A Convention ~ and Other Things
© 2010 by Mr. David R. Dorrycott
Songmark and Songmark characters copyright Mr. Simon Barber.
Used with permission.
Early the next morning Charlene awoke to the sounds of a songbird. Opening her eyes she looked out the window, to see a bright yellow, white and black bird sitting on a tree limb, singing its morning song. Rolling out of bed she stood, rubbing her eyes. Another day battling tourists for the bath, breakfast in her room, then a meeting with the Consortium. She looked back at her bed, empty. No sweet cougar had followed her home last night. No sweet memories were made. Mainly, the vixen believed, because she hadn’t pushed the matter. A student had arrived and spoken to Lucy. There had just been time for the cougar to give her a sweet goodnight kiss. Then she was gone. No sweeter taste had Charlene encountered in her life. But now.... Now she had to ready herself for the day.
So she soon met with Nikki at the Double Lotus, a place Charlene had discovered was a safe-haven for all women. Whether you were Sapphic or not. No one pushed, and if it looked like you needed privacy, you got it. No one leaned over your shoulder or suggested a private room somewhere. Not that it couldn’t, or didn’t happen. But you had to be looking. The five women who owned the Double Lotus were very strict with the few rules that they had after all. It was a family place, not really a bar that also served food. Your family just happened to be other women.
“Thin's are lookin' up,” the mare announced over her beer. “Carmen’s in, a hundred K. She’s over talken' with tha' Clip Joint about infermation.”
“The 'Clip Joint'?” Charlene asked over her own small goblet of wine. She was beginning to fall from yesterdays high, and when she had called Songmark they had told her that Lucy would not be speaking to her. What had she done to anger the cougar? Charlene wondered. “A fur styling business?”
“Nah. ‘S’place owned bah' 'nother couple Songmark Girls. Tha Rotes. Just opened, buh' these people clip stuff from newspapers. Gotta pretty good filin' system. Carmen said tah expect her in ahn hour. Seein what tha' have on tha' Republic, ahn settin up ahn account.”
Looking into her wine the vixen thought over events. Yesterday had been like a holiday. Talking with actual fans, learning how they really saw the old series, and how excited they were that there would be another. Now she was back in this insane idea she had started. “You all act like this is a military operation,” she said quietly, so as not to catch others' attention.
“Is. Yah wanna take down ah Republic. Be it government er business. Yah hafta hit both tha' same way. Tha’s how Government works. Ahn tha's how Business works, Hon.”
“And do you treat your personal customers the same way?” the vixen asked.
“You wanna fin out how Red Lily works, Hon. Then you sign tha' contract, yah pay tha' cost.” Leaning closer the mare stared into Charlene’s eyes. “Yeah, its in yah,” she decided, leaning back. “But do yah really wanna let it out? Yah really want tha Red Lily tah bloom in yer body?”
“No,” Charlene admitted. “Not right now. Later, when I’m older. I think 'yes'. But I’d rather find out why Lucy abandoned me before acting on my current feelings. Which, I will be honest with you, is to take you up on that training right this instant. Just so I can forget her.”
Nikki giggled, a strange sound from such a large mare. “One of ‘er roommates got into ah fight. Broke ah Chinaman's arm, she did. Then in mah opinion, she shouldah broke ‘es neck. ‘E tried tah kidnap her, yah see. But fightin' gets yah restricted tah tha' dorms till tha' laws done. All of yah. One for all, all fer one in Songmark.”
“Like the three musketeers?” the vixen asked.
“Yep. Ah, here comes Carmen, and she’s got paper. Thin’s lookin up, ah see.” Nikki waved the anteater over, motioning Charlene to make room for her. “News?” she asked as the Mixtec sat.
“Good. Bad” the anteater reported. “Good: They take the job. Only $100. Cash, though. Bad: It take three week full report. As they say, they not Pinkertons.” She pushed the brown envelope towards Nikki. “Have interesting material, fast typist. Very yummie vixen. Pretty like this one. Not so big chest.”
“Sandra Azrua,” the mare supplied while opening the envelope. “She belongs to Beta Gordon. That halfbreed Chipmink-squirrel. And if you can prove that those are their birth names, I’ll be your slave for a month.”
“Your accent?” Charlene asked in surprise.
Nikki snorted in amusement. “Dahlin', mah accent, it comes ahn goes. As ah need. This here, it's business. Business needs tha pure unnerstandin'. So ah drop mah accent. Iffin' its all-righ' with you?”
“I yield to the prosecutor, your Honor,” the vixen answered, carefully pitching her voice low and sultry.
Beside her the anteater shivered. “Yield. With voice like take. You get me to yield to you,” she added. “Is very sexy voice.”
“Thank you,” the vixen replied. “And a great number of voice training sessions. Now Nikki, you were saying?”
“Those two showed up just before the new school year” the mare continued. “Brand new passports, sequential series. Same with their driver's license numbers. Odd: License from Missouri. Addresses are in Creekside, which happens to be exactly where Nancy Rote lives. Add that Nancy’s wife is Alpha, and the senior of those two is Beta. Catching my drift?”
“Someone slipped up,” Charlene agreed. “Or didn’t have much time.”
“Latter. I did some reading,” Nikki continued. “I’ll have the papers dropped off at your place tonight. You should know your friends, and your enemies.” She pulled the typewritten pages out, looking over to Carmen. “Are you in or out?” she asked softly, though she already knew that answer.
