DOG EAT DOG Vol 1
When there was a lull in customers at the old, rundown bar he worked in, Conroy the coyote took out his textbook and studied. It’s not that he was behind in his law course or anything, he just wanted to get as far ahead as possible. There was no telling when some trifling expense would pop up and he’d need a second job just to make rent.
It was peaceful after the lunch rush. Just him and one of the regulars that rarely left – a grizzled honey badger who sat in the corner, muttering about everything wrong with the world.
“Damn wolves is what it is. They’re nothing but a mob. Just a mob. Mobsters! Buying it all up under us, making rules. What do lions do now? Nothing. Not this generation.”
Calming ambience, in Conroy’s opinion.
But he’d forgotten the new barmaid was rostered on.
Usually the boss at The Watering Hole, an old camel, was too stingy to hire new workers. He tended to stick to what he knew, and after five years, he knew Conroy could run the place exactly how he wanted. He left pretty much everything to him, only turning up a few times a week to count money and chain smoke in his office.
Not that he paid any extra for all the added responsibilites. It was only after Conroy pointed out how illegal it was for him to work all day without a break that old Mel even considered hiring help for him. Then suddenly there was a foreign barmaid in their boozer – a much needed feminine touch.
But not too feminine. Her name was Briar, a young red vixen from the southern hemisphere, and she was a little rough around the edges – the perfect personality for bar work. She was all wry grins and cheeky banter, much better than his world weary attitude. Plus, she was pretty, with a lovable, husky voice. The patrons adored her.
“What’s the lesson today, Teach?”
He flinched, but he didn’t look up from his textbook. Based on their last debate – whether coyotes or foxes were better at sneaking around – she’d just proven him wrong. And he wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging that.
“Just speciesist language laws,” he said. As though he hadn’t almost pissed himself.
But from the mischievous tone of her voice, she knew. “Oh? Can you go to jail for being an asshole about someone’s species?”
He turned a page, shrugged. “Depends. What’s something speciesist they say about foxes?”
“Hmm…That we’re loud in bed?”
“I mean something hateful,” he clarified. “And false.”
With a snort, one of her dainty paws reached up to smack him on the shoulder. “Oi! How would you know? They reckon us vixens are the loud ones anyway, not foxes, so I doubt you have any experience.”
There were a few retorts he could make. He came from a poor territory, where he grew up in a crowded burrow, so he’d overheard all kinds of sordid activity. And besides, he didn’t even need the experience; Briar gossiped about her sex life to several of the bar’s regulars, and they in turn gossiped to Conroy. Like he wanted to know.
He considered telling her that for someone so good at sneaking around, she was terrible at keeping things to herself. But he was more interested in studying.
She sighed. “Actually, back home, they do call red foxes pests sometimes.”
His ears pricked at that word. It wasn’t something animals used lightly, usually they substituted dumb code like ‘the P word’ instead. But Briar just came out with it. It was jarring. He finally took his nose out of his book and looked at her.
She just blinked up at him innocently. Like she had no idea the word was even a slur. And he couldn’t be offended. About a head shorter, with huge amber eyes and a delicate little face surrounded by floof, Briar’s cuteness seemed to cancel out her crassness somehow. It was 100% how she got away with half the things she said.
“Uh…if you’re wondering who farted, that was totally Mr Randall.”
He ignored that. “They call you that too?”
“Call me–? Oh, yeah. That. I mean, I think it’s different to the way animals use it in this country. Like, where I’m from, we’re not native or whatever, so the native animals say we came over and fucked up their environment. It’s just kind of a fact, I guess? But over here it’s…”
Conroy wondered how well her cuteness would hold up if she said that word in front of a cackle of hyenas or something. He doubted she was that oblivious, but he decided to warn her against it. Later. Right now, he was looking forward to escaping the bar for once, to indulge in this mythical thing called a ‘break’.
He slapped his textbook shut and slid it back under the bar. “Well, over here, if someone calls you that, they’re an asshole. If they use it as an excuse to piss on your rights, then they’re a criminal.” He paused, shrugged. “And an asshole. Make sense?”
Briar made a face like it didn’t, but he was already walking by her, ruffling her floof like she was one of his baby sisters. “I’ll be at the café. You got my number if anything goes wrong.”
But he wasn’t worried; she might be new, but he’d only be gone for twenty minutes at the quietest time of day – what could possibly go wrong?
As he walked out the door, she called out a pleasant “Good afternoon, Mr Randall!” to the honey badger in his miserable, dark corner. Mr Randall snapped back “No, it isn’t!” like she had no right to tell him what kind of afternoon it was, and Conroy didn’t know if it was funny or depressing.
Both, he figured. Like his life.
The core street was beautiful in fall, orange and red leaves drifting over the cobbled paths. But he ignored it all in favour of counting out the change in his pockets, checking to see if he had enough money for his favourite drink as he wove through traffic and dodged larger animals.
Nope. Plain-ass cappuccino it was.
His phone rang. Distracted, he didn’t see who was calling. It was probably Briar asking where something was, so he held his phone up with his shoulder and said, “Yeah?”
But it wasn’t Briar. Instead, a deep male voice rumbled, “C’mon, cub. How long are you going to ignore me for?”
He froze, paw on the door of the café. After a swift debate with himself, he ignored his instinct to hang up and joined the end of the queue inside. Like usual, it was pretty long – a lot more popular than the bar during daytime hours – and the din was loud enough for some privacy. He sighed. “I saw you last night, Laz.”
“You saw me,” Laszlo teased. “You mean we made love?”
“Oh, but you barely even looked at me. You haven’t talked to me in weeks!” Conroy took a step forward in the queue, rolling his eyes. It had not been weeks. Laszlo had a way of whining dramatically and flirting at the same time.
