Author’s note- I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank Blake 81 for helping me out with some of the Spanish dialogue and Scotaku from Discord for coming through with the Tanuki bucks.
OK- this is bad, but now is not the time to panic.
Besides, I have the feeling that Smith can smell fear.
Granted I didn’t have a lot of experience with people walking in on me when I’m with a woman, but I don’t think the old ‘I was just helping her check her contact lens’ excuse was going to fly given how far along Akagane and I had gotten.
“Jeez….I’m sorry, Ms Tachibana. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.” I said, uncomfortably aware that I sounded like a high school student whose torrid and clandestine relationship with his incredibly hot teacher has been discovered by the school board and PTA.
Damn it- why couldn’t I have had one of those teachers?
“Don’t worry about it, Buckaroo…” the tanuki lawyer said, although she sounded quite exasperated when telling me that.
“Akagane? Could you clarify the situation here?” Smith asked, sounding like a scolding parent..
The tanuki woman remained quiet as she fidgeted and pressed her folded over blouse and jacket against herself.
“Ms. Tachibana is easily the best qualified and sharpest legal mind in the Exchange Program.” Smith continued. “Talented enough for us to occasionally overlook unprofessional behavior such as this. ”
She turned to the Tanuki.
“Miss Tachibana- thank you for providing a very hands-on example of what Mr. Andersen should NOT be doing with regards to his homestay.”
“You know what? This is all my fault- we wouldn’t be in this situation if Ms. Tachibana wasn’t jet-lagged and I kept plying her with alcohol-” I begin.
Akagane raises a finger and looks as though she’s going to interject, but Smith cuts the both of us off before I can say another word.
“Nice try, cowboy…..but tanukis have a high enough alcohol tolerance to rival an oni.” Smith interrupted me. “Your rather chivalrous attempt to throw yourself on top of this particular grenade is noted, however.”
I noticed Akagane’s pointy ears droop as Smith mentioned this.
“I…I’m not doing anything illegal and you know it!” the Tanuki protested as she covered herself up.
“Illegal? No. Unethical….?” Smith spoke up.
“Unethical? He’s not a client. If you think I’m in violation of any code of ethics, file a complaint with the bar association!” Akagane huffed as she buttoned up her blouse. “Go ahead. I’ll even get the necessary documents ready for you.”
Damn it. Was I ever sorry to see the voluptuous Tanuki woman buttoning up her blouse.
“Spare me the melodramatics, Councilor.” Smith continued as though she was dealing with a pouty teenager who wasn’t getting the keys to the car and making a scene. “If we end up having to defend Cowboy-kun in court, one of the first things we’ll have to do is recuse you from the case. We both know this sort of behavior- while technically not forbidden- is frowned upon.”
As if to illustrate this, I glanced over at Perri. Her wings were folded across her chest and she was regarding the whole scene before her with a rather prominent frown.
“M.O.N. and Exchange Program personnel are held to an even higher standard than the homestays. If you think the rules and regulations are the only thing preventing me from putting you on the next flight back home after this little display, then you clearly have not worked for me long enough Councilor.”
Akagane glowered sullenly at Smith as she continued, perhaps realizing how heavy-handed her tone was.
“Look- I’m not saying you can’t get intimate. I’m not even telling you that you can’t get intimate with cowboy-kun over here. But on the clock after a fifth of Jack Daniels….?”
“Jim Beam.” I shyly correct.
“Seems like I’m always on the clock, though.” Akagane pouted.
“Unprofessional, to say the least.” Smith continues as she lowers her shades. “Besides- I sense an opportunity in all of this.”
“What kind of opportunity?” the tanuki lawyer asks.
I’m all ears too, since the odds are pretty good whatever she has in mind is going to affect me as well.
“A chance to better research courtship between humans and extraspecies. Doesn’t matter if it’s Japan, the Americas or the European Union- all the Exchange Program higher-ups agree, this is something that requires further study.”
“C-courtship?” I hear myself ask nervously.
“That’s right- Ms. Tachibana has spent considerable time among humans- not only that, she’s spent considerable time in two of the most industrialized nations in the world and is familiar with the cultural characteristics of each one. It would be most interesting to compare her behavior patterns with a liminal who is still quite new and unaware of human customs. Think of it as a date, basically…” Smith tells me.
“A date?” I ask, although I can hear Akagane, Bina and Tio asking the same thing nearly simultaneously.
“That is….if it’s alright with you, Miss Greene.” Smith said deferentially to the falcon harpy.
For a moment, Perri seemed genuinely shocked that Smith would be giving her a veto. After a lengthy pause in which the raptor harpy felt all eyes upon her, she spoke up again.
“You and the ring-tailed mongrel can do as you please- It doesn’t concern me if you continue sniffing after her.” Perri said to me in a huff.
The Tanuki’s ears and tail drooped a little further upon hearing those words- almost as if the falcon harpy’s rebuke stung her more than it did me.
“Excellent- now as I mentioned earlier, Miss Tachibana has considerable experience living among humans in both Japan and the US…..” Smith began before trailing off.
I’m no longer listening to the dark haired human as a thought occurs to me. Perhaps there’s a chance for Akagane and I to continue fooling around with one another on this ‘date’- now sanctioned by Smith. I have no problem with Smith’s idea of a ‘date’ to further some unknown intercultural studies- especially since it would give a chance for the curvaceous tanuki lawyer and me to slip away somewhere private.
“….of course, whatever venue is decided upon, your conduct today has shown that being accompanied by chaperones would be the most prudent course of action- wouldn’t you say?” Smith continues.
Oh shit- lost my train of thought only to come back in time for that part about chaperones.
“I have an idea…” I spoke up.
Everybody was looking at me now.
“What is it, Billy?” the sweet, blonde giantess asked.
My heart quietly somersaulted knowing that Tio at least thought enough of me to give me a nickname.
“Hear me out… I’ll go along with your date idea, but we’re gonna need to change things up.”
“What did you have in mind?” Smith asked.
“Keep it casual. Miss Tachibana here looks like she’s ready to make her closing arguments for the Trial of the Century.”
“Now that she’s dressed, at least.” Bina scoffed.
“Anyway, Nothing wrong with that- I think she’s a little knockout in that pencil skirt- but my preference is to keep things much less formal, and I’m sure she would too”
“We didn’t plan on staying here for too long, Buckaroo.” the tanuki said. “So we packed kinda light- all of us.”
“I know just the place to get you kitted out, Miss Tachibana.” I said confidently.
Cyrus is gonna owe me a couple of drinks after this.
“You have a point, I suppose.” Smith said. “What’s the name of this place?”
“Oh- it’s right in the heart of town. It’s called Charlotte’s Lariat.”
Smith didn’t say anything right away, but was perusing her phone. Damn it- she has service all the way out here? I’m gonna have to ask her who her provider is.
“Still open for two more hours.” she remarks before looking up at the phone and turning her attention to her subordinates and the lawyer. “All right, then- looks like we’re doing a little shopping, ladies.”
“I’m coming too.” Perri spoke up.
“How come?” I ask.
“Someone has to make sure you’ll behave.” she said pointedly.
I suppose I really wasn’t in a position to get defensive considering what Akagane and I were doing when Smith and Perri walked in on us.
“Good- we can take two vehicles and head our separate ways once we’ve finished up.” Smith with the seriousness of someone planning a lengthy mission into the heart of hostile territory.
“I’ll be flying.” Perri said in a manner that was clear this wasn’t up for debate- not even with Smith. “I haven’t had a chance to get out since everyone showed up to question us.”
“Oooh…..shotgun!” Akagane called out as she suddenly wrapped both of her arms around my left bicep.
“Not a chance, counselor.” Smith said without missing a beat.
“Don’t want you and General Custer here trying out a shortcut and getting lost on the way into town.” Zombina said to the tanuki- all that was missing was a knowing wink.
“All that’s missing is for a certain someone to actually ask our lady lawyer out for a date.” Smith points out.
Me? Way to put me on the spot.
“Please, Buckaroo…you’re making me sound like a schoolmarm” she teased as she melodramatically fanned herself.
“Akagane….if you’re not doing anything tomorrow, I was wondering if you might like to join me for the football game. William C. McDonald high vs Copper Ridge.”
I don’t quite have the heart to tell everybody assembled that the home team was almost certainly going to get stomped by Copper Ridge.
“Football game? Oooh…. Very Friday Night Lights…” she said as she continued fanning herself. “Buckaroo, I’d be delighted.” Akagane said.
Once upon a time, Cyrus’ wife Charlotte was a champion barrel racer and rodeo queen. Even an injury that prematurely cut short her competitive riding career wasn’t enough to put a damper on her enthusiasm for horseback riding and equestrian sports.
Instead of riding on the barrel racing circuit, Charlotte sank her winnings into opening up a brick and mortar shop that not only sold equestrian accessories, but also western apparel that’s been doing a pretty brisk business for the last six or seven years.
And wouldn’t you know it? I just happened to know a certain someone who was in need of some new threads.
Before leaving, I stuck around long enough to see that Zombina was in fact the wheelman responsible for getting that big SUV up my drive unscathed.
When I arrived at Charlotte’s shop, there was more than one familiar face already there.
“Hi! Welcome to Charlotte’s Lariat….” a strawberry blonde high school age girl began when the bell over the door chimed.
“Oh, hey! I recognize you….”
The girl nodded as the proprietress emerged from a back room.
“Well now- to what do we owe this pleasure, Bryce?” Cyrus’ wife asks upon spotting me.
“Oh….I’m bringing some uh…. friends who’s wardrobe could use a little updating.”
“This have anything to do with that extraspecies gal stayin’ at your place?” Charlotte asked knowingly.
“Sssssort of…” I begin.
“Are you going to the game tomorrow night?” Amanda me asked enthusiastically. “Big game against Copper Ridge!”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Great! I’ll be sure to look for you and Perri-”
“Um…actually, I think Perri is going to sit this one out.”
“What?” Amanda’s disappointment was tangible.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say at least one of the cheerleaders we met the other day was shipping me and Perri.
“Yeah- we have some visitors from the Exchange Program in town and-”
That’s as far as I got before the shop bell rang again.
“Alrighty Custer! We’re here!” Zombina bellowed as she stepped through the doorway. “Let’s get our little tanuki troublemaker kitted out.”
Following the undead MON agent was my date for Friday night- still dressed in her pretty formal looking office attire.
“H-hey Buckaroo.” she said shyly.
She seems a bit more subdued now- I’m wondering if Smith gave her a more comprehensive dressing down when neither me or Perri was around to witness it.
Tio is not too far behind the others as gently ducks her head to avoid hitting the top of the door frame on her way in.
As Charlotte and Amanda take stock of the shop’s latest visitors, Smith made her entrance with little fanfare.
“These gals are with the exchange program….” I explain to the two.
Right away, Tio looks as though she’s spotted a dress she likes and begins examining it- even though there’s no way it’s available off the rack in her size.
