,” she said absently.  “I’d say Kevin was right, Kit.  You can put this behind you.  With the search coming up empty and the subpoena quashed, he can’t do anything but harass you, and he’d be doing it after he’s already been beaten in court.  If he does, we’ll be coming after him for prosecutorial misconduct, and the DA’s office knows it.  I made that clear when I talked to my friend, and I still carry enough clout in the office that they won’t dismiss that as an idle threat.  So this case is over.”

      “Thank God,” he said with an explosive sigh.  “Let me make the reassuring calls that I’m not going to jail now,” Kit said, taking out his Blackberry as they all left the courthouse.  He called Jessie first and told her to come get him, that she wouldn’t have to bail him out, which made her giggle, then called Rick and told him he’d squirmed out of it…if only just.  He then called Vil to assure her all was well because she was poised to crush the DA if Kevin and Delores failed to quash the subpoena, then, after Kevin and Delores said their goodbyes and they parted, he called Allison.  She too wanted to know what was going on.  “Ally,” he said.  “It’s over.  I’m not going to jail, and my lawyer told me the DA’s office is going to let the matter drop.”

      “Thank God,” she said explosively.  “You are a true male of honor, willing to go to jail rather than break a promise,” she said carefully.  Even now, they never directly talked of it except when they were in his house.  They both knew that cell phones were not secure; anyone with a scanner could hear every word they said.

      “When I make a promise, I make a promise,” he told her calmly.   “Jessie wants to know if you and Sheila would like to come over for dinner tonight.  She’s making lasagna and german chocolate cake.”

      “I’d love to,” she answered.  “She’s still trying to make me fat,” she added with a laugh.

      “She thinks if she fattens you up, you won’t be so attractive when she gets fat,” Kit said sagely.  “She loves you as a friend, Ally, but she is a little jealous of you, even now.  She has this weird idea that because we’re both foxes, I might find you to be more attractive than her, which is utterly ridiculous.  It’s part of her sinister plot to keep my eyes from wandering when she’s waddling around.”

      Allison laughed.  “Well, at least now I know what to expect,” she said.

      “She just can’t get it into her head that I’m totally hers,” Kit chuckled.

      “Such a pity,” Allison teased.  “You are so whipped.”

      “I enjoy my slavery,” Kit told her, which made her laugh.

     

      Rick, it turned out, was again operating on a similar wavelength to Kit.  After he went to visit Rick in the hospital, his last night there, he told him about his idea, to which Rick replied by showing him a file in his laptop called Cyber Corner.  It was a detailed description of a weekly article Mike would pen dealing with technology, games, and the internet culture.

      “As soon as I hire a photographer, he starts the article,” Rick said.

      “Have you looked over the resumes?”

      He nodded.  “I’ve set up interviews for next week,” he answered.  “I’ve already looked over the portfolios of four of them online, the others offered to bring them to the interview.”

      “So, you’re coming back?”

      “Monday,” he affirmed.  “They have elevators there, I can get to work just fine cause Martha’s gonna drop me off and pick me up.  The docs have cleared me for desk duty.  So, you can throttle back on doing my work after Friday, son.  Leave it alone on Saturday, take your Sunday and Monday off.”

      “Jessie will like that,” Kit chuckled.  “We can spend time at home instead of the office.  She’s spent almost all her spring break sitting in my office knitting and doing her homework.”

      “Take her to the beach,” Rick told him.  “Sunday is supposed to be a fine day, according to the weather.  Take her to South Padre and let her have a little spring break fun.”

      Kit was about to say something, then he laughed.  “That’s a pretty good idea,” he said.

      “Anyway, as far as the magazine goes, I’m also gonna introduce two new features,” he said, moving his document to a new page.  It was called The Little Corner.  “This is going to be Denise’s territory,” he explained.  “It’ll be a femme’s-eye view of campus life.”

      “She’s going to beat you when she sees that headline.”

      “Rick laughed.  “I’m actually going to let her name it, this one’s just to get a charge out of her.”

      “It’ll do that alright.”

      “Marty will handle the other new feature,” he said, scrolling down to a heading named 15 Minutes of Fame.  “It’ll be guest articles from students, mainly from the journalism majors, giving them their shot at doing news, editorials, reviews, whatever, published.  Marty will pick two articles submitted by students each week and run them, and he’ll pick ones that have a bearing on whatever articles we’re running that week.  I think it has potential,” he said.  “Not only do we give journalism students a chance to cut their teeth, we can introduce fresh views, angles we never thought of.”

      “I think it’ll work, as long as we get enough submissions.”

      “When it’s thin, Marty’s going to use this instead,” he said, switching to a heading called Shout Out!  “This’ll be a log of a discussion on Twitter Marty and Mike will host on Tuesday nights, where students talk about some subject in real time, and we post logs of it or write articles based on it.  I’m not sure how well this will go over, though.  This one is purely an experiment.”

      “Experimentation is good as long as it doesn’t consume all our resources,” Kit chuckled.

      “I think Marty and Mike can sacrifice an hour every Tuesday night,” Rick said.  “Jeffrey’s also talking about splitting Missy and Cutler off from School Daze and doing it as an independent strip, running one strip a week.  He wants to name it Culture Wars, and put Missy and Cutler in battle gear on the intro panel, about to start fighting.”

      Kit laughed.  “That about sums up how those two get along,” Kit said.  “It’s a love-hate relationship if there ever was one.  But Culture Wars is a kinda silly title.  He should just call it Missy and Cutler.  Furs know those two by now, so the title makes perfect sense.  What more needs be said once you get to know them?  I mean, it’s Missy and Cutler.”

      Rick laughed.  “True.  I’ll have to talk to him about it.  We haven’t asked Jessie about it yet.  Think she’d go for doing it as a weekly instead of the way she does it now?”

      “She’d do it.  You’ll have to give her a raise, though.”

      “I’m going to put her on as a full-time staff member,” Rick told him.  “I was going to ask her if she would like to do a feature herself.  Jessie has a gentle kind of personality, I think she’d do well in an advice column or something like that, something that let her sweet nature show through the words on the page.  I’ll let her think about what kind of feature she’d like to try though, and we’ll go from there.”

      “She’d probably go for it, at least after she got over her bout of nerves,” Kit chuckled.

      “Talk to her about it when you get home.  I thought about asking her about it when she was here earlier, but Martha distracted me with barbecue,” he laughed.  “Both of them are making sure I leave here twenty pounds heavier than when I came in, and that doesn’t count the cast they’ll put on me.”

      “Where is Martha now?”

      “Home, getting things ready for the wheelchair,” he answered.  “She wanted to move some furniture around.  She has Sheila and Bill over there helping her.”

      “Looking forward to it?”

      “I’m not looking forward to the wheelchair, but I’m glad I’ll be going home,” he smiled.  “I just hope I’m not in it long.”

      “Well, here’s hoping you heal fast.  Soon as your bones are stable enough, you’ll be on crutches.”

      “I still don’t see how that matters,” Rick grunted.

      “Just in case you accidentally put weight on your broken leg,” Kit told him.  “They wouldn’t even take my cast off until my bones were fully healed, for fear that I’d stress it moving around.”

      “Well, that’s your back, son, this is just a leg.”

      “If you put the wrong stress on your leg, you’ll wish you stayed in the wheelchair,” Kit told him.  “It means you’ll be back in surgery and you start over healing from scratch.”

      “Yeah, I know, but I don’t have to like it,” Rick chuckled.  “You talk to Jessie tonight, and take that girl to the beach on Sunday!”

      “I think we will,” Kit said with a smile.

 

      Sheila and Allison joined them for dinner that night, a dinner of lasagna, artichoke hearts, salad, and german chocolate cake.  Allison looked at all the food with an amused look, giving Kit a slight smile as Jessie kept trying to double Allison’s portions, but she said nothing.  She was too busy eating to say anything.

      “God, Jess, I gotta learn to cook as good as you,” Sheila said after taking a bite of the lasagna.

      “You’d better if you want to be a chef,” Kit teased lightly.

      “How did it go today, cousin?” Sheila asked.  “I mean, the stuff you won’t tell anyone else.”

      “There wasn’t anything more to it,” he answered honestly.  “Kevin went in there and just steamrolled the prosecutor,” he chuckled.  “Perry Mason would have been impressed.”

      Allison reached over and patted him on the wrist.  “Thanks again, Kit,” she said.  “You were willing to go to jail for me.  I’m so honored.”

      “I made you a promise, Ally,” he told her.  “And a Vulpan never breaks his promises.”

      “Yup,” Sheila agreed.  “None of us will, not when it counts.  It’s about the family honor.”

      “You have no honor, Sheila,” Jessie teased with a cute smile.  “You’re a Party Pack girl.”

      “I have a little.  I’ll sell it to you,” she offered, which made both Jessie and Allison laugh.

      “I meant to ask, Ally.  Do you talk to—to them?” Jessie asked.  “How did they react to the article?”

      “The Top Hat?  It made them rather nervous at first,” Allison said.  “They knew it was them Kit was talking about, and they knew it was me that did the article.  They didn’t appreciate the part about covering up the rapes, but they did appreciate how Kit made note that they were very good employers in other respects, how they let us keep the majority of the money we earned.  But when Kit refused to speak to the police after they came around, they calmed down a great deal.  They relaxed when the search turned up nothing, and I’m sure they’re dancing in their offices now that the subpoena has been beaten, since their business has actually increased since the article.  It got some old members who haven’t been coming to start coming again.  They have extensive contacts inside the police and DA’s office, so they knew what was going on.  As I recall, two of the assistant DAs are members,” she mused with a slight smile.  “I can say that the owners have a great deal of respect for Kit for refusing to say a word, and they didn’t kick him out, he’s still considered a member of the club.  And Benny said that the owners actually liked the article, too.  He said they said it was very good.  Benny said he thought he knew me until he read the article, then realized he’d never really known me at all,” she said with a mysterious little smile.

      “Benny?” Jessie asked.

      “Benny the bartender there at the Top Hat, he’s still is a friend of mine, so he keeps me in the loop with what goes on there.  Between attempts to lure me back, that is,” she chuckled lightly.  “But I’m never going back.  I got out with my investments and, thank God, no diseases.  I’m not tempting fate.  I’m done with it.”

      “The hell you are, we’ll go back as customers,” Sheila grinned at her.  “You forget, me and Kit are members, and we can take guests!  You’ll get to be the girl doing the pawing, not the girl being pawed!”

      “I might do that,” she smiled.  “A couple of the male strippers are very handsome.”

      “Boy, are they,” Jessie said reflexively, then she blushed and laughed.  “But I still love you, my handsome fox, even though you did throw me at those male strippers.”

      “I’m so glad,” he said blandly, which made all three femmes giggle.

      “We should go celebrate,” Sheila said.  “Kit, Jessie, wanna go do something with the Austin Party Pack this weekend?” Sheila asked with a grin.  “Me, Ally, Sandy, Sam, Danny, Jessie, Charlotte, Lisa, we can all have a party at the sorority or go to Dallas or something!  It’s the last weekend of spring break!”

      “Actually, I’m taking Jessie to the beach on Sunday,” Kit said, looking at her.

      “I’m so glad you decided to tell me that!” Jessie laughed.

      “I just did.  Wanna go to South Padre on Sunday?”

      “Of course I do!” Jessie said immediately.

      “Ooo, can we tag along?” Sheila asked.  “We’ve been there, we know where all the sexy guys hang out!”

      “I’m not all that interested in sexy guys, Sheila,” Kit told her with a dry smile.  “But that’s up to Jessie.  She missed out on spring break, so I gotta make it up to her.  This is her trip.”

      “I’d love to have you guys along,” Jessie said immediately, reaching over and patting Allison on the forearm.  “If you’d like to come.”

      “I think I would,” Allison smiled in return.  “As long as you don’t get jealous of seeing me in a bikini.”

      Jessie’s cheeks frizzed out, and she laughed.  “I’ll do my best,” she said with a helpless smile.  “It’s not going to be fair when I’m fat and you’re not.”

      Allison glanced at Kit, then she laughed earnestly.  “And I think you’ve been trying to fatten me up!” she accused.

      “I am not!” she protested.

      “God, the boys will just die,” Sheila said with a predatory smile.  “Me and Jessie and Ally, three of the hottest femmes in Austin all together and in bikinis.  They’re gonna howl!”

      “I’m not going there so boys can ogle me,” Jessie said primly.  “I’m a married femme, and I’m pregnant, for goodness sake!”

      “So?  You’re not showing yet, you’re still a sexy beast, Jess.  Wear dental floss and your wedding ring, let them see what they can never have!” Sheila said with a malicious little smile, which made almost every strand of Jessie’s fur stick straight out.

      “I will not!” she gasped.  “I have a nice two-piece from our honeymoon I can wear, because I do like to swim.”

      “You don’t go to the beach to swim on spring break, you silly girl!” Sheila said with a laugh.  “You go to look utterly hot in a bikini and make every boy have wet dreams about you for two weeks afterward!”

      “No thanks.  I already have a male to do that for me, any time I want,” Jessie smiled.

      “She does,” Kit agreed mildly.  “I dream about her every night.  Of course, she’s right there, but that doesn’t change the fact.”

      “I don’t mind when my husband has naughty dreams about me,” Jessie said with a darling smile at him.  “But I think I could do without some horny boy having them.”

      “Jessie, Kit’s only like a year older than the average college student,” Sheila protested.

      “What a difference a year makes,” she returned.

      “You’re twenty-three?” Allison asked.

      “Not for eleven days,” Kit answered.  “Twenty-two.”

      “His birthday’s on the thirtieth,” Sheila smiled.  “And I already got plans.”

      “I’ll be busy.”

      “Big plans.”

      “So sorry.”

      “Huge plans,” Sheila said with a bright-eyed grin.

      “I’m not that stuuuuupiiiiid,” he said in a sing-song voice.

      “Cousin, your life will never be the same,” she said with steady eyes.

      “Hmm.  End up in jail for a year because of your plans, or spend my birthday with my wife and a nice quiet little party with our friends.  Decisions decisions,” he said quietly.

      Allison laughed.  “Well, may I come to your party?”

      “I’d be happy to have you,” Kit said with a nod.  “But you’ll be there with the whole gang.”

      “A bunch of criminals and reprobates,” Sheila grinned.

      “And how are they different from you and me, Sheila?” Allison asked calmly.

      “That’s why you’ll fit in perfectly,” she laughed.  “So, what time do we get here on Sunday for the beach?”

      “Six or so,” Kit answered.  “If we leave out from here at six, we’ll get there around eight or so.  If we get there early, we have plenty of time.”

      “Six?  Damn, cousin, that’s harsh,” Sheila protested.

      “Take it or leave it.”

      “Sheila, can I stay over at your place Saturday?  That way we’re all right here.”

      “Fine with me, Ally, long as you don’t mind the couch.”

      “Make sure to remind me to bring my day bag,” Allison said, finishing the last of her lasagna.

      “Just remember, once we leave the plane, all the space we have is the rental car, and you’ll be carrying most of what you need anyway.  So pack light,” Kit warned.

      “I didn’t think of that,” Allison mused.  “Where can I put a credit card in my bikini?” she asked, giving Sheila a sly little look, which also made Jessie’s eyes harden just a little bit even as her cheeks threatened to ruffle out.

      “Punch holes in two and wear them as your bikini top,” Sheila winked at her.  “It’ll give the term swiping your card a whole new meaning.  Jessie can wear a couple of those new golden dollars, and I’ll wear beer bottle caps!”

      “Are we going to play ‘who can show the most white fur’ again?”

      “You bet we are!  Of course, Jessie wins, all her fur is white.  Well, kinda nearly-white.  Guess we coulda said it was white up until Kit deflowered her,” she said clinically, looking at Jessie in a manner that made her cheeks ruffle.

      “Stop teasing my wife, you two,” Kit told them.

      “But it’s so easy,” Sheila protested.

      “Sheila, when she finally bites you back, I don’t wanna hear you come crying to me,” Kit warned.

      “Duly noted, cousin,” Sheila said, glancing at Jessie with a smile.  “Let’s see if we can get some cash this time, Ally.  We’ll dance for dollars!”

      “We need G-strings for that.”

      “And how is that different from the bikini bottoms we already have?”

      “Point,” Allison acceded, which made Kit laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    24    26

Chapter 25

 

        The entire crew was on hand on the joyful morning when Rick was released from the hospital.

        It was nearly an honor guard that wheeled Rick out to Martha’s old van, and Rick paused to get hugs and shake paws of those around him.  “Now you better get all those party streamers down by tomorrow, since I’ll be back on Monday,” he teased.  “You’ll have to go back to doing real work!”

        “Why Rick, aren’t you coming to the wrap meeting today?” Marty grinned.

        “I’m afraid not, I’m on strict orders from someone more important than the doctors,” he said, pointing at Martha.

        “I want him to settle in before he starts going back to work,” she said bluntly.

        “So Savid and Kit are still your whipmasters til I’m back,” Rick grinned.

        “At least they let us play X-Box in the main room on the big TV,” Jeffrey intoned.

        “You weren’t supposed to tell him that!” Lilly protested.

        “So, Jessie, did Kit tell you what I had in mind?” Rick asked.

        “Mmm-hmm,” Jessie said.  “I’ll take the job.  I’m not sure what kind of writer I can be, but I’ll be glad to take the strip to a weekly.  As long as you give me a raise,” she winked.

        “A raise and a promotion to full time.  As far as what kind of writing you’ll do, well, we’ll talk about it later.  Given the good work you do on the strip, I’m positive we can find something you’ll be very good at.  I’ve come to learn that English majors are good at writing.”

        “She can do the work, she just can’t do it fast,” Kit teased.

        “I get all my homework done on time!” she protested, then she grinned lightly at him.

        “Well, now she’ll earn that big office we gave her,” Barry teased.  “She does one little strip a week and gets an office, and poor Sheila gets a desk out where Rick and Savid can stare at her butt.”

        “I stare at her profile, not her butt.  She sit facing side to me, not back,” Savid chuckled.

        “Ten bucks, Savid, and you can see all my butt you want,” Sheila teased.

        “You get only five for showing Barry!”

        “It’s a seller’s market, my dear mongoose,” she winked.  “Demand goes up, price goes up.”

        A couple of offended looking furs passing by glared at Sheila, which just made the whole gang laugh.  “Alright, you bunch of freeloaders, get back to work!” Rick commanded.  “We have an issue to put to bed today!”

        “We have it all under control, you old dingo,” Lilly smiled.

        The day was just starting, but it was already good.  Kit and Jessie both went back to the office, and after a little kissing and nuzzling in his office, she went to go talk to Jeffrey about expanding her strip to become a strip of its own while Kit went back to the mundane tasks.  He’d cleared his own in-box of everything major, so he was just doing Rick’s work today.  They were all ready for the debate, Lilly, Marty, and Barry’s work for next week had already been researched and readied for them, and Kit was running two pieces out of his journals for Through My Eyes next week to clear a little time for himself; Rick had told him to hold off on doing any writing for next week so he could get his house back in order after Rick came back on Monday.  So, in actuality, Kit was looking at a pretty light couple of days work wise.  He had only two meetings with potential advertisers on Friday, nothing at all really on the schedule for Saturday outside of accounting work that Rick told him not to do but would do anyway, and Sunday they’d be going to the beach.  Today he’d have to close out the week after the wrap meeting, but outside of that, he was on cruise control today.

        He did still have work, though, in what was unplanned.  Kit fielded two calls for requests for reprints of their work, which Rick had already told him to accept.  One of them was for Barry’s interview of Senator Hutchison, but another was for Allison’s article.

        Kit got a little curious, then pulled up the records, then he blanched slightly.  In the last month, the magazine had sold reprint leases to 37 different magazines, newspapers, or websites.  37.  Dear God, that was a lot.  Most of them were local, either in-state magazines or the Austin paper, the American-Statesman, but four pieces had been sold to national organizations.  Reprint rights to Kit’s article about Allison had been sold to Newsweek, and no doubt because of Rick’s contacts with his old job.  The Associated Press bought rights to Barry’s interview with Senator Hutchison and Kit’s interview with Representative Lamar Smith, and the Washington Post had bought reprint rights for the op-ed.

        37 reprints.  Holy cow.  That was a hell of a lot.  That was just a sign that Rick’s plan to increase circulation was a very sound one, since this was the perfect time to expand.  The magazine was on a hot streak, and they had to build a larger reader base.  They needed more free units on campus, and they needed—

        They needed sale units inside Austin.

        This was the perfect time.  Rick had never done sale units inside the city because they were free on campus, but Austin was a pretty big city.  Sale units around the campus were a waste of time, but if they put sale units around Bergstrom, in north Austin, out near Pflugerville, over in the hill country to the west, out in the ranchlands to the east, now those would sell.

        Kit was a researcher, and this was a good topic to research with his spare time.

        He spent all morning on his project.  He called around to inquire about interest among vendors.  He studied population distribution of students who lived off campus, to avoid putting sale units near concentrations of student housing, as well as age distribution to target the magazine at the 18-34 crowd on which the magazine focused.  He projected printing costs against possible profits to run a risk analysis, then called all of their active advertisers to gauge their reaction to an increase in circulation of sale units within the city, which would increase their fees…but also increase exposure of their advertising.

        Every single one was enthusiastically for the idea, despite the increase in their own costs, since they advertised with Austin in mind.

        By the wrap meeting, he had his entire idea thoroughly researched and analyzed, and he found that a large increase in circulation, while risky, was also the best approach and had the greatest chance of increasing their profits.  They needed to get the magazine out while furs were interested, and that meant putting it in every bookstore, library, convenience store, even every bar they could find.  Kit worked through the math and decided that a 150% increase in sale units distributed in a ring around campus, concentrated to the north, south, and west where there was a larger segment of younger furs than there was to the east, along the edges of the city, was the safest and most effective means to go about it…at least to him.  Kit was no business major, but it was just common sense to avoid selling the magazine in areas where furs could either get it free or where those furs lived, since they could just give away their free copy after they were done with it.

        Kit called their printer and inquired about whether they could handle such a huge increase in ordered units.  “It’d push us, but I think we could do it,” Dan said.  “We’d have to print them in waves and ship them out, we couldn’t have the entire order ready to go by seven a.m. like we usually do.  Uh, are we talking over and above the current increase, or based on the old numbers?”

        “I did the math based on the old numbers,” Kit answered.  “So, you can do it?”

        “If you can find stands to put them on, we can print ‘em,” he said confidently.

        After the wrap meeting, Kit called Rick.  “I’m sending a file to your Blackberry,” he said.  “Download it to your laptop when you get it and take a look at it.”

        “What is it?”

        “A business proposal,” he said.  “It’s still tentative, but take a look at it and tell me what you think.”

        “Sure, I can do that, son.  It’ll give me something to do while Martha coddles me,” he chuckled.  “Send it off.”

        “It’s on its way.”

        “How was the wrap meeting?”

        “Everything went just fine.  We didn’t change it from what you saw yesterday.  Jessie’s been closeted up with Jeffrey all day, talking about taking the strip to a weekly.  She’s kinda hogging him, we still have some work to do on School Daze.”

        Rick laughed.  “I’m still not sure what kind of feature she’ll do.”

        “How did Denise take your offer?”

        “She said yes so fast I think she sprained her tongue,” Rick answered.  “And if we’re lucky, we’ll have a staff photographer by next Friday.”

        “That’ll be useful,” Kit agreed.  “Mike?”

        “He’s probably in his office right now planning his first article,” Rick chuckled.  “Holy—how long did you work on this, son?” Rick asked in surprise.

        “Almost all morning.  It’s just a rough draft,” he said quickly.  “I called around, did some math, and looked into a few things.”

        “Dear God, son, I knew you were a good researcher, but damn,” Rick said quietly.  “I’ll crunch your numbers and see if mine match yours.  If they do, this might be worth a shot.  It’ll cost some serious cash for the expansion, though, and we’ll have to do some major legwork to get the magazine on racks out there.”

        “I’ll have another seven thousand available by Tuesday,” Kit said.  “That should keep us out of the red ink until things stabilize and we find out if it’s profitable.  If not, we can scale back and eat the loss.”

        “If we can sustain circulation, it won’t be a loss for long,” Rick said.  “If we can push even half this circulation on the sale units, we’ll earn the investment back inside three weeks.”

        “It’s a gamble,” Kit said honestly.  “But this is the perfect time to try, Rick.  Almost past time.  If we don’t try something bold while interest is peaked, while so many other mags and papers are buying our work to reprint, we’ll miss our opportunity.”

        “We’ll see how the twenty percent increase goes this week,” Rick said.  “If that does well, then we’ll take a long hard look at your idea.  You’ve seen the books, son.  If we overreach, the magazine is out of business.”

        “I know.  That’s why I said it was a gamble,” he said calmly.

        “It might be a gamble worth taking.  We’ll see,” he said.

 

        Kit felt relaxed by the time it was beach time.

        It was a good morning to fly, clear and warm for March, though there were a few sleepy girls in the plane with him.  At seven they were in the air and on the way to Brownsville, and to be fair about things, Allison rode up front, since she’d been in the back both times last time they flew.  She was her usual quiet self, though she was still not entirely awake.  Jessie was in the back with her laptop, working on her strip, while Sheila slept in the seat behind Allison.

        Sheila had rented a car for them, so they brought actual stuff with them.  They had a cooler for drinks and light snacks they’d buy in Brownsville, and everyone brought one change of clothes, just in case they wanted to go somewhere that frowned upon bathing suits.  Everyone was literally in their suits already with shorts and tees worn over them, Jessie’s floppy straw hat in the open cargo area behind the back seat, though Sheila was wearing nothing but a little shoulder wrap that showed off her rather skimpy black bikini top.

        Sheila was highly displeased with Jessie’s choice of bathing suits.  She was wearing the same sensible two piece she’d warn during their scuba excursion in the keys.  It was a sleek little suit, showing off her sexy torso, but the sports-bra style halter top and sensible bottom did not sit well with Sheila at all. She wanted Jessie in a G-string and pasties, or just about the same thing, and rallied for nearly ten minutes to have Jessie buy a “better bikini” while they were at the beach…something Sheila would pick out for her that would no doubt mortify Jessie for a month after even thinking of putting it on.

        Everyone was awake and alert by the time they landed, though.  Kit paid to park the plane at a tie down spot and they climbed out, locking Jessie’s laptop up in the cargo hold as Sheila went to go get the rental car.  Kit had the plane tied down by the time Sheila got back to them, parking at a lot across from the plane—cars weren’t allowed on the tarmac in the visiting tie downs at the airport—and they carried their cooler and wicker bag full of their stuff.  Inside it were their sunglasses, changes of clothes, a little cash, and Sheila’s wallet.  Sheila agreed to pay for everything but parking the plane, since Kit flew them down.  Paying for the rental car, parking, and everything else was Sheila’s responsibility.

        “Let’s go!” she said, honking her horn.  “I know the beaches will be empty, but let’s at least get there before the drunk naked coeds wake up and stagger back to their rooms!”

        Sheila was close to right.  They got the car parked and got out to the beach around 8:30, and they had the place more or less to themselves.  There were very few furs out and about, since it was very early for the college crowd…though it wouldn’t be totally empty.  Not every college did spring break the same week, so while U.T.’s spring break was ending, other schools’ breaks were just beginning.  Today would be a huge turnaround day for the island, as some college kids left and new ones came to take their places.  Kit and Sheila both figured that they’d have about four hours of peace and quiet before the beach started filling up, which would be more than enough time for Kit and Jessie to actually swim.

        They got to do that.  The water wasn’t all that warm, and there weren’t any waves, but it was still nice to float lazily in the clear water.  He and Jessie swam a while as Sheila and Allison guarded their spot on the beach, laying out in the warm sun in their spaghetti strap bikinis and garnering about every male eye on the beach, until they’d had about enough.  They came out and scrubbed the water out of their fur, which made Sheila giggle a little.

        “You two look terrible,” she teased.  “And your fur’s gonna be all chalky when the salt dries in it.”

        “Well, I brought a comb for a reason,” Jessie winked, fishing a big comb out of the bag.

        “Sheila, if you pull your bottoms down any further, you won’t really have any reason to wear them,” Kit noted clinically.

        Sheila laughed and looked up at him.  “Hush and let me enjoy myself.”

        “Such an exhibitionist,” Kit accused with a chuckle.

        They didn’t stay in one spot on the beach all day.  After a while, after some beach volleyball, lunch, and a lazy hour or two dozing in the warm sun, they packed their things and put them in the car then went out to enjoy what the beach had to offer.  They went shopping on a boardwalk, and Allison got talked into going on a parasailing ride by Sheila.  Jessie took quite a few pictures of her flying along behind the boat.  The two vixens had their “who can show the most white fur” competition early that afternoon, as well.  Kit and Jessie just got a good distance from the two of them as they very nearly got arrested for indecent exposure by a bike patrol.  Their bikinis were very skimpy to begin with, both of them wearing thong bottoms, and with less total material on their bra tops than a dinner napkin, and both of them were very brazen about pushing what little they were wearing as far as they could get it to go without exposing themselves. Sheila was no chicken, but she was dealing with someone who used to strip for a living, so Sheila lost that little contest.  Sheila could show as much as Allison given the rules, but she couldn’t strut the way Allison could, move with that total sensuality, that utter ripe promise to rock a male’s world, the slightest tilt of her hips promising the darkest delights.  It was the challenging strut of a stripper who knew she had the hottest body on the beach.  Allison’s strut just owned every male eye on the beach, admittedly, even Kit’s…much to Jessie’s dismay.  Kit wheezed a little when Jessie elbowed him in the ribs.

        “Give her the crown, cousin.  You got your tail whipped,” Kit teased when they came back to them.

        “Yeah yeah, maybe I’ll go to the Top Hat on member’s challenge night and work on my walk,” she grunted, giving Allison a slightly annoyed look.

        “You may call me your Majesty,” Allison said in her quiet manner, which made Kit explode into laughter.

        “I’ll call you a bitch, Ally,” Sheila grinned.

        “I’ve been called worse by meaner furs than you,” she returned with a slight smile and a shrug of her shoulders.

        Sheila treated them to a nice meal at a beachside restaurant, then they went to a beach party hosted by one of the clubs on the island.  While Sheila and Allison tormented males and made females very jealous by playing volleyball, Kit and Jessie sat at a table.  “Alright, you can put your eyes back in your head, handsome fox,” she told him tartly.

        He laughed.  “I can’t deny she’s beautiful, love, but she’s not you,” he told her, kissing her on the muzzle.  “You could totally kick her ass in a game of ‘who can show the most white fur,’ cause you’re way sexier than she is.”

        “No, I could never do, that,” she said, her cheeks ruffling.

        “You’ve put her to shame when we’re in the bedroom,” Kit winked.  “And who said you had to play the game in public?”

        She gave him a speculative look.  “I think you’re just being nice.”

        He snorted.  “I had my chance with her, if you recall, and I said no.  So what does that tell you?”

        “That you were too afraid of what Vil would do to you if your ruined our wedding?”

