If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.    ~Chinese Proverb

 

T

he tour moved on through the quiet of the Louisiana streets stopping at the most obvious of tourist stops. Café Du Monde, the local cemetery, the more notable sections of the French Quarter.  The tour had taken a break, stopping in front of an old brick building, worn signs advertising cold beer and southern barbeque.  

 

                The ring-tailed tour guide gave a gleaming smile at her group, answering questions left and right.  Given enough time, the eventual question would always be asked.  This tour it was an older Alligator.  The tour guide never could get used to being comfortable around such a menacing creature, but Steve (that was the alligator’s name) had a pleasing disposition, Steve also had a habit of smiling broadly when he talked,  so it was no surprise that people were wary of him,  or to be more precise,  his mouth.

 

                “What’s this building here?  It looks very old.”  The tour guide laughed softly and gestured grandly behind her.  “I’m glad you asked that question Steve, what you’re looking at is the building that was once home to the legendary House of the Rising Sun.”   Some of the tourists nodded appreciatively, already having read about the House, while others only looked confused.  A teenaged Housecat raised his paw, vying for attention.  “uhm,  what is this place again?”  The tour guide never let down her bright smile “The House of the Rising Sun, built here in New Orleans in 1884, was once the largest privately owned gambling house and brothel known in the whole of New Orleans.  Its owner, James Rothford, was considered one of the shrewdest businessmen in Louisiana.  Famous for his down home version of cruelty and manipulation, we don’t know much about Mr. Rothford until he opened the ‘Sun, as he like the call it.  What we do know, continued the guide, is that Mr Rothford was brilliant when it came to fixing games, and he won, almost all the time. If you’d like, we can take a walk through the Sun, if y’all would enjoy that.   There were only two paws raised, and it was plainly obvious that the tour would rather move on to more interesting subjects.  The tour guide led her group down the street, explaining away all the odds and ends in that particular part of the city.  The group followed, and faded away into their own time, while a lithe and tall otter dressed all in black ambling down the street with only the slightest of limps, using his long pole to light the oil lamps on the street, moving from lamp to lamp, the otter seemed barely aware of anyone else, but noticing his dear readers, the otter gave a wink with one green eye.  “Welcome to New Orleans Y’all…”

 

                There was little else to occupy the attention of anyone on the street however, for the House of the Rising Sun towered above all, its bright lights and festive music beckoning to the unwary and curious.  Most gentlemen, their escorts in arm, were strolling down the twilight lit streets, many of them heading home from the night’s entertainment.  With most of the couples wandering slowly, one could see the short form of a fox underneath an old, dirty coat and sailor’s cap.  Had it not been for the snow white tail that followed loyally behind her, one would not have been able to tell what she was.  The fox quickly walked up to the doors of the ‘Sun, slipping through as yet another gentleman stepped out, tipping his hat as he passed.  The fox, shouldering off her coat and hat, stopping to leave them in the front, weaved her way in-between tables crowded with gamblers and roustabouts of all sorts.  Making her way to a corner table, or perhaps more specifically, to the men who played cards at the table.  Perhaps perfectly timed, as the fox approached, the players threw their cards on the table, frustrated at the apparent luck of the dealer.  The fox placed a rough paw on each of the shoulders of a canine, black and large.  “Having a run of bad luck, Jean?”  The canine, who needed no look to confirm whom he knew the voice belonged to, laughed.  “Of course not my dear Sam!  You know that I never lose at poker,” the canine gestured towards the dealer “I was merely giving the good man here a little bit of money so that he could have a drink or two for me, wasn’t that right?”  The Canine looked over at the dealer who smiled and nodded, “oh yes ma’m, your friend is a very generous sort, that he is.”  The fox just nodded along, a fierce vulpine smile leaping from her muzzle “of that I know, good dealer” the fox patted her friend’s shoulders.  “But come, it is time that we be back to the ship, the captain is looking to sail soon.  Cargo is being loaded tomorrow morning.”

 

 The Canine sighed, sliding back in his chair.  Once his jacket had been retrieved from the lobby, both fox and hound faded off into the night, back to their ship, and to the canvas hammocks that awaited their tired bodies;   however, unbeknownst to either of the sea-worn sailors, Sam was being observed, actually, had been for quite some time.  She’d been around for quite awhile in this town, ever since she’d decided to work aboard the Stonewall.  (that was the name of the ship, you see)  one would assume that Sam had adjusted to life in the deep south well enough,  but nobody could ever really be sure, seeing as she was a quiet girl, kept to herself mostly.

 

Most furs never did notice her, but she had caught the eye of a most unusual gentleman, a gentleman who was eccentric, and saw in her a chance to fulfill a strange desire, a desire that no other lady in his house could fill, though that is not to say that he had not tried.  He savored the aroma of his glass of wine, surveying his domain and all that surrounded it.  James Rothford was what many would call obsessive, he saw what he wanted and then he went after it, plain and simple.  And what he saw in the short fox that he’d seen occasionally in the Sun was exactly what he wanted.  James sat back in a comfortable chair and drank deep his wine, laying out his plans.

 

                The next day, with the entire crew loading new cargo into the Stonewall’s hold, there was little time at all to gamble or pursue frivolous dreams.  At least, that was how the captain had put it. Sam and Connor, her canine shipmate, worked hard along the rest in the oppressive humidity of the Louisiana weather.  With toil, comes reward, as we all know well enough. And soon, the Cargo was loaded, and the Stonewall was ready to steam into the afternoon, in search of what else, but profit.  It would be nearly two months to the week that Monsignor Rothford would not see Sam or Conner grace his gambling tables, a fact that left him in a most grouchy mood for the better part of two weeks, as any waitress in the Sun would tell you.  But the time was not spent idly, for Monsignor Rothford spent many a quiet night in his office, making notes, placing orders, and plotting, in general.  James Rothford was quite the enigma, a patient wolf, and yet at times could barely seem to control his urges.  Which would seem to explain why he ran the most popular whore house in the city. 

 

It would seem prudent, dear reader, for me to interrupt the tale at this particular moment, seeing as there’s no action going on right now.  Perhaps I shall take a moment to explain where Monsignor Rothford obtained his peculiar kink…..

 

James Rothford, born in 1812, just outside of Parish, Louisiana to a cotton farmer. Cotton Farmer may not be the correct term to use for Mr. Rothford.  Perhaps “soulless business manager and cruel father, extraordinaire” may be more appropriate?  You see, the older Rothford had never been pleased with his wife; she’d been unable to provide him with a son for many years.  But, as fate would seemingly have it, the Mme. Rothford finally gave birth to James.  And the father rejoiced, finally declaring that the farm would have its heir. It is said that Mr. Rothford was so pleased that he gave his cotton slave nearly a half an hour to rest that day.  Young James had the same childhood as most others, learning early on that only the shrewdest survive in life.  The elder Rothford spent many days instructing his son on slave discipline, and soon, the son had learned to take after his father, becoming more heartless and evil than the elder had ever been. 

               

                Mme. Rothford had attempted to teach her son some gentlemanly conduct, but failed miserably, until the father told son that it was wise to keep the true feelings hidden under a façade of civil behavior (it makes people that much easier to manipulate when they think that you are charming) and with that small urging, James began his studies into the conduct of a Gentleman with earnest. Time passed, and with the business growing every day, James was easily filling the boots of his predecessor.  In fact, so easily was he taking care of business, that James began seeking other projects to fill his time.  While on the wharf one day, observing ships leaving for destinations unknown, it occurred to James.  Where was there on this end of the city that a man could commit nearly every sin desirable?  James envisioned it, a beautiful bordello that would attract gentlemen from around the city with food, dance, drink, and game.   Yes, that was it; James thought to himself, this would be the perfect venture for him.  That same day, however, would prove to change the life of James Rothford forever more…

 

 

                The weeks passed, and one morning, with the rising sun guiding its light through towards the harbor, came the Stonewall. Steam boiled out the main stacks, and the twin screws drove the water into frenzy.  As the ship neared port, Sam leaned on the railing, thinking about nothing in particular, letting the mist and the winds lull her into near sleep.  She was shocked back into reality when Conner leaned up next to her.  “Penny for your thoughts” Sam jumped a little bit and looked over “Oh, it’s just you.”  Connor smiled sarcastically “yeah, it’s just little old me.”  Sam laughed “what’re you doing out here, aren’t you supposed to hiding from the captain and avoiding all forms of work?”  Conner looked over his shoulder, presumably looking for the Captain, who was sure to be pissed when he found the Lab.  Connor, assured that the captain was nowhere to be found, Smiled at Sam.  “You know, it’s been a while since I’ve been to the ‘Sun, I’m sure that my old buddy the dealer has been missing me and my paycheck.”  Sam chuckled and scratched behind Connor’s ear.  She knew he loved it when she did that, and it didn’t take long before Connor started to tap the deck with his footpaw.  “Anyway, I was thinking I might go in tonight and pay a visit, you wanna come along?”  Sam shook her head “You know I don’t gamble, Connor.”  The Canine grinned the very grin of the devil as he replied “that’s no excuse, you’ll have the expert guidance of an investment counselor such as myself.”  Sam’s muzzle curled up into an amused smile “Investment Counselor, eh?”  Connor nodded seriously, “place the right bets and you can make quite a bundle.”  Sam nodded “all right you old sly dog, you want me to come see you waste all your money, you got it.”  Connor laughed, and it was well timed, because the feathery wing of the captain landed squarely on Connor’s shoulder.  “Ah mister Connor”  the captain leaned sideways on the ship railing, right next to Conner, “I see that you’ve worked so hard and fast that you might sit here and hope to avoid me, is that it?”  Connor laughed nervously, “Yeah, that’s it.”  The Captain nodded and smiled malefecently, “Get back to work Connor.”  The Canine swallowed and nodded, “Yes, sir.”  The Captain turned his gaze, looking for Sam.  But she had already gone.  Nobody called her the smart one for nothing.

 

                The ship’s bell sounded the entry of the Stonewall, and one could sit back, watching the demeanor change on the docks, one of laziness and boredom, to hardworking and earnestness, in but a few moments.  Still with the afternoon chores to be done, Sam and Connor continued about their jobs (at least, while the captain’s stern eye was upon them.  The return cargo having been unloaded and the ship cleaned from bulkhead to stern, the captain allowed his crew a four night shore leave (a rather long one, it would seem) Sam and Connor found there way to the nearest bar and had a few celebratory drinks, something to lighten the mood, as well as the customary visit to Café Du Monde, for beignet’s and more to drink.  Sufficiently softened up, Sam giggled and stumbled her way behind Connor into the house of the rising sun.

 

                James Rothford had been depressed.  Hell, any serving girl would have told you that. All it took was one bad experience up on the balcony where James oversaw the Sun, and most of the girls would refuse to take James his evening glass of wine, for fear that it might be imbedded in their head.  Why, might you ask, was Mr. Rothford in such bad temperament?  Well, the answer would be simple, he hadn’t seen his little vulpine girl for some time now, and he was beginning to reach the end of his patience.  In fact, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that Mr. Rothford had any patience at all. But then, it was as if the grey clouds had parted in his mind, and he saw the fluffy whiteness of his dreams yet again. There she was, laughing with a brown lab.  Everything as it usually was.  James had been watching, and he knew that while they both came in together all the time, they never kissed. And in James’s book, that meant that they weren’t lovers.  James steadied himself, He mustn’t rush, and he must be cool, calm, and collected.  Such was the way of a gentleman. James resigned himself to his chair and watched. 

