Training a killer, prompt for SCREAMS!!! 2/24/20.
There was never any doubt in my mind that Attila was different. I’ve trained many leopards in my time but Attila was exceptional. Of all the big cats, leopards are the most intelligent, stealthy and lethal killers. But Attila was all that and more. It was almost frightening the speed with which he learned the art of silent assassination under my tutelage.
Naturally, Attila’s aptitude for the enhanced skills I had to impart made the handsome creature my favourite. I spared no effort in making him the finest killing machine ever to proceed from my exclusive and specialised business. So it was inevitable that he be the weapon of choice when the contract for Manolo Vaquero came in.
I’m not saying that it was a certain well known intelligence service that supplied the request but they would be delighted to learn that Manolo was no longer one of their problems, I’m sure. In fact, the world would be a better place without that particular drug dealer. Not that it was my humanitarian concerns that led me to accept the deal. One does not turn down a multi-million dollar payment every day, after all.
That was how, a week later, I came to be ensconced in a well-camouflaged hiding place overlooking Manolo’s hacienda. At my side slept Attila, his dappled coat rising and falling gently with each breath. Lesson One of Dealing With Big Cats is that you should let sleeping leopards lie. They tend to be unpredictable if awoken during the day and I was confident that Attila would be wide awake by the time it was dark enough to infiltrate the heavily-guarded homestead.
The sun had been down for an hour before Attila stirred and grunted as he roused himself from sleep. I scratched him behind the ears to ease his waking. Although it was dark, we would need to wait several hours for the household to be abed and sleeping soundly. I passed the time by feeding him leopard treats from the pack I’d brought with me. Leopard treats? We know them better as grilled guinea pigs.
It was past midnight when I deemed it was safest for the assassination to be attempted. I produced the T-shirt our inside man, Garcia, had provided and allowed Attila a good long smell of it. That would make him a homing missile for our target. A few words of encouragement from me and he was off, bounding down the slope towards the house. I settled in for a long wait.
Even untrained leopards are silent wraiths in the darkness of night and they easily avoid our clumsy attempts to guard against them. With training, they become as good as invisible and kill without making a sound. I was not expecting there to be signs of success, therefore, and Attila did not give any. My vigil was purely to pass the time.
It was almost 3:00 am when the hoarse cough of a leopard told me that the deed was done. The night was so black that I could not see Attila but the sound had come from fifty yards down the slope in front of me. I stood up to greet the returning hero.
Five minutes later he had not arrived. This was unusual and I began to wonder if he had been wounded in some way. A cough from behind told me differently. I turned to meet him.
Still the darkness gave no clue as to Attila’s whereabouts. Had it not been for those two coughs, I would have thought he was still down there in the house. It was the third time he coughed that I understood what was happening. He was playing with me.
Now, if there’s one thing you don’t want to be, it’s a leopard’s plaything. Even a domestic cat can scratch your hand to ribbons in play but a leopard will rip out your guts before you even see it. And Attila made an ordinary leopard seem like a pussycat. I knew I was in trouble.
He coughed again, this time from my left, and I realised that he was getting closer, definitely toying with me. My only chance was if I could see him and I reached down to get the flashlight from my pack. It would give my position away to any guards awake in the hacienda but I figured Attila had become a priority.
I didn’t get near it. Before I touched the pack, a blur of shadow and soft fur cannoned into me, knocking me down and disappearing into the night again. Slightly dazed, I wondered if I was hallucinating when a voice came from the darkness.
“Sorry, Jim, but I can’t let you give our position away.”
“Who are you?” I asked. “And why should you be concerned about us being seen?”
The voice coughed and then answered. “Those guards have guns, you know. It would be a pity to let them use them after the job’s been done and wrapped up so neatly. Better to play this out in the dark, I think.”
This was getting decidedly unreal. The words forced themselves from my throat. “Attila? Is that you?”
“Who else would be fooling around in the dark with you?” the voice asked. “Come on, Jim, you know how intelligent we are. Don’t you think we were bound to develop the ability to speak eventually?”
He had a point. Even in such a situation, I could see the irony in my work with leopards having developed them to this extreme. My only chance seemed to be to play for time. Maybe I could keep him occupied with talk while I worked closer to the pack. There was a rifle in it, I knew.
“But why are you doing this Attila? I thought we were friends.”
Attila coughed again, this time from a position completely different from his last words. “Friends? Is that what you call it? You were useful for a while, I’ll grant you that. And the guinea pig snacks were great. But not friends, I think. Let’s just say, ‘acquaintances.’ And I know what you’re doing. You won’t distract me, you know.”
I was desperate now. Clearly he could see my every move in spite of the darkness. “But this is insane, Attila. Why would you do this? Why?”
His voice came from another position, even closer now. “Well, I’ll tell you Jim. I know the rules of these jobs as well as you do. And the rules say the target must be left uneaten, as well as any incidentals killed on the way. Which is fine. I abide by that. But, I tell you, Jim, I’m hungry, man. I feel I could eat a scabby horse right now. And you seem to be the only legitimate food around at the moment…”
Word Count: 1,136
Prompt: Training a killer.