Except the more she looks at the dress, the more it seems she’s falling in love with it- even to the point of holding it up in front of her while standing in front of a full-length mirror.
“Oh my……” she sighed wistfully.
“Don’t look so down.” Bina said to her much taller squadmate. “Maybe you can get loverboy to let that out for you when we get back.”
“Ohhh….. I’d really like that, but I think Snookums has his hands full with his homestays.” the lovely giantess pouted.
Shit- Tio already has a boyfriend? Lucky bastard- although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised a quality woman like Tio managed to end up with somebody.
“Um….Akagane? Do you remember that thing we talked about?” the giant ogress asked hesitantly.
“Already?” the tanuki seemed incredulous.
“Well, it’s just….” Tio trailed off as she held up the dress for the lovely lawyer to see.
“Tio- what did I just say on the way over here?” Akagane harrumphed.
“I know, but it’s really cute and-”
“No.” Akagane said firmly, crossing her arms and turning her head away from the ogress.
“Aw…Don’t be like that, come on….” Tio pleaded forlornly.
Nothing but stony, determined silence from the tanuki.
“Akagane? Pleeeeeeeeease?” the ogress implored.
“OK, fine….” the Tanuki lawyer relented as she fished out a leaf from her blouse and placed it atop her head. “But I can’t be doing this all the time for you.”
“Yaaaay!” Tio squealed gleefully as she gently clapped her hands together, seemingly ignoring Akagane’s admonishment.
With a swirling puff of smoke, the petite Tanuki woman suddenly exploded into the likeness of the 7 foot tall giantess, only instead of wearing her business suit, she was wearing the frilly paisley patterned skirt the actual Tio had been holding up moments ago.
“Ohhh…I don’t know. I like the pattern, but it kind of makes my butt look too big.” Tio lamented as her doppelganger did a little turn.
“What do you think, Billy?” Tio turned and asked me.
I mean…what else can I say? Of course her butt is big, but so is the rest of her. I mean, she’s a 7 and a half foot tall giantess- seems like it goes with the territory.
“Um….well…..you shouldn’t let that bother you. I mean- some guys are perfectly OK with a robust backside.” I began- doing my utmost not to directly quote Sir Mix-a-Lot.
“Are you one of those guys, Custer?” Zombina asks while none-too-gently elbowing me.
“But I think the colors and floral print are a good match with your hair and eye color.” I continue, trying my best to ignore Patch Adams’ unsolicited input.
This whole time, Charlotte and Amanda were staring at the spectacle before them- almost as though they expected the whole thing to be a hidden camera prank. But like a true businesswoman who sensed opportunity, she was quick to jump in and reassure Tio.
“Even if we don’t have anything available for ya in stock, we can take some measurements and put something together with some fabric samples you like.”
“Oh thank you…” Tio smiled sweetly. “But I’m afraid we’ll be leaving town shortly and I have a few other things I need to take care of.”
“Is Perri with you guys?” Amanda asked.
Good question, actually.
“She said she’d be joining us….” I began.
Lo and behold, speak of the feathery devil herself. A flickering blur of white and grey manifests itself outside the window of Charlotte’s shop and after a moment the bell atop the front door jingles once again.
“Hi! Welcome to Charlotte’s Lariat.” Amanda eagerly calls out to my homestay.
“There she is.” I say.
“Good of you to join us.” Smith said rather facetiously to the bird woman.
“I wasn’t certain which building we were supposed to meet in.” the falcon harpy said sheepishly as she walked into the shop. “I was eventually able to find it through trial and error.”
To be fair, Perri had never been here before. However, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a rather finite number of buildings for her to choose from.
Suddenly my irritation at this whole situation seems to fade as I’m trying to imagine Perri going from door to door, sticking her head into just about every business or storefront on Main Street trying to find the rest of us.
“There you are!” Amanda called out to the raptor harpy as though she had been expecting her all afternoon.
“M-me?” Perri asked shyly.
“Yes- if it’s all right with your host and these women from the exchange program, I found some designs that I know will look just great on you.” she continued.
“Oh….I don’t know. What about-?” Perri began to ask nervously.
“It’s fine with me.” Smith stated, cutting off her question.
“Same here- I’d like to see what’s got you so excited.” I said to the energetic strawberry blonde.
“Alright, let’s get started!” Amanda said as she gently pulled a nervous and uncertain-looking Perri behind a privacy screen.
“A-are you sure about this?” the falcon harpy asked apprehensively.
“Absolutely- I just need you to get out of your shorts and tank top.”
“Oh…O-OK.” my nervous sounding homestay stammered.
“We’re actually here for her.” Smith said to Charlotte as she nodded at the Tanuki. Akagane was no longer impersonating Tio and looking at different items and garments on the shelves. “She’s got a big date with cowboy-kun tomorrow night.”
“Well now- I may have just the thing for her then!” Charlotte said, seemingly eager to get to work on creating and altering some garments to her liking instead of just selling merchandise off the shelf.
“Excellent- you can just give us an invoice and we’ll let the Exchange Program’s financial department handle it from there-“
The conversation was interrupted by a loud half squeak half yelp coming from the other side of the privacy curtain Amanda dragged Perri behind.
“Ah! Please…..th-that’s sensitive.” I heard Perri almost mewl.
“I need you to hold still.” Amanda chastised the bird woman.
“B….but I’m….ticklish there.”
I couldn’t see her, but I was almost certain that my homestay was blushing.
“I’m almost done with your measurements, but I need you to stop squirming.” the high school cheerleader reassured her.
“It’s just….that’s a very sensitive area.” Perri said sheepishly. “Th-the measuring tape feels a little weird against my skin.”
As Charlotte escorted Akagane behind a second privacy screen, I could hear somebody walk up next to me.
Tio was still looking at clothes that couldn’t fit her.
It was Zombina.
“Hey now, Custer. I just wanted to let you know how pleased I am about how progressive and open-minded you’ve been about this whole thing.” Bina says to me quietly.
“Thanks….wait- what thing?” I hesitate.
The undead MON agent puts a hand to her lips. “Oh? You two were going at it pretty good earlier- I thought you knew about her being a…..y’know…..she-male.”
“A what?” I ask incredulously.
Granted we were interrupted before I could get to the promised land, but there’s no way Akagane could’ve had the same plumbing as me. Given how excited both of us were, I surely would’ve felt something poking me at some point- and assuming she had something to tuck, that thing could only get tucked in for so long.
“Oh- I’m sorry. I thought you knew…” Bina said apologetically, although she looks like she’s trying to stifle some laughter. This further bolsters my theory that the zombie woman is full of crap on this particular topic.
“You and I are gonna have to play poker some time, Patch Adams. You’re a terrible liar.” I reply.
“Bina, you stitched up, braindead yaoi-slurping fangirl!” Akagane snarls angrily as her head pops above the privacy screen. “Are you telling people that I’m a she-male again?”
“Oh- I didn’t know you could hear me.” Bina said innocently while still trying not to collapse into a fit of giggling.
“Uresei, fujoshi!” the tanuki snapped back. “These ears aren’t just for decoration, you know!”
“What about your massive wang? Is that just for decoration?” she asked, clearly enjoying getting a rise out of the Tanuki woman.
“Fuck you.” she snapped before turning to me. “Buckaroo- she’s just messing with you, don’t listen to her.”
“I just thought your little boyfriend should know…” Bina laughed, clearly pleased with efforts to liven up this trip into town.
“This is why I don’t do field work with you guys more often.” Akagane grumbled as her head popped back behind the privacy screen. “I mean if you’re so hard up for the ‘D’, I could always use my magic and conjure a temporary one, Bina. But you and I both know it would basically be an illusion. Besides, it would be an illusion.”
“Honestly, I was kinda hoping that maybe you and Custer could maybe do your own Brokeback Mountain reboot. Maybe you could do me a solid. I mean- you were able to shape-shift for Tio.”
“Because Tio asked nicely and didn’t call me a she-male.” the Tanuki snapped back from behind the privacy screen.
Of course, the net effect of the Zombina and Akagane having this conversation from across Charlotte’s shop was that everybody was now privy to their discussion on she-males and illusory wangs. Charlotte looked indifferent, even slightly amused.
I couldn’t see Perri’s reaction, but if she was still a squeaking, quivering mess just from getting her measurements taken, this conversation couldn’t have helped matters any.
Amanda briefly ducked out from behind the screen to retrieve something- her expression was that of disbelief and quiet disapproval, and I can’t say I blame her.
Tio looked like she wanted to speak up and steer the conversation elsewhere, but was too mortified by her colleague’s exchange.
Smith on the other hand didn’t seem particularly surprised- or happy- although she let the banter between Zombina and Akagane continue before speaking up.
“Oi….Cowboy-kun.” Smith spoke up after some more back and forth between the zombie and tanuki. “Perri told us a little about these burritos that she’s so fond of. Wanna make a burrito run for all of us? It’ll be on me.”
“Oooh….sounds good.” Charlotte said as she looked up from her measuring tape before fishing out a $10 bill from her pocket. “Tell ya what- make mine an adobo.”
What the hell? Who died and passed on the mantle of Grubhub to me?
“Just to give you ladies a heads up- even the ‘mild’ salsa is made from Hatch chilis, which are pretty damn hot.” I caution the girls from the Exchange program as I nod at the shops’ proprietress. “Charlotte can vouch for this.
“Hah! That sounds like a challenge…” Zombina countered.
“Your funeral….” I countered, forgetting who exactly I was talking to for a moment.
“You know what they say- ‘If you can’t take the heat, get outta the kitchen’.” Charlotte said as she resumed doing measurements on the tanuki’s garments from behind the privacy screen.
Perri at least had some idea and would use the salsa sparingly instead of avoiding it altogether whenever I’d bring home something from La Olla Cobre.
“If it isn’t too much trouble, I…I’ll get one too, Billy.” Tio said as she rummaged around her purse. “I’ll leave it up to you, but whatever it is, could you please make it mild?”
“Mister Host? Could you make mine the pollo asado?” Perri called out from behind her screen.
“If it isn’t too much trouble, could you get a couple of soft shell tacos for me?” Amanda asked shyly from behind the same screen. “I….kinda skipped lunch today.”
Sensing my growing exasperation, Smith eased the situation somewhat by pressing a couple of $20 bills into my hand.
“You fly, we buy?” Smith offered.
Well now- all these assertive, attractive women pressing cash into my palms. I suppose I’m not really in a position to say ‘no’, am I?
Even though La Olla Cobre was easily within walking distance of Charlotte’s shop, I figured I had to drive since there would be more items than I could realistically carry in one go.
With all the girls’ orders written down on a slip of paper, I figured they’d be either really glad to see me or think I was being a pain for placing such a big order with them pretty late in the day.
“Hola, amigo! Que onda con la mujer paraja?” the old-timer asks me as he starts ringing up the order at the register.