 

                Down on the floor, Connor and Sam had found their way over to Connor’s favorite table, and were getting ready to play some blackjack; Sam hadn’t felt to comfortable playing poker, seeing as she didn’t play much.  The players exchanged small talk with the other players and the dealer, while Sam got used to the rules of the game.  She was soon playing well, with the guidance of Connor, Much to the dealer’s aggravation.  In fact, between the two of them, Connor was having a most excellent night.

 

 

                From his viewing point on the balcony, James grinned to himself, his wineglass secured in one paw; he began to idly wander down the stairs.  With the activity of the floor still going full swing, few noticed the portly wolf that meandered in-between tables and furs.  Making his way into a candlelit corner, the wolf sat down and dropped a few chips in front of the dealer.  James grinned “Evening Andrew.”  The dealer, who happened to be a taller goat, smiled.  “Good evening Mr. Rothford, feeling better I hope?”  James nodded “feeling better than usual I suppose, at least now that my cargo has come in.”  Andrew nodded along “you mean the Stonewall, sir?”  James thought for a second and swished his tail “yes, that’s the one.”  Andrew laughed softly as he dealt the cards for the next hand, “Well then sir, I’ve got good news for you.”  Andrew continued despite the questioned look on his boss’s face.  “These two guests right here are from the Stonewall.”  James turned and looked at the two, pretending as if he’d never noticed them before.  “Ah, well that’s good news then.”  James stuck his paw out “pleased to meet you…”  Connor finished the sentence for him “Name’s Connor, and my little cohort here is Samantha Wraith, but you’d best just call her Sam.”  James did his best not to stare at the fox, but couldn’t help the occasional glimpse to satisfy himself.  James continued to talk to Connor, knowing that the best way to get to Sam was to feign an attitude of interest and hospitality to Connor.  “Well, Mr. Connor, I’m always grateful to have such fine helpers with cargo and such.  If there’s anything at all that you need while you’re here, feel free.”  Connor’s tail wagged and he took a suggestive look at the upper balcony “I just might take you up on that later tonight Mr. Rothford.”  James followed Connor’s eyes (though he barely needed to look to know what the Canine was drooling over, and he laughed.  The lighthearted laugh of a man who knows that he was in control, and that everything was going his way.  “You go right ahead Mr. Connor.”  And James leaning in close, whispered, “And if I may, Esmeralda is quite talented….”  Connor laughed and patted James on the back, who winced, ever so slightly, that one might not have noticed, if you hadn’t been paying close attention.

 

                Sam, who needless to say hadn’t been paying attention, was actually off on the other end of the room, taking a break and getting a drink.  It was nice not to have to think about anything that needed to be done on the ship, and even though it was a little bit loud, Sam thought that a little bit of relaxation might just be the right thing. Unfortunately, the ‘Sun wasn’t Sam’s total idea of a relaxing time, although Connor looked quite relaxed, at least the parts of Connor that she could see out from underneath Esmeralda.  Sam sighed into her drink and was about to duck out when the large form on Mr. Rothford appeared; blocking her exit, but that could never have been on purpose. James grinned deeply and extended a paw.  “You’re Connor’s friend, aren’t you?”  Sam took James paw and he bowed, slightly and gracefully.  Sam smiled “yes, I believe you’re the guy that owns this place, right?”  James guided Sam along and sat down at a table, “So, how are you enjoying the ‘Sun this evening?”  Sam could only honestly shrug “well, it’s not really my type of place” Sam looked around, “but it is nice.”  James laughed softly “You know, I’ve always thought this place was a bit too loud.”  Sam didn’t really know what to say, but managed to stutter out a response “that’s exactly what I thought too.”  James motioned towards the stairs “Would you like to go upstairs with me?  It’s much quieter.”  Sam nodded, and allowed herself to be led upstairs, where she and James drank and chatted the night away.  Even when Connor had vanished for the night, James offered that Sam could spend the night.  It was doubtless that Connor was somewhere in the Sun, but just couldn’t be found at the moment.  Sam thought about it for a few minutes, but it suddenly remembered that she still had to be on the ship before too long and still she couldn’t find Connor.  And what luck, Connor came straggling up, Lace Handkerchief in paw.  Somewhere in-between his drunken stupor and euphoria managed to notice Sam’s questioning look when she saw the handkerchief.  “A souvenir from my lover Esmeralda.”  Sam sighed “Listen, we need to get back to the ship, now.”  

 

                The two said their goodbyes hurriedly, and rushed out the door, making their way to the Stonewall, still sitting in the harbor.  However, the two could not out sneak the sharp gaze of the Captain of the ship, who decided to wait until morning to yell at them. 

 

                On shore, James was doing some yelling of his own.  “Listen to me now you dumb shit!  I don’t care what you have to do; the Stonewall is going to be dead in the water the day after tomorrow. Do you understand me?   The Crocodile smiled deeply, showing all of his teeth, “you want it, you got it, boss.”  James threw a wine glass that missed the scaly head of the croc by inches, though the reptile did little to show that it was flustered.  James’s temper flared nearly out of control, “If you’d done it right the first time I wouldn’t have to be having this conversation with you, now would I?” The reptile could only nod and try not to smile or rouse the frustrations of James any further. “Get out, get out right now!” James pounded on his desk for effect “Just get it done already; I don’t need your ugly face sitting around here getting any older!”  The reptile excused himself, standing up and silently working his way out a side door.   James collapsed into his chair, still angry but cooling off quickly.  He poured himself a new drink and looked out his window over the city.  