        Kit laughed.  “I love to see you jealous,” he told her.  “It tells me I’m still your number one.”

        “You always will be,” she told him.  “And I have to keep myself on the top of your list when you have her tempting you,” she said, motioning at Allison.

        “How can I be tempted by what I see as second best to what I already have?  Yes, she’s beautiful, pretty kitty.  I admit it.  She’s probably the second most beautiful femme I’ve ever known…but guess what?  You’re on the top of that list.  You don’t have to do a thing to stay there, love, just be yourself.  There’s nothing sexier on earth than that.”

        “I just wish you were jealous,” she said, a bit accusingly.

        “Oh, I’m jealous, love, but I keep it in here,” he said, tapping his chest.  “I’m not like you.  You’re a knockout, pretty kitty, one of the most beautiful femmes there is.  You don’t have to have me tell you that either, you know it.  You’re beautiful.  Just look around.  The males stare at you, the femmes give you dirty looks, just like they do Allison and Sheila.  But you put Sheila to shame, and Allison can’t quite reach your level.  I’m, well, plain.  I’m not really all that handsome, I have funny eyes, I have a bad back, I’m missing part of my ear, and I have these,” he said, holding up his scarred left arm, where white fur marred the red fur on his forearm, jagged lines of white streaking down into the dark-furred mitten on his left wrist and paw.  “I know I can’t hold a candle to the males you went to see at the Top Hat, but I just have to trust you, trust that you’ll come back to me when you go out the door.  I know you could have any male you wanted, any time.  No male could ever resist you.  I can’t help but feel jealous knowing that, but I know that the only thing I can do is show you how much faith I have in you, how much I trust you, how much I love you, and hope that it keeps you with me.  I just have faith that you love me as much as I love you, and I try to show you that even though I have a friend like Allison, someone almost as pretty as you, I’d never break my wedding vows, because you are my entire life.  I’ll always be by your side, for as long as you’ll have me.”

        She gave him a long, tender look, then leaned over the table and kissed him lovingly on the nose.  “You are the most handsome male I have ever known, my love,” she told him with honest eyes.  “These aren’t scars, to me, they’re beauty marks,” she said, touching his arm.  “And you’ll never get rid of me.  When we find our male, we Williams femmes dig in our claws and never let go.  Just look at my mom and dad,” she said with a light yet loving smile.

        “I’m easy prey to keep, pretty kitty.  I won’t struggle.”

        “That’s a good thing,” she said with a light whisper, then she kissed him.  It was one of her special kisses, a kiss he was surprised she’d give him in public, and God, was he glad he was already sitting down.  All sound seemed to turn off, and all he could sense was her, her lips on his, her paw touching his arm.  When she broke the kiss, he was all but leaning into it, and he was a little disappointed that she ended it as his brain restarted.  “So, I’m your number one?” she asked with a slight smile.

        “The one and only,” he said breathlessly.

        The intimate mood was broken when Sheila and Allison came back to the table, Sheila a little out of breath.  “Well, that was more fun than I expected,” she laughed.  “Allison popped out of her top jumping up to spike the ball,” she winked.

        “And I was too busy kissing my wife to see it.  Darn,” Kit said in a deadpan voice.  “Oh, wait, I have a picture showing so much more.”

        Allison and Sheila laughed, and to his surprise, so did Jessie.  “I forgot you have that,” Allison said.

        “One of the few left.  There were only a few of them to start with, and the rest were deleted because of the potential scandal involved.  You know, a Vulpan caught on camera like that.  I’ve got the only copy I know of left, and I keep it in a very safe place,” he said carefully.

        “Well, I’m glad to hear that.  That would be a little…embarrassing, if it came out at the wrong time.”

        “Well, I still have my copy, but I don’t keep it where just anyone can find it,” Sheila admitted.  “And I’ll keep it as long as Kit keeps my picture.”

        “Forever, then,” he grinned at her.  “I can’t lose my blackmail material.”

        “You learned way too much from Vil,” Sheila accused, then she grinned.  “Seven days,” she said with a little trill in her voice.

        “I already told you, it’ll be a party at home during poker,” Kit told her.  “Lupe’s already planning it, and I told him I don’t want anything outrageous.”

        “Oh, my plans start after the kiddie party,” she grinned.  “I’m just glad you have Monday off.  You’ll be in no condition to work the next day.”

        “When is your birthday, Jessie?” Allison asked curiously.

        “Not til July,” she laughed.  “I’m a patriotic femme, I was born on July fifth, ten minutes after midnight.  Ten minutes from the big day,” she laughed.

        “Well, that’s always easy for furs to remember,” Allison chuckled.  “What about you, Sheila?”

        “September twenty-seventh,” she answered.  “You?”

        “August thirtieth,” she answered.  “About one month and six years before you,” she said with a little smile.

        “You don’t act twenty-four, but Sheila certainly doesn’t act eighteen,” Kit chuckled.

        “I’m twenty-one,” Sheila said primly.  “I have six IDs that say so.”

        “You act like you’re twelve,” Kit teased.  “You need a few IDs that say that, too.”

        “I got way too much up here and have laid way too many guys to be twelve,” Sheila said with a naughty smile, pointing at her breasts and thrusting them in Kit’s general direction.

        “Well, if we’re going by those standards, you’re, what, ninety?”

        “Bite my ass, cousin!” Sheila snapped, which made Allison and Jessie erupt into laughter.

        They got back to the plane after a few walks up and down the beach, right around sunset.  Kit was a little tired from all the walking they did, but it had been a good day.  It was nice to walk on the sand, paw in paw with Jessie, while Sheila acted like a little kid and lured Allison into shedding much of her reserved demeanor and having a little fun.  It was nice to spend time with his wife, it was nice to spend time with his cousin, and it was nice to see Allison warming up to him and Jessie, on her way to being a friend.  There was still a way to go, but there was hope.

        They climbed back in the plane at 7:00, and were airborne and on the way home by 7:20.  Sheila was up front for the ride home, and both she and Allison had their cameras out, taking pictures as they took off.  Kit got them up and to a nice cruising altitude of 12,000 feet.  “I wonder how hard it is to get a pilot’s license,” Allison mused, which made Kit laugh.

        “You have no idea how many furs have said that who’ve ridden in this plane,” he teased.  “Just keep one thing in mind, Ally.”

        “What?”

        “This plane costs about seven hundred thousand dollars.”

        “That much?  Wow,” she breathed.

        “I certainly wouldn’t have it if I wasn’t a Vulpan,” Kit admitted.  “My family gave it to me as a thank you gift for me not stripping them of every penny and throwing them all out into the street.”

        Sheila laughed.  “Yeah, they did,” she admitted.  “And I had to pony up twenty thousand out of my trust for it.  They rated it to how much we got from the deal, as to how much we had to give.  So, next time you bitch about me asking for rides, remember that, cousin.  I helped buy this plane for you!”

        “I’ll give you the stuffing out of the back seat.  That’s worth about twenty thousand,” Kit mused, which made the three femmes laugh.

        “I never heard that before,” Allison said.  “What happened that made them buy you the plane in return for it?”

        Telling Allison that story helped pass the time for the hour or so flight back to Austin.  “Wow,” she mused in her quiet manner.  “You had it all, but you gave it up.  I can see, Kit, you’re truly a male of your word.  You really did have the chance to be rich.”

        “I could have been a billionaire,” he said immediately and without batting an eye as he started descending towards Bergstrom.  “That’s what the Vulpans are worth, Ally.  About six point six billion, if you add up everything.  Stocks, property, the worth of the businesses, everything.  Most of that worth is tied up with the shipyard and steel company, though.  When my father died, he had about seven hundred million in cash in banks and securities, and he controlled the business.”

        “Which is the biggest piece of the pie,” Sheila added.  “Our family owns the biggest private company on Earth.”

        “Not quite,” Kit corrected her.  “The shipyard and steel companies and the parent company over them all have stock, but the stock isn’t sold to the public.  It’s all internal within the family and the board, to keep the company privately controlled, even though it’s technically listed as a public company.  Vil owns two thirds of all the stock of all three companies, Vulpan Shipyards, Vulpan Steel, and the Vulpan Corporation, which is the parent company of the other two and the catch-all for all the little tertiary companies the Vulpans control.  Since Vil has that super-majority of all three companies, that’s where all her money comes from, and it gives her total control of all of it.  Vil earns no salary for being the CEO.  She relies utterly on the profitability of the companies to earn her salary.  Her pay is her dividends from the stock…but, since it’s Vil, I think she netted like twelve million last year after taxes.  Vil’s an absolute genius when it comes to business.”

        “That’s where the family got all its money,” Sheila continued.  “All of us own shares of the family business, and we earn money from it.  I own five hundred shares of each company,” she said proudly.  “I think Kit’s the only family member who doesn’t own family stock.”

        “Actually, I do,” Kit told her.  “One thousand shares of each.  Vil sold them to me, she leveraged a proportioned buyout of the board.  The stocks are all zero sum, Allison,” he explained when she looked at him with a blank stare from the back seat.  “There are only sixty thousand shares of each company’s stock, that was all that was ever issued.  To buy stock in the business, I had to get them from someone else in the business.  Vulpan stocks are never available for sale.  They’re not even listed on stock exchanges.  What Vil did was force the members of the board to all give up one hundred shares, buying them back from them, then she sold them to me.  The Vulpan stocks are the backbone of my stock portfolio,” he said calmly.  “That is no-risk dividends for life, since the shipyards have Navy contracts coming out of their ears for the next sixty years.”

        “So, you own a little less than two percent of your family business,” Allison reasoned.

        “Yup, and Sheila owns a little less than one percent,” Kit nodded.  “Vil owns two thirds of each one, which means she owns forty thousand shares of each company.  It’s the way they’ve done it ever since my grandfather incorporated the businesses back in nineteen thirty-six.  When a board member is fired, quits, or retires, he has to surrender his stock to his replacement, it’s an ironclad part of their contracts. The only ones who can’t lose their stock are family members.”

        “So, over the years, the family earns money from the stocks,” Allison reasoned.

        Kit nodded.  “Like I said, my father had like seven hundred million dollars in cold cash in the banks when he died, which was split up among the family as part of the deal that gave Vil control of the company.”

        “I’m one of the army of cousins, and I got a sixteen million dollar trust out of it, which is just chump change compared to what my mother got,” Sheila told her.  “My mom got ninety million out of the will, as well as some property and some other stuff.  And that was on top of the money they already had.  Mom and Dad were worth about a hundred thirty million in total assets before Kit’s dad died, then they get ninety million in cash dropped on top of that.”

        “I don’t get it.  How could Kit have stripped your family and left them broke if they already have money of their own?”

        “Because of the stocks,” Sheila explained.  “Up until the death of Kit’s dad, see, the way it worked was that the oldest controlled all the stocks, as well as all money earned by the stocks within the family and any profits or interest made off money that was earned off the stocks.  Yeah, my mom has a hundred twenty million of her own money from stock dividends, but since Luke’s will was voided, it put control of that money all back in Kit’s hands, even the money earned from stocks already given out.  It was how Uncle Luke kept a stranglehold on the family, and his father before him.  Not even our own money was really our own.  Uncle Luke could have taken it all from us at any time.”

        “That sounds illegal.”

        “It dates back to a contract that all the Vulpans who were there in nineteen thirty-six signed, when the stock was first created,” Kit explained.  “It gives the heir absolute control of all money earned and stock created from the family businesses.  In return for that control, the family gets shares of the family stock.  It was made that way because originally, my great-grandfather was only going to give the oldest son anything, he was going to leave the other three Vulpan siblings with nothing but million dollar trusts, which was far too small to suit them, far beyond their usual standard of living.  Imagine, the thirties, and a million dollars wasn’t enough to live on,” he snorted.  “Anyway, my great-grandfather still had that British concept of passing everything to the eldest son.  That original agreement was still in force, right up until my father died, because of how the agreement was worded.  It gave the descendents of the heir the same power over the descendents of the other family members, giving my father the power to strip all money and stock earned from the businesses away from anyone in the family at any time…which was just about everything.  Everyone relied on the shipyard, and any other businesses they started were started using money earned from the shipyard, which folded them into the agreement too.  The only way to get around the agreement would be for someone to leave the family, get a job, earn money, and use that money to start a business.  And me and Vil are the only Vulpans who has ever done that,” he chuckled.  “Vil has a little boutique in Boston that is all hers, outside of the family’s control, built with a two thousand dollar loan from a bank as part of her Master’s in business degree project requirement.  But that chain was broken with my bastard father’s death.  The money and stocks were all split up among the family, and the deal that would have given Vil absolute control was dissolved, outside of her ability as the majority shareholder to leverage a forced sale of stocks held by someone else.  She can’t take the stocks, but she could force the family to sell their stocks to her at a set price based on the last quarter’s dividend.  But the money is all theirs, free and clear.  That’s why the family was so happy about it.  They’re finally free of the threat of the family head disowning them and casting them out without a penny to their names.  Vil can’t take that money from the aunts and uncles, and the parents can’t take the money from the cousins.”

        “How many cousins do you have?”

        “Like thirty,” Sheila answered.  “It’s hard to keep track anymore, the older cousins are having kids now.”

        “And each one got that much money?”

        “It was based on how much stock we have,” Sheila said.  “The ones with stock got less, because we’ll earn money off the stocks.  I got sixteen, but I think one of the one-year olds got like thirty, because they stopped giving stock to cousins about ten years ago.  Said the stocks were being spread out too thin by handing them out to every cousin.  I think cousin Debbie was the last one to get stocks.  All together, all us cousins got around two hundred million dollars from when Kit’s dad died.”

        “And your parents got a hundred million each?”

        “Only my mom.  Each of the aunts and uncles, you know, Uncle Luke’s brothers and sisters, each one got ninety million,” Sheila told her.  “But the property was distributed without being fair about it.  Uncle Zach’s the eldest now, so he demanded the lion’s share of the property and assets, and the others knuckled under to him.  So, Uncle Zach’s the richest of all the Vulpans now.  The only ones that didn’t really get much out of the will were Kit and Vil, which kinda sucks, since all the money was theirs to start with,” she said.  “But Kit was disowned, and Vil gave most of it up in order to keep control of the shipyard, since she was given the stocks before Uncle Luke died.  Uncle Luke named her the heir, and with the title of heir come the stocks and the CEO’s chair.  Vil got the company stock, her house in Chelmsford, her dad’s collection of cars, and five million dollars in cash.  That’s it.  Compare that to Uncle Zach, who got ninety million, houses and properties all over the world, a private jet, a yacht, securities, stocks, and a bunch of other shit.”

        “I knew you were from a rich family, Kit, but to hear the numbers thrown around like that,” she said, sounding a little surprised as Bergstrom came into view in the distance, its lights on.  “And you could have had it all,” she breathed.

        “I won’t touch that money,” Kit said with utter sincerity.  “It’s a curse I’ll never bring down on myself.”

        “But you did touch that money when you bought the stocks,” Allison reasoned.

        Kit glanced over his shoulder at her.  Allison was very smart.  “I didn’t buy into my family fortune, Ally, I bought confidence in Vil’s ability to run the business,” he told her.  “So, I’m showing my faith in my sister to earn enough money for our kids to be able to go to Harvard,” he chuckled.  “But, I have more than just Vulpan stock in my portfolio.  The Vulpan stocks are the backbone, but I also invested in industrials and energy, but stayed way away from real estate and financials for now.  Both of those are bubbles either collapsing or on the verge of collapse, and I’d rather do more than throw my money down a hole.  No matter how much faith I have in Vil, I won’t put all my eggs in her basket.  It’s not sound financial planning.  One untold disaster, and it’s all gone.”

        “Truly,” Allison nodded.  “I keep my money spread out so I’m not exposed to too much risk in any one area.”

        “I just have a trust,” Sheila laughed.  “They send me a check every week, and I won’t get to touch the principle til I’m twenty-five.”

        “You should pay more attention to it,” Allison told her.  “If you don’t know how to manage that money, you’ll find out how fast it can disappear.”

        “That’s what the trust is about,” she said as Kit radioed in and prepared to land.  “I actually do a good job with my money, Ally.  I have money in the bank.  I think I have about fifteen thousand in there last I checked.  My brothers and sisters burn through their trust checks like it’s endless, and they go days, even weeks, broke.  They have millions in the bank, and they’re going to Mom for money cause they wasted it all.  I budget my money.  I found out a long time ago that if I watch how I spend my money, I have plenty to do whatever I want.  I just don’t do anything stupid with it, that’s all.”

        “Well, that’s a start,” Allison nodded.

        “Sheila may not look it, but she’s probably one of the shrewdest of the cousins,” Kit said as the plane lined up with the runway, then radioed the tower again to begin his landing approach.  “And all this time we thought she was a flake,” he winked at her.  “Just another member of the Party Pack.”

        “Thanks a lot, cousin,” Sheila said caustically.  “And I am a member of the Party Pack.  The Austin Party Pack!”  She grinned.  “And in seven days, you will be inducted as its newest member!”

        “Oh, no,” Kit said mildly.  “Now excuse me while I focus my attention on not plowing us into the runway.”

        After they were safely down and in the hangar, they drove back to the apartments.  Allison’s Lexus was parked in the visitor’s lot, but she didn’t go straight home.  She got to meet the founding members of the poker crew before heading home, since they were all sitting on Lupe’s porch.  Kit took her over and introduced her to Lupe, Dan, and Mickey, and all three of them gave her a curious look.  “Have we met somewhere before?” Mickey asked her.

        “Maybe you’ve seen me when I’ve come over to see Sheila, or to have dinner with Kit and Jessie,” she said mildly as she shook his paw.

        “Ah, maybe that’s it!” he said.  “It’s nice to meet ya.  Wanna come play poker with us next week?  We’re always looking for suckers to separate from their pocket change,” he grinned.

        “Brah, don’t scare off the easy targets,” Lupe said with a laugh.

        “Kit invited me to his party next week, so I’ll be here,” Allison said with a slight smile.  “And I’d be happy to try my paw in poker against you.”

        “Uh oh, she might be a card shark,” Dan laughed, “just like innocent-looking little Sammy!”

        “She’s certainly somethin’,” Lupe said with a grin, looking her up and down openly.

        “Yes, I’m going home,” Allison said with a slight smile.  “Let me go say goodbye to Jessie and Sheila, Kit.  And thanks for taking us, I had a wonderful time,” she said, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek, then sauntering away in a manner that all three of the males noticed most keenly.

        “Brahhhh,” Lupe sighed.  “Sheila won’t let her anywhere near me,” he complained.

        “Sheila knows you too well,” Kit told him with a chuckle.  “You’d make a move on a mannequin if they put it in a bikini, Lupe,” Kit accused, which made Dan and Mickey laugh.

        “Brah, what was she wearing at the beach?” Lupe asked intently.  “I hope she was wearin’ some seriously skimpy bikini.  Like, fishing line and drink umbrellas skimpy.”

        “It was moderately skimpy, yes,” Kit said in a mellow tone.

        “Brah, why you gotta be so mean,” Lupe said, his tail shivering.

        “Because you’re sitting there drooling over one of my cousin’s best friends,” he answered evenly.  “And if you annoy her, Sheila will probably get mad at you.  You really wanna play with her?  And if Alice finds out you’re trying to two-time her and takes it out on me, then I’ll get pissed.  You want both of us riding your tail, Lupe?”

        “Well, I hope you got pictures,” Lupe grinned.  “I want to see as much of that fine femme as possible.”

        “Dude, you’re so hopeless,” Mickey laughed.

        Allison was already on her way home when Kit got back to the apartment, passing Sheila in the courtyard as she walked back to her apartment across the complex, and got to work making some tea as Jessie got the shower going, to wash the rest of the sea salt out of her fur.  She hugged him from behind as he put the kettle on, and he patted her on the arm fondly.  “Did you enjoy yourself, pretty kitty?”

        “I had a lot of fun, thank you, my handsome fox,” she replied, kissing his neck.  “Thank you so much.”

        “Any time, my love.  Did you get all your homework done?”

        She laughed.  “It’s been done since Tuesday,” she said, poking him in the side lightly.  “You big worrier!”

        “I gotta keep your grades up, or your parents will kill me,” he chuckled, turning around and putting his arms around her waist.  Her paws immediately sought out the scars on his back, and traced them lightly under his shirt.  “So, are we still a little jealous?”

        She giggled.  “I guess I always will be, but I feel a little more confident that you won’t stray on me,” she winked.  “I just hope I can keep you faithful when I’m fat.”

        He laughed.  “That’s when I’ll be most faithful to you, my pretty kitty, because it means our baby will be closer and closer to coming into the world,” he said, putting his palm on her flat belly.  “I can’t wait.”

        “Me either,” she said, putting her paw over his on her stomach.  “I’m just glad I had no nausea at all today,” she giggled.  “I guess the baby showed mercy on me on our beach trip.”

        “I think that means the baby liked the beach too,” Kit grinned, which made her laugh.  “Six months and two weeks to go, Misses Vulpan,” he cooed, embracing her.

        “Seven days until your birthday, Mister Vulpan,” she giggled in his ear.

        “After spending all day staring at you in a bikini, I hope you’ll give me an early birthday present,” he said, sliding his finger up her back in a sensual manner.

        Her tail shivered.  “I think we could work something out,” she whispered in his ear, then she pulled back.  “After we both take a shower,” she said, waving her paw in the air between their muzzles.  “You smell like the beach!”

        “I kinda like it,” Kit smiled.

        “I won’t like tasting salt every time I kiss you,” she answered. “Now put the kettle aside and let’s get this salt out of our fur.”

        “Together?” he asked with a growing smile.

        “You’re better than a backbrush,” she winked, turning off the stove and taking his paw, then pulled him back towards the bathroom.

        The kettle sat on the stove for the rest of the night, forgotten.

 

        By Monday, they knew how the twenty percent increase in circulation went.

        It was a complete success.

        The features in this week’s issue weren’t earth-shattering like they’d been in the last two weeks, but they still cleaned out all the free copies, and had sold 85% of all sale units by Monday.  A 15% leftover rate was higher than Rick’s estimation, so that was even more profit for the magazine.  The success of the last two weeks had sustained over the third, and furs were still buying the magazine.  Sensational stories had sparked interest, but they had come back again this week to read the magazine again.

        After they got that information, Rick called in Kit to the office, then he, Rick, Savid, and Mike sat down in his office and had a long talk.  The four of them were the core of the magazine, for Savid and Mike were the first employees whose input Rick trusted, and Kit was now a part owner.  They talked about Kit’s bold gamble to increase circulation for nearly two hours.

        In the end, though, conservatism won out the day, but Kit also felt a little vindicated.  They agreed to increase circulation another 10% and barter to offer it within Austin, mainly in youth concentrated areas in north and south Austin, away from the campus.  Rick would arrange the rack space with bookstores and shops, and they would test the Austin market to buy what one could get for free on campus with 500 units.

        “It’s gonna mean another red week,” Rick frowned, looking at his monitor.  “I’m not increasing our advertising fees until the increase in circulation is permanent and sustainable, or we’ll lose our clients.  So, everyone tighten up your belts, cause it’s gonna be crunch time.”

        “It’s good risk,” Savid said.  “If Austin sales work out, we offer sale issues in city.  That’s good.”

        “Yah, I’d have to agree,” Mike nodded.  “We’ve always avoided Austin because it seemed useless to put sale units out where furs could pick it up for free.  But we have a lot more interest now, and I think this is the time to see if selling the magazine in Austin will work.”

        “Well, one thing we could do is put out two separate issues,” Kit said impulsively.  “We add four pages to the sale units with extra features, like archived strips or best of articles or something.  Give the students an incentive to buy the retail version.”

        “I’m not sure I like that idea,” Rick grunted.  “I don’t like the idea of teasing the students like that.  They’re our backbone.  If we piss them off and they think we’re holding back our best stuff to make them pay for something we’ve always put out for free, our campus circulation might bomb.”

        “I was thinking of making different versions, though,” Mike said, looking at them.  “We sell in College Station and San Antonio, but our articles are focused on Austin.”

        “Mainly cause of U.T. alums living outside the city,” Rick told him.

        “Well, why don’t we put out different versions for the expatriates?  We could send someone down to do a story or two about San An and put those in the San An units, or buy articles from other sources.”

        “Well, that might work,” Rick said.  “But it’d be a lot of work, and reprinting can get expensive and a bit boring if they read those articles in the original material.”

        “Well, we’ll have two new interns next month,” Mike said, smiling.  “We have them help with it.  Every week, they have to come up with one idea for a story about San An or College Station and research enough to present the idea to the office, then they help with the whole process, from Kit’s research to Rick’s editing.  It’ll be good practice for them, and it also frees us up from having to do so much work trying to find stories.  We’ll have Kit to do the research, one of the writers to write and proof the article, and you two to edit their work.  Each of us puts in a little time, but they handle the lion’s share of the work on it.”

        “That has potential,” Savid nodded.  “But why restrict it?  Let’s add it to all issues, not focus them.  We make the magazine more, what is word, far reaching.”

        “You mean start extending our focus out from Austin?  That changes the core mission of the magazine, Savid,” Rick noted.  “We’re about bringing news, information, and entertainment to the students, and all our advertisers are focused on that too.  If we start reaching out, we’ll charge advertisers more, and what if they’re not getting returns for their money?  They start pulling out.  We can’t forget that.”

        “Well, those would be sale units, so the price of the unit would help offset the advertiser problem,” Kit mused.  “We could charge them the same, or even less, and make it up with sale profits.”

        “But if the students still like it, why not try?” Savid asked.  “We should ask them.  Send Kit to do survey, see if students would like stories about Texas outside Austin in campus issue, see if they want more broad approach or if they want us to stay focused on Austin.  If they like it, we add it.  If they don’t, we do Mike’s idea and restrict external work to external sale issues.  Either way, we increase circulation because we appeal to more and more furs.”

        “That’s a good idea,” Mike said.  “After all, we are about the students.  We’ve asked them what they want before, let’s do it again. We’ll ask them what they want, and we’ll give it to them.”

        “I agree.  Kit, you have a job to do tomorrow,” Rick chuckled.

        “Another afternoon in the student center.  Yay,” Kit chuckled.  “I should take Sheila and make her attract attention again.”

        The other three chuckled.  “Take her.  If there’s one thing she can do, it’s draw every eye in the room when she wants to.”

        “I’ll put a poll up and add a forum question to the website, get feedback over the net,” Mike added.  “Me and Marty can also bring it up during out first twitter session tomorrow afternoon.”

        “Alright, let’s do that,” Rick said.  “I’ll call Vil and get her input before lunch.  After lunch we start interviewing photographers.”

        “When are the interviews?” Kit asked.

        “Three today,” Savid told Kit.  “Four tomorrow.   None Wednesday because of debate.”

        “We’re gonna have a meeting tomorrow morning about the debate,” Rick said.  “I want to get articles on it out in this week’s issue, so it’s gonna be some long hours for everyone.  I’m gonna warn everyone that Wednesday will be an all-nighter.  We’ll all be here and work our tails off to get the debate articles worked into the issue by Thursday.”

        “We’re young, we can handle it,” Mike chuckled.  “And Kit’s already done like every possible angle of research, so we’ll be ready.”

        “So we take Friday off?” Savid asked.

        Rick nodded.  “If anyone wants Friday off, they can take it, except Lilly.  She’ll still have to do her canvassing that night for The Scene.  But, if they want to come in, they’re welcome to do so,” he smiled.

        “You keep saying it, it keeps not happening,” Mike grinned.

        “Just remember to keep Sunday open,” Rick said.  “It’s Kit’s birthday, and we’re having a cookout over at his apartment complex to celebrate.”

        The survey was easy enough to do for Kit and Sheila the next morning, after the meeting.  Kit had done student surveys often enough to have a routine, and enough students knew about the magazine to stop and talk to him and Sheila.  Kit wore his usual tee and jeans, but Sheila was already in “summer” dress mode, and was wearing a half-shirt tank, a glorified bra, and a pair of cut-offs that showed off a great deal of Sheila’s legs. They arrived bright and early at 10:00 in the student center’s main room, pulled out the banner, and the two Vulpans did a lot of surveys…and even took a few pictures.  For some reason, students wanted pictures of and with Kit and Sheila, and they obliged.  Quite a few students got pictures sitting between the Vulpan cousins at the table, and more than one male got his picture with Sheila on his lap, kissing his cheek.

        Sheila would never be anything but naughty, no matter how old she got.

        They amassed about four hundred surveys in the six hours they were there, and the general feeling of the students was that they’d rather like to see articles about the general region in addition to articles about and for Austin.  One student summed up the feeling rather well.  “Well, Texas is more than Austin, and since I’m from New Braunfels, I’d kinda like to see some stories about other parts of Texas.”

        That was what most students wanted.  They wanted to learn a little about the Texas beyond Austin, but still have the magazine focus on their stomping ground.

        Savid was a little victorious when Kit brought back the results that afternoon, as he and Sheila reported on their findings.  “Most of them liked the idea, as long as we don’t go overboard,” Sheila summed it up for them.  “They liked the idea of us doing an article here and there, but not for us to suddenly go statewide.  So, there ya go.”

        “Is just as I say,” Savid grinned.

        “Don’t get cocky,” Mike laughed.

        “Well, I’d say that our readers have spoken,” Rick said.  “I’ll get together with Barry and we’ll hammer out something we can show the school of journalism, so they know what kind of assignments we’re giving the interns.”

 

        Kit had never attended a debate before, but to do it as a member of the press was very interesting.

        Rick had decided not to attend because he was in a wheelchair, so it was Kit, Barry, Lilly, Marty, Mike, and Denise roaming through the auditorium on campus in the press section, where a multitude of desks were set out with little stands that said to whom they were assigned.  It was what the organizers called the war room, where all the reporters would do their work, while the on-air journalists used the room as a relay between their studios and themselves.  They were all wearing “nice” clothes for this excursion, suits for the males, a pantsuit for Lilly, and a long pleated skirt and white blouse for Denise.

        “Wow!  That’s Candy Crowley!  And that’s Keith Olberman!” Denise gushed as they moved through the large room, on the way to the auditorium.  “Look, that’s Bill Richardson!” she said, pointing.

        “Down, girl,” Marty teased.

        “Let’s at least try to act professional,” Barry chuckled. “It looks silly for press members to be going around asking for autographs.  They might doubt our neutrality.”

        “Oh, hush, you mean males,” Denise giggled.

        They didn’t rank high enough to have a seat in the vaunted war room, but at least their press passes let them get into it.  They’d arrived about an hour before the debate to get a feel for the place, and also so Kit and Barry could interview the other journalists.  They wouldn’t do anything that took more than a minute, they just wanted some background information to get a feel for the debate.  Armed with digital voice recorders, the two of them fanned out while the others milled around and talked to nearly anyone who would give them a minute.  A few of the reporters seemed a little surprised that these young furs wanted to talk to them, but it actually got them quite a bit of good information.  Kit even got to talk to a couple of real names, for he’d managed to get a couple of words in with Wolf Blitzer and Neil Cavuto.  They were nice enough, and Wolf Blitzer actually knew who he was, which surprised Kit a little bit.

