Hours pass but finally, Shame finds the poacher’s body. Slipping out of the assault pack, he looks around. Blood soaks the ground. On the poacher’s body, deep lacerations cover his back, and bite marks are upon his throat. Shame pulls out the two-way radio given to him by Rachel Winterborne.
“HQ, this is Shame. How copy?”
“Go for HQ, Shame.”
“Roger, I have found the missing person.”
“Say again, Shame?”
“I have found the missing person. My location is about a mile west of mile marker 390.”
“Roger, help is en route.”
Glancing around the site of where the attack happened, Shame locates black fur hanging off of a broken branch. “A black panther. Great. Why does it have to be an animal?” As he waits for the wardens to arrive, his mind takes him back to his last war.
“Sheik Al-Mahdi has requested our help. Packs of ravenous dogs are attacking children and adults alike. If you come across packs of dogs during your patrols, put ‘em down.”
“Day after day, we killed wild dogs by the dozens, and they still came. They preyed on the young and the weak. Throats ripped out, clawed to pieces. What a horrible way to die. I don’t care what this poacher did, he didn’t deserve to die like this. No one does.”
A snap brings Shame back to reality. Slowly turning his head, he notices a presence. In the shadow of a towering white oak, he can barely make out two yellow eyes staring at him. