Chapter 56: Hello, Kitty
I had said my goodbyes back at the hacienda, so when I got to the plane there wasn’t much to do except greet Al at the door. I didn’t have much, just a small bag with a change of clothes and some toiletries, mainly because I didn’t HAVE much. When the Pack left my house suddenly, my clothes and possessions were all left behind. I literally could carry all my worldly possessions in a carry-on bag right now.
There wasn’t much to do on the flight except talk to Al, so I did. I found out about his background, and his position in the CIA. It was an interesting job, at least; he got a lot of stuff done with none of the red tape. He reported directly to the CIA director, and his operation was completely off-books. If anyone ever checked, he was a Senior Advisor to the Director, not that he was often in his office. He had been in the CIA since he left the Green Berets at age 28 with a medical retirement. He made his career in the Cold War, running operations behind the Iron Curtain, but most of their work lately had been in the terrorism and drug fields.
One of the things that I asked him about, I was hesitant of because I didn’t know if I could trust him. “Al, how safe is my Pack on the island?”
He smiled and looked right into my eyes. “As safe as I can make them, Ella. The paper trail on this island is an lawyer’s nightmare; there are shell companies upon shell companies, mostly out of the US, to hide it. The CIA’s direct ownership ended in the fifties, and no one will go back that far. My group bought the island years ago as a covert base for the drug war in the 80’s with Reagan, and it has remained off the books since. Your lawyer’s shell company bought it in a legal transaction, filed under Panamanian law. The financial transactions were all offshore. In other words, the paper trail is a dead end.”
“All right, but who knows about us there?”
“I do, and so does Black Ker. She needed to know because it was part of the deal I made her when she wanted to get you out of that hospital. She likes you, Ella, and doesn’t want you to regret your decision to help her. She’s helped you survive before, and she really does want you and your Pack to survive this crazy war. As for me, keeping them safe is good for me because it keeps you focused.”
“What about after this mission? What then?”
“You go home and I forget about you. My time is nearly done in the CIA, Ella. I should have retired five years ago, I only stayed on out of loyalty to the Director. With the new administration and their reliance on electronic information, I’m a dinosaur. Ker doesn’t want to keep going, either. She hasn’t said anything, but I see it in her eyes. She’s tired, she’s having a baby, and she doesn’t need the risk or the money. She’s done enough. So, I guess the answer is we all pack up our toys and go home.”
I thought this over, something in the back of my mind told me this was all too easy, that there had to be a catch. I was starting to suspect this was more of a suicide mission than I had been lead to believe. “So where are we headed?”
“Quantico. We need to train you in long range shooting, and fast. We have use of a closed range there, and military instructors who will teach you what you need to know. We’re going to keep it simple; you’ll learn one simple rifle system, the Marine M40 sniper rifle in .308 Winchester. It’s accurate out to a thousand yards and utterly reliable. Ker is going to meet us there, she’s going to change you as soon as possible, since we don’t know how the change is going to affect your shooting. You are going to be busy; between the shooting, the physical fitness and training in your panther form, it’s going to be harder than anything you’ve ever done.”
“Great.” I looked down at my body. “I did what I could to stay in shape, but we’ll see how that translates.”
“Ker has high hopes for you, she was thrilled to see you in as good a shape as we found you.”
“Well, if it wasn’t for Meatloaf Mondays I might have gained a few pounds.” I closed my eyes, shutting out the memories that came forward. “Thank you for getting Charlie out of there. If I get nothing else done, at least I saved that boy and got him a home.”
“You’re a good person, Ella. Like I said, a fascinating combination of talent and personality. I’m glad you said yes.”
We ate a meal out of the cooler and I fell asleep to the drone of the engines. When we arrived, we taxied directly into a hanger and the doors were closed before we opened the door. Ker was waiting, leaning back against a Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows. “Good flight?”
“Not bad,” I said as I ran over to give her a hug. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me, my Pack is safe and happy now and that is such a relief for me.”
She smiled as she got in the back with me and Al got in to drive. We drove out of the airport and headed towards Quantico; the Company had a remote, discreet safe house on the grounds for agents in training. We were going to be the only ones there. “So, you ready to make the change?”
“Now?” I looked around, we were going to be spending a while in the SUV heading there, what if it went bad?
“Yes, may as well. This isn’t a forced turn, you won’t come out all piss and vinegar. Besides, after you’re bitten you have tonight to relax into the change. I’ll be there with you to help you through, not that I think you’ll need it.”
I thought about it for a moment, deep inside I longed to be complete again and I didn’t want to delay any longer. “All right,” I said, “Where do you want to do this? Nothing on the neck or shoulder, that’s only for Craig.”
She smirked. “As if. The thigh would be easiest, but I don’t know how long the turn will take and we’re going running in the morning first thing. I’m thinking the arm?”
I pulled my T-shirt up and offered her the tricep, thinking that was the best place for what was sure to be a painful bite. Ker pulled her dress off, folding it and placing it in the front seat before placing her underwear on top. Al kept his eyes on the road, respecting her privacy. She kneeled on the floor in front of the seat, I pulled my legs up to get them out of the way. I watched as her pregnant belly went forward, and her change overtook her. In seconds, a jet black panther was filling the space.
“Wow, you’re beautiful,” I said as I stroked her head and scratched her ears. She rubbed the side of her face on my leg. I explored her body, underneath the dark fur were faint spotted patterns. She was strong and intimidating, with huge paws and very sharp claws, and big teeth that shined bright when she yawned. She sat down, her long tail flicking back and forth as she looked at me. “Oh,” I said. I put my left arm in front of her mouth and closed my eyes, anticipating the pain which was to come.