“Ah- bueno…..estamos aqui en la puebla a comprar un vestido nuevo para ella.” I say a bit uncertainty.
I heard Junior tell the old timer he’d get to work in the kitchen on our order while pops stayed up front in case there were any more customers who showed up.
As soon as the old timer was satisfied that Junior was occupied in the kitchen, he came out from behind the counter and took a seat at a small table by the register. It wasn’t lost on me that his facial expression had become noticeably less jovial as he did so.
“Siéntate, muchacho- Hay una historia que tengo que contarte.” the old timer said.
I wasn’t 100% certain what he was saying to me, but he was pointing at an empty seat at one of the tables and there was nobody else around.
“Que pasa?” I ask, somewhat pleased I didn’t botch that simple query.
“Es sobre las Doncellas- Hay algo que no te conté.”
Again, I didn’t understand most of what he said, but sat down as soon as I heard ‘Doncellas’.
The handmaidens. The harpy women of legend from his home village that he claimed to have served an Aztec eagle goddess once upon a time.
“Cuando cumplí los 16, los pobladores decidieron que iba a ser yo quien fuera a la jungla, y le dejara las ofrendas as las doncellas.“
OK- I caught something about being sixteen and…. offerings to the Handmaidens.
I’m all ears.
“Yo estaba con mucho miedo al principio. Habia cuentos y rumores de otros que habian ido ahí antes y desaparecieron por semanas, y cuando volvieron a aparecer, ya… ya no eran los mismos- estaban distintos.”
There’s still nobody else up front- the one who translated when I first came here with Perri is still making our order in the kitchen. The old-timer excuses himself for a moment as he gets up and helps himself to a small glass of water before sitting back down. Despite the language barrier, it seems as though the old timer doesn’t want anybody else around to hear what he’s telling me.
OK- remember your high school Spanish. He had been chosen. Something about fear- I’m guessing that he was scared to have been chosen as one of the ‘messengers’ spriting offerings to the handmaidens. Stories and rumors of other messengers disappearing for weeks and if they returned, they were…..different.
Seemingly satisfied that I was keeping up, the old timer continued.
“Me dieron una mochila llena de frutas, tasajo y mezcal- Pero no podia probar nada hasta que llegara al Templo de Xochiquetzal, y dejara allí las ofrendas para la primera luna llena. Tenia un miedo- No sabia que esperar una vez que llegara allí”
Something about a backpack with fruits and mescal- that must’ve been the offerings for the handmaidens. He’s telling me he was frightened and didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at their temple.
The old timer pauses again. It doesn’t seem like it’s to make sure I’m caught up, but rather he seems to be trying to collect his thoughts.
Now I’m wondering what was waiting for him at the Temple of Xochiquetzal.
“La jungla es un lugar desconcertante, muchacho.” he said, his tone much more subdued. “Te hace creer que estas viendo cosas que no son; juega con tu mente. A lo largo de todo el camino al templo, yo estaba seguro de que alguien me estaba vigilando.”
A chill went up my spine. I understood every word he’d said, despite the growing lack of confidence in my Spanish.
The jungle is a strange place, he was warning me. The mind can play tricks on you. He was sure he was being watched every step of the way.
After a moment’s pause, the old timer finished his cup of water before continuing.
“Cuando al fin llegué, me di cuenta de que no estaba solo. En la punta de la piramide habian tres sacerdotisas mirandome llegar.”
“Casi me dio un ataque- las saltaron de la punta de la piramide. Pero en vez de matarse contra la tierra, ellas volaron…. cada una tenia unas alas de plumas hermosas y se desilzaban hacia abajo, como planeando, y aterrizaron en frente mio.”
He finished his water, setting the cup down on the table.
“No eran humanas… pero eran personas. Trataron de hablar conmigo en una lengua que no se entendía- No era Náhuatl, y mucho menos Español…”
With an unusual clarity, my mind is working to untangle the unfamiliar words from the familiar ones I’m hearing. A pyramid. When he arrived, he saw Priestesses who were able to fly down and speak to him, yet not in Spanish or any indegenous language.
Jesus- there’s no doubt about it. He’s talking about harpies.
My mind is racing.
An entire tribe of sultry latina tropical harpies still hidden away in the Mexican jungle? And pops gets sent to them as an offering….at the peak of his youth and almost certainly during mating season. Decades before the demihumans would reveal their existence to the rest of the world.
I feel like I should be high-fiving pops, but something hits me. If he had told anybody this story a few short months ago, he would’ve been dismissed as a senile crank fabricating tales of whole tribes of winged bird women living in the jungle by his home village.
“Mi familia y la gente en mi pueblo dijeron que todos las cosas sobre las Doncellas fueron un sueño. Que mi tiempo con ellas fueron delirios de enfermo…”
Something hits me with an unusual clarity. This is why, despite the apparent language barrier, he didn’t want his son up front and translating for him. Junior could very well have some harpy half-sisters in the old country- that would be one hell of a bombshell to spring on him.
“O.K.- I’ve got everything here and it should be labeled.” another voice spoke up, re-emerging from the kitchen.
Well speak of the devil- or their son.
Just like that, pops falls silent- no longer interested in telling me more about the handmaidens of the Aztec eagle goddess. I had a feeling he’s already told me all he was willing to on the matter.
“One surf and turf combo burrito, one carne adobo burrito, one order chicken quesadilla, a pollo asado burrito, three carnitas soft shell tacos and two carne asada beef burritos…and we included a side of tortilla chips and both hot and mild salsa.” he said while reading back everybody’s order to me.
Before I start making my way back, I check the Facebook post from Amanda showing Perri posing for a selfie with some of the high school cheerleaders.
I probably shouldn’t have done that. Beneath the picture of the pretty teenage girls clamoring around my gorgeous homestay, I noticed something.
One new comment.
“TRAITORS! COLLABORATORS! THESE SOULLESS BEASTS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO LIVE UNDER THE SAME SKY!! HUMANITY WILL PURGE ALL! YOUR TIME WILL COME,QUISLINGS!!”
Thinking back to that little incident at Culbertson’s pharmacy, I’m not surprised that through the anonymity of the internet someone is leaving threatening messages on social media.
But stepping back and examining it even more carefully, I think it’s even worse. This threat isn’t just directed at Perri- it’s mostly directed at this high school girl whose biggest ‘crime’ was posing for a picture with the harpy. Maybe the earlier news about that white powder scare at the Senate building had me more on edge than usual.
My mouth is dry and my mind is racing as I start the truck for the short trip back to Charlotte’s shop.. Chances are this is some basement-dwelling edgelord talking shit behind a throwaway account, but…
What if it isn’t?
I wasn’t quite prepared for the scene that greeted me when I got back to the shop. I probably said something to Smith about the online anonymous threats being directed at Perri and possibly Amanda, but I lost my train of thought for a moment.
It seems as though Charlotte was finished with my date, but I couldn’t see her right away on account of her being wrapped up tightly in a hug by the good natured MON ogress.
“You look so cute, Akagane-san.” Tio gushes sweetly. “I know you can’t be happy cooped up in the office all the time- or even running back and forth to the courthouse. Besides, Billy the Kid is really really sweet. Just ask Perri….”
As much as I appreciated Tio’s input, I find myself blushing while halfheartedly looking away.
It’s not lost on me that Perri is still behind the privacy screen, although probably blushing and fidgeting upon hearing Tio’s words.
“You work so hard on behalf of every liminal that has to deal with the court system, Akagane. All of us appreciate what you do- it can’t be easy. If you want to get to know Billy the Kid on a more….. personal level, I certainly won’t be the one to hold it against you.”
“Yeah…some of us were wondering when you were gonna take that stick out of your ass.” Zombina added.
Seems like that’s as close as Akagane and Bina were going to get to hugging out their differences.
“Tio? Th-thank you, but….can I….?” the bewildered tanuki asked as the giantess still had her wrapped her up in a gentle hug. “Can I come up for air?”
I couldn’t help but notice that the tanuki’s floofy, ringed tail was still wagging when Tio almost reluctantly released Akagane from her grip.
“Well, Bucka- Bryce?” she corrected herself. “How do I look?”
Oh wow. The shorts were just run-of-the-mill jean shorts, but Charlotte clearly spent most of her time and effort on the Tanuki’s top and it showed.
It was quite daring, to put it mildly. I could almost describe it as a corset and bustier combo, except there were some thin straps that went from the top of the garment and looped vertically around each shoulder. The corset portion was dark grey and adorned with gold wildflowers while the cups (barely) holding Akagane’s breasts were black and topped with a lacy trim
“Not bad- kinda like the Japanese version of Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo after she ditched the orange sweater, then got dolled up and that makeover included ears and a bushy little raccoon tail.”
I meant that as a roundabout compliment, but as soon as I said that it occurs to me that Akagane may not see it that way. The way Charlotte was looking at me indicated that she certainly didn’t consider it a compliment.
“Oh? You mean the real brains of the outfit and the sleeper sex symbol of the whole franchise?” she smirked, indicating that she did in fact take it as a compliment.
“At least until the Hex Girls came along.”
“Shut up….my fangs are way cuter than any of theirs.”
“And probably real.”
“Damn right they are.”
“Hang on- almost forgot these.” Charlotte said as she held up a tan suede vest with little fringes running diagonally on each side. In her other hand was a straw cowboy hat with a drawstring and little holes cut along the brim- presumably to accommodate the raccoon-dog’s pointy ears. Even with the vest now covering her as she tried it on, Akagane’s getup is still pretty racy.
This wasn’t just Charlotte foisting some fabric and garments she couldn’t sell on a couple of city slickers I dragged in here. Sure, the jean shorts were a tad lazy on Charlotte’s part, but Akagane’s top was amazing and attention-getting for all the right reasons.
It also looked like it could be pretty comfortable for the busty tanuki woman in a number of scenarios on the ranch or in town.
“Mister Host?” I heard Perri nervously speak up.
Turning my head, I’m treated to a vision in a light, floral print cotton sundress and charcoal and white feathers.
“Perri- you look amazing.” I marvel. The high hemline and low cut of the dress highlighted her very alluring, very human and very feminine features. Her alabaster breasts- not quite as big as the tanuki’s- were straining ever so slightly against the top and the hemline of her dress showed off more of her legs and thighs than I was accustomed to seeing, even with her regular cutoff shorts.
“Took a little longer than I thought, but I’d say I outdid myself.” Amanda said with a hint of pride as she emerged from behind the privacy screen.
Yet as alluring as she looked, Perri’s dress also added a nice down-home touch. However, what really got my attention was how the bird girl didn’t seem completely at ease in her new garment and I’d occasionally catch her sometimes trying to cover herself up with her white and grey wings before relaxing a bit.
“I mean….you…just….is that even….?” I stammered, trying to form a sentence that would accurately describe how Perri looked in her new dress.
