Surprise, surprise! I bet none of you expected an update from this story anytime soon! But I figured that out of all my stories-in-progress, this is the one that hasn't been updated as recently as others.

But enough of my big mouth, I won't keep you waiting any longer starting: Now!

Chapter 17: A Dynamic Duo

Run! Run! RUN!

That's all that went through RJ's head as the raccoon fled away posthaste.

RJ thinking: "At what point did it seem like a good idea to try to befriend a bear?! Sure, it was for your own survival, but couldn't you have thought on the long-run a bit more? Earth to RJ—it's the animal that's top of the food chain!"

Vincent was not too far off from RJ, and not even climbing a tree would save him. The bear knew that the smaller animal couldn't outrun him, and would let the raccoon tire himself so that he couldn't struggle when he ate him. The fate was more than well-deserved.

As it turned out, RJ was too self-centered to trust. Vincent had been battling one of his fox enemies from awhile back,when the scheming raccoon tried to steal the bear's food as he fought. The mere sight of the raccoon taking it away is what filled Vincent with fury that boosted his strength and enabled him to quickly end the fight in malice.

That hatred seemed to augment the bear's muscles, making him move faster than he ever has before in order to end the life of the lying raccoon who had used him. As for RJ, he was running out of breath, out of time, and out of options. Then, some luck comes his way...

He looks to the side and sees the entrance to an abandoned den made of hay and pine straw that he had noted in one of his observation runs of the woods a few days before. His hope brightens along with his smile. He can lay low, wait for Vincent to pass, then head in the opposite direction. There's bound to be more raccoons in the woods that Vincent will mistake for RJ; after all, the bear wasn't that bright and RJ has already soaked himself in a creek to lose his scent. Admittedly he was almost dry, but he was willing to take the risk.

He turns toward the den entrance as if he planned on heading there all along. When he's through he gives a silent praise that it's dark, turns so that he's facing the entrance to keep an eye out for anything coming through there, then crouches down and pretends to be invisible. He doesn't make a sound after catching his breath, doesn't move a muscle, and breathes by holding his breath for as long as be can and then gulping down air to repeat the process. All while doing so, RJ keeps repeating one phrase in his mind, saying it as a prayer and to make him fall in line.

RJ thinking: "Don't find me. Don't find me. Don't find me. Don't find me. Don't find me. Don't find—"


RJ lets out a reflexive yelp and turns around with his paws in front of his face for defense…not that it would do anything when Vincent grabs him.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?"

RJ now realizes that he was so afraid that his fear caused him to hallucinate Vincent's voice, but that's not who spoke. He opens his eyes and then slowly parts his fingers away to see who had addressed him. Being a raccoon, his eyes adjust to the dark quickly and he can clearly make out a group of six long tail weasels with brown fur on their dorsal side and white ventral fur.

RJ: "Oh, weasels...Phew."

Father weasel: "Answer my questions, raccoon: who are you and what are doing in our home?"

RJ: "I'm RJ, and I thought this place was abandoned so I'm sorry for intruding."

Mother weasel: "Darn right you're intruding."

RJ picks up the sternness in the woman's voice, and dreads how they'll react after hearing his reason for coming into their den.

RJ thinking: "They'll probably try kicking me out to save themselves. But if I can keep them talking..."

Now having an angle, RJ speaks out loud.

RJ: "And I needed a place to hide."

Teenage daughter weasel: "Hide from what?"

RJ (sighs): "A bear that's chasing me..."

The weasels gasp, and RJ cringes as he awaits their reply.

Young son weasel (while gripping his mother tightly): "Mommy, I'm scared!"

Father weasel: "That makes both of us. RJ, you need to leave our home right now before you lead the bear straight to us!"

RJ: "I wish it was that simple, I really do, but that's not gonna help you. The bear will follow my scent and think all of you were willingly helping me."

Female teenage cousin weasel: "Gah, out of all the places to pick to hide, you just had to choose ours?!"

Aunt weasel: "Quiet. You're not helping."

Mother weasel: "How far behind is the bear?"

RJ: "C-close. Like three minutes away."

Father weasel: "You need to go out when the bear is closer, and tell him that we didn't try to hide you intentionally."

RJ: "I can't just go out! I don't wanna die! Besides, he's got a real one-track mind that won't listen to reason. He's the type who's big and strong, but dumb. I've been keeping an eye on this bear for a while and noting his mannerisms so that if he ever came after me, I'd know what works and what doesn't work with him."

Normally the father weasel is well-constituted, slow to wig out, always calm and collective, and rarely needs to yell. But when even he starts to panic after hearing what RJ just said, it makes everyone else feel like there's no hope for any of them.

Father weasel: "Then what do we do?!"

RJ: "You need to give him all of your food and I'll give him all that I have in my bag. That's what he wants with me, and what he'll want from you. He can't be talked out, but he can be bought out."

Teenage daughter weasel: "We have only enough for ourselves. If we give it all away we'll have to hunt all over again."

Mother weasel: "Better to do that than be eaten by a bear! So c'mon everyone, put our food stores outside the den!"

The weasel family hurriedly goes deeper into their den, gathers as much as they can carry, and puts it outside. Their first load yields four eggs, three mice, two birds, 15 insects, and three frogs. It's barely enough to satisfy the stomach of a hungry bear, but there's no time to worry about that.

As soon as they turn to go back for another load, they hear a husky voice outside yell, "I know you're around here somewhere, raccoon! Come out and face me like a true fighter!"

Knowing what this means, the weasel family surges with fear-induced adrenaline and somehow gathers the rest of their food faster. When they turn around toward the entrance/exit carrying roughly the same amount as before, they hear the bear say, "I smell your scent...You're right over—Ah, there!"

Heavy footsteps walk on grass and leaves, indicating that Vincent will upon them any second. The weasels glance at RJ who is reaching into his bag to get out the food he has in there, and then they add to their food pile at the den's entrance/exit. They then move to go hide deep in their home, when RJ asks a question.

RJ (nervously): "I-is that all?"

Father weasel: "Yes!"

RJ: "Good..."

The weasels stop and turn around to face RJ as they wonder why the raccoon just spoke in such a dark voice tone. They are in the middle of saying "Huh?" when they are suddenly blasted by a wave of pepper spray that sends them into a hacking cough fit with watered eyes. To be fair, it wasn't a lot of pepper spray, but the tight quarters of the den made even the small amount used become instantly effective at inhibiting them. But knowing their home like the back of their paws, they instinctively crawl toward the entrance/exit to get to fresh air, no longer worrying what the bear will do to them.

When they get out, the father weasel's eyes make out an image that is shocking to say the least. RJ, the raccoon, is gathering the weasels' food into his bag, and the bear is helping him. The father weasel is enraged, but is in no physical condition to do anything to stop it, especially when his family could be in greater need of help with the pepper spray.

Father weasel: "What's *cough* going on here? *cough cough*"

RJ: "Isn't it obvious? I lied to you..."

Vincent: "And I thought weasels were supposed to be crafty, but you're all a disgrace to your species."

Mother weasel: "You stole from us when we *cough* had a five year old son?!"

RJ: "Survival of the fittest, babe."

Vincent notices the look on the weasels' faces and knows what they're thinking. It's something he knows all too well, and intends to end their desire for it.

Vincent: "If you try to follow me or my pal, you're dead. All of ya!"

The bear and raccoon have now collected all the food they want and casually start walking away as if the weasels were not even there. Even so, the father weasel risks retaliation if but to know one last thing.

Father weasel: "Wh-*cough* Why? Why did you do such an *cough* underhanded thing to us?"

RJ and Vincent both stop and turn around to look at the weasels. The two see the desperation in the mustelid's eyes, the sorrow, and the feeling of betrayal.

RJ (smugly): ""Sorry suckers. Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat."

Vincent: "And my reason is because you're so pathetic, weak, and gullible, that me and my pal could."

The two adolescents then walk away in a confident gait, without giving one glance back. The weasel parents want to run after them, take back what's rightfully theirs, and teach the duo a lesson...But knowing that was a death wish, all they can do is let it happen.

And boy, does it feel lousy...

Now a good distance away from the weasels, RJ and Vincent continue to walk back to their home in triumph.

Vincent: "Another successful raid."

RJ: "It's good being an omnivore, otherwise only you could eat the food that we obtained."

Vincent (turns to look at RJ): "And I expect you'd let me have it all without a moment's thought if I said so, right."

It wasn't much of a question, but RJ looks back at Vincent to lock eyes with the bear so there won't be any misunderstandings.