“SHIT! That hurt!” She had bitten quickly, but deep. I held my hand over the bloody holes from her large canines as the blood oozed out, thankfully she didn’t hit an artery. She quickly shifted and grabbed the first aid kit from under the seat. Once the saliva entered the wound, there was no stopping it. She placed a battle dressing over the wound, hoping the Quickclot would reduce the bleeding, and wrapped it with tape.
“With the shift, this won’t take long to heal. If it isn’t healed by morning, we know I was wrong.” She wiped her hands on a towel then got dressed while I processed what she just said.
“What do you mean, if you’re wrong? Don’t you know?”
“I took a guess. It’s not like there are plenty of suitable former werewolves around to test out.”
I was a bit pissed off, thinking this was a done deal. “What happens if I don’t gain the cat?”
“Then we thank you for your time, settle the bill and send you back home,” Al said. “There’s no way you can do the job without a Panther form. We’d be better off sending in a sniper team, or just bombing the shit out of them.”
“Well, that sounds like a decent idea to me,” I said as I cleaned the blood off my clothes.
“Kind of hard to blame it on Ker when you drop a thousand-pound bomb,” Al said. “We’ve got a good plan, Ella, we’ll prepare you and I’m confident you will do the job.”
We discussed the basics of the plan on the rest of the drive, as I ignored the pain from the bite. Basically, I was going to spend a lot of time learning to shoot so I could make one shot count. The better I was, the safer I was, since a longer shot for a kill meant I started farther away from the house when the alarm went out. I thought I was a pretty good shot for a country girl, but I’d never had coaching beyond my father and never had to shoot past a couple hundred yards.
Finally, we arrived at the ranch house in the middle of the Virginia hills. Al dropped us off, he said he’d check in periodically, but Ker was in charge of my training. We ate dinner and sat on the back porch for a while, drinking beer and watching the sunset, before we called it a night. She warned me it would be an 0500 wakeup.
I took the bandage off in the shower, hoping that the news was good. When the blood-soaked dressing came off, I looked at the arm and saw the wounds had healed over; the skin was bright pink, and the arm was sore, but it was WERE HEALING! I let out a yell and pounded on the wall. A few seconds later, Ker ran into the bathroom in her robe. “You alright?”
“I’m better than all right. LOOK!” I held my arm out the shower door; she moved it around, checking the four major punctures, before letting it go.
“It looks good, I’m happy for you,” she said. “Now clean up and get to sleep. You don’t want to run ten miles around here with the sun up too high.” She closed the door and I took my time cleaning the blood and enjoying the shower after the long plane rides. As I went into the bed, my big regret was that I couldn’t talk to Craig and give him the news. We had agreed that it was best not to communicate with the island unless it was absolutely necessary.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling itchy all over; looking at the clock, it was 0330. The sheets became uncomfortable, as did my clothes so I got out of them. I could feel the shift coming. Closing my eyes, I went to that spot in my mind that my wolf and I used to meet. I stood there in the dark space, feeling her approach as a black panther padded silently towards me. She was just a little more prominent in her spotted pattern that Ker had been, but no less beautiful. She was strong, agile and absolutely deadly, and I was in love with my cat at first look.
I opened my arms to her and she sat down, placing her head on my shoulder as we bonded. Her instincts were similar, yet different from that of my wolf and that was all right. I opened my memories to her; my parents, my wolf, the revenge I had undertaken and the memories of my mate and my children. I held her tight as she took in what she had missed in my life; sometimes growling, sometimes purring, even a few coughs in there as she laughed. “Come on,” I said when she had caught up. “Why don’t you take over and run?”
“You sure,” she said in my mind? I hugged her and stepped back, and she walked forward as I sat down. When I opened my eyes again, I was in cat form on my bed. We quickly learned to share, and I mentally smacked myself for not opening the bedroom door first. I reached out in my mind, showing the cat how to grab the knob in her teeth and rotate her head until it pulled open. We padded silently through the dark hallway until we reached the sliding glass door. I smacked the lock open then used a paw to pull it open. I trotted out into the yard, stretching and rolling on the grass as I looked up at the stars above.
I yawned, then let out a roar before leaping into the woods behind the house. I was loving my cat eyes; they were more light-sensitive than the wolf eyes I had before, since panthers often hunted by moonlight or in dark jungles. Everything felt looser as a cat, the gait was smooth and silent. I loved the feel of her, I loved having the animal back in my head, I loved my enhanced strength and senses. I ran through the trees, just enjoying my freedom and my beast.
When I caught the smell of deer, I froze. Raising my nose, I scented three of them below me near a swampy area. I circled until I was directly downwind of them, then started to stalk. My cat’s instincts guided the hunt as I moved silently through the trees and shrubs towards them. I was silent death. When I was within ten yards, I waited until the doe looked away from me to nibble on a bush and leaped forward.
With a couple quick steps and a powerful bound, I crashed down on the doe and caught her neck just above the body in my teeth. My weight knocked her over and my powerful neck muscles twisted, causing a loud snap to echo through the forest. I sat up, face bloody and the metallic warm taste on my tongue, and thought this was one of the best moments of my life. I raised my head and roared to the moon, then tore into my breakfast with gusto.
I had just pulled out the liver and gulped it down in a single bite when I heard a low growl from behind me. I spun around, my front left paw on my kill, and saw the panther approaching slowly. She sat, her head moving to the side, and I gave a quiet cough and moved over. She moved up to me, licking the blood off my face then dug into the stomach cavity and started to eat.
We ate our fill, then headed back towards the house. The morning run was forgotten as we showered and collapsed back on our beds, our bellies distended with fresh meat.