An Excerpt from "Cooley's Panther",
a paranormal romance short story, 2nd ed
(Originally published in the SUM3 Anthology, now OOP)
“Look here.” She met Officer Mofield on her flagstone porch and shoved the print-out into the uniformed woman’s hands. “Tell me that’s not a panther. Well, really, a leopard, but panther’s the most common name for the black ones.”
“Cooley, you have to quit making prank... Holy moly! That’s some alley cat. When did you take this?” The officer dropped one hand to her hip and unsnapped her weapon holster, eyeing the neat hedge that lined Cooley’s front porch with suspicious eyes.
“About five this morning, right before sunrise.” Cooley’s heart raced with the excitement of the finally vindicated. “The zoo denies it, but after they misplaced those gazelles last year they probably don’t want to publicize another escapee.”
Officer Mofield shook her head. “They’d be legally obligated to report something like that.”
The officer’s doubt didn’t change the fact the animal had been caught in the crosshairs of Cooley’s digital camera. “I had to lighten the image to reveal the cat’s silhouette. If I could get a better shot in sunlight, you could see the rosette markings underneath all that melanin. Beautiful animal, but he’s out of his element.” Cooley’s finger traced the sleek, black body of the loping panther in the photo.
Officer Mofield looked up from the paper. “Can you show me this location?”
“It’s in the back. We’ll go through the house.”
Before the policewoman entered, she flicked on her radio and muttered something to dispatch telling animal control to get their hind ends up here after all.
“Coffee or ice tea?” Cooley offered. She didn’t want to delay the search, but her grandmother, a firm advocate of Southern hospitality, taught her she’d catch more rabbits with a carrot than a snare. Cooley was only thirty, but that was no reason to disdain good old-fashioned manners.
“Maybe later,” the officer said. “Right now let’s check this animal sighting.”
Cooley allowed Officer Mofield to precede her to the screened back porch and the freshly mown yard. Good thing she’d just cut the grass or no telling what her guest would think. Sometimes she let it go two, three weeks since her privacy fence concealed it from the neighbors. Everybody needed a secret, and that was one of hers.
Aside from that, she had the greenest lawn on the block—not like 2201, two doors down. That yard was half crabgrass and the other half dirt. Some guy had moved in months ago, and she rarely saw him, despite being just a little nosey. The least he could do was pay a lawn service to keep up appearances. She’d even circulated a petition which she’d handed over personally, but it hadn’t made an impact on the horrible man.
What was a mean-faced single guy like that doing in a quiet suburb like this anyway? Same as her, maybe. Keeping secrets. But still. He ought to keep his secrets and his yard.
© 2011 Jody Wallace
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