March 10, 2006
I opened my eyes. The room around me was a sterile white, lit by dully efficient fluorescent tubes in the ceiling. My body was resting on a bed lined with lightweight blankets. I felt scratchy all over, mostly due to a thin white hospital gown that served as my clothing. What the-? That meant someone else had dressed me. And my fur was clean. That meant someone had undressed me to wash my body. I felt violated.
My ears, normally so keen, had been off-duty. I now noted the whirring, buzzing or beeping sounds of machinery. A monitor to my left displayed my real-time vital statistics, pulse, blood pressure and heart rate. There were tubes connected to me, and sensors that fed the EKG machine data about my well-being. In the corner opposite my bed, a television was mounted on the wall. It was tuned to a local news channel with the sound muted. The anchor lady mouthed words I couldn't hear, but white subtitle text displayed what she was saying. "Congressman Jack Archer is in federal custody today facing charges of attempted homicide on a man and woman in connection to a tax evasion scheme that the FBI says may have lasted nearly three decades. Archer was taken into custody Wednesday when released from a hospital after it was believed he suffered an animal bite. The IRS issued a statement Thursday that Archer may have hidden several million dollars in income per year in offshore accounts. It was discovered that Archer had arranged for federal defense contracts to funnel money into his own company without revealing the conflict of interest. In other news, authorities are saying that the exciting vehicle pursuit through midtown Washington, D.C. three days ago may have been part of a movie stunt being filmed without permits. Police are investigating the incident." No mention was made of my escapades on the White House lawn. I chuckled. The government must be in full damage-control mode.
Ouch. It hurt to laugh. I looked down at my side and saw bandages covering the spot where an agent's bullet had gone in. Other bandages covered cuts and the puncture wound on my handpaw that I had suffered while vaulting over a spiky wrought iron fence in Philadelphia. My fur had been shaved in a few places to allow bandages to stick, or where it had been stained brown from dried blood. My personal clothing was all missing except for an old leather jacket draped over the back of a chair near the door. My cowboy hat sat on top of a manila envelope, which was placed atop a neatly folded, zigzag-patterned quilt. To the right of my bed was a small rolling table, upon which was a cheap glass vase filled with orange, white and yellow flowers. A get well card was leaned up against the vase. I smiled a little.
The door opened and a female doctor dressed in light blue surgical scrubs walked in. "Ahh, Mr. Tayle. You're awake. How do you feel?"
"I've been better," I said, surprised that the doctor was actually friendly. "But I've also been worse. Where am I?"
"You've been asleep nearly three days," said the doctor. "My name is Dr. Paula Klinger. You're at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. I'm told that you're a bit of a war hero."
War hero? That was a bit much. "I was just doing my job back then, ma'am," I said modestly.
"We all were," replied Dr. Klinger. "I served four years as an Army medic. When I came home I went to work here. I've seen all kinds of injuries. Never a patient like you, though."
I grinned. "This is what happens when you spend too much time in a foxhole, Doc."
A buzzer sounded outside my room. The doctor excused herself and walked out. Minutes later, she returned. "You have visitors," Klinger said, her voice sounding surprised.
A few people entered the room. The first I noticed was Diana, her bruised face on the mend. She was already beginning to look beautiful again. She threw her arms around me and we hugged for the first time in what felt like ages. Behind her was Bob Farley, who tipped his black FBI baseball cap when he and I made eye contact. Four more people walked in, one woman and three men. The first two were Diana's parents, Bill and Jean. The third, an old white-bearded man, was Dr. Ted Cardiff, followed by a much younger Latino man I recognized as Carlos Padrino, the BioCon custodian who had helped me escape several months before. "Hey, muchacho," Carlos said, "It's good to see you. I wondered what happened to you. Then I got a call from your girl two days ago. Figured I'd fly out and see the Capital for a little while. How're you doing, man?"
"Better now," I said with a pained smile as I held Diana's hand.
Cardiff walked slowly to the edge of the bed and looked down at me. "Hi, Dad," I said, unsure what else to call the scientist who had made me what I was. "I think I owe you an apology."
Cardiff looked like he was about to cry. "No, Fox. I'm a foolish old man and I should be the one apologizing. I'm sorry for what happened to you. I've agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department and testify against Archer. And I'm retiring."
I reached over to shake his bony old hand with my uninjured handpaw. "You're a better man than I gave you credit."
The door opened one more time and another man walked in, flanked by other men in dark suits. "Well, looks like the gang's all here," came the Texan-accented voice of the President of the United States. "I'll be fine, you guys can wait outside."
"Mr. President!" I said, shocked. "I, uh, wasn't expecting you, sir."
"Neither was I when you showed up outside my office a few days ago," President Bush said. "I've heard interesting things about you."
I gulped awkwardly. "What kind of things, sir?"
The President straightened his necktie. "The kind of things that most people would go to prison over. But you also did some remarkable deeds, acts of heroism at home and service to this country abroad. Luckily, Mr. Farley here says that the money confiscated by the IRS from Congressman Archer's accounts should cover the damage you've caused - or that he indirectly caused while trying to cover his tracks.
"You came all the way across this great nation to seek me out for mercy, Mr. Tayle. You probably didn't have to, and probably shouldn't have done it the way you did. But considering the odds against you, I'm impressed. I have issued a full presidential pardon. Your record, and yours too, Miss Foxworthy, are clean."
I was nearly speechless. "Th- thank you, sir," I stammered.
The President shook my handpaw firmly. "You will also be recognized as the first non-human United States citizen," he said. "You should receive the documentation in the mail soon. Congratulations, Fox."
Now I really was speechless.
The President checked his watch. "I have a Cabinet meeting in forty-five minutes, so I must be going." He shook hands with everyone and walked out the door.
"What just happened?" I said, stunned.
"I think we just got our lives back," Diana said softly.