RJ: "Sure thing, Vincent. It's part of our deal."

Vincent nods in appreciation and focuses back to what's in front of them as they continue to walk. He enjoys the three seconds of silence when RJ, wanting more company, talks.

RJ: "That was fun, and easy. This is just the kind of rush I need to take my mind off of my miserable making others' lives miserable."

Vincent (smirks): "Heh. I chose the right kind of guy to serve me for the rest of his life. Just remember that we're doing more than just stealing food from others...We're waging a war on family and all that it encompasses: love, trust, security, happiness, forgiveness, support, motivation, hope, and dreams."

RJ grins at the lesson that Vincent had imbued into him ever since they made their deal. He had made RJ recite it repeatedly like a drill sergeant's mantra, not that RJ needed much practice to memorize or embrace it. Quite frankly, it was second nature to him. He and Vincent were used to feeling alone, angry, cheated out of life, jealous of what others have, vexed of what the two of them don't have, and wanting to take it all out on others.

The raccoon also wholeheartedly agreed with the bear when the latter had said that to have their miseries ignored by those who have gone ignorant with the atmosphere of family is actually a large disservice to the world. But by doing what they do to other animals, the families will no longer be blinded by their love and lavish. Their eyes will be open to the poverty and misery that so many others face, and that lies right outside the families' oh-so-detestable shell of love. Knowing this, RJ finishes the rest of Vincent's mantra as his voice reflects the feelings deep in his heart.

RJ: "We're gonna make everyone we steal from know what it's like to feel our pain because it's fair. It'd be unfair for them if they continue living in luxury while loners like us suffer because of things that are beyond our control. We didn't choose this lifestyle, it was forced on us. It's time for families to wake up and notice our needs are greater than theirs, that we deserve more than them because of the struggles we've had to overcome and have to continue to deal with. And when worst comes to worst, they'll get over it eventually because they have a family that'll make them forget the feeling."

Vincent (with a smile): "Humans say raccoons and bears are close relatives...I don't know what idiot scientists came up with that, but if they were talking about our minds, then I'd say I agree. But don't ever call me cousin or any family vocabulary. That would be plain weird."

RJ joins Vincent in chuckling. He feels free for the first time in his life. Free to finally express his mind without worrying about receiving disapproval from others...Free to live for himself and his own needs...Free from fearing predators. And most of all, free to let out his bottled up hatred without feeling bad for his actions. Luby may have taught him how to do that through music, but being able to really act is far greater.

Once they finish chuckling, RJ decides it's time to get back down to business. It's only been a month and a half since the raccoon met the bear, and he's learned enough about Vincent to know that he likes to talk about the pros and cons of every raid so they can discuss improvements for the next one.

RJ: "To tell you the truth, I was afraid those weasels would wise up and catch on to how I knew so much about your routine behavior that they'd realize I must know you personally. Guess we were lucky that they were too scared to ask. I'll make sure to avoid risking something like that again."

Vincent: "Yeah...We can't let them know you're in cahoots with me before I arrive on the scene. Otherwise they won't feel betrayed by you, which will risk them never realizing how bad we have it in life."

RJ: "Got'cha. I'll remember that. But anyway, now that we're done tricking animals, what's the next lesson about stealing from humans gonna be today?"

Vincent: "First thing's first: tell me what you know already about humans when it comes to stealing from them. Why are they so easy to steal from?

RJ: "They're attention sure doesn't last that long. They've always got other things on their minds that makes them oblivious to their own surroundings. It's like they can't notice me stealing something whenever their back is facing a different direction."

Vincent: "True. Very true. I figured that out a long time ago. But humans are also easily distracted. Whether it's talking to someone or driving down the road, they'll see something that looks odd and their eyes and brains become glued to it. So when we get back, you're gonna have to distract them."

RJ: "And I have just the right kinda tool to do it."

Vincent: "Which is?"

RJ (waving his pointer finger as if saying, uh-uh-uhh): "Tsk-tsk-tsk. You won't be as proud of me if I tell you now."

Vincent: "Well...Ok. But it better be good, really good, or else I get to have all the food we obtain from the humans for myself."

RJ: "Don't worry, big fella, you'll be impressed. I guarantee it."

Considering that Vincent has a history of trying to impress his parents only for his efforts to backfire into abuse, he is the type of guy who rarely gets excited over anything meant to dazzle. Unless it serves to rekindle his twisted sense of humor, he's virtually immune to the feeling. But virtually doesn't mean completely, so he finds his interest piqued, if only slightly; wondering just what the raccoon has in mind...

"How much farther, Mr. Evans?"

Mr. Evans looks back to address the fifth grade girl who asked the question, but speaks loud enough to be heard by the rest of the 24 kids in his group as they come back from their hike.

Mr. Evans: "We're almost there, boys and girls." (While pointing) "See the sign up ahead?"

The sign is at the end of a dirt road that the humans are currently walking on and reads "Welcome to Camp Hickory Chip: Where the fun and learning never ends!"

Note: I have no idea if Camp Hickory Chip is a real location in the United States, I simply made it up along with its tagline. If it is real, then it's purely coincidence.

The kids have been hiking for two hours and are very hungry with 12 o'clock approaching. But the sight of the sign gives the young children a boost of energy and they walk at a more brisk pace.

Like most summer camps, Camp Hickory Chip is large enough to encompass several big cabins (one of which serves as the mess hall), five hiking trails, ten camping areas, seven playgrounds, two swimming pools, four obstacle courses, several rope climbing stations, a water balloon battle arena, and three football field-sized meadows with a speaker tower set up in them. And what summer camp would be complete without a lake with inflatable slides and other play-devices. Indeed, Camp Hickory Chip has it all.

Mr. Evans and his group have just stepped foot into the camp's grounds when the sound of trumpets comes over the speaker towers, playing "Duh-da-da-daaaa!" for all to hear no matter where they currently are in the camp. It's followed by the sound of a recorded voice saying, "Brrrreak for lunch!"

A chorus of cheers escapes many children as they start to head to the cabin with the mess hall. But depending on the activities and locations that certain campers and their counselors are located, the camp staff has also catered food closer to the many tables set up near their lodgings.

One such area has 12 tables in a circle around a campfire pit, and the 34 kids along with their 12 counselors have just come back from their activities. They sit down after getting a plate of food and converse about what they've done today. The conversations range from who beat who in the obstacle course race, capture the flag match, or water balloon battle; to how far they had to hike, how many times they had to do the same swim stroke, and the amount of arts and crafts they created.

Bart (a 10 year old boy): "I beat Sam hard in the water balloon battle, guys!"

Sam (an 11 year old boy): "Only because you were in the tower and I was on the ground."

Kevin (a nine year old boy): "We got to do—"

Jose (a nine year old boy): "Hey, what's that?"

The kids at the table look to where Jose is pointing and are bewildered at the sight. Right in the middle of their table is a $100 bill that had been blown by the wind. They all scramble at once for the money, their hands getting in the way and preventing anyone from grabbing it.

Jose: "Finders keepers!"

Bart: "You gotta have it in your hand to make that claim!"

Jose: "That's for 'dibs.' "

Bart: "So what? It'll be mine soon!"

Suddenly, the $100 bill gets caught in the wind, flies off their table, and lands on the one to their left, the boys following not far behind it. One of the kids at the left table is a 12 year old girl named Constance who almost gets shoved out of her seat by the four boys.

Constance: "Hey! Watch what you're doing you—"(Sees the money and gasps) "A 100?!"

Gaining the attention of the other nine kids at her table, there are now 13 total kids scrambling for the money. Their commotion draws attention of a 21 year old counselor named Mackenzie who blows the whistle around her neck to get the children to stop.

Mackenzie (while walking over to the table): "What's going on here, kids? You're acting too rowdy and—" (Sees the money) "$100?!"

Mackenzie finds herself joining the kids in trying to grab the money, but then the wind carries it to the next table. The cycle of people trying to grab the money, shoving the ones on the next table, the latter noticing and reaching for the money, and a camp counselor joining the fray repeats until all 46 people at the lunch area are madly chasing after the $100 bill. The fact that the money is carried by the wind right before anyone can get a firm hold of it doesn't come across as strange to anybody. All they care about it getting the money which stars to follow the wind into the woods where the grubbing humans give chase. They ignore the poison ivy that they tread through while wearing shorts, recover quickly from running into trees or tripping over each other and/or foliage, and quite literally keep their eyes on the prize.

