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NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Jackie's Storyline.

     Dyan was behind the dressing screen, slipping into his robe, when he heard the door to his room on the top floor of Roxy’s saloon, dance hall, and bordello click shut. The young white fox counted silently to ten before stepping back out from behind the screen and confirming that he was alone.

     He always tried to be behind the screen when the customers left. It was just simpler that way; it reduced the frequency of misunderstandings. His regulars knew to let themselves out while he dressed, and to leave a tip behind on the bedside table.

     Except that, when he crossed the small, dimly lit room to the table, he found it was bare.

     He checked inside the drawer. Nothing.

     Dyan briefly fantasized about chasing after the client, catching him on the street outside – hopefully in the middle of a large, judgmental crowd – and yelling something along the lines of: “Had I known you were going to stiff me, I certainly wouldn’t have let you do that!” Then he would pantomime the act in question. “Or that.” More pantomime. In his mind’s eye, he was rewarded with suitably shocked expressions from the various onlookers.

     That was fun to imagine, provided the daydream stopped before it got to the part where Roxy murdered him with her bare paws.

     Reluctantly, he let the revenge fantasy fade away. Besides, there were more mundane matters which required his attention. For starters, he felt filthy. He decided that a visit to the powder room was in order. He’d stop by the reception desk on the way and check with Peepers. Maybe the client had left his tip at the desk?

     With that in mind, he stepped out into the hallway and made his way down the corridor. As he walked, he listened to the noises coming from behind the closed doors he passed with a mixture of professional and prurient interest. He even paused for a moment outside Susannah’s room and tried to decipher what she could possibly be doing, and who she could possibly be doing it with, to produce that particular timbre of moaning. He couldn’t come to a conclusion, but not for lack of effort or imaginative thinking. He would have to get the details from her later.

     Eventually he made it to the front lobby, where a grand spiral staircase descended to the dance hall below, and where Peepers sat behind the curved reception desk. A scattering of upholstered divans with lacy accent pillows lent the room a classy atmosphere, particularly by the standards of Verkell whorehouses.

     Peepers, an ancient, withered human whose bald head and rounded face gave him a slightly reptilian appearance, tilted his head at the sound of Dyan’s approach. Dyan always marveled at Peepers’s hearing, the acuity of which helped the old man to compensate for his blindness. The receptionist wore dark-tinted glasses over his pale, sightless eyes, so as not to unnerve the paying guests. Although, in this particular case, a personal disability had been transformed into a professional advantage – Roxy’s clientele appreciated the extra measure of discretion on offer from a blind receptionist.

     “Peepers, my last guest stiffed me,” Dyan said as he stepped up to the desk. “He didn’t leave my tip with you, by any chance?”

     “No tips for you,” Peepers said, a little extra agitation evident beneath his usual rumble.

     “What do you mean?” the white fox asked.

     “I mean, no more tips for you,” Peepers said. “Roxy’s orders, on account of she says you bit the Deacon yesterday.”


     “Roxy says no more tips, on account of you bit the Deacon.”

     “I bit the Deacon? You’ve got to be joking. That’s how he likes it. Everyone bites the Deacon.”

     “Yeah, well, you musta bit him awful hard, because he complained to Roxy about it, and she says that you’re on punishment, and you don’t earn again until she says so.”

     “The Deacon wasn’t complaining yesterday,” Dyan said, even though he knew that arguing was pointless. Roxy’s word was law.

     “Take it up with Roxy,” Peepers said. “You know how she gets when a regular complains. I’m just the messenger.” The old man gave his shoulders an exaggerated shrug.

     Dyan stuck his tongue out at Peepers, whose complete lack of a reaction rendered even that small gesture of protest unsatisfying.

     “Fine,” Dyan said. “I’ll see Roxy about it later.”

     “You want I should send your next guest in?”

     “No, I need to go take a powder first.”


     Dyan rolled his eyes. “What do you mean, can’t?”

     “Can’t. Powder room’s unavailable.”