 

                Morning followed evening, and with it, came the blue air that leaked out from around the captain’s door.  The haze being somewhat thick on that section of the deck regardless, Connor and Sam stumbled out into the daylight.  The Captain, following them, a cigar jauntily sticking out of one side of his beak. “I swear, you’re the stupidest, mongrel on this boat!  And you couldn’t help but drag her down with you, could you….Could you!”  The Captain gestured wildly and squawked, his fury so complete that he could barely spew out intelligent words.  “You can go off into the damn city all you feel like today, and don’t bother coming back until you’re done with probation,  Got IT!?”  Connor and Sam, already running down the gangplank, knew that the captain would only get worse if they stuck around.

 

                Not really knowing what to do, the two wandered the back streets of New Orleans, looking into various dark shops.  And eventually, as all furs do in the area, they ended up wandering over to the sun, which was still closed for another hour yet.  As the two sat down on a street side bar, they had the fortune of stumbling upon a few fellow shipmates from the Stonewall.  It was Jeff, a smaller ferret that first noticed Connor and Sam and walked up.  “G’day mates!  Say, you hear what happened to the Stonewall this morning?   Sam furrowed her brow “what happened?” The ferret took a swig of his drink and sat down next to Connor, leaning in close, as if someone was listening. “Turns out there was a bit of sabotage onboard.  The Captain isn’t going to be able to get parts to fix the engines for quite a while.”  Connor took a long drink “What do we care? We’re on suspension anyway.”  The ferret nodded “Sure, that’s what you think now, but wait until the captain gets back into a good mood when the parts finally get back here, he’s sure to take you back.”  Sam sighed and stared into her drink “sure, but who knows when that’ll be?  Where’ll we stay in the mean time?”  Connor looked out the window “we could always just stay at the Sun for a few days,” Connor looked over at Jeff “I happen to be a close, personal friend of Mr. Rothford.”  Sam couldn’t help but giggle and when Connor looked over at her, she shrugged, “well, I guess it’s worth a try.”

 

                The two walked into the Sun in the early afternoon (Jeff had decided to go back to the ship, deciding that it was better to heed the example of others before he himself was found with a suspension.)   There weren’t many people in the Sun, this early in the afternoon, but that didn’t stop Connor from getting set up at a table and into a game as soon as he could.

 

                James, since he had little else to do at the time, busied himself with his little project, Sam.  “Tell me Sam,” James studied the wine in his glass “Have you ever played cards?”   Sam swallowed the piece of chicken that she’d been eating “You mean Gamble?”  James smiled “Yes.” 

Sam pushed her plate away “I don’t gamble.”  James had a hurt look on his face, “you seem to spend a lot of time here for someone who doesn’t gamble.”  Sam frowned “Mostly it’s for Connor.”  James nodded in understanding “Ah, I see.”  James let his paw into one of his pockets and retrieved a pack of cards “Tell you what, how about a friendly game, I’ll teach you everything I know, and give you a credit here.”  Sam played with one of her ears, mulling it over in her own mind.  “All right, teach me.”  James smiled “That’s what I like about you…”

 

                James and Sam spent the entire afternoon, with Sam learning how to make money at cards, while Connor was downstairs making even with his. Sam was actually getting fairly good too; James was impressed, as he’d commented many times.  By the time that lessons were done, it was full swing at the ‘Sun, and James excused himself to take care of business, but not before giving Sam some free cash to gamble with, He told her to have fun, and he would see her later in the evening.

                Sam made her way out onto the floor, where she relieved Connor, who said he needed a breath of fresh air and a drink.  As the brown lab stepped outside, Sam did her best to keep up with the fast pace of the game, but soon found herself loosing money.  Sam had even found a worse problem, she didn’t want to stop.  Soon, Sam found herself dulled with drinks, and quickly running out of funds, both her own, and James. 

 

                Sam didn’t know what to do, she didn’t have any money, she’d lost all of it in a matter of a few hours.  The only thing left was to tell James.

 

                James was sitting on the balcony, in his usual spot, doing his best to look as innocent as he could.  He tried different positions, crossing first one leg and then the other, then moving to other chairs, finally settling on a position that he liked.  And no sooner could he have decided, for just as he sat down again, Sam approached from the stairwell.  She looked defeated, her tail hanging literally between her legs.  “I’m sorry James; I lost all your money.”  James feigned shock as he held the buzzed Sam with a paw on each shoulder.  “That’s all right dear, I didn’t expect you to make a ton of money, and I thought it might be fun for you.”   Sam nodded “Oh, it was fun, but I don’t have anything left to gamble with.”  James grinned “tell you what; I’ll make you a deal.”  Sam was a little bit out of it, but she giggled nervously “what’s that?”  James sat her down “You know, I’ve never made this offer before, but I think you might be interested.”  Sam nodded her understanding “Okay, what’s this deal?”   James leaned back and took a deep breath.  “I’m willing to let you wager your age.”  Sam wasn’t quite on the ball, and all she could say was “huh?”  James Continued, “It’s always been a subject of interest for me, well, here’s how it would work...”  James held one of Sam’s paws “I’ll let you have a chip for every year that you’ve been alive,  and then I’ll let you back on the floor to go play,  each of those chips is worth $100.”  Sam’s eyebrows went up. James continued “for ever chip that you can get above your age, I’ll pay out $150, for every chip you lose that’s below your age. You’ll be required to act that age, so if you have 11 chips left, then you act 11 for me.”  Sam rubbed the temples of her forehead, not sure if she could wrap her mind around the concept.  She pushed her chair out and began to get up “I think I’ll go join Connor outside.”  James reached out and held Sam’s bicep, stopping her momentarily, “I’m afraid that I can’t let you do that.”  Sam shrugged away, “what do you mean?”  James stood up and walked slowly around her, “If you don’t feel like playing my little game, I’d be forced to do something very unpleasant.”  Sam pulled her arm out of James’s grasp “what do you mean?” James grinned evilly, candlelight flickering off his teeth.  “I just might be persuaded to call in the debt you owe me.”  Sam backed up a little bit and fell into a chair “what debt?”  James bent down to eye level with Sam “You remember that $5,000 I loaned you earlier tonight?”  Sam’s eyes went wide “Loaned?”  James nodded seriously “Yes, Loaned.”  James rubbed his chin with a spare paw “Unless of course you’re willing to spend a little bit more time on the floor playing.”  Sam was speechless and could only stare as James jingled a little bag with 32 chips in it.  Sam reached out with a tentative paw and took the bag from James, it felt heavy to her.  James stood up again “Have fun. I’ll see you later.”   James took a few steps backward and turned around, heading down one of the upper hallways.

