Bird’s Eye View: Chapter 4- Bird Dogging

Morning time.

Glory be, the weekend is finally here.

The sun was already out by the time I got out of bed. There’s no sign of my extraspecies guest as I brush my teeth and take a quick shower.

Safe to assume she’s out flying. It’s weird how mundane having a beautiful houseguest capable of flight has become in the span of about a week.

Getting dressed, I head outside and scan the skies to see if I can find Perri out and about.

No sign of her.

I half seriously consider seeing if I can persuade her to put a GoPro on her the next time she takes to the skies just so I can see where she ends up flying.

‘Ah well- brunch waits for no harpy.’ I say to myself as I head into the kitchen and begin making an omelette along with some bacon.

In no time, the kitchen smells like bacon and the omelette I’m working on takes up the whole frying pan- Onions, mushroom and American cheese.

The problem with executing the perfect omelette flip is that you end up eating the evidence. Once I was satisfied both sides were adequately cooked, I turned down the burner and used a steak knife to slice the hefty mound of egg, cheese and veggies roughly in half. One part was for me while the other half- along with a few strips of bacon- went on a seperate plate that I set aside for Perri if she showed up.

Part of me is wondering if it’s even alright to be serving Perri scrambled eggs. In the wild, many raptor species preyed on smaller birds. Does the same hold true for raptor harpies? If so, then I’m sure scrambled eggs wouldn’t exactly traumatize her. If she objected, I’m sure she’d let me know.

I never considered myself culinarily gifted, but my homemade brunch seemed like a masterpiece that I should probably savor this-

All units, be advised. Subject is on top of the town water tower and is refusing requests to climb down.” the scanner crackled to life.

Copy that, dispatch. Can you describe them?

One woman. Early to mid 20’s, female, platinum or whitish hair….she made it to the top of the tower, so she may not even hear us from that height”

Hey….wait a second. It almost sounds like they’re talking about-

Seems to be wearing some sort of bird costume or homemade wingsuit on top of civilian clothes.”

God damn it.

Not even three bites into my brunch and I have to bail to try and make sure my homestay doesn’t get tossed in jail.

Grabbing my Stetson and truck key, I dash out the front door to head into town.

Unsurprisingly, a crowd had gathered at the base of the water tower by the time I showed up. The Sheriff’s Department more or less had the area cordoned off and were attempting to negotiate with Perri through a bullhorn. I say ‘attempting’ because they weren’t having any more luck with her than I’d typically have on any given night.

I suppose I could just melt into the crowd and watch from a distance, hoping that things will resolve themselves somehow. But if things went south- then what?

I can’t help but overhear some of the murmuring as I’m making my way through the growing crowd. Seems like hardly anyone realizes the woman atop the tower is a harpy- just about everyone here thinks it’s a possibly suicidal woman in a bird costume on the water tower. Wading through the crowd, I get close enough to hear one of the deputies tell the Sheriff that the State Police have notified a crisis negotiator and they were en-route.

“Did they give an ETA?”

“Not until at least twelve thirty.”

“That’s too much time. What about that cherry picker from EPE?”

His query was met with multiple shrugs from the gathered deputies.

“We’re gonna have to improvise, I guess.” he said in a tone that indicated he was clearly displeased with his deputies’ answer. Picking up the bullhorn, he spoke to the figure on the water tower.

Miss? Would you care to tell us why you’re up there?” he asked patiently through the bullhorn.

“I’ve been here since sunrise. I’m not doing anything wrong, am I?” the voice called out. It was definitely Perri’s, dashing my hopes that it could be some other harpy who just happened to be in the area.

Not really, but I’d rather we discuss things on the ground….so how about you climb on down?”

“Sheriff…” I call out as I approach the barricade. “I know her.”

“Is that a fact? Can you tell us what the hell she’s doing up there?”

“Her name is Perri and she likes high places.”

“You don’t say….” he deadpanned.

“She’s not human and that’s not a costume.” I explain. “She’s a harpy.”

“Harpy? You’re sayin’ she’s an extraspecies gal, like the ones from the news?”

I nod. “I’m her host.”

On the one hand, he seems doubtful of what I just told him. But despite his initial skepticism, things start adding up.

“Well now….this changes things.” he ponders.

“Hey-uh….I hate to be one of those people who tells you how to do your job, but is this even necessary?” I ask the sheriff.

“She’s not hurting anyone now, but there’s a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of telecommunication equipment up there. The town gets paid by the phone companies to put relay antennas up there. If something happens to those, the whole county could be without cell service for weeks.”

“Holy shit- really? Who’s your carrier?” I ask the lawman incredulously. “I thought we were already without service all these years. I mean…my carrier sucks ass so bad that I gotta keep the landline-“

“Just….” the sheriff sighed, not the least bit interested in my telecommunications woes. “Can you try and wrap things up here?”

“Umm….OK. I mean I can try.”

The fact that I know Perri doesn’t make it more likely that I can coax her down from the tower.

Also, what he’s saying is about trespassing is technically true, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a bunch of submachinegun wielding bandidos decided to knock over the Federal Savings Bank of Llano County a-la Hell or High Water while he and his deputies are busy trying to talk down an ornery bird woman from a water tower?

Clearly overestimating my power of persuasion with the falcon-girl, the sheriff turns and hands me the bullhorn. My only response is to incredulously point at myself while silently mouthing ‘Me?’

I got as far as “Hey” before everyone’s ears were treated to an acoustic assault of screeching feedback. Wrong damn button.

Well- here goes nothing.

Hey….Perri? You wanna come on down from there?” I ask.

“Not right now.”

Well, so much for the straightforward approach.

“I have my day pass if that’s what you’re worried about, Mr. Host.” she adds.

I know- but you really aren’t supposed to be up there.”

“I don’t see anything saying I can’t be here.”

I grunt in frustration. If you have the local sheriff politely asking you to get off the tower, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re not supposed to be up there.

C’mon Perri. Quit being so difficult and just get on down here.

“Why? So you can get drunk and make me sleep in the barn again?” she asks loud enough for everyone to hear.

That flying fucking bullshit artist. I can’t see from down here, but I’m sure she has that infuriating smirk right now.

I grit my teeth.

That’s…..” I begin to say through the megaphone. This wasn’t a mistake or a misunderstanding on her part- she was straight-up lying about my treatment of her in front of pretty much the whole county. Instinctively I was going to say “That’s not true” but then inspiration struck me.

Why not fight her bullshit with more bullshit?

That’s because you keep dive-bombing my schnauzer! The poor thing is terrified of you now!

Oh the look on her face. She’s been getting used to goading and teasing me, but not being on the receiving end of such treatment. The surprise and indignation on Perri’s face was visible even from my lowly position on the ground, and it was sweeter than any gooey, caramel covered confectionary. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to lap up all that sweetness.

Of course I didn’t have a schnauzer for her to terrorize, but just like my supposedly making Perri sleep in the barn, the sheriff, his deputies and all the bystanders present didn’t know any better.

Better still, Perri looks incredulous. She has no idea what to do now.

Little Fritzy is gonna need years of therapy now!” I add, deciding to give my imaginary schnauzer a name.

Her mouth opens as though she is going to shout back something, but it quickly closes again.

C’mon- jump!” I shout at her.

Yeah- she looks pissed. Some in the crowd gasp. Maybe I shouldn’t be goading her, but this is kind of fun.

Do it!

She’s glowering at me.

“C’mon! What are your scared of!? Let gravity do it’s thing….”

“Should I use the beanbag rounds?” I overhear one of the deputies ask the sheriff, a pump-action Remington 870 shotgun at the ready.

No- don’t!” I inexplicably call out.

There didn’t seem to be any reason to my objection other than not wanting to see Perri get hurt at all, despite some of the aggravation she’s intent on causing me this morning.

Almost immediately the deputy lowered the shotgun as he turned to look at me. However, I was looking past him and up at Perri, who had stepped off of the water tower and was now silently making her way towards us. There were a few horrified gasps from the crowd that turned into an almost collective ‘Ooooh‘ as Perri glided down towards us.

She looked pissed, and for a moment I was concerned that beanbags wouldn’t be enough. Buckshot, deer slug, turkey loads, incendiaries….anything besides the love-tap a beanbag round was sure to deliver to a surly bird of prey Perri’s size.

The closer she gets, the more pissed off she looks. My two options are basically to run like a little bitch in front of everyone or accept whatever the grouchy falcon girl has in store for me.

She looks like she’s on a collision course with me and no beanbag round is going to save me, but at the last minute, she tips slightly upward as I feel something tugging at the top of my head as I flinch.

Fuck- looks like I’m short a Stetson once again. At this rate, I should be glad she went after just my headgear and not my scalp.

There was a smattering of applause as she rockets skyward with two flaps of her wings. Once she was satisfied she had enough altitude, she did another loop and began streaking towards the ground diagonally and at an alarming rate, only to pull up at the last possible second and send herself skyward again with two lightning quick flaps of her surfboard-sized wings. After levelling off and flying in a horizontal circle over the gathered spectators, she began a much more gradual descent as the smattering of applause in the crowd picked up. The only reason I wasn’t applauding was because I didn’t want to appear as though I was endorsing Perri’s antics in front of the whole town. Before I could really reflect on her performance, the Sheriff’s marked Explorer rocked a little bit as Perri alighted on the hood, looking down at the two of us.

“I’ll have you know that’s no way to address an Aztec goddess, Mr. Host.” she harrumphed at me, seemingly oblivious to the presence of every sheriff’s deputy or state trooper around for miles.

“Not this shit…” I mumble. “Perri- if you can name me the Aztec goddess you’re supposed to be, I will eat my goddamned hat….speaking of which- give me back my hat.”

“Miss- you mind stepping off my vehicle?” the Sheriff asked firmly, yet unfailingly politely.

To my surprise, Perri did exactly as he asked. She was now standing next to me and holding up a lanyard that contained one of her day passes as well as my Stetson.

“I didn’t go out without my pass. See?” she said to the sheriff before turning to me. “And since they’re good for 24 hours, I thought I would do some exploring in town today. I don’t have to be back until this evening, right?”

Bewildered, the sheriff gave the pass a once-over before speaking up.

“Miss- I don’t know how to tell you this, but I have no authority to enforce this.”

“What?” Perri and I both ask- I’m just as surprised as she is.

“This seems to be some sort of written curfew order. The thing is, whether or not you break curfew and what happens to you for it is between you, your host and this exchange program. The only way I can get involved if you’re in violation of any of our laws- like trespassing or loitering.”

“I see. They were much more strict about this over in Japan.” Perri said quietly.

This earned a chuckle from the sheriff, perhaps the first indication that Perri and I actually weren’t in trouble with the law.

“You’re not in Japan anymore, Miss.”

This whole time, Perri had been holding out my hat for me to take back- but I was waiting for the other shoe to drop as I was surrounded by every lawman in the county after my homestay was making herself a very public nuisance.

On the one hand, the Sheriff’s announcement was excellent news that meant we weren’t in any immediate trouble. But on the other hand, that means I may have lost some leverage over Perri in future circumstances when she’s being difficult.

Still- both of us were terrified of Smith, so I suppose I still had some leverage.

“In the meantime…” he continued. “You both sound like an old married couple. I would appreciate it if the two of you took you lover’s spat somewhere less public.”

“L-lovers!?” Perri stammered. “He’s not….I mean…we’re not….”

Although I’m initially just as taken aback as Perri, I use the opportunity to retrieve my Stetson from the falcon harpy’s grip as she starts to blush and fidget.

“Oh….you know how it is, Sheriff.” I say casually as I dust off my hat before putting it back on. “When you’re young and in love, passions run high.”

“Mr. Host, that’s not-”

We are this close to walking away from this huge commotion that she’s responsible for virtually unscathed and she’s going to blow it with whatever she has to say next- I just know it.

“Hey Perri- I know it’s early, but are you up for another burrito?” I interrupt

“I…..I would like that very much.” she says uncharacteristically meekly.

“All right, you two…I’m gonna leave things be for now.” the sheriff spoke up. “But let me just say whatever happens behind closed doors should stay there. No point in raisin’ a fuss in front of the whole town whenever the two of you are havin’ an argument.”

Gently pulling on one of Perri’s wing-claws, I couldn’t thank him and be on our merry way fast enough.

 


I have my misgivings, but a promise is a promise.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, the two of us are back at La Olla Cobre taking in the sound of corrido music and aromas of sizzling meat wafting from the kitchen. This time around seemed to be a little different, since it was daylight and there were a few other people inside- a couple of to-go orders and an older man who looked like he was doing a crossword puzzle at one of the tables.

Shit- I hate to be rewarding her when she’s being difficult like this, but the allure of burritos was enough for the two of us to extricate ourselves from that very public situation and dressing down by the Sheriff.

“Mr. Host….are you sure you should be filling up like that?” Perri asks me.

“Well, Perri- I made a nice brunch for the two of us before I heard about your antics on the police scanner.” I grumble.

Truth be told even if it had been left out all morning, the omelette I had been working on should be salvageable provided I wrap it up in plastic wrap or foil and stick it in the fridge once I get home.

“That’s not what I meant.” there’s traces of a grin on the normally stoic harpy’s lips. “You should be saving room for your hat.”

My hat? Ohhhh….that’s right. I said I’d eat my hat if Perri could name the eagle-winged Aztec goddess that she’s suddenly taken an interest in.

“Limited time offer.” I scoff, although I defensively reach for my hat while fully expecting some mischief on Perri’s part.

“If that’s how you want to do things, Mr. Host.” Perri sighed, although that troublesome little grin was still on her lips. “Don’t expect to be getting your hat back so easily next time.”

“Alright, alright….I’ll humor you. For the grand prize of a million Venezuelan Bolivares, what’s the name of the Aztec eagle goddess?” I ask in my best mock game show host voice.

I’m sure she doesn’t pay any attention to the exchange rate, and I figure on the off chance she gets it right then I’ll be out maybe $4…..tops.

“Tso….shii…kwet…skull.”

Oh shit….if that wasn’t it, I think that was awfully close.

“Wrong…” I bluff.

“No way. When one is descended from pagan warrior gods such as myself-”

I can’t help but laugh.

“You’re so full of shit, Perri.”

“I’m right, aren’t I?” she insists, although she’s nowhere near as amused as I am.

“I mean…how can you even get off the ground to fly when you’re that full of shit?”

“Mr. Host….” she pouted. Damn it- I’m supposed to be angry with her but it’s not working thanks in large part to this cute little scowl on her face. “I wonder if you’d like to have your hat served to you wrapped in a burrito.”

As I’m looking around, I can see the place is starting to fill up. However, I’m a bit surprised that for the most part Perri isn’t the center of attention- seems as though they had their fill watching our antics earlier and just wanted some hearty Mexican food.

“Excuse me….” a young woman’s voice calls out. She didn’t mention me or Perri by name, but it was pretty clear she was addressing us as the two of us turned upon hearing her.

The young woman in question was a petite strawberry blonde. She was accompanied by two other young women- all three of them wearing cheerleading outfits from the local high school.

“I…if you don’t mind….” the strawberry blonde continued. It sounded like she had been trying to work up the nerve to ask one of us something, but was quickly losing her nerve instead. “My friends and I just wanted to tell you we thought your feathers were really pretty.”

She’s not wrong, although that isn’t the first thing I noticed about Perri and it probably wasn’t the first thing these girls noticed about her either.

The other two- a taller blonde and a lighter-skinned latina- spoke up almost simultaneously, their questions overlapping.

“Would it be all right if I took a selfie?”

“Can we take a selfie?”

Perri looked a bit surprised at the girls’ request, but quickly regained her composure.

“I don’t see why not.” she said quietly.

Not even half a second later, Perri was flanked by the trio of cheerleaders, their voices overlapping once more.

“Okay…one, two…three!”

“Smile!”

“Say cheese…or queso!”

This was quickly followed up by the staccato clicking of each girls’ camera phone as one of them slid an arm around Perri’s neck.

“Thank you!” the taller blonde gushed.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Perri.” she murmured. The increasingly cool and confident raptor harpy clearly wasn’t used to this kind of attention- at least indoors and when the people talking to her were close enough to make eye contact.

“I love that top….it’s so cute and looks great on you.” the latina cheerleader said to Perri.

“Oh…th-thank you.” Perri said, flashing a disarming smile before nervously looking down at the floor.

“I’m Whitney.” The taller blonde one introduced herself. “And this is Isabel and Amanda.” The darker haired girl and strawberry blonde gave a little nod and wave at the mention of each of their names.

“Is it hard to find clothes that you like because of your wings?” the nervous strawberry blonde who first approached us asked Perri.

The falcon harpy nodded. “Most of the time I need to utilize straps or have the sleeves removed entirely-”

“These came out great!” Isabela interrupted as she appraised the selfie with Perri. “Do you have Facebook? We can send you one…”

“I….don’t have a phone of my own.” Perri said a little forlornly.

This came as something of a shock to the gathered trio, their questions overlapping.

“What?”

“How come?

“That sucks- why not?”

At first, I was wary this might be something of a repeat of our encounter with the gruesome twosome at the pharmacy. But the more I hear the girls talking to Perri, the more I realize it’s pretty much the exact opposite. Still, I decide I had to join in the conversation if for no other reason to clarify things. “Those wings are great for flying, but not really good for gripping.”

“Yeah- I guess that makes sense.” Whitney conceded.

“Plus service out here kinda sucks.” I add. “But if you want, you can send some of those pictures to my phone. For now, that’s probably the best way to make sure Perri gets to see them…”

Only after I made the offer was I uncomfortably aware it sounded like I was flirting with the trio of high school girls.

I wasn’t, I swear….and I think the only reason they entertained the offer from me was because they could see that I was accompanying Perri.

“You’re the guy with the schnauzer, right?” the Isabela asks me warily.

“Y-yeah…that’s me.” I say hesitantly, wondering how far I should go with this particular lie. I suppose there’s worse things in the world than being known as ‘Schnauzer Guy’, but they escape me at this point in time.

“Don’t make Perri sleep in the barn….pleease!” Amanda suddenly pleaded with me, clasping her hands together. “I’m sure she can get along great with your dog.”

Perri seemed to be caught off guard by a total stranger lobbying on her behalf for a moment, but quickly regained her composure and decided to roll with it.

“Yes, Mr. Host- pretty please?” she pleaded quietly, but brimming over with an almost tangible smugness and overconfidence now that a sympathetic audience for her fictional tale of sleeping in the barn had shown themselves.

“Yeah…aren’t you, like, her big brother or something?” Whitney asks pointedly.

“Now girls…” I say reassuringly to Perri’s new fan-club. “I’m sure Perri and Fritzy can learn to get along and it won’t have to come to that.”

Damn it- there’s that infuriating smirk of hers again. Her new fan-club seems oblivious.

“Besides- the owls do such a great job of keeping the pests and vermin away- I wouldn’t want to displace them by moving Perri out to the barn.” I add.

“Um….if your dog is still skittish, my uncle knows a canine therapist.” Isabela offers. “Maybe he can help.”

I was so grateful at the darker-haired cheerleader’s offer that I almost forgot that I didn’t actually have a dog that required therapy- or anything else.

“That’s very kind of you.” I reply. “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

“Here…” Whitney said, handing me what looked like an old receipt. “Just give us your number, but make sure she gets these.”

Without giving it much thought, I jot down my cellphone number and hand the slip of paper back to the taller blonde cheerleader.

“Number 26! Your order is ready- number 26!” the cashier bellowed, holding up several to-go bags worth of food.

“That’s us.” Isabela gently elbowed Whitney.

“We should get going.” the taller blonde said to us. “Take care, Perri……’Big Brother’…” the last part she said teasingly.

“Bye Perri! It was nice meeting you….” Amanda said as she excused herself.

I chuckle as the girls file out the restaurant. There’s no way all of that food is for just the three of them- they were probably picking up food for the rest of the squad for practice or whatever when they ran into us.

Before we get to the counter, my phone buzzes.

Text notification- one new message.

I don’t recognize the number and there’s no picture attached. However, the message does contain a link to somebody’s Facebook page.

Sure enough, I click on the link and I’m treated to a rather striking picture of Perri and the strawberry blonde, Amanda. There were some feathers in the foreground, but you could hardly tell they were Perri’s. Even though I knew where to look, it was still hard to discern where Perri’s arms tapered off into wings.

Something else catches my attention.

The picture couldn’t have been up for more than five minutes and already had 37 ‘Likes’.

And counting.

“Holy shit….” I marvel quietly.

“What is it, Mr. Host?”

“Don’t look now, Perri…but you’re a damn rockstar.”

“Oh…I could never be as popular as my sister.” the falcon girl said bashfully.

“You have a sister?”

“Half-sister.”

“Where does she live?” I ask.

“The last I heard, she’s still in Japan. She’s staying with a Japanese family too….and she appeared in a few magazines with some other extraspecies models.” she said matter-of-factly.

“What’s her name?”

“Haru.”

“Is she single?” I ask- perhaps a bit too optimistically.

“I heard that she’s not really…….into guys.”

“She’s….not, huh?” I trail off as what Perri just told me finally sinks in.

Shit- that’s one rather unexpected way of not having to worry about the Exchange Program’s rules against fraternization.

As we get to the counter to place our order, I spot the old timer from the other night toiling away in the kitchen. It’s our turn to order and I keep things fairly simple with a chile relleno burrito for myself and a chorizo, egg and bacon breakfast burrito for Perri.

“I’m right- aren’t I?” Perri asks suddenly.

“Hm?”

“About the eagle goddess. Tso-shii-kwets-skull?”

Oh, this shit again. Honestly, I was hoping that she might’ve forgotten about it after meeting those three girls.

“I guess there’s one way to find out.” I shrug. “Better start thinking of something you can do when you’re proven wrong.”

The raptor harpy doesn’t look that dissuaded.

Oye, Patron!” I call out to the old-timer working the grill in the kitchen.

He looks up briefly and acknowledges me and Perri with a quick wave.

Cual es la nombre de mujer aguila desde tu puebla natal?” I ask.

Miss Galvez- my high school teacher- would probably flunk me on the spot for the way that question was put together. I was trying to ask what the name of the eagle woman from his hometown was.

Flawed Spanish as it was, I got a prompt reply from him.

“Ah, si! Se llaman Xochiquetzal.” He says without missing a beat before getting back to work. He pronounced it more like “So-She-Quits-Call”.

Perri’s smirk broadens.

“See?” she asked.

Fuck- I knew coming here was a bad idea.