Just as a girl being carried by her dad in a piggy back ride is about the grab the cash, the money follows a wind gust straight up and becomes stuck on a branch 50 feet above the entourage. No one's willing to risk climbing up that high, especially when the trunks of the surrounding trees have large poison oak vines wrapped around them. With a sigh of defeat, the counselors blow their whistles and tell everyone to head back to their lunch area...something even they find worth pouting over along with the young kids.

When they arrive back at their camping ground, a 40 year old counselor named Gary is the first to discover a sight even more baffling than the appearance of the $100 bill.

Gary: "What the?! Where's our food?!"

Nigh eight minutes ago almost every table had a full plate of food on it. Now there's nothing. Even the food that fell onto the ground while people struggled for the money has vanished into thin air. The humans stand there scratching their heads as they try to figure out how it all happened...But had they stayed back where they last seen the money for a little longer, they would have found half the answer to the mystery.

The money, without any wind to carry it, begins to move up slowly...As it was scotch-taped onto a thin and transparent fishing line wire being pulled by a miniature fishing pole...A fishing pole operated by a certain raccoon.

Vincent is sitting inside his cave that's hidden deep within the forest on the left of the lake bank 30 yards past where the summer camp's barrier net is set up. The bear is wolfing down packages worth of potato chips like a glutton; smacking so loud that it echoes, and failing to hear RJ walk in. Having been acquainted with the bear's eating habits, RJ yells to be heard.

RJ: "Can't you eat more quietly?"

Vincent: "It doesn't taste nearly as good if I do."

RJ: "Maybe I'll give it a try then."

Vincent (pointing): "Your food's over there on the ground. Mine's in the red wagon."

RJ walks in the direction the bear is pointing and stops in his tracks when he notices his food stash is significantly smaller than Vincent's. Waiting for this to happen by watching the raccoon through his peripheral vision, Vincent sets the record straight.

Vincent: "I'm the one who did the hard work of gathering all the food in a very short amount of time. I'm the one who hauled it back here in the wagon which required me to be careful so I wouldn't get noticed by anything, human or animal. And I'm a bear who requires more food to keep myself going.

"You did the easy work of distracting the humans from a vantage point of complete safety. You didn't have to carry any of the food back with you or worry about protecting it if something tried to steal it. And you're a raccoon who doesn't need as much food to satisfy your stomach. Got a problem with that?"

RJ only thinks about objecting for a microsecond—of saying that if he had been seen by the humans earlier, that they would have come back to the lunch tables too early and risk Vincent not getting everything—but then remembers the deal he made with the grizzly-black bear hybrid. In particular, of the bear being the one who calls the shots in this partnership of theirs. Moreover, the amount of food RJ has from their recent caper is enough to last him for two days, so there's nothing to complain about.

RJ would have spoken his agreement immediately after the bear popped the question, had Vincent not followed up with "Good," before the raccoon could so much as take a breath to speak.

RJ humbly and silently accepts the power relationship, puts down his golf bag, and starts eating a sandwich. Once he's halfway through with it, he takes a whack at starting a conversation with the bear. He and Vincent may have declared war on family and its virtues, but the two of them are pals and can still talk like normal guys. Having company is one of the things from his time spent with Luby that RJ wants to keep experiencing, even if Vincent isn't much of a talker and who rarely has anything nice to say about anything or anyone when he does speak. But RJ thinks that with enough time and effort, he'll get Vincent to warm up to being a true friend, not just a pal.

RJ: "So, Vincent, were you impressed?"

Vincent: "Meh...You weren't too bad, RJ. You made a fool of those humans and kept them busy while I loaded up the wagon and got out of sight. But where did you get that kind of cash in the first place?"

Before responding, RJ feels a little disappointed with Vincent's absent-minded answer, having expected a true praise for his hard-thought actions. But he gets over it after remembering just who he's talking to; "who" as in the type of guy.

RJ: "See these fingers?" (Wiggles his fingers) "A raccoon's best tool for pickpocketing. And from what I've learned about humans, they value money more than food."

Vincent: "No kidding...And for the record, that's why we animals are better than them. We don't need money to survive; don't need things like cars, heat, air conditioning, or electric power; and don't need anyone telling us what to do or how to live our lives. All we need is food."

RJ: "Don't forget about having kids."

Vincent had been chewing loudly on some more chips and couldn't hear RJ clearly. With his mouth still full, but now chewing slower to lessen the noise, the bear grunts (not speaks), "Huh?"

RJ: "Animals also gotta have kids. Not that you and I will ever want them, I was just putting it out there."

Vincent doesn't like the way RJ is thinking. The thoughts are too close to getting at what the bear—and he sure as heck hopes his raccoon sidekick—hates most of all. But he doesn't let it spoil his mood too much, because eating is one of Vincent's favorite past times. (His others include fighting, stealing from others, and thinking of smack-talk to say to others who try to spoil his fun). So when he speaks it's in the same voice tone that indicates he's the boss of this relationship and is out to draw the line for the raccoon's big mouth.

Vincent: "No one really needs to have a family. Animals can live life to the fullest without one, which is what we're doing right now."

RJ (nods): "Well said, Vincent. Well said..."

Vincent, satisfied that RJ understands his point, continues to chow down to his heart's fullest content. Nothing could possibly ruin his bliss now...Not one. Single. Thing. On. Earth—

RJ: "But I bet you thought of having one before meeting me, right?"

The comment makes Vincent lose concentration, which in turn causes something to go down the wrong tube. He chokes on the food, making a fit of coughing sounds while doing so. He actually believes he might have to risk making himself puke to avoid choking to death, thus losing his delicious meal, but only for a moment. After some quick thinking, he hits himself hard on the back of the neck, and hacks out the food. He coughs two more times by intent, takes some deep breaths, then wipes his mouth before looking over to RJ. Afraid that Vincent is mad with him, RJ speaks nervously and with a stutter.

RJ: "A-are y-y-you, o-k-kay, b-big guy?"

As he spoke, he was already shifting himself in a defensive stance for the anger that will likely follow.

It doesn't help.

Vincent grabs the raccoon by the head in his left paw, growls in his face, and then wraps his right paw around the smaller animal's body to give him a painful squeeze. RJ's bones seem to creak, his muscles press too tightly against his organs, and his air seeps out of him. It only lasts for two seconds, but it's one of the most painful things RJ has ever experienced. Despite the agony, he still can't help but make a witty wonder, even if it's the last thing he'll ever do.

RJ thinking: "Now I know what it feels like to be in a trash compactor..."

Just when he fears he'll die of asphyxiation, the bear's grip goes loose and RJ draws in desperate gulps of air. Vincent still holds RJ firmly and speaks in a grave voice while glaring at the raccoon condescendingly.

Vincent: "Now you know what I just went through...So, what do you have to say for nearly making me choke to death?"

RJ: "I'm sorry. Really P-p-please forgive me."

Vincent rests his arms at his side then lets RJ drop to the ground from there.

Vincent: "Apology accepted...RJ. Now let's keep eating.

The bear lets the raccoon catch his breath and restart his routine of eating before continuing. Since his initial effort to dissuade the question that caused him to choke had obviously failed, Vincent figures he'll have to scare RJ into never asking such a question again.

Vincent: "And to answer your question, no...I've never thought of starting a family of my own. That'll do me no good."

RJ: "What do you mean by that?"

Vincent: "My Ma and Pa wanted to ensure I could never find happiness on my own...And they beat me in: Every. Spot. Imaginable to accomplish that."

RJ stops eating and looks down in sorrow for Vincent, not to mention disgust at what the bear's comment implies...And the rest that follows only insinuates this.

Vincent: "They beat me so hard that I was sterile before I hit puberty. And what female wants to marry a guy who can't have kids with her? So no. I'm screwed. My parents had the last laugh after all."

RJ: "Wait, how do you know for sure that you're sterile?"

Vincent: "Because I tried before...And let's just say it wasn't her choice."

RJ (in horror): "You mean that you actually—!"

Vincent: "Like I said, I have enemies. And there are many ways to get revenge on enemies...Such as what my biological father did to my mother. I captured the daughter of an enemy grizzly and hid her for months. In any case, she didn't get pregnant, and that's when I found out I can't have cubs."

To say that RJ feels very uncomfortable is the biggest understatement of the decade to how he feels about being in the same den with a kidnapper and ra...Well, it rhymes with "grape" and has an "ist" at the end. He especially thought that Vincent would never do something like the latter after experiencing first-hand how twisted of a life that can cause. But he figures that he's underestimated the bear once again. It turns out that Vincent is honestly and shamelessly willing to do anything to survive and defeat adversaries.