“In. I talk patron,” the anteater answered. “Father. He think worth try. Allow one hundred. If make promise find jobs good Mixtexa actors. Is happen?”
“Charlene?” the mare asked, turning her full attention onto the vixen.
“If we are successful,” the vixen answered. “First: I am but a figurehead. Less. I think that Lucy should be the public face of our consortium. I am but an actress, she and I have little money involved. Second: Yes. There are a number of want-to-be talents who paint make-up on and play Mixtex and Amerindian. I’d like to replace them with the real thing. Same for darkfurs. There is a market for good darkfur stories and no one is looking at it. If we could get into Spanish language theaters, and theaters that darkfurs attend, I think that we could carve a large audience away from the big boys.”
She sipped her wine, noting as she did so that it was now empty. “No more wine,” she said at Nikki’s look. “Coffee, please. Now, there are a great number of Mixtexa stories that would fit the screen quite well. Everything from horror to love stories. I’ve seen a few with friends. What would you think Carmen. A couple of good scriptwriters as well?”
“My parents own two studio,” the anteater answered. “To break into American market? Yes. You give word?”
Reaching across her chest Charlene offered her right paw. “You have my word, Carmen,” she agreed.
As Carmen shook her new business partners paw she giggled. “You break word, I have Nikki break you,” she warned.
Nikki nodded, making certain that the American vixen saw her. “That would be on the house, Carmen. Too bad for Lucy, if she decides to accept your offer. But I think I can find another vixen to warm that cat's bed.”
Charlene shook her head lightly. “If you two think that you are going to scare me, forget it,” she explained. “This fails, and K.L. or Yade finds out. I’ll be spending my life on K.L.’s ranch. A bit in my mouth, a saddle on my back, rubber hooves on my paws and feet.” She swallowed. “And nothing else. A plaything for the rich and famous. Until my looks go. Then probably an unmarked grave in the desert. Carmen’s love slave? That, Nikki, would be heaven in comparison. Especially since her wife is so beautiful.”
“I no let you touch my Alexia,” she warned.
“You, Carmen,” the vixen countered. “Will not be home all the time. I shall steal her from you. She will leave you, taking me on my leash, and never return.”
“What want bet?!” the anteater demanded.
“You. On a collar and leash. All your life, if I am right,” the vixen answered. “Me the same way, if I am wrong."
For a long moment Carmen thought. Then she looked at the vixen and pointed. “Real?” she asked softly.
“Mamma-Nature's gifts,” Charlene answered.
Carmen swallowed. “I no make bet. Alexia is breast-girl. She likes sleep... Oh stop this! Nikki, what say you?”
“I’ll train either one of you, or both,” the mare answered from her reading. “Interesting. Republic is having a consistent cyclic money flow problem.”
Turning their attention back to the business at paw, both women became serious. “Yes,” Charlene agreed. “About November of every year Yade draws money from some account to keep the studio afloat. About twenty-thousand or so. I varies, I’ve heard. Then by February he’s passed those funds back. No one knows where they come from, or where they go. But the state government has investigated and found no illegality.”
“No ideas yourself?”
“None,” the vixen admitted. “All I know is that he does this around the fifteenth. But he never goes anywhere, and the money is still deposited.”
“Then he has a silent partner.” She looked up from the papers. “Carmen, get back to the Clip Joint. Get them to track down who’s transferring these exact amounts to... What is that bank, Charlene?”
Opening her purse, the vixen withdrew her checkbook, passing it to Nikki. “My checks are drawn on the same bank as Republic Studios uses. It makes it simpler for me to deposit them.”
“Bank of America National Trust and Savings Association,” Nikki read, writing the name on a slip of paper with the deposit amounts and dates. “Move girl, Miss Devinski is picking up those red stones.” She slid the checkbook back to Charlene. “Sixty-one dollars and eleven cents?” she asked as Carmen hit the door.
“'Red stones'?” the vixen countered.
“Deal,” Nikki agreed.
“It is exactly enough to get me through to the end of this quarter. If I do not have a project by then, K.L. will advance me exactly $100.” She stared at Nikki. “And yes, it’s the Casting Couch until I repay it, if I borrow that money. It's written in my contract, but you’d have to be a damn good lawyer to find it. Or I could spend a weekend at the ranch. And no, I’ve never spent that weekend at the ranch.”
“But you have lain on the casting couch,” Nikki completed.
“I’m a B-actress Nikki. Even A-actresses lay on that couch. Do you think me a blown-in-the-snow virgin or something?”
Charlene shook her head no. “No. Jean stomped out. But she got the job anyway.”
Nikki stared hard at the vixen across from her. “Takes a strong woman to do that, just so a friend can get a job,” she whispered.
Charlene looked down at her paws. “If you ever tell her... I will kill you. She’s the best damn friend I have ever had. If she found out, she’d spit in my face and never talk to me again.”
Nikki reached over, taking the smaller vixens chin in her paw. With her strength it was nothing to raise that face, and see the tears falling from those eyes. “First, Hon: You could never kill me. Second: My word I will never tell anyone. But, third: You have a lot to learn about Jean. I think she would be amazed at what you did for her. I’m certain she wouldn’t hate you for doing it. How many times?”
“Four times for every episode she was ever in,” the vixen admitted, the admission tearing a sob from deep within her chest. “From day one.”