        The news part of it for Kit and Barry was a brief and entirely chance meeting between Kit and Senator Hillary Clinton in a back hallway.  Kit and Barry had been on their way to their seats in the auditorium as the Senator was coming out from the candidate’s preparation area to do a quick interview with someone and they happened to cross paths in the hallway, and were surprisingly alone, just Kit, Barry, the Senator, and a Secret Service agent.  The Senator gave him a double-take as they approached, then reached out a paw to stop him in the hallway.  The thin, middle-aged raccoon femme was taller than Kit expected in person.  “You sure tore my campaign apart in that editorial,” she said with a surprisingly gamey smile.

        “They got what was coming to them, Senator,” he answered simply.  “It wasn’t personally against you, though.”

        “I know.  I just hope you’ll be fair to me when you write about the debate.”

        “I guess I could,” he said, scratching his chin.  “That’ll depend, though.”

        She gave him a surprised look, then laughed.  “Depend on what?”

        “Answer three questions,” he said.

        She laughed a sincere and heartfelt laugh.  “Deal.  Shoot.”

        And that was how Lone Star managed to get a brief interview with a Democratic candidate.  Kit asked three questions, about the instability in the housing market, about the war in Iraq, and how independent she would be from her husband if she won the election.  She seemed surprised about the first and last questions, and answered impulsively and honestly.  “I think the housing market will bounce back after a while, it’s just going through a natural correction,” she answered about that.  “I’m more worried about how this increase in foreclosures might affect the markets, though.”  As to the third question, she looked him right in the eye and said “when I was first lady, I did what he asked of me, gave him my opinion, but also knew that he was the one in charge.  When he’s the first husband, I expect him to act the same way I did.”

        “That’s my three questions.  Thank you, Senator, I appreciate it.”

        “Well, I guess I owed it to you after what happened,” she smiled, touching his forearm fondly.

        “Dude, that was so score!” Barry said with a huge grin as they went into the auditorium.  “What luck!”

        “Yeah, but I’m just glad nobody saw it, or my picture would be everywhere in the morning,” Kit said.  “I’m glad nobody’s really noticed me, for that matter.”

        “I’ve seen a couple of cameras point your way,” Barry told him.  “I’m not sure if they took any pictures of you, though.”

        They all took very detailed notes during the debate, listening to the nine candidates, then rushed back to the office with a lot of coffee, donuts, and pizza set up by Rick, who was waiting for them.  Then, they got to work.  They had the rest of the issue ready, with holes left in it for tonight’s debate.  They all took off their nice clothes, went back to jeans and tees, and worked.  There would be four articles about the debate, written by Kit, Barry, Lilly, and Marty, with Mike and Denise writing an editorial on their impression as opposing views; Mike was a moderate Republican, Denise a centrist Democrat.  They actually weren’t far off from their ideology, but they had some differing viewpoints, and those viewpoints would be the basis of the two sides editorial.  They weren’t alone in the office, either, for Martha showed up a little past midnight bringing dinner for them, and Jessie brought them all fresh coffee and tea for Kit around four, then stayed until it was time for her to go to school.

        They all worked right into Thursday.  Kit finished his article first, a four page piece about the issues, then helped Marty with his writing and his viewpoint as a gay male and how the debate impacted his platform.  Marty was still getting into the swing of being a “real” staff writer, but he did a pretty good job.  Barry got his piece done, then he helped Lilly finish hers about the femme’s perspective.  Rick and Savid sent them back a couple of times with edits, then they all took a break for lunch when Martha brought them all tuna casserole and a refill of their rapidly dwindling coffee can.  The only ones not writing or editing were Sheila and Jeffrey, and those two found themselves in unusual positions.  Sheila ended up manning the phones that day, while Jeffrey found himself doing a little research and some phone bargaining, getting pictures of the candidates to use in the issue from their campaigns.

        By 4:00pm, they were all done.  They had their wrap meeting, and Rick showed them how he’d jigsawed all their work together into the issue.  It ran 47 pages this week since they’d done all their usual features and had done other articles on top of the debate articles.  Rick had spent his time sitting in his wheelchair all week securing rack space in their test areas around Austin, so they’d be printing more copies of the issue tomorrow than ever before.  The magazine would print at a loss that week, dependent on how many copies they sold; if the Austin test sites really tanked, the magazine would take a bath.  Rick was being more conservative than Kit would have been, but it was still a real gamble to do what he was doing.  But, expanding with an issue like the debate issue was a wise move.

        At the end of the wrap meeting, Rick made a couple of announcements.  “Damn fine work, gang,” he told them.  “But tomorrow, the gang grows.  I’ve decided on a photographer.”

        “Which one?” Sheila asked.

        “The femme sable, Janet Zychowski.  She was very impressive in the interview, she has some solid experience with computers since she was a double major with computer science, she was more amenable to the idea of doing work other than photography, and she seemed capable of dealing with our rather unique chemistry.”

        “That and she’s cute,” Mike grinned.

        “Well, with us losing Sheila next month, replacing the hot femme in the office was a priority,” Rick said, which caused Lilly to get up, go over to him, and smack him on the arm.  That made everyone erupt into laughter.  “I like versatile furs working in the office, and she was definitely the most versatile of the seven I interviewed.  I’ll offer her the job tomorrow morning.”

        “You’re not losing me, Rick, but if I stay on after April, I demand to be paid,” Sheila countered.

        “Like I said, we’ll be losing Sheila next month,” Rick grinned at her.

        “You old bastard,” Sheila grinned back.

        “If I wasn’t a bastard, I’d fail the boss test,” Rick told her.  “Everyone has Friday off except Lilly cause she has to do her club canvas, but if you want to come in, I’ll be here.  The writers will be coming in on Saturday as usual, but I’ll have Janet come in on Saturday as well to start getting her settled in.  If she takes the job, that is.  Mike, pick an office for her and set her up.”

        “She should get the one between the printer room and Marty,” he said.  “We’ll move the break room to the other side of Marty.  She’ll need close access to the big toys on that side.”

        “Take care of it.  Do we have the computer equipment she’ll need?”

        “We have one workstation left from what Vil sent us,” he answered.  “Thank God she had the foresight to send us a couple of extras to use as backups.  I will need to buy a couple of boxes, though, Rick.  We’re out of backups, and I don’t like not having backups in case someone’s box takes a nosedive on me.”

        “I’m not sure we can afford to go out and get Sabletechs.”

        “We won’t have to, I’ll custom build a couple of good ones.  But I’ll need to buy the components.”

        “Talk to me about it after the meeting and we’ll take care of it,” Rick nodded.  “Now, as everyone knows, Sunday is Kit’s birthday,” Rick grinned, which got him some applause.  “And there’s going to be a party at his apartment.  It’ll be a cookout.  Kit’s friend Lupe is setting it up, and he asked me to ask each of you coming to bring something to eat, that way we have plenty.  And he asked that you guys please not all bring the same thing.  He has the beer, hot dogs, burgers, and paper plates all set up, and Jessie’s baking the cake, so we need other dishes and some non-alcoholic drinks for those of you who have to drive home.  And I don’t want to see ten bowls of potato salad out on the table,” Rick told them.  “Before we call it today, let’s make a list,” he said, pulling out a piece of paper and a pen.  “Who’s bringing what?”

        “Sounds good, boss,” Denise nodded.  “I’ll bring some homemade salsa and some spicy corn.”

        “Salsa and spicy corn.  Bring some chips too,” Rick said, writing it down.

        “I’m no cook, but I can grab something from a deli on the way down,” Mike said.  “How about some macaroni and cheese?”

        “Sounds good, you’re in for mac and cheese, Mike,” Rick nodded.

        “I’ll bring a case of Coke, I’m no cook either,” Marty said.

        “We’ll need it,” Rick assured him.

        “I have Nawa make some hot chicken curry for those brave enough to eat real food,” Savid grinned.

        “I’d love to try it, Savid,” Kit told him.  “I love spicy food, and it’ll rock to taste it from the paws of someone who knows what she’s doing.”

        “Alright, that’s Savid.  Lilly?”

        “I’ll bring some pork barbecue,” she said.

        “Ooh, nice,” he said, writing that down.  “Jeffrey?”

        “You’re asking me to cook?” he laughed.  “How about if I bring a couple of gallons of ice cream to go with the cake?”

        “I’ll put you down for three,” Rick answered.  “Make sure they’re different flavors, but don’t get exotic.  Chocolate, vanilla, and something else will work.  Barry?”

        “I’ll bring some shish kebabs.  They sell these good ones premade at Sam’s, we can just throw them on the grill.  I’ll get chicken ones for those who don’t want to eat burgers or dogs.”

        “Bring enough for like ten,” Rick warned.  “There’s probably gonna be more furs there than that, like twenty, but at least that way they’re not fighting over them.”

        “Twenty?”

        “Well, there’s the nine of us, Martha and Nawa, the sorority femmes, Kevin, my neighbor Bill’s coming with his wife Lucy, and Kit’s friends there at the complex,” Rick said.  “That’ll be about twenty.  What are you bringing, Sheila?”

        “Me?  I bought the beer,” Sheila laughed.

        “That’s the beer.  What food are you bringing?”

        She gave Rick a look.  “I’m buying the hotdogs and hamburgers too, Rick,” she told him.

        “Oh.  Okay, that’s different, then,” he said with a nod.  “Martha’s bringing a bunch of food, so that’s my contribution.  Kit’s the guest of honor, we can’t really expect him to bring anything, and Jessie’s baking the cake, so it sounds like we’re set.  Kit, son, you get the honors of taking the list to Lupe.”

        “I can manage that,” Kit chuckled, taking it from the dingo.

        “Now, on to the last announcements,” Rick said, leaning over the table a little to look at them seriously.  “As most of you know, Kit’s bought into the magazine as a partner,” he said.  “In fact, it’s been his money that’s been paying our salaries the last couple of weeks, since we’ve been running in the red due to the expansion.  And while I was out, him and Savid were handling my job.  That got me to thinking, mainly about what might happen if I weren’t here, if something happens to me.  Because of that, I’m giving Savid and Kit the title of vice presidents.  The title gives you official clout to get these jokers to do as you say when I leave you in charge,” he grinned.

        “God forbid,” Lilly grinned.

        “Savid will be the vice president in charge of the production of the magazine, responsible for content and layout.  Kit will be the vice president in charge of, well, everything else.  But don’t get too jealous, guys,” Rick chuckled.  “Over the next few months, if these expansions hold and we start earning the money we’re projecting, I’m going to expand our staff again.  I’ll be hiring two new writers, another photographer, and two research assistants, and more promotions will be coming around the loop.  And I’ll be giving everyone a raise,” he finished, which made everyone applaud loudly.  “So keep kicking ass, guys.  If we can keep the issues flying off the shelves the way we have been the last month, we’ll get bigger, we’ll get better, and we’ll earn more money.  But for tonight, go home, get some rest, and feel proud.  We put a hell of a good issue to bed today.”

        “Congratulations, cousin,” Sheila grinned at him when the meeting broke up, and pawshakes and hugs were distributed around the table.  “Twenty two and a vice president, you’re moving up in the world.”

        “Yeah, all it cost me was fifteen thousand dollars,” Kit grinned, which made Sheila laugh.

        “Just goes to show, even a hopeless bum can be important if he has enough money.”

        Kit laughed.  “Well, I won’t let it go to my head.  I’ll only wear my Darth Vader helmet on Fridays.”

 

        Janet Zychowski was exactly what Mike said…cute.

        She wasn’t beautiful the way Jessie and Allison were, but she was definitely worth a look.  She had bone white fur except for a little brown band over her eyes on her forehead, extending into her blond hair, extending from temple to temple.  This was an extremely odd fur coloration pattern, since the majority of sables had brown or tan fur.  She kept her hair short, which let her ears pop through it, and she was very slim and surprisingly tall.  She was wearing a dark blouse and a pair of black slacks, not normal fare in the office, but she was carrying four camera bags with her when she came in.  She came into the seemingly deserted office and called out, then came to Kit’s office when he answered her.  He got up and shook her paw and introduced himself.  “Rick told me to settle you in,” Kit told her.  “Did you finish all the paperwork yesterday?”

        She nodded.  “Yup.  I’m all done with that.  He said I’d be here half a day to get used to my office, and that, uh, Mike would be getting me up to speed on your network.”

        “This is usually his day off, so he’ll probably be a little late,” Kit chuckled.  “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how did you get such unusual fur?”

        She laughed.  “You’re not the first to ask. “My dad’s a Polish marten and my mom’s a Russian sable, and I guess martens and sables shouldn’t mix,” she grinned.  “I’m the first Zychowski born in America,” she added, with a bit of pride.

        “Do you speak Russian?” he asked curiously.

        “And Polish,” she added with a nod.  “My parents wanted their kids to know their heritage.  Not that I think those will ever help around here,” she grinned.

        “Well, I never really think me having a pilot’s license will ever matter working here either, but you never know,” Kit shrugged.  “And if we ever interview a Russian diplomat, your language skills will come in very handy.  Let me show you to your office, and I hope you don’t mind the sterile smell.  It used to be our break room,” he winked as they entered the big room.”

        “Oh really?  Well, I’m glad I at least have one,” she laughed.

        “Well, we have a few open offices, but we wanted you near the printer room, where we keep all our industrial printers and scanners and such,” he explained as they crossed over to her new office, which held her desk, a small couch, two chairs, a shelf, a light table behind her desk, and her own printer and scanner.  “We set you up with the same equipment our graphics furs use, but if you have any special requests, Mike is the raccoon to see.”

        “What add-ons do you guys use with Photoshop?”

        “I really don’t know, I’m the researcher,” Kit winked.  “Mike will have your laptop and Blackberry ready when he gets here, I don’t see them on the desk,” Kit noted.

        “You supply them?”

        “I guess we do,” Kit chuckled.  “We have them for everyone else, but now that I think of it, I should call and find out.  We have a rather special arrangement with our Blackberries, I have to see if we can extend it, or if we need to change our plan.  Let me call and find out.”

        When Kit called Vil, he found out that Rick had already talked to her about it.  “Yeah, Rick told me you’ve got a new hire.  I agreed to add her on to the plan for the Blackberries, but I also told him I can’t be adding on everyone he hires.  He gets this new girl for free, as a gift because he broke his leg.  If he wants to put anyone else in, he’ll have to take it over himself.  The Blackberries were a gift to the furs who helped you when you were hurt, not a running perk for the magazine.”

        “Well, that’s only fair,” Kit said calmly.  “She got our last Sabletech workstation, but I guess we’ll have to buy her her own laptop.”

        “Now there I can help you,” Vil told him.  “Tell Rick I’ll buy the laptop for him by proxy, because I signed a deal with Sabletech for them to supply the shipyard with laptops.  The brand has impressed me.  Their workbook brand laptops are very rugged, and they’re perfect for my foremen and engineers out on the platens.  Tell him I can get the magazine Sabletech computers and peripherals at a discount, but the magazine does have to pay for them.”

        “I’m sure he’ll go for it,” Kit said.  “Dear God, everyone in this office is in love with the laptops you gave us.  Do me a favor and put in an order for a laptop that a professional photographer would find good.”

        “Just one?”

        “Yeah, we have only one new hire,” Kit chuckled.

        “It’ll be there Monday,” she promised.

        “Thanks, sis, you’re a lifesaver.”

        “Any time, bro.  And premature happy birthday,” she said with a giggle.

        He laughed.  “Thanks.”

        Kit went back to see Janet settling into her office, her fingers flying over the keyboard of her computer.  “Tell Mike that his security is weak,” she told Kit in a calm voice.  “I’ve managed to snoop the entire network.”

        “Mike doesn’t put security on the inside, but try breaking in from the outside and see how far you go,” Kit chuckled.  “Mike’s very good.  Anyway, your laptop will be here on Monday, and your Blackberry is on order.  I’m not sure when it’ll get here.”

        “What kind of laptop?”

        “We use Sabletech here,” he answered her, which made her eyes widen slightly.

        “Sabletech?  Those are expensive.”

        “They’re worth every penny,” Kit said fervently.

        “I’m glad I took this job now,” she laughed.

        “That may change after a week,” Kit told her.  Barry peeked in, and Kit waved him inside.  “Janet, this is Barry, he’s our lead writer,” he introduced.

        “We met when she came in for the interview,” Barry smiled, shaking her paw.

        “Did Rick explain how things work around here?”

        Janet nodded.  “He said there would be times I’d be more than a photographer,” she said.  “He told me I was hired specifically because I can do more than take pictures.”

        “Yeah, we do what needs done around here,” Barry said.  “Whether it’s in our job description or not.  I think Lilly’s done every job there is to do in this place at one time or another.  Rick said you were a computer science double major, so odds are you and Mike are going to be doing a lot of work together.”

        “We’ll see how good he is,” Janet chuckled.  “Rick said I’d also be doing some graphic design, I’ve taken a lot of classes on graphics and art.  I think it’s a solid background for a photographer.  I’m all about the picture, and sometimes a picture isn’t just what you take with a camera.  A piece of art is just as much a picture as the pictures I take with my camera.”

        “Well, Savid and Jeffrey will be very good teachers if you want to keep learning,” Kit told her.

        Janet grinned.  “I’ll enjoy working in the same office that writes School Daze,” she told them.  “I started reading your magazine just to read the strips!  I love Oxnard best, he rocks!”

        “Well, we keep all our future strips a secret,” Kit winked at her.  “But, I will let you in on one thing.  We’re splitting Missy and Cutler off into its own strip.”

        “Really?  That should be really interesting,” she said.  “Those strips have a very different feel from the others.”

        “They should, my wife does the writing for it,” Kit chuckled.  “I do the writing for the other strips.”

        “I never noticed!” Janet laughed.  “I guess I should look and see whose names are on the strips!”

        “All three of our names appear on all the strips,” Kit told her.  “But when Missy and Cutler splits off, it’ll just be Jessie and Jeffrey on that one.  I don’t have anything to do with those.”

        “Jeffrey’s gonna be stressed doing both strips and his other work,” Barry noted.

        “I think we might be hiring another artist soon,” Kit chuckled.

        Mike scurried into the office, and Janet shook his paw.  “You must be Mike,” she said.

        “That’s me,” he smiled.  “I see you’ve met the unimportant furs.”

        “Someone wants his check shorted next week,” Kit teased.

        “Yeah, I dare ya,” Mike grinned.  “Now give me and Miss Zychowski some room while we talk shop and get her box set up to her liking.”

        “We’ve been dismissed,” Barry said to Kit absently.

        “I think kicked out is a better term,” Kit noted in reply.

        “Shoo!” Mike told them, waving his paws at the pair imperiously.

        Kit could have left early, but he hung around to help Janet settle in.  He showed her how their archives worked, which she picked up very quickly, after she and Mike spent three hours in her office setting up her computer to her exacting specifications.  Lilly had both come and gone in that time, coming in and updating The Scene, then leaving early for some well-deserved rest.  Mike went home as well after the computer work, leaving Kit and Janet in the office after Barry left for the day as well.  “So, was he good?” Kit asked as she navigated through to the archives.

        “He seems to know what he’s doing,” she answered.  “He certainly knows Photoshop.”

        “It used to be part of his job,” Kit chuckled.  “Mike and Lilly did almost all the photography before we hired you.  They’re both very good at it.”

        “Well, we’ll see if I can’t free them up to do their own work,” Janet said with a smile.

        “Oh yeah, I’m not sure if anyone told you, but I’m having a little party over at my apartment tomorrow.  You’re welcome to come.”

        “Well, sure, I can come.  When and where?”

        “Around one.  I’ll bring up mapquest and print you out some directions.  It’s not far from here.”

        She was quiet a moment.  “Can I ask you a personal question?”

        He chuckled.  “Yes, I’m that Kit Vulpan,” he said.

        She laughed.  “Well, I knew that.  I just wanted to know what brought you here.  Out of everything you could have done, why work in a little magazine?”

        “Because this is my family, and this is my home,” he said earnestly.  “Rick’s been like a father to me, and the gang here are the family I never had.  I love it here so much, I took what little money I do have and bought into the magazine.  I’ll be here until either I die or the magazine closes.”

        “But what brought you here in the first place?”

        “The same as you.  I needed a job, I saw Rick’s ad, and I applied.  Fate was being kind to me that day.  That whole week, actually.  That’s also the week I met my wife.  Meeting Jessie is what sent me looking for a job, and brought me here.  So, I guess you can say that my wife is the reason I’m here.”  He turned to go back to his office.  “Just tell me when you’re ready to go, so I don’t accidentally lock you in here when I leave.  I’m not sure there’s enough food in the break room to last you until Monday.  They cleaned it out when they moved the break room yesterday.”

        She laughed.  “Actually, I’m about done.  I did everything Rick asked me to do today.  I’ll be back Monday morning to get my portfolios and my own photo archives loaded up for the magazine, and Rick said I’ll have my first assignment.  I can leave my cameras here?”

        “If you want, as long as you don’t need them until Monday.  Rick’ll be here around eight Monday morning.”

        “I have cameras at home.  I have too many cameras,” she laughed.  “Only thing that’ll suck is taking my film home to develop, but I don’t think any magazine or newspaper has darkrooms anymore.”

        “You use film?”

        “For certain artistic shots, yes, I still use film.  Film can produce effects you can’t quite match without six hours with Photoshop, and I get a better result spending twenty minutes developing film.  I have a special camera that is both digital and film,” she told him.  “It takes a digital picture but also takes the same picture on film.”

        “I’ve never heard of one of those.”

        “I’d be surprised if you had, because I made it,” she said, standing up and picking up a camera case on her desk, and pulling out a surprisingly bulky camera that looked like an old fashioned 35mm portrait camera.  “This is the film lens, and right here is the digital camera lens,” she said, pointing to the dual lenses, the digital lens showing through a hole drilled into the case.  “The controls for both lenses are up here on the top, but both take the picture when I press just one button.  The offset between the two apertures is only half an inch, so I get virtually the same picture, but I can change modes on the cameras to get one scene with different effects between the two pictures.”

        “You made that?  Damn, I’m impressed!” Kit said honestly.  “You should patent it!”

        “I did,” she smiled.  “Of course, since the film camera is a Minolta and the digital camera is a Fuji, I couldn’t really build and market them myself,” she added with a smile.

        “I’m really impressed, Janet,” Kit told her.  “I’ve never known anyone that could invent things before.”

        “I’ve never known anyone who comes from one of the richest families in America before, so we’re even,” she winked.  “Now let’s get out of here.”

 

        Kit didn’t really set much stock to birthdays.

        Much as Christmas and other holidays, Kit hadn’t had much leave to really feel like celebrating since he was about twelve.  That was the last birthday he really enjoyed, his twelfth birthday, because he’d gotten to go to a Celtics game that evening and meet Larry Bird, and it was also the first time he’d met Suzy.  She had been one of the masses invited to the party, a child of the Boston rich invited to the party of the Vulpan heir as a matter of courtesy because Suzy was one of Vil‘s friends.  Those two had met in Weston Academy, the ultra-elite private school for Boston bluebloods which Kit himself had attended, and the two of them had formed a very quick friendship that had endured over the years.  Vil and Suzy were best friends, and probably always would be.  Kit had liked Suzy despite her being so much older than him, and that was probably where Suzy’s crush on Kit had begun.

        Of course, that was a very different Kit.  Back then, he was called Little Luke about half the time by his aunts and uncles, and only Vil, Clancy, and the house staff called him Kit, because that was the pet name his mother had given him, a play on his first name that was both contraction and her own special way of calling him “baby.”  Vil had taken to using it after their mother died, for it soothed Kit during his storms of grief and also seemed to evolve Vil’s regard for him as less and less his sister and more and more his mother, and it spread from her to Clancy and the house staff.  Back then, he was only just beginning to stoke the fires of what would become an inferno of hatred against his father, the year when the hurt and confused young kit began to hate his father for not being there.  That year, that birthday, was the second straight birthday party that his father had not attended, and in a sign of what was to come, it was the first that Kit enjoyed if only for the very fact that his father had not been there.

        Since his twelfth birthday, Kit had had no reason to celebrate the occasion.  Oh, there had been parties, but they weren’t the same.  That year, his twelfth year, was the year that Kit started to drift away from his family, to start to question everything he’d been taught, all of it started by his hurt at why his father had walked away.  By his thirteenth birthday, Kit was already on the path that would lead to the confrontation on his sixteenth birthday, the day he walked out on his family, forsook them, choosing to live on the streets rather than be a Vulpan any longer.  And after that momentous sixteenth birthday, he’d been too busy trying to survive in the face of his father’s attempts to destroy his life to feel like doing much celebrating.  Birthdays became like other holidays, just days, where the magic they had held for him in his youth had faded away over time.

        But, this was his first birthday with Jessie, and in that respect, it felt like a special day for him.  Jessie was going to bake him a cake and his friends were coming to a cookout in the courtyard, which would no doubt be done over the sounds of construction across the block as Lupe’s army of workers raced to get everything built on time.  For that reason, Kit was looking forward to today.  Not because it was his birthday, but because it would be a nice little gathering, where the three separate circles of his friends, the magazine, the sorority, and his neighbors, would combine and interact with each other more than they usually did.

        Jessie was sure to give him an extra-special waking up birthday present, blowing lightly in his ear at 8:00, making his swat sleepily at what felt like a fly, the she kissed him exuberantly on the side of his muzzle, leaning over his back.  “Wake up, my handsome fox,” she cooed in his damaged ear.  “It’s your birthday.”

        “Then let me go back to sleep,” he mumbled groggily.

        Her paws sliding down his back sensually made his tail stand straight out under the covers.  “But then I can’t give you your first birthday present,” she said huskily in his ear.

        She found herself wrapped up in his arms before she could even take a breath.

        After what Kit felt was the best birthday present ever given in the history of the universe, she made him a nice breakfast, keeping him firmly out of the kitchen.  “Oh no, this is your day, silly fox!” she laughed.  “No cooking!  Now go play X-Box or something and let me take care of you!”

        “You already did this morning,” he said with a loving growl, wrapping her up from behind, putting his paws on her belly.  “Six months and one week,” he said in her ear.

        “I know very well how much more time I have to go,” she said primly.  “Now don’t make me call Mom and have her get you out of my kitchen!”

        “The heavy artillery, eh?” Kit laughed, then he was serious for a moment.  “You know,” he realized, “Vil didn’t send me a card.  She always sent me one when I was in Boston.  I’m a little surprised.”

        “Oh, I seriously doubt she forgot your birthday, love,” Jessie told him, patting his paws with her own.  “You know her, odds are some courier in a suit’s gonna knock on the door at noon and give it to you personally.”

        “Yeah, that’s something she’d definitely do,” he chuckled, nuzzling Jessie’s neck.  “I love you, Jessica Desdemona Vulpan,” he told her, hugging her a little tighter.

        “And I love you, Kitstrom Lucas Vulpan.  But that’s no defense to lurk in my kitchen when I have very important work to do for your first birthday since we were married,” she said tartly.  “Now get out of my kitchen so I can make your breakfast and bake your birthday cake!”

        He laughed, and just hugged her even tighter.  “But I want to spend the rest of the day just like this,” he protested, “with the femme I love and our baby wrapped up in my arms, close to me.  That would make the day much more special than me just getting one year older.”

        “Such a sweet talker when he’s trying to get his own way,” Jessie accused with a giggle.  “But you’re about to get punished, my handsome fox.  I have to have your cake ready by the party!”

        “Well, there are no pillows in the kitchen, and I have a pretty firm grip on you to keep you from going to get one,” he noted dryly.

        “Mmm-hmm,” she hummed lightly, reaching to her left.  She grabbed the extendable spray nozzle from by the faucet of the sink, pulled it up, then aimed it over her shoulder, right at his face.  “You were saying something, love?  I didn’t quite make that out.”

        Kit laughed, then just rocked her back and forth in his arms.  “Point taken, my pretty kitty,” he surrendered.  “But you do realize, this means war.”

        “We can have our epic battle of good versus evil after I bake your cake,” she noted clinically.

        “It‘s a date,” he chuckled, kissing her neck, then he obediently let her go.

        He went to the living room and decided to read while he listened to the news on the radio.  He took the cup of tea Jessie brought out for him with a smile and a nod of thanks, and basically did as Jessie wanted, which was relax. Jessie called him to the table when she finished breakfast, a simple affair of eggs, bacon, a grapefruit half, and wheat toast.  After breakfast, she got to work on the cake, which made Kit feel a little…unsettled.  He was so used to helping Jessie whenever she was engaged in domestic chores that he felt, well, like he was freeloading.  Here he was, sitting around reading a book and listening to the radio while Jessie was in the kitchen working, and it just wasn’t like him.  He would usually be in there with her, sharing in the labor both to be near his wife and also to get it done; after all, if both of them were working on it, it got done faster and gave them more time to themselves.  But here he was, banished from the kitchen on pain of getting attacked with the sink sprayer, forced to sit there and do nothing while Jessie worked in the kitchen…worked for him.  He knew it made her happy to do this for him, but it also annoyed him just a little bit that she wouldn’t let him share in the labor.  He’d be much happier in there with her than he was sitting in the living room, banished from her presence.  It just felt…unnatural to be in a different room than her.  Even when they were doing different things, they were almost always together.  The only time they really separated was when Jessie had serious homework to do, which she preferred to do in the quiet sanctuary of the den.

        When she came out to give him a new cup of tea, he pulled her down onto the couch and held her for a long moment.  She always seemed to be able to sense his feelings, so she didn’t struggle or think he was playing, she just let him hold her, kissing him lightly on his cheek and muzzle.  “What’s the matter, my handsome fox?” she asked.  “I wasn’t that mean to you, was I?”

        “Just feeling a little unsettled,” he answered.  “I’m not used to being in the house with you and not with you.  And I’m sitting here reading a book while you’re in there doing work.  That makes me feel like I’m a heel.”

        She laughed.  “I’m in there working because I love you, silly,” she told him.  “I want to give you something special on your birthday, and I’d feel like a heel if I let you do any of the work.  The birthday boy just simple does not help bake his own cake!  It would be a scandal!” she told him, kissing him on the nose.  “But it’s all but done now, love, I got it in the oven.  So, I have about a half an hour that‘s all yours,” she cooed, wrapping her arms around him.

        Despite being married, and knowing every inch of her body, and doing many much more intimate and sexy things with her, there was definitely something to be said about making out on the couch like a couple of teenagers.  Kit made sure to keep full possession of his wife until the timer went off, spending a blissful 35 minutes in the arms of the femme he loved, running the entire range from playful pecks and smooches to deep, toe-curling kisses that nearly made them both pass out from lack of oxygen.  But, reality intruded on their intimate fun…but not without a fight.  Jessie laughed quite a bit as she struggled free of Kit’s grasping paws, constantly complaining that the cake was going to burn, and he’d be in all kinds of trouble if that happened.  But she got free of him, and rescued the cake in more than enough time to prevent a calamity.  Kit wanted to watch her decorate it, but she hustled him out of the kitchen imperiously, pushing him from behind all the way through the living room and to the hallway.  “In the den, you!” she commanded.  “You’ll see the cake when I bring it out at the party, and not a minute before!”