     “Peepers, you’re killing me. Unavailable how?”

     Peepers grunted in irritation. “Unavailable as in some crazy woman, drunk as a skunk, comes wandering up here from downstairs, goes into the powder room, and shuts herself in. So I knock on the door and says to her, hey, lady, this room’s for employees only, and she tells me to go choke on a rope. So I says to her that I’ll go get the bouncer if she doesn’t come out, and she says to me, fine, be my guest, but she’ll shoot the first person comes through that door square between the eyes. So I says fine, you got a death wish, I’ll send Rocco out to go get the law, and she just blows me a raspberry though the door.” Peepers shrugged. “Rocco ain’t back yet, so the powder room’s unavailable. Now, you want I should send your next guest up or not?”

     Dyan, who was already marching off towards the powder room, didn’t answer. He steamed as he went. First Roxy and the Deacon, that was ridiculous enough. Now Peepers was telling him he couldn’t clean up because there was a drunk in the powder room?

     That was too much.

     Reaching his destination, Dyan rapped a fist hard against the powder room door.

     “Get out,” he said. “Some of us are trying to work here. I can’t deal with this. Not today.”

     “I swear on my mother’s grave, I’ll shoot the first person comes through this door,” a slurred voice called back at him. “Law or not, I’ll shoot.”

     “Sure you will,” Dyan said. He tried the door knob, which turned easily in his paw. It wasn’t even locked.

     That figured.

     The white fox opened the door a crack and peered inside. No gunshot rang out in response. Instead, the sight which greeted him almost made him laugh.

     There was a human woman sitting on the floor, leaning back against the far wall, and she did have a revolver. But the gun hung limply from one hand, and she gripped an empty whiskey bottle in the other. Her long, black hair clung around her face and shoulders in a disheveled tangle, and she had the most bloodshot eyes Dyan had ever seen. She wore simple black clothes, and a leather satchel was slung around her neck. Her expression was slightly dopey, and Dyan could smell the liquor on her from clear across the room.

     He stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

     “Bang,” the woman said, making a half-hearted effort to raise the pistol in his direction. “You’re dead.”

     “Very funny,” Dyan said. He walked over to the washbasin and pumped water into it. He picked up a nearby towel, dampened it, and busied himself with cleaning off.

     The sprawled woman squinted up at him. “I take it you’re not the law, then,” she slurred.

     “No,” the fox said, not bothering to look down at the drunk as he spoke. “I make an honest living. Though, if I were you, I’d clear out before the law does come. Every deputy in this part of town is on Roxy’s payroll, and they’re not known for their gentle touch.”

     “I’ll take my chances,” the woman said. “The people waiting for me downstairs, they’re worse.”

     “See, and I thought I was having a bad day,” the fox said. He dropped the towel into a hamper on the floor and turned to leave. “Well, good luck with your last stand,” he said. “Sorry that I’ll have to miss it.”

     His paw was on the doorknob when the human woman slumped on the floor behind him said: “Wait.”

     He had the door halfway open when she said: “Wait. Please.”

     Her words were heavy with exhaustion and whiskey. But there was also a raw, plaintive note in her voice which, for reasons Dyan couldn’t quite articulate – not then, not years later – seemed to reach straight into his heart.

     He paused for just a moment, and she said it again: “Please.”

     And, again, he felt a pang somewhere deep down inside. Maybe it was her undertone of fear, or of defeat, or of hope in spite of fear and defeat. Any one of them could have done it. They were all familiar to him.

     Against his own better judgment, he closed the door and turned around to face the woman.

     “Please help me,” she said.

     He walked over and knelt down next to her. She was young – maybe just a few years older than he was. Her body was thin and lanky, and her face was heart-shaped. But her eyes were what really fascinated him.

     Standing across the room, he had chalked their redness up to whiskey and emotion. And, sure enough, the whites of her eyes were shot through with reddened capillaries.