The awkward feeling comes to an end when Vincent speaks again. This time in a much lighter voice tone.

Vincent: "But we've had enough moping for one day. So drop the long face. I know what'll cheer you up."

The bear pulls out a portable TV and VHS player that he had stashed in a corner of his cave and hits the "Play" button.

Vincent: "Check out this hilarious movie scene about two dim-wit humans on a road trip to save a car factory."

The scene Vincent spoke of consisted of a fat human and a skinny human fighting over a radio station to listen to as they drove down a highway in their rather banged up car. They compromised after hearing a song by The Carpenter's which they both detested at first, but then broke out into tears while singing the song in the next cut. That alone, was hilarious to RJ.

But during the mens' serene moment, the car's hood spontaneously opened and they nearly crashed into traffic! When they finally stopped, it turned out that the hood came undone because the fat human had left an oil can stuck in the engine's oil cap. RJ and Vincent cracked up at the fat guy's facial reaction to that observation! And the fun had only just begun.

The humans' argument escalated to where they both were ready for a fist fight, but the fat one goaded the skinny one to make the first blow...whereby the former got his butt handed to him! The fight ended when the skinny guy came up at the fat guy with a large piece of 2x4 that appeared out of thin air in his arms, and just whacked the stew out of his pudgy opponent who was knocked out cold. The skinny man then turned his head and looked and spoke happily about a prehistoric forest that was looming close to where the car was pulled over, then went in that direction to check it out—leaving his unconscious partner where he had fallen.

Note: The scene comes from the movie Tommy Boy.

The laughter over the scene made RJ completely forget about whatever Vincent had said that put him in a disturbed mood to begin with. The rest of the VHS was damaged and they couldn't see anymore, but after their laughter settled the two animals were able to finish the rest of their meals in silence, savoring every single bite of the delicious food. Their good moods were also restored and it's like the choking, the squeezing, and the things Vincent revealed about his past had never happened.

After finishing the food, Vincent proudly lets out a long, deep, and loud belch and says, "That hit the spot..."

RJ: "Couldn't have said that better myself."

Vincent: "Speaking of hit, have you decided who we'll be hitting on our next heist?"

RJ: "Yep."

Vincent: "Good."

The bear slumps down so that he's laying prone on the ground, his head propped up against his arms.

RJ: "You don't wanna hear who it is?"

Vincent: "We'll have all of tomorrow to worry about it. Right now I'm getting some sleep...See you in the morning."

RJ hears the sound of thunder and knows a rain storm is on the way. He looks around to find a spot to lie down. He sees the perfect place, moves there, bends his knees to sit, and—

Vincent (growling his words threateningly): "Hey, what're you doing?! You remember how it works! We're not roommates! This is MY cave that I found, and that I earned by killing the bear who used to live in here. You find your own shelter."

RJ: "I know, Vincent. It's just that it's gonna rain soon—"

Vincent: "Not my problem, so scram." (Smirking) "Besides you're a raccoon, you'll figure something out."

RJ thinking: "Shoot. Using my own species and heritage against me..." (Out loud) "Alright, see ya in the morning."

Vincent merely starts snoring and RJ goes out into the woods as droplets start to fall. Knowing that wet wood would pose a challenge to climb up, he quickly heads to the tree that he's been using to sleep in ever since Vincent took him to this place. He climbs up fast, finds the wide branch to lay down on, and hangs his golf bag's shoulder strap on the smaller branch above him to keep the bag from falling. He then starts to rummage through it for something to protect him from the rain that slips through the leaves overhead. Thinking he's found what he needs, he pulls his paws out—only to have Luby's banker hat in his grip. A flood of memories begin to flash through RJ's head...painful ones.

RJ thinking: "Painful for her, not for me."

He stuffs the hat back into the bag—the feeling of guilt and the flow of the memories traveling away with it—and continues to search for what he originally intended. After finding, it he pulls out a rain poncho and starts spreading it over his body. He suddenly finds himself having to hold onto it tightly as a wind gust breaks through the canopy.

RJ thinking: "That was close. But I'll need to weigh it down by putting some of my things in the pockets."

RJ reaches deeper into his bag and finds the troll doll which isn't heavy enough, the plunger which is too unwieldly for weighing the poncho down, then—

RJ thinking: "Luby's card deck..."

He pauses only for a second before causally slipping the deck into a poncho pocket while he snidely muses, "Heh, nice try."

His boastful confidence to not feel sorry receives another kick in the gut when he pulls out the green cigarette lighter. He quickly puts it into a side pouch and pulls out his...pocket knife. He forcibly puts that away, pulls out the next item he feels—his pair of scissors—forcibly puts that away, then repeats the process for the next items which include his Swiss-Army knife and some golf balls in a Ziploc bag...

Each item brings out his worst memory of all: discovering that he was all alone for the first time. And this time he can't fight the sorrow like he did with Luby's items. Truly, fate is at work with him right now.

He no longer feels tired, but also knows he needs to be well-rested for the heist tomorrow. He then remembers what Vincent had told him before—"You're a raccoon, you'll figure something out"—and knows how to make himself sleepy again. It's a day early, but he feels the pain coming back. He can't risk climbing down with the storm that's now coming through in full force, but he thanks whatever scientific explanation causes thunder to happen when the loud sound erupts in the dark and rainy sky.

The reason why he's thankful: the booming thunder and fierce wind masks out the sound of his rage-rant/sorrow-wail session of asking why his parents left him and all that they weren't there with him for in his life.

Run! Run! RUN!

RJ bolts forward through the forest on all fours, his decision to drop his golf bag along the way enabling him to run faster. He knows where he's going, but to any onlooker he will come off as not having a faintest sense of direction and simply caring about running anywhere but behind him.

He runs over a four foot long log bridge suspended over a shallow ditch when a young girl beaver seems to show up out of nowhere on the other side, curious about RJ.

Girl beaver: "Hi, Mister. What's the hurry?"

RJ: "I need a place to hide, kid! Can you help me out?"

Being four years old and following her parents' upbringing, the young beaver doesn't hesitate to respond.

Girl beaver: "Sure thing! Follow me to my home."

RJ: "Thank you! I don't know how I can repay you."

Girl beaver: "Just be my friend from now on."

RJ: "You got it!"

The beaver guides RJ 50 more yards to where a large creek is located.

Girl beaver: "There's my home. Lovely isn't it?"

RJ (jittery): "Uh, y-yeah. Very, um, lovely."

RJ looks at the dam in the middle and notices there are no openings.

RJ: "How do we get in?"

Girl beaver: "Can you swim?"

RJ: "Yeah."

Girl beaver: "Then follow me. We built our dam so that the only way in or out is through the hole in the bottom where most predators will be too big to fit through. That way when they try to break through the top, me and my family can slip out beneath them."

RJ: "Now that's what I call smart. Lead the way, kid."

Girl beaver: "My name is Beth, Mister."

RJ: "Alright, Beth. And my name is RJ. I'll tell you more about why I need a place to hide when we're in your home."

Beth: "Follow me!"

The beaver dives into the water with RJ following right behind. She swims under the dam, goes through the hole at the bottom, and greets her four member family consisting of her mother, father, uncle, and older male cousin.

Beth: "Hi everyone. I brought a new friend."

As soon as the words leave her mouth, RJ emerges next to Beth.

Beth: "This is RJ."

Beth's mother: "Beth, how many times do we need to remind you of strangers?"

RJ: "Look, I understand your concern, but your daughter helped me out in my time of need. I just need a safe place to lay low for a while, and then I'll be on my way."

Beth's father: "Well in that case, you're welcome to stay. My name's Bob, my mate is Beverly, this my brother Jacob, and my nephew Stanley."

RJ can't believe how generous this family of beavers is being to him...Like he's a part of their very own family. His next remark is practically on reflex.

RJ: "You're all awfully friendly...I am still a stranger, after all."

Bob: "My family's opinion of strangers is different from most others. We believe in the goodness of all animals."

Jacob: "That means we think if a passerby notices one of us has dropped a fish, his or her first instinct is to return it, not steal it. And that's how our encounters with strangers have always been."

RJ: "Speaking of food, do you have any? I'm really hungry."

Bob (while walking): "Sure thing. Lemme just mosey on over here and—"


The sunlight suddenly enters the dam as the roof is torn off. The thick thorns and briers that the beaver family had woven into their dwelling for the purpose of defending against something like this absolutely fails to stop the attacker in the slightest.

Vincent: "There you are, thief!"