        “But--”

        “But nothing!  Stay!” she barked, pushing him through the door, then closing it loudly behind him.

        “This is false imprisonment!” he shouted playfully through the door.

        “You get one phone call, call your lawyer!” she shouted back, which made him erupt into laughter.

        He’d give her what she wanted--he always did--but that didn’t meant that he had to make it easy for her.

        After the cake was decorated and safely spirited out of the apartment, Jessie let Kit out of the den.  She did cave and let him help prepare some of the other food Jessie was bringing to the cookout, baked beans, her famous spicy beef tip and potato chunk dish, and she was making homemade chili for the hotdogs.  Kit helped her carry some of it out, and saw that the courtyard had been converted to a little party area.  Lupe had erected a large sideless tent, basically a shade, under which they’d set several long tables and folding chairs.  The tent, tables, and chairs were brand new.  Sheila and Allison were already there, helping Lupe, Dan, and Mickey spread cheap tablecloths over the tables and weight them down at the corners with little beanbags.  Sam and Kevin were also here, carrying a large platter of chopped vegetables with a big bowl of ranch dip in the middle.  “Hey brah, you’re early!” Lupe teased.

        “It’s my party, I’ll show up whenever I damn well please,” Kit teased in reply.

        “Well, if you’re gonna show up for the setup, you’re gonna help,” Lupe told him.  “You can help Mickey bring over the grills.”

        “I don’t mind, I’m not a drama queen like certain chihuahuas around here,” Kit grinned at him.

        Kit helped them get everything ready.  Tables were covered and sturdy plastic plates and silverware were stacked, food was brought out in containers in preparation for the guests, Dan and Mickey’s grills were brought over, and Dan had to make a quick run down to Circle K for a new propane cylinder when he realized the one he had didn’t have enough left to hold out for the whole party.  Allison left as well, and brought back a couple of very large coolers and four large bags of ice.  “I’ll pay you back for those, babe,” Lupe told her.  “All this stuff is gonna go in storage and be in the new community center, that way it’s available for patio parties.”

        “And you can write them off on your taxes,” Kit chuckled.

        “I ain’t no fool, brah,” Lupe grinned.  “So I hope you saved the receipt, babe.  I’ll need it for my taxes.”

        Dan and Mickey iced down the beer and soda they’d bought, Jessie started pressing hamburger into patties, and they all just sat down and talked while waiting for the others to start arriving.

        And they didn’t wait long.  Sam and Kevin got there about twenty minutes after they got everything set up, carrying food for the party and a small wrapped present for Kit, and Martha and Rick arrived not two minutes later, so quick that Kevin helped Martha get Rick transferred to the wheelchair and wheeled him down the sidewalk.  Janet was the next to arrive, and she spent much of her time shaking paws and being introduced around, which kept everyone busy until Lilly, Jeffrey, Sandy, Savid, and Nawa all arrived at the same time.  More and more kept arriving faster and faster as they approached 1:00, which was the start time for the party, but nobody got there that late.  The last ones to arrive were a couple of the sorority girls, Danielle and Charlotte, who got there as Jessie and Sheila had started grilling the hamburgers, hot dogs, and other grillable foods the guests had brought.  Lisa had brought some chicken breasts to grill, since she didn’t eat red meat, they had Barry’s shish kebabs, and Charlotte brought corn on the cob wrapped in foil, which were parked on an upper rack and left to slowly cook.

        It was a nice time for Kit.  He wasn’t allowed to help cook or serve, so he sat at the table and talked with friends, and friends around him either met friends or renewed friendships forged at the wedding.  Some of the more bashful sorority girls like the other Jessie and Lisa got to see some furs they hadn’t seen since the wedding, and Janet got the opportunity to meet just about everyone in Kit’s life at once.

        But, it wouldn’t be a party without at least one surprise.  Kit was chatting with Janet, getting to know her better, when he didn’t notice things get a little quiet around him, and heard Sandy giggle.  A paw tapped him on the shoulder.  “Hey, can I sit here?”

        Kit gasped and almost jumped up, since that voice belonged to no one other than Suzy.  He whirled around and saw Suzy, Vil, Muffy, Hannah, John, Jenny, Ben, and to Kit’s surprise, his cousin Terry all standing there with a fox male Kit didn‘t know.  He laughed and gave Suzy a rough hug.  “I never thought I’d see you guys!”

        “Now you know why you didn’t get any cards,” Jessie told him with a giggle.

        “I should have known!” he laughed as he hugged Vil.  “You’re such a sneak!”

        “What can I say, I’m a Vulpan,” she laughed in reply.  “I left this morning and picked up Jessie’s family in Cincinnati on the way down.”

        “I’m so happy you guys are here,” Kit told Hannah as he gave her a fond hug.

        “We were happy to come, dear.  We got to ride in your sister’s jet,” she laughed.

        “It was fun!” Jenny gushed as she hugged Kit.

        “Kit, this is my boyfriend, Corey,” Suzy introduced him to the slender fox male that was with them.  He was a little taller than Kit and a little wiry, but he had a handsome muzzle and dark hair the same color as his mittens combed back and between his ears.  “Corey, this is Kit, one of my oldest friends.”

        “I’ve heard a lot about you, Kit,” Corey told him.

        “I heard you make movies.  How was Mexico?”

        “Hot and dry,” Corey laughed.  “But I’m done down there for now, we’re back in the studio for post production work.”

        “Corey, this is Jessie, my wife,” he introduced.

        “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet the girl that made Suzy available,” Corey grinned at Jessie as he shook her paw.

        Jessie laughed ruefully.  “Well, you’d better put a ring on her finger or you might not have her long,” Jessie teased.

        “We’ve been talking about it,” Suzy told Kit in a low voice.

        Kit was a little less pleasant when Terry approached.  “It’s good to see you again, cousin,” he said with an earnest smile.  “When Vil said she was coming to see you, I begged her to let me come.  The rest of us aren’t exactly sure if it’s safe to try to call you or anything,” he admitted.  “The only ones that seem to be allowed are Vil and Muffy.”

        “Well, I guess I told them to leave it like that,” Kit chuckled.

        “Well, you’d have quite a few cousins calling if we knew you’d let us.”

        “Well, I kinda like not being embroiled in the family business,” Kit told him.  “The last thing I need is for someone like Victor to be calling me at three in the morning just to be an ass, or Bridgette calling me every hour to try to make me get a divorce, or God forbid, Bess calling down here whining because Liz stole her boyfriend.  I kinda like them to be too afraid to call.”

        Terry laughed.  “Tell me about it,” he drawled.

        Kit accepted Terry into the party with a certain wariness, but after sitting down and talking with him a while, he felt much better about it.  Terry was a very earnest Vulpan, and not cut from the usual mold.  He was intelligent, insightful, hard-working, and dedicated.  He was also rather handsome, much more handsome than Kit, probably the most handsome among all the male Vulpans.  But instead of having an arrogant snotty personality like Victor, he was instead modest and self-effacing, much like Ben.  All of Uncle Tom’s children were a little different from the other cousins, but not necessarily in a good way.  Bess, the most wanton and notorious of any of the Vulpan kids, was Tom’s oldest.  Then came his cousin Dahlia, who was actually a little mentally unhinged and was kept close to the family’s vest, then Terry, then their youngest, the twelve year old male Hunter, just starting at Weston next fall.  Terry’s mother and Tom’s wife, Justine Leeks Vulpan, had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer not long after Hunter was born, and had had her ovaries removed, which made Hunter the last of the children of Tom and Justine.

        Uncle Tom and his family had almost always been the “black sheep” of the family, at least until Kit took that title in spades.  Tom was a little…odd.  Eccentric was a good word for it, but he wasn’t eccentric in a bad or dangerous way.  He was just odd.  He had a very unusual personality, he was a little moody and a bit erratic, but he was also absolutely brilliant.  Kit had since learned that his enigmatic uncle had a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which gave him those wild mood swings and periods of genius mixed in with periods of sullen depression.  It wasn’t blatant, but it was just enough to give him his rather unusual personality.  All of his kids were also a little off the beaten path, in their own ways.  Bess was an absolute slut and the most notorious of all the Vulpans, the founding femme of the Party Pack.  Dahlia had battled clinical depression and mild schizophrenia most of her life, so she was rather delicate.  Terry was very much unlike most of the other Vulpans, since he was so smart, and Hunter was just a bundle of unceasing energy that ran his parents ragged.

        Terry, at least, was sincere when they got around to talking about his leaving the family, and he was brave enough to do it around the family, since Vil, Muffy, and Sheila were sitting with them as they talked.  “I was petrified,” Terry told him.  “I was a senior and almost ready to graduate, and then you get disowned, and I was terrified that Uncle Luke was going to come after the whole family, so much so that I convinced Dad to pay for my whole four years of school at Yale in advance,” he said.  “He did it for me, too, set up a special trust I used to pay for my school, which would let me finish Yale.  I wanted to try to call you a couple of times, but I‘ll admit that I was too afraid to do it,” he sighed.  “I couldn’t see how I’d survive if I got disowned, how I’d ever get a good job if I was thrown out of school, since I saw what Uncle Luke did to you.  We were afraid he’d do the same to us, not just disown us, but torture us.  We knew he was capable of it.”

        “The old bastard certainly was,” Kit grunted, then he realized that just about all of Jessie’s family and Allison were listening with rapt attention.

        “Well, I was wrong about it, and for that much, I apologize, Kit,” he said, offering his paw.  “If you don’t mind a late apology, that is.”

        “Yay!  Another convert for the Austin Vulpans!” Sheila called.

        “Hey, I’m still a Boston Vulpan, Sheila!  We’ll have to go to war to get Terry back!” Muffy challenged.

        “Bring it on, Eugenia!” Sheila called insultingly, then the two started mock-slapfighting across the table like a couple of six year olds, which made the whole party erupt into laughter.

        “It’s not too late,”’ Kit told him, shaking his paw.  “At least not for you.  For some others in the family, their chance passed a long time ago.  Basically anyone in the family older than me, who was old enough to understand what was going on, yet did nothing.  Them, I will never forgive.”

        “Well, I’m glad to hear that.  And just so you know, it doesn’t really bother me all that much that you married a cat.  I’d never do it, but that’s because I just don’t find femmes who aren’t vixens attractive.  I guess growing up in Boston flavored my idea of attractive.”

        Kit had heard much the same attitude from Vil, so he could nod in understanding.  “I appreciate that, Terry.  So, you’re saying my wife isn’t pretty?” he asked teasingly.

        Terry laughed.  “She’s pretty, but she just doesn’t do it for me, cousin.”

        “Well, I know who to call when I want a chaperone for her, then.  So, what’s it like being a vice president who matters?” Kit asked, which made Terry laugh.

        Kit and Terry talked a while about the shipyard as the party got into full swing, hearing about Terry’s surprising resistance when he took over the safety department.  The older furs in the department really resented what they saw as Vil’s move of cronyism, putting a Vulpan in charge of an important department, which had forced Terry to go in and clean house.  He demoted a bunch of middle managers in his department, transferred some furs in from his accounting department to replace them, and reorganized the entire division to ensure that such a mistake that happened there could never happen again.  He instituted tighter controls, more dual oversight so no one fur in a critical position could make a mistake that would result in a fine from the government, and ordered an audit of general shipyard safety to see if there was any way they could increase safety for the workers or streamline safety procedures.  He went so far as to include a survey with paycheck to poll the workers on their confidence of the safety policies at the shipyard.  From the sound of it, Terry was going to be just fine in his new job, for he took it seriously, and he had to guts to do what had to be done.  While they were talking, Kit got to sample a whole lot of different foods, and he almost choked when he tried Nawa’s curry; it was the spiciest food he’d ever eaten!  His eyes watered as he swallowed the first mouthful, then he laughed and took another bite.  Despite being so spicy, it was still quite delicious.

        “At least he’s brave!” Nawa laughed as he worked his way through the curry.  Then, after he finished it, she put another plate in front of him.  “Here, this is curry I did not make just for you,” she said with a teasing smile.

        “Nawa!  You cheating little so and so!” Kit objected, which made the whole party laugh.

        “I give you honor for eating the whole thing,” she grinned at him.  “Most run at the first bite.”  Then she pointed at Savid.  “And blame him for first dish, he told me to make my spiciest curry for you!”

        “Oh, I’ll take care of you next week, Savid,” Kit threatened, pointing an accusing finger at the mongoose.

        They spent a very lovely afternoon in the courtyard, eating, talking, and laughing as Terry and Jessie’s family circulated, and Suzy introduced Corey around.  Outside of a slightly frosty meeting between Allison and Hannah, things went quite swimmingly.  Kit rather liked getting to talk to Suzy face to face for a change.  They talked about once a week on the phone on the average, usually every Saturday, maintaining a friendship that had endured for over ten years.  Kit got a chance to get to know Corey, who was a very mellow young fox who loved to make movies.  He’d be going back to his studio in New York on Monday to finish his movie, and then he’d be shooting another film in Maine over the winter, which would keep him close to home for Suzy.  Suzy did seem to honestly love him, from their weekly talks, and getting a chance to see Suzy and Corey together showed him that Corey loved Suzy in return.

        He was glad of that.

        There were other little wars of conquest going on at the party.  Sheila had trapped Ben over by the grills and was talking to him, and Hannah was keeping a very close eye on them.  Sandy was teasing Jeffrey, playing with his ears from behind and making them flinch, while Sam and Kevin stayed close together, standing side by side as they chatted with Jenny and John.  Lupe introduced Alice around when she arrived, and about all the males were watching Allison as she moved through the party, going back to her seat.  Kit didn’t spend all his time watching Allison though, if only to keep Jessie from beating him, so he stayed in his seat of honor and let his friends drift back and forth to him.  He spent a long time talking privately with Suzy, out of Corey’s earshot, getting caught up in the kinds of things she’d never tell him over the phone or in front of her boyfriend.  He then took part in a pretty indepth conversation between himself, Vil, and Rick as they discussed the expansion of the magazine.

        But they didn’t let him spend the whole day talking.  After everyone had eaten their fill, Jessie and Martha vanished, then returned with the cake. Kit had to sit there and get serenaded by a round of Happy Birthday by everyone as Jessie brought out a german chocolate cake baked in the shape of the magazine, with Lone Star written across the top in icing and all the birthday candles down where the picture would be, and the words HAPPY BIRTHDAY KIT! scrolled across the bottom.  Everyone applauded when he managed to blow out all the candles in one try, and then he did the honors of cutting up the cake and doling out the pieces.  Jessie had baked two cakes but had only decorated one to make sure that there was enough cake for everyone, and also explained why she was so adamant about keeping him out of the kitchen, to keep the secret that Vil and her family were coming.  They enjoyed the delicious cake, and then everyone produced small gifts for him.  Thankfully, nobody went crazy, not even his rich relatives, and he got a bunch of little knickknacks and useful little things for the office, though Sheila couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy him a G-string to wear for Jessie and a stack of porno DVDs all taped together.  He was afraid that Vil was going to spring something on him, but thankfully, her gift to him was a new acoustic guitar, to replace the rather old one that Rick had given him.

        It was Rick’s gift that puzzled him.  He unwrapped it and found a mobile broadband card, one of those ones that worked just about anywhere by accessing cell phone networks rather than Wi-Fi.  “Well thanks Rick, but I’m not sure how much use this is going to be,” he said, turning over the card’s box to look at the back.

        “Oh, it’s going to be very useful to you, son,” Rick grinned.

        A cold feeling built in the pit of his stomach, because Rick was looking at Vil.

        “You’re going to be telecommuting for about six weeks, bro,” she said with a predatory smile, like the cat that caught the canary, taking a small brochure from Stav and handing it to him.  “Happy birthday.”

        “What is this?” he asked, looking at it.  It read Cessna Flight Training Academy, and upon its front was a picture of a raccoon and a badger sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft, the badger looking where the raccoon was pointing.

        “May fifth, you’re going to Independence, Kansas for about six weeks, bro,” she smiled.  “And you’re going to go through Cessna’s Citation training program, the one Cessna uses to train its own pilots.  You said you’d always wanted to get that jet rating you’d never gotten, so I’m going to make sure it happens.”

        “But, but I have work!  I can‘t leave for a month!  I‘m already too deep in the hole on time off as it is!”

        “Work will be sent to you, son, and I seem to recall a certain young fox bargaining a cleaning of the slate as part of the deal when he invested in the magazine,” Rick chuckled.  “I know you don’t believe this, but you can actually do most of your research work from home.  Well, you’re going to be doing your assignments from Kansas, and you’re also going to be writing a few articles about your experience for the magazine,” he added.  “I think those would be really, really interesting.  So don‘t think this is a vacation, cause it‘s not.  You‘ll be working your tail off up there for the magazine when you‘re not in flight training.”

        “See, I already have everything all set up,” Vil grinned.

        “I’m going with you,” Jessie smiled, taking hold of his paw.  “My last final is the Thursday before we leave.  I’ll be out of school, so I’ll have plenty of time.  Vil said that I could take classes on flying while I’m there and she’s going to make sure I can get back to Austin for my appointments with Doctor Mac,” she assured him.

        “I’m, I’m speechless,” he said in shock.

        That made quite a few of them laugh.  “It’s four different programs, bro, and they said a couple of different types of jet fall into some classes because all their systems are the same.  You’ll do each one, one after the other after the other.  They said it would take you about one or two weeks to do the first section, that’s for a little jet called a Mustang, because it has the same avionics you have in your plane now, that Garmin system.  They said it takes about two to three weeks for the second section for, um, the CJ series, one week for the third section for an encore, then two to three weeks for the last section, which you get to pick for any jet they produce.  When you walk out of there, you’ll be qualified to fly, hold on,” she said, taking the brochure from him and looking at the back, “the Mustang, all four models of the CJ series, and the Encore, and you’ll get a chance to learn how to fly a Sovereign, XLS, Citation ten, or a Columbus.”

        “And I’ll be there with you,” Jessie said, kissing him on the cheek.  “So you won’t be alone.”

        “I’m…wow.  Just wow.  Vil, sis, I’m, I’m…thank you.  Thank you so much!” he said, giving her a fierce hug.

        “Can I give a gift, or can’t I?” she laughed as she patted him on the back.

        “You spoil me too much!”

        “You won’t let me spoil you anywhere near as much as you deserve,“ she answered.  “So I’ll just give you what you want.  I know you’ll never take anything you can’t justify in your own mind, so I’ll just be happy with helping you fulfill a lifelong dream.  You’ll finally get the chance to fly jets, little brother.  They won‘t be quite the jets you wanted to fly when you were younger, but at least you‘ll get to fly jets.”

        “Thank you sis,” he said, picking her up off her feet and rocking her back and forth in his arms.  “I love you.”

        “And I love you, Kit,” she told him, kissing him on the cheek.  “Now put me down, it’s entirely improper for the most powerful femme in America to be held in her brother’s arms like a kid.”

        Everyone laughed and applauded as he put her back down.  She looked up at him, her eyes a mystery, then she smiled.  “So, you’re not going to rage over my gift?”

        He laughed.  “It’s a totally useless gesture since I don’t have a jet, but you’re giving me something I’ve wanted half my life.  Why should I?” he smiled, then he hugged her again.

        “That just saved you getting spanked in public,” she grinned at him.

        He was honestly overwhelmed.  Vil was letting him finish a boyhood dream.  It probably wasn’t cheap at all, but on the other paw, it was something he’d always wanted, and it may even be useful some day.  Some of the really small Citations could be flown with a single pilot…maybe some day, when he had money, he could rent one just to fly it.  It would be worth the thousand dollars to do it…just once.

        Jessie looped her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.  “I’m glad you’re happy, my handsome fox,” she giggled.  “We’ve been working on it for a month, all of us.”

        They all gave him a huge grin, and it made Kit laugh.  “Well, thanks, everyone.  I’m very happy.”  He reached down and grabbed Vil’s paw.  “And I believe I owe you something,” he told her.

        “Oh?  What is that?”

        “A ride in my little single engine propeller plane,” he smiled down at her.

        She laughed.  “I accept!” she said.  “But we’ll have to go now, since we have to get back to Cincinnati and Boston tonight.”

        “As long as nobody minds that the birthday boy’s bailing on his own party,” Kit laughed.

        “Go ahead, handsome fox, you have a promise to keep,” Jessie giggled.  “And we’ll just keep going without you.”

        “Yah, brah, we won’t even know you’re gone!” Lupe teased.

        And so, Kit and Vil took a short ride down to the airport in her limo.  Stav and Marcus waited for them in the hangar as Kit helped Vil up onto the wing, and she settled into the copilot’s seat as he did the walk-around.  She watched silently as he got in and did the preflight, just paying attention to his actions, and remained quiet as they taxied out towards the runway.  “Kit,” she said, adjusting her headset, “I have a question.”

        “Well, I’ll do my best to answer,” he said as he turned on the ramp leading to the runway, then held up his paw to Vil as he answered air traffic.  “Well, hold that thought until we’re up, sis,” he said.

        She was quiet, looking out the window as they took off, and he turned to the southeast and ascended, getting well away from the traffic patterns of the bigger planes.  “Alright, now, what was your question?”

        She was quiet a moment.  “I want you to come to Boston next weekend.  Will you do it?”

        “That’s going to depend,” he told her honestly.  “How long, and why?”

        “Kendall is going to come over from London,” she told him.  “I want you to meet him.”

        “Well, why am I going to Boston?  You know how I feel about Boston, Vil.  Bring him here.”

        “Kit,” she said, then she looked out the window.  “When’s the last time you talked to Clancy?”

        “Monday,” he answered.  “Wait a second.  Why didn’t he come with you?”

        “Kit, Clancy—“ she said, then she blew out her breath.  “Kit, Clancy is getting old.”

        Kit gave her a long look.

        “He wanted to come with us, but he was just too tired,” she told him.  “And he’s really worn down over the last couple of months.  I want you to come to Boston to meet Kendall, but I also want you to go see Clancy.  He’d really like to see you, and I really think you should.”

        He didn’t miss the inference in her voice, before it’s too late.  “I’d love to see him, sis, but I will not stay in Stonebrook.  Not as long as Zach is in that place.  Maybe not even if he wasn’t.  It was his house, sis.  There’s nothing but bad memories there for me.”

        “You can stay in a hotel, bro, that’s not a problem, but I’d really like you to come up.  Both you and Jessie.  I’ll even send my jet for you.”

        Kit was silent a long moment.  “I’ll have to ask her, sis.  You know what might happen if I bring my wife to Boston, within rifle range of Uncle Zach or Uncle Jake or Aunt Maxine.  My pregnant wife, Vil.”

        “I’ll keep a leash on the uncles, Kit, I promise.  So you’ll come?”

        “I’ll ask Jessie.  How she answers is how I answer, sis.  If she says no, you’ll just have to bring Kendall and Clancy here.”

        “Alright, I can live with that,” she said, looking at the cockpit displays.  “You know, all those flights I’ve taken in my jets, and I’ve never once sat up front,” she said.  “It almost looks like a video game.”

        Kit laughed suddenly and earnestly, which made the plane lurch a little since he had his paw on the control stick.  “Well, we can’t let you go without playing this one,” he told her.  “Grab the stick, Vil.  It’s time for your first flying lesson.”

        Kit gave Vil the same basic flight lesson as Jessie and let her fly the plane for about ten minutes, even let her do a slow turn to turn them back towards Bergstrom, then let her spend the rest of the flight enjoying seeing flying from the perspective of the pilot.  “I wonder what it would be like to fly a plane myself,” she mused, which made Kit laugh again.

        “What is it about this plane that makes everyone want a license to fly it?” he asked her with a grin.

        “It is nice, bro,” she said.  “It’s like riding in a flying Bentley.”

        “It probably cost about as much as a Bentley,” he noted.  “How much is insurance on this thing anyway?”

        “Insurance?  Why should I insure it?” she winked.  “You own it outright, bro.  If you crash it, you don’t need any insurance to pay it off.”

        “So, it was too outrageous to be worth it,” he noted.

        She laughed.  “Just about.  You graduated from a very good flight school and have a lot of logged hours, but it was a combination of your age and your lack of logged hours for a long period that the insurance companies didn’t like.  They said they’d give me a better rate after you logged some hours again.  And unfortunately, about the only furs a Vulpan can’t bully are insurance underwriters.”

        “I hope the flight school lets me rate as a solo pilot,” he said.  “To be rated to fly a jet solo takes a little more than being rated to fly as part of a crew.”

        “I showed them your flight record, and they said you would,” she said.  “But just barely.  You’ve had your commercial license for years and you have enough logged hours in complex planes, which was what they said was the benchmark.  They said you’d earn a rating to fly solo.”

        “Thank God,” Kit sighed.  “I know I’ll never use it, but if I have the solo rating, the option is always there someday when I save up enough money to rent a jet, just to fly it once.”

        “I can take care of that, bro,” she smiled.

        He laughed.  “And ruin my sense of accomplishment?  No.  If you do everything for me, when will I ever feel like I managed to do for myself?”

        “Don’t sell yourself short, brother mine,” she told him seriously.  “I read your magazine, and in the last month, I’ve seen better writing out of your little campus rag than I’ve seen out of Time.  You’re doing exactly what you should be doing by trying to expand right now.  If you keep your quality as high as it’s been, I see Lone Star going statewide within two years.  Have you seen your sale numbers for your Austin test market yet?”

        He shook his head.  “Rick will find out tomorrow morning.  I think they’ll be very good.  This week’s issue had the debate coverage in it.”

        “I think so too,” she agreed.  “I think Rick’s being too conservative, though.”

        “Well, I can see it from his side, sis.  If our test crashed, then the magazine would literally be out of business.”

        “I wouldn’t let that happen, bro.  This is an investment.  I’d have loaned the magazine the money to recover.  And note I said loan, bro, not give.  My generosity has limits.”

        “I’m not sure I like the idea of you coming down here to bail us out,” he said seriously.  “If there’s no fear of failure, there’s no dedication to excellence.”

        “That’s a healthy attitude,” she said with a nod.

        Kit put a finger to his headset as air traffic control called him.  “Alright, time to watch and listen, sis, I have to land us.”

        Marcus and Stav were waiting for them at the hangar as he parked the plane, and one of them helped Vil down as Kit did postflight and locked up.  “I really need to update my logbook,” Kit laughed.  “I still haven’t logged the trip to the beach yet, and those logs are how the FAA knows I’m logging hours and how I know when it’s time to take my plane in for inspections and maintenance.”

        “You can do it tomorrow,” Vil said.  “We have a party to get back to!”

        “True.”

        When they got back, the party was still in full swing.  Everyone was still out in the courtyard, talking, laughing, listening to music, and mingling…or mingling too much.  Sheila was trying to pry Ben away from Hannah, who was watching him like a hawk as he chatted with Muffy, but the real shock was Terry and Allison sitting by themselves over at the furthest table, talking while sitting opposite each other, and with Terry holding Allison’s paws.  Terry looked smitten, and Allison was smiling with surprising warmth and earnestness.  Kit…wasn’t sure about that.  Allison could be honestly interested in his cousin, or she could be fishing for him, using years of practice to lure him into a relationship.

        Kit worried about it for a while, until Terry came over to him, his expression a little surprised and bewildered.  “Kit, can I talk to you a second?” he asked.

        “Sure, pull up a bench,” he said, waving to the empty seat beside him.

        “I was talking to Allison.”

        “I noticed.”

        “I tried to get her to give me her number, and she wouldn’t give it to me.”

        Kit’s respect for Allison went up a few notches, as well as his trust in her.  She wasn’t fishing for Terry after all.  She just liked him.

        “What did I do wrong?” he asked earnestly.  “She was such a wonderful femme to talk to.  She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s interesting.  We were having a great talk, and then she just seemed to shut down and walk away.”

        “Did you take her paws, or did she offer them to you?”

        “I, I don’t know. Maybe both?  She didn’t seem to mind.  She was squeezing my paws while we were talking.  It was really nice to hold them.  Her paws were soft.”

        Kit wasn’t sure exactly how to approach it, but he did see that Allison hadn’t told Terry, and that meant that he had to protect her secret.  It was not his secret to give.  “She has her reasons, Terry.  Besides, why did you ask for her number?  You’ll probably never be back here.”

        “I’ll come back if I can get her number,” he said earnestly.

        “That’s not really your decision, Terry.  If I were you, I’d leave it alone.”

        “What?  Why?”

        “Because you seem to forget, she can get in touch with you.  Sheila is her best friend, and I’m here too.  You think she can’t get your number if she wants it?”

        He was silent a moment, then he chuckled.

        “You want my advice?  Here it is.  Just leave her be.  If she’s interested, she’ll call you.  If she’s not, she won’t.”

        “That’s it?”

        “That’s it.  Allison is not your average femme, Terry.  I think you noticed that.”

        “God, did I,” he said fervently.

        “Well, take it from me.  Someday, when you’re older, you’ll understand.”

        “Older?  You’re only six months older than me!”

        “Yes, and I’ve spent those six months here in Austin, where you live in Boston.  You don’t know Allison, cousin.  I do.  Just trust me.”

        “I—well, I guess I will.  I’ll leave you my personal cell number, Kit, both for you and for her.  But tell her that I really want her to call me.  I don’t think I’ve ever met such an interesting femme in my whole life.”

        “Oh, she’s definitely that, Terry.  You have no idea how interesting she really is.”

        And when Terry found out the truth of Allison, he’d be in for a shock.  Kit pondered how Terry might react to that, to find out that the brilliant, beautiful Master’s graduate chemist he was dating used to be a stripper and a prostitute.  Terry was a hard male to know, and always had been within the family, because he was so intelligent.  That intelligence made Terry hard to talk to, hard to understand, because he was very, very complicated, and he was also very…standoffish.  Kit guessed that being from Uncle Tom’s family, the black sheep of the Vulpans, and having sisters like Bess and Dahlia, made Terry less willing to circulate in the family.  Kit had barely known Terry before he was disowned.  The only thing that wasn’t a surprise to the family about Terry was that he had gone through school so fast.  Everyone knew he was one of the smartest of all the Vulpans.

        He could only guess at how Terry would react, and hope that it didn’t turn into major drama.  Allison was just starting to come out of her shell, and if Terry was vicious to her, it might really, really hurt her.  But, it was a risk she’d have to take.  Allison would have to be honest with him, honest right up front, and let him decide if she was worth the risk.

        God help Terry if he did get vicious with Allison.  Sheila would take that very personally, and would probably come after Terry like ten kinds of pissed off bitch, seeking vengeance for her friend’s injured feelings.  Sheila was generally harmless, but she could also be very, very nasty when she was mad.

        But, that concern faded after being immersed back into the party.  He, Hannah, John, and Jessie sat for a while and talked about the pregnancy, how Jessie was doing, how often her morning sickness struck, then Ben and Jenny joined them.  “Ugh, stop talking about pregnancy,” Jenny said with a frown.

        “You should pay attention, Jennifer, because some day you’ll go through the same thing,” Hannah told her.