 

 Sam could only stare at the little bag that she held in her hand.  She might’ve not been entirely sober, but she knew that something smelled wrong about this.  Sam thought about it for a good long while, at least as long as it took for her to finish a cup coffee, anything to help her get her wits about her.  Sam wandered over to the stairs and looked around, everything seemed entirely different about the Sun now, it wasn’t warm and inviting at all, it felt dingy and dark and forbidding.  The more Sam thought about it, the more worried she became, she realized that James had only been teaching her how to play poker, and they hadn’t covered that much.  But, what other choice did she have?  Sam made it to the floor, not sure exactly how the deal would work.  She figured that she should go ahead and play poker.  Approaching the first table that she came across, Sam pulled out one of the chairs and slumped down.  The dealer smiled as he shuffled for the other players “hello there Mrs. Wraith.”  Sam looked up, “You know me?”  The dealer chuckled, “How could we not?  Mr. Rothford has instructed us to keep track of your playing this evening.”  Sam studied the dealer, had this all been set up before, or was it pure coincidence? 

 

A few hours past, it was getting late, and Sam had been doing rather well, she was almost up $900.  Sam was starting to feel a bit more comfortable about everything.  And then it all went horribly wrong.  It suddenly occurred to her, the dealer couldn’t let her win, that would ruin whatever it is that James wanted from her.  Sam mulled through the options in her brain and decided that the only thing she could do right now was go along with the game.  Sam took a little bit of a break and went outside for a breath of fresh air, conscious of the men who watched her every move from outside. Sam looked around for Connor, but he couldn’t be found.  Sam thought that might’ve been a bit odd, but decided that he was probably visiting with Esmeralda.

 

In reality, Connor was actually locked up in a room down in the basement, after he’d been given quite a beating out in the back alley.  And now, Connor looked into the amber eyes of James, who sat down in front of him.  “You sick bastard, what the hell do you think you’re doing?’  James adjusted his vest and looked at his pocket watch. “I’m taking what I want, and you’re not going to get in my way, so I need you to stay down here for a while.”  James stood up and brushed one of his sleeves “I’ve got to get back now, so you stay here and you behave, all right?”  Connor cursed and struggled at the ropes while James stepped out and closed the door behind him.

 

                Sam had gone back to the tables and had started playing again. To no one’s surprise, she’d been losing miserably.  According to James’s deal, she was now about 13 years old.  No different physically, but still unsure of what James still had planned.  Sam was stunned out of her current game when she felt the firm paw of James rest on her shoulder.  “Little one, I’m sure you’ve played enough for tonight, how about you come and sleep in one of the spare rooms?”  Sam looked from James, then at her cards, then at the dealer.  “It’s better than loosing everything tonight I suppose.”  James looked curious, “having a run of bad luck then?”  Sam muttered sullenly to herself, “You would know.”  Sam got up and wandered off to the stairs, while James leaned over to the dealer, “How old is she?”  The dealer idly shuffled his deck, “Thirteen, sir.”  James turned and looked at Sam, “Wonderful.”

 

Sam felt the protective arms of James enclose around her, both repulsive and somewhat comforting at the same time.  James guided the fox down one of the hallways, stopping and opening the door to a room.  It was a simple room, with a chair and a bed and some other necessary items.  James helped Sam over to the bed, and pulled back the covers.  Sam was feeling kind of tired anyway, so she let James take care of everything, but that didn’t stop her from slapping him when he tried to take her shirt off for her.  James rubbed his cheek and snarled slightly, showing a few of his teeth.  James shoved Sam back onto the bed “get in, sleep.”  James sighed and rubbed a paw down his muzzle and calmed down a little bit.   Once he’d taken a few deep breaths, James reached over onto the chair and picked up a small stuffed cat.  James knelt down and gave the cat to Sam and petted her head “sleep well, little one, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.”  James left and locked the door behind him. 

 

                It took little more than a minute before Sam was up and inspecting the window.  She let her paws feel all around it, and she found the handle. Sam barely had to think twice before she was out on the outside balcony and looking for a way to the roof.  Out in the hall, a bloodhound looked up from underneath his hat, and got up, slowly.  Turning the key in the lock, the old canine didn’t have to see much before he figured out what was going on.  He called to the others and poked his head out the window, just in time to see a big white tail get pulled over the roofline. 