     But her irises – those were red, too. Solid, dark red, the color of fresh blood. They were the most striking eyes he had ever seen. They were beautiful, like a sunset during a dust storm.

     What her voice had started, her eyes sealed.

     This is a mistake, he thought in the back of his mind. You’re as crazy as she is.

     But what he said was: “Who’s looking for you downstairs, and why?”

     The woman looked at the whiskey bottle in her hand, held it upside down for a moment to confirm that it was well and truly empty, then slid it away. With her newly liberated hand, she tapped a downward-pointed finger on the floor next to her. “The men downstairs are Harriss and Argyle. I used to work with them. We’re having a business dispute.” Her mouth curled into the semblance of a smile. “At this point, I don’t think the partnership can be saved.”

     “Uh huh,” Dyan said. “And I’m guessing that, Harris and Argyle, they’re not the understanding type?”

     The woman shook her head.

     “Why not wait for the law to show up?” the white fox asked. “Let the deputies take care of your partners, then I’ll explain that you’re okay?”

     “I may have just a smidge of a bounty on my head,” the woman said, holding her thumb and forefinger just barely apart in front of her face.

     “Why?” Dyan asked, before immediately shaking his head. “Actually, you know what? I think I’d rather not know.”

     “We rob banks,” the woman said, undeterred.

     “You robbed a bank?”

     “No – banks,” she said, stressing the pluralizing “s” so that she hissed like a serpent.


     “It is,” the woman said, the fox’s sarcasm having failed to penetrate. “You should try it sometime. I recommend it.”

     “And what’s in there?” the fox asked, pointing at the leather satchel around the woman’s neck.

     “My severance,” she said, and she peeled back the satchel’s lid to reveal two solid gold bricks, each one big enough to crush a man’s skull with.

     “Blazes,” the white fox said. He had never seen so much gold in his life.

     “I know, right?” the woman asked, smiling her drunken smile. Then, abruptly, her eyes narrowed, and the corners of her mouth turned down. “This may be why Harriss and Argyle are a little displeased with me at present.”

     “I don’t suppose there’s any chance we can just give that gold back to your ex-partners, and they just let you go?”

     The woman looked up at the ceiling for a second, and her brow furrowed. “Probably not after what I said to them earlier,” she said. Her face turned sheepish. “I may have had a bit too much to drink, which tends to loosen my tongue. Besides, I earned this.” She pointed down at the gold.

     “I’m sure you did,” Dyan said, but his mind was racing ahead. If Peepers had already sent Rocco out to fetch the law, then they didn’t have much time. He needed to move fast.

     “Okay,” he said to the red-eyed woman. “I need to dash out for just a second. You stay right here, and keep threatening to shoot anyone who comes in. Unless it’s me, of course.”

     The woman nodded solemnly at him. He walked over to the washbasin and started churning the pump handle again, filling a nearby pitcher.

     “In the meantime,” he said, “I need you to do your best to sober up, and fast.” And, with that, he picked up the pitcher and emptied it out over the human woman’s head.

     The woman let out a gargle of protest. The fox grabbed a towel and tossed it into the woman’s lap.

     “You can get even with me later,” he said as he bolted out through the powder room door, closing it behind him.

     The young fox took off at a run back to his room, where he dropped his robe in a heap on the floor and quickly pulled on a vest and some trousers. Next, he grabbed his handbag from the closet, along with a pair of scissors from his dressing table, which he stuffed into his pants pocket.

     Mentally, he tried to guess the red-eyed woman’s size. The conclusion he arrived at led him to Katerena’s room two doors down the hallway. He put his ear against the door and listened for a second. Hearing only silence, he knocked gently.

     “Kat, you working right now?” he asked through the door.

     “Come in,” came a voice from the other side. “I’m doing my hair.”

     The white fox let himself into the chamber, where Katerena sat on the edge of her bed with a small mirror in one hand and a tortoiseshell comb in the other. She hardly looked up as the fox hustled past her and stopped in front of her dresser.