        “I hope not,” she said quickly.

        “Yes, a child having a child would not be a good thing,” Kit said mildly.  “It would be hard to tell them apart.”

        Jenny whacked Kit on the shoulder.

        Vil came over and put her paw on Kit’s shoulder.  “Bro, I hate to say it, but I’ll have to gather up the air crew and head back.  I need to be back in Boston.”

        “Already?”

        “Kit, it’s nearly seven,” she said with a smile.  “Time flies when you’re with friends and family, doesn’t it?”

        “I didn’t realize it was so late,” he said, and looking around proved it.  Half of them were already gone.  Most of the sorority had gone back, as had Kevin and Sam, and Janet, Barry, Mike, and Lilly had also said their goodbyes.

        “Come on, you and Jessie can ride with us to the airport and have the limo bring you back before I release it,” she smiled.

        “Sure, that would be nice,” Jessie said.  “Lupe!  Just leave everything, we’ll come help clean up when we get back!”

        “Sure thing, babe!” Lupe called back from the grill, where he was grilling another hot dog while Dan and Mickey were sitting nearby, drinking beer.  “We always like help when it comes time to clean up!”

        Vil had hired one huge stretch limo for the day, and it was big enough to hold all twelve of them.  It was divided into two seating areas, and while Ben, Jenny, Suzy, Muffy, and Corey sat in the middle seats, Kit, Jessie, Vil, and Terry sat in the back with John and Hannah.  Stav and Marcus sat up front with the driver.  Kit listened as Vil and Terry talked with John and Hannah, just enjoying what little was left of a good day.  It had been so nice to have friends and family around, not to have any drama, and see Jessie’s family getting along with what few members of Kit’s family he would allow around them.  Muffy was very friendly with Ben and Jenny, and Kit knew that they emailed and called each other.  But he was even more glad that Terry had seemed to take well to Jessie’s family as well.  He had been kind and respectful to Jessie’s parents, and had been friendly and social to Ben and Jenny…though for Terry, that was a double-edged sword.  He was a hard male to get to know, and it wasn’t because he wasn’t friendly.  It was because he was so smart, it was hard for furs to relate to him sometimes. He tried to be social, but he just seemed to come across as too introspective and aloof for most furs.  But it was still good that he tried.  Jenny seemed baffled by him, but he seemed to strike up a friendship with Ben.

        They pulled into the airport, and up to the hangar housing Vil’s private jet.  The modified Bombardier Global 5000 was about five times bigger than any normal private jet, taking up a good piece of the hangar.  They all filed out of the limo and hurried up to the jet, and Kit had to go up with them and see what changes she made to accommodate so many passengers.  Vil’s plane was so big it had enough room in it for a private sleeping area and galley in addition to a luxurious living room-like open area with seats, tables, and even a sectional couch that literally bisected the cabin, with the centerpiece plasma TV mounted into the ceiling so it could be retracted up out of the way when not in use.  Vil had had the interior redone, he noticed.  The galley was now behind the couch and was an open area, with a bar, little fridge, and cupboard, and the table that had flanked the couch was now in the galley.  The couch had been lengthened to nearly bisect the cabin, providing a sense of separation between the galley and living area, with two doors at the opposite sides of the back wall, which was probably the private bedroom and the lavatory.  There were four chairs across from the entry hatch now, with little tables between them, and there was a couch along the fuselage near the original couch and coffee table, forming a U of couch seating with a hole in it to reach the galley.  The jet was big, big enough to be a commuter airliner, but it was built, designed, and operated almost exclusively for one fur and her passengers.  The plane probably cost around fifty million dollars, but that was a drop in the bucket for Vulpan Shipyards, and Vil wasn’t the one that ordered it anyway.  Their father had been the one that had ordered the jet, but he had died before the shipyard had taken delivery.  When Vil became the CEO, she inherited the jet right along with everything else.  “Nice,” Kit noted as Jessie looked in.

        “You had it redisgned,” Kit noted.

        “Dad’s design was…just weird,” she said.  “He wanted to make it feel like a house, so he split the cabin and put in those seats and that table, then created that narrow companionway between here and the galley with the really small office and stateroom, like closets.  I never really liked it, so I had it redone.  I left the sectional, had the little office and bedroom ripped out, and put the galley behind this area, then expanded the back of the plane to a stateroom where I put a real bed and a desk.”

        “Well, I think it looks nice.  Kinda cramped this way, though.”

        “I didn’t have enough seating for everyone,” Vil laughed as she came up behind them.  “Too much me, not enough we.  I’ll have the second couch pulled out when we get back and reduce the seats by the hatch to two to get my roomy feel back.  I liked having lots of space up here, not feeling like I was in a plane.”

        “Well, you’ll definitely get it,” Kit noted as Avery came out from the cockpit.  “Not much room for others, though.”

        “This is my plane,” Vil said adamantly.  “They can fly in the other one, or they can fly coach.”

        Kit laughed.

        “It’s good to see you again, Mister Vulpan,” Avery told him, shaking his paw.   “Just coming to look, or are you going back to Boston?”

        “Just came up to look,” he answered.

        “You’re looking radiant, Misses Vulpan.  Congratulations on your coming blessing.”

        “Aww, thanks, Captain Avery,” Jessie smiled, startling him by giving him a brief hug.

        Kit and Jessie moved through them all, saying their goodbyes.  “Now you be good to my daughter, Kit,” Hannah ordered as he gave her a hug.

        “I will, and I’m sorry we didn’t get more of a chance to talk today.”

        “Well, there were plenty here competing for your attention,” she smiled.  “And we can talk almost any time, where some of those here don’t have that luxury.”

        “I knew there was a reason I liked you, Hannah.”

        “Good sense if nothing else.”

        He laughed.  “That and your towering sense of modesty,” he smiled.

        “Oh, go on, you,” she said, lightly swatting him on the rump.

        He hugged Vil one more time.  “Thanks for a wonderful birthday, sis,” he told her, holding her around her slender waist.  “And thanks for the wonderful gift.”

        “Well, since you’re being so magnanimous, how would you like a nice house?  Two of them, actually,” she said with a light smile.  “There’s this nice four bedroom colonial about two blocks from your apartment, but there’s also this very nice six acre lot in a gated luxury community about a half hour from Austin that would be a lovely place to build a house of your own.”

        Kit chuckled ruefully.  “No, Vil.”

        “You can keep saying it, but it’s not going to sway me, bro,” she grinned.  “You aren’t a vagabond anymore, and you and Jessie aren’t a young couple anymore.  You’re going to have a baby.  You’re going to be a family.  And families shouldn’t live in apartments.  They should live in houses.”

        “Lots of families live in apartments,” Jessie protested.  “There’s nothing wrong with an apartment!”

        “Oh yes there is, young lady,” Hannah said authoritatively.  “The difference is control.  When you own your own house, you own that house.  You are not at the mercy of someone else.”

        “I couldn’t have said it better myself, Hannah,” Vil said with an approving nod.  “You’re just one nasty fight with Lupe away from being in a very bad predicament, and you are pregnant, Jessie.  I want you two in a house, a nice house where you are secure, a place that is all yours and where nobody can tell you what you can and cannot do.”

        “Except for you?” Kit asked with a dark look.

        “Well naturally except for me,” she said with a surprisingly playful smile.

        “Let’s not ruin this day with a fight now,” Kit said quickly.  “Let’s just agree that we’ll fight this battle another day.”

        Vil laughed.  “I’ll agree to that, bro,” she said, hugging him again.  “Happy birthday.  I love you.”

        “I love you too, you little pain in the neck,” he answered.

        “Hey, no fighting,” she teased, then she stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.  “We have to go now, bro.  I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”

        Kit and Jessie hugged and kissed their way through the plane, and then they hurried out.  Vil waved to them from the hatchway, and then Avery closed it. Kit kept his arm around Jessie’s waist as they waved to those looking through the windows, who waved back, then they had to retreat so the jet could start its engines and taxi out.

        “You think she was serious about the house?” Jessie asked.

        “Deadly,” he answered.  “You don’t know her the way I do, pretty kitty.  She’s starting to dig her claws into us, and she’s going to get more and demanding.  It will be for our own good, of course, that’s how she’ll justify all of it.  She has it in her head that we should live in a house, and she won’t stop until she gets what she wants…or I step on her.”

        “Well, I like it at the apartment.  I mean, it would be nice to own our own house, but I love Lupe and Dan and Mickey, and living close to Sheila, and being close to the sorority.”

        “And I love not having to mow grass, pay property taxes, live bowed at the throne of a mortgage company, or try to figure out how to fix a leaky sink,” Kit said, which made Jessie giggle.

        “My poor inept fox,” she teased, kissing him on the cheek.  “We’ll have to enroll you in those do it yourself courses they offer at Home Depot.”

        “I fight my battles with a keyboard, not a hammer,” he said, which made her laugh.

        The jet’s engines started, and they watched the plane taxi out of the yawing doors.  “Well, happy birthday, my handsome fox,” Jessie told him, putting her head on his shoulder as they watched Vil’s plane taxi out.  “I hope you liked your gift.”

        “Now that I won’t complain about,” he chuckled.  “It’s the completion of a boyhood dream.  You know what’s going to make it so wonderful?”

        “What?”

        “You’ll be there with me,” he told her.

        “Aww, you’re so sweet.”

        “Let’s go home, love.  You have school in the morning.”

        “And you still have Sheila.”

        “Sheila?  What about Sheila?”

        Jessie gave him a long, serious look.

        “Oh, crap,” Kit breathed.

        Sheila was indeed waiting for him at home  She gave him a huge grin and moved to grab his arm as he came into the courtyard, but he just pulled away from her.  “After we help clean up.”

        “Stall all you want, I’ve got plans,” she said eagerly.

        Kit, Jessie, and Sheila helped Dan, Mickey, and Lupe clean up.  The femmes cleaned up the litter and folded up the tablecloths—Sheila grumbling about doing manual labor the whole time—while the males folded the tables and carried them to the show unit to store back in a bedroom, mainly because Lupe was taking no more tenants while the construction was going on…which made the show unit obsolete and had turned it into a storage space.  Dan and Mickey moved the grills back as Kit, Jessie, and Sheila swept up, and then Lupe stored the leftover food in his fridge and the storage unit fridge after splitting it with Dan and Mickey, the other two bachelors.  “Well, we won’t be begging for your leftovers for a week, Jessie,” Dan grinned as he carried a large tupperware container of hot dogs towards his apartment.

        “My fridge hasn’t recovered from your last visit,” Dan!” Jessie teased in reply.

        After everything was cleaned up and restored to normal, Sheila grabbed possessive hold of Kit’s arm.  “Don’t wait up for us, Jessie,” Sheila said with a dangerous smile.  “In fact, don’t expect to see us until some time next week.  It’s time for Kit’s initiation into the Party Pack!”  She flipped her phone open and hit a button.  “It’s time,” she said into the phone.

        Not twenty seconds later, a limo pulled out and stopped in the street.  The door opened, and about half of the sorority boiled out; Sandy, the other Jessie, Charlotte, Danielle, Lisa, and three of their new pledges, Shannon, Annette, and Vicky.  They were giggling as they rushed up, all of them wearing dance club outfits, and they surrounded Kit.  Paws grabbed him and started dragging him to the limo, which made him laugh.  “We’ll bring him back to you, Jessie,” Sheila said over her shoulder as she sauntered behind the pack of femmes.  “I can’t guarantee he’ll be able to walk straight, though.”

        “Don’t you do anything illegal!” Jessie shouted.  “And have a good time!”

        “I don’t think they’re going to give me a choice in the matter, pretty kitty!” Kit called in reply.

        “Damn right you won’t!” Sheila agreed with an evil, ominous laugh as he was physically dragged into the limousine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To:   Title    ToC    25    27

Chapter 26

 

        He was going to kill Sheila.

        Kit woke up around noon to a dark and empty apartment.  Jessie was in school, and Kit was so hung over that his head felt like it was going to explode.  Sheila had gotten him so drunk that his memories were fuzzy for about half of last night…but the half that was fuzzy was something he was glad Jessie hadn’t seen.  She would have absolutely died of mortification…if she didn’t haul off and slap Sheila in the face first.

        Sheila had outdone herself.

        She had taken him to several different clubs, and it was there that she had gotten him drunk, even got him to dance with Danielle and the other Jessie.  Once she got him drunk, she took him to an illegal rave, then to illegal street racing, then to an illegal casino out in Bastrop, and then to cap the night, she just had to take him to the Top Hat for the crown of the evening.  Sundays were typically femme’s night down on the first floor, but while the sorority girls partook of the festivities on the first floor, Sheila had taken him up to the second floor, where he got the only shock big enough to penetrate the haze of alcohol.

        Somehow, some way, Sheila had found a cat stripper whose fur was almost the same color as Jessie’s, and had the same basic body type.  She didn’t have a longhaired tail, but she did have the same basic dimensions as Jessie through the bust and hips, and had long blond hair.  She looked nothing like Jessie in the face, with much sharper features, but that didn’t matter all that much.  Sheila had the stripper do a private performance just for him, Sheila giving him a wicked smile when she abandoned him in a small room and the cat came in and gave him a lap dance, and the cat had made it abundantly clear that she had been rented for more than a lap dance, if he was so inclined.

         And that was why Sheila was going to die.

        Kit was too drunk to pass on the lap dance, but he was nowhere near drunk enough to break his vows to Jessie.  The cat had tried very hard to entice him into a one night stand, but he stayed faithful to his wife.  And, thankfully, he passed out not long after the cat left the room, which defeated any further attempts Sheila might make to make him stray.

        And so, he’d woke up alone around noon, feeling like his head was about to explode.  He’d had hangovers before, but never one that severe.  He dragged himself to the kitchen and put on water for tea, his paws shaking and his tail quivering, but at least Jessie hadn’t had him pour out or give away all of his wine.  He used the last bottle to make the Vulpan hangover tonic, which was far more wine than it was honey or tea, but he’d extend the hangover just to take the edge off his splitting headache.  He decided he’d rather have a little pain for a while than this kind of pain for a couple of hours.

        After his paws stopped shaking like he had palsy, he took very direct action to recover from his hangover.  He took an ice cold shower, about four Excedrins, and then rested on the couch until the worst of his headache dulled to a manageable level.  He knew that the key to nursing a hangover was alcohol, but alcohol delivered in very small amounts over a long time, allowing his body to slowly descend from the plateau rather than crash hard like it did during a hangover.  Besides, the wine also helped buzz off some of the pain, making it more bearable.

        He was left alone most of the day, except for one visitor.  It was a FedEx driver, who delivered a very large and heavy box.  Kit was too tender to care much about what it was, so he put it on the coffee table and left it alone until he felt ready to investigate the matter.  Odds were, it was some kind of belated birthday present from someone.

        By the time Jessie got home, Kit was recovered enough.  She kissed him on the cheek and passed by to put her backpack away, then she came back and sat in his lap, wrapped her arms around him, and gave him a healthy kiss.  “Feel better, my handsome fox?” she asked.

        “Some.  I’m gonna murder Sheila.”

        “What did she do?”

        “She got me too drunk to care about almost everything else she did,” he said.

        She giggled.  “Well, let’s hear it.  If the cops are gonna break down the door and arrest you, I want to know now,” she grinned.  He told her about the night, at least what he could solidly remember, and she gasped when he told her where they went last.  “She took the girls there?”

        “She surely did.  Remember, Sunday is Femme’s night down on the first floor, so no doubt they got to watch a whole bunch of male strippers.  I have no doubt they’re hopelessly depraved now,” he noted dryly.

        “I’m gonna kill her!” Jessie growled.  “She shouldn’t be taking eighteen year old girls there!”

        “Jessie, Sheila is eighteen,” Kit noted.  “And you have to stand in line to kill Sheila.  I get her first.”

        “What did she do?”

        “She hired one of the Top Hat dancers as a hooker,” he said, a little indignantly.  “And had her try to get me to break my vows.”

        Jessie gasped, her eyes wide.  “She did not!” she gasped, flabbergasted.

        “Oh yes she did,” Kit intoned.  “And I’m gonna spank her narrow little ass as soon as she saunters over here.”

        “I’m not waiting that long!” Jessie snapped, clearly outraged.  She jumped to her feet and pushed the sleeves of her sweater up over her elbows, and marched right out the door without another word.

        Kit chuckled.  Sheila was about to get her come-uppance.

        Kit turned his attention to the box on the table and started to open it when the door banged open.  A wild-eyed Sheila was slamming the door behind her and pushing against it with her paws.  “Kit!” she said in a strangled voice.  “Call her off!”

        “What?”

        “She tried to spank me!” Sheila said as the door started shuddering as Jessie pounded on it.  “Call her off!”

        “You deserve to be spanked, girl,” Kit accused.  “You tried to get me to have an affair!”

        “It was just a joke!” she protested.  “I know you’d never do it!”

        “But you paid a hooker to try!”

        “I wanted you to come home and jump Jessie’s bones, goof!” she said, pushing her back against the door as an irate Jessie started banging harder.  “Hear that, Jessie? I was trying to get his motor started for you!”

        “I’ll show you a started motor, you skinny little bitch!” Jessie shouted, which shocked Kit.  He had never heard her curse in public before, only when she was alone with him.

        “Jessie!” Kit called.  “Calm down, love.”

        “Thank you!” Sheila said, but then she yelped when Kit grabbed her arm and yanked her off the door.  Jessie barged through it and saw Kit settling back on the couch with Sheila turned over his knee.  “Kit!  Kit, this isn’t funny!” she protested, and she gasped when he jerked on the back of her shorts, yanking them down and baring her furry butt, then he pulled her tail aside and tucked it under his leg.

        “Pretty kitty, shut the door.  I don’t think the courtyard needs to see this,” he said mildly.

        Jessie grinned and shut the door.

        What came next was something Sheila had deserved probably since she was twelve.  Kit spanked her, and he did not hold back.  Sheila howled and kicked her feet, yowling, crying, even begging, but Kit was implacable.  He blistered Sheila’s shapely little backside for a good three minutes, spanking her so hard his paw was stinging.

        But finally, he relented.  He gave her one more hard whack, just for good measure, then pushed on her side.  She scrambled off his lap and yanked her shorts up, then put both her paws on her butt and rubbed vigorously, her tail slashing behind her.  “That was not funny!” she shouted.

        “Neither was trying to get me in bed with a hooker,” he retorted.  “You acted like a brat, so you got what a brat deserves.”

        She gave him a hot look, then laughed ruefully.  “If you wanted to paw my butt, you should have asked,” she grinned.  “You may be a cousin, but what’s a little friendly pawing between cousins?”

        “Still being a brat?” Jessie asked threateningly.

        Sheila laughed again.  “Will you spank me if I say yes?”

        “No, Kit hits much harder than me.  I’ll let him do it.”

        Sheila grinned and rubbed her butt again.  “Okay, okay, I’m sorry about the hooker.  I thought you’d think it was funny, then get so horny you’d run home and give Jessie a hot nightcap.  But you passed out before you could seal the deal,” she complained.  “Really, Kit, you used to be able to drink way better than that!  You could drink more than that at fifteen!”

        “You drank at eleven?” Jessie gasped.

        “I’m a Vulpan, and mom never locked the liquor cabinet,” Sheila grinned.  “And I was drinking at nine,” she corrected.  “So, truce?”

        “Only if you never do that again,” Kit said.

        “Deal,” she said.  “But, did you like the girl I found for you?” she said with a sly smile.

        “What?”

        “She sent a cat,” Kit said.  “And one that had the same color fur as you and was your height and size.  I think she thought I might mistake her for you in my drunken haze.”

        “Well,” Sheila hummed with a smile, but that smile faded when Jessie growled at her.  “I said I won’t do it again!” she said quickly, putting up her paws.

        “Kit.  Love.  I think you didn’t spank her enough,” Jessie said in a low, flinty tone.

        “My pretty kitty has spoken,” Kit said, advancing on Sheila inexorably.

        Sheila wasn’t a fool  She turned and bolted, and managed to get out out the door and run for her life.

        “Really!” Jessie fumed, putting her paws on her hips and glaring at the door. “I would never believe she’d do that!”

        “I would,” Kit said simply.  “You can’t ever forget, love, Sheila is Sheila, and she doesn’t think like a normal fur.  There wasn’t a single Vulpan except for my mom and dad that was faithful in the marriage.  Her own mom cheats on her dad, and vice versa, and they don’t really hide it from each other.  She doesn’t see me having a tryst with a hooker as anything out of the ordinary compared to the rest of the family or as a threat to my marriage, since all the Vulpans cheat on their spouses.  It’s almost expected.  She doesn’t see it the way we do.”

        “She’d better, or I’ll blister her butt!” Jessie declared, her tail slashing in anger.  “You’re not going to cheat on me, buster!”

        “I know I won’t,” he chuckled, wrapping his arms around her and giving her a light kiss.

        “Shew!  Godzilla breath,” Jessie giggled, waving her paw between their noses.

        “Sorry.  I’ll go brush my teeth.”

        “I’ll make you some more tea,” she offered.  “What’s in the box?”

        “No idea, look it over while I’m fixing my Godzilla breath,” he answered.

        When he finished brushing his teeth, he came out and saw that she’d opened the box.  Inside were stacks of manuals, small software boxes, CD cases, and books.  “They’re here already!” Jessie said in surprise, looking at one.  Kit saw that each one had a Post-it on it that had either his or Jessie’s names on it, and each one, he realized, was from Cessna.  He picked one up and saw that it was the manual for a Citation CJ-2’s avionics system.

        “Well, I see Vil’s thorough,” Kit said, picking up another one, and saw that it was Cessna’s proprietary software, named Virtual Cockpit: Citation Mustang, and another that read Virtual Cockpit:  Citation Encore.  “She had them send the manuals.”

        “They sent mine too.  See?” she asked with a smile, picking up one of the books labeled for her, which read Cessna Flight Academy:  Flight Regulations for Private Pilots.

        “Jessie, exactly what did you agree to do with Vil?” he asked.

        “I’m getting my pilot’s license,” she grinned.  “Vil had them call me, and they told me that if I study these books they send, that I can get my license in as quick as four weeks as long as I can pass the written test.  They said if I go really quick, they’ll help me get my twin engine complex plane rating too.  The fur I talked to said that the more I study, the less classroom time I have to take, and that gives me more time to get the hours I need to do my practical test.  He said if I can get my pilot’s license in three weeks, I’ll have enough time to log the hours I need for a multi-engine complex plane rating.”

        “That is true about getting a license quickly,” he said with a nod.  “There’s no real schedule about it.  As long as you pass the written test and have the necessary logged hours, you can take the oral test and check ride any time.  And multi and complex ratings, you can get those at the same time on the right plane, you just have to log the hours and take the test.”

        “So, while you learn how to fly jets, I’m going to get my pilot’s license,” she told him.  “Vil said it was my early birthday present.”

        “Well, that’s what it is,” Kit chuckled.  “I guess Vil got her way in the end and paid for it anyway.  Eh, I won’t complain, I guess, if that’s what you want.”

        “I’ve wanted to fly our plane since the first time you took me up in it!” she said excitedly, putting another book aside on the coffee table.  “I told Vil I didn’t want to start until after the baby because it would take so long.  I mean, you were in flight school for over a year.  But then she found out I could get one in a month as long as I don’t go for all the same ratings you got, so I went for it.  She said I could get the same ratings you have later, after I get my pilot’s license.  I hope it didn’t cost her that much.”

        “Private training at Cessna itself?  I’d say it ran her about fifteen thousand dollars.”

        “That much?” Jessie said in surprise.

        “It’s expensive to fly, pretty kitty.  I have no doubt that the jet ratings she’d giving me probably cost about fifty thousand total.  The last time I saw a hard number for training, it was nine thousand dollars for a two week course for a commercial pilot to rate on a Boeing seven thirty-seven B.”

        “Wow,” Jessie said in surprise.  “Another one for me.  There’s so many,” she said, in a little bit of dismay, looking at the books on the table, all of them with her name on them.

        “It won’t be easy, pretty kitty.  But if you really want to do it, I’ll help you.”

        “I really do,” she said honestly.

        “Then I’ll do everything I can to help you.  You’ll have to study a lot, but at least I can take you up in our plane and let you see that textbook knowledge in action.  That should help you learn it better than if you just memorize stuff.”

        “Good, because I want to fly our plane home,” she said with a smile.

        “Well, I guess I’ll let you,” he winked.

        “You better, silly fox,” she smiled, reaching up and pulling his head down.  It made his head throb a bit, but the kiss he got made all the pain melt away.

        When they went through the box, Kit was impressed.  They had sent Jessie all the books, manuals, and information she needed to study to learn about the fundamentals of flight, airplanes, and flight procedures, they even sent her testing software so she could quiz herself on her knowledge.   Kit had been sent the manuals for every jet they were going to teach him to fly, as well as an email address and a letter telling him that he had to choose which of the big jets Kit wanted to learn to fly and email his choice to them tomorrow, so they could send out those materials to him as well.  They not only sent books and manuals, they also sent software.  They sent software that showed the planes and cockpits in great detail, and there was also test software that would quiz him on the locations of controls and procedures, literally the test software that would test him on the information he would need to know to pass the oral test segment of his check ride evaluation.  They even sent a copy of the game Microsoft Flight Simulator 2008 that had add-ons for every Citation jet they produced.  The flight simulator software was very faithful to real flight situations, and the add-ons would allow him to simulate flying the jets he was going to learn to fly.  It also showed the internal cockpits of the plane in perfect detail, since they’d taken pictures of the real cockpits of the planes to reproduce for the simulator.

        They also sent him brochures and website addresses to look over the big jets. There was the Citation XLS, the Citation X, the Citation Sovereign, and even the Citation Columbus, a plane that wasn’t even in production yet, but they could rate him to fly on it because they had already had a test plane and were testing it for FAA certification.  Once they started certifying the plane, it was standard procedure to train pilots to fly it for when it was in production, that way there were pilots out there that could fly the plane.  Kit looked over each plane, but it took him all of three minutes to choose, once he looked at the Citation X.  Now that the Concorde was retired, the X was the fastest civilian aircraft in the sky, capable of crusing at Mach .92, over five hundred miles an hour, and had transcontinental range.  He could fly from Boston to London, New York to Los Angeles, or Los Angeles to Hawaii in a Citation X, without having to land to refuel.  The X was a dual-pilot jet, not single pilot rated, but none of the big jets were.  If he was going to learn how to fly a jet, he was going to learn how to fly the fastest one he could legally fly.

        He sent off the email informing them he chose the Citation X, then went back to the material, preparing to sort it so he could draw up a study plan, both for himself and for Jessie.

 

        The office was quiet when he came in on Tuesday, and when he went to go see Rick, he found out why.  Rick showed him the spreadsheet showing sale figures over the weekend, and they weren’t as good as the first test had been.  In fact, they weren’t very good at all.  The magazine would be pretty solidly in the red for the week.

        It had dismayed some in the office and made Rick nervous, but Kit studied the figures carefully.  What he saw wasn’t the bottom line showing that the magazine had lost six thousand dollars that week, he instead saw that every single new sale site had sold some magazines.  Only two sites only sold one or two, the rest had sold at least five.  What he saw was that furs had bought the magazines, but had not bought enough to put the magazine in the black.  To Kit, that was more important than the scary figure at the bottom of the page.

        Rick shared his cautiously optomistic appraisal after Kit read the figures.  “I see that we sold throughout the metro area, but not in high numbers.”

        “We can just cut back on units to the Austin market next week,” Kit said.  “We’ll put more out where we did well, less out where we didn’t.”

        “Well, we didn’t sell out at any location, and our sales always drop off past Monday at College Station and San Antionio.   So I don’t see us selling many more magazines.”

        “Well, we just adjust, Rick.  You know how this works.”

        “I know, but I can’t feel really nervous about it,” he said with a nod.  “We’re gambling with everyone’s future here.  Yours, mine, everyone who works for us.”

        “Well, we’ll make it,” Kit said.  “We should advertise.”

        “Advertise?  Where?”

        “On the campus radio station, for one,” Kit answered.  “Maybe a few radio stations around town too.  Advertising works, Rick that’s why our advertisers pay us money to run their ads.  We need to do the same.”

        “That’s not cheap, son.  I don’t see how we can pay for it.”

        “I know it’s not cheap, Rick.  And I’m willing to invest in the advertising, because I know it’s going to work.”

        “Son, I can’t keep letting you sink all your money in the magazine.  You might lose everything!”

        “It’s my money to spend, Rick, and I won’t lose everything,” he said mildly.  “In fact, I’ll have more cash to invest very soon.”

        “Another CD is maturing?”

        He shook his head.  “No, the second quarter ends today,” he answered.  “Tomorrow’s the first of April.  That means that tomorrow the dividend checks get sent out for my stock investments.  So, find out how much it’ll cost to have a radio spot produced, and we’ll talk about it.”

        “Kit, it might cost fifteen thousand dollars for the spot and for radio airtime.”

        “If it increases circulation, it’s worth it,” Kit shrugged.  “I’m willing to pay the money, Rick, because I believe in the magazine.  Besides, I kinda owe it to you, since I’ll be gone for six weeks.”

        Rick chuckled.  “You’re not taking a vacation,” he smiled, then turned a little in his wheelchair.  “But I’ll look into it.”

        “Works for me.  Well, let me get to work,” he said, standing up.

        That night, Jessie got her first taste of what she’d have to do to get her pilot’s license.  Study.  Lots and lots and lots of study.  Kit made her do her homework and her study for her classes first, then she spent nearly two hours with the first book in the series she had to study.  Kit also started studying, at least after he installed all the software they sent on the laptops.  It made for a quiet evening in the Vulpan household, quiet and serious.

        “You make this look so easy,” she accused as she turned the page.

        “I’ve had lots of practice,” he answered lightly.  “I have over a thousand hours logged, love.  Back when I was in college, before the accident, I was logging fifteen to twenty hours a week flying either solo or as the pilot in command, which is what really matters.  I was getting an hour in every day after class and about five hours a day on the weekends, most of it in that old Beech the flight school had,” he chuckled.  “It was the only time Vil ever complained about how much money I was costing her,” he laughed.  “Renting a plane to log hours isn’t cheap.  Guess I shouldn’t complain about flying that old beast, it let me log the hours that will let me get my solo jet rating.  A beech is a twin engine complex plane,” he explained, “meaning that it has systems like retractable landing gear and anti-icing systems and such, things you don’t find on single engine private planes.  You have to be rated for those to fly a jet.  Anyway, I put in eight hundred hours in that thing in a year.  God, did I piss off the other students,” he laughed.  “I always had it.  They always had to fight me for it.”

        “So, after I get my license, I need to get a twin engine and complex to fly a jet?”

        “A lot more than that.  You need instrument rating and authorizations for high altitude flight training.  You’ll get both if you go for your commercial license, so that’s the way you should go.  A commercial opens many more doors than other ratings, and it trains you to be a real pilot.  Any pilot serious about flying should get a commercial.”

        “Then I guess that’s what I’ll do,” she smiled at him.