 

                Sam, who didn’t know that she was being chased just yet, was looking around for a way to get off of the roof.  And she didn’t have much time; she heard the voice of someone underneath the roof “don’t you dare run missie!  You ain’t going anywhere!”  Sam looked around and hid behind one of the chimney vents.  Figuring out what she should do next. Sam didn’t last long however.  Even the practice she had avoiding the captain had still not prepared her for avoiding the cunning James.  She felt his paw on her shoulder, this time it was rough and unfriendly.  “We do have to stop meeting like this, Mrs. Wraith.”  Sam didn’t have time to respond, for she felt a sharp strike to the back of her neck, and she went out like a light.

 

 

                Sam awoke late the next morning.  In fact so late that the sun had nearly reached it’s zenith in the sky.  Sam tried to get up from the bed, but found herself tied fast, a pair of rusted handcuffs holding her to the bedpost.  She looked down at herself, and found she was wearing a nightie, a kind that you might give to a smaller girl.  It was faded pink, and had embroidered animals playing with each other at the hem, and lace on the cuff.  Sam looked quizzically around the room, and noticed the stuffed cat that James had left her.  With a swift foot movement, Sam kicked the animal off of the bed and rattled her cuffs, frustrated at her lack of freedom.  The guard, thus awakened, came in with a brown package.  “Good morning miss Samantha!”  Samantha didn’t like the cheery disposition of the guard and she told him so, but in much more colorful language.  “Now, now” replied the guard “there isn’t any call for that sort of language around here.”  The guard pulled out a key. “Mr. Rothford told me that I was to bring you to him when you woke up” The guard wagged the key in front of Sam’s face for effect. “If I unlock you, do you promise to behave yourself?”  Samantha, remembering her disappointing efforts at escape the night before, nodded.   The guard looked pleased “good, now you just stay still and I’ll get you dressed in the new clothes that Mr. Rothford bought for you.”  Samantha was tempted to curse her lungs out, but decided that she might want to wait for James to show himself.  The guard, who busied himself by dressing Sam, had gone quiet, mostly since he’d wanted the job done quickly, as he’d said himself, “This ain’t about me miss, James likes this sort of thing and he pays me good money, so I do it.”

 

                Samantha endured her dressing stoically, thought she did find the results rather embarrassing.  She was escorted out onto the upper balcony wearing another light pink dress that was short, with all the trimmings, a sun hat, and black shoes.  To tell the truth she felt utterly ridiculous.  But James looked at her with the adoration of a loving father, which he was quickly coming to see himself as.  Samantha was pushed down into the seat across from him and plates were quickly brought out with food for her to eat.  But there was little thought about eating on Samantha’s mind.  She took a glass of milk and threw it into his face. “You sick pervert! How dare you keep me here like this!”  James stood up, the look of silent consternation on his face reaching down to his pants, he undid his belt.  Without speaking he took Samantha by the paw and forced her over his lap. Then he hit her.  He punctuated each whack with a word.  “You will not disrespect me young lady!”  Then he continued, much past pain, until he could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Samantha didn’t know what to do, she was becoming scared of what was happening to her, and she didn’t like getting belted, either. 

 

                James sent Samantha over to the corner to think about things, while he continued to eat. Sam muttered to herself about her position, but resigned to keep quiet, seeing as his response would most likely be constant if she proved herself to be bent on making a nuisance of herself.  It was amazing, she thought, how the man could manipulate her, make her feel so small, when she’d lived the hard life on a ship, and yet she felt so helpless around him.

 

                James allowed her back to the table after a while, and let her eat.  He watched, with curiosity mixed with lust at her, but made sure that she did not see his eyes study her every inch. His possessive personality taking over, James no longer thought of her as a woman, but as his toy, to do with as he wished.  James finally broke the silence.

 

“I’ve allowed a table to open up early, if you wish to continue playing.”

 

                Sam glared at James with all the hatred in her heart, “Why the hell would I want to do a thing like that?”  James gave his signature evil grin. “Do you know where Connor is?”  Samantha’s eyes went wide. “No.”  James nodded “that’s right, I’ve got him hidden away, and if you don’t want to play, I can just take my money out of him.”  Samantha wanted to punch him so badly, but she knew what would happen if she tried full out assault.  She knew the guards would carry guns.

 

“I guess I should go play then?”

 

James showed his teeth in a wily grin “wonderful.”

Samantha was escorted down to the table, still feeling slightly exposed by her clothing and very apprehensive about what was going to happen next. She didn’t know what she’d do when James got tired of her, but her worry went upon deaf ears, for James hardly ever tired of his toys.

 

                There would be no chance of escape now; James held the ultimate leash, Connor.  Sam decided that she could only focus on playing and hope to win enough to pay back the debt.  She studied her cards, and used every strategy she could think of against the dealer, she’d even managed to come ahead, making it to nearly 25 years old.  But she could do nothing against the dealer’s heartless playing, eventually ripping everything from her, down to her last five chips.  Sam figured that she should keep at least one, she looked at the black chip “huh, why would James want a one-year old?  Could it be?”  The dealer threw out cards, and Sam wiped the sweat from her fur.  The dealer, by a close call won the hand, and four more of Samantha’s life.  It was closer than Sam could have ever imagined, the dealer had to sneak an extra ace into his hand and he was getting worried that he might be spotted.  But by then the deed was done, and he pointed Sam back up the stairs, and to what fate, she did not know.