“Congratulations, Perri.” Akagane spoke up. “You made Buckaroo speechless.”
“Really?” the falcon harpy asked, seemingly pleased with the compliment before turning to Charlotte. “If that’s all that was required, then I’ll take five of these.”
This earns my homestay some guffawing and chortling from the gathered humans and MON agents.
“Who knew my homestay was such a comedienne?” I pondered out loud as the others dug into their meal.
The night of my MON-sanctioned date with the Tanuki had arrived and I met both Akagane and our undead chaperone at the football field. Since Akagane had gotten some new threads just for this occasion, I figured I’d go for what I sometimes called ‘county jail chic’- jeans and a clean, pressed denim shirt.
I had asked about what they were planning on doing with Perri that night, but didn’t really get an answer until Smith and Tio showed up at my place with some board games in hand right before I left.
Game night at Chalet Bryce as I went on my first date in nearly two years.
I gotta say, It probably wasn’t a good sign that Copper Ridge was already up on the home team 7-0 by the time we swung by the concession stand to get some sodas on the way to our seats..
Then the score was 14-0 in the blink of an eye after McDonald High quarterback ended a promising drive by throwing an interception returned for a touchdown by the Copper Ridge defense. This drew a collective, deflated groan from the crowd- including myself.
Copper Ridge tended to be the Harlem Globetrotters to McDonald High’s Washington Generals, no matter how often everyone in Fort Quinn would convince ourselves that this would be the year the Caballeros would finally beat the high flying Copper Ridge Miners, reality had a way of splashing cold water on our predictions.
Alas- this year wasn’t turning out to be any different.
Once again- the home team put together a good drive and got deep into Copper Ridge’s end of the field, but a strip sack and a fumble by the Miner’s defense was run all the way back for a touchdown and gave the visitors a 21-0 edge when we had barely sat down.
All right, then- so the game wasn’t going to be as entertaining as I thought it would be. But at least I was in good company.
Might as well ask her some of the questions I wanted to ask Smith, but was worried about the agent biting my head off for some reason or another.
“Hey- Akagane? I’ve been meaning to ask…. Why did all those extraspecies VIPs choose Japan to make their big announcement?”
“Hm?” she looks up from her soda with a cocked eyebrow, straw still between her lips.
“You know…..the fact that they exist.”
“Ah- that! Well….I’m not privy to the exact reasons, but I understand a number of things factored into that decision. As modern as Japan is, there’s still a lot of reverence for various youkai.” she began.
“Another reason that doesn’t come up in discussions very much is demographics.” Akagane said after another hearty sip. “As bad as the demographic downward spiral is in Japan, it’s almost worse across the board for many extraspecies.”
I remember hearing something about that- Japan’s aging population and fewer and fewer young people paying into the public benefits system for the elderly and pensioners.
“There has been some speculation, but….” Akagane began with an almost conspiratorial whisper. “It’s believed there’s one more largely unspoken reason.”
I’m all ears.
“Technically Japan is a pacifist nation and has been for a couple of generations.” she began. “But…mainland China has been doing some saber rattling over some disputed islands south of the Ryukyu Islands.”
I forgot the name of the uninhabited islands, but the tug of war between Japan and China over them had been taking place for a couple of years now.
“The islands don’t have much strategic value, but the dispute is almost certainly a pretext for mainland China to start some sort of conflict with Japan. Technically it would make sense for Japan to cede them to Taiwan, however….” Akagane continued. “Mainland China claims Taiwan as part of their territory as well.”
“But what does that have to do with extraspecies?” I ask.
“This is just a rumor, but some say the Ministry of Defense had persuaded some youkai to come forward and enter into a tacit agreement to aid the Self Defense Forces if Japanese territory- including these disputed islands- was to be attacked.” she said in a hushed, conspiratorial tone.
The wheels in my head start spinning.
“Which means it won’t be long before the Pentagon starts recruiting extraspecies.” I muse.
“Starts?” Akagane scoffed. “Buckaroo- I won’t tell you what’s in them, but I signed off on more than a dozen documents with a Department of Defense letterhead in just the last month.”
I arch my eyebrow, although I probably shouldn’t have been completely surprised by that revelation.
“But we didn’t come out here to talk shop tonight, did we?” the tanuki continues.
“Yeah- guess you’re right.”
She remains quiet, but speaks up after a few more sips from her soda.
“But I’ll let you in on this little secret.” she says coyly. “Would you like to know why Smith is so interested in the two of us going out?”
Akagane took another sip from her soda before continuing.
“It’s less about us and more about padding her travel expenses and getting comped by the Exchange Program.”
“Yeah- it’s a little sneaky, but the program pretty much puts up with it ‘cause they’d be lost without her.”
“Weird- I heard her say the same thing about you. “
“Well of course! All part of my intangible charms.”
“On the contrary- I’d say some of your charms are quite tangible from where I stand.” I say, openly admiring the way her cleavage is spilling out of her corset-like top.
“IEEEEEAAAA…..” she almost moaned melodramatically as she drapes an arm across her rather voluminous bosom. “Hentai desu-ka…”
I actually knew what that meant, but thought better of reacting to it since I realized it would mean fielding all sorts of awkward questions from a smug Tanuki woman about how I knew what the Japanese word for ‘pervert’ is.
To her credit, Zombina had decided to give us a certain amount of privacy- watching over us from a distance and making the occasional pass up and down our section of the bleachers instead of hovering right over us the whole time.
As the game progressed, it looked as though things weren’t getting any better for the home team.
“I was afraid something like this might happen.” Akagane sighed as she reached into her cleavage and pulled out a trio of leaves.
“I’m a little surprised you aren’t more used to awful football, seeing as how you’re a Stamford grad.” I tease her.
“Uresei…” she snarls, none to gently punching my shoulder with a balled up fist.
“Ow!” I wince. “Go Cal…”
Upon hearing that, the lovely bespectacled raccoon dog shot me a glare that could’ve melted titanium before turning her attention to her purse as though she was searching for something. After rummaging around for a bit, she seemed satisfied that whatever she was looking for was present.
“Ready to blow this pop stand, Buckaroo?” she turns to me.
“What did you have in mind?”
We can’t head back home since Smith and Tio were probably keeping Perri busy by playing Jenga or Connect Four. Are we heading over to Akagane’s hotel room?
“In my interview with Perri, she mentioned an establishment you were particularly find of….”
“How about you take me there?”
She scoffed. “The phrase ‘one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest’ was coined for games like this. What’s the harm in slipping away for a couple of drinks?”
Well- it’s either that or continue sitting here and watching the marching band try to play Uptown Funk. I hadn’t been to a game in three years and they were playing that last time- the band director really needs to change up their playlist.
“You naughty little trash panda.” I tease. “Why would you think our chaperone is just gonna let us walk out of here?”
“Anta-wa…… Tanuki desu.” the canine lawyer growled in Japanese, which I found endearing for some reason. “Anyways- I’m way ahead of you, Buckaroo.”
“Way ahead of me…how?”
Instead of answering my question right away, she looks around to see if Zombina is paying attention.
She’s not- her attention is directed at the field for now. Apparently she’s digging the band’s performance much more than either one of us.
Akagane begins rummaging through her purse and pulls out a copy of the Llano County Argus-Prospector before giving it a cursory look. She then pulls a leaf from her considerable cleavage and with a small puff of smoke, the newspaper changed into something else.
A comic book. The art style looked like some sort of manga and the cover art…..
It’s two guys reclining on a bed, wearing not much of anything and staring longingly into each other’s eyes while surrounded by cherry blossoms. And they’re not really ‘reclining’ so much as embracing or attempting to embrace.The two of them looked fairly young and one fellow appeared to be in the late stages of removing his robe or kimono before accompanying his….uh…companion, I guess.
The cover features lots and lots of Japanese text, but there’s some English visible as well.
Kansai Spicy Boy X Boy Diaries: Springtime Love Special
“Well shit- I don’t remember the Argus ever running that particular comic.” I tell my date.
“Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead with this trash, However, this right here is Zombina’s weakness.” the tanuki lawyer declared as she scrolled up the book as though she was going to smack me with it.
The Tanuki doesn’t say anything right away but discreetly tosses the newspaper-turned-boy’s-love manga onto the stairway as Zombina begins making her way back down the stairs after making a cursory check on us.
However- the ring tailed troublemaker is just getting started.
To my surprise, Akagane pulls out two white birch logs from her purse and stands them on end in our seats as the two of us get up. After all I’ve seen this week, I’m not sure why I’m so astonished to see the tanuki lady lawyer walking around with two good sized logs in her purse……but I am.
One last check of Zombina and the two of us can see she now has a surprised and delighted expression on her face upon discovery of the conveniently placed boy’s love manga on the stairway before her- almost like a kid on Christmas morning.
I think neither the tanuki nor myself was expecting that ruse to be as effective as it was.
“OK! She’s distracted…” she said triumphantly before pulling out two bookmark-sized slips of paper with Kanji scrolled all over each of them. She slaps them down on top of both logs.
“What was that supposed to do?” I ask my date, clearly underwhelmed.
“You’ll see…soon.” she says coyly. “But first thing’s first. Follow me.”
Before I can say anything, the trickster raccoon dog gets down on all fours and proceeds to wiggle through the gap beneath the bench seat and floorboards. Not a bad view of her ample backside, but it’s partially blocked by her floofy ringed tail.
As bad as the game was, the people around us still seemed to be paying attention to the action on the field and blissfully unaware of my date’s shenanigans as she disappeared below.
“Come on!” she beckons from beneath the bleachers. “We all float down here.”
“Miss Tachibana- for the record, if I get on down there and see a fucking clown with fangs, I’m choking the crap out of you….” I say as I get down on my haunches.
This drew a few incredulous stares from the people seated around me.
“Ooo…promises promises.” Akagane titters.
“Heh…sorry.” I chuckled nervously as an older couple is still looking at me. “My date dropped her glasses…” I say before scrambling down beneath the bleachers to join my date.
Sure enough- no Pennywise or John Wayne Gacey. Just a voluptuous raccoon-dog woman with an impish grin on her face waiting for me.
“Oooh….alone and under the bleachers. You take all your dates here, Casanova?” she teased.
“So what’s the deal with the firewood and post-it notes?” I ask.
“That trashy manga isn’t gonna keep our rotten girl chaperone distracted all night, so…..” she raised her hand and then snapped her finger.
Nothing happened right away, but she pointed up towards where we had crawled under the beneath the bleachers.
We’re looking up at a hot and slightly chubby brunette with glasses and the dorky but otherwise unremarkable guy who…..wait- the brunette has canine ears and a bushy tail. And the guy…
Oh damn- that’s us. Or a facsimile of us, at least.
I mean- we’re sitting perfectly still, but otherwise it’s an excellent likeness.
“You don’t think my butt looks too big?” she asked me facetiously.
“Whoa- how’d you manage that, Ms. Tachibana?” I ask, clearly impressed.