“I think that I shall rip this K.L.’s arms off, and beat him to death with them,” the mare decided.
“Please don’t, Nikki!” the vixen begged. “Oh, he’s a product of Hollywood, yes. But he is the best damn producer at Republic. He knows what needs to be known, and how to get it done. Who’s the best for what project and when not to push. He’s an animal with a deep dark side, but he’s loyal to his employer, and he’s needed to keep the other, darker animals away.”
“And his ranch?”
Charlene took a deep breath, getting her emotions under control. How did this mare manage to rip her open so easily? she wondered. “Has to stay. The people who can shut down a studio. They expect the parties. They expect the B-actresses to be available. Even the occasional A-actress. I’ll go at least once, to make certain that no one thinks me too good.”
“What do you think Lucy will say?”
“Nikki,” the vixen whispered. “I’m in love with Lucy. It isn’t a two-way street. She’s probably the best science fiction and horror writer we can get. But me? Oh please, Nikki! She said no. I stood there, naked in front of her. My arms open, ready fall on my back. She looked at me, then she said no. She isn’t going to care. And she isn’t going to know. And I won’t ask any woman to do something that I won’t do.”
“I like you, Charlene van Pugpug,” Nikki decided. “You know what has to be endured. What can be changed and what may not be changed. Men rule this world of ours, sweet vixen. And they are base creatures of their pleasures. Most of them. That makes them weak. You want Republic Pictures because you have dreams. We want Republic Pictures because through it, we can advance the concepts of Songmark. I want you to come to my home tonight. I’m going to tell you a truth not every Songmark girl knows. Only the best.”
“Then you’ll collar me, and break me?” Charlene asked.
“No. I will have a surprise for you, but that will not be it.” She signaled the waitress, making an obscure sign with her fingers. A moment later the waitress laid two copies of The Daily Elele between them. “Coffee, two. Ahn tha pot,” Nikki ordered, dropping a quarter shell piece into the woman’s paw. Picking up the top paper, she set it aside, pushing the other copy towards Charlene. “What is on the front page?”
Turning the English edition to her, Charlene read. “Headline says 'Roosevelt calls a Special Session of Congress',” she read. There are reports on Europe, the Navy is...”
“Go to the last page,” the mare ordered. Shrugging, the vixen closed the paper and turned it over.
“There’s an article about us attending the convention!” she said in surprise. She read. “It just says that there was a meeting of film fans that was attended by the actresses Charlene van Pugpug and Jean Morris. Autographs were given and a good time was had by all.” She looked up. “This... this is all?”
“Something you need to understand, little actress,” the mare explained. “What is important in one place, holds no importance anywhere else. Unless you can get your message across to the entire world, it will always be lost in the noise of others. Now read this one.” She pushed the native copy across.
“I... I can’t. I can read English and French, but not the local language. But that is a wonderful picture of everyone on the front page!”
Gently Nikki retrieved the paper. “Full-page story, Charlene. Names everyone, tells about that impromptu costume contest. Good idea, that. Giving that statue of yourself to the artist. How you were respectful to Honored Mother Oharu, and gave her both the costume and ship model. A lot of people here know about Oharu’s love of Flash Gordon. She likes adventures, and adventures that happen on other planets? She goes gah-gah over them. You may not know it, but she never had a childhood. So she’s having it now. A little at a time, but if anyone has earned it, she has. Full front-page report in the native edition, blurb in the English version. That tells you what?”
“What I already knew Nikki. That what is important in one place, holds no importance in any other. I will have to hire someone to read this to me.”
“Smarter than I thought,” the mare agreed. “And you do that. Any of the McGee’s older children would be delighted to. Honored Mother Oharu is well-liked by that family, and for reason. This is why we want that studio. To release pictures with Songmark's message in it. To open people's eyes, a little at a time. And I will tell you that message in detail tonight. For now: Women are equals with men. Not slaves of men. Ah, Carmen has run -- she has returned.”
When the anteater settled down beside Charlene it was obvious from her scent and the heat beating from her body that she had run. “Money comes from U.S. Steel,” she said breathlessly. “Is special account, advertising.” She grinned. “They say they expect that question. Will find out who controls account. They seem have special friends in high place.”
“We have but a month Charlene. Best we start now, gather your purse because I want your opinion on my ‘screen test’ film.”
“You? On the film?” Carmen asked.
Covering her eyes with one paw the mare stood. “Come on, might as well be cooked for the goose as well as the gander.” So with the two following her, Nikki walked to the counter, paid her bill (which included the untouched coffee) and walked out.
Two hours and three viewings later, Charlene and Carmen were sharing a meal, laughing about the ‘screen test'. “Never I thought to see Nikki innocent so!” the ant eater gasped.
“If she showed any more cleavage, you could park a truck in it!” Charlene agreed. “She made it look like a perfect accident, that microphone stand falling and pulling down her blouse. Yade’s going to have a coronary. Just how large is that mare?”
“I think she make you... Myself... My Alexia and your Lucy, with over-some,” the anteater answered. “Is big mare, more ways one.”
“Lucy isn’t mine,” the vixen admitted softly, her emotions abruptly hitting a wall. She picked at her meal a bit more, but the fun was gone from her heart. Abruptly she stood. “I think I need to go home. Thank you for the company.” She then laid three shell notes on the table as she left. A surprised and worried Mixtexa anteater watching her go.