        After she studied, he quizzed her on what she learned as they cooked dinner, then they went down to the airport so they could talk about what she’d learned in the hangar with their plane, so he could show her, since her first lesson was about basic flight controls and surfaces.  A couple of the mechanics wandered over while they talked, as he pointed out the rudder and grilled her on what she’d learned about yaw, as did one of Avia’s pilots.  “Teaching her to fly?” the bobcat asked curiously.

        “I just started today,” she answered.

        “Congratulations!  You’ll love it,” he smiled.

        “Hey, if you need to show her more complicated cockpits, feel free to take a peek in the other planes in the hangar,” one of the mechanics added.  “Just warn us, and don’t touch nothin’ inside,” he winked.

        “That’s very nice, thanks,” Jessie smiled in return.

        And that was Jessie’s first lesson in flying.  She learned all about flight controls, the three axes of movement, and how they affected a plane.  It was her first step down a long path.

 

        Without a debate or anything earth-shaking, their issue that week was what they’d call normal, maybe even boring, but they were introducing new features, Mike and Denise’s, this week was the first week that Missy and Cutler would be its own, stand-alone strip, and it was also the first week where Janet’s photography was going to be in the issue.  And Janet was a damn good photographer.  Mike and Lilly were good, but Janet had a touch, an eye, that made her photographs exceptional.  They had also included the reader-supplied photo gallery and 15 Minutes of Fame features, and Janet had included a few of her artistic shots in the issue as part of the photo gallery to give the first photo feature some special style.

        Kit, Rick, Savid, and Mike had had a meeting about circulation, and they decided—reluctantly—to print the same number of issues this week as last week and adjust distrubution, sending more to good locations and less to poor ones.  Rick had been hesitant to do it, but Kit insisted, and it was Kit’s investment money that was paying their paychecks that week.  Kit knew that they were going to lose money for a while, but the constant exposure and potential radio advertising was going to increase circulation in the long run, so it was money worth spending.

        Kit and Rick were discussing radio spots with Savid and Mike when Jessie rushed into the office, breathing hard.  “Kit!” she said urgently.  “Kit, look at this!  There has to be a mistake somewhere!”

        “What’s wrong, pretty kitty?” he asked as she held out a bank slip.

        “You should take it to your office, son, I don’t think we want to listen to you two fight over money,” Rick smiled.

        “Furs in wheelchairs can’t run very fast, Rick,” Kit teased, but he did follow Jessie back to his office.

        In his office, she gave him the bank statement.  “I went to go withdraw some money for groceries, and they gave me a statement that has balances for both accounts on it.  Kit, look at the money market account!”

        He did so, and saw that it had $38,382.25 in it, which was about $32,000 more than it should have.  Kit thought about it a moment as Jessie looked nervous and frantic, then he realized that it was April 3, and the Vulpan stocks would have disbursed their dividends by now.  “I think I know what it is, hold on, love,” he said, picking up his phone off the desk and speed-dialing Vil.

        “Hey bro, what’s up?”

        “Vil, have dividends been sent out?”

        “Yeah, this morning,” she answered.  “Did you not get yours?  I had it set to direct deposit to your market account.”

        “We did, but we haven’t got the statement yet, so it just showed up in the bank without warning.”

        “Oh.  Well, we were down a little this quarter because of some charges we had to write off over a Navy contract, but we should be back up to normal next quarter.”

        “Well, that explains it.  Thanks, sis.”

        “Remember, Friday, as soon as you get out of work,” she told him.  “The jet will be there waiting.  You can sleep on the way up.”

        “We’ll be there,” he promised.

        “Gotta go.  Love ya, bro.”

        “I love you too.  Bye.”

        “Bye-bye.”

        “It’s legit, love,” he said, putting the phone down.  “That’s our dividend from our Vulpan stocks.”

        “Thirty thousand dollars?” she gasped.

        “Closer two thirty-two,” he said calmly.  “That’s about what I expected, more or less.”

        “I didn’t realize it would be so much  money!” she said in surprise, her eyes wide.

        “Well, that money is going to help,” Kit said.  “I’m thinking of using it to invest in the magazine, if you don’t mind.”

        “Well, I guess not, I think.  What if you spend it all?”

        “Love, we’ll get another check about that big every three months,” he told her.  “The dividends are paid out every quarter.  Mind that we have to save some of it to pay our taxes next April, but outside of that, this is the ‘guaranteed income for life’ I was talking about, pretty kitty.  I thought I told you it’d be about eleven dollars a share or so, that’s about where the dividend pays out from quarter to quarter.”

        “I think you did, but I wasn’t expecting thirty thousand!  I thought it would be like three!”

        “I think you were thinking of just the stock from one company,” he said.  “We own a thousand shares of three companies, love.  The dividends are different for each company, but they average out to about eleven dollars a share between all three.”

        “Oh.  Ohhh, okay!” she said, then she laughed.  “Well, our babies are definitely going to Harvard!”

        “We won’t start investing the dividends off the Vulpan stocks just yet, if you don’t mind, love,” he said.  “I want to invest in the magazine.  If we put some money into the magazine, it’s going to really take off.  But to warn you, it’ll take time and money.”

        “Well, if we’re getting this much every three months, I guess that wouldn’t hurt.  After all, if the magazine does well, we earn more money in the long run, and so does everyone else.”

        “Exactly,” he smiled, giving her a quick hug.  “Thank you, pretty kitty.”

        “Just don’t go crazy, handsome fox,” she winked.  “I don’t want to try to buy lunch at school and find out my debit card is rejected.”

        “I won’t bankrupt us.  I’ll make sure we can at least buy enough ramen noodles to last us until July,” he grinned, which made her laugh and kiss him on the muzzle.

        “You make me eat Ramen noodles for three months, and I might give birth to a panda,” she warned, which made him almost fall over laughing.

        It took some wrangling, but Rick finally caved in on the radio spot.  Kit wrote a check for $2750 for a professional radio commercial, actually three of them, in 60, 45, and 30 second intervals.  After they had the professional commercial, Rick shopped around for airtime.  It was frightfully expensive, but Rick advertised the magazine on a rock station and the pop station Jessie liked to listen to for 3 weeks, buying 6 commercial slots, 2 of them in the 18-34 prime time listening block, which was the most expensive.  Kit wrote a check for nearly $6000 for the air time, but Kit saw it as a wise investment.  The radio spots were in the spirit of the magazine, being both sophisticated and irreverent at the same time, and Kit had laughed out loud when he heard them.  All three spots made sure to make note that School Daze could be found within.

        The strip.  Kit could see friction coming on the horizon over School Daze.  It was highly successful, so successful that the magazine has been receiving requests for them to syndicate it from the Austin American-Statesman.  Rick planned to do that starting in June, after they’d printed 100 strips in the magazine, but what he didn’t see was that Jeffrey was really earning a name for himself as a talented artist, and that Jeffrey might be the first member of the crew to leave the magazine and strike out on his own.  Kit was fairly sure that a big reason he was still here was because School Daze was not his alone.  Kit was was the co-creator of the strip, and they owned it jointly…and they owned it.  It did not belong to the magazine, it belonged to Jeffrey and Kit.  The magazine had rights to print the strip, but the strip was not the magazine’s.  It was a dilemma for Jeffrey, for he could not do the strip alone, yet Kit was entrenching himself more and more into the magazine every week by investing his own money into it.

        It wasn’t that Jeffrey was unhappy at the magazine.  He loved it there, he loved the gang, and leaving would hurt him.  But he was young, and he saw a potential to really make a name for himself in the world of artists, and that wasn’t easy at the magazine.  Of all the workers at the magazine, he had the greatest potential to earn more money elsewhere, and that potential went up every week as his work was noticed more and more.  He didn’t have enough space to be creative here, not with the duties he had to the magazine, and the lure to leave, earn more money, and have more freedom, was strong.  He needed room to create, to work on his own projects.  That was why Kit felt that the next hire they made was another artist, to help Jeffrey and give him more room to work on his own projects.  If they didn’t, they might lose him.

        Kit had a long talk about it with Rick after the wrap meeting on Thursday.  He made sure to stress that Jeffrey hadn’t said he wanted to leave, but he also put the sitaution out for Rick in terms that made it hard to ignore.  “We need to give him space and time to do his own work,” Kit said.  “He’s young and talented, and if we don’t give him what he needs, we’ll lose him.  Besides, if you think about it, if we give him that space, we’ll get first shot at anything new he does,” he added.

        “True,” Rick said.  “I was going to hire another artist, we talked about that when you bought into the magazine, but I wasn’t ready to do it because we’re in the red as it is from expansion.”

        “We don’t have to hire now, but we should tell Jeffrey that we are, so he knows we’re thinking of him.”

        “Yeah.  We should.”  He reached over to his phone and punched up Jeffrey’s intercom.  “Jeffrey, come see me before you head out, okay?”

        “Sure thing,” he answered.

        The mouse came in and sat down with them, and Rick explained what they were planning to do.  “We know that you’re more limited here with us than you could be trying to freelance, Jeffrey, so what we were looking to do was bring in an assistant to help you with the simpler work around here and give you more time to pursue some of your freelance work,” he said.  “You’ll still be full time, you’ll get a promotion and title of lead artist, and you’ll still get your full paycheck,” Rick smiled, “but you’d have more time to work for yourself.  We don’t want to lose you, so we’re willing to give you what you need to make you stay.”

        Jeffrey gave Rick a startled stare, then laughed.  “Wow, Rick, I’m, I’m speechless,” he said.  “It’s really cool that you’re thinking of me and my career, and I have to admit, I’ve been wondering if I could make it freelancing.”

        “Well, when we hire you an assistant, you can freelance on top of getting your steady paycheck from here,” Rick smiled.  “And just to tell you, I’m going to let you start syndicating the strip when you’ve printed your hundreth strip in the magazine.  Once you get to a hundred, I’ll relinquish reprint rights to you two, and you can contract to whoever you want to syndicate the strip so long as you always run your newest strips in the magazine first.”

        “The strips would have never taken off without the magazine, Rick.  As far as I’m concerned, the magazine will always be the home of School Daze.”

        “I’m glad you feel that way,” Kit laughed.  “I do own half the strip.”

        “It wouldn’t have ever made it without you and Jessie, Kit.”

        “Now, mind that we can’t hire an assistant right now, but as soon as we shake out the bugs of this attempt to expand, I’m going to hire your assistant, a research assistant for Kit, and a writing assistant for Barry and the others, and also give all you guys a raise.  But hiring you an assistant will get priority, son, because you’re very important to us and we don’t want to lose you.”

        “You’re offering me a raise to cut my hours and do my own work, Rick…I’d be an idiot to quit this job!” Jeffrey said honestly.

        “I’m glad you see it that way,” Rick grinned.

       

        Kit was not looking forward to this.

        He and Jessie were being led to Vil’s private jet on a dark, rainy night.  Kit was going to do his Saturday work on the plane and at Boston, so he had Saturday and Sunday to go to Boston.

        Boston.  Vil kept trying to drag him there, but she just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, get it through her head that it wasn’t just a city to him.  It was a black pit of nightmarish memories and terrifying sensations.  He was sure he’d either nearly faint or go into some kind of maniacal rage when they went past the grove of trees along the private drive and saw Stonebrook in its stark tan granite glory, sitting on the top of its gentle hill and with all the smaller buildings and garage behind it.  She didn’t understand that there wasn’t just heartache tied up in Boston for him, but fear, almost overwhelming fear.  She hadn’t tried to live on those unfriendly streets in those first two weeks after he walked out, she couldn’t fathom what kind of abject terror he experienced that first night, when he had nowhere to go, absolutely no idea where he could go, what he could do, walking the nine miles from Stonebrook to the outskirts of Boston in the freezing cold with no coat and no shoes.  She didn’t know that he’d nearly died that day, that a policeman had seen him stumbling along in the snow by a road and had taken him to a clinic to have him checked out, a clinic that kept him over because he had hypothermia.  Boston wasn’t a place to him, it was hell.  It was the hell he endured after he walked out, and the hell his father put him through after he had managed to survive those first two months and tried to set himself up some kind of passable life.  Vil thought that all he had to do was go back to Boston and stay a while, maybe have a little fun, build good memories to cover over the bad, and his aversion to the city would fade away, but she was wrong.  It never would.  Boston would forever feel like a hostile, ominous place to him, a place where he had shed blood and descended from the life of propriety and culture he had known to being beaten by street thugs and stealing from convenience stores because he was so hungry he was willing to risk going to jail just to get something to eat.  Boston would never feel like any place other than a place from which he had to escape.

        The only reason he had agreed to this was because Jessie would be with him.  He held her paw, almost painfully tight, as they sat down in the plane, which Vil had had converted back to her spacious private area after his birthday.  The chairs up front were gone except for two, the two Marcus and Stav probably used, with her couch and galley remaining.  Jessie patted him on the shoulder, then cuddled up with him after the pilots went into the cockpit and closed the door.  Kit was too nervous to talk to them, and Jessie could sense it, so she cuddled with him a moment, then pushed him down so he could lay with his head in her lap.  He tried to relax as she played with his hair and ears, clutching hold of her glorious longhaired tail and holding it close to his chest.  She knew how nervous he was about this, and bless her, she was doing whatever she could to comfort him, bolster him so he could get through it.

        He laid there as the plane taxied and took off, until the plane had leveled out for the four hour flight to Boston, laid in silence, until he sighed and patted Jessie on the knee.  “I love you, pretty kitty,” he told her.

        “I’m so glad, because I love you too, my handsome fox,” she said gently, running her paw across his shoulders, then slid it down towards the one part of his body that always attracted her paws, the scars on his back.

        “Six months to go, pretty kitty, six months.”

        “Actually, I think we can call it five months and three weeks to go now,” she said with a little giggle, leaning down on one paw.  She squeaked slightly when the plane hit a little minor turbulence.

        “We’re about to pass through some upper-level turbulence caused by that storm front,” Avery called over the intercom.  “So please either keep seated or walk carefully for the next five minutes or so.”

        They passed through some minor turbulence for about five minutes, and Jessie distracted him by asking him to explain turbulence and how it affected flying.  He lay with his head in her lap, looking up at her as she smiled down at him, and did so, and branching off into general knowledge about weather she would be expected to know as a pilot.  After nearly twenty minutes of just gabbing away, he stopped, gave her a rueful look, then laughed.  “Such a wonderful femme,” he smiled, reaching over his head and patting her on the leg he was using as a pillow.

        “I know how to keep your mind occupied,” she winked.  “Now explain what warns me I’m about to stall.”

        “Ah, so we’re going over last night’s subject?”

        “Well, why not?” she smiled.

        “Well, I guess we should get today’s study done.  I’m still trying to learn the characteristics of the Mustang.”

        Instead of sleeping, they spent the entire flight in quiet study.  Jessie was moving along in her studies, still studying the basics of the mechanics of flight.  As soon as she finished that subject, she’d start memorizing flight regulations, and then she’d go on the mathamatical part of it; navigation, fuel consumption rates, and converting a gallons per hour number and fuel remaining indicator to a distance a plane could fly before it violated its reserves.  Kit spent that time poring over the flight manual and checklists for a Citation Mustang, the first plane he was slated to learn to fly when they got to Kansas.  The Mustang also used the Garmin 1000 navigation system, so at least that much he did not have to study.  He’d been using Garmins most of his piloting career.  He’d be studying a new avionics system when he started studying for the other models; only the Mustang used the Garmin G1000 avionics suite.  The CJ series, Encore, and X all used different avionics suites, though Cessna worked very hard to make each Citation cockpit feel similar.  A CJ may use different avionics than an Encore, but Cessna worked hard to keep all the buttons, switches, and indicators in the same place as much as possible.  So, if he wanted to check the status of his landing gear in a Mustang, he’d look in the same place when he was behind the controls of an Encore.

        “You know, I should just get my flight instructor rating,” Kit chuckled when she asked him a question.  “I’ll have to look into it.  You can get your private at Cessna, and I can teach you to get your instrument rating and whatever else you want.  It would be a hell of a lot cheaper for me to get my instructor rating than it would be for you to go to school for the ratings you want.”

        “You said it takes a while.”

        “About two months,” he said, waving a paw back and forth.  “Give or take.  I can pass all the flying parts, but I’d have to take the classes in learning how to teach.”

        “Well, I can help you there, I am in school to be an English teacher,” she winked at him.

        He laughed.  “I guess you could at that.  Well, I’m going to be your first student.”

        “I should make a dunce cap,” she said lightly.

        “I get to indulge in the hot English professor fantasy,” he grinned in reply.

        She laughed.  “Well, I’ll know how to punish you for poor performance,” she teased.  “I’ll sleep on the couch!”

        “Mean kitty,” he accused, then he felt the plane start to descend.

        Kit’s anxiety returned when they were on the ground.  It was a cold night in Boston despite it being April, since spring came late that far north, and they were bundled quickly from the jet to a waiting limo.  Stav was waiting at the door of the limo, holding it open for them, and after they were inside, he supervised as the ground crew moved their single suitcase into the trunk.  Kit’s paws were literally shaking as Stav got into the driver’s seat of the small limo and put on his seat belt.  “How have you been, Mister Stav?” Jessie asked.

        “I’ve been well, and you may just call me Stav, if you please,” he answered as he pulled away from the plane, towards a road that led off the flight line.  “Miss Vil has put you up in the Liberty tonight and tomorrow, in the Presidential suite.”

        “Naturally,” Kit sighed.  “Why couldn’t she just put us in a Holiday Inn somewhere?”

        “I believe she’d see that as a scandal, Mister Vulpan.  This is Boston.  Can you imagine what the gossip pages would say if a Vulpan stayed in the Holiday Inn, no matter which Vulpan it was?  Remember, we are back where appearances matter.”

        Kit sighed and nodded.

        “I take it this Liberty is a fancy hotel?”

        “It was just remodelled last year, Miss Jessica, and it’s one of the most luxurious hotels in the city.  I believe it’s Miss Vil’s favorite because of its appearance.”

        “Ooh, so it’s going to be like Vil’s vacation home in the keys?”

        “Not quite, but expect the same luxury,” Kit said with a snort.  “I’m glad it’s two in the morning, at least we’ll avoid any papparazi.  I know they’ll be frothing at the mouth to get pictures of us if they find out I’m here.  Kit Vulpan and his interspecies wife sneaking into Boston,” he grunted, holding his paws up as if to frame a headline.

        “Kit,” Jessie protested.

        “I’m just saying it how they will, love,” he told her, putting his paw on her arm fondly.  “I happen to like the fact that you’re a cat.  It would be kinda strange for me to call you pretty kitty if you were a raccoon.”

        She gave him a look, then laughed helplessly.

        The Liberty was built out of an old jail built back in the mid-1800’s, but had been converted into a luxury hotel.  The hotel had been built around the jail but maintained the original jail as its core, so the towering hotel was built of the granite famous in New England, granite just slightly darker than the granite from which Stonebrook was built.  It was beside a large hospital and beside a long strip of grass and forest park called the Esplanade, on Beacon Hill, which was a promontory between the Charles River and the back bay.  A bellboy took their suitcase and overnight that held their laptops, and then a smartly dressed clerk gave them their key as Jessie gawked at the nearly 100 foot high ceiling of the hotel lobby, which had originally been the atrium of the prison.  “Miss Vulpan has already paid for your room and any and all meals or room service you may require, and will cover all gratuities.  So, please don’t feel that you need to tip any staff member, Mister Vulpan, unless you are particularly impressed by their service,” the clerk told him.  “She also reminds you that she will be here to pick you up at eleven o’clock in the morning.  Shall I arrange a wake-up call for you?”

        “Please, around ten,” he nodded as he took the two keys that were on a small, ornate ring.  “What’s the smaller key for?”

        “Each room has its own private safe.  The key is for that safe, Mister Vulpan,” the clerk replied.

        “Ah.  Thank you.”

        “You can reach our concierge counter by dialing zero from any hotel phone.  Would you like a light meal sent up before you retire?”

        “We ate on the plane, but thank you,” Jessie answered him.

        “The steward will see you to your room, Mister Vulpan, Misses Vulpan.  I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”

        “Thanks.  Have a good night.”

        “You too, Mister Vulpan,” the male fox said with a nod.

        The Presidential suite was suitably stupendous for a luxury hotel, and was so exclusive that Kit had to use a specific elevator to reach it, the only elevator that went to the penthouse.   It took up the entire top floor of the building, and was like a luxury apartment.  Every room was richly appointed in 1800s style furniture in dark, richly varnished colors, and the huge windows offered views of all four directions of Boston.  The bedroom’s windows overlooked the Charles River…and seven or so miles upriver, on a hill overlooking the river, was Stonebrook Manor.

        “Wow!” Jessie said in wonder as she looked out the window, then she went into the kitchen.  “The fridge is full of food!” she called.  “And there’s a bar, and a bowl of fruit!”

        “You keep gawking, I’m going to bed.  I hope this mattress doesn’t kill me,” he said, sitting tentatively on the bed and testing it.  It felt soft, but there was a firmness under it that made him hopeful.

        She hurried back into the bedroom and started undressing.  “I’m not letting you sleep alone, silly fox,” she smiled.  “You’d be a nervous wreck in the morning.”

        “Amen to that,” he said.

        After they were both undressed, Jessie slid into bed beside him and wormed her way into his arms, putting him on his back as she kissed him tenderly.  “Well, hello there, Mister Vulpan, fancy meeting you here,” she said with a gentle whisper.

        “You just keep following me around, Misses Vulpan,” he smiled in reply, sliding his paws up her back.

        “For the rest of eternity,” she giggled, rubbing her nose against his.  “Now let’s get some sleep.  Tomorrow will be a long day.”

 

        It may be a long day, but it started earlier than it was supposed to start.

        Kit had gotten up to use the bathroom around nine, and sat on the edge of the bed, his paws on the small of his back. The bed wasn’t bad, leaving him only with a slight twinge in his back, much better than borrowed beds usually treated him.  Jessie put her paw on his lower back, then grabbed the base of his tail and squeezed it lightly.  “Morning, my handsome fox,” she called, and she used that grip on him to pull him away from the edge.  He laughed and scooted back on the bed, until she sat up and wrapped her arms around him and kissed him on the side of his neck.  “How’s your back?”

        “Not bad,” he answered.  “But I might be open to you trying to sprain it,” he said huskily.

        She laughed.  “Well, let’s get started on some of those good memories Vil wants you to take from Boston,” she purred in his ear, then pulled him backwards back down onto the bed.

        After a very enjoyable two hours, the phone by the bed rang, as Jessie sat on the edge of the bed with her towel in her lap, and her just-dried fur being brushed out.  Kit had just stepped out of the dryer they had installed in the luxuriant bathroom, with its huge shower, jacuzzi tub, and an alcove holding a full body dryer that even had a seat in it for someone too lazy to stand in the airstream.  Jessie reached over and picked up the phone, then hung it up after saying good morning to whoever was on the other side.  “I guess this is the real deal, it wasn’t a recording, it was a real fur,” she giggled as she pulled a comb through her tail, which she had in her lap.  Kit sat down beside her, then leaned over and kissed her on the side of her short muzzle.  “Kit, we’re supposed to be up and getting ready,” she said, but she started purring when Kit put his paw on her bare breast.

        “I’m gonna be so jealous of our baby when he takes possession of these,” he said thickly in her ear.

        “I’m sure she will give them back to you when she’s done,” Jessie said with a sly little smile and a sideways wink at him.

        “Well, I see we’re going to have our first major fight,” Kit laughed.  “I say it’s a he.”

        “And I know it’s a she,” she answered.

        “We won’t know until the ultrasound,” he protested.

        “I’ll bet ya,” she grinned.

        “Oho, you wanna bet, do you?  Fine, I’ll bet you two weeks of doing dishes it’s a boy.”

        “Such wussy little terms,” she giggled.  “Oh no, it’s gonna cost ya, handsome fox.  I’ll bet you a month of daily foot massages and weekly pedicures it’s a girl.”

        “Such high stakes,” he said with mock seriousness.  “And if I win?”

        “You’re not,” she winked.  “But if some miracle does occur and you win, I do the dishes for a month.”

        “You’re on,” he said.  They shook paws professionally, then she laughed when he put his arm around her and nibbled playfully on her cheek and ear.  “I’d give you foot massages no matter what, you silly kitty,” he teased as she squirmed in his arms.

        “And I’d have done the dishes.  But I think you’re gonna look so cute painting my toe claws, and blowing on them for me,” she teased.

        “You’re gonna look funny with waterlogged pads, cause I’ll make sure I dirty every single dish we have every time I cook.”

        “Cheater,” she accused with a grin, then she started purring when ran his fingers through her hair between her ears.  “I wonder how long it’ll be after I deliver before I’m ready to make love again,” she mused in a throaty purr.  “I’m sure I’m going to be sore down there for a while.”

        “I can wait as long as you need me to, love,” he told her, putting his paw on her flat belly.  “Five months and three weeks, my pretty kitty.”

        “I’ll be getting fat soon,” she complained.  “Doctor Mac says I’ll start to show at the end of this month.  I’ll start showing a baby bump, and then I balloon up like a whale,” she frowned.

        “Such a vain little kitty,” Kit laughed.

        “How am I going to keep my husband’s eyes on me when I’m fat and Allison is running around with her supermodel body?” she asked sourly.

        He laughed.  “Jealous, jealous, jealous,” he accused.  “But that just makes me love you more.  It shows me you love me.”

        “Of course I love you, you silly male,” she told him with a bright smile.

        “Well, at least the morning sickness hasn’t bothered you for a few days.  Maybe you’re over it.”

        “God I hope so,” she said explosively.  “It’s really annoying wondering if you’re gonna throw up every time you eat something, or lay down.”

        “Let me do that for you,” he said, taking the comb from her.

        “You’re just looking for an excuse to paw my butt,” she giggled as he pulled her tail into his lap.

        “Do I need an excuse?” he challenged, reaching behind her and goosing her, which made her squeak and flinch.  “If I want to paw your butt, Misses Vulpan, I’ll just grab it!  I own that cute little butt!”

        “Hey, don’t bruise me!” she protested with a grin when he goosed her again, then again, and she jumped off the bed with a squeal and a laugh when his pinching fingers chased her posterior.  Kit laughed, at least until she reached down and picked up one of the large down-filled pillows and cocked it back threateningly, then he put his paws up defensively.

        “Now behave, you, or you’re gonna find out what Boston goose feathers taste like!”

        “I give, I give!” Kit laughed.

        “Good.  Now, you have a job to do,” she said, turning around and presenting her longhaired tail to him, pointing at it imperiously.

        “Yes, I believe I do,” he said lightly, reaching over and pinching her backside one last, fatal time.

        The beating lasted about five minutes.  Kit laughed the whole time, until he was in the usual position, on his stomach on the bed with his arms protecting his head, and Jessie straddling his legs to hold them down as she smacked him with the pillow.  “Now behave, you little rat, or I’m gonna start putting horeshoes in the pillows,” she said in his ear after she put the pillow aside when he surrendered.

        “But it’s more fun to be naughty,” he protested with a chuckle.

        The phone rang again, and Jessie reached over and picked it up, flopping down to lay on top of him.  “Hello?  Hi Vil!” she said happily.  “Oh, just beating up your brother, he was being a little jerk again,” she said casually, which made Kit laugh.  “Umm, can you give us a few minutes?  We’re kinda not decent,” she said shyly.  “Okay, that’s fine.  I’ll go unlock the door for you.  Okay, bye-bye.”  She hung up the phone.  “Vil’s down in the lobby.  She’s gonna wait in the living room while we get dressed.”

        She moved to get up, but Kit grabbed her by the paw.  “Aaat, where’s my kiss?” he demanded.  She laughed and attended to the matter, kissing him playfully on the muzzle, then she slid off of him and picked up a robe, pulling it over her shoulders as she scurried out into the next room.

        Typical for her, Kit mused with a loving smile.  She wasn’t home, so she wouldn’t leave the bedroom without something on.

        Kit pulled on his underwear as she went out to unlock the door, and was pulling on his jeans when she got back.  “You need to comb your tail, love, it looks like a haystack,” she noted as she took off the robe and went for the bra and panties she’d laid out on the dresser.

        “I know,” he nodded as she stepped into her panties and pulled them up, snugging the back up against the base of her tail.  Jessie didn’t like closed-tailhole panties, because her tail was longhaired and it really messed up her fur trying to thread her tail through the hole, the same problem Kit had with his bushy tail and closed-hole underwear.  Nor did she like strap-backed panties, which usually either had a button, snaps, eyes and hooks like a bra, or velcro on a strap going over the tail.  She preferred low-backed panties that relied on a femme’s hips to keep from slipping.  Then again, the recent popularity of the low-back was one of the reasons hip-hugger jeans came back into fashion, since low-back panties were naturally low on the hips to begin with.  Before low-backs, femmes either had strap panties or those old beasts that buttoned in the back, which tended to pinch the tail.  Males didn’t have it much easier, since low-backs weren’t very popular.  Most males wore holed undies, no buttons or openings, just a hole in the back through which he would thread his tail.  Kit’s bushy tail made those impractical, so he’d worn snap-strap briefs most of his life, at least up until last year, when he wore whatever he could afford.  The cheapest style of male underwear out there were hook-strap briefs, using the same eye and hook as a femme’s bra, and he’d kind of gotten used to them, despite them being uncomfortable.  He’s only just started buying something different, he’d bought some Hanes super-thin velcro strap-back briefs, where the cloth-backed soft velcro had an overlaying flap of soft cotton to keep the velcro from snagging fur.

        “Where are you repealing indecent exposure laws,” Kit sighed as she pulled her bra on.

        She laughed as she hooked it; she usually wore a front-hooking bra except when she was wearing a dress, because her claws made it very hard for her to hook a bra behind her back.  “Even if it was legal, you’ll never catch me going without clothes in public,” she teased.

        “You know, there’s a nude beach down in Florida.”

        “I’m so glad for Florida,” she said mildly, stepping into her jeans.  “Now comb your tail.”

        “Kit!” Vil called from the other room.  “I’m here!”

        “We’re in the bedroom, and we’re decent!” Kit shouted in reply.

        Vil came in as Kit and Jessie both were pulling their tee shirts over their heads.  She was wearing something that made her look like a college student, a U-Mass tee shirt and a pair of faded jeans, which was very unusual for her.  Vil almost always wore business clothes, even when she wasn’t working.  But, she’d told them to dress casual for today, and she had obviously taken that to heart herself.  Kit hugged his shorter sister fondly, and Jessie hugged her and kissed her on the cheek after she got her shirt on.  “Kit, comb your tail, it looks awful,” Vil ordered, looking at it critically.

        Jessie grinned at him.  “Chop chop, you miscreant,” she told him imperiously.

        “I love it when she throws those fancy words at me,” he said, picking the comb up off the bed, sitting down, and doing as he was told.  “What’s first?”

        “We go see Clancy first,” she answered.  “Then, afterwards, if you don’t need a little time to calm down after going to Stonebrook, we’re going to meet Kendall and have a nice meal, then I’m going to indulge Kendall in one of his joys.”