“Tanuki Magic 101.” she beamed proudly as she gently hooked her arm in mine.
And with that, we were off to the Spur.
“AH!” the brunette Tanuki exhaled after downing her shot of cinnamon flavored whiskey. “This is more like it.”
“Really….Fireball?” I ask her incredulously. “Are you sure you’re not still in a sorority?”
It’s a Friday night, so of course the Spur is pretty crowded. Seems like whoever isn’t still at the football game made their way over here.
The funny thing is that nobody really seems to be paying much attention to my ring-tailed, canine-eared date- apparently the novelty of extraspecies sometimes visiting wore off after Perri’s first or second visit here.
Besides- once you get past the ears, tail and somewhat animalistic eyes, Akagane looks remarkably human.
“Watch it there, Buckaroo. You know that I’m not that far removed from my college days…..” she said, slamming the shotglass down on the bar.
“So what you’re telling me is that you’re an inexperienced lawyer?”
“Uresei, inaka-chan….” she hissed through clenched fangs, no doubt eager for a follow-up shot of Fireball.
“So you know her better than I do- what are the odds Smith goes Stasi on me and Perri?” I ask my date as I’m still nursing my seven and seven.
Her face scrunches up, somewhat unhappy that I want to talk shop with her for a bit but otherwise understanding my concerns.
“Smith might seem lazy, but she’s still an effective administrator.” Akagane began. “The thing is, the go ahead for something like that would require approval from multiple layers of bureaucracy- which would ultimately mean more work for herself.”
“So that’s a ‘no’?”
“Not quite- I doubt she’d go full Truman Show on you, but she might get around the Program and try something else under the radar.”
“Well now- thought the birdy missus had you on a short leash after last time.” a familiar voice spoke up. “Didn’t think we’d see you here tonight. Who’s this firecracker here?”
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Clyde and Cyrus standing before us, since Akagane and I were occupying their preferred barstools.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” Cyrus spoke up. “Are you another homestay?”
“Hey guys- this here is Akagane. She’s actually a lawyer with the exchange program.”
“My- what big ears you have, grandma.” Clyde teased.
“The better to litigate civil complaints with.” the cheeky tanuki replied.
“Miss Tachibana here is a raccoon gal…” I begin. No sooner had I said that than I feel the attractive tanuki’s foot quickly connect with my shin.
“Omae…..what did I say about calling me that?” the feisty canine eared brunette growled.
“Racoon dog….I meant raccoon dog….” I clarify.
My date said nothing to me but reached into her considerable cleavage and pulled out a pair of business cards, deftly handing them off to Clyde and Cyrus.
“Akagane Tachibana, Esquire….” she said to my drinking buddies as she did a little bow. “And I’m what’s known as a Tanuki- a calm, benevolent, generous and deeply spiritual species of youkai from the Land of the Rising Sun.”
I scoff quietly at the calm, benevolent and generous youkai who just kicked me for calling her a raccoon.
“What sort of practice do ya specialize in, Miss Raccoon Dog?” Cyrus asked politely.
“I mostly argue cases on behalf of the exchange program in criminal or civil court.” she said almost dismissively.
“How about that- so you’ll be the one defending Bryce’s birdy when she finally snaps and poisons him?” Clyde laughs.
“Based on my interview with Ms. Greene, she’s expressed overall satisfaction with her present living arrangements- although there is some exasperation directed towards what she sees as her host’s idiosyncrasies.” Akagane said matter-of-factly.
That actually came as a bit of a shock to me.
“I believe you’re the young lady my wife helped outfit at her shop, right?” Cyrus asked.
“Oh? You’re Charlotte’s husband?” she asked Cyrus before turning to me. “Very clever, Buckaroo.”
Just like that, Akagane realized I had directed them to Charlotte’s shop in order to steer Exchange Program funds to the family of one of my friends.
“Looks like she outdid herself.” Cyrus said in admiration.
“You’re too kind- and a very lucky man to be married to her, I must say.”
“Believe me- she tells me that all the time.” Cyrus said dismissively.
My blood froze as a familiar, taunting voice abruptly spoke up.
“Hey lookie here…. it’s Dr. Dolittle with another animal he’s trying to fuck..”
Another voice snorted derisively. “Hah- Dolittle…..you sure you’re not talking about his dick?”
Fuck me- it was inevitable I’d run into the gruesome twosome again at some point, and their timing seemed particularly awful. But then again, it seemed like there was never a good time to encounter them.
“How you doin’, Birdfucker?” the taller, mannish one taunted.
“Ladies, maybe you should-” Cyrus began to say to our unwelcome visitors.
“Lighten up, pops!” the chunky one guffawed. “We’re just havin’ a little fun….”
I realized that this was a new and somewhat insidious gimmick on their part- heaping their abuse and racist bullshit on us by play acting like they were friends or acquaintances of mine so it would appear to the casual observer it was just some pals goodnaturedly giving each other some shit. And it seemed as though they had a new target in Akagane.
Naturally, nobody in our group was buying it.
“Ladies…” Clyde spoke up. “I don’t think you’re really Bryce’s type, so if you wanna skedaddle-”
“Of course we aren’t- we’re human. Bird boy’s more into beastiality- ain’t that right?” Butchy says.
“Is this your date tonight?” chunky sneered at me. “Gotta hand it to you- this coon looks almost human!”
I could see Akagane clench her fangs for a moment before putting on a somewhat forced and cheery smile.
“I’m actually a Tanuki.” the lawyer affably corrects the duo. “It’s a canine species from the far east with markings similar to a raccoon and masters of all sorts of dark and arcane magic-”
“But you look like a coon, Coon Ass.” butchy interrupted, almost bellowing.
My date didn’t let her amiable facade slip at all.
“Buckaroo, this is amazing…” Akagane said sweetly as she turned to me. “You didn’t tell me you knew any rodeo clowns.”
I did my best not to guffaw at the Tanuki’s remark and the gruesome twosome’s reaction.
“That’s not very nice, Akagane.” I halfheartedly chide the tanuki woman. “You’re being unfair- rodeo clowns are actually very useful. These two, on the other hand…..”
“Oh- I see.”
“And one of them used to be a man.” I added. “Guess which one.”
“Oh wow….” Akagane faux-marveled. “How progressive! Wait ‘til I tell Zombina about this.”
“What?” Chubbs asked incredulously.
“You just shut your coon mouth, you little bitch!” butchy snapped at my extraspecies date.
“Guess the hormone therapy made you extra cranky. You oughta lighten up, dude…we’re just having a little fun.” I tease, making sure to throw their prior words to Cyrus back in their faces.
“Looks like we’ll have to talk to the management about some of the customers bringing in filthy animals into this establishment.” chubs huffed.
“That’s not very nice- I mean she’s standing right there when you’re saying that.” Akagane quipped as she nodded her head towards the lankier and more masculine one.
“Fuck off, Coon bitch.” was butchy’s witty and well-thought-out rejoinder as the two of them finally walked off, the more masculine one giving us the finger.
With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way as the gruesome twosome took their leave, Akagane began asking Clyde and Cyrus if they had any embarrassing stories about me they wanted to share.
When no anecdotes were forthcoming, Akagane seemed more than willing to hear Cyrus talk about how he met his wife and how they both run their small businesses over a few more shots.
Clyde seemed strangely quiet, as though there was something on the tip of his tongue but he wasn’t quite able to bring up- which is a bit weird considering he doesn’t have that much of a filter.
After a few minutes, Akagane excused herself to go to the girls room. I almost didn’t want to point it out, but I wanted to tell her that if we wanted to get back to the game without Zombina raising the alarm, we should probably cash out our tab and get going.
Although I didn’t want to admit it at the time, I think my first clue that simply getting up and leaving wasn’t going to be an easy proposition was the fact that the Tanuki needed a moment or two to steady herself as she got up and was staggering a bit on her way over to the ladies room.
To get there- and back- she has to get by some billiards tables, and that’s where the trouble began (or continued) as she tried making her way back to our table from the women’s room.
I didn’t see what- if anything- had happened, but the gruesome twosome were now blocking Akagane’s path back to our table, yelling something and shoving her.
Oh shit….here we go again. I say to myself as I get up and quickly make my way over to the commotion.
“You did that on purpose, you bitch!” fatty complained.
“It was an accident, honest!” Akagane said defensively
“Are you calling her a liar?” Butchy threatened.
“Maybe if she wasn’t lying, I wouldn’t have to call her that.” the tanuki said, her words beginning to slur.
“How about we take this out back, Coon bitch?” Butchy snarled.
“Aww…..” my date pouted. “I don’t know how to break this gently, but….” she paused to hiccup before continuing. “Y-you’re not really my type.”
Shit- it’s not like my intervening will make things any better. But the little raccoon dog seems to be in over her head and I can’t just stand idly by.
“What seems to be the problem here?” I ask nobody in particular.
“Oh my gosh, Buckaroo!” Akagane said- her speech slurred as she playfully smacked my shoulder. “Y-you didn’t tell me that this place had a…a….mechanical bull!”
“So, uh….Akagane….as you can see, this place has a mechanical bull.” I deadpan. “Any questions?”
“I totally gotta try this out!” she said, swaying a little bit, but leaning against me for support.
“Akagane, I’m not sure you’re in any shape to-”
“Nonsense, I’ll be fine.”
“Not until you pay me for the drink you spilled, you fucking animal.” chubs snapped.
“That’ll be the day, Coon ass.” the more masculine half of the gruesome twosome taunted.
“Oh that….that does it Paula Bunyan!” Akagane stammered angrily before lurching towards our pair of antagonists. I had to hold her back. “Let’s go- right now. We settle this with bull-riding!”
“What?” butchy asked incredulously.
I had to admit, she wasn’t the only one who was perplexed.
“I…isn’t that how cowboys resolve their disputes?” Akagane asked, turning to me.
“Not really, I mean-” I begin.
“You’re on!” butchy interrupted.
“It’s like your little Coon girlfriend said- a good way to resolve disputes.”
“Besides- this oughta be good for a couple of laughs.”
By this time, a crowd of regulars from the Spur was beginning to form.
Even if she wanted to, it looks like Akagane can’t back out now.
Doreen was kind enough to step out from behind the bar and provide a quick tutorial on the mechanical bull- just short of actually riding it- even feeding it some quarters to make sure it was still in good working order after hardly getting used for so long.
It was working just fine- unfortunately.
However, the bartender was not going to dissuade the gruesome twosome from following through on their mechanical bull riding contest with my extraspecies date. Nor was she under any obligation to. Akagane had been talking some shit earlier and seemed fascinated with the mechanical bull itself- as though this was the first time she saw one.
It probably was the first time, too.
That certainly didn’t auger well.
“All right- just like actual bullriding, the closest to eight seconds without getting thrown off wins.” Doreeen said in her best ‘are-we-really-doing-this-stupid-shit?’ voice.