Nikki though, was busy herself. She was currently sitting in Mrs. Whitehall's home, the two hounds sitting across from her. “Its doable Catherine” she reported. “Carmen brought in the extra hundred thousand you said we would need. That makes six members of the Consortium. Of course, we all know that Alexia and Malou are part of this, but not in an active way. We were lucky, that extra money trail turned out to be open records. But why U.S. Steel is helping Republic Studios stay afloat, this I do not know. Yet. There is only the one problem still.“
“Lucy and Charlene,” the hound Catherine Devinski filled in. “No, I cannot allow Lucy a pass, nor may you have her for your standard two weeks. She is a Songmark student, and thus by our agreement untouchable by you. That way.”
“Breakin' her open won’t help,” Nikki admitted. “And I don’t honestly think I could. Without destroying her. Who’s on guard duty tonight?”
“The Rote dorm; the Cranium Island Rote,” Devinski answered. “And as normal, the dogs are released at sunset song until just before sunrise song. Unfed.”
Nikki laughed softly. “Those sire’s are hungry for girl-flesh now. Didn’t they corner one girl last year?”
“Two actually. One managed to dance her way out of the problem.” Devinski grimaced. “The other chose a different approach. Not one I would suggest, but she’s a cross-breed, the sires are mules or near-mules and neither of her parents are hounds. So it didn’t cause a problem. And they are still deathly scared of you.” She turned to Helen, who was listening quietly. “Nikki kicked all three males over the fence. It was rather amusing to find them outside the gate at sunrise song, meekly waiting to be allowed back in.”
“Threw, not kicked,” Nikki corrected. “If I kicked them, they would have been badly hurt. And their sister would have been extremely angry at me. Even if their mother isn’t Songmark, she spent her last month there before giving birth, and she still visits now and then. She comes under the Songmark umbrella.”
“Nikki?” Helen asked. “You know why I’m giving Charlene the money. And your story really doesn’t surprise me, I’ve read of such before. Its too bad the sires are most likely mules, they seem quite delightful. But the problem is Lucy, isn’t it? She doesn’t know if she really wants Charlene or not. Restricted to the dorms until this legal mess is over, she may not have time or the inclination to find out. Correct?”
“Yes Ma'm,” the mare agreed. “I know how it was for myself. It took months before I tried, and more months before I was certain. Which truly angered my family. We just don’t have months.”
“And how, may I ask, are you going to settle this?”
Nikki looked at Catherine and smiled. The hound turned to her love and answered that question. “She is going to break into Songmark and kitnap Lucy Ullrich. Then return her ten minutes before wake up, which Monday will be thirty minutes before Sunrise song. In the hours between, she is going to shove a vixen and a cougar into the same bed, with orders to find out or forget it.”
“Pretty close, Catherine,” Nikki agreed. “Except the shove into bed. There will be a bed, but wither they get into it or not is up to them. It’s a win-win situation for me.”
“How so?” asked Helen.
“If Lucy accepts Charlene, then the project goes full steam ahead with them. If she refuses her, I get the vixen as my pet project for two weeks. And we still move the project forward. Just without Ullrich or van Pugpug. Because the vixen will vanish.”
“Why?” both hounds asked together.
“Because she’s deathly in love with Ullrich. Not first or second love. But the kind that builds slowly. She won’t be worth anything if the cougar rejects her, and once I’m through with her.” She shrugged. “I can find her a place. Probably in Australia. There is a really nice straight Persian down there that would love caring for an artist. She will never, ever be what she was. You see, she’s talented. Highly talented. Talent sits on the edge of madness. If I take her, it’ll be all I can do to keep her from madness, which I will. But she’ll lose that talent to act. Forever.”
Helen looked aside, gathering her thoughts. “Then why destroy her?”
“Because its what she will want,” Catherine Devinski answered. “Nikki takes no women who does not read her contract, understand every word and no woman who does not pay in cash. I helped write that contract, Helen. It says, and I quote; ‘By accepting this training, you understand that you will never be the same. What you will be cannot be known. But whatever you were, that will be gone.’ I’ve seen all of her work. That statement has never been a lie. To step into the Red Lily’s parlor is to cast off what you were, and become something different. Normally something better. But like Crystal, Nikki cannot always be certain. Charlene, though....” She turned to face the larger mare. “You looked into her eyes, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Today,” Nikki admitted. “That vixen has in her to be the best actress in this generation, but she’s holding it back because she’s been hurt too much. And she has the ability to destroy herself exactly like Crystal, but for a different reason. If not me, then madness. But, if I can make a crack in that cougars armor.... It might just be enough. Ullrich may be exactly what that vixen needs to become a whole woman again.”
“A crack? How?” Helen asked.
Nikki grinned. “Scare her. She knows about me, and it’s a common line that I grab a girl now and then. No one knows it's just the instructors pulling chains, but if she thinks I’ve taken her for my own harem. She’ll fight, but I’m a graduate. Hell, I survived Cranium Island. That little second year won’t have a chance.”
“I thought no one survives Cranium Island... Not sane,” Helen Whitehall noted. “Are you saying that you are not sane?”
