A panther is a panther from birth. No matter where and how it’s raised, a panther cannot survive on grass alone. No one thinks the panther evil for eating another animal – it needs to do it to survive. But the difference between a panther and the beings he’d seen was plain in it’s grim clarity; their hunting game was the same as a humans.
Looking back at it, it frustrated Leon that he’d had to work so hard to even be believed. When he had cast his bet that the lady was a criminal, his colleagues snorted at him. Who? That itty-bitty little woman? What in the world could a waif of a lady like that do? Beat someone to death with those humongous mounds?
But he’d gone on and spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to prove his prophecy correct, though without any current case on her it had proven to be more difficult than he’d thought. And every time he thought he had something, enough to call her in for questioning, she’d just cracked that slyly innocent smile:
“Isn’t that classified as an accidental death? I don’t know exactly what you’ve got in your file there, but he died after drinking. So, you’re saying I killed him by forcing him to drink?” She made a show of flexing her thin arms, as though she didn’t even need to say it wasn’t possible.
“It’s possible. But if someone asked me how it was done, I just couldn’t say for sure. I just called you in to tell you we were investigating you.”
She leant an elbow on the table, her hand resting in her palm.
“Investigating me? Really?”
“Yes, we are. You’re bound to slip up at some point. Everyone leaves a trail behind.”
“You say a trail, like evidence you mean? Fingerprints, hair, CCTV footage, that sort of thing?” she scoffed slightly.
“There are cameras all over. Cars have black boxes. A mistake, carelessness, whatever it is, will happen at some point. That’s all I’m waiting for.”
The lady chuckled softly and fiddled with her nails. His gaze dropped to her hands, lingering there when he saw the rough skin of her fingertips under the neatly trimmed nails. It looked for all the world like she had been burned by touching her fingers to something white-hot.
“Well, with all this CCTV and security footage, the real killer is bound to be caught soon, right?” she replied, “Thank you so much for creating a safe world where I can live comfortably.” The voice was thick with sarcasm. “It makes a poor little woman like me so anxious to live alone…”
Before she could make a move to stop him, his hand shot out, grabbing hers in a vise-like grip. She was neither surprised nor moved to pull her hand away. Humoring him, she let him pull her hand closer, as he spread her fingers apart clumsily with his own.
She didn’t have any fingerprints. Only round burn marks like someone had pressed down on the tip of each one with a burning cigarette butt. His eyes turned upward to her face, shocked at the revelation. She just grinned and turned her hand over, before running her fingers over his, stroking them gently.
“I’ve been told this feels pretty good; do you think so? I wouldn’t know.”
At the touch of her fingertips on his skin, goosebumps flared along the skin of his arm and there was a tingling in his privates. It had been so long since a woman, any woman, had made him react like this that he needed a second to figure out what was happening.
It had been five years since his divorce; he hadn’t had physical contact with a woman since. It had more than a lasting effect on him, extending even to when his friends chit-chatted back and forth about women in the way men do. Even when they had tried to drag him to the bar or some seedy club, he was the first to stand up and decline. He’d stopped counting the days since his so-called friends had called him to hang out like that. But it didn’t matter. At his age, he knew he didn’t need that sort of occasion anymore.
“That must hurt pretty badly,” he said, trying to ignore the sensation she had stirred in him.
She tilted her head.
“Physical pain gets erased from my memory pretty quickly. I don’t even remember how painful it was.”
The lady was a tough cookie; wise beyond her years, he thought. How old was she, now he was looking more closely; he thought she was at least in her mid-teens, maybe? It was unclear. Her ID said 28, but that couldn’t be true. Could it?
She smiled, almost as if she knew that the game she had been playing was already won.
“I can’t wait to see how… carefully you’ll be watching me.”
Another smile; a predator’s smile. Eating him up already. Maybe that’s how a panther laughs when she finds a fat, chubby prey that can’t move. Easy money.