“What are the stakes?” Akagane asked, her ears pert. ”I know…let’s make it a spelling contest as a tie-breaker!” She giggled. “But the prize oughta be….I dunno- let’s say a grand cash money.”
“If you got that kind of money- sure. If not, we just boot your coon ass on outta here.” Chubs stipulated.
“Deal! I look forward to spending your money…” the cocky little raccoon dog taunted.
After a bit of deliberation, Butchy decides she’ll be the one representing the gruesome twosome for this event. The machine starts up, but she holds fast for the pivotal first four or five seconds. When it looks like she’s having trouble holding on to the bucking contraption, she still manages to hang in there for another full second or two.
Doreen looked down at her smartphone that she was using the stopwatch function on.
“Six point eight seconds.” the bartender announces to a lukewarm smattering of applause.
“Not bad.” I concede. “It’s almost like you have a lot of experience with mechanical devices between your legs.”
This drew a ripple of groans and ‘oofs’ from the crowd of onlookers- I’d like to think it was my witty comment, but I realized that I also had painted a pretty unpleasant mental image with that attempted zinger.
Butchy kept her rebuttal to a simple middle finger.
“Your turn, Coon ass.” chubs spoke up.
“This is almost too easy…..” Akagane boasted, her words slurred ever so slightly as she gingerly sat astride the mechanized bovine.
“Big talk for a coon-ass loudmouth.” chubs taunted. “Bet you’re gonna eat those words.”
Doreeen gave the signal to go and….
I don’t get it- is her strategy to go completely limp?
Shit. Forget what Smith said about tanukis having a higher alcohol tolerance- she’s falling down drunk and is going to get thrown off in less than two seconds.
Suddenly, Akagane is jerked violently enough that her breasts finally manage to pop free from her corset-like top, giving the spectators quite a show.
Apparently her strategy is to get thrown off barely two seconds in and…..
Oh shit- the now airborne Tanuki is closing in on where I’m standing- like a me-seeking missile.
After colliding with me in mid-air, the two of us land on the floor, with her on top and…..and….
She’s steadying herself- or attempting to- by pressing her palm down on my junk and rubbing her exposed tits back and forth in my face as I’m flat on my back.
“Oh no….wh-what happened?” the bewildered tanuki asks while giving my shaft a pretty good feel through my tented jeans.
It’s not a bad sensation, per-se….in fact quite arousing. The problem was the rather sizeable audience now gathered and witnessing the tipsy Tanuki’s antics while on top of me.
“Ah…..Akagane, you lost…” I manage to utter, my face now free of her sweater puppies- for better or worse. “You got thrown off and….well- here I am to cushion your fall.”
“Aww….that’s so so swo…..sweet of you, Buckaroo.” Akagane gushes as she slips her arms around my shoulder and embracing me in such a manner that my face is pressed back into her boobs.
“Damn- break it up you two perverts.” chubs sneered in disdain.
“Pay up, Coon tits!” butchy snarled triumphantly.
Akagane straightened herself out, putting her top back on before fishing around her ample cleavage for a moment.
“Aww- I had plans for this.” she pulled a wad of bills with a rubber band wrapped around them out from her bosom before begrudgingly tossing it to butchy.
“Here. You girls have fun….don’t spend it all in (hic) one place. She slurred as she wiped her chin with the back of her hand.
It wasn’t lost on me that the gruesome twosome’s eyes widened as they examined their newfound prize.
“Holy shit! There’s gotta be almost $1500 here.” she marveled, counting each individual bill.
“What’s an animal like you doing with that kind of money?” chubbs asked Akagane in an accusatory tone. “Were you turning tricks at the truck stop?”
“I tried…” Akagane tittered. “But there’s no way I could compete with your mom in terms of both price and volume.”
“Nice company you keep there, Birdfucker. She always talk like that?” the mannish one snarled at me before she pulled a single $100 bill from the stack and crumpled it- tossing it my way.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say butchy was somewhat offended by Akagane’s jokes about her mom after she’s been repeatedly calling the Tanuki girl a Coon bitch whore skank for nearly the whole time we’ve been here.
“Here- why don’t you buy yourself some dignity.”
“DRINKS ARE ON US!!!” chubs whoops triumphantly to a steadily increasing smattering of applause and approving murmurs.
With a little help from yours truly, the Tanuki is back on her feet- although she’s clinging to me for support.
“Oh no, Buckaroo…” Akagane slurs. “What if some baddies corner me in the alley and rob me of all my money? Even worse…..what if they forced me to do all kinds of lewd things while I was helpless?”
Wait- she has even more money?
“Holy shit- just how much money do you have in there?” I incredulously ask the tanuki. With the benefit of hindsight, I realized I should have been a bit more discreet.
“I….I’m gonna go out for a smoke.” she declares suddenly.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if some big, strong man followed me out to the alley and held me down and just…hmm….started doing all sorts of things to me?” she murmurs as she starts rubbing herself up against my body. “He could do whateeeever he wanted- I really wouldn’t even be able to fight back since I’m so tipsy.”
“Okay….that’s kinda hot, but this really isn’t the time or place.” I heard myself say out loud.
“Don’t worry- I can count on you to protect me, right?” she teases as I guide her towards the side entrance.
As soon as we’re through the door, I’m talking to a much more sober and rational tanuki.
“Hey Buckaroo- I’ve been meaning to thank you.” Akagane says contemplatively as she fishes a pack of cigarettes out from her cleavage.
Damn- they really are magical. The sudden change of topic makes me forget to ask her what the whole point of that dog and pony (or mechanical bull) show was a few minutes ago.
“Well- when we were fooling around earlier, I could’ve changed into just about anybody you wanted….all you had to do was ask.” she continues as she pulls a lighter out from her denim cutoff shorts.
Seems like an unusual thing to thank me for, since we didn’t have the chance to go all the way.
“But instead of a pop idol, cheerleader or pin-up, you straight up told me that you wanted me.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. Beauty and brains will do it for a lot of guys.”
“You keep saying that….” she smiled as she exhaled, tendrils of blue smoke swirling between the two of us. “But I never considered myself all that pretty- I guess it’s kinda hard to be travelling with Smith and Tio and not develop an inferiority complex. Hell, Zombina’s got a rockin’ bod….even if only a third of it was originally hers.”
“C’mon, Akagane- this isn’t a contest.” I try and reassure her before I think of something. “Here- let me see your hand.”
Akagane quickly stubbed out her cigarette on the alley’s brick wall before giving me her hand.
I promptly slid my other arm around her waist and could feel her tense up.
“What are you doing?” Akagane asked.
“Heh….would you believe that we had to square dance for gym class in seventh grade?”
“Oh my God- you’re such a redneck, Buckaroo.” she rolled her eyes.
“Can’t be helped, Miss Tachibana. Blame the Llano County Consolidated School District.”
As she put her other hand on my shoulder, I began to lead while the Cowboy Junkie’s version of Sweet Jane continued wafting out from the Spur’s jukebox.
The raccoon-dog youkai does her best to press her body against mine while following my lead.
I can only quietly chuckle.
“What is it?” she asks self-consciously.
“Kinda reminds me of my Senior prom, only not as big of a trainwreck.”
“You were slow-dancing with a- and I quote ‘trash panda’- in a side alley that smelled like cigarettes and week old garbage at your prom, too?” Akagane grinned as she looked up at me, our hands still interlocked.
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“Not much to tell. High school sweethearts think they’re going to be together forever. Not even two years later, I join the National Guard and she runs off to some artist’s colony in Taos.” I say, uncomfortably aware of how bitter I must sound over what amounts to old news.
“Buckaroo- I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” the Tanuki said apologetically while looking up at me.
“Bygones being bygones and all that.” I tell her dismissively.
“It’s just that I’m thinking high school you must’ve been this irresistible mix of cute and awkward.”
“Implying that I’m not right now?”
“I don’t think the shy, dorky high school version of you would’ve worked up the nerve to pour me shot after shot of Jim Beam, let alone massage my chest and play with my ears with Smith in the next room.” she purred.
“I might’ve jerked off to something close to that, tho.” I admit.
Whoa- that was way too much information. Probably best to steer the conversation back to her.
“I bet you were probably pretty popular in college, right? Even if you were incognito all that time.”
“Ugh…” she groaned, her face scrunched up in disdain. “Freshman year, seemed like all sorts of frat boys were trying to get into my panties- some sort of contest to see how many freshman girls they could bag or something.”
“But my junior year, there was this one guy. Pretty good looking, real sweet, honest to a fault, seemed like he was kinda dumb at first, but was pretty sharp the more I got to know him….reminds me a little of you.”
The music had stopped for now, but Akagane continued reminiscing.
“So what happened?”
Almost as soon as I ask her, regret and sorrow cloud the pretty Tanuki’s face.
“I almost forgot my circumstances when I was with him. Part of me wanted to show him the real me…to love him with no masks or deception. But I told myself that he couldn’t handle the truth if he ever discovered my true nature, and….we just…” she trails off.
Although she couldn’t bring herself to say it, I was pretty sure I knew what ended up happening.
“Hey….hey…..I’m sorry that happened to you.” I said as I gently cupped her chin, her eyes meeting mine. “Forget I even asked.”
The next song cued up on the Spike’s jukebox begins wafting out to the alley- the Talking Head’s version of Take Me to the River.
“Yeah….like you said, water under the bridge.” she said.
Except the look in her normally bright eyes seemed to indicate the topic was still painful for her.
Once again, I slide one arm around her waist and gently took her hand in mine as we resumed slow-dancing in the alleyway.
Still following my lead, Akagane seemed much more at ease. After a few moments, I could hear her softly humming along to the song.
For some reason, I’m reminded of the talk I had with the old timer who ran the Mexican place. How much differently would his or Akagane’s life have been if extraspecies had been known to the rest of the world and they didn’t have to pretend?
“♪ ♫ ♬I don’t know why you treat me so bad- think of all the things we could’ve had… ♪ ♫ ♬” the canine-eared lady lawyer murmurs softly.
There was something about this……even if I couldn’t have a physical relationship with Perri, I was still hoping for a level of intimacy and trust like I was experiencing with the curvaceous Tanuki lawyer after barely 2 days.
But these are two very different species, let alone personality types. Maybe Perri and I were never meant to be-
“Would you believe Tio and Zombina were dating the same guy?” she asks me out of the blue, interrupting my train of thought.
Well now- looks like I’m now privy to some Exchange Program intra-office gossip.
“Supposedly it was work related, but they say he’s got a bunch of other beautiful girlfriends at home, too. Plain, normal guy right? But he does his best and doesn’t view his homestays as freaks or playthings- doesn’t put ‘em up on a pedestal either. That’s earned him a whole group of women who adore him and just hate the current no sex law.” she muses.
“So basically he’s got the chance to live the dream and bed one of them- with the Exchange Program’s blessing- if he marries her. The thing is, he either can’t decide or doesn’t want to spurn the other girls by marrying only one of them.”