Nikki sucked in her lower lip, her tail going abruptly flat behind her. “I’ve been tested by every Priestess,” she answered. “I’m different than I was, but I’m sane and uninfected. Even Oharu gave me a free pass, and I’ve stood before that little bomb in North Village. If I were other than I look, those last two would have erased me. No, I’m not fully sane. Watching as a flower slowly devours a tourist girl, ignoring my bullets and no way to help her. Then finding her boyfriend, the rich playboy I was sent to find, as part of a living cliff wall, and still alive. Being chased by things I couldn’t see, but could hear and smell. No, Mrs. Whitehall. I’m not totally sane anymore. I never will be. Its what allows me to do what I do, and why death no longer frightens me. I’ve seen what is worse than death. I’ve experienced it.”
She looked directly at her old instructor. “It was Catherine that saved me. She had followed me, knowing somehow, but too late, what was going to happen. I owe her my life. And a lot more than that.” She looked down at her paws. “You see, until then no Songmark girl had been to Cranium island. Oh, we knew the stories, that Rain Island crew that flew too close for example. But you come out of Songmark and you think that you're ready for anything. The money to return Junior was huge, I’d lost Louise, and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t interested in living anymore. Not really. If there had been a way to get to that girl at first I probably would have joined her. Willingly. When Cat found me I was a mad, white-eyed mare running for her soul. And Catharine Devinski saved it. Though I lost my aircraft. You see I’d landed on the beach. By the time I got back it was covered with... things. But my soul for an aircraft? That was a cheap payment.”
Catherine nodded in agreement. “She pays, Helen. By work like this. Cracking Lucy’s armor is child's-play for this woman. I guarantee that most women don’t stand a chance against her. That is why she’s so selective.”
“What about me?” the afghan asked. “What if she decided to take me, just to get at you.”
“The only way to tell is let her look into your eyes. One of the things her experience on Cranium Island did. She can truly see your soul through your eyes. She’s seen mine.”
“That’s what calmed me,” the mare admitted. “What saved me.”
Helen laughed. “Well Miss Benevedo. If you can truly see my soul, take a look. “ Helen turned her gaze directly on the mare's eyes, and was shocked to feel something enter her. It left almost as quickly, but Nikki seemed satisfied.
“Cat. You could leave her with me for a lifetime. She has already seen true darkness. I can do nothing to her, or for her. She is that much stronger that I. Which is probably why you are in love with her. Have you selected your replacement yet?”
“There are two possibilities,” Devinski admitted. “Though I had hoped that Amelia or Helen would take my place. They were my top two choices.”
“Hum. Well, I have to meet with a certain vixen an hour after sunset song. So I best be readying my kitnapping so that my surprise is awaiting her. I promise I won’t ruin her, Cat. But hurt her? She’d going to fight.”
“I suggest a sand sap, while she is still asleep,” Catherine Devinski offered. “She will be tired, we’ve had them paw scrubbing the hanger all day.”
“Sand sap it is. Good day, and Mrs. Whitehall? I’d much like to be Maid of Honor at your wedding, when in happens in three or four years.” Standing, Nikki turned and let herself out. The very last thing she heard was Helen Whitehall saying, “If you are really going to marry me, I will not wait four years.”
Lucy Ullrich began to wake. There was something wrong. A strange scent. She barely managed to open her right eye when the world left her. Oddly, her three roommates remained in dreamland. Then, perhaps the burning incense had something to do with that. It took Nikki barely three minutes to bind her prize, slide her into the canvas bag she had brought, and leave, taking the incense burner with her. Sometime later one of the others would wake, sniff the air and note the odd sweet smell, then slip back to a very deep, very restful sleep.
Nikki, though, ignored the four guard dogs that watched her from a few feet away as she studied her way over the fence. They seemed to smile at her so she winked back at them. “Tell yah what,” she whispered, “Tomorrow nigh I’ll leave fresh meat out for ya. Nice warm Songmark first year.” She paused to pet the three, then was over the fence and away before the second-year, Alpha Rote, made her anti-clockwise patrol.
Alpha stopped as she reached that place minutes later, looking around. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t determine what. Yet the dogs had not alerted. Still, she decided to tell her partner and report it to the night instructor. Even though that meant waking her up.
Sometime later the cougar, Lucy Ullrich, woke. She was in a dark room and bound. Gently she started working at her bonds, trying not to make a sound. Abruptly there was a deep-throated chuckle. “Mos' second years learn tah sharpen tha' inside of ah claw er two. How yah think yah lost yer panties to tha vixen?”
“That was how?” Ullrich said. “So, I’ll remember that. Who are you?”
“Red Lily, an yer mine. Didn’ Songmark warn yah tha' I take a prize every year or two?”
Fear pounded in the cougars heart. She did have a sharpened claw. Two, to be exact, but she’d just discovered that the rope she was bound with had a steel-wire core. There was no way a claw, sharpened or not, was cutting through that. “So wha' do yah want with me?” she asked, wincing as she heard the fear in her voice. Thin, but it was there.”
“There's ah rhino tha wants yah. Payed pretty good, he did. I figure ah week, two, ahn you’ll sign that marriage contract of yer own free will. After all, yah been seen oogling tha' local male talent. No loss there."
“Maybe I’ve changed my mind!” the cougar challenged.
“Wha? Yah mean that cute vixen? She’s sellen' herself tah me ta'night. Yah didnah want her, so she’s endin' it all.”
“Charlene would never do that.” Lucy struggled, but the knots holding her simply tightened as she did so.
“Better stop. Is ah trick ah learned from ah Cipangu woman ah trained. Harder yah fight, tighter it gets. Till yer paws ahn feet fall off.”
