I’m not sure if I came in because I could smell the fresh meat, or if it was to see what all the shouting was about. My owner shouting, in and of itself, was not unusual, but he rarely sounded this angry towards his own men. And that made me curious.
I made my way through the hatchway from my outside enclosure and sauntered over to the inner gate where my evening meal, a large leg of deer, lay in the straw. I clamped my teeth around it and carried it over towards the far corner, where I could lay down and watch the show while I liberated the meat from the bone with my rough tongue.
My owner was Sir Corwain Dorsey the 3rd. Although that wasn’t really his name.
And he bought his title.
And he wasn’t the 3rdof anything.
He had climbed up through the ranks of the local mob and had created a name and title for himself that would sound impressive for when he eventually took over the mob, having killed the previous mob boss. Or at least that's what his bodyguards joked about when he wasn't around.
I looked up from the deer leg each time his voice rose to a crescendo.
‘What do you mean 3 more have walked out?!’ He was shouting at his head bodyguard, Rakshaw. ‘Fuck!' He shouted as he threw the empty glass in his hand across the room, smashing it against the far wall. ‘Who?’
Rakshaw nodded discretely to the other bodyguard in the room, who went behind the bar and lined up 3 glasses, half-filling each from a bottle that was already open. He handed one to Rakshaw, one to Dorsey and downed the third in one swift tilt of his head.
‘Tomosh, Fields, and Wilson. About 20 minutes ago.’ Rakshaw replied as he took the glass. ‘That leaves us down to eight men guarding the perimeter wall, and another four at key points around the house, plus Joe and myself. I’ve doubled the bonus you promised everyone and have personally checked all the security systems on the estate. I don't think any more will walk, but we are doing regular radio checks, just to be sure.’
Dorsey sipped his drink and looked over at the man who poured it. ‘What about you?’
The man poured himself another drink as he spoke; ‘I've been a part of this family a long-time boss,’ he paused to down his drink, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’
‘Good. Get your sniper rifle and find a good spot on the roof. If you see her, shoot her. And Joe, if you see anyone else trying to leave the estate, take ‘em out. Nobody else leaves until she is dead.'
‘Got it, boss.'
As Joe left the room, Rakshaw downed his drink before checking the clips in both of his handguns and placing them back into the holsters inside his jacket. He then drew out a third gun that was tucked in his belt behind his back and handed it to Dorsey, along with two spare clips, saying, ‘just in case.’
Dorsey put them on the bar, and then picked up his phone and turned away from Rakshaw. He made several phone calls in quick succession, each one ended with him shouting and swearing at the person on the other end, promising that when this was over, he’d remember who was there for him, and who wasn’t. Then he’d swear some more at the air in general before making another call.
Meanwhile. Rakshaw did a radio check with his team. ‘This is Rakshaw,’ he said into the radio, ‘check-in, location, and status.' The replies came back very quickly and efficiently, almost military style.
‘Peters, main gate, all clear.’
‘Lim, NW corner, all clear.’
‘Gibbons, West wall, all quiet here.’
‘Fitz, SW corner, all good.’
‘Roy, South wall, all clear.’
‘Mercer, SE corner, all clear.’
‘Wormley, East wall, clear.’
‘Baldwin, NE corner, clear.’
‘Tom, statue, all clear.’
‘Dolan, pool house, clear.’
‘Macey, garage is all clear.’
‘Cross, garden, clear.’
‘Harman, rooftop, everything is quiet from here.’
We were in probably the most secure room of the house. The only exterior door to this room is my hatchway, which would require someone to get down on their hands and knees to crawl through, plus, the door to the hatch only opens from the outside for me, thanks to a small device on my collar that triggers the system to open the door. And if someone did come in that way, they’d be trapped in a small enclosure with me, a full-grown black panther. Not that I’d hurt anyone if they did come in that way, but they wouldn’t know that. Dorsey tried to get me to maul someone to death for him once, not long after he got me. But that’s just not my style. I did lick the poor man’s face though, but that’s as scary as I get.
A tenth of my total enclosure is inside this room, of which it takes up about a quarter, and is separated from the rest of the room by metal bars and a wide gate. The rest of my space is outside, in a large fenced in area with trees and platforms to climb on, tall grass to hide in and a small stream and pond.
Dorsey uses the rest of this room as his main office and has all of his most important interactions here. There is a long table in the centre of the room for formal meetings, large chairs and a sofa at the far end of the room for more relaxed encounters, and of course a fully stocked bar in the far corner.