     “Mind if I borrow one of your outfits?” Dyan asked as he opened the wardrobe and started to browse quickly through its contents.

     “I suppose not, but they won’t fit you, honey,” the woman said as she combed her hair.

     “It’s not for me,” the white fox said. After a moment’s indecision, he yanked a red and gold silk kimono off of its hanger and tossed it over one shoulder. He slammed the wardrobe door shut and dashed back out into the hallway.

     “Make sure you—” Katerena called out after him, but the remainder of her admonishment was lost as the fox took off back in the direction of the powder room and the red-eyed woman on the floor inside it.

     As Dyan ran past Peepers at the front desk, he reached out and lifted the dark-tinted glasses right off of the blind man’s face.

     “Sorry, Peepers,” the fox shouted back over Peepers’s protestations, “but you should have let me have my tips.”

     Dyan knocked once on the powder room door – which was still unlocked – before letting himself back in. The red-eyed woman was on her feet now, toweling her face and hair dry as best she could. She shot the white fox a dark look, but he was mainly pleased to see that she could actually stand up, and he noted with some small amount of satisfaction that her eyes looked clearer as they bore down on him.

     If she was upset, though, she didn’t say anything. Instead, she said: “Thank you.”

     “Thank me after I get you out of here and neither of us gets dead,” the fox said. He took the scissors out of his trouser pocket. “First, we need to change your look as best we can.” He walked over to stand next to the woman and gathered up a large bunch of her long, black hair.

     A look of concern flashed across the woman’s face at the sight of the scissors. “Not too short,” she started to say.

     “Short it is,” the fox said, and he snipped her locks away a foot at a time. When he was finished, the result was a passable sort of short, angular cut.

     The woman studied her reflection in a nearby mirror, and sighed. “I guess it’ll grow back,” she said.

     “I think you look nice,” the white fox said. “Draws more attention to your eyes this way.” He held the red and gold kimono out to the woman. “Now, let’s get you changed,” he said.

     The woman looked at the kimono like it was a snake baring its fangs. She shook her head. “Oh no,” she said. “No way.”

     The fox pressed the silk outfit into her hands. “It’s either this, or a hoop skirt,” he said. “You want me to go get the hoop skirt?”

     After a moment of silence, the woman sighed and started pulling off her wet clothes. At first the white fox turned away and looked down at the floor, but, from behind him, he heard the woman say, “You’re going to have to help me out. I have no idea what to do with this… thing.” He turned around again to see the half-dressed woman staring down at the kimono’s long sash with a look of confusion.

     Dyan moved behind the woman and helped her to get the outfit done-up properly. Then he stepped back in front of her to survey the transformation.

     The woman fidgeted in the red and gold outfit, and seemed to pull compulsively on the kimono’s long sleeves. But the colors flattered her, and the overall effect was striking.

     “Can I pass for a hooker?” she asked.

     The white fox smiled. “I’d pick you out of the lineup,” he said.

     He picked up his handbag where he’d set it down, and held it out in the woman’s direction with the top open. “Put the gold in here,” he said. “We can’t take the satchel back down. That’d be a dead giveaway.”

     The red-eyed woman dropped the pair of gold bricks into the bag. Even though he was prepared for their weight, the white fox was still surprised by just how heavy they were.

     “And the gun, too,” he said.

     The woman shook her head. “No way,” she said. “I’m not walking out there unarmed.”

     Dyan sighed. “We’re trying to pass you off as a working girl,” he said, “and they tend not to pack pistols.”

     The woman picked up her revolver and held it out, but she didn’t let go of it. She looked down at the gun, then back up at the fox. He could see the uncertainty in her blood-red eyes.

     “I feel naked without it,” she said.

     “Welcome to my world,” the fox said. He gave the bag an impatient shake. “Come on, time’s wasting.”

     The woman dropped the gun into the bag, which the fox snapped closed and slung over his shoulder.