RJ: "Vincent!? How did you find me?"

Vincent: "You think water will be enough to get rid of your scent from me? Guess again."

Although startled by the bear's sudden appearance as anyone would be if the roof of their home was ripped off, the beavers surprisingly are not that afraid.

Bob: "Um, excuse me, Mr. Vincent? My name's Bob and I gotta ask why you tore our roof away when knocking would have been enough to get our attention.

Vincent: "Quiet, you buck-tooth river rat! This is between me and the raccoon. He stole food from me."

RJ (pleadingly): "I was so hungry! And it was just one chicken egg!"

Vincent: "That doesn't matter. No one steals from me without consequence...No one."

Bob: "I can tell you're very angry, but if you could just take a deep breath I'm sure we can resolve this peacefully. If you want food, then take ours. We have plenty of fish."

Vincent: "How about I eat your daughter instead?"

Bob: "You wouldn't want to do that, not when we have 50 fish—all composed of four different types of salmon. They get caught in our dam all the time."

Although Vincent would normally like to play more of his devious mind games, his instinct as a bear can't help but soften up his demeanor to the idea of his favorite natural food source.

Vincent: "Salmon you say? Well, that doesn't sound too shabby. But I want all of your food: every...last...morsel. Including what you've been storing long-term."

Beverly: "Are you sure? I don't think a carnivore such as yourself would like bark, tree roots, and berries."

Vincent: "I don't care. If you don't want me to eat one of you, then you better do what I say."

Bob: "Sounds good enough to me. Just give us a few minutes to get things together."

As the beaver family goes to get their food Vincent makes eye contact with RJ and, needing to ensure that their charade comes off as legitimate, addresses the raccoon.

Vincent: "Be thankful that I like salmon more than coon meat. You better get going now, before I change my mind."

RJ: "O-o-okay. You don't have to tell me twice."

Just before RJ can start climbing out of the half-destroyed dam, Beth grabs his right paw, causing the raccoon to kneel down so their eyes can meet.

Beth: "Please don't go...You're my friend…"

RJ: "And you'll always be my friend, Beth. But Vincent lives close by, and if he sees me again he'll wanna eat me. So this is goodbye forever."

Beth: "Ok, RJ...I'll miss you."

RJ: "Me too kid...Me too."

Beth flings her arms around RJ who returns her hug, and RJ enters an almost trance-like state. It's been a long time since he's been hugged...Indeed, it's been since before he left Luby, and it is still a nice sensation no matter what RJ's intentions are. It's as if for a brief moment, he's not alone. That he's with someone who cares about him like his parents never did. But these thoughts only occupy his mind for a few seconds, because he quickly remembers that he's a loner, a thief, and a user. So when he's finished hugging he wastes no time in exiting, and doesn't look back.

Even when he makes it past the river and pulls himself onto the solid ground, he hears a chorus of goodbye's and a "Glad we met you," from the overly generous beaver family as he leaves.

RJ smirks at how easy this was as he mutters under his breath, "Heh, suckers..."

Once Vincent got all that he asked for, he meets up with RJ who has been waiting for him. The two unlikely allies converse as they start walking back to the camp grounds with Vincent pulling the wagon.

RJ: "I think that went really well."

Vincent (monotone voice): "If you say so."

RJ: "Something wrong, Vincent? We got the food."

Vincent: "But they were too nice to feel angry or sad...There's no fun in that. All comedy is based on misery and if you take misery out of the equation you just feel empty."

RJ: "Well, if that's how you feel, I guess I should have observed a different family before we pulled the heist today. I wanted us to hit this one because I knew those lemmings would turn over their food without a care in the world."

Vincent: "You actually took the time to spy on the beavers before we pulled that off?"

RJ: "You say that as if it's a bad thing."

Vincent: "It's alright to do that when stealing from humans, but not when we steal from other animals. You'll be more convincing when you act on impulse. Let's go with that next time."

RJ: "If you say so, boss-man, then it sounds good to me."

Vincent faces forward and walks for a few paces before he lets out a chuckle.

RJ: "What's so funny? Oh, let me guess:" (smiles) "how gullible those saps were?"

Vincent (nods and smiles while talking): "Yeah, particularly when that little girl hugged you and said you were her friend—a few minutes after meeting you!...Gull—i—ble!"

RJ: "Her parents were just as stupid. I find that more pathetic because they're older. Why do you find the little girl more amusing?"

Vincent: "Well I—"


The ursine and raccoon turn their heads in the direction that the loud, blasting, and Cajun voice was projected. The next thing they know, Vincent is knocked on the ground by the strong-pawed arm of—

RJ thinking (in stunned disbelief): "What in the holy mother of Shamu is THAT doing here?!"

—A tiger!

The feline is a seven foot male Bengal tiger weighing at 523 pounds, both of which are average for his species. But unlike what's common in his kind, his fur is yellow with black stripes instead of orange and black stripes. Vincent quickly gets up from the fall while RJ hides under the wagon, the latter knowing that another one of Vincent's old rivals has found the bear yet again.

Each recognizing his mortal enemy, the two large predatory animals get into attack stances. Vincent's advantage: the ability to walk upright in addition to hunched over, and knowing more deadly places to strike an opponent based from his experience of his parents doing the same to him. The tiger's advantage: faster reflexes and running speed, stronger muscles, and being more agile.

The tiger's voice is no longer yelling, but still comes off as blasting even at normal volume, like he's cracking up from laughter.

Tiger: "Is been'a lo-ong time, teddy. And, Ooo-la-la, yew've got'n Mardi Gras fa-yat!"

Vincent: "Save it, jambalaya-breath. How in the Sam Hill did you find me? Last time I saw you, you were caught by a traveling circus and on a train headed for Michigan."

Tiger: "Tweren't hard when all's I's got'ta dew is think'un 'bout chop'un yew up gewd 'an puttin' yew inna bowl'a gumbo!"

The tiger nimbly leaps into the air and comes down baring his two front clawed paws. Vincent dives forward a short distance so that, after dodging the attack, he lands a clawed hit on the tiger's left torso. The tiger whips himself around and tries to bite his opponent, but his lethal jaws only clamp down on air, for Vincent sprinted away 10 feet after hitting the large cat.

Vincent: "You like to think about me a lot...? That's just..." (Smirks as he regains the insult-initiative) "Actually, I got two things to say about that. One: you need to get a life. Two: I really don't wanna know what you do on Friday nights if all you do is think about me."

Tiger: "Wise cracker as always. Is'a shame we got'ta end our relationship."

The tiger jumps up again and prowls the tree branches above, its movements and fur color camouflaged by the thicket of leaves. Vincent looks around in all directions in a vain effort to find his adversary, knowing the feline could come from any angle. Then, he suddenly notices the shift of the light shining through the leaf gaps and turns to take a counteroffensive posture.

Too late.

The tiger lands on Vincent's shoulders, the former's weight forcing the ursine to the ground where the tiger slashes at his enemy's left torso. The hit breaks through the bear's thick fur and cuts the skin beneath it.

Tiger: "An eye fer an eye. Yew're outmatched and won't win, Vinny. Yew may be tough, but I's got the eye of the tiger."

Vincent (groans in disdain): "Spare me..."

Tiger: "Hah! Beggin' fer mercy already...Means yew're scared."

The tiger chuckles...but alas, he is mistaken, as Vincent's next comment clearly indicates.

Vincent: "...Spare me of your stupid and annoying accent that only a swamp-smelling, diseased-vomit-bag of a bayou-living hillbilly like yourself can tolerate! It's no wonder you don't have any friends..." (In mock rhetoric) "Oh, and were parents related, by any chance, before they married?"

The sectionalist insult angers the feline so much that he literally starts to see in all red while letting out a roar so intense that a blood vessel or two pops. His fury prevents him from feeling any of that pain, and then the tiger and bear run toward each other on all fours at full speed, each wanting to kill the other in the next move. The tiger dives forward and low, but Vincent jumps straight up and comes crashing down on top of the cat, then begins to stomp him hard. Each hit causes the feline to hack sharply while saliva spits from his mouth. As Vincent jumps up on the fourth attempt, the tiger slips out of the way by going backwards, putting himself immediately in attack range. However, Vincent anticipated the effort after he had seen the tiger's back and leg muscles tense up for the deed. The bear kicks the tiger in the chin, sending him airborne as if hit by an uppercut punch.

The tiger lands on his back but quickly regains his footing—a few inches behind RJ who has been watching the fight wide-eyed underneath the wagon.