“Perhaps some salsa to go with your hat?” she teases.

“Let’s get our salsa and get going.” I grumble, doing my best to ignore the falcon harpy’s quiet needling of me.

As the two of us make our way out of the restaurant, we nearly run into an older man at the door.

“Here- let me get that for you.” he says to Perri as he steps aside to hold the door open.

I recognize that gravelly voice. It’s the old man from the pharmacy the other day.

Holy shit- seems like I’ve ran into everyone but Clyde and Cyrus this morning.

“Hey- that was quite a show you put on earlier. Been staying out of trouble?” he asks.

I presume that question was directed at me given the circumstances of our last meeting.

“Been keeping busy.” I reply brusquely as I usher Perri away from the restaurant.

 


 

It was mercifully quiet when we got back home. I had left the scanner on and the chatter seemed to be nothing more than the occasional licence plate check, although if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the dispatcher was trying to work in a few bird puns. Perri must’ve been famished, since she made quick work of her burrito before excusing herself. I got about halfway through mine before realizing I still had an omelette from earlier that I was only one or two bites into when I had to leave.

Thankfully, the omelette I had left out looked salvageable. I reach into the cupboard below the sink and pull out some aluminum foil- if push comes to shove, I guess we’re having breakfast for dinner tonight.

Shit. I did tell the woman I’d eat my hat if she got the name of the Aztec eagle goddess right- and sure enough, she did. Or at least it was close enough according to the old-timer at La Olla Cobre.

But there’s no way in hell I’m cutting up my Stetson into little pieces and eating it after an off-the-cuff remark..

A deal is a deal, but…..I’m going to need to get creative.

A thought hits me as I start wrapping up what’s left of the breakfast omelette in foil. I was never really any good at arts and crafts, but this just may resolve the situation at hand as I start folding and strategically tucking the sheet of foil around the omelette.

“Perri!” I call out. “Can you come here for a moment?”

I hear the door to her bedroom creak open and the occasional ‘tic tic’ of her talons on the floor as she made her way to the kitchen.

“What is it, Mr. Host? Is something wr-” she froze when she saw me, or specifically my new tin foil hat.

“Now Perri-” I begin.

“What’s going on? Why are you wearing that, Mr. Host?” she asks in equal parts amusement and bewilderment.

“Oh- this?” I ask nonchalantly. “I just thought I’d show you my newest hat. It’s pretty fashionable, wouldn’t you say?”

“You know, the exchange program warned us about humans who wear tinfoil hats.” the falcon harpy mused. “They were quite specific, in fact.”

“Well- a deal is a deal.” I explain. “I told you that if you got the name of that Aztec goddess right, I’d eat my hat……and you did.”

“But you were wearing a different hat.” she points out.

I shrug off that rather unimportant detail.

“You didn’t say which one- besides, this is better.”

“How so?”

I take off the tinfoil hat and start unwrapping it.

Ta-dah!” I announce with a flourish as I show her the content inside. “It’s an omelette hat.”

Perri’s not looking at me anymore. Instead she’s turned away and I can’t readily gauge her facial expression. But I can see her shoulders quaking and-

Oh shit….maybe I was dead wrong about her being upset over the consumption of eggs.

“You’re a fool, Mr. Host….” I can hear her murmur.

Damn it- instead of making things better, now I really stepped in it and upset her over-

She’s now facing me, although both wings are covering her mouth. I can hear something that I had never heard before.

Perri giggling.

She looks surprisingly coquettish with both wing-hands over the lower part of her face and a I can hear light, breathy laughter.

It’s a deceptively beautiful sound- something I thought I’d never hear ever since the morose raptor harpy showed up.

“Oh….I was merely joking about you eating your hat earlier……but……here you are….”

“I made you one too…” I said as I slid the burrito onto a plate and opened up the door to the microwave.

Her wings still concealing her face, I can hear Perri chortle now.

“Mr. Host- I….I..I’m afraid I don’t share your sense of fashion. I’ll have to take a pass.” she said, regaining her composure somewhat.

“Not the hat, the omelette.” I clarify.

“Oh….I just had a pretty big lunch, though.”

“It’s all right- I can reheat it when you’re ready for dinner.”

“Right…..that would make much more sense.”

I turn around and press the buttons to set the timer on the microwave so I can reheat my omelette.

Perri’s still in the kitchen, watching me.

“Mr. Host?” she asks, her face now visible.

“Hmm?”

“I…just wanted to say that it’s not just any host who would slap an omelette on their head and call it a hat for the sake of their homestay. In…..in fact, I would hope it’s very few.”

“Me too.” I say as my omelette begins to rotate in the microwave.

Perri looked as though she was ready to leave, but she spoke up as though she just remembered something urgent.

“Mr. Host- I have a favor to ask of you…” she said.

“What’s that?”

“Well…..I’d rather you didn’t wear my dinner as a hat.” she said, that little grin still on the corner of her lips before excusing herself.


 

Several fairly uneventful days had passed since Perri’s shenanigans at the water tower and my donning an omelette sombrero. The post and photographs of Perri posing for selfies along with the trio of McDonald High cheerleaders had tapered off at just under 300 ‘Likes’ with about 40 mostly positive comments.

As the work week progressed, I weighed getting ahold of Tio by way of Skype again. Although I had some good news to share with her, I also wondered how I could best sugarcoat the whole thing at the water tower so as not to cause concern with the other members of MON.

Turns out that ship had already sailed.

When I got home from work on Wednesday afternoon, there was a black Suburban with tinted windows and out-of-state plates parked in front of the house.

It was Smith- accompanied by Tio and Bina once again. Perri was home when they showed up and apparently let them in.

“Fancy seeing you here.” I call out to Smith as I toss my keys on the counter.

“Oh cowboy- I just HAD to come back for that marvelous coffee you brewed.”

“Thanks- it’s just a Keurig m-“

“I’m being sarcastic, Cowboy….I didn’t fly all the way back here for some instant coffee.”

I looked over at Bina, expecting to find her smirking. Instead, she appeared calm and stoic.

Somehow that was even worse.

This time around there was someone accompanying the trio of MON field agents that I hadn’t seen before, although he looked familiar.

It was a man in a cheap suit with a somewhat weaselly countenance.

“Hi- I’m Saul Goodman. Did you know that you have rights?” the lanky man began.

Oh no. Not this shit….

“The Constitution says you do, and so do I.” he continued. “I believe that until proven guilty, every man woman and child in this country is innocent. And that’s why I fight for you, Albuquerque!” he finished off that last part nearly shouting as he pointed right at my chest.

I looked at Smith and then this Goodman character- just as I was getting ready to ask the Cultural Exchange coordinator if we were really going to be doing this shit, I noticed something on Saul’s head.

A leaf.

Apparently ‘Saul’ had now noticed that I noticed and moved his hand up to remove it. Only once he touched the leaf, he seemed to disappear in a puff of smoke that quickly dissipated.

Standing where ‘Saul’ was a second ago was a slightly shorter brunette in glasses, a blouse and a pencil skirt. Only right away, I could see a pair of pointy ears atop her head and a fluffy tail with a ringed pattern jutting out from behind the pencil skirt. Her appearance was mostly human save for those prominent animalistic traits.

“Hee hee hee…..I love that guy.” she giggled, a smug and self satisfied expression on her face.

“Yeah yeah….we get TV all the way up here too, Miss……..” I trailed off and glanced over at Smith. “Hey- care to tell me who the hell this raccoon girl is, Smith?”

Wow- just like that, the smug expression from this woman’s face was gone.

Temae….” she growled at me. “I…I’m not a raccoon! I’m a Tanuki- a very clever and resourceful youkai from the land of the rising sun.”