 

                Samantha dragged herself upstairs and looked at James.  The wolf looked up from his papers and saw his little girl, and he smiled brightly.  “I love it when I win” Samantha didn’t say anything; she just ground her shoe into the floor.  James got up from his chair and grabbed Sam by the arm “Come on then, let’s get you dressed.”  Samantha spoke for the first time since coming back upstairs “but, aren’t I already dressed?”  James turned and stroked Sam’s cheekfur, “Darling, you forget, you’re only one now.”  Sam sighed “Oh, right.”  Sam understood now what James was intending, it all made perfect sense.  James’s tail wagged merrily on the way back to her room, but instead of taking her back to the room from the night before, James proceeded all the way down to the end of the hall, and took a key out from one of his pockets. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, little Sam.”  Samantha closed her eyes, hoping it wasn’t true, but when she opened them, her worst fears were confirmed.

 

Samantha stood at the threshold of her new nursery.

 

                Everything was pink, either bright or toned down, white trim. Apparently, James had spent quite a fortune making everything that he thought his baby would need.  There was the custom crib, made perfectly for her size, a highchair that she was sure she would hate, even a table for changings, and a pram.  James stepped inside and took Samantha by the paw.  Then he closed the door to the outside world.

 

                James tied Samantha down to the table, even though he knew she would be docile as long as Connor remained trapped in the cellar.  James reached into a cupboard on the wall and removed essentials.  A few bright safety pins, a cloth diaper, a cover (pink with frills) and an even more babyish dress.  James took his time, stroking and petting Samantha’s fur as he went along.  Agonizingly long the process went on and on.  Samantha did her best to put up with it, trying to hold the contempt and loathing in.  James smiled and talked, telling her how much he would enjoy this, and how much fun she would have.  James lifted his girl’s legs and unfolded a fresh diaper, pulling it snugly between her legs and hips as he let her down.  With the sound of finality, each of the pins clicked securely into place, the diaper now held fast to Sam’s squirming hips.  James took a footpaw one at a time and slid them into the cloth diaper cover, a larger and blaring sign that she was no longer her own, but that she belonged to James now.  The wolf undid the restraints and let Samantha up.  In taking each of her arms and guiding it, James was able to fit Samantha into a baby dress which complimented and showed off her diaper quite nicely.

 

                “I suppose I owe it to you to explain this whole little obsession of mine.”  Samantha wouldn’t look James in the eye “I suppose you do.” 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                .

 

                James stood in the street avoiding pedestrians and furs on horseback while he conferred with his contractor.  It had been several years since the senior Rothford had died, the cotton farm had long been run into bankruptcy by the endless loans that James had made to fund his businesses and various ventures.  It was a last ditch effort to regain the family fortune.  No expense had been spared on the construction of the Sun, the forms were made, and the timbers were cut, outlining the massive structure at the very edge of the city, where the dockworkers world began.  The heavy sun beat down on the workers, but James refused them a break, he wanted his dream to be built in record time, and no little thing would stop him.  The deafening sound of hammers, nails, saws and brick went on through the afternoon.  Every once and again, one the boss’s would sneak off a few workers into a corner for a break.  Luckily, James was busy dealing with more important matters, and never did catch any of the workers when they weren’t laboring. 

 

                Currently, James was helping one of the contractors plan out the interior.  He’d been very specific in his designs, and he’d also made it very clear, that should the contractor waste his time, James would have no problem removing him from the picture.  The afternoon went on quite slowly with James doing plenty of yelling at incompetent workmen who dared to slow down a hair’s breadth.

 

                With the James finally satisfied at the day’s work, he finally let everyone go for the night (even though the night was mostly over by now.  The workers had to do smaller jobs by candlelight for the last three hours of their day.)  James bid a fair goodnight to everyone, and wandered off to find himself some food and drink.  With everyone gone, the Sun looked very foreboding in the evening light.  But James saw only beauty, as he sat across the street, eating and drinking.  James looked down at his steak and studied the blueprints laid out over the other half of the table. There was still plenty of work to do on the Sun, but James was confident that he could get everything built in a few months.  James sighed and put the paperwork away, no matter how much James tried to focus on something else, he couldn’t seem to distract himself long enough to just sit and enjoy himself.  James ate quickly and finished up.  He wanted to get himself home and get to work on ordering furniture.  James didn’t head immediately back to his home, but instead walked down by the pier, listening to the waves lap up against the sides of the ships. 

 

                James’s cane tapped on the wood planking of the docks, and caught the attention of some sailors on a ship.  Leaning out over the railing; one of them, a white fox, waved to James and beckoned him closer.  “Hey friend!  You know how to play cards?”  James leaned on his cane and wiped the sweat from his brow.  He saw an opportunity for practice.  Normally not one to answer people on the street James replied “Sure thing friend!  What you have in mind?”  The fox motioned for the gangplank “Good ol’ fashioned poker, how’s that sound?”  James nodded and removed his hat “Sounds just about right to me.”

 

                James strolled up the gangplank of the ship and onto the main deck; the fox shook his hand and introduced himself as Max.  (Max, as you most likely would have guessed, bared a striking resemblance to Sam)  Max led the way into the hull of the ship, and into one of the tiny rooms that was tucked away.  Inside, James was introduced all around to all manner of creatures that stared at him.  Max pulled up a chair for James, and the game was begun.  The oil lantern above their heads gave soft light to the cards that were played.

 

                As the night went on, the sailors were losing money on James; it seemed that they’d misjudged the wolf.  Another hand was dealt out, but before James could lay paw on his cards, the heavy paw of a leopard next to him was holding his paw on the table.  James tried to get up, but could not.  Max stroked James’s cheekfur softly and whispered in his ear. “You may be beating us at cards little man, but you’re the far worse judge of people.  And with that the chairs were knocked over as all the men in the room approached the restrained James.  James struggled in the arms of the leopard, but he was too strong.  Max smiled with bright teeth as he began to forcibly undress James.  