“Sounds like an awful lot of pressure to put someone under.” I point out.
“Seems kinda like something you’d do. You’re a decent enough guy after all, earnest, sweet, just a bit dim in the good way. Like a man who’s part Golden Retriever. Who knows Buckaroo? Play your cards right and maybe you can get a harem too.”
“C’mon, Akagane….” I point out. “You guys are out here because I can barely handle one right now. What the hell am I supposed to do with a whole harem?”
The Tanuki gave me a shrug. “Maybe that’s not the only reason we’re out here, though.” Akagane replies slyly.
What the hell does she mean by that? Oh well- I guess that’s the thing about trickster youkai; they’re always keeping you on your toes.
“Still- I’ve been called worse than a golden retriever, tho’.” I chuckled. I suppose that could be viewed as a backhanded compliment.
“And I’ve been called a lot worse than Velma Dinkley before.” she replied.
“Heh….yeah. Guess I was there for some of that.”
Even though some of her earlier supposedly drunken pratfalls were an act to trick the gruesome twosome, I can’t help but notice that Akagane still seems pretty affectionate and touchy feely as well as genuinely tipsy right now.
“We should probably start heading back to the game.” I reluctantly point out as I pull the $100 bill butchy tossed at me. At least I could spring for another round of drinks for ourselves as well as Cyrus and Clyde tonight.
“Hold up, Buckaroo- I wouldn’t pay with that.” Akagane cautioned me.
I was about to ask her what she was talking about when I got a good look at the $100 bill I was clutching.
It still said ‘100’, but there was no Ben Franklin. In his place was a portrait of a smartly dressed, bespectacled tanuki woman.
Her tongue was sticking out and she was using her middle finger to pull down her lower eyelid. Beneath the portrait, it read ‘SUCKER!’. Where the Treasury seal would have been was an oak leaf in a circle with the text ‘LOL! You got prank’d, loser!’. I had to admit that the ‘FEDERAL RESERVE OF AKAGANE TACHIBANA, ESQ.’ was a nice touch, too.
I can feel the Tanuki’s eyes on me as I’m examining her handiwork.
“You didn’t…..” I marvel.
“I may have….” she’s grinning now, although the little trickster doesn’t quite want to admit she’s up to no good just yet.
But the thing is, even though I didn’t get a very close look I was almost certain Akagane had given the gruesome twosome a wad of authentic $100 bills after unceremoniously getting tossed off the mechanical bull.
“OK- I shouldn’t ask, but how….?”
“Uh-uh….trade secret, Buckaroo.” she chides me, playfully wagging her finger. “Without giving away too much away, it’s a rudimentary- I guess the western phrase would be ‘glamour’. A short term illusory spell, basically. It’s supposed to wear off after a couple of minutes but I tweaked it so that the more someone looked at the bills, the more convinced they were seeing the real thing.”
Before I could say anything, the side door to the Spur flew open.
However, instead of tubby and fugly wondering what the hell just happened to their newfound cash, I could see that it was my two drinking buddies. And they both seemed worried about something.
“Hey….Bryce.” Cyrus said as he walks up to the two of us. “Somebody just sent me this. You might want to see it.”
He holds up his phone and after a few seconds of buffering, a video begins playing.
It’s a football game- specifically the one Akagane and I ditched our MON chaperone at.
There was no miracle comeback for the Caballeros- they were still getting blown out of the water, but a curious thing happened as I continued watching.
There was a little laughing emoji and someone typed “How do you even score this play?”
Fourth down and time for yet another punt for William C. McDonald High. The ball gets snapped to the punter and it’s a high, booming, end over end beauty that the person filming loses track of for a second.
Instead of signaling for a fair catch, the Copper Ridge returner seems to be pointing up at something above them.
Then…..everyone else loses track of the ball. Players, fans, referees- all murmuring and looking around in confusion before someone in the crowd shouts “Up there!”.
The sound was on, and I could’ve sworn that I heard the ball make contact with someone or something well after it was punted.
The video continues and the crowd’s attention is now focused on a large bird circling above the field at a low altitude and lit up by the stadium lighting.
Only after a second or two, it’s pretty apparent that this is no ordinary bird.
My heart sinks as I watch Perri on the phone’s screen making one of her circular descents. She’s clad in the sundress from Charlotte’s tack and apparel shop. The lovely harpy is clutching something in one of her talons- at first I thought she might’ve hunted down some poor, hapless creature but I quickly see that it’s the football…..only it no longer is shaped like a football.
In the video, Perri looks increasingly uncertain about where exactly to land the closer she gets to the ground. It looks like she’s set to land on the field away from the two teams, but at the last second she spies the cheerleaders we had run into at the Mexican restaurant and glides towards them.
“Perri? What are you doing here?” I hear the strawberry blonde call out in surprise as the harpy gracefully alights next to the cheerleaders- drawing a smattering of impressed “Oooh”s from the fans in the bleachers.
This was the water tower incident all over again, only I wasn’t there to try and keep her out of trouble.
“Oh…hello Amanda.” I could hear Perri ask the strawberry blonde cheerleader as the Copper Ridge coach angrily made his way onto the field. “Have you seen Mr. Host around? I believe he’s here tonight with his……schnauzer.”
I don’t think I like the way she emphasized ‘schnauzer’.
“I thought I saw him here earlier sitting over there with another lady.” one of the other cheerleaders- the one who introduced herself as Whitney- spoke up.
The camera phone jerks back to the thinning crowd around where we had been sitting. Only instead of two fairly convincing facsimiles of us, there’s two small birch logs standing on end with an oak leaf on top of each one.
I guess a Tanuki’s shapeshifting magic has it’s limits.
“How is that not spectator interference!?” I can hear the Copper Ridge coach bellow to the referee as a crowd began forming around Perri.
For his part, the McDonald High coach seemed every bit as confused by the latest series of events.
“What the hell is going on here?” he asked as he and the referees and Copper Ridge coach closed in on Perri.
“My apologies- this oblong projectile was violating my airspace while I was monitoring developments from overhead.” Perri said to one of the referees as she held out her wing, the last bit of air escaping from football after she had dealt it a mortal blow.
By this point, everyone’s attention was diverted by a sharp, high-pitched whistle coming from the stands.
“Perri!? What’s going on!?” Zombina asked as she clambered down from the stands, clutching a copy of the Llano County Argus-Prospector in her undead hands.
“I noticed that Mr. Host and….that woman are no longer in attendance at this contest and-”
“Damn it.” the zombie spat in frustration as she whipped out a smartphone and began speaking almost as fast as she had dialed. “Custer and Legal Beagle have flown the coop. I repeat-”
From there, the video cut out.
“That can’t be good….” I mutter.
“K-kuso……Smith and the others are on their way over here.” Akagane said, a hint of panic creeping into her voice. “My spell using those two decoys probably wore off when I applied that glamour in here earlier.”
“Hey…um…this probably isn’t the time or place, but I don’t suppose y’all could give me an update on my application?” Clyde asked.
Fucking Clyde- he was right. This wasn’t the time or place, but he asks anyway.
“You applied to be a host?” I asked him incredulously.
“Y-yeah….I mean it seems like ever since Miss Birdy showed up, she’s been keeping you on your toes Bryce.” he began.
I’m pretty sure I was gawking incredulously at him after having my face buried in the buxom Tanuki’s prodigious cleavage not even twenty minutes ago.
“Chotto matte…..” The busty Tanuki exclaimed in her native tongue before reverting back to English. “Is your last name McAlpine?”
“Yeah….that’s me. How did you know?”
“The exchange program is shorthanded when it comes to personnel running background checks. I sometimes make some extra money on the weekend helping out with the workload making sure potential applicants don’t have any convictions or outstanding warrants.”
“Clyde, don’t tell me that you asked for a pon-” Cyrus began before being interrupted.
“They’re not ponies, I keep tellin’ ya that.” Clyde interrupted urgently. “The proper term is ‘Lightweight Centaur’.”
As idiotic as it may have been, I could see the relief wash over Akagane’s face upon overhearing my drinking buddies arguing with each other.
“Change of plans, Buckaroo.” Akagane said as she began shooing Cyrus, Clyde and myself back inside. “We’re going to let Smith and the others find us right here…”
Honestly, it felt a bit like we were back in high school- acting up when the teacher left the room but doing our best to maintain a calm façade and act as though we had been on our best behavior now that we knew the teacher was coming back.
“What’s the big idea, councilor?” I ask the tanuki as we make our way back in.
“Whether we like it or not, Smith’s on her way over here.” Akagane began. “We’re both in big trouble if she catches us drinking, dancing or fooling around in the alley. But….”
Despite the earlier spectacle, hardly anyone seems to have noticed our return. Akagane doesn’t say anything right away as she sets her seemingly magical purse down on a free table and slides back out of her vest, setting it on the back of one of the chairs.
“If she walks in on me doing something work-related, she’s not going to be that upset at either one of us.”
That actually sort of made sense.
She doesn’t say anything to Clyde, but motions him to take a seat opposite where she put down her purse and vest.
There was nothing me or Cyrus could really do other than look on as Akagane got a binder and some Exchange Program printed materiels out while Clyde sat opposite her at the small table.
Curiously, Akagane didn’t appear to be ‘faking it’ or going through the motions, either. She seemed to be asking him questions based on Exchange Program guidelines and diligently taking down each answer he gave her.
This went on for a few minutes until Akagane and Clyde abruptly stopped their ‘interview’. Both of them- as well as me and Cyrus- heard a growing commotion from the bar.
It was the gruesome twosome- and the bartender sounded incredibly displeased with them.
“What are you talking about?” the mannish one asked.
The rest of the bar grew quiet as they were aware that something was unfolding by the cash register.
“Are you deaf? I said worthless!” Doreen snapped as she literally threw their ‘money’ back at them, bills fluttering in the air and landing on the countertop or floor as the mannish one quickly went about retrieving them.
“No way- that’s at least $1300 there…” the chunkier one insisted.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to pull or if this is some hidden camera Punk’d bullshit, but you better start paying your tab in real money before I call the sheriff!” Doreen said as she slammed her fist against the bar, looking as though she was ready to lunge across and choke the shit out of the first one of the duo she could get her hands on.
The gruesome twosome may have had a theoretical size advantage over the bartender, but you do not fuck with Doreen.
“Th-that’s not….this can’t be….” the chunkier one stammered, now getting a good look at the ‘money’ she tried giving Doreen just moments ago.
You could hear a pin drop inside the Copper Spur- an amazing feat for a Friday night.
“W-we just spent two months salary….” butchy lamented before she seemed to realize something.
“It was HER! That thieving little bitch!” she pointed in Akagane’s general direction.
“Y-yeah. If you’re gonna call the sheriff, call him and tell him this coon-ass bitch is trying to pass off funny money!” the chunky one almost pleaded with Doreen.