Apart from the stuffed heads of a number of large predatory animals hanging on the walls, I am his most prized possession, and something he loves to show off to his guests. I am, as he puts it, ‘a real-life black panther. Not a domesticated, docile clone or some shit like that.’He goes on to claim that he captured me himself, after a long and difficult hunt through a dense forest on some distant planet. Which isn’t true at all. He bought me from poachers who came to my planet and took me from my dead mother’s side when I was a cub. In fact, I doubt he killed any of the magnificent animals whose heads adorn his office.
Outside of this room, is a long hallway that leads to the rest of the house. The door to this room, and the door at the end of the hallway, both require a series of numbers to be entered into a pad on the wall before they’ll open. I’m sure that whatever was going on, Dorsey felt safe here.
Several minutes passed as Rakshaw talked on his radio coordinating his men, Dorsey shouted down his phone at people and I was peeling wide swaths of meat off of the bone. The tension in the air was palatable, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
It was then that I felt it, although ‘felt’, might not be quite the right word. It was more like I heard something, or someone, coming close to the estate, but it wasn’t a sound that registered in my ears, more like a presence that I both heard and felt in my head. Someone with a very powerful mind was close by, and they were scanning the minds of every living creature in the area, human and animal. I hadn’t experienced this sensation since I was a cub back on my own planet, and I had completely forgotten how comforting it was. Although I had no idea who this person was, suddenly I didn’t feel alone anymore.
I looked over at the two men, but they didn’t seem to notice anything was different. Then, all the hairs on my body stood up on end, and I reflexively pulled my ears back and rose to a standing position. I found myself scanning the room, back and forth, up and down with my eyes, but I wasn’t doing it. I pushed back with my mind, and for the briefest of moments, I was standing in a wooded area outside the high wall that surrounded the estate. Then my mind was clear again, a fresh shudder ran down my back as if I were flicking off water. That was veryweird.
Both men turned to look at me, and I looked back at them. Then I laid back down, but I didn’t return to the meat. I just kept watching them.
Dorsey snapped his fingers and then pointed to the door. Rakshaw nodded and left the room. Dorsey, meanwhile, picked up a spare radio from a rack of radios mounted on the wall and turned it on.
Ten or fifteen minutes passed in complete silence, as the scent of fear permeated the room.
Then there was a loud crackle that made Dorsey jump, and Rakshaw’s voice came over the radio. He was asking all his men to check in with their status and position again. About 15 seconds passed without anyone speaking while Dorsey adjusted the volume and set the radio on the bar while he poured another drink.
Then a voice came out of the radio, ‘Wormley, East wall, haven’t seen or heard a thing.’ Followed by…
‘Dolan, pool house all good.’
Macey, garage, all clear.’
Cross, garden clear.’
‘Joe, rooftop. Not seen any movement, in or out.'
A few seconds of silence, then Rakshaw’s voice cut the airways again. ‘Everyone! Check in.' He paused for several seconds but there was only silence. ‘Joe, who do you have eyes on?’
‘I can only see Cross and Wormley. Macey and Dolan are hidden by, oh, wait, there they are. They’ve stepped around the corner of the garage and pool house. I can’t see Fitz, Roy or Mercer.’ There was a moment of silence. ‘I’ve moved to the North, can’t see anyone from here either, I should be able to though.’
Rakshaw cut in again, ‘Wormley, do a sweep around to the North, and Dolan, check the West wall.’
‘Wormley, Dolan! Respond.’
‘Joe here, Wormley is no longer at his post.’
‘Cross. Check on Dolan,’ Rakshaw said, clearly trying to keep his voice calm.
There was no reply.
The momentary silence was broken by the sound of gunfire, although it was muffled by the thick walls of the house.
Joe's voice crackled on the radio, ‘It came from the South East, hold on, I’m going to that side of the roof now.’ A few seconds passed. ‘I can’t see anyone from here. The grounds look clear. Going to a 360 perimeter sweep around the roof, see if I …’
The radio fell silent.
Dorsey, who had been staring intently at his radio lunged for it as if his life depended upon it. ‘Rakshaw! Rakshaw, get back here, now!’
‘On my way boss,’ came Rakshaw’s voice. ‘Joe, Joe, are you there? Respond.’
A minute, that seemed like an hour, crawled past as I watched Dorsey. He had started pacing back and forth down the length of the room, the radio in his left hand, the gun in his right.
As he neared the left end of my cage, several high-pitched beeps rang out from the door to my right.
Dorsey raised the radio up to his lips and breathed into it, ‘Rakshaw, is that you?’ He released the transmit button and waited a few seconds as the beeps continued. ‘Rakshaw, are you outside the door? Respond.’ Again, he waited.
The beeps stopped and there was a click as the door unlocked.
Dorsey raised the gun and unloaded the entire clip, punching a dozen holes through the door at chest height. The air was filled with the scent of sweat, fear, and gunpowder.