     “One last thing,” he said. He took Peepers’s dark glasses and slid them up onto the woman’s face. “Normally, I’d hate to cover up those eyes,” he said, “but, in this case, it seems prudent.”

     A smile crept across the woman’s face. “Most folks find my eyes unnerving,” she said.

     “Most folks can go to the devil,” the fox said.

     The woman’s smile widened, and, for the first time, the fox noticed that she had a gold tooth.

     “Okay, let’s go,” he said, and the two of them slipped out of the powder room together.

     Dyan led the woman away from the main stairs and down a couple of narrow hallways towards an unmarked wooden door, which he opened to reveal a dimly-lit staircase. “Service area,” he said by way of explanation. “This comes out down behind the ballroom. We can cross through there and then get out through the kitchen.”

     The white-haired fox and the red-eyed woman descended the staircase quickly before pausing momentarily on the downstairs landing, where boisterous music and the sound of laughter crept in through the solitary door. Those sounds grew louder and fuller as Dyan opened the door by a crack and motioned for the human to take a look out into the ballroom beyond.

     “See either of your friends out there?” he asked.

     The woman put her face up to where a sliver of light shone through the slightly-open door, and she quickly scanned the crowd outside.

     “I can’t see the whole room,” she said, “but the coast looks clear.”

     “Alright, let’s go,” the fox said. “But walk, don’t run.” He threw the door open wide, and the two of them stepped out into the raucous ballroom.

     Up on the main stage, a brass band was plowing through an up-tempo number, while men and women dressed in gaudy outfits spun each other around the dance floor. Smells of perfume and liquor and sweat filled the air, which was warm from the collective heat of dozens of twirling and dipping bodies. Women’s dress hems sailed through the air as they spun, and the tips of men’s tailcoats bobbed back and forth a few feet above the parquet floor.

     It was an easy scene to get lost in, Dyan thought thankfully.

     Taking the woman by the hand, he started to lead her around the periphery of the merriment and towards the metal door on the opposite side of the room which led back into the kitchens, from where they could get out onto the street. They were about halfway across the room when the woman gave his hand a quick, sharp tug. He turned around to face her.

     “Oh, blazes,” she said. “There’s Argyle.” She tilted her head ever so slightly to indicate the direction she was looking. “Against the wall, twenty paces away from the door.”

     The white fox turned his head just enough to catch the man he assumed to be Argyle out of the corner of his eye. The person in question was a tall, broad-shouldered human wearing a long, brown trail coat and tooled leather boots. His waxed moustache was curled up at the ends, and a bright red scar ran around the front of his neck.

     “Some poor sheriff once tried to hang Argyle,” the woman said. “Two days later, Argyle throttled that sheriff with the same rope.”

     The white fox gulped. Then he reached out and put his hands around the woman’s waist.

     “Quick, start dancing,” he said, as he started to do a little two-step.

     A look of pure, unadulterated terror bloomed on the red-eyed woman’s face. “I don’t know how to dance,” she said, standing stone still, as though her feet were rooted in place.

     “I’m not asking you to waltz,” Dyan said, a note of irritation in his voice. “Just move your feet. Foxtrot.”

     “I’m not a fox. I can’t trot.”

     “Are you trying to get us killed?”

     “I can’t dance!”

     With fear and frustration mounting, and unable to think of anything else to do, the fox stomped his right foot down on top of the woman’s left foot. Hard.

     The red-eyed woman gave a little yelp in surprise, and hopped up and down with her foot in the air.

     It wasn’t exactly dancing, but at least she was moving now.

     The white fox grabbed her hands and put them on his shoulders, then put his own hands back on the woman’s hips. He started to two-step again, and tried to move the woman’s body in rhythm with his own.

     “Just follow me,” he said. “I’ll lead. Move with the music. You hear the beat, you take a step, back and forth, just like this.” He nodded down at his own feet. “One-two, one-two, one-two-one-two. It’s not that tough. Just keep your feet moving, and let the rest of you come along for the ride.”