RJ: "W-w-ho are you?"

RJ grimaces hard while silently reprimanding himself for his reflexive action which draws the deadly animal's attention to him.

Tiger: "I be the King of duh Bayou County College Swamp Cats: Delacroix the Tiger."

Note: I just made up Bayou County College Swamp Cats; it doesn't really exist in any part of Louisiana.

Vincent: "You have no right to flatter yourself with your title, Del. If anything, you should be mortified of it because your football team has a three year losing streak and you're literally as yellow as they come."

Delacroix drops his smile and replaces it with a leer and a growling face that slightly bares his large four teeth. He strides toward Vincent in four foot leaps with the first going to the right, the next to the left, and the third to the right again. Vincent prepares his next attack in the spot the tiger will most likely leap next—only to be wrong.

Vincent thought Delacroix would try to dupe him by moving to the right on his fourth leap, but the ex-college mascot instead heads to the left. Catching Vincent completely off-guard, the tiger pounces onto him and keeps him pinned to the ground holding down each of the ursine's limbs with his own.

Delacroix: "Since yew 'a lackin' inna college educa'ti'uhn, I's fill yew in; Jus pretend yew hav'a brain. Anyways, yewr fur coat would turn lighter tew if id been inna bright enclosure six days'a week, and in da hot sun every football-season-Saturday for many hours.

"But yew're da one who done crossed me by running away like'a trew coward when da circus hands caught me inna ne'yet after I's helpin' yew steal food from their lion's cage." (Slowly leaning his face closer to Vincent's) "Yew had this comin' ever since then."

The eyes of the bear and tiger meet, each animal staring into the others' soul with the same degree of intensity. The tiger fails to notice Vincent's smirk while the bear muses, "Gotcha!" Delacroix's ego does him in, for Vincent bites the large cat in the face, making him reel back in pain. The feline's weight leaves Vincent in an eyeblink, but the bear can't capitalize on his enemy because Delacroix made sure to leap far away to recover from the sharp and stinging pain. Judging the situation to be safe for talking for now, Vincent decides to use the distance to his advantage to talk some more.

Vincent: "You were too slow, I could blend better in the dark, and you had brighter and more easily-seen fur. Don't blame me for your mistakes, Del. And after I helped you escape from your college mascot prison, I told you that if something like that went down that you'd be on your own."

The comments of both predators immediately causes all of the danger meters in RJ's head to reach code-red levels, and the alarms to go off at maximum volume.

RJ thinking: "I'm not the first guy to work for Vincent?...How many others were there? And why did he lie to me?"

Not caring about concealing himself anymore, RJ comes out from beneath the wagon, compelled to enter the fray if it means getting some answers.

RJ: "Is that true? You guys used to work together?"

The two predators look at RJ; one with a look of concern in his eyes, and the other (two guesses who) with a look of conniving and amusement.

Delacroix: "Sure did, chaoui. And if yew're a'here instead'a Vinny's belly, I reckon that means yew made a deal with 'im tew?"

Note: "Chaoui" (pronounced shah-wee) is Cajun slang for "raccoon," not to be confused with the Algerian Tribe of the same name.

RJ's silence and stupefied stare is all the answer Delacroix needs to continue on.

Delacroix: "Word'a advice, coon: leave da teddy bear before he'un dew the same ta yew. Geaux now...Or come with me."

Delacroix moves so that RJ is caught in between the tiger and the bear...And RJ finds himself actually considering the options. A tiger is more fearsome than a bear, and stronger, and could provide him with greater protection.

Before RJ can wonder more about the benefits, Vincent butts in.

Vincent: "Don't let him trick you, RJ. He'll just eat you in your sleep."

Thanks to Delacroix, RJ now knows that Vincent has been lying to him all along. So why should he believe what Vincent just said? The answer is simple: He doesn't have to, and quite frankly, he doesn't want to.

RJ: "So this is how you made all of your enemies…"

It wasn't a question, and Vincent finds his grip on the partnership starting to slip. The raccoon had talked to Vincent in a tone that seemed to be him standing up to the ursine—to a predator—for the first time in his life. Vincent tries a different angle and doesn't have any anger in his voice and responds evenly, like having a normal conversation.

Vincent: "No, only Del."

Delacroix: "Liar, liar."

Vincent: "Shut up! You're the real liar!"

The bear jumps forward, goes to all fours upon touching the ground, and runs for Delacroix; ready to pull out every single tooth in the tiger's mouth one by one. He doesn't get very far before suddenly having to stop in his tracks when Delacroix makes his move. The feline also runs forward...and grabs RJ in both large paws with his claws fully extended, and one of which is pressing against the horrified raccoon's neck.

Delacroix: "Yew ain't never could git stuff done without someone else helpin' yew out, Vinny. Yew lose yewr helper, yew lose yewr edge at survival."

Vincent (darkly): "Don't you hurt a single hair on him. Let him go."

Vincent's words and tone that he used to address Delacroix stirs a flurry of conflicting thoughts within RJ, making the raccoon more confused than afraid.

RJ thinking: "Wait, if Vincent's as bad as Delacroix says, then why does he care about what happens to me?

"Don't be stupid! He just wants to keep you alive as his errand-boy and then do to you what he did to him!

"Hello? But the other is a tiger, and a stranger at that. I don't know what he'll do!"

RJ loses track of the bear and tiger's conversation, until he's brought out of his musing by Vincent screaming, "What?!"

RJ blinks and is back in reality.

Delacroix: "Yew heard me loud'n'clear! Give yewrself up to me, dew what I's say fer yew ta dew. Be my slave, or else I's gon' kill yewr little helper!"

Vincent: "Go put your ugly face on your species' cereal brand, Del! I'll never be your slave."

Delacroix: "Then I's have no choice…"

The tiger's claw starts pressing hard against RJ's neck. It's brief, but opens a whole new definition of hurt to RJ's senses. He thought Vincent's claws were painful, but Delacroix's make the bear's feel like a plastic fork by comparison. Before the tiger can pierce through any skin, RJ, using his species' inherited intelligence, saves himself.

RJ: "There's no need for this, Del! I'll accept your offer to come be with you."

Delacroix: "What?"

Vincent: "WHAT?!"

RJ waits for the tiger's claw to pull away from his neck (but Delacroix still has RJ in a tight grip) before continuing.

RJ: "Being a college football mascot, I know you were raised in captivity. You're not familiar with living in the woods are you? But I am. And since you escaped from the circus I bet they're looking for ya. But I can help you survive in the American forest and keep you safe from wildlife authorities."

Delacroix (raises an eyebrow): "Really?"

Vincent: "Don't you dare, RJ!"

The raccoon ignores Vincent and continues to speak to Delacroix, much to the hybrid bear's displeasure.

RJ: "Absolutely. Just let me go and I'll leave Vincent forever."


Vincent lunges for the raccoon in a fit of uncontrollable rage. Because the bear acted on impulse without thinking, Delacroix casually dodges, putting RJ down in the process, and slashes Vincent in the leg. The ursine scowls in pain and falls to the ground...and stays there in a crouch, indicating that the wound is deep.

But the physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional turmoil brewing inside him. Vincent can't believe how quickly RJ has turned on him in spite of everything he has done for the raccoon. With that thought suddenly flashing through his head, Vincent uses the best ammo he has to ensure RJ knows where his loyalty lies. When he speaks, his voice lacks all anger and even the slightest hint of desperation that he is secretly having to use. For the second time in his life since revealing his backstory of loss for not being able to commit parricide, Vincent speaks from the bottom of his cold heart. There's no way the raccoon will be able to say no now.

Vincent: "Remember our deal, RJ."

The remark compels RJ to give Vincent his undivided attention. Once their eyes meet, Vincent goes on.

Vincent: "I could've eaten you, but I didn't. I could have let a fox, wolf, coyote, and even this tiger kill you, but I fought them off—for you. You would have never learned how to raid fresh food from humans if I hadn't helped you out. I'm the one person who's been through as much as you have in life, without me you'd be all alone. I am demanding that you keep your promise and do exactly as I say!"

RJ: "Sorry Vincent, but I can't trust you anymore."

Well, that answer put the anger back into the bear's voice...which Vincent admittedly welcomes because he sure does hate being "diplomatic" and trying to "negotiate." Those two exchanges are made when one guy tries to wrest power from the other like the two are equals, and Vincent is used to always being the one who holds the only power there is, and making others do what he says.

Vincent: "Like he is more trustworthy?! Use your brain like a raccoon, dad-gummit, not the rotten, trash-smelling, disease-spreading bag of filth that your species is known for!"

