The Not-so Cowardly Mountain Lion with A.J. Marcus

September 30, 2015

These next couple of posts, we’ll explore different characters in “The Kachina Job” and the animals inside them. The first character we meet in the book is Phillip Two Hands, he’s a young Navaho Indian who has become a thief and is hired to steal a really ugly wolf kachina. At 25, Phillip still lives on the reservation with his grandparents who haven’t bothered to teach him much about being a Mountain Lion shifter after his parents were killed by hunters. Phillip is desperate to fit in somewhere, after he was dumped by the boyfriend who taught him to be a thief, he’s been making a living stealing things while he waits for something to come along and lead him down his life’s calling. Without giving too much away, he finds it by the end of the book.

The cat inside Phillip is an interesting one. Mountain lions range across the Americas, from the Arctic Circle down to the tip of South America. They are highly adaptable cats and in some parts of their range are considered nuisance animals. In other parts, like the south end of Florida, the Florida panther, is highly endangered. Mountain lions are known by many names, mountain lions, puma, cougar, catamount, and panther are the main ones.

In the mountains and the desert areas, the cat’s tawny coat is perfect camouflage for it to blend into its surrounds. This natural ability to blend makes it very hard to spot a mountain lion. Here in Colorado, we say that if you see a mountain lion, it’s been watching you for quite some time. You can live in the mountains for years and never see them. Our neighbors have spotted them on our place, but we’ve never seen more than the very rare paw print. It’s both scary and cool at the same time.

Like all cats, mountain lions prey on anything they can get their teeth and claws into. They are supremely opportunistic. Their favorite meal, is deer. One of the big reasons that people are encouraged to not feed deer is that it attracts mountain lions. This can be detrimental to both the cat and the people. If you actually get to see a mountain lion in the wild, consider yourself lucky and if possible, take lots of pictures.

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This is Tawney, one of the mountain lions that lives at CARE.

 

Now, let’s have a short scene from Phillip’s POV:

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 that muffled his padded footfalls. 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.

 

I’ll be back in a bit and we’ll talk about Daniel Hernandez, our Jaguar, until then, tell what you think about mountain lions. Have you had any encounters with them in the past, either in the wild, or in zoos, or nature centers? They are one of the cats that really touch my soul.

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