I can see fangs as my irritated visitor barks at me.

“Tanuki?” I queried.

“Mm-hmm” she nodded, no doubt proud that she set the record straight with the gaijin before her.

“So that’s like a Japanese word for Raccoon?”

“N-no, you dolt!” she sputtered before regaining her composure. “Raccoons aren’t even indigenous to Japan. A Tanuki is actually a canine with a ringed tail and ‘mask’ across their eyes. I suppose to the untrained eye, that would cause some confusion but it’s worth pointing out that raccoons are in the same family as skunks and weasels.”

How very educational…..but not as educational as knowing that being called a raccoon lady drives her berserk. I’m going to have to remember that if there’s any future interactions with her.

“Or lawyers.” I say dryly as I get a small bottle of coke from the fridge.

I could barely conceal a smug grin of my own as I saw the Tanuki lady grit her teeth. For her part, Smith seemed somewhat amused by the exchange.

“This is Akagane Tachibana- the Exchange Program’s legal attache for the Southwest region.” Smith explained. “In Japan, her kind have a reputation as highly intelligent tricksters.”

The raccoon-dog’s demeanor suddenly shifted as she adjusted her glasses.

“Mr. Andersen- do you know why we’re here today?”

“Uh….no….”

“It’s routine for us to conduct a welfare check on a homestay when they come into contact with local law enforcement.”

Oh shit- I didn’t think the whole thing at the water tower was enough for either Perri or me to get some sort of reprimand from the program.

“Congratulations Cowboy-Kun, you made the news in fifty five countries before my first cup of coffee!” Smith slams the mug onto table.

“Must be a slow news day…” I murmur, skeptical of my newfound fame.

“You also doubled my workload for the rest of the month. I hope you’ll be happy to know that we filed all the forms necessary to begin installing video surveillance throughout your house, for your safety and the safety of your home-stay of course.”

OK- that got my attention.

“What the hell!? Perri goes out for one little flight and you want to get all Stasi on us? I thought I was supposed to encourage her. When was she ever in danger? Have you forgotten that she can fly? I mean…it’s right there on that video everyone is watching. And if that’s not enough, I’m sure we can step outside and she’ll give you a live demonstration.” I unload on Smith.

She’s having none of it.

“Overeager thrill seekers and fans can be just as dangerous to a homestay as the people who’ve been leaving anonymous death threats at our field offices. We’ll have to keep you under close scrutiny to make sure no one tries to get up close and personal with the star of this latest viral video. This is publicity the Exchange Program doesn’t need right now.”

“Are you kidding? Perri was amazing! The crowd loved her.”

“But people are talking….saying it’s a publicity stunt that we arranged!” Smith shot back.

“I just went to the tower to blow off some steam, I didn’t think it was such a big deal.” Perri sullenly offers in her defense.

“That’s not the point.”

“The Sherriff just let us off with a warning, tho….Perri’s learned her lesson. Don’t tell me that you came all this way to basically reprimand me for letting a bird fly?”

“Harpy.” Perri corrected.

“Sorry- Letting a Harpy fly.”

“Completely irrelevant. People can still freak out seeing a cheap drone flying overhead- how do you think they’d react after being buzzed by a 5 foot 8 harpy?” Smith countered. 

“Come on- You say you wanted to raise awareness about extraspecies- you couldn’t buy the kind of publicity Perri’s acrobatics in town gave you.”

“Are you saying that we should spark off integration by using our Homestays in some barnstorming sideshow? That’s not the point at all.”

“Sideshow!?” Perri asked indignantly.

“You weren’t there and the video didn’t do it justice! It was a thing of beauty the way Perri just took the sky and made it her own. Every loop and roll was poetry in motion. Just….amazing.”

Smith appears unmoved.

I look to Tio and Bina imploringly. “I don’t get it…you told me to brush up on Falcon Harpies, and I did. She’s passionate about flying and I think it’s great that she now has enough open space to pursue that. Now you’re saying we’re both in trouble for doing what she loves?”

Smith calmed herself and adjusted her shades.

“Try to see it from our perspective. Some naïve little kid watches Perri dive off that tower and decides ‘Hey! Why don’t I be just like the flying girl in that video?’……then takes a header off the closest tall high rise apartment balcony or grain elevator. What are we supposed to do when his parents sue us?”

“The case would probably get thrown out for having no merit, right?”

“Not necessarily, I’m afraid.” the smartly dressed Tanuki spoke up.

“Normally it would….but what if someone with the same mindset as these yahoos that have been leaving death threats or lobbing Molotov cocktails at our field offices ends up on the jury? Even if it got thrown out, that’s still negative publicity for us….”

“Mr Anderson- I understand that neither you nor Perri meant to be disruptive, but both of you have to think through some of the unforeseen consequences these actions may have.” Akagane added..

“I………” shit. I didn’t have an easy answer for that.

“There’s also the matter of edited versions of the video in circulation.” she continued.

“Edited how?” I ask.

“There’s some versions out there that cut out before Perri takes flight. Basically, millions of people think you goaded some emotionally distressed girl in a bird suit to kill herself by jumping off a water tower.” Smith spoke up.

“What? No….that’s fucked up…” I almost whisper.

“It’s not like that….Mr. Host would never do anything like that.” Perri spoke up.

The fact that Perri is sticking up for me in front of seemingly hostile MON agents and lawyers somewhat softens the blow that millions of strangers I had never met before may now be viewing me as a complete monster thanks to a few out-of-context seconds of video footage.

But only slightly.

“It’s completely up to you, but we were thinking perhaps you could do a press conference to set things right.” Tio suggested.

“We know you didn’t do anything of the sort, but unfortunately we now have to fight the perception that you did.” the canine eared lawyer spoke up, her tone reassuring. “I understand this isn’t your fault, but that old saying about a lie traveling halfway across the world before the truth even gets out of bed applies here.”

“Speaking of, Mr. Andersen…” Smith said as she lowered her shades. “What’s this the sheriff said about a lover’s quarrel?”

“Oh….THAT?”. It’s completely involuntary but I chuckle at Smith’s inquiry. “Sheriff was convinced the whole thing was a very public argument between two lovers….”

“And you continued to let him assume that because….?” the ring tailed lawyer girl asked.

“Seemed like he was willing to let us walk away with just a warning if he thought that was the case.” I shrug.

“Mister Andersen…..is it alright if I call you Bryce?” the Tanuki asks.

I nod.

“I’m pretty sure everyone here already knows the answer- but I have to ask you, Bryce. Are you presently engaged in a physical relationship with your homestay, Miss Greene?”

I can feel everyone else’s eyes on me at this point, including my feathered homestay.

“I can honestly say that I am not.” I reply in the most businesslike tone I can muster.

This Akagane woman didn’t say anything right away but looked as though she had forgotten something. After a moment, she began rifling through her purse before producing a little recorder.

Let it be entered into the record that when questioned directly on the subject, Host #72782 denied any physical relationship with his homestay- Ms. Perri Greene of the Raptor Harpy family. Subsequent follow up interview with Ms. Greene will be conducted by myself and MON field agents.” she spoke into the recorder.

“That won’t be necessary- he’s telling the truth.” Perri tried to reassure Smith, the lawyer and the assembled MON agents.

“On the contrary- it is necessary.” Smith said. Her tone was quiet, but insistent in a manner that nearly made my blood freeze. From across the room, I couldn’t help but notice that drew a similar reaction from Perri.

“There’s been a number of things that have happened since we were last here, Perri.” Tio said reassuringly. “So naturally we want to know about more than just last weekend.”

“This could take a while. Might as well get comfy.” Zombina spoke up for the first time in what seemed like ages.