RJ: "Oh, but I am thinking like a raccoon. Delacroix is like me: he's been lied to by you. He knows what it's like to be betrayed, so he won't do the same because he has the experience of that feeling! And unlike you, he wouldn't say those things about me and my species."

Delacroix (voice is smooth as butter): "Yew make a mighty fine choice, chaoui...Mighty fine."

RJ: "Please, call me RJ."

Delacroix: "Very well, RJ. Now step aside fo'a moment while I's go 'n take care of'a personal matter...But yew're welcome to watch if yew want."

RJ (grins at how the tiger gave him a choice in the matter): "Sounds good...Carry on. I'll get the food ready for travel."

RJ lets Delacroix pass and the tiger takes his time to casually walk over to Vincent who, knowing what's done is done and that there's no way he can change things to his favor, shifts himself as best as he can to get into a defensive position. He accepts the fact that RJ has crossed him in a similar fashion that they would pretend during raids on animal families, only now it's for real. Vincent has nothing else to live for, except making his last stand a fight for the books. He is wounded, unable to fight at his best, and suffering the psychological loss of a business partner, but he's always ready for another round...Always...

Vincent: "You won't take me quietly, Del. You're gonna have to fight for your meal."

Delacroix: "Meal yew say? This's not a'bout food, tis a'bout revenge. And I'll tell yew how I's feel right now: like a score's all settled. Enjo-yoy the afterlife, Vinny...Yew've more than earned it."

Delacroix is so giddy with excitement that he feels like he's on the biggest sugar rush of his life, his tail swaying back and forth to further indicate this. And the fact that he'll feel even better once he starts makes him all the more delighted. He goes into a crouch, planning to pounce Vincent, when he feels something awkwardly touching his tail. He simply moves his tail as far to one side as he can and keeps it there, only for the feeling to happen again. At first he thinks it's a large bug crawling on him, but then the sensation feels like a nibble.

Given the position of his tail, Delacroix can simply look over his shoulder to get a full view of what's bothering him.

Delacroix (while turning his head): "What that be—?"

Thwack!, and all the tiger sees are stars, but Vincent saw the whole thing as clear as day, and can't help but smile. RJ had used his alligator grabber on Delacroix's tail and followed up with a golf club hit to the head!

The blow only fazes Delacroix for a few seconds, and when he comes to he turns toward the raccoon. His eyes narrow into little beads and fixate on RJ.

Delacroix (snarling in rage): "YEW COUILLON, FILTHY, LITTLE CRASSE, PIECE OF FATRAS! Tryin' ta pulla Benedict Arnold on ME?! I's gon' battre yew six feet under so that yewr carcass can geaux ahead and be eaten by da worms!"

Note: In Cajun slang "couillon" means stupid.
"Crasse" means low-life person.
"Fatras" means trash.
"Battre" means beat as in "beat up."

The feline crouches in preparation to mertilize the raccoon, but Delacroix doesn't get the chance to do any of those horrible things, because in his anger he forgot about the bear right behind him.

It all happens in burst of pure adrenaline. Vincent grabs the tiger by the tail using both paws, heaves up Delacroix, and slams him on the ground with all of his strength. Ignoring the pain in his knee, the bear swings his adversary around twice, hitting the trunk of a nearby tree both times in the process, before letting him fly through the air. Delacroix sees the boulder he's soaring toward and brings his legs out in front to brace for the impact. Unfortunately, this only worsens things for him because his hard touchdown breaks his four legs. Since the tiger hit the stone at an angle that looks like he was standing on his hind legs, all he can do is slide down while screaming in pain.

RJ is as sacred as he is astonished with Vincent's disproportionate strength. Apparently being half grizzly bear certainly has its benefits, and depending on the bear's mood he may or may not use that strength against RJ for what he had to put the ursine through. But that will come afterward. For now he needs to see what happens next.

Vincent goes to all fours so he can walk on his three unhurt limbs toward the downed tiger. The latter sees the bear's approach and tries to stand, only to crumble back on the ground from his injuries. For the first time since arriving, Delacroix has a look of true terror on his face, of knowing that he's going to die and that all he can do is wait for it to happen. He is helpless, at the bear's mercy, and he knows it too. The biggest problem about that: Vincent has little to no mercy. With that in mind, RJ follows three feet behind Vincent in case he needs to intervene so the bear won't take things too far—which will most likely happen.

The bear is now within striking distance of the feline, but always one to be vain, Vincent holds off a little while longer to say, or rather gloat, a few things.

Vincent (shaking his head side to side): "Del...Del...Del..." (Stops shaking his head) "You should know that tigers don't belong in America, expect behind a zoo cage or on a cereal box. And I'll tell ya how I feel right now: Grrrr-reat...that you'll be out of my fur permanently."

It's just as RJ feared. He thought Vincent would be more lenient on this enemy than the previous ones he fought off, but that is simply not the case. Still, he does his best to try what he always tried back then.

RJ: "Do you really have to kill him, Vincent? He's crippled and can't hurt us anymore."

Physically unable to speak but wanting to avoid his demise, Delacroix frantically nods with a pleading smile on his face...A smile that slowly and surely turns into a frown when the bear speaks again.

Vincent (addressing RJ but keeping his attention on the helpless tiger): "Broken bones will heal, and I don't intend on having this cat as an enemy any longer, if you get my drift...And guess what? You're gonna watch me send him to harp-land as punishment for using my trust and our deal against me...even if it did allow me to gain the upper hand."

RJ: "B-but, I-I-I—"

Vincent (glaring angrily at RJ and with his claws raised): "Or maybe you'd like to share this deadbeat's fate?!"

RJ (sighs and slouches): "Alright..."

Needing and willing to do whatever it takes to change Vincent's mind, Delacroix forces himself to speak. He can barely form words, but his strained voice indicates fear and pathetic desperation.

Delacroix: "V-V-Vince...ent...P-please...I's promise ta leave yew alone fer gewd. I's go back to India. I's be at yewr service forever! Anything! Jus' don't kill me!"

To RJ's shock and Delacroix's relief, Vincent lowers his claws and softens his expression.

Vincent: "Fine, then leave. Right now. Before I change my mind."

Delacroix smiles and tries to get up, but to his horror, he can't. He also can't drag himself either, the pain is too much. And when he looks to address Vincent—to ask for a hand or for a longer deadline—he discovers that the bear is watching him struggle and suffer with a warm smile on his face, and with his body in a relaxed position. All that's missing from the scene is a bag of popcorn and a delicious drink, but even without those Vincent is clearly enjoying every second of it.

Vincent (with a sinister smile): "IIIIIII'mmmm waaaaaiiiitiiiiiiinnng…."

Delacroix: "I's can't move! *cough cough*"

Vincent: "That's your problem, not mine."

Delacroix struggles (and suffers) even harder than before, but without his legs he can't budge an inch. The proud and boastful tiger actually starts to cry when he hears the next thing.

Vincent: "Time's up, Delacroix."

The bear's claws seem to go Shing! as they extend. He then moves closer...and closer. Then pauses to look over his shoulder and talk to RJ.

Vincent: "Remember to watch, RJ. I'll quiz you sometime later on what I'm about to do to ensure your eyes weren't closed."

RJ: "...Okay..."

There was nothing else RJ could do. He tried to avert this, tried to change Vincent's mind, but failed as he had with the bear's other enemies. He is also lucky enough that this is his punishment for pretending to cross Vincent, which is better than any physical punishment. Still, it won't be pleasant, punishments never are.

RJ spends only one, futile, moment trying to find some way to shift the blame of this to his parents or family in general. But just like the time he unintentionally made Vincent talk about his past, there is no one for RJ to blame other than himself...

RJ thinking: "I'm already getting sick of having to do that..."

With Vincent needing to walk on three of his legs, RJ had to haul the wagon of food from the beaver home back to Vincent's cave that the bear and raccoon now sit in. They had made a stop near the lake for Vincent to wash off from...well, doing what bear's do best to prey is the clean way to put it. But looking back on it, Delacroix wasn't prey because Vincent didn't eat a single bite of the tiger. In any case, five minutes after Vincent "began," Delacroix had spent all of his nine lives in one place, not that he had control over it. Ten minutes later, Vincent was satisfied and they began walking back.

Under Vincent's instructions, the pair made the return trip in silence, which was perfectly fine with RJ who needed to let his mind wander to other places to make the images stop flashing. That lasted until they returned to the cave, whereby RJ passed Vincent's "quiz." It wasn't hard to remember what had happened, rather it was very hard to watch what the bear did to the tiger, and recalling it made it worse.

