© Wanderer -- all rights reserved
"Hey, what ever happened to Rio?"
I blinked, looking up from my pool cue. "Hm?"
"I was just wondering what ever happened to Rio", Wolfshead drawled from across the felt, leaning on his own cue. "Didn't hang around long, did he?"
I thought for a moment ...
He turned to look at me, dark eyes in dark fur. Appropriate, I thought. Terribly appropriate.
"Yeah?" His arrogance was almost palpable, the gentle uptilt of his muzzle's corners giving away the complete self-assurance that fueled him in so many different directions. He was no Darkwolf, by color or by kind, though two people who didn't know us well would've thought we were brothers.
"I'd like to have a talk with you." I led the way into the alley behind the Pig, my own self-assurance finding a slight touch of blood at its edges as it sank into my heart. Once we were out of sight of the door, I turned and found him waiting, lounging against the corner, his leather jacket stinking of boiled cow to my oversized nasal cavity.
"Is this about that rabbit chick? 'Cause if it is -"
"It is", I affirmed, not bothering with my accents. "It's come to my attention that you two are a bit more than friends."
His smirk grew wider. "What, bunny-boy come crying to you for help?"
My own smirk was colder than his, though just as wide. "Who needed that? Even that stinkbomb you're wearing can't hide that much rabbit scent. Not from me, and especially not her."
"Hey", he laughed, "you laid her, too? Man, isn't she-"
"No", I glowered. "I've known her that long. It's like seeing someone across a crowded room. You'll get it with practice." I dropped the conversation there, waiting for him to pick up the gauntlet. He didn't wait long.
"So this is where the big, bad wolf comes down hard on the evil guy, huh?" He never broke position, though I could see him tense where he leaned against the bricks. "I'm sleepin' with her, so I'm the bad guy?"
"No", I cut in before he could go on. "You didn't make the choice for her any more than she made it for you. In fact", I continued, my face impassive, "what you two do is about to be none of my business."
The confused look on his face spoke volumes.
"My business is only with my pack. And that no longer means you."
That broke through. "Now waitaminnit, you're takin' his side over mine? What, you're afraid of the bitty bunny? Oh, he might snuggle you to death, that's so scary."
I let him laugh. Then, as he turned to go ...
With a single, fluid motion I jumped, my movement sharpened by my change of shape. By the time I landed on Rio's side as he turned back to face me, my pants were down around my ankles ... but my jaws were around his throat. And turned sideways, neither of his arms could reach me with the knife I half-expected. I held him there for a moment, growling deep in my throat. Then ...
With the jolt of my return trip to my preferred shape, I shoved him against the wall, standing over him as he held his sore throat. "Number one", I half-growled, "that 'bitty bunny' is a good friend of mine. Number two, shtupping another man's girl is just plain wrong. And number three, and most importantly; you're not the Alpha around here."
He stared up at me, silent as he rubbed the mane of fur that was still indented with my teethmarks.
"You want her? Fine", I snarled. "But you do it somewhere else. Because Three, the wolf in me wants you dead. Two, the man in me wants to saw your balls off. And One, if I don't, Mister Rabbit in there is man enough to do it for me." I bared my teeth in a non- smile. "You should see what he did to the tiger."
I throttled the urge to throttle him, turned, and walked back inside, pulling up my pants as I went.
He didn't follow.
"No", I replied to Wolfshead. "I guess we weren't what he was looking for." With that, a bit of pure luck landed the red ball, whichever number it was, in the corner pocket.
As Wolfshead lined up his shot, I noticed Phil raise his head to me, a signal to talk. "Be right back", I smiled. "It seems as though Master Geusz would like a conference." He nodded, his attentions focused on the brightly colored balls against the green field.
"What ho", I smiled as I neared the table. "Many thanks, friendly Phil-lapine. Pool, I fear, is not and has never been my game. I am a blot upon the beauty of billiards."
He smiled, in the way he does ... but it never reached his eyes, or those wonderfully mobile ears of his. "I just heard from Clover."
I had trouble keeping my tail up at that one. "Oh? How is the dear thing, dare one ask?"
He ignored my question. "She told me what you said to Rio."
For a moment, a fleeting moment, I dropped everything. Every well- learned mannerism dropped away, leaving me still. "Is there a problem?"
The question found abeyance as Edwina brought me a refill on cola. "What I said to Rio", I began as soon as we were reasonably alone, "was for his ears alone."
We faced each other across the table, two oddly-shaped statues gazing at one another for a timeless moment.
On safe ground again, I leaned back and crossed my legs at the footpad. "I had my reasons, Phillip, as important as any you might have had. Must we go into them?"
He watched my face, and I could tell it. "No", he said at last. "No, I guess we don't."
"Lady Death will be delighted to hear it", I smiled. "Such discussions invariably ruin everybody's appetite, you know."
He half-smiled at me. "One question, though."
"How did you find out about that tiger?", he almost whispered. "I asked the police not to make that public."
I slipped easily into the role of raconteur, keeping my voice at a normal pitch as I replied, "Oh, it's no secret, Phillip. If you wish the police to treat you well, you merely act accordingly. I, for example", I rushed on before he could interrupt, "bring them chocolate chip cookies every Christmas for years now. Family recipe."
He stared at me with a troubled gaze, slightly confused, though I knew from experience that he was already leaping toward the facts.
"Dear, sweet Phillip", I told him more softly, "it was a harmless, unguarded moment. They know me, and know I know you. They had no reason not to mention it to me."
"I'll have to keep that in mind", he smirked back at me. "Shouldn't you get back to the game?"
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