“BITCH!” Lucy screamed. What answered her was a light coming on, blinding her.
“Maybe,” admitted the mare. “Buh' tell me: Yah really interested in tha' bit o’ fluff? Ain't much between tha' eyes worth worrin' about. An' don worry 'bout Songmark. They lose ah girl now ahn then. They'll jus' figger' yah couldn’t take it, ahn ran off. Girls do, yah know.”
Fighting, Lucy managed to get herself into a sitting position, though it pinched her tail (which was currently tied to the back of her neck). “All right. You have me. But I’ll fight you every inch of the way,” the Texan warned. “Find a way to keep Charlene from selling herself to anyone, and I won’t fight. I’ll do what you want. I’ll learn. I’ll be a perfect wife to this rhino. But only if you get Charlene to forget me and go home.”
“You really love her?” the mare asked, her accent vanishing.
“I don’t know!” Lucy snapped. “I know she doesn’t deserve what you're doing to me, but I don’t know if I love her. Hell, the only two kisses we’ve had was one she stole and a quick goodbye. I was going to find out, then the restriction. Dammit, Nikki. You have me. You’ve obviously gotten away with this before. So you don’t need her. Please, if you’ve any heart. Save her!”
“We’ll see, my petty little kitty.” Standing, the mare walked over to her captive. “Open wide, now.”
Frightened, the Songmark second year opened her mouth, to have it filled with something hard. A moments work and she felt a strap being buckled behind her. “Free taste. It isn’t often anyone gets this, without paying for it. Now listen my little toy. I will leave that door open, if you make one sound both you and your little friend vanish. Understand?”
Lucy nodded her head 'yes'. She didn’t like the binding at all, but the gag in her mouth wasn’t that bad. Without a sound she watched as the frightening mare walked over, turned out the light and left.
It would be half an hour before Charlene arrived.
Charlene sat, her back to an open door, as Nikki poured wine. “You were going to tell me about Songmark,” she nudged before sipping her wine.
Nikki nodded. “Songmark's true mission is to build strong women. Not just strong physically, but morally. Right now the majority of men treat woman as toys, or slaves. Take the Arabic nations and Africa for example. When Catherine Devinski and her best friends started Songmark, their main mission was to teach women to survive. It is why only twenty students are selected each year. It is not to turn girls Sapphic, as many believe.... Even many parents that send their daughters here. The instructors really have no idea what a girl's tastes are when they accept them.”
“That’s why Lucy hates me. Because I offered, and that isn’t what she wants.”
“I honestly don’t know that, Charlene,” the mare admitted. “It could take months for her to decided one way or another. You really should give her time. You may be lucky after all; she may be interested. But afraid that you're playing her.”
“I would never do that,” the vixen answered. “I really, really love her. I wasn’t sure, not until I got the guts up to undress before her. I’ve been used too many times, and I’ve used my body too many times. Like when I got Jean that job, and kept paying K.L. with my body so he would keep her around. I didn’t love her; I’ve never been interested. But Nikki, she’s my only real friend. She doesn’t want anything from me, everyone else does.”
“We are drifting off the point, Charlene” Nikki reminded her visitor. “But you did that just to keep someone you like around?”
“I like, and I trust. So what is Songmark’s reason to buy into Republic Studios, anyway?”
“Beyond Silver Star, name another strong female character,” the mare countered.
“That’s easy. There isn’t one” the vixen admitted. “So, you want more strong female leads?”
“It isn’t that easy, Charlene. Actresses like you are rare. Strong, but not overpowering. And writers like Lucy that can turn a good word. Sex doesn’t matter except for the actress. Nor does sexual taste. You’ve woken us to a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Were taking it, but we want you and Lucy. We can do it without you, now that we have the information, but we desperately would rather have the two of you with us. You to play the parts, and find others who can do so. Lucy to write the stories and find other writers. But it has to look like plain entertainment. That’s how people learn, through entertainment. Getting Songmark's word out to the masses, that a woman can be strong, intelligent and in control of herself, yet still be equal to the man she loves. Maybe in a hundred years we can change attitudes. These religious freaks... and I don’t just mean Christians, Charlene.... These religious freaks that rule women like slaves need to be re-educated, and the movies right now are our best hope. Short of putting a bullet in some goat-herder's head, that is.”
Charlene laughed. “You’d run out of bullets fast!” she warned.
“I know, and it isn’t the way to change the world. Knowledge, understanding, and acceptance are. Force never does anything but cause a knee-jerk reaction the other way, unless it benefits men.”
Charlene took a deep breath, looking away from the mare. “Its not a utopian world you're after, is it? Just acceptance that we are all equals.”
“Right the first time.”
“That would be nice Nikki. But... I’ve just now come to my decision. I know what your fee is. I have it here. If you’ll give me the contract I’ll sign it. Its just, I didn’t know how much I loved Lucy until I lost her. And well, even with a script and Jean, its only a matter of time before my contracts sold. Probably to Twentieth, where that little actress monster is waiting to suck my brains out. She will, Nikki, so I’d rather choose my own destruction. You really don’t need me, there are a lot of good A-actresses out there that would jump at that kind of part. And A-actors that would support them. But without Lucy.... Dear Nikki -- I’m tired. I’m sick of the casting couch and I am just too tired to care anymore. I’ve never loved anyone like this before.... Every time I see something nice, I wonder if Lucy would like it. If she would like living I Hollywood, or if I would be happy in some jungle with her. I can’t do this anymore, Nikki. I’m broken, I’m bleeding, and I’ve lost the very last thing I felt important to me. I just need it to end. Please.”