Something that RJ noticed was that whenever Vincent "dealt" with his enemies, the bear pretended that he was attacking his parents, and the pretending turned into hallucinations which made his actions all the more deadly and ferocious. It sort of reminded RJ of his own extolling of emotions that he did once a week, except Vincent's had not the slightest trace of sorrow. No, it was pure, raw, unfettered anger...It was something RJ will never forget. If RJ had the choice, he actually would have preferred a physical punishment because those rarely sear themselves into his brain and memory.

The only thing that took RJ's mind off of Vincent's massacre was tending to the bear's injuries which is what the raccoon is currently doing. RJ's hobby of watching popular doctor drama shows has helped him in ways he never could have imagined. Vincent wasn't a stranger to television and probably would have learned the same things in the same way, but being a bear made it more difficult for him to watch shows without getting noticed by humans. So he finds himself begrudgingly relying on RJ to stitch the wounds in his leg. Even now, as RJ is almost done, Vincent has barely made a peep during the whole process. A small grunt was the only sound to escape the bear; the only sign that RJ is still in the presence of a real living organism that felt anything, and that seemed like an hour ago.

RJ: "A few more loops, Vincent."

Vincent: "How long will it be before I can walk on my injured leg again?"

RJ: "It's hard to say...How bad did it hurt after you, uh, 'finished up' with Delacroix?"

Vincent: "It stung like a beehive was on my leg...It still does too."

RJ: "Hmm...I guess it'll take two weeks minimum, and a month at most. I'll also need to go get some ice from the summer camp so you won't be in so much pain all of the time."

Vincent: "Humph. My life is pain, but ridding myself of Delacroix once and for all will be one of the highest of the low points of my lifespan."

RJ nods which hides the disgust and silent scowl at the bear's choice to include what he had done to the tiger as one of his life's high points. Pushing the thought away, he cuts the stitch string with a scalpel and says, "All done."

Vincent slouches his body down in a more relaxed position, but RJ stops him before he can do the same with his two hind legs.

RJ: "Don't move your leg yet. Not until I get the ice."

Vincent: "Alright. Then go, and don't make me wait for too long..."

RJ puts his first aid kit back in his bag, tightens the strap so it's nice and snug, then starts walking out. As RJ's hind feet touch the grass outside the cave, Vincent's voice causes the raccoon to stop.

Vincent: "Wait! Before you go for the ice, tell me why you turned on Delacroix? Did you really intend to betray me?"

RJ turns around to face Vincent before speaking, his paws still gripped on his bag's strap from the belief that the conversation will end with his answer.

RJ: "It was all a big lie, Vincent. I'd never betray you."

He would have left after that, but doesn't even turn his back on the bear once he notices Vincent doesn't seem convinced. And the bear's next question reflects this.

Vincent: "Why? Really, why?"

The raccoon sighs, lets his arms rest on his side, walks up to the larger animal, and climbs on the bear so that he and Vincent are eye to eye.

RJ: "Because we made a deal, Vincent. It's just like you said: you spared my life, you protected me from other predators, and taught me how to raid food from humans. I honor that, I really do. And above all else, I value our friendship."

Vincent (raises his eyebrow): "Friendship? How I see it, it's not friendship. It's servitude, and you're the servant."

RJ: "With all due respect, Vincent, I think you're wrong. A master doesn't do that kind of stuff for a servant, only friends help each other out like that...Not to mention I had just met the tiger. I'm not stupid enough to trust someone on the spot as fast as that."

Vincent: "You sure talked like you really meant to ditch me for that cat..."

RJ (flashes a smile): "It was all part of the act, Vincent. Weren't you playing along too?

Vincent: "No..."

RJ drops his smile when he sees the look of Vincent's eyes that clearly proves the bear wasn't kidding. Now it's RJ who has a quizzical eyebrow raised.

RJ: "I was that convincing?"

Vincent seems to feed off the uncomfort of others, because as soon as RJ had asked the question in a concerned voice, the bear's brain starts to work at full speed. Gone is the uncertainly, gone is the surprise. He has regained his initiative once again...the initiative to be heartless towards others and ruin the very ideal and virtues of family itself.

Vincent: "You sure were...Your idea of using how I spared your life, and still try to con me out of my food, is proof of your talent to win others' trust and then destroy it...RJ, I like you. I think you should con others more often."

RJ has been dying to hear something from Vincent ever since he hit Delacroix on the head with his golf club. He wanted to hear Vincent say "Thanks," or "Well done," or "Way to go,"—in other words, to receive praise for his actions that saved Vincent and benefited the two of them. The way Vincent had said his words, with such a bright smile and light mood rather than his normal dull and dark tone, convinces RJ that Vincent now accepts the raccoon as a friend at last. Moreover, it's the closest thing to praise that he'll get from this conversation, and he doesn't want to pass it up.

RJ: "Really? You think I'm up for it?"

Vincent: "I know you are. I can't help you on raids until I recover, so you'll need to get food solo for a while. And by being a conman, you can get the job done without needing my muscle. Isn't what you did to Delacroix the same thing, or at least similar, to what you did to your ex-girlfriend? Scratch that, of course it was. Don't you see that you have a gift, RJ? A gift that only someone like a raccoon can have! You're not a predator like me, so other animals will be more trusting of you. You always try to make the outcome of situations better for those who you're trying to sucker, you have such a friendly demeanor, and a smile always waiting. You're perfect for conning others!"

There it was again, the flash of brightness in Vincent's face, the twinkle in his eye, the almost musical ring to his voice.

The signs of the bear's true personality emerging at last.

RJ had had his doubts, but knew that, somehow, deep down Vincent isn't all hate, anger, and using others for his own selfish needs. He's an okay guy with a temper problem is all. It just took a while for his outer defenses to be breached, and now the bear is speaking from the bottom of his heart. But what really drives home the raccoon's convincement of Vincent's sincerity is how the bear pointed out qualities and a personal gift that even RJ couldn't see in himself. What kind of person does something like that other than a family member: A friend, a pal.

This makes RJ mirror Vincent's eagerness when he replies.

RJ: "Alright Vincent, if you believe in me, then I will too!"

RJ figures the best way to seal their newfound friendship and plan is by repeating Vincent's favorite motto.

RJ (Raises his right paw in a fist): "We're a lean, mean, food-stealing machine! Nothing can stop us!"

Vincent smiles at RJ's gesture and balls up his own right fist before responding.

Vincent: "We live for ourselves, do whatever we want, however we want...And mow down whoever gets in our way!"

RJ: "We keep that up, we'll never going hungry again!"

The two fist bump and hold their right paws still.

Vincent: "And we'll get everything we've ever wanted!"

The friends fist bump with their left paws, and then wiggle their fingers while slowly separating both paws.

When that's done, they both reflect on the same things.

In the short time that they have spent together, the raccoon and bear have gone through more life-things than most go through in their whole lifespans. They had met as adversaries, struck a deal to use their natural abilities to help each other out while developing new ones as they went along. Heists on humans and animals had made them allies, battles with rival animals had improved their comradery.

In all of those endeavors, RJ had always feared what would happen to him next. But now things are different for him at last. For the first time in his life with Vincent, RJ is willing to take a hack out of the unknown.

RJ thinking: "Look out world, here I come!"

However, RJ has been so pleased with Vincent's pep talk and confidence-boosting that he is mistaken about the bear's true intentions.

Vincent thinking: "This is too perfect! Everything is going my way as it always should. I have big plans for you, RJ...Pal."

Make that gravely mistaken...

I hope you caught the subtle Frosted Flakes reference, LOL! Just because this is a drama/angst story doesn't mean I can't sneak in some campiness into the mix.

Also understand that it wasn't my intention to stereotype people from Louisiana, I simply wanted to make a character with the spunk of Leatherhead from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and give it an Over the Hedge makeover.

But how will RJ's con-life go for him, his victims, and for Vincent? What is the bear's real motives for RJ? The next chapter will answer these questions and more, so keep being patient and you will be handsomely rewarded! The real, more intimate drama has yet to begun!

It's also worth saying that the story is winding to a close. I'd say no more than five chapters are left.

Moreover, I don't intend to revise any chapters beyond 16 because I'm gonna bring my A-game to each and every chapter for all of my stories from here on out. As this chapter hopefully demonstrated, I'm gonna make future chapters so great that they won't need any revisions.

See you next time, or whenever I update another one of my stories!