     Slowly, the red-eyed woman started to step along with him. Her movements were stiff and out-of-sync with his, but she was moving now, trying to keep up.

     “That’s it,” he said. “You’ve got it. One-two, one-two, one-two-one-two. You’re a natural, I can tell.”

     “You’re a terrible liar,” the woman said, scowling at him.

     “Smile,” the fox said back, flashing her a grin wide enough to display his canines. “We’re supposed to look like we’re having fun out here, remember?”

     The woman gave him a forced smile in return. She was still struggling to keep up with him. He decided he needed to keep her talking, keep her mind off of her feet.

     “We’re just going to dance for a little while,” he said, “until your charming friend over there moves away from the door. I’ll take a peek at him every once in a while – you just try to not show him your face.” He gave the startled woman a little spin, so that her back was to the door, and he could keep one eye on the man with the permanent case of rope burn. “I hope you’re a better outlaw than you are a dancer.”

     The woman looked askance at him. “I’m a very good outlaw,” she said.

     “Do most good outlaws wind up in jams like this?”

     “Okay, I’m going to be a very good outlaw. I just haven’t found the right crew to run with yet.” The woman shook her head a little. “I guess I don’t respond well to being ordered around.”

     “Maybe you’ll have your own gang one day,” the fox said. “So that you can call the shots.”

     The woman smiled at that idea. “One day,” she said.

     “Is it worth it?” the fox asked. “Running from the law, running from your supposed friends?”

     “It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I like the money, sure, don’t get me wrong. But I love the feeling it gives me, taking something that I know isn’t mine.” The woman almost seemed to quiver a little at the thought. “There’s nothing like it. I live for it. Without it, I think I’d go nuts.” She nodded at the fox. “What about you, you like turning tricks?”

     The white fox shrugged. “It depends, really, on which tricks I’m turning. And who I’m turning them with.”

     “You like it here, then?”

     “It’s better than working the street.”

     “Would you leave, if you could?”

     She was starting to slow down, so Dyan gave her waist a little squeeze to try to speed her feet up.

     “I don’t know,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m under contract to Roxy. I can’t leave – she’d kill me, or worse.”

     “You could do better, you know,” the woman said. “You’re whip-smart. You’re gorgeous.” She cracked a smile at him. “And you’re one heck of a trotter.”

     The white fox had just opened his mouth to reply when suddenly a commotion could be heard coming from the foyer outside the ballroom. A veritable posse of armed deputies was storming in from the street and charging up the grand spiral stairway towards the bordello on the upper floor. Rocco must finally have arrived with the cavalry, the fox thought.

     And, blessedly, one of the people who moved to watch the action unfolding out in the nearby foyer was Argyle.

     “Now’s our chance,” the fox said. “Let’s go.”

     He and the red-eyed woman stopped dancing. Abandoning subtlety, they took off for the metal side door at a run, and Argyle still had his back turned to them when they crashed out of the ballroom and into the kitchen.

     The kitchen staff all stopped working and stared at the strange pair which had burst into their midst, and one startled-looking noggle dropped a ceramic terrine of soup to the floor, where it shattered with a crash and sent hot liquid spilling out in all directions. But the fox and the woman ignored all the eyes which were turned their way and cut a path straight down the middle of the kitchen to the delivery door which led out to the street.

     The white fox opened the door for the woman, who stepped out first. Then he followed her outside.

     They were in a small alleyway behind the building. Rubbish was stacked up against the wall, and a rancid smell filled the air.

     “This way,” the fox said. “This’ll get you back out onto the avenue. You have a mount out there?”

     The woman shook her head. “No, but I can get one, no problem,” she said.

     “Right. I forgot about that whole outlaw thing for a second,” the fox said.

     They hustled down the alleyway and out onto the main street. A handful of acridians were tied-up at a hitching post just across from Roxy’s, so they crossed the road quickly, and the woman started to untie the sturdiest-looking insect.