“Your sure about this? What if Lucy later does decide you're what she wants?” Nikki asked softly.
“There are a lot of women like me out there. She’s smart, she’s beautiful. And she has a huge heart: She’ll find someone.”
Nikki stood. Turned and picked up a waiting contract. Dropping it in front of her visitor she looked into the vixen's eyes again. This was it; this was the tipping point. ‘Oh God,' she prayed. ‘Let this work.’ “Read that: I will test you on its contents before I let you sign it. But I want you to remember those kids, and the girl that you promised to find a job for. This is a one-way road, Charlene. When you go down it the gate locks behind you. There is no way back. Because understand this, what you are right now, this instant, you will not be, come sunrise song. I’ll go prepare the room for you.”
Walking away from the vixen she entered that back room, shutting its door before kneeling beside the wide-eyed cougar. “You heard. This is it Lucy. Choose her, or walk out when she comes in. If you walk out, never say a word to her because by morning, she won’t be Charlene van Pugpug ever again. If she signs that contract, her name will be Sand. In a week she won’t remember you. In two she won’t remember herself. She’ll freely marry that rhino that wants you. He’s easy, you or her. Doesn’t matter to him as long as its one of the Sapphic women from those movies. Then she will move to Africa and be happy giving him little rhinos. Do you understand me?” When Lucy nodded 'yes', Nikki stared untying her. “Work the kinks out while I grill her. Hear her crying? I can tell you now that she’s going to sign, but I’ve burned contracts before. The cost to burn this one is her heart. Make sure, because her love for you is the kind that burns forever. You are only ever going to get one shot at this: Miss, and you’ll never have another chance. Now I’ll let you undo the gag.”
Standing, Nikki waved to the bed. “I have to have you back in five hours. Can you burn yourself forever into her heart in four? Or do you make you way back as you are, and leave me to burn myself into that gentle heart?”
“I’ve decided,” the cougar answered softly, setting the gag aside. “Send her in, she’s mine. But I’ll ask for something to wear to get back to Songmark.”
“Maybe you're wearing it. The fur you were born in. I did it; Louise did it. Damn near every Songmark girl worth being a Songmark girl has crossed that wire in her fur. Just watch out for the dogs, they're a bit randy right now. I promised them a first year this week, and I keep my promises.”
Lucy shook. “I understand. So some poor first year is going to find herself naked among those dogs? And when she begins swelling? What then? What price do we pay, and pay? When is it too much?”
“Call it a learning experience. Sleep with one eye open. You think I’m the only Songmark graduate to slip in and out? It’s a game with us -- keeps us on our toes. My partner does it weekly, especially since she was almost kitnapped by slavers last Spring. You’ll do it too. As for the girl, those mutts are mules. A sentient mother, a normal father. Proof that no thief enters Songmark and gets away untouched. Now rub those wrists and ankles, she’ll be coming in here soon. Hide behind the door, she’ll close it when she comes in and turns on the light. Four hours to brand yourself into that heart, not a second longer.”
Returning to the other room, Nikki found Charlene waiting, tear tracks matting her facial fur. “It is surprisingly short,” the vixen announced. “My new name will be Sand? Why?”
“Because sand, when heated, becomes crystal. And Crystal is exceptionally beautiful.”
“You have a way with words. You were going to quiz me?”
Nikki nodded, then started asking questions. When she was finally satisfied that the vixen really had read the entire contract, short as it was, she told Charlene to sign.
Picking up the waiting fountain pen the vixen started to sign, then blushed. “Two things, Mistress. First, your pay.” She pushed a sealed envelope over to the waiting mare. “I wired K.L. for money. He doesn’t know why, and he never will. I’m owed that and more, anyway.” She watched as Nikki opened the envelope, counting out the shells slowly.
“Correct,” the mare agreed. “You have just purchased your new life. I hope that you will be satisfied with it.”
“I hope so too. Second, if I may be so bold. What will you do with me, when you have finished?”
Nikki picked up the money again, staring at the young, talented and very beautiful vixen across from her. “You have a talent as an artist. I’ve a buyer in Australia that has asked if I find an artist, that I send her to her. Australia is a long way away from Hollywood, and she lives in an opal mine in the Outback. She isn’t Sapphic, but she is very lonely. Maybe you can change her. Crystal will know how. Sand doesn’t.”
“A woman; how fitting. Thank you.” Carefully Charlene wrote her name, her real name. Then blowing on the paper she waited until the ink dried. “Done. I am your property now, Mistress,” she said, pushing pen and paper across to the mare.
“Only after I sign.” With a flourish Nikki signed her own name. “Now, Sand!” she said forcefully. “You will stand, undress and throw your clothing in that bag. You will not wear clothing again until I allow it. Understand?”
“Yes, Mistress,” the vixen agreed. She stood, quickly getting out of her clothing and shoving it into the cloth bag. A bag that had a familiar scent. Standing again she waited, arms to her sides. She truly believed her life over and done with.
“Sand, your fate is in that room,” Nikki stated. “You will enter, close the door and turn on the light. Your trainer for tonight is waiting. You will insure that you submit fully, or I will enter. It will not be pleasant if I enter. Now go.”