        “Which is?”

        “Basketball,” she said with a little sigh, rolling her eyes.  “The Celtics play tonight, so I borrowed the box and courtside tickets from Uncle Brian.”

        “Which explains why we’re in jeans and tee shirts,” Kit chuckled.

        “Well, it should be good, they’re playing the Charlotte Bobcats, and both are gonna make the playoffs,” Vil noted.  “Well, bro, you ready to face Boston?”

        “No, but let’s get this overwith,” he sighed, combing the last burr out of his tail.

        After Kit and Jessie loaded their pockets, they went downstairs.  Jessie shivered when they stepped out into the nippy Boston air, for it was early April in Massachusetts, and spring wouldn’t come to the Northeast until early May.  “Why didn’t I bring a coat?” she complained as she hugged herself as they hurried to the waiting limo, Marcus and Stav flanking the open door, waiting for them.

        “We’ll buy you one on the way to Stonebrook,” Vil promised as she herded Jessie into the limo.

        And Vil did.  Kit was getting a little nervous, but it was nice to stop at a mall and run into Macy’s to buy Jessie a coat.  They found her a nice black hooded jacket , light but warm, and Kit broke down and bought a zip-up hoodie just to take the bite off the air.  Vil had them buy some simple canvas and rubber-soled slip-on shoes which were popular in Boston in late winter and early spring, basically just to keep the feet dry and offer a little extra insulation against a Boston night, since it was going to be rather cold after the game.

        Kit felt his heart start to speed up when they pulled on Stonebrook Road, which was technically a public road but was literally nothing but a private, county-paved driveway for Stonebrook manor, since the Vulpans owned all land on both sides of the road and would not sell it.  There used to be other houses out here, but Kit’s father had bought them all out and forced them to move, then had their houses demolished and allowed the lots to return to nature.  A mile down Stonebrook Road, they reached the massive gates of Stonebrook Manor, the ancestral home of the Vulpan family.  The Vulpan family crest of a fox and a lion separated by a sword was on the gates, the fox on the left and the lion on the right, with the sword split in half to straddle the two gates.

        Kit had a riot of conflicting emotions and fears roll through his mind at the sight of those gates.  He had honestly never believed he’d ever see them again, and behind them, up that quarter-mile cobblestone driveway, would be the huge mansion that was the residence of the head of the Vulpan family.  It was divided into three sections, the center and the east and west wings, and Kit knew that Zach was living in that house.  There were many cottages, bungalows, and guest houses scattered through the estate along with other buildings, like the large garage where his father had kept his collection of cars.  Some of the buildings were near the house, mostly associated with the house, while the guest cottages tended to be further away, giving guests a feeling of a little privacy from the bustle of the main house.  One large guest house was down by the river near the dock, and another large one was by the large indoor pool down the hill behind the main house, with three others hidden among the woods beside and behind the main manor.  Clancy lived inside the manor house itself, in an apartment in the center of the house on the first floor, not far from the kitchen.  Kit could probably walk from the main entry hall to Clancy’s door blindfolded, even after seven years since the last time he’d set foot in Stonebrook.

        So many memories, and so few of them good.  Most of good memories in that house were from when his mother had been alive, and afterward, there were fewer and fewer, and all of them involving Vil or Clancy.  There had been so many fights with his father, screaming matches, furious exchanges.  There was so much vitriol in that house, and it seemed that it was still there, for Kit’s greatest enemy in the family lived in that house now, seamlessly taking over for Kit’s bastard father.  Uncle Zach was in there now, the most rabid purist that ever walked the face of the earth, someone who would probably kill Jessie if he thought there was any way he could get away with it without Vil retaliating.  Kit had no doubt about that.  Zach would see Jessie’s entrance into Stonebrook as some kind of desecration, the out-of-control Kit bringing his non-vixen wife into the core of Vulpan history and culture, into the heart of the Vulpan family.  That was what Stonebrook was to many Vulpans, the center of the family, the seat of the power of the family.  That was why Zach wanted to live here, to be in that seat, to use it as a symbol against the rest of the family as he tried to slowly wrest the power in the family away from Vil.  Kit also had no doubt that Zach would have a conniption if he saw Jessie, and there might be a fistfight right in the main hall.  Vil was taking a real risk in allowing Jessie into Stonebrook, because Zach could poison the family against her even more than she was already poisoned given she supported Kit, and Kit had broken the most sacred of Vulpan family traditions, and had married outside the species.

        The unforgivable crime.

        Jessie put her paw on his wrist, giving him a compassionate look.  He smiled wanly and patted her paw, then blew out his breath as the car took the driveway that would take them around the house and to the rear entrance, which was most commonly used since there was a pull-in heated garage back there that opened into a parlor where servants would prepare the Vulpans for going out.  Clancy’s apartment wasn’t far from that parlor, down a hall branching out from the main hallway and near the east wing.  The limo pulled into the large garage, which had a door on two walls so limos could simply pull forward and back out, and then slowed to a stop.  A thin vixen and tall male, both in a gray uniforms, hurried out.  The male opened the door while the vixen stepped up to take their coats.  The male gaped when Kit stepped out, giving him an astounded look, and the vixen was so shocked she didn’t give him the customary little bow, greet him, and offer to take his coat.

        “Master Luke!” the male said in an astounded voice.  “Bless my soul, I thought I’d never see you in the fur again!  Have you been well?  Are you home to stay?”

        “Benson?” Kit asked, giving him a searching look.

        “Yes!  Welcome home, Master Luke!” he said with a bright smile.

        “Kit,” he corrected immediately.  “Do not call me by his name.”

        “Master Kit it is, sir,” he said with a nod.  “Are you home to stay?  Are you here to get rid of him?” he asked in a sudden whisper.

        Kit shook his head.  “I’m just here to visit Clancy,” he said honestly.  “This place could never be my home anymore, Benson.  Too much bad blood, too many bad memories.”

        The vixen gave him a compassionate look, then finally held out her paws.  Kit dutifully took off his hoodie and offered it to her.  “You’re getting thin, Sally.”

        “I’m surprised you remember me, Master L—Kit,” she smiled.  “I’d only been here two months before you and your father had your falling out.”

        Jessie climbed out, and the two gave her a startled look.  “Benson, Sally, I’d like you to meet my wife,” he said in a calm yet strong voice, stressing her relationship to him.  “Jessie, this is Benson and Sally.  They worked here when I still lived here.”

        Benson looked stunned, and Sally looked a trifly disapproving as she looked at Jessie.

        “Then the gossip was true!” Benson gasped, then he blinked.  “It’s an honor to meet you, Miss Jessie,” he said, giving her a little bow.

        “May I take your coat, miss?” Sally offered, with the tiniest edge in her voice.  Clearly, Sally was in the same boat as most of his family.

        “Oh, it’s nice to meet you, and thank you very much!” Jessie said, smiling at Benson and taking off her coat and offering it to Sally.

        But the edge in Sally’s eyes evaporated when Marcus helped Vil out of the car.  Both servants bowed deeply to her.  “Miss Vilenne!” Benson said happily.  “It’s good to see you, madam.  Have you been well?”

        “Well enough, Benson.  Can you send tea to Clancy’s apartment?  We’re going to visit him.”

        “I’ll see to it, madam,” he nodded.

        “I don’t think your Sally likes me very much,” Jessie whispered as they followed Benson out of the garage.

        “Bigotry isn’t restricted to the rich, love,” Kit whispered back.  “Is my uncle here today, Benson?”

        He nodded.  “He and his family just finished taking lunch in the sun room about an hour ago.”

        “Well, here’s hoping he decides not to bother us,” Kit grunted.

        He felt…vulnerable.  Almost like his father was lurking around every corner, or maybe uncle Zach.  Zach was no better than his father, cut from the same mold, and the fact he was in the house made it still feel like the ghost of his father was hovering over his head.  Kit led Jessie by the paw in front of everyone, moving quickly and surely along a path he hadn’t walked for over seven years, but knew by heart.  Left into the main hall, down to the next right just in front of the main door to the kitchen, then right.   Jessie kept looking around at the rich paneling and the portraits, at the Italian tapestry hanging near the kitchen, a piece that would be the centerpiece of any artist’s collection in almost any other house, but in the Vulpan house it was relegated to hanging in a hallway used almost exclusively by the staff, because his father had thought it looked ugly.  Jessie gaped again at a huge two-handed sword, a Scottish claymore encased in glass and hanging on the wall.  Vil walked behind him with Benson trying to hurry to keep up, until they reached a nondescript door devoid of decoration or filigree, the door to the private apartment of Clancy.

        He knocked quickly, then opened the door before there was any response.  He poked his head in and called out for Clancy, looking into a room he hadn’t seen for seven years.  It was an elegantly decorated living room, with a simple chair and tea table near a fireplace, a couch facing the fireplace, and a television in the corner that had the look of almost never being used.  A stereo was in a rack beside the TV, complete with a turntable so Clancy could play his collection of Big Band era music, his favorite music genre.  “Clancy?” Kit called.

        “Kit my boy!” came a reedy response.  “Please, come inside!”

        Kit led Jessie and Vil into the apartment, and held tightly to her paw as she looked around.  Vil stood just behind, then moved out of the way when Benson had a young maid Kit didn’t know bring in a tray with tea and scones and set it on the tea table.  Clancy hobbled into view in the hallway leading back to his den, separate bathroom, and bedroom, leaning heavily on his cane.  Kit stared a moment, for Vil was right, Clancy looked old.  His fur was dull and thinning, and the white fur of age had invaded the red fur all over his muzzle, cheeks, and head.  He was wearing a smart gray suit without a coat, his white shirt and vest showing as he limped into the living room.  He was moving very slowly, and Kit saw that the paw not on his cane was visibly shaking.  When did this happen?  When Kit talked to him on the phone, his voice was always the same, strong and eloquent, the diction of a fox with an impeccable education.  His voice had never betrayed this shocking decline in Clancy’s physical health, and he’d never said a word about it outside of just saying he was tired from time to time.

        “Clancy,” Kit said with a concerned look, helping the old fox to his chair by the fireplace.  “How have you been, you old rascal?”

        He smiled wearily.  “I’ve felt better, my boy,” he said honestly.  “I’ve just gotten over a bout of the flu, and I’m still feeling a trifle under the weather.  Ah, Jessica, I’m glad he brought you,” he said, smiling at her.  “And Miss Vilenne as well!  Both of Master Lucas’children together in Stonebrook.  Ah, a happy day for me,” he told them with an honest smile.  “I do so wish you’d come home, my boy.  You are a Vulpan, and this is where you belong.”

        “Clancy, you know I’ll never come back here,” Kit told him.  “I have a life now, a life in Austin.  I have friends, I’ve bought into the magazine where I work and now I’m a part owner, I have plans.  And I’d never live up here so near the family with Jessie,” he added pointedly.

        “Ah, true, your family lacks your progressive mindset,” Clancy said as he settled into his chair and reached for the teapot.  “Now let me pour you some tea.”

        “I’ll do it, Mister Clancy,” Jessie said, picking up the teapot before he could reach it.  “We didn’t come here so you could wait on us.”

        He chuckled.  “An old habit that I fear will never fade,” he admitted as Jessie poured the tea.

        Kit was really worried.  Clancy looked so, so weak.  So old.  He was 73 years old, but that had barely slowed him down when Kit remembered him from his late sixties.  Just three months ago, he’d looked much healthier than he looked now.  But he didn’t let that show, he instead talked with him warmly, and let him tell Jessie quite a few stories about when Vil and Kit were kids.  Several of them made both siblings’ cheeks ruffle a bit, and made Jessie laugh.

        “Vil, I never knew you were a car thief!” she teased when Clancy related the first time Vil had stolen one of her father’s cars and drove it around the manor.  There were quite a few more roads than just the main driveway on the manor. There were roads to the cottages, service roads used by the groundkeepers, a road to the boat dock, and a road leading to a never-used alternate entrance through the back gate, down by the river, which was much wider than the front gate and lacked an overhead frame.  It was an industrial entrance left over from when they built the indoor pool, which would let them tow a boat or other large or heavy equipment in or out of the manor.

        “Well, it’s dad’s fault for keeping the keys to all his cars in a rack by the garage door,” Vil said with a smile.  “Boy, was he mad, because I ran into a post down by the boat cottage and scratched the paint of his thirty-six Ford.  He took getting it repainted out of my allowance,” she laughed.

        “That is nothing, though, compared to what Kit did,” Clancy smiled.

        “Here it comes, his favorite story,” Kit sighed, which made Jessie giggle.  Clancy did tell that story, the infamous day that Kit set fire to his father’s brand new Bentley, which had just been delivered two days before the incident.  He went into great detail about how the fire department had to come and put it out, then all the questions and investigations that followed.  Kit had managed to keep his involvement a secret for about five days, but the arson investigator had managed to isolate Kit as the only remaining suspect, and Kit cracked under the pressure they brought to bear.

        “It’s silly to be jealous of a car, but I was,” Kit mused as he remembered that.  “Dad seemed more interested in the car than in me, so I torched it.  They never knew I did it on purpose until I was sixteen, when I admitted it just before I walked out.”

        “Oh, if these old walls could talk, they would have quite a tale to tell,” Clancy said with a watery smile.  “Sixty-eight years, my dear, that’s how long the Vulpans have lived in Stonebrook.  Kitstrom Arthur Vulpan, Kit’s great-grandfather, bought the land in nineteen and thirty-eight, and Kit’s grandfather, Kitstrom Daniel, started construction on the main manor house in nineteen and thirty-nine, when he was seventeen.  It had always been Samuel’s dream to build Stonebrook, but he died before they began construction, leaving young Daniel to shoulder both the burden of running the company and building the manor.  It was finished in nineteen and forty, and I remember the first day I stepped through the gates, back when they were brand new,” he said wistfully, his eyes distant.  “I have lived and served in this manor since the day it was opened, my dear.  My father was one of the first butlers of the manor, and I joined the staff after college, returning to take my father’s place and allowing him to retire.  The Vulpans have lived in this house since it was built, but a Warrington has served on the staff.  My son is the chief butler now,” he smiled.  “Following in the family tradition.  He detests your uncle, my boy,” he said with a slight smile.  “I really do wish you would return home and drive him out.  You have so much more right to this estate than your uncle ever did.  You and Vilenne, it is yours, and he has no right to try to claim it.”

        “Well, I agreed to let him live here as part of the agreement to split up the family fortune,” Vil reminded him.  “But he didn’t read all the fine print,” she said with a purring voice.  “He never does.  That’s his one weakness.”

        “What fine print?” Kit asked.

        “If you ever return to the manor and take residence, he has to leave,” she answered.  “Not me, you.  And once he’s gone, he can’t return if you maintain residence for a time considered it a permanent change of address.  So, if you move back up here, change your license to Massachusetts, and settle into the manor, Uncle Zach will have to move out.  And once he’s out, he stays out.”

        “I don’t remember reading that.”

        “You didn’t read the agreement, Kit.  Zach did, but he didn’t read it carefully.  You and me are on the deed of the manor as the owners, jointly.  But the legal agreement that everyone signed includes that clause.  And Zach knows about it,” she added with a wicked smile.  “His lawyer finally noticed it, and we had quite a little spat about it about a month ago.  But there’s nothing he can do.  If he challenges the clause, he has to challenge the entire contract, it’s specifically written that way.  You can’t challenge any one part of it without challenging all of it.  And if he does that, well, he could lose everything if he wins, because his victory would void the contract, returning everything back to Kit.  And I doubt Kit would be feeling very magnanimous if Zach dragged him back into family business again, especially when he’d be doing it for no reason but pride and greed.”

        “But he agreed not to get anything,” Jessie protested.

        “That agreement is in the same contract, Jessie.  If that contract is voided, then Kit can lay legal claim to everything.  And I mean everything.  He’d leave the family completely broke.”

        Jessie giggled.  “That’s mean, Vil.”

        “I’m a mean girl,” she said without batting an eye.  “Zach thought he was nicking the bait off the hook when I drew up the contract, but he didn’t read it closely enough to see the little hooks that are spread through the whole thing, almost like little mines.  Those clauses are there to absolutely ensure the good behavior of the elders towards Kit.  If they violate any one clause, then Kit can strip them of their money.”

        “Yes, Vilenne outdid herself when her lawyers prepared that agreement.  The conditions of the split of the money are very specific, and they were worded in such a way that it seemed that restrictions against Kit were also restrictions against the family.”

        “This is news to me,” Kit said seriously.

        “I put it together to keep them off your back, bro,” she answered.  “For example, no member of the family can ever sue you in court.  If any of them ever does, it voids the deal.  Any challenge to the contract, by the structure of the contract, voids the entire contract if any one section of it is thrown out.  So, if anyone gets the bright idea to try to get the deal altered, they lose everything.  If they win, then the deal that gives them all their money is gone and Kit takes it back.  It’s also in the contract that anyone who helped you after you were disowned by Dad, back when his will was in effect, have retroactive immunity, an ex post facto clause.  My past deeds can’t be used as a basis to try to challenge the existing contract.  I mainly put that in there to stop Zach from trying to steal the CEO chair and stocks away from me, to hamstring any ideas he had of pulling a Cybil.  Oh, and it’s also in the contract that if any Vulpan is convicted of a crime against Kit, Kit can call to have the contract voided for that family member, and that money comes to me,” she said with a sly little smile.  “So, anyone who does anything against Kit ends up surrendering his or her entire fortune to me, and the same conditions Dad had against Kit in his original will are put in effect against the guilty party.  So, Uncle Zach can’t have cousin Victor beat Kit with a crowbar or try to make Jessie have a miscarriage with the promise that he’d give Victor money to cover what he’d lose when he was convicted.  Even if he wasn’t convicted of conspiracy, if he ever gave Victor a dime of his own money, he’d lose everything to me.  And I’ll just turn around and give it to Kit’s children,” she smiled evilly.

        “That is the true masterpiece of the contract,” Clancy chuckled weakly.  “If you were so much as slapped in the face by your uncle, and he was convicted of it in a court of law, then he loses everything to the one member of the family who will never give it back.  And it puts any member of the family who does this in the same situation from which you climbed out, Kit, completely disowned from the family with the threat that any aid to the disowned party costs the offendor his or her own portion of the family fortune.  The clause is brilliant in that it threatens a family member with absolute ruin if they attempt anything against you, my boy.”

        “How did you slip that past them?” Kit asked in surprise.

        “They either didn’t read the contract carefully enough, their lawyers didn’t bring it to their attention, or they signed it knowing it’s there, I can’t really tell you.  But, see bro, I made sure you were well protected,” Vil smiled.  “I have the family nailed to the mast.  They can’t take any action against you without risking their own fortunes.”

        “And you wondered why they were so quiet up here,” Jessie laughed.  “Now we know!”

        “I have everything under control,” Vil purred, sipping her tea.

        “Damn, sis, that’s…just brilliant,” he said in admiration.

        “Thank you,” she said with a knowing smile.  “Oh, by the way, next week, you should pick up the Sun from an international newsstand and read it.”

        “The English one?  Are you going after Cybil now?”

        She smiled and nodded.  “She’s had a few months to think that I’ve forgotten all about her and that she’s safe, so now I start skinning her out of her mangy hide one little strip at a time,” she said vindictively.  “The first shot will be fired Monday morning, after the Sun prints a very revealing little investigative article about Lady Cybil Whitmore.”  She looked at Jessie.  “As promised, Jess, I’m gonna make her hurt.”

        “Good,” Jessie said, taking a rather savage bite out of her scone.

        They stayed with Clancy for another three hours, letting him spin tales of the Vulpan children’s youth, while Kit pondered what he’d learned about the contract.  Actually, it made perfect sense.  It was why Zach had not tried to stop him from seeing Clancy, why he was staying far away.  He faced utter ruin if he got into a confrontation with Kit, lost his head, and did something stupid.  And if he didn’t do that, he risked getting evicted from Stonebrook if he angered Kit enough to cause him to move back to Boston and take residence in the house, which would force Zach and his family to move out of the manor.  Oh, Zach had about 12 other houses to which he could move, it wasn’t like he’d be out on the street, but it would be a stinging blow to his ego to be forced out of Stonebrook, out of the ancestral seat of the power of the Vulpan family.  That had to be why Zach was avoiding Kit, to both not do something stupid, and not give Kit any reason to get angry enough to come after Zach in the one way he could that Zach could do nothing to prevent.

        “Well, I’m finding myself a bit in need of a nap,” Clancy finally said.  Kit helped him to his feet, and the old fox gave him a gentle hug.  “I’m honored you came all the way up here to see me, my boy.”

        “When you couldn’t make it to the party, I had to make sure to bring the party to you, Clancy,” Kit answered, patting him on the back.  “It was so good to see you!”

        “And you too, my boy.  Now, you can make an old fox happy and come home.”

        “My home’s in Austin now, Clancy.”

        “No, your home will always be here, young Kitstrom,” he said firmly.  “This is your home.  The bad memories that linger in this place can be cleaned away like so much dust, and replaced with what is good and proper.  And it is only proper that the son of Lucas and Beth Vulpan live in the home that is his by birthright.”

        “I’d be lost in here anymore,” Kit laughed.  “And I couldn’t afford the electric bill, let alone paying everyone’s salaries.”

        “Tosh,” he sniffed, then he was surprised when Jessie hugged him.

        “It was good to see you again, Mister Clancy,” she told him.  “I really enjoyed talking with you.”

        “I’m glad you did, my dear, I’m glad you did,” he said, patting her on the back.  “I’ll admit to you, my dear, I was honestly hesitant when I heard Kit was marrying a cat, but you have won me over.  Kit could not have found a better femme and a mother for his children.”

        “Aww, thanks, Clancy,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

        “Don’t be a stranger, dear,” Clancy said, kissing Vil and taking her paw.

        “Of course not!” she laughed.  “I’ll be over to see you on Thursday.  So just keep your chin up, old male, and know we still love you.”

        “That comforts me in ways you’ll never know, my young ones,” he smiled.  “Now, forgive a host for bad manners, but I really do need to have a lie down.”

        Kit was very quiet when they left Clancy’s apartment.  Vil was right, he did look…tired.  Age was catching up with him.  He’d been sick, he’d said, so Kit fervently hoped that some of what he was seeing was Clancy recovering from the flu.  But he looked both old and weary, and that was never a good combination.

        Kit made a very special point in his mind to call Clancy much more often…at least once a day from then on.  He had to make sure his old friend, the fox that had all but raised Kit since he was nine, was doing alright.

        It was a very concerned Kit that walked the halls back to the garage, so preoccupied by Clancy’s condition that he felt none of the anxiety and fear he’d felt when he arrived.  Jessie kept hold of his paw, squeezing it reassuringly, and she sidled up to him and put her arm around him when they waited in the heated garage for Vil’s limo; Stav had taken it to the private gas pump on the grounds and filled up the tank, and the car was on the way back.

        “Vil, how long has he been that bad?” he finally asked.

        “He’s improved somewhat,” she answered.  “He really was sick.  He had the flu.  But that was nearly a month ago, and it’s taken him all this time to get his legs back under him.  I’m sure he’ll recover more, but Kit….”

        “I know,” he said quietly.

        “Does he like cookies, Vil?  I think I’d like to send him some when I get home.”

        “I can buy—“

        “No, I want to make them for him.  A homemade cookie always makes a fur feel like someone’s thinking just about him.  I want him to open a box of cookies and know they were made just for him.”

        “You are such a treasure, Jessie,” Vil smiled as the garage door opened, and the limo rolled in.  “Clancy loves peanut butter cookies, but his favorite treats are cherry scones.  If you next-day aired those, they should reach him fresh.”

        “Hmm, I’ll have to look up how to make those.”

        “I’ll have the recipe the kitchen uses emailed to your Blackberry before we leave Boston,” she promised.

        Once they were back in the limo, Kit looked back at the tan granite of Stonebrook and could only sigh in relief that he was leaving.  He was even more relieved in that Zach wouldn’t be bothering him…probably ever.  Vil had never explained that little trick in the contract they all signed, but it certainly explained why it had been so quiet in Boston since the court case.  The one thing the Vulpans wouldn’t dare would be to get stripped of their money and end up destitute.

        For some strange reason, as he looked back on Stonebrook, he felt…a benediction.  Even more than the end of the court case, as they drove away from that tan manor, he again felt…free.  Always before there was a chance that the family might find some way to annoy him, but Vil had outdone herself in fixing it so they would never dare try to disrupt his life, by putting their fortunes on the line if they did so.  He looked back on that manor, that source of so much pain, and he felt, well, not quite so nervous as he had when he arrived.  The pain of Boston would always be there, but now he knew, completely, utterly, that there would be no more.

        He was beyond the reach of the family.

        The sun began to shine as clouds over the manor moved away, and in a way, that was how he felt inside himself.  The dark shadows of his family were being chased away, and it was a fresh start, a new day, a chance to move on and feel that he was in total control of his life—well, as much control as Vil would let him have.  He had no illusions about still being tied to her apron strings, because she was still on her mission to force him to take what she believed was owed to him.  But those were battles for another day…and God, he knew there were going to be some doozies.  He had no doubt that she had either already bought a house in Austin, or was looking for one, and was going to try to force him into it.  But he’d have those fights with her when the time came.

 

        Kendall Brighton was a tall, athletic, young, very attractive red fox.  His eyes were green instead of the pattern amber common among foxes, and he was devilishly attractive, with strong cheeks and a boxy muzzle.  His hair, like Corey’s, was not the same color as the fur on the top of his head, which was rare for male foxes, though not quite so rare for vixens.  His hair was a dark chestnut, cut short and away from his ears, but a little long in the back.  Much to Kit’s surprise, Kendall Brighton had an earring in his left ear, which branded him as an absolute maverick when it came to British upper-crust society.  Such things were almost unheard of among the British blue-bloods.

        Kit’s first impression of him that this couldn’t be a member of the Brighton family, that he had to be an impostor.  He did fly in on a private Lear jet, but when he came down the steps, he was dressed in a Boston Celtics sweatshirt, blue jeans, and sturdy hiking boots, with his windbreaker jacket thrown over his shoulder negligently.  With that earring and his casual demeanor, Kendall could walk into any bar in Boston and not make a single eye take notice of him.  But when he spoke, it was abundantly clear that this was not an American fox.  “Kendall Brighton,” he said in a Machester accent, shaking Kit’s paw as he reached them.  “You must be Kit and Jessie.  Villy’s gone on and on about you two.”

        “Villy?”

        “I cannot make him stop calling me that,” Vil growled, slapping him on the shoulder, which made him smile rogueishly behind her back.

        Needless to say, Kit took an immediate liking to the male.

        “Hi, I’m Jessie Vulpan,” Jessie introduced, and he took her paw and kissed the back of it, which made her cheeks ruffle slightly.

        “Charmed, Jessie, charmed.  I must say, you’re just as pretty as the pictures Villy’s showed me.  So, you’re going to be an English teacher?” he asked with sincere interest.

        Kit’s impression of Kendall only improved while they were in the limo, on the way to Boston Garden.  “Villy wanted us to go out to a swanky restaurant, but I get enough of that at home,” he said with a chuckle.  “I told her she could really make my weekend by taking me to a Celtics game and feeding me hot dogs and beer at the Garden.”

        “I think taking him to a five star restaurant might be cheaper than eating dogs and burgers at the Garden,” Vil grunted, which made them all laugh.

        “I have to wear a suit five days a week, the last thing I wanted to do was come down here on my day off and put on a suit just to eat dinner,” he grinned.  “I’d rather be wearing a Manchester United tee and some trousers than a suit.”

        “What do you do, Kendall?” Jessie asked.

        “Work for Brighton Industries, of course,” he answered easily.  “I’m in the public relations department, putting a good face on the family business.  We build ships, Jessie, same as your family.  ‘Course, right now my official job, straight from the old male, is woo Vil and marry into the Vulpan family,” he admitted with a light smile at Vil.  “I heard the old male started working on a pre-nup the minute after he introduced us at a mixer at Oxford.”

        “He was certainly listening to wedding bells when he did that,” Vil grunted darkly.

        “Well, you two are going out,” Kit noted.

        “True, but that’s just because it’s hard to find a gal who understands, Kit.  Villy understands, so it’s easy to go out with her.  No pressure, no having to worry if she’s a gold-digger.  By Jove, she’s three times richer than I am, she’s the one probably worrying if I’m the gold-digger,” he laughed.  “Besides that, she’s a damn smart lady who I love to talk to.  She’s the perfect girl.  Brains, beauty, and someone who’s not after me for my family’s money.”

        “Well, you’re certainly doing the job your father gave you,” Jessie giggled.

        “I guess it shows how desperate I am to find a girlfriend when I’m flying across the pond just to go on a date,” he admitted with a self-deprecating smile.

        “You flew across the pond because you know my family has a skybox and courtside seats in the Garden,” she teased in reply.

        “Well, that’s certainly a perk,” he winked.  “So, you work in a magazine, Kit?  What do you do there?”

        Kit and Jessie got to know Kendall on the trip to the Garden, and they continued to talk as they pulled into the VIP garage and walked towards the arena.  Stav and Marcus walked quietly behind them as they padded along, moving among other furs who were there to see the game.  They went up an elevator to a carpeted, much quieter section of the arena, until they reached a door that had the Vulpan name stenciled under the skybox number.  Kit had never been in this skybox before, since the last time he was at a Celtics game it was in the original Boston Garden, and the new box was much nicer.  It was the size of a large living room, with huge glass windows that would let them look down on the game.  Three huge LCD monitors were arrayed through the room so no matter where one was, a TV was visible so not a second of the game would be missed.  There were two large couches, a table with raised chairs, chairs in front of the glass windows, and even a private bathroom just for the skybox.  Vil picked up the phone hanging on the wall by the door.  “Yes, this is the Vulpan skybox,” she said.  “I’d like you to send up a platter of hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, and condiments, enough for five furs.  I’d also like a platter of mixed raw vegetables with ranch dip.  Hold on,” she said, then she looked to Stav and Marcus.  “What do you want to drink?” she asked them.

        “Tea, madam,” Stav answered.

        “Tea for me as well, madam,” Marcus added.

        “Alright, send up a pot of Farthing tea, a glass of berry Aquafina, and a pitcher of Guinness draft.”

        “Ah, bless you for rememering, Villy,” Kendall laughed.  “A game’s not a game without a pint of Guinny, be it football or basketball.”

        “Send it up as soon as it’s ready,” Vil finished, then she hung up the phone.

        After they settled in on the couch, Jessie sitting on her feet and nestled up against Kit, Kendall looked to them.  “So, Jessie, I have to ask you something, and it might be a tad personal.”

        “That’s alright, I just won’t answer if it’s too personal,” she smiled.

        He grinned at her.  “Did it bother you much, knowing what kind of family you were marrying into?”

        “Watch it, buster,” Vil teased, slapping him on the shoulder.