Even though they weren’t going to tell me what they were up to, I knew exactly what they had in mind. They were questioning us separately in different parts of the house to see if Perri’s answers to their questions would contradict mine.

“Jeez- What could be taking them so long?” I grumble quietly to nobody in particular. The longer they question Perri, the more I have my doubts about remaining a host.

The sun was getting pretty low on the horizon when I decided it was time for a cocktail.

“Oy…..what a day this is shaping up to be.” I sighed as I poured myself a shot of Jim Beam.

“Tell me about it, big boy.” a sultry voice spoke up from behind me. “Care to make it a double?”

I turn around and standing before me is a raven haired 5 foot 5 inch tall, knockout in a revealing one piece leopard-print swimsuit that was torn in strategic places to make it looks as though the wearer had been ‘roughing it’ in the jungle. I didn’t even have to ask- I knew her measurements were 36-23-35. I knew this because standing before me was none other than Bettie Page. My heart practically jumped into my throat at the sight before me until I realized that earlier I had a shyster TV lawyer from Albuquerque in my living room.

“It’s a good likeness, counsellor…..but please- show some respect for the departed.”

“Oh? I had no idea….” she said sympathetically as I prepared my own glass of Jim Beam and coke.

“Yeah- it was a while ago. She died nearly broke and almost completely unaware of her resurgent popularity towards the end.” I said as I handed the glass to her.

‘Bettie’ frowned. “Seems like a waste.”

I simply nod as I poured a glass of whiskey and coke for myself.

“Tell me more about the notorious Bettie Page, you seem fascinated by her.” ‘Bettie’ tells me after taking a sip.

Sensing my reluctance, she continues.

“Don’t worry- this is all off the record. Same with our libations.”

“That’s the thing- I can’t put my finger on it. When her popularity was at it’s Zenith, many railways were still using steam locomotives, Studebaker was still making cars and TVs were still black and white. I can’t even say nostalgia, since she was way before my time. And things went south- way south- for her after her popularity as a model peaked. Penniless, divorced, institutionalized….”

“Do you have some sort of tragedy fetish?”

“Oh shit- no. Who would even….I mean, is that even a thing? That’s just messed up.”

“Hmm….maybe I should slip into something a little more comfortable.” the Tanuki half-seriously ponders.

Before I can say anything, she disappears in a puff of odorless white smoke to have the strawberry blonde cheerleader from the other day standing before me- William C.McDonald High School cheerleading uniform and all, belatedly honoring my request to show the late Bettie Page a bit of respect.

I guess the Exchange Program has already seen the selfies with Perri that the girls no doubt posted on social media.

“Now how about another drink….?” ‘Amanda’ says to me sweetly as the ice in her nearly-empty glass rattles.

“No way. You’re underage.” I point out.

Aawwww…c’mo-o-o-o-o-onnn” she pouts.

“Don’t make me card you.” I say sternly.

“I’m legal! I swear….” ‘Amanda insists.

“Doesn’t change the fact that I’d be serving hard liquor to a high school girl.” I point out.

“C’mon- live a little.” the cheerleader harrumphed as she moved closer to me, brushing ‘Amanda’s’ large, perky breasts against me as she flashed me a sly wink. “Like I said….Smith doesn’t have to know about this.”

“Fine”. I sigh as I get a second glass ready. “Misery loves company. Hope cheerleaders like it strong.”

With ‘Amanda’ now sporting a pair of pointy canine ears and a bushy ringed tail, She gave me a nod. The faux-cheerleader’s tail looked almost like it was wagging as I prepared another drink.

“Mr. Anderson- would you like my honest, unvarnished opinion?” she asks after savoring her first sip of a Jim Beam and Coke on the rocks.

“Something tells me you’re going to give it to me whether I want it or not.”

“When it comes to your homestay- You’re outclassed and in over your head.”

That was a pretty blunt- if accurate- assessment. I thought the Japanese were supposed to be polite to a fault.

“Each passing day, you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Maybe not really sure what you got yourself into, Hmm?”

Damn it- it sounds an awful lot like she’s taunting me.

“Buuuut…” she continued, lazily circling the rim of her glass with her finger.

“Yeah?”

“You’ve really been putting some effort into this- you’re not just in this for a quick payday. You can’t be a good host if you aren’t even trying- and it looks like you’ve been trying, Buckaroo. Even if you don’t always make the right decision, you’ve begun factoring your homestay’s well being and comfort into those decisions.”

The ice in her glass rattles as she takes another hearty swig from it.

“Who told you that?” I ask.

“A little birdie…” ‘Amanda’ tittered as she set her glass down.

I’m sure the surprise on my face is evident.

“No way- Perri said that?”

The cheerleader nods. “Granted she threw around the words ‘boor’ and ‘idiot’, but I think that was mostly for show. Raptor harpies in general tend to be quite proud….”

I chuckle nervously- odds are pretty good those words may not have been for show.

“There’s also the way you cross-examined Smith when you still thought Perri was in trouble. As the only practicing lawyer in the room, I’d give that at least an eight out of ten.”

“She’s kind of scary…..” I confess. “That whole Truman Show thing she’s threatening to do- is she serious?”

“I think she’s trying to scare you. Don’t worry- neither one of you are in trouble.” Akagane reassures me. “We already talked to the sheriff and he’s not interested in pursuing this any further. Neither is MON. Even if she’s serious, it would be hard to justify the expense and manpower involved to the bean-counters”.

I heave a small sigh of relief.

“Y’know, Bryce…..” Akagane began. Another quick poof of smoke and I was looking at ‘Bettie’ again. “Smith and the others are going to be awhile. You up for a little fun?”

I’m sure I had a quick and witty reply at the ready, but it dies a silent death in my throat when it dawns on me that I’m being propositioned by a curvy, shape-shifting Japanese youkai.

The words ‘Too good to be true’ spring to mind right away.

“There’s that old saying- ‘Never meet your heroes’, Miss Tachibana.” I started out, realizing I’ll be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fool around with a tipsy and incredibly convincing facsimile of the Bettie Page. “I’m intrigued, but I’m afraid my answer is ‘no’…”

With some of her canine features now starting to show, the Bettie Page lookalike seemed bewildered.

“Sounds dumb, but to be honest, I always wondered what it would be like to be with a naughty office lady.”

‘Bettie’’ suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke, and I was once again face to face with the tanuki woman in a pencil skirt, tight blouse and glasses.

“You know- a secretary….or even a lawyer. Retro pin-ups and high school girls are one thing….but there’s something about a successful career woman who doesn’t need a man in her life, but still wants one. So tell me, little trickster tanuki, enough with Bettie or the cheerleader- can you do a decent Akagame Tachibana?” I almost growl.

Fuck- I came off way too strong there. With the head of MON’s legal team for the Southwest, no less. I’ll be lucky if I get out of this with just some mandatory sensitivity courses.

There’s an awkward silence as the tanuki looks at me appraisingly.

“You know…..” she begins to say as she adjusts her glasses. “I have to be honest with you, Buckaroo. Being from Japan, subway gropers, otaku shut-ins and suicidal salarymen never really did anything for me. But here…..” she pauses to fan herself. “Here you have roughnecks, lawmen, miners, cowboys, lumberjacks, smoke jumpers and ranchers. Not talkers- doers. Rough and ready.”

It took me a moment to realize she seems to be talking about the Southwest specifically by mentioning miners, roughnecks, cowboys and lumberjacks..

“But that’s the sort of man that drives a girl like me wild….” she continued.

“Miss Tachibna- I hate to tell you this, but I’m not a particularly good rancher.” I confess. Shit- she’s probably seen my bank records and could’ve figured that out on her own.