     “It’s bad enough you steal my share,” came a gruff voice from back across the street. “Now you’re fixing to steal my ride, too?”

     The fox and the woman both turned around to see the broad-shouldered man with the rope scar around his neck standing on the steps outside Roxy’s. He had a wicked grin on his face and a pistol in his hand. Above his head, a big wooden sign reading “Saloon & Dance Hall” creaked on its rusty iron hinges as it swung gently in the dry, dusty breeze.

     “I earned that gold,” the woman shouted back. “I did all the planning, and you and Harriss figured you could just cut out extra shares for yourselves, and I wouldn’t notice? Well, I noticed. I’m just taking what’s mine.”

     The scarred man laughed. “It don’t look like that from where I’m standing,” he said. He pointed the gun at the red-eyed woman. “Although I’m surprised to see you’d let your new friend there carry the goods for you.” He waived the pistol’s barrel in the fox’s direction. “I don’t suppose he’d let me peek in that bag, there, would he?”

     Slowly, the white fox undid the clasp on his handbag. He held the top open slightly, so that the woman standing next to him could see the two gold bars inside, and the revolver resting on top of them.

     “Maybe you should come over here and—” the fox started to say, thinking he could lure the man over and get the drop on him. But, before he could finish his thought – almost before he could blink – the woman beside him had snatched her gun out from the bag, dropped to one knee, and fired off a loud, cracking shot at the armed man across the street.

     There was a clang of metal on metal as the bullet split the iron hinge which held the big wooden sign over the entrance to Roxy’s. Seeming more surprised than anything else, Argyle looked up just in time to be crushed by the falling sign, which landed on his head with a kind of loud, wet crack. His body crumpled to the ground, the sign coming to rest atop it.

     The fox’s mouth hung open. He turned to face the woman, who had taken off the dark glasses, so that the fox could see a twinkle in her blood-red eyes.

     “How did you do that?” he asked.

     The woman looked at him and smiled. “I was actually aiming for his head,” she said with a shrug. “Like I said before, I may have had a little too much to drink.” Her expression turned serious. “But you never really answered my question earlier. Would you leave here, if you could?”

     “Leave here and do what?” the fox asked.

     “Leave here and come with me,” the woman said.

     “And what would we do, the two of us?”

     “I have no idea,” the woman said. She winked at him. “But I bet it’s something fun.”

     The fox shook his head. “It’s like I told you, Roxy owns my contract. She’d kill me.”

     The woman was quiet for a moment, then she turned to look up at the front of Roxy’s establishment, with its painted brick exterior and lace-curtained windows.

     “Do you know which of those windows is Roxy’s?” she asked.

     The fox thought for a minute, tried to imagine the building’s interior layout. He pointed to a big, arched window in the top left corner of the building.

     The red-eyed woman reached into the bag and pulled out one of the gold bricks. Then, with a heave, she threw it up through Roxy’s window, which shattered with a cascade of glass.

     “I just bought out your contract,” she said. She unhooked the acridian from its hitching post and climbed onto the giant insect’s back. Then she bent down and held a hand out to the white fox on the street below.

     The fox stared up at her for a second. "I thought you preferred taking things that didn't belong to you," he said.

     "You don't belong to me," she said. "But you might belong with me. Hop on, and let's find out." There was something transgressive in her smile.

     “Where will we go?” he said.

     “Does it matter?” she said.

     The fox smiled and shook his head. Then he took her hand, and she pulled him up onto the acridian. He settled in behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

     “I don’t even know your name,” he said.

     “I’m Jackie,” she said. She clicked her tongue and gave the acridian’s thorax a little kick. “What’s your name?”

     The white fox, whom Roxy had named Dyan, considered that question for a second.

     “Call me Trotter,” he said, and they rode off together.

"Foxtrot" by OrcishLibrarian was originally published as part of the Expanded Multiverse project.

To learn more, and to read more Expanded Multiverse stories, please visit the Expanded Multiverse forum at No Goblins Allowed.

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