Nikki watched as the vixen followed her orders. “Damn!” she whispered. 'Such beauty. If we didn’t need her so badly.... But Cat would come down on me hard. Once was enough.' "Enjoy your four hours, girl.” She watched as the door closed, then the light went on within. There was a moment of silence, that a gasp of pure surprise. “LUCY?!!” she heard the vixen yell.
“On the bed, Sand, we have training to do!” came the answer. A moment later the bed squeaked and Nikki smiled. Picking up the contract and bag she headed outside, where the trash burner waited. It would work out after all. Thank God.
Lucy Ullrich looked absolutely stupid in Charlene’s clothing. For one, the bodice was much too large, as were the hips, but not near as much. “I have tah' get in, in bed without bein' caught?” she asked the woman beside her.
Nikki shrugged. “Better than poor Sand. She has to get back to the McGee resort with nothing but the key to her room.”
“Training? Or test?”
“You’re a Songmark student, Lucy. Every breath is a test. Now, Blande is watching. Try not to be caught; your dorm couldn’t stand the demerits.”
Lucy stood, looking towards the gate. Both girls were talking, one getting ready for her search of the fence line. Across from her, at the fence waited four dogs, their tongues lolling as they watched.
“I promised you a first year,” Nikki whispered. The dogs looked at her, then one patted the ground twice. “Two?” the mare asked. The dog nodded its head 'yes'. “Damn! Two, then. But only because we need Lucy. Now do your thing.” Nodding to her, three of the dogs trotted off to a section of the fence far away from where mare and cougar waited.
“Remember,” Nikki warned Lucy. “Until you marry, her name is Sand.”
“You burned the contract,” Lucy countered.
“Did you see me? No. You were too busy with your new play-toy. Too busy burning your soul into hers, and you did. By God, did you burn yourself into her! I couldn’t have done better. I think I shall take you as a student. After Songmark. Have you decided how you feel about her?”
“But the smoke... All right. Learning experience!”: the cougar agreed. “Yes, I’ll marry her. And I’ll take very, very good care of her.” She paused, looking towards the glow of Casino Island a moment. “Your student? That might be interesting,” she admitted.
“Good, any moment now....” Dogs' excited barks caused both gate guards to turn and look. As one, they raced off. When they did, Nikki and Lucy ran to the fence, the mare bending her knees, making a cradle of her paws. Lucy leapt, her bare right foot settling into that cradle. Then she was flying.
'Damn, she’s strong!' the cougar thought, remembering to somersault. She hit the ground hard next to the waiting female guard dog, who licked her face. Then she stripped out of Charlene’s dress. ‘Smoke! No unders! Char... 'Sand' wore cotton. So that’s what she burnt!' the cougar realized. Turning she raced for her dorm, barely slipping under the covers before Miss Blande entered.
“Ten mile, full pack. South Island. Let's go-let's go! You have five minutes. Move it, children! This isn’t a resort spa!” She looked at Lucy and gave the girl a wink, then was gone. It was a very, very exhausted cougar who finally found her bed four days later.
But it had been worth it.
It was Friday night, and several women were meeting in Helen Whitehall’s home. Helen herself was playing hostess, while making certain that her son, now a toddler, did not get into too many things. “Nikki. Did it work?” she asked.
Nikki was holding a large mug of hot coffee, having just taken a sip when Helen asked. She held up a paw. “Barely,” she answered as soon as she swallowed. “God! Please don’t put me in that position again, Cat! Please.”
“You still have the contract,” Catherine Devinski noted. “And the money.”
“Yes,” the mare agreed. “A sword over their heads they are well-aware of. Should they break up, Charlene is mine. It should be enough.”
“I wonder though,” Catherine said as she blew on her own coffee. “Two first-years, neither hounds, were discovered in the back section of Songmark's property this morning. Both were in their fur, a bit roughed up and being held by the dogs. Strangely, the dogs were not barking. Nor did either girl know how she ended up where she was. It appears that the dogs searched them, quite thoroughly. Eight demerits each for their Dorm. Security has never been higher.”
“Damn mutts upped the price,” Nikki admitted. “What about your intruder?”
“Ah. She seems to have gotten away. Though we still have the Shrew Rote dorm searching just how she got in, why she dropped her clothing, how she got out, and what did she take. I believe that their reports should make interesting reading. Alpha has been attending her forensics classes and making excellent marks. Oh, and that report of an Euro running naked on Casino Island. Classy.” She picked up an 8x10 glossy photo of a naked vixen. “To bad they missed the photograph. I hear that it was so blurry that it could have been anyone. Charlene is rather attractive, though.”
“'Sand',” Nikki corrected. “Until the wedding.”
“I’d like to read those reports,” Helen admitted as she accepted the photograph. “Very nice!” she observed before passing it to Carmen. “Now to the real business. “What new reports regarding the Republic, Carmen?”
More episodes about the filming of Charlene Van Pugpug's serial movies:
"Petunia's Perils", featuring Petunia & the evil scientist, "Silver Star"
and the new screenplay writer, Lucy Ullrich
are now appearing at David R. Dorrycott's archive:
(a Mature rated website)
Check his "Stories" page under the archive: "Tales of Spontoon".
(The archive also has many more of Mr. Dorrycott's stories
set in the Spontoon Island Archepelago.)