“I assure you, that won’t be necessary.” a voice spoke up from the doorway.
I never thought I’d actually be glad to see Smith, but lo and behold- there she was. The only way her entrance could’ve been more dramatic was if she was kitted out in western gear from Charlotte’s shop.
Smith would make a good genderflipped Black Bart, I imagine.
Despite the lack of Wild West regalia, I had to concede Smith’s entrance was pretty timely.
“Who are you?” the chunky one asked angrily.
“Agent Smith- M.O.N.” she said while flashing a badge- as though she’s done it hundreds of times before. “We basically specialize in the investigation of crimes committed by extraspecies criminals.”
“Then what are you waiting for? Arrest this fraud!” chubbs snapped at Smith while pointing at Akagane.
“Why? No crime has taken place.”
“N….no crime!? What do you call trying to pass counterfeit bills!?” Butchy spoke up as she held up some of the offending ‘currency’. “Who the hell walks around with thousands of dollars in funny money!?”
Without missing a beat, Smith strode over to the gruesome twosome.
“Ah- I think I see the problem here.” she said, examining one of the $100 bills featuring a likeness of the cheeky tanuki woman.
“You do?” Dolores asked optimistically.
“Are you familiar with ‘hell money’ or ‘ghost money’?” Smith asked the duo.
Both of them shook their heads ‘no’.
“It’s a funerary custom in East Asia- mourners burn fake money at the deceased’s gravesite in order to allow them a measure of prosperity in the afterlife. They can be made to look like dollars, yen, Euro…..or even customized.” she said as she scrutinized Akagane’s portrait on the $100 bill. “I see Ms. Tachibana went the ‘customized’ route.”
“But….she tried passing it off as real money.” the chunky one protested.
“Oh? Is this true?” Smith said calmly as she turned to the Tanuki.
However, before Akagane could speak up, I decided to interject.
“Really? Since when?” I challenge the two of them. “She’s been with us the whole time- she never tried passing any of that ghost money to us or Doreen.”
Clyde and Cyrus quietly nod in agreement.
“She made that little wager with you two and handed off a wad of paper.” Cyrus adds.
“Yeah- how is it her fault the two of you were dumb enough to think that was real cash?” I pointedly ask Butchy.
“You would take her side, you perverted, animal fucking-” butchy snarled at me before a loud CRUNCH towards the entryway caught everyone’s attention.
“Ow ow ow ow….” a familiar voice called out, while managing to sound only slightly irritated.
The entire bar turned to see a blonde giantess standing slightly stooped over in the doorway, her hands now examining the black horn jutting from her forehead. Directly above her was a fresh looking indent where some plaster had been knocked out.
“Sorry….sorry.” Tio said sheepishly as she made her way inside without any further damage.
“Buckaroo- get your phone out and get ready.” I heard Akagane hoarsely whisper as everyone’s attention was directed at Tio’s rather loud entrance.
I did as she said.
Sitting at the table where Akagane was ‘interviewing’ Clyde moments ago was an attractive ebony woman who looked like a somewhat thicker version of Vixen from the old DC animated universe.
“So what do you plan on doing with this lying-ass, cheating coon!? She can’t just-” chubbs asked Smith before she turned around completely, pointing to Akagane.
To her credit, chubbs was quick to shut up- but by that point the damage had already been done.
Again- dead silence permeated throughout the Spur as everyone took in chubbs’ outburst. In all honesty, I don’t know how the regulars at the Copper Spur would react to a black person coming in- mostly because I don’t think it’s happened before. Mind you, not because of a conscious effort to keep black patrons out- it’s just a reflection of the demographics of an out of the way place like Ft. Quinn. Like the town itself, the Spur’s regular customers tended to be mostly white with a smattering of latino and Native American thrown in.
Uncharacteristically, I decide that I should be the one to break the silence.
“What the hell? Are you proud of yourself, you fucking bigot?” I ask chubbs as her jaw is moving back and forth, struggling to form words. “Did the fucking lumberyard run out of wood for your burning crosses? Is that why you’re here tonight? “
“I….it’s not like that….I….I didn’t mean…..”
“Didn’t mean what, exactly?” the ebony woman in Akagane’s seat asked pointedly- more righteously indignant than sassy. “You’ve been harassing me and my companion all night, and this certainly isn’t the first time the two of you referred to me as a ‘coon’ this evening- I have a name, you know….”
“No…..this isn’t what it looks like.” chubbs was almost pleading with the bystanders- some of whom were just as astonished as she was.
The thing is, everything Akagane had said was true.
“I’ve had to endure your racism and verbal abuse all night when I simply wanted nothing more than to relax and have a few adult beverages with my companion.” ‘black’ Akagane continued.
“You lying little coon- I knew your kind couldn’t be trusted. You’re not even human!” butchy bellowed before turning to me as I’m still recording. “And YOU! I’m gonna take that camera and jam it so far up your ass….”
Oh shit! I stop recording long enough to see that she’s heading right for me.
“Harassing an interracial couple all night just for kicks?” Cyrus spoke up. “Not a good look.”
I can see that Clyde is now recording everything- I’m not sure how much of the gruesome twosome’s outburst he caught, but it looks like they’ll be prime footage of me and butchy scrapping. Seems like the two of them caught on to what Akagane was doing pretty quick and were now playing along.
“I’m gonna fuck your shit up….” she growls.
But that’s as far as she got- both in terms of that sentence and advancing on me. Out of nowhere, a surfboard-sized curtain of white and dark grey feathers appears and a quiet, familiar voice speaks up.
“That’s far enough.”
Butchy stops in her tracks, her already mannish face a contorted mask of rage.
Perri’s face was calm and almost emotionless.
“Fine.” she snarls. “You can’t hide behind that freak forever, Birdfucker!”
To emphasize how much she hated me and Perri, she splashed the little bit of beer remaining in her mug at me and Perri. I didn’t get a drop on me, but I saw some of it land on the falcon harpy’s beautiful new sundress.
I suppose if she was willing to back off, I should’ve left it at that. Although she did her utmost to conceal it, I was certain that I saw the hurt and crestfallen expression on Perri’s otherwise stoic face and couldn’t help myself.
“Oh, that fucking tears it you nasty skank….” I yell as I step around Perri and close in on butchy. She could take me in a fair fight, but right now she seems aghast at the ferocity and venom I’m directing at her. Fugly isn’t leaving until I beat some manners into her or she’s picking up every last one of her teeth from the floor- whichever comes first- and she’s actually backing away the closer I get. “You had your chance to walk away, but I’m fucking up your ugly mug even worse than it is right now! Do you get-?”
I stop as I feel a large hand on my shoulder.
Wheeling around, I was expecting to see one of their friends finally jumping in to stop me. Instead, I’m looking up at Tio.
“Billy- no need for you to get worked up like that. It can’t be good for your blood pressure.” she cooed sweetly.
The thing is, I wanted to be angry and continue raging at my tormentors- for all they had done not only to me, but also Perri and Akagane. Tio had to have known this- but one look into her beautiful, serene eyes and I knew it was a waste of my time.
My pent up anger was replaced with something else. Suddenly I was feeling a little sad in knowing that I had almost certainly disappointed both Tio and Perri.
“Tio, Perri…I’m sorry….” I murmur sheepishly to the two of them as I do my utmost to slide my arms around the gentle giantess’ midsection and return her soft embrace.
Perri doesn’t seem as quick to acknowledge me, but Tio gently wraps me up in a warm and comforting embrace.
“It’s OK, Billy. There’s nothing to apologize for.” she said reassuringly. “I mean, you put so much effort into your responsibilities as a host- right? You’ve been working so hard to make sure Perri feels right at home, isn’t that right dear?”
It takes both me and Perri a moment to realize Tio’s question is directed at the falcon girl and not me.
“Oh….uh, right. Absolutely…..” Perri begins, seemingly unwilling to contradict Tio. “O-outstanding job so far, Mr. Host…you just need to do something about sneaking away for drinks all the time.” she says pointedly.
I feel like all my troubles are a million miles away as I’m enveloped in a soft and warm cocoon. As beautiful as the giant ogress is, I didn’t think it could possibly feel so good to be standing this close to her.
“So….uh….how was game night?” I ask Tio as I’m looking up at her.
“Oh my gosh- your homestay was ruthless when it came to Connect Four.” Tio marveled.
“It’s not just the skies where I dominate.” the lovely falcon harpy quietly boasted.
“But it’s safe to say Operation wasn’t her strong suit.” Tio continued.
“These hands…..have taken many a life tonight.” Perri said forlornly as she looked upon her less-dexterous wing-hands.
I don’t know why- perhaps it was Tio’s calming influence or perhaps I was not even a minute removed from being so determined to knock out all of Butchy’s teeth- but I felt so happy and at peace in Tio’s arms and listening to her talk about board games with my homestay. Even Perri’s weird, quiet little outbursts weren’t enough to bother me- on the contrary they were oddly endearing.
“Yokatta….” Akagane sighs in relief- no sign of the curvy, smartly dressed ebony businesswoman where she had been sitting earlier. “I think that was my last oak leaf.”
Zombina has quietly joined us, although she doesn’t seem to be doing much more than incredulously eyeing the Exchange Program’s lawyer as she resumed interviewing Clyde.
“Well, Mr McAlpine- as a matter of policy, we can’t promise a specific species to a prospective host. But having said that, you do meet a number of criteria required for hosting a Centaur type homestay.”
“Really? Wow….OK. Thanks Miss…..”
“Oh no, the pleasure’s all mine. Matching up an extraspecies homestay with a compatible household can be a rewarding task in and of itself.”
“Miss Tachibana….” Smith said brusquely
“I’m terribly sorry.” the Tanuki bowed deferentially to Smith. “The football game was kind of a blowout, so I convinced Buckaroo to slip away with me and join me for a few drinks. We were going to head right back, but we ran into an applicant who turned out to be an acquaintance of Bucka- Mr. Andersen’s. Upon hearing that, I took it upon myself to conduct an informal preliminary interview and…. with those two women harassing us, I guess I just lost track of time.”
My God, she’s good. But if anyone could see through her bullshit, it was going to be Smith.
Instead of saying anything right away, Smith seemed content to stare down the Tanuki advocate for several moments.
However- before Smith could speak up, a large, feminine hand was placed on Akagane’s shoulder.
“Oh Akagane…” Tio said.
The racoon dog woman looked up at her expectantly.
“You’re so dedicated to your job….it really is amazing how you just want to go out of your way to help others in need” the lovely ogress said as she lifted Akagane up in her arms while giving her a gentle squeeze.
“Eep…” the tanuki squeaked helplessly, looking almost like a ragdoll in the lovely ogress’ embrace. However, Akagane didn’t fight it too much- she didn’t seem to mind getting squeezed by the lovely blonde ogress.
“Oi, Cowboy-kun.” Smith said to me quietly. “We need to talk.”