She gently shushed me by putting a finger on my lips.

“Maybe not, but you’re authentic.”

My heart is racing. I keep expecting this dog-eared woman to shapeshift into Wilford Brimley at the last possible second and have a good laugh at my expense, but nothing like is happening. Just her dainty, slender finger on my lips and my eyes locked with hers.

“Don’t get me wrong- there’s still men like that in Japan, but they’re a vanishing breed, and they probably have misgivings about being with a youkai.”

“Why? You’re gorgeous…” I blurt out with her finger still pressed against my lips.

Oh my God…she’s blushing. The shape-shifting trickster and supposedly MON’s sharpest legal mind is blushing like a timid schoolgirl caught passing a note to her crush in class.

“Y-y…you really think…..?” she stammered.

‘Gorgeous’ might have been overselling it- but not by much, really. The bespectacled, reddish-brown haired raccoon hound lady is incredibly easy on the eyes and her snappy, form-fitting business attire doesn’t hurt matters any. She checks a lot of boxes for anyone with the ‘hot librarian’ or ‘sexy office lady’ fetish, with a set of canine ears, a bushy, ringed tail and cute little fangs as a bonus. And I never said I wasn’t interested.

Her soft finger is still there on my lips, so I do the only thing that comes to mind. Akagane lets out a soft little whimper as I give it a kiss.

“H-here…..” she stammered before regaining some composure and almost reluctantly withdrawing her finger. “Let me show you how we properly serve drinks in Japan.” she continued as she took my glass.

The burning amber Kentucky nectar flowed from the rectangular bottle and onto some ice before settling in the bottom of my glass.

“It’s usually done with sake- but as I’m about to demonstrate, it can work with other spirits.” she explains as she stops pouring and presses the bottle into my left hand before demurely holding up my glass.

I must’ve looked bewildered as I took the glass with my free hand.

“Now you pour for me….” the raccoon dog lady continues as she holds up her glass. “If you’re drinking with someone in Japan, it’s considered bad form to pour your own drink.”

“I see.” I chew on that little cultural tidbit as I pour some more whiskey into her glass. Akagane doesn’t say anything right away, but demurely holds up her hand to indicate that was enough.

“And now….a toast!” she eagerly suggests.

Following her lead, I raise my glass- which bounces off her hers with an almost dainty *clink*.

“All right then- To your health!”

Kampai!” she calls out enthusiastically before taking a hearty sip. “See, Buckaroo. You’re learning!”

“My kind of learning!”

In no time at all, the two of us make the contents of our glasses disappear.

“Ready for another, councillor?” I ask as I hold up the bottle.

“Why yes I am. You look like you could use some freshening up too, buckaroo.” the lovely tanuki says as she shakes her glass.

“I would like that very much.” I say, pouring her a bit more whiskey.

She waits until I’m done pouring and takes the bottle before adding some more whiskey to the flat cola and melting ice already in my glass.

“Did you know that Jim Beam’s parent company is Japanese?” she asks as she finished pouring.

“No way- really?” I ask.

“Mmm-hmm. It’s now part of Suntory….even traded on the Nikkei.” she adds. “That deal happened a couple of years ago.”

“So tell me some more about yourself, counselor. Why do you do what you do?”

Akagane looked a bit bewildered before shrugging.

“If I don’t, who will?”. It seemed like a glib, non-answer on her part until she continued. “I mean….imagine you’re in a foreign land- you don’t know the language or customs and you have to appear before a judge. You may not even know if you’ve broken the law to begin with, let alone what your rights are in those circumstances. It’s my job….no- my duty to make sure extra species know what their rights are.”

She looked up at me earnestly.

“And what about the program’s no touchey rule?”

“I’m not a big believer in that- but if called upon, it’s my job to argue that in front of a judge and jury on the Exchange Program’s behalf.” she sighed while swirling her glass. “It’s in place for a reason.”

“So your job description is basically running around making sure consenting adults don’t have sex with each other or if they do, make them feel awful about it after the fact?”

She looked at me incredulously for a moment.

“Are you sure you’re not with the Catholic Church?’

Akagane continues to look at me incredulously for a few seconds before throwing her head back and guffawing, her canine ears pinned to the side of her head.

“You’re terrible, Buckaroo!!”

“So where did you go to law school?” I’m genuinely curious.

“Mmm…” she finished taking a pull from her glass. “Stanford Law..”

“No way- you’re making that up.”

“Guess again, Buckaroo. Class of 2019- Now I’m licensed to practice law in 34 states.”

I ponder that for a moment. If she graduated in 2019, and extraspecies didn’t reveal themselves until a few months ago, then…..

Akagane chuckles as she watches me process what she just said.

“Then….that means…..you went to law school…..incognito!”

“Give the man a kewpie doll!” she tittered.

“Stanford….that’s something else…” I marvel. “Part party school and a degree from there still has lots of clout. It’s like the best of both worlds- Too bad their football program went to shit.”

“Look who’s talking.” Akagane scoffed defensively. “Who’s your team? New Mexico State? UTEP? Lobos? When was the last time ANY of them went to a bowl game….?”

“Fair point, councilor. “Lobo” rhymes with “Oh no!”. Still- I can’t believe you deprived the student body these cute little ears and tail of yours for so long…” I said as I started playfully rubbing her ear with my thumb and forefinger.

Ah! Buckaroo…….please…..please…..ah…..” Akagane moaned suddenly.

Immediately I stopped- it sounded like I was hurting her.

The pretty Tanuki lawyer’s face had gone from a slight blush in her cheeks to nearly beet red.

“I’m sorry, Akagane…are you all right?”

“I..it’s just that my….my ears can be….considered an erogenous zone.”

“Oh- damn! I-I’m sorry, Akagane- I didn’t mean to-”

I didn’t say you should stop, Buckaroo…” she breathed into my ear before I felt her little fangs gently clamped down on my earlobe.

I remember so many things about that moment. The soft swell of the lovely lawyer’s breasts through her blouse as she pressed her body up against mine. The subtle and not overpowering perfume she was wearing mixed with the whiskey on her breath. The little whimpers and moans she let out as my hands found their way back to the top of her head and resumed playing with her ears. Her heavy-lidded eyes as she looked at me with nothing less than unrefined lust and yearning.

When you’ve had as much misfortune with the opposite sex as I’ve had, getting teased and caressed by a gorgeous, flirtatious and oh so willing brunette in snazzy business attire sticks out in one’s mind.

As for her ears, there had to be more to it. I doubt simply touching them would get her worked up into such a state. Maybe I’m overthinking things, but I get the feeling playing with her ears would only have that effect if she was already aroused

Damn it….I should say something, but instead I feel like I’m getting pulled underwater by a strong current I’m incapable of fighting.

“Like I said….the others won’t be finished with their deposition for awhile….” the tanuki girl panted.

Perri.

Oh shit! Why does it feel like I’m betraying her?

Perri’s beautiful, but increasingly frustrating to try and figure out. Even if there was any mutual affection between us, she’s done a marvelous job of concealing it. Besides, even if there were the two of us would be expressly prohibited from pursuing any sort of physical relationship by the exchange program.

“Akagane…” I can hear myself speak up. “Are….are we even allowed to do this?”

She pauses from kissing my neck to let out a derisive chortle.

“Don’t tell me you’re still hung up on the program’s ‘no touchey’ rule….”

“Well….not so much that as the ‘getting thrown in the clink’ part of it. Hell- ”

“Trust me, there’s ways around it.” Akagane interrupts with a knowing smirk.

“But on it’s face, doesn’t the very rule that you’re supposed to argue in favor of fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s Loving vs Virginia ruling?” I ask her.