        Jessie laughed.  “It was scary,” she admitted.  “Kit was terrified of his family when we first met, and I had to really work to make him look past them and look at me.  They were the faceless, distant furs that didn’t seem to matter, at least until the day Kit was shot.  It was then that I realized that he hadn’t been joking about his family.  But I wasn’t about to let them win,” she declared, lacing her fingers between Kit’s and patting the back of his paw with her other paw.  “If I’d have let them scare me away from him, they’d have won, and I wasn’t going to let them win.  He was worth it, he was worth fighting for him.”

        “My fearless kitty,” Kit said lovingly, kissing the back of her paw much as Kendall had done.  “She owns me now,” Kit laughed.  “She chased my family away, and now I’m all hers.  It’s her prize for being so determined.”

        “And what’s most admirable is she did it knowing he was broke, that he was disowned,” Vil added.  “She knew the full truth about him.  Jessie is no gold-digger.  She wanted my brother for who he is, not who his family is.”

        “Yeah.  I always thought it would be neat to be rich, but then I met Kit’s family face to face, and I realized that Kit was absolutely right about them, and about the Vulpan fortune.  It’s a curse,” she declared.  “It turned his family against itself.  They don’t love each other.  They hate each other, all they care about is their money.  Every other Vulpan outside of Kit I’ve met so far except for two have been really messed up,” she said.

        “And who are those two?” Kendall asked.

        “Vil and their cousin Terry.  Sheila, Muffy, the rest of them, they’re all, well, tainted by the Vulpan fortune.  I love Sheila a lot, but even though I love her, I have to say that she’s just as affected by her family’s curse as the rest of them.  She’s hedonistic and self-centered.  Kit showed that he’s just a very smart male to stay away from that money.  He’s a brilliant and exceptional fox, he can earn us our own fortune,” she said with a loving smile, patting his scarred forearm.  “Then we can feel good about being rich, because we earned it, we weren’t given it.”

        “Only with you there helping me, pretty kitty,” he chuckled.

        “You heard it here first, Ken,” Vil said with a smile.  “Kit will be a self-made millionaire by the time he’s thirty-five.  Maybe even sooner.  He’s settled down and found his business, he bought into the magazine where he works as a part owner.  And between him and that clever dingo he’s partners with, they’re already well on their way to building their magazine into a profit powerhouse.  He may be estranged from the family, but when it comes to the traits that built the Vulpan empire, he has them all in spades.  Foresight, determination, wisdom, and a feel for the market.”

        “I’m blushing here,” Kit laughed, a little embarrassed by all the praise.

        “He has to use them, since he doesn’t have the world handed to him on a silver platter,” Kendall nodded.  “That’s why the old male makes every Brighton work.  If you want to be a Brighton, you contribute.  You’ll have time to sit on your arse and eat caviar when you retire.”

        “I wish I could make my family do that,” Vil chuckled.

        “So, are you sure you want to marry into the Vulpan family, Kendall?”

        “Call me Ken, and I won’t be marrying into the family so much as marrying the best part of it,” he said, smiling at Vil unashamedly.

        “Such a schmoozer,” Vil laughed.

        “I’m just doing what the old male said to do,” he grinned.  “He said if a fox as handsome and educated as me couldn’t woo a femme like Villy, he’d disown me.  You don’t want me to have to go work in a pub, do you?” he asked, looking at her with outrageously fake puppy-dog eyes, which made Jessie erupt into laughter.

        “If you keep calling me Villy, I’ll buy out Brighton Industries if only to fire you,” she retorted with a smile.

        The food arrived, and conversation ebbed so two of the most powerful families in the western world could eat hamburgers and hot dogs at a stand-up table, laugh, and talk about nothing important whatsoever.  They enjoyed the amenities of the skybox, until there was a knock at the door.  It opened before anyone could say anything, and Suzy poked her head in.  “Vil?  Kit!” she said with a happy squeal, rushing in.  Kit moved out from around the table and gave her a huge hug.  “Surprise!”

        “I’m so happy to see you!” he said with an honest smile.  “What are you doing here?”

        “Vil invited me and Corey to see the game!” she said with a smile, looking to the doorway.  Corey was hurrying in.  “You know you can’t come to Boston without seeing us!” she grinned at him.

        “I’m glad Vil found a way to get you in,” he laughed.  “She’s been running us around most of the day.”

        “I wanted it to be a surprise,” Vil laughed a she gave Corey a chaste hug, then kissed Suzy on the cheek.  “Suzy, Corey, this is Kendall,” she introduced.  “Ken, this is my best friend Suzy, and her boyfriend Corey.”

        “Ah, the film maker!” Kendall said with an earnest smile, shaking Corey’s paw.  “We really have to talk!”

        “We’ve heard a lot about you too, Kendall,” Suzy smiled as she accepted a kiss on the paw from him.  “Things like that,” she winked.

        “I’m a British gentlefur, I have manners,” he said stuffily.  But then he belched loudly, which paralyzed the entire skybox with laughter, even Stav and Marcus.

        Suzy and Corey joined them at the table to help them finish off the meal—and Vil’s order of vegetables came into focus when Suzy and Corey arrived, since Suzy loved raw vegetables—and a new round of introductory chatter and stories passed across the table, as Suzy, Corey, and Kendall got to know each other.

        But there was a game to see, so they left Stav and Marcus in the box to go down to courtside about fifteen minutes before the game was slated to begin.  The Vulpans owned six seats directly behind the Celtics bench, and they took them all up they settled in.  Kit and Jessie found themselves in the middle, almost protectively, as Vil and Kendall sat to their left, and Suzy and Corey sat to their right.  “Do you watch much basketball in England, Kendall?” Corey asked.

        “Call me Ken, and yes, I love basketball!” he said enthusiastically, pointing to his Celtics sweatshirt.  “Almost as much as I love football.  I didn’t just buy this for the trip over, the Celtics are my favorite American team.”
        “Well, that shirt does look a little worn,” Jessie giggled.

        “I’ll buy a couple of new ones before I go back to London,” he said.  “I’m sure they sell some here in the arena.  They’ll feel more special in having come straight from the Garden.”

        “They’re very expensive, though,” Corey warned.

        “There are some things that are more important than mere money,” he said in a deadly serious voice that made Kit and Corey laugh, and Vil roll her eyes.

        Kit noticed that there were already a few camera flashes, before the players were even introduced, and he realized that some furs on the far side of the court were taking pictures of them.  But there was really nothing they could do about it.  He lost interest in that when the announcer’s voice called over the PA, the lights dimmed, and the pregame activities got started.  The Celtics were playing the Charlotte Bobcats tonight, which most were expecting to be a steamroll game since the Celtics had already clinched a playoff spot and the Bobcats weren’t doing too well this year, but were in the running for the last playoff spot.

        It was indeed a steamroll, but it was still a lot of fun.  Kit hadn’t been to a sporting event in years, and he really had fun cheering the Celtics, and watching as Kendall kept trying to steal towels from the Celtic players’ chairs.  The arena cameras even caught him doing it, showing him sliding his paw out with a naughty grin on his face, then snapping back and looking all innocent every time a player looked at him.  The players seemed to realize he was just playing, and security was reluctant to stop him because he was obviously with Vil.  The players even got into it a little bit themselves once the Celtics were twenty points ahead, dangling towels in front of him the waggling a finger at him.  At one point, he even got down on his knees and begged with those outrageously fake puppy-dog eyes, which made Kevin Garnett laugh, grab someone else’s towel from an empty chair, and throw it to him.  He jumped up and down and swung it in the air, then threw it over his shoulders and sat back down.

        Kendall seemed fun-loving and maybe little like Sheila, until he heard him and Vil talk business, discussing both shipyard business and the general state of the global economy.  That was when Kit realized that the silly male that was trying to steal towels from players was indeed an Oxford graduate.  He had a vast understanding of economics and business, and was able to give Vil brisk and intellectually challenging conversation in her own areas of expertise.

        She wasn’t the only one listening, Kit noticed.  Two Celtics players were leaning back as Vil and Kendall were discussing the housing bubble, and Kendall explained to her why he was positive it was nowhere near the end of bursting, and how it might trigger a global economic recession if it continued on unchecked.  “Too many banks have tied up too many assets into mortgage security bundles,” he told her.  “With those mortgages defaulting in huge numbers, those securities are going to crash, and the market mark policy the American system imposes is going to destroy the value of those securities as American real estate values decline.  Without those assets, it’s going to wipe out liquidity and put a major crunch on everything, The global stock markets will drop sharply, and the economic slowdown will cause the price of oil to go way down.  The entire finiancial system is built on a foundation of sand that’s seeping through holes drilled through the bedrock by the mortgage issue.  It’s already happening, Vil, look at Bear Sterns.  That won’t be the first major investment bank to go under before it’s all over.”

        “So you’re predicting gloom and doom?”

        “I’ve already pulled my money out of stocks,” he declared immediately.  “I don’t predict anything, dear Vil, I act on my instincts.  And my instincts tell me to get out of the stock markets, because some time in the next six months, they’re going to crash. It could be tomorrow, it could be late October, but I can feel it coming.  I’ll let them bottom out, clean out the dodders, then pick up some bargains.  Either I’m right or I’m wrong, but either way I’m ready because I won’t be losing my money.”

        Kit noticed those players pulling out some PDAs and making some entries.

        The Celtics won handily, and Kendall got quite a bit more than he bargained for when Kevin Garnett pulled off his jersey and tossed it to him.  “I figure you earned it if I don’t take a bath in the market,” he grinned, then the lanky hyena jogged off with the rest of his team back to the locker room.

        “I couldn’t buy this!” Kendall beamed, clutching the jersey to his breast.  “I’ll never wash it!”

        “Then I’m not coming to see your house,” Vil murmured.

        They parted with Suzy and Corey up at the skybox, since Suzy had to catch a plane to Cleveland in the morning to look over possible sites for a Yankee Bytes store.  Suzy was still the vice president in charge of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, but her father was having all the kids go with him and get engaged in the expansion.  It was Suzy’s turn to go with her father to look at expansion possibilities.  They left the skybox after having a short nightcap of tea, mainly to let the crowds thin out, and started out themselves.  Kendall made sure to still buy a couple of Celtics tee shirts at a stand on the way out, spending over a hundred dollars on two tees, a hat, and a new sweatshirt.

        “Now that was fun!” Kendall said brightly when they got back into the limo.  “Where to next?”

        “I’m taking Kit and Jessie back to their hotel,” she answered.  “They’re going back home tomorrow morning.”

        “Why not later?  I’ll be here tomorrow.”

        “Because Jessie’s still in school, and she’s pregnant, so they need to get back so she can rest and get her studying done.”

        “Really?  Congratulations!” Kendall said brightly, kissing her paw.

        “I’m not made of glass, Vil, I don’t need to rest,” Jessie protested.

        “But you do have to do your homework,” Kit said firmly.  “And you have finals coming up.  Don’t you have a paper due on Monday?”

        She gave him a cold stare.

        “I promised your mother our marriage wouldn’t hurt your grades.  I’d rather not have her trying to drag us to the courthouse to file for divorce.”

        “She would do it,” Vil laughed.

        Vil and Kendall dropped them off at the hotel, and got out of the limo to take them inside.  Vil hugged each of them in turn, and Kendall shook their paws.  “I’m not sure if I’ll see you tomorrow, because Kendall’s taking me to New York tomorrow morning,” she said.  “If we don’t, then have a good flight home.  I’ll have a limo here at six, and it’ll wait for you until you get up and decide to go, so don’t worry about getting to the airport.  Remember, the jet will be ready to go whenever you wake up and get there, so don’t feel rushed.”

        “We will.  Thanks, sis, thanks for a good day.”

        “Gotta build those good memories of Boston, bro,” she smiled, then she kissed him on the cheek.

        “Well, let’s say you laid a foundation today,” he told her, kissing her back.  “But I still want out of Boston as fast as possible.”

        They waved to each other, and then Vil and Kendall went back out to the limo.  Jessie took his paw and watched them go with him, then she put her arm around him and kissed him on the cheek.  “What do you think of him?”

        “I think Vil found her husband,” Kit said immediately.  “She’ll probably date him for about six more months to feel him out and make sure he’s what he appears to be, then she’ll hint that she’d be amenable to him proposing.”

        “I like him,” she smiled.  “He’s funny and charming and really, really smart.”

        “Vil won’t be winning every argument against him, that’s for sure,” he chuckled.  “Come on, you, let’s get you upstairs and into bed.”

        “It’s not even eleven,” she protested.

        “Who said we were going to sleep?” he asked with a husky whisper in her ear.

        She shivered slightly, her tail sticking straight out, then she gave him a daring little smile.  “Why are we standing here, then?” she challenged.

 

        It was nice to get back to nice, warm Texas.

        They landed at Bergstrom at about two in the afternoon, going from the thirty degrees in Boston to seventy degrees in Austin.  Jessie did most of her homework on the plane heading home, but Kit was also glad to be home, and be out of Boston.  Even though he’d had a good day, it was still Boston, and Jessie understood.  That was why she’d not objected too much when they left so early.  Kit had had a good day, and he wanted out of Boston before something happened that ruined the trip for them.

        His visit did not go unnoticed.  In the Sunday paper, there was a picture of them at the game, with the short blurb beside it reading Vilenne Vulpan shows off new beau, Kendall Brighton, at Celtics game along with her recently reconciled brother Kitstrom Lucas Vulpan III, his wife Jessica Vulpan, Susan Jenkins, whose family owns the Yankee Bytes chain of electronics stores, and Corey Reeves, whose family owns Cape Cod Shipping.  In the picture, Kendall, Kit, and Corey were all standing with their fists in the air, cheering a Celtics basket, Vil and Jessie were looking at each other, clearly talking, while Suzy was taking a beer from a vendor with a smile of acceptance.

        Kit and Jessie pulled into the apartment complex just in time for poker.  They put their things away, then they showed up over at Lupe’s and spent an hour chatting, telling them all about their trip.  Poker was a bit thin that week, with just Lupe, Dan, Kevin, Sam, and Mickey; Jeffrey and Sandy were out on a date, and Sheila hadn’t shown up either.

        Kit called Rick as Jessie settled in with her other homework, getting her flight training books out.  “Hey, Rick,” Kit called.  “Did you get the numbers yet?”

        “I have partials, and while they’re better than last week, I don’t think we’ll hit the black this week,” he said, fretting a bit over the phone.

        “But they’re better?”

        “I’ll know for sure on Monday, but I think they’ll be higher.”

        “That’s all we need.  We just keep putting them out.  I know we have enough to print the same amount next week and still pay everyone.”

        “I’m not sure how long we can keep this up, son,” Rick said seriously.

        “Until we turn a profit,” Kit answered calmly.  “I’m not worried, Rick.  I know we’re going to turn a profit.  We just have to be persistent and keep trying.”

        “It’s risky.”

        “Risk is part of the game,” he said simply.  “We were just lucky to get so far without hitting a rough patch.”

        “True,” Rick grunted.

        “Just trust me, Rick,” Kit told him.  “I’m willing to put up the money for it, so don’t worry about it.  I think you know I’d never waste my money.  I only back what I think can win, and I know we can do this.”

        “Well, you’re putting your money where your mouth is, that’s for sure,” Rick said.  “So much so that I’m considering taking a mortgage out on the ranch to raise some more capital.  I can’t let you take all the risk yourself.”

        “No,” Kit said quickly, remembering what Kendall said.  “Don’t take out a mortgage.  If you want to raise money, take out a business loan, but don’t do a mortgage right now, the market for it is very bad.”

        “You sure?”

        “I talked to someone yesterday who knows economics, and he said the mortgage market is about to explode, which will drag down real estate values.  You’ll stand a better chance with a business loan, but I don’t think it’s necessary, Rick, at least not yet.  I can pay for three more weeks at the current print volume and still pay our paychecks, so let’s go those three weeks and see what happens.  I’ll be getting ready to go to Kansas about then, so we can make our decisions before I leave.”

        “Alright, but I’m not entire sure I like this, son.  You’ve already dropped so much money into the magazine.”

        “And I’ll get back every penny and more,” Kit said confidently.  “As long as we keep putting out the same high quality, we will sell at a profit.”  He scratched his cheek.  “We’ll talk about it in the morning, I’m gonna come in to make up taking Saturday off.”

        “Sure thing, son.  You just get back?”

        “Yeah.”

        “How did it go?”

        “Good and bad,” he answered.  “Good in that it was nice to see Vil and meet her boyfriend, bad that Clancy didn’t look very good at all.  I’m really worried about him.  Jessie’s going to bake him some scones and send them to him tomorrow,” Kit said with a loving smile at her as she went into the kitchen.

        “I need cherries, go get some!” she told him from the kitchen.

        “And I just got nailed to be an errand boy,” Kit chuckled, “so I’ll see you in the morning.”

        “See you then, son.  Bye.”

        “Bye,” he mirrored and closed his phone.  “Do I need to get you anything else?” he called.

        “Just cherries,” she answered.  “How does salmon steaks sound for dinner?”

        “Sounds fine with me,” he said, digging his keys out of his pocket.

 

        Monday’s figures were encouraging.  They weren’t great, but they were encouraging.  There was a solid increase in sales at all sites, up nearly 25%, which put the magazine only moderately in the red for the week.  They had a really good issue coming up, though, for Barry had an interview with Governor Rick Perry…which was quite a surprise to almost everyone.

        Governor Perry called the magazine last night.  They didn’t go after that interview, the Governor had come to them.  He called Rick on his business phone last night and said that he had forty-five minutes of available time on Tuesday and wanted to give an interview to the magazine because he felt they’d done a good job, and he wanted to interview with someone that spoke to the young voter…and in Austin, he said, that was the readers of Lone Star.

        That more than anything showed Kit that the magazine was spreading, and there was a real potential to make it take off here.

        Needless to say, as soon as Kit and Rick had their meeting that morning, the entire magazine went into a blitz of activity.  Barry and Janet would be going to do the interview, and Kit was going to make sure that he was well armed for it.  Lilly ended up doing some easy research for Marty and Denise as Kit devoted himself to the project, fully intending to research Perry so thoroughly that Barry went into that interview knowing what size underwear the governor wore when he was 14.  Jessie came in after school, did her homework in her office, then spent a little time with Jeffrey setting up their next week of Missy and Cutler, then she went and got pizza for Barry, Kit, and Rick, since they were working late that night to get ready for the interview.  They had a long meeting around seven when Kit gave Barry all his research, and Rick discussed what Barry would ask.  Barry was by far their best interviewer, much better than Kit; it was Kit that emulated Barry’s style when he did interviews, so Kit had no doubt that the Governor would watch Barry leave his office tomorrow morning feeling like he’d been skinned, but skinned fairly.  Barry was utterly non-partisan.  His role model was Tim Russert, who played devil’s advocate with all interviews, asking tough but fair questions that forced the guest to reveal his true feelings and views.  Barry could pick apart talking points and doublespeak with ridiculous ease and relentlessly pursue a straight answer, and woe to any politician that wasn’t ready when they sat down with him…as the Austin Commissioner of Elections discovered a while ago.  But no matter how tough he was on the other fur, he was always exquisitely polite and gave the fur the chance to explain his views, thoughts, and platforms in as much detail as he wished.

        Kit got home late that night, but he was happy.  He knew that Barry would give a great interview.

        He stayed up late studying the avionics systems in the CJ series of jets.  The CJs used the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite, one of the most vaunted and lauded avionics suites available, and it was the first electronic avionics suite Kit had used that wasn’t Garmin.  It had many of the same functions as the Garmin—actually many more—but the method to getting to those functions were different, and that was what he had to learn.  Kit had gotten the hang of the extra attention he had to pay to things when studying the Mustang, so at least in that regard  he was already adapting to the difference between a jet and a multi-engine prop.

        They were all a bit nervous when Barry and Janet headed out at nine the next morning.  This was, by far, the biggest interview the magazine had managed to score, even bigger than Representative Smith and Senator Hutchison.  Barry had only one day to prepare, and that pushed Kit’s ability to research to the limit.  In about two hours, they’d find out just how well they did.

        Everyone was doing other work while Barry was gone, but their minds were on the interview.   Kit was keeping himself busy by researching out Lily’s upcoming assignment to write an article on the new club that was being built on Congress which was going to be called the Inferno.  Rick was rolling around his office aimlessly in his wheelchair, muttering, and Sheila was sitting on the corner of her desk, being interviewed by Marty for some reason, probably for Ask Away.

        The whole office stopped when Barry and Janet returned, and when Janet grinned, an explosive sigh of relief rolled through the entire office.

        “Barry rocked!” she proclaimed.

        “I think it was a good interview,” Barry said modestly.  “Here, we recorded the whole thing.  You guys listen to it while I get an outline ready to write the article.”

        They did so, listening as Barry grilled the Governor on a variety of issues.  The Governor’s voice seemed quite surprised that Barry was ready with so many indepth questions when he answered them, but it didn’t sound like annoyance, it sounded more like delight.  He answered the questions that were against his platform with honesty, spelling out why he disagreed, and answered the questions that supported his platform with quiet logic rather than passion, explaining his views.  Barry asked questions from all over the field, from national issues like the war and economy to local issues like the rise in crime around the U.T. campus over the last few months.  In all, Kit felt that Barry had done an outstanding job with the interview.

        “You know, I think we should put a transcript of the entire interview up on the website on Monday, after the magazine has had a chance to sell,” Mike mused.  “Who can type really fast?”

        “I can do it, it gives me something to do while waiting for phone calls,” Denise volunteered.

        “Why transcript it when we can podcast it?” Janet challenged.

        “Oh, I was planning to do that too,” Mike grinned.  “This way we have it available for anyone, including the stone-age furs that don’t have Ipods.”

        Barry presented his first draft of the article that afternoon, and when Kit read it, he saw that it needed almost no editing.  Rick did have him correct a couple of very small point, but the big smile on the dingo’s face said everything.  “Damn fine job, Barry.”

        “I just wonder when we became a political magazine,” Barry chuckled.  “We’ve done more interviews with politicians than anyone else.”

        “Well, it’s election season,” Rick chuckled.  “That’s the big news right now.  We’ll go back to more normal work after November.”

        Jessie had an early dinner waiting for him when he got home.  “What’s going on, pretty kitty?” he asked curiously.

        “I want to go up in the plane tonight,” she answered, “so I thought we could get dinner done early.”

        Kit laughed.  “I have you so seduced by the Dark Side,” he teased.

        “I wasn’t kidding, handsome fox.  When we come back from Kansas, I want to be the one who flies the plane home.”

        “Well, then let’s eat so we can give you some practical time to apply what you’ve been learning,” he smiled.

        And they did.  After a dinner of beef stew, her mother’s excellent recipe, they drove out to the airport.  They again had a little impromptu lesson there at the plane, as Kit quizzed Jessie on what she had learned so far, then they got into the plane and  Kit walked her through the preflight checklists.  She knew them from hearing them so many times, but this time Kit took it slowly and explained why he performed each step, what he was checking, what he was doing and why it was important.  When he finished the checklists, he had her get out of the plane, and then he climbed over the center console and got into the copilot’s chair.

        “What are you doing, love?” she asked curiously.

        “It’s an entirely different perspective sitting in the real chair, pretty kitty.  If you learn from the right seat, you’ll be a little awkward when you sit in the left one.  So we’re going to do this right, with you in the left seat.  I can fly the plane from the right side, I did it enough sharing flight time with buddies in the Beech back in flight school.”

        “Oh.  Okay,” she said, hopping down and hurrying around the plane.

        Instead of doing everything, he had Jessie do it.  She was the one that started the plane, she was the one that did a radio check with the tower—in a slightly quavering voice, at that—and she was the one that did everything short of actually guiding the plane out of the hangar.  As they taxied, Kit continued to teach her about their plane, and he stressed that what she was learning may be focused on the 400, but it could apply to virtually any plane.  “It’s the method you need to focus on, pretty kitty,” he told her.  “This could be our plane, it could be a Skyhawk, it could be a Piper, it could be a Beech or a Grumman, it could be a single prop or a four engine jet, it doesn’t matter.  If you understand the method, you can apply that method to any plane you fly.”

        “But wouldn’t flying a bigger plane make it different?”

        “It’ll make it handle differently, and you’ll have a lot more to do, but the fundamental method is the same,” he told her.

        It was a little different taking off from the right seat, but Kit adjusted to it.  When they were up, Kit grilled Jessie about what she’d learned so far, about the mechanics of flight, and then he let her have the controls.  They stayed relatively low, flying out over the ranch country southeast of Austin, as he let Jessie practice making turns, descending, ascending, and banking.  She giggled as they did a fairly sharp bank.  “I should turn us over like you did to Dad,” she grinned at him.

        “Let’s save the aerobatics for when you have more time behind the stick,” he said mildly.  “It’s not as simple as just pushing the stick, love.  The flight characteristics of the plane will change when you invert it.  Actually,” he mused, then he looked at the altimeter.  “Take us up to ten thousand.  Let’s introduce you to a stall.”

        Jessie was introduced to real flying then.  She gasped when Kit intentionally stalled the plane, lowering the throttle and hitting the speed brakes, and she looked very frightened as the plane dropped out of the sky, entering a spin due to the way Kit jacked the rudder when the wings stalled.  But Kit regained control of the plane with practiced ease, only losing about a thousand feet.  “That’s something you should never experience in this plane unless you do it on purpose, love,” he told her.  “This plane is almost impossible to stall by accident.  Now, how did I get control back?” he asked.

        She dredged her memory.  “You work into the spin,” she answered.  “To get air over your flight surfaces and work to put your nose down more steeply so you can regain control of the plane.”

        “Very good.  How do you get out of a spin?”

        “One axis at a time,” she answered.  “You focus on regaining yaw axis first, because regaining yaw control will make the plan nose down and let you get control back faster.  After that, you get back longitudinal control, stopping the corkscrew, then latitudinal by pulling out of the dive.”

        “Right.  And the mechanics of it?  How do you do it?”

        “By working the controls in the opposite direction.  If you’re sliding in yaw to the left, push the rudder right.  The plane will want to naturally nose down once you slow the yaw spin, and once it noses down it’s much easier to regain control.”

        “Right.  What’s it called when you enter a spin?”

        “Incipient.”

        “Correct.  And after you’re fully into the spin?’

        “Developed.”

        “Correct.  How do you get out of a spin?  What’s the key word, love.”

        “Angle of attack,” she answered.  “When the angle of attack decreases and you can overcome autorotation.”

        “Exactly right, almost verbatim right out of the handbook,” he smiled.  “Those are the three biggest words in flight school, love, angle of attack.  Always remember exactly what they mean.”

        “The angle between the wings and airflow,” she said immediately.  “Which determines the lift the wings generate.”

        “How do we alter our angle of attack without changing our direction or airspeed?”

        She thought a second.  “Flaps?”

        “Very good!” he said with a big smile.  “You’ve been studying hard, I see,” he said happily.

        “Of course I have,” she winked in reply.

        He let her invert the plane at ten thousand feet, and she found out that it wasn’t as easy as just turning the plane back over.  She found out that it took both stick and rudder to keep the plane stable and flying smoothly upside down, and turning the plane back over took more attention.  “Now keep that a secret,” Kit winked at her.  “It’s technically against flight regulations to perform aerobatic maneuvers in a utility class plane.  We just broke the law.”

        “Oh no, let’s run for Mexico!” she giggled, turning the plane south and opening up the throttle.

        He stalled the plane three more times, and on the third time, he let Jessie try to recover after she asked for a chance to try.  It was a flat stall with little yaw spin, a very easy stall from which to recover, and to his utter delight, she was able to recover control of the plane after about five seconds.  When she pulled the nose up smoothly, he gave her a big kiss.  “Outstanding, pretty kitty!” he beamed.

        He let her fly around for over an hour, then he took control once they got close enough to the airport to have to start interacting with air traffic control.  She watched carefully and listened as he interacted with traffic control, and she helped perform their landing checklist.  He landed smoothly, and then let Jessie take over the taxi once he was off the runway, let her taxi them back to the Avia hangar.  “Remember, this plane steers using differential braking,” he told her.  “It will turn very sharply, but it’s always going to want to go in a straight line if you increase power while turning, and that’ll increase your turn radius.  So never increase power during a turn.”

        “Got it,” she nodded as she turned along a bend in the taxiway.

        Kit was quite impressed with Jessie when he took over to put the plane back in their parking place.  He was amazed that she got them out of that stall so smoothly, given she had so little time behind the controls.  And he knew that she was intelligent, and that she had a quick mind, but she was amazing him with how much she was retaining from her self-study of the flight school books.

        Kit was absolutely positive that she would get her pilot’s license in about three weeks in Kansas.  With their own plane, she could practice what she was learning in the books, which just reinforced it.  They’d give her a pretest when she arrived, and find out they’d have to teach her very little in a classroom, freeing up plenty of time to do the flying.  She’d walk into that flight school literally already knowing how to fly.  She’d just have to study for her written test and the oral exam given during the check ride, do her required flying hours, then do her check ride.  She’d walk into that place already knowing how to fly a plane.  All she’d need would be the formalities.

        “Tomorrow, we’re going to a little airfield called Lakeview that’s northwest of Austin,” he told her.  “And there, you’re going to learn how to take off, land, and do touch and go’s.”

        “Why there?”

        “Because it’s a small private airfield with no tower, a nice long paved runway, and there will be very little traffic,” he answered.  “Think of it as going to a mall’s parking lot early on Sunday morning to learn how to drive.  You’ll have plenty of space and few distractions.”

        “Okay,” she nodded.  “I’ll make sure to go back to those sections and study them tonight.  And I think that software they sent me has interactive programs that teach it.”

        She did just that, too.  Kit talked to Clancy on the phone after they got home, and he put Jessie on the phone so he could thank her for the scones, while she was reading her books and also using her interactive software to learn all about the mechanics of taking off and landing.  Kit was steeling himself for it; it was always a bumpy time for any new pilot, and the shocks on his plane’s landing gear were going to be sorely tested.

        Sheila opened the door without knocking.  “Hey cousin,” she called.

        “Yeah?” he asked, pausing from the interactive quiz he was taking on his laptop about the avionics system in the CJ series jets.

        “You got a minute?  I need some help with something.”

        He paused the quiz and went out with her, going to her car.  The trunk of her Mustang was tied down, with a box hanging out of it.  “What did you buy?” he asked.

        “My TV died on my last night, I have no idea why,” she answered.  “Can you help me carry it to my place?”

        “Sure,” he said.  She’d bought a large flat-screen TV, looked like 40 inches at least, and the two of them carried it from her car.

        “Has Terry been calling you?” she asked.

        “Not really, why?”

        “He’s been calling me every freakin’ day,” she complained.  “He’s really trying to get Ally’s number.”

        “I told him to leave that alone, that she’d call him when she’s ready,” he grunted.

        “Well, he’s not listening very well.  So, what did you think of Kendall Brighton?”

        Kit chuckled.  “I like him,” he said honestly.

        “Yeah, he seems nice,” she answered.  “I met him last month when I went up for the weekend to see Mom, and bring back more of my stuff.  I can’t wait for them to finish the apartments,” she said.  “As soon as we move in, I’ll be able to have my stuff shipped down.”