 

                James didn’t know what else to do, he was so blindly frightened.  He wet himself.  Max stopped for a moment, looking quizzically at James’s crotch, then at his face.  The silence was only for a moment, and then the laughter came, loud and merry.  Above it all Max’s voice could be heard “guess the little pup should be wearing a diaper!  Shouldn’t he boys?”  The men all cheered with hearty voices.  And James could only struggle onward as the sailors fashioned a makeshift diaper and gag for their toy.  James cried loudly, screamed for help, but Max just reminded him that the crew was on shore leave and nobody would hear him.  The cries for help went on into the night, but just as the fox had predicted, no one came to James’s rescue.

 

                The next day, James woke up in a pile rope, he felt his muzzle with his tongue and tasted blood, and he felt the soreness of a black eye with one paw.  As James stirred and tried to get up, he felt himself broken and bruised.  Breathing heavily, James dragged himself out of the pile, and eventually was seen by some furs nearby, they helped him, took him to a doctor,  but irreparable damage had already been done.

 

                James was scarred for life,  he didn’t want to go anywhere near the dock after that,  He’d spent weeks in his house recovering, though he wouldn’t tell the doctor what had caused his wounds.  He had nightmares most every night, and was unable to get a decent night’s sleep in nearly 8 days.  He was worn down, and shattered. 

 

James was furious. 

 

                With time came physical healing, and with that came the thought that he should have revenge.  James no longer went out at night anymore, but he found vicious furs that would. And finally, one night, James had all of the original offenders brought before him.  And one by one, he watched them drowned in a bucket, held by stronger men, broken and beaten, tortured and hurt.  But Max, Max would do nothing but smile at James, unafraid of the wolf.

 

                With his enemies dead and buried in a nearby swamp, James should have been comforted, but he was not, for just as we all know, killing the fur, does not heal the source of the pain.  James still could not sleep well.  For every time he closed his eyes, there was the ever smiling facade of Max, always holding a diaper in his paws.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

                Sam, sitting on James’s lap, didn’t really know what to say.  She wiped away a tear from the gray fur around his eye.  Thoughts jumbled around her head. Why should she care?  He was a monster, a terrible, terrible fur.  And yet, she felt pity for him, pity that he should suffer so.  But was did he not make others suffer as well, did he not get what he deserved?  Sam really did not know what to think, but she did know that a hug might make him feel better. 

 

                “There, there little man, I’m here.”  James muscles pulsed and he threw Sam from the chair and onto the floor.  “I AM NO LITTLE MAN!  How dare you call me that!”  James kicked Sam and she rolled across the floor.  James turned and grabbed the door, slamming it shut.

 

                The rest of the night, Sam spent in the nursery, without anyone to visit or anything to do.  She’d spent the last few hours holding in some urine.  But that battle had ended a few minutes ago and Sam was dealing with her sodden diaper, which was disgusting to sit in.  Sam would have done anything to get the cover off, but she knew that the lock wouldn’t budge from her rear in time.  Sam laid down and tried to get some sleep, but in the end, deciding that the floor was too uncomfortable, she slept in the crib. 

 

                James came in some time later, a much calmer and composed fur.  Sam had fallen asleep, and the wolf stroked her head with love.  He was confused himself.  Why did he hate her and love her so at the same time.  What was it that he was trying to do through her?  Was he trying to hurt Max?  Was he trying to make up for himself?  James just did not know.  James looked down at Samantha’s padded bottom, smiled to himself and worked his hand in-between layers of cloth to check on her condition.  Finding her wet, James managed to pick his girl up and lay her on the changing table.  With some effort, James lifted Sam’s legs and unpinned the wet cloth from her.  Cleaning her gently,  James then re-diapered the girl and locked her into her same pink cover.

Taking the dress off of her, James then carried his little girl back over to the crib and laid her back down.  James sighed, looking at the sweet form of his little white fox and retired to his own room across the hall.

 

                Samantha woke up early that morning, noting out of curiosity that her diaper had become dry sometime in the night.  Samantha was startled and sat up quickly when she heard the door open.  James walked in, doing his best to be quiet, and turned around, surprised to see Sam awake “ah, you’re up.”  Samantha frowned at James, who approached the side of the crib and handed her a bottle.  “Drink” Sam looked at the bottle “what if I don’t want to?”  James leaned on the side of the crib and petted Sam’s head “Connor is still in my cellar.” 

 

                While Sam nursed her bottle, she watched James, who seemed busy looking for something for her to wear.  “You’ll be sad to know that the Stonewall is leaving port today, would you like to go watch?”  Samantha didn’t respond, but instead sucked in earnest, trying to relieve her frustrations, James continued.  “I thought as much.”  James turned around with another baby dress, this time, in green.  “Arms up.”  Samantha obliged and James pulled out the bottle, dressing his girl.  Again with much effort, James lifted Sam out of the crib, who did little to help. 

 

                James put Sam on the floor and reached over to the top of the dresser.  “I also thought you might like to know, Connor is working in the back of the kitchen, I gave him a good job down there, and he’s chained to his post, just so he can’t get any foolish ideas about running away in his head.  I would advise you to do the same, but just in case…”  James reached both paws around Sam’s neck and attached a leather collar to her.  Before she could voice any objection, James gave her a soft smack on the cheek, don’t talk unless I tell you.  James finished by attaching a leash to the collar and led his finished little girl over to his desk, where he looped the leash to his desk and let her sleep on a little pillow on the floor.  James relaxed into his chair, “You just let me know when you need your diaper changed, okay sweetie?”  Samantha just huffed and buried her head into the pillow fluff.  James laughed and turned around; looking over the magnificent city and harbor, and the Stonewall, which chugged it’s way into the distance, off on another trip to God knows where.