Her expression darkened as her dainty little hand absently caressed my cheek.

“You naughty boy…” she almost growled. “Which law school did you drop out of?”

“I….I never went to law school.” I stammer defensively.

“Oh my….you’ll have to pardon me. Most men I’ve encountered outside my profession couldn’t name a Supreme Court ruling from last month, let alone over 50 years ago.” she smiled.

“Not gonna lie, Miss Tachibana. Mr. DiNunzio was a crackerjack civics teacher….one of the few classes I paid attention to for High School.” I say as I take another sip of this lukewarm blend of melted ice, flat cola and Kentucky bourbon whiskey. “Personally out of all the Supreme Court rulings, Heller vs D.C. remains near and dear to my heart.”

At heart, her kind are supposed to be tricksters and troublemakers but right now she seems so warm and sincere. Before long, that mischievous glint is back

“C’mon Buckaroo- don’t you know girls love a bad boy? Besides, there’s a loophole.”

I furrow my brow, which prompts a slightly more serious answer from her.

“OK…let me fill you in. The rule almost exclusively applies to homestays and the host household. There’s nothing preventing….say….administrative personnel from the Program or MON from hooking up with a human.”

Just like a lawyer to know all the loopholes

“…..or vice versa” she continued.

“You lawyers and your legal mumbo jumbo…” I begin to mutter sarcastically. However, any further words I might’ve had die with a surprised ‘MMMPH!’ as the assertive raccoon-dog girl kisses me on the lips.

There’s a warmth and urgency in the way she kisses me, her tongue now aggressively exploring my mouth.

“Honestly…” she pants as she breaks the kiss. “I advised some of the higher ups to drop the policy if it ever faces any sort of challenge in the courts. Hardly seems fair that I’m the only youkai having this much fun with a human, wouldn’t you say?”

I can only nod as her dainty little fingers are now exploring my chest.

“But as you know, Loving applied to humans…not, say…a devil capable of using hypnosis or an alarune who could seduce a man with pheromones from her nectar. We try and properly vett all applicants, but it’s inevitable that we’re going to get some bad apples who may end up trying to take advantage of the humans around them.”

Well damn- the woman raises a couple of valid concerns. This does nothing to diminish my throbbing hard-on, however.

“I don’t really agree with it, but they have a point. The rule is in place as much to protect humans as it is to protect liminals from humans.”

As incredibly aroused as I am, something suddenly hits me with a crystalline clarity through the lust-induced haze in my head. I haven’t dismissed the possibility that Smith was using this flirtatious trickster to coax me into making some sort of an incriminating statement.

“Miss Tachibana….” I murmur. “Please tell me Smith didn’t put you up to this.”

She scowls upon hearing that.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed, Buckaroo….but I’m a big girl.” she says as she drapes both slender arms around my neck. “I can have my own fun and I don’t need Smith putting me up for anything.”

Akagane doesn’t say anything away, but she has her mouth slightly agape in a wicked little grin. Sure enough, her fangs find their way back to my earlobe. She nibbles just hard enough to indicate she was displeased with my question.

“If you want….” her lips find mine for a quick kiss as she starts undoing her blouse. “You can search me for a wire, Buckaroo……every….”

Kiss.

“….last….”

Kiss.

“…..inch…”

The blouse is gone now and I’m looking right at her in a faded lilac bra with sheer cups straining to keep her magnificent 38DDs in place.

“I don’t know, councillor…” I say faux bashfully as I lean in and kiss her first on the lips and then on the neck. “I see plenty of real estate where you could still conceal a recording device.”

“Mmm….you naughty boy. Search away.” she says as she seemingly removes her bra with a shrug. “Tell me- are you sure your interest in the Loving ruling doesn’t stem from a more-than-passing interest in interracial porn?” Akagane teases, a smug little grin planted on her lips.

“Maybe…..you’d be off on the races, though.” I reply, trying not to sound flustered.

“Oh?” Her ears perk up. “Sōdesu ka? Anata-wa….? Nihon onna ga suki desu-ka?” she asks teasingly as she starts unbuttoning my shirt. “Youkai onna ga suki desu-ka?” she whispers in my ear, her hot breath spilling down my neck as her fangs once again gently clamp onto my earlobe. I have no idea what she’s saying, but it’s sending my heart racing.

Holy crap, I had no idea that Japanese could be such an erotic language!

That little minx is playing dirty. I need to do something before I’m putty in her dainty little hands.

Granted there are worse things to happen than ending up overwhelmed by an incredibly sexy, buxom and touchy-feely raccoon dog extraspecies girl from the far east, but she strikes me more as the type to appreciate a take-charge kind of guy in this situation and I shouldn’t disappoint my latest guest as I try to collect my thoughts.

Far eastern trickster youkai hits me with seduction and I decide to counterattack with……high school Spanish.

Oye- que acaba dijiste? Ten cuidado, mi hermosa perrita.” I growl as I give her canine ears a quick nibble.

Akagane’s eyes widen and she’s unable to stifle a little moan- I’m pretty sure my iffy Spanish has nothing to do with it, but I might as well keep pressing with my attack.

Quiero a ver tus ojos esmerelda sin anteojos….” I tell her as I gently remove her glasses and cup her chin. “Ah! Que bonita…”

“Nnnhhh….Bu…Buckaroo…..I didn’t know you could speak….HAH!…..Sp-spanish.” Akagane tried to say between moans as I resumed my assault on her ears.

Por supuesto, mi hermosa perrita!” I said confidently while my thumb and forefinger went to work on Akagane’s neglected right ear.

Without my high school Spanish teacher present to correct me, I’m pretty sure I just called Akagane ‘my pretty little doggie’ and told her that I wanted to see her beautiful eyes without the glasses. Still, on some level I’m sure I disappointed an educator like Ms.Galvez by forgetting the Spanish word for ‘raccoon’.

The disappointment I’m no doubt causing my high school Spanish teacher will have to wait as Akagane gently grabs my hand and puts it squarely on her right breast.

“Buckaroo…can you feel how fast my heart is racing?”

I did, actually. But that was secondary to the warm, soft flesh I had in my hands. As I began to use both hands to massage and knead Akagane’s breasts, the tanuki let out a little gasp as she arched her back to better accommodate my exploration.

“I hope my hands aren’t too cold…” I say apologetically- although they’re plenty warm now.

“Oh…Buckaroo…” the tanuki lady panted as she shimmies onto my lap, straddling me. “You have no idea how long it’s been….”.

From this position, her exposed breasts are lined up perfectly with my face.

Well, it’s not like I needed a written invitation.

Haaahhhh…” the voluptuous advocate gasps as I start to kiss, suckle and tease her right nipple. Besides the sensual, lewd moan Akagane seems to signal her approval by arching her back even further, thrusting her bosom into my face.

I’m so glad Akagane explained this loophole for me.

Th-that’s it, Bryce….Ah! I’ve been waiting…” she moans as she finishes taking off my shirt.That hardly slows me down as I resume giving the tanuki woman’s bosom the attention it needs.

From what seems like a million miles away, I’m aware of a creak from the other side of the room. I know this old house better than anybody….that’s not the house settling- that small little creak means that-

With great trepidation, I tear my eyes away from Akagane’s 38DD’s- now partially decorated with my saliva- only to see Smith and Perri standing at the entrance to the hallway taking in the spectacle before the two of them.

At this point, I was half expecting the heavens to open up and I would be struck down by a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky.

No such luck- I’m caught in Perri’s reproachful, withering gaze as the Exchange Program coordinator speaks up.

“Well now….I see you’re not wasting any time, councilor.”

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