“This is just getting silly now,” the lion purred. “Come over after work. I’ll wine and dine you. You can tell me what’s on your mind.”
He took the phone away from his ear for a moment to give it a disdainful look. “You know what’s on my mind.”
“The lioness thing? Oh, c’mon, cub –”
“Stop calling me that. I’m not a lion. It’s weird.”
“I did tell you what our society is like; you know I have to keep up appearances with the dating and whatnot. Surely you can’t blame me for doing what lions do?”
The expression on Conroy’s face said that he could, and would, blame the lion for his shitty ‘it’s my culture’ excuse, but it wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have for the umpteenth time, so he kept his mouth shut and stepped forward in the queue again.
“If I don’t start a pride, what kind of lion would I be? My family would disown me! They’d cut me off financially, I’d lose my title, it’d be a disaster, Connie! Is that what you want for me?”
Again, Conroy said nothing. He was second in line and contemplating hanging up again, until Laszlo pushed one too many of his buttons.
“Don’t be like this. You know how I feel about you! Why punish me for society’s rules when I don’t even make them? Let me have you all to myself. Lionesses mean nothing to me, cub. They’re obligations, that’s all they are!”
Conroy’s paw tightened around his phone. “Laz,” he hissed through his teeth. “I swear to Anubis…”
“Ooh, that sounds serious. Ha! Sirius. That’s another one, right? Dog gods? Am I barking up the wrong–”
“Stop calling me. If you want to be in a relationship with someone who lets you sleep around, then go find that. This isn’t a relationship anymore. It’s just sex now. You made it sex now, so it’s sex now. Cappuccino, please.”
The deer behind the counter, her big ears popping out the sides of her uniform cap, took his change with wide eyes.
“How boring,” Laszlo scoffed. “What happened to cinnamon caramel frappuccinos?”
He stood off to the side between a hipster cat and a mother bear with a pram. “Can’t all be fat cats,” he muttered. He didn’t really mean to say it, or for Laszlo to hear it, but the conversation was rapidly wearing his patience thin.
“Is that what this is about? Is it because I don’t give you any money?”
And like he did whenever something upset him, despite all the self-soothing techniques he’d tried over the years, he bristled. It was so embarrassing. He hated it when his tail spiked up in public, like he was some kind of uncivilised feral. His kind were already seen that way, and he loathed feeling like a stereotype. Knowing that he couldn’t control himself only made it worse.
“No! No, it’s not!” he snapped. “It’s about you sleeping around, Laz! Holy shit!”
The cat side-eyed him. The mother bear took a step away and grumbled about manners. And great, now he sounded just as feral as he looked.
“Connie. Cub. I don’t want to feel like I’m buying you, you know how I –”
Finally, he did hang up. He shoved his phone into his pocket and scowled straight ahead, ignoring the curious glances around him until the barista called out ‘Courtney’ and set his boring cappuccino on the counter.
Rather than head straight back to the bar and sit sullenly in the kitchen, too annoyed to focus on his textbooks, he decided to distract himself with some shopping for the rest of his break. Or browsing, at least. It’s not like he could afford any of the things in shops nearby. The Watering Hole was the oldest building around, and although its patrons were pretty scruffy, the rest of the small locale of Havenrange was aspiring to better things lately. Fancy storefronts and expensive chains were steadily taking over.
He blew into his coffee as he stood outside a tech shop, admiring gadgets in the window. Smart watches seemed like a good way to keep on top of things, and the sign said there was a sale, so he ducked in to look. Of course, he knew the shop’s idea of a sale and his idea of affordable were different things, but maybe it was something he could treat himself to if his luck changed…
Or not. As he stood inside the shop and frowned at the overpriced display, that particular hope soon died.
His phone rang again in his pocket, but he reached in without looking and declined the call. Even if it was Briar this time, he didn’t want to talk. He’d just head back across the road to the bar and deal with it himself. His break was almost over anyway.
But as he walked down the aisle, he felt someone’s eyes on him. It was an intense feeling, like having a laser focused on the back of his neck. It made his ears flip back and his eyes narrow, darting here and there before he found the source of the gaze: A security guard – standing near the front of the store, badge shining against his dark uniform. Staring at him.
But stare wasn’t a strong enough word. It was a dog, a doberman, a tall one, with his sharp face pointed directly at Conroy.
His ears were cropped. They stood up like a pair of sleek, black horns, pierced twice on one side. His pumped up biceps crossed over a broad chest, and the way his waist tapered in made his shoulders look jacked. His eyes were smouldering slits.
Conroy gulped. That breed already had a devilish reputation, but this guy was next level – equal parts terrifying and hot as hell.
He hesitated. He wasn’t naïve when it came to these kinds of situations, not even close. In fact, situations like this were the reason he’d decided to study law in the first place. Because he knew other animals would take every possible opportunity to incriminate coyotes. Especially other canids.
Putting on his best blank expression so he couldn’t be accused of looking shifty, he avoided eye contact and slunk towards the doors. However, as they opened, a tan paw appeared in front of his face.
He stopped before he could walk into it, looking up out of the corner of one cautious eye.
Standing next to this hellhound, he felt somehow smaller than he ever felt next to Laszlo. The lion, for all his rangy power and size, was a kitten when it came to physicality – he stroked with giant paws, licked with huge, rough tongue, and cuddled Conroy like a stuffed toy (much to his annoyance), and yet the gap in their strength never even occurred to him. But this guy…
The doberman didn’t lower his muzzle as he looked down, just curled his lip, bared a few alarmingly long fangs, and growled. Low in his chest. “Come with me.”
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