PHILLIP TWOHANDS made his way quietly through the large dog door. Easing into the mudroom, he let the plastic flap trail along his backpack and slowly lowered his tail so that no sound betrayed his passage. I hope my information is right and the family’s out, he thought, moving from the mudroom into the kitchen. The whole place smelled overly clean, but beyond some old food, there were no recent scents of people or dogs. He relaxed.
The kitchen was as expensively outfitted as the rest of the place. High-end stainless steel appliances sat among black marble countertops. The black marble was also on the floor tiles, but his padded footfalls made no sound. Week-old pizza was the only thing that registered on his sense of smell, other than the recent use of ammonia cleaners.
From the kitchen he headed to the living room. The black tiles gave way to mahogany hardwood. Phillip stayed silent as he moved across the wood. His claws were retracted, and the heavy pads of his feet didn’t make a sound as he walked to the display cabinet next to the massive stone fireplace. Just as the information said, the shelves behind the glass held a selection of Hopi kachinas.
He quickly spotted the one that had a wolf’s head with real wolf fur around the neck. He shivered. This has to be the ugliest kachina I’ve ever seen. But I’m not being paid to be an art critic. I’m being paid to steal this thing and get it back to Francis Mendoza. I still don’t know why he couldn’t just send a member of his pack for it.
Phillip turned from the display case and looked around the living room. He shook his head. No obvious cameras. With all the ones outside, I’m surprised by that.
Taking a deep centering breath, Phillip willed himself to drop his puma form and become human. The wood floor was colder on his bare feet than it had been on his paws. The air conditioner blew cold air that raised goose pimples on his arms. He wondered why they had to keep things so cold in the rich houses.
He shivered as he took his backpack off and opened it. The soft silk cloth he’d been given to transport the thing unfolded easily in his hands. Phillip hung it over his arm as he pulled on the display case door. It didn’t budge. He glared at it. Just my luck. I knew this was going too easily. I bet he’s got the key on him too.
After setting the backpack on the floor in front of the case, then draping the silk over it so he could still access the side pocket, he pulled out a lockpicking kit. He selected two picks and made short work of the lock.
As he opened the case, an alarm rang out, and every light in the house came on. “Shit!”
Phillip grabbed the wolf-headed kachina and quickly wrapped it in the silk. He still had plenty of room in the backpack, so he grabbed a few of the other figures as well but didn’t bother wrapping them. Even as he slipped the backpack over his shoulders and snapped its waistband shut, he shifted back to his puma form.
Once again on four paws, Phillip ran for the dog door. Every few feet, the sound of a well-hidden still camera clicking was louder than the alarm. He didn’t care how he’d managed to miss it previously. How will they be able to track a mountain lion with a backpack on? And who would believe them anyway? Lions don’t wear backpacks and break into houses to steal things.
Phillip made it almost all the way across the side yard and to the safety of the desert when a loud roar overpowered the alarms from the house. The sound caused him to stumble. Who the hell is that?
Something moved from behind a large rock where the manicured lawn gave way to desert scrub. Phillip tried to dodge, but it caught him in the hip and spun him around as he scrambled to stay on his feet.
The bright lights from the house and porch momentarily blinded him. Phillip blinked. A large sleek silhouette inserted itself between him and the house. It was a huge cat, nearly twice his size.
“You’re not trying to leave with that, are you?” the huge cat asked in the guttural language wers used.
“What does it matter to you?” Phillip hadn’t encountered any wer-scent in the house.
“Depends on what you’ve got in the bag.” The bigger cat stalked closer to him. “If it’s a really ugly wolf kachina, I’m going to have to take it off your hands.”
Phillip shook his head and slowly backed toward the desert, hoping the guy hadn’t brought friends. “Nope. No wolf kachina in here. Why would I worry about a wolf kachina when they have a lot of more valuable things in there? If that’s what you’re here after, maybe you should wait for the alarms to stop and go in. There’s a nice big doggie door. Even a large guy like you could easily slip into it.” So why does he want this ugly-ass doll?
“I think I need to see what’s inside the pack before I let you go scampering off into the night.” The bigger cat moved enough that the lights from the house illuminated the orange-and-black rosettes making up his coat.
There’s no way I can take a jag. But I can outrace him. Jags aren’t made for distance running like pumas are. They’re sprinters. With another shake of his head, Phillip turned toward the desert and the freedom it offered. “Sorry. I’ve got places to be.” He jumped to the left and bent in the air, trying desperately to not be where the jaguar would come down. When his feet hit the still-warm sands, he took off at his top speed.
The jaguar roared behind him. The sounds of pursuit didn’t diminish as Phillip hoped. He didn’t stop; he ran for all he was worth, moving like a fleeing rabbit in an odd zigzag line across the dirt. Normally he liked running through the desert at night. It wasn’t hard to outrun regular dogs and coyotes. He’d even outrun werewolves before. But he’d never been chased by a werejaguar.