Throwing the radio towards the long table, which it missed and bounced off the back of a chair, Dorsey began to fumble in his suit jacket pocket for the spare clip. He squeezed a button on the gun and the empty clip fell to the floor, he then shoved the new one in and loaded the first round into the chamber.
When he looked up, a woman was standing just inside the door. She was tall and slim and wearing a long black coat that went all the way to the ground. The hood of the coat was pulled back, revealing long, dark red hair, tied back and tucked into the coat. She had bright, piercing green eyes and wore blood red lipstick.
Dorsey pointed the gun right at her. ‘We don’t have to do this. You can walk away now.’
The woman smiled. ‘You and I both know, it's too late for that.'
‘I will pay you. I’ll double, no, triple what you’re getting.’
The woman almost chuckled. ‘Now, now Corwain, you know how this game is played. It doesn’t work that way. You also know reputation is more important than money.’ She looked slowly over at me. ‘And I have a reputation to keep. What would people say if I let you live?’ She turned back to face Dorsey. ‘But, in light of our past work together, put down the gun and I’ll make it quick and ...’
But before she could finish her sentence, Dorsey squeezed the trigger three times in short but measured intervals.
The room once again rang with the reverberating sound of gunfire and bullets striking the far wall.
The woman had ducked. First to the right, then down, then spun completely around towards the left as she straightened back up. The first two bullets missed her completely, but the third struck her in the back of her left shoulder as she turned away from Dorsey. There was a bright blue flash emitted from the coat at the impact point, and the bullet fell harmlessly to the ground.
As she continued to spin, coming back around to face Dorsey, she stretched out her right arm in a downward angle, and a long jet of black smoke seemed to erupt from her partially closed hand. The smoke shot out in a slightly curved line, and as this woman spun, the smoke trailed away and then dissipated. Left in its place was a long, thin sword that flickered brightly from the office lights. At just about the same time, she did a little flick with her left index finger, and the hood on her coat sprung up over her head.
In an instant, the woman completely vanished.
The look of shock on Dorsey’s face was priceless. He started frantically waving the gun around the room, firing every second or two in all directions, but thankfully not towards my enclosure.
I, however, knew exactly where she was. There were three things that gave her location away. First, she was wearing a mild perfume, a sweet rose scent, that I could smell moving across the room. Also, I could just about hear her. She was quiet, and I’m sure no human ear had a hope of detecting her at all, but I could just make out the sound of the carpet fibres bending under her feet and a slight creak in the floorboards. And with that information, I was able to watch the carpet closely and could see where the carpet moved, ever so slightly, with each step.
Fifteen seconds later the gun stopped firing.
If Dorsey had bothered to look at me, he would have seen that I was staring at a space behind him and to his right, which is where I was positive the woman was standing.
The empty clip dropped out of the gun’s handle as Dorsey reached for the other one in his pocket, and at the same time woman’s hood slipped down off her head and she became visible again. Her right arm swung upwards, and the long sword freed Dorsey of his right hand and the gun it contained.
Dorsey jerked his arm into his chest and spun around to face the woman, but just then the sword swung again in a sweeping arc, liberating Dorsey of his head.
No sooner had the sword come to a stop that it seemed to turn into a long tail of black smoke. When the smoke dissipated, the sword was gone.
The woman stepped away from Dorsey’s body, being careful to avoid the small pool of blood forming around his neck, and came a few feet closer to my cage, crouched down and looked me straight in the eyes.
I stared back into hers.
And then there was that feeling again as if someone were tapping on my mind with their mind. Exploring the boundaries of my thoughts with their thoughts, asking to come in.
She scared me, and I didn’t want to let her in. But at the same time, it had been so, so very long since I felt the touch of another mind. It awoke a longing inside of me that made my ears twitch and gave me no choice but to open up. Not because I was forced, but because I wanted it. Even if this turned out badly, I had to experience this connection.
So, I let down my guards and opened myself to her thoughts.
After a moment, she said, or maybe thought-spoke, ‘I don’t know who or what you are, but you are more than you seem, aren’t you?’ It felt like a rhetorical and obvious question, so I didn’t respond during the pause that followed. ‘If you stay here, I don’t think it’ll end well for you. I have no idea what the authorities on this planet will do with an animal like yourself. If I let you out, you can come with me, but promise you won’t attack.’ I nodded with my head, but also inside my head at the same time. ‘Ok. We’ll see if we can find you a better home than this.’
With that, she went to the gate and fiddled with the lock for a moment. Then, after she stepped back, there was a muffled pop and a puff of smoke. She pushed the gate wide open, and said, ‘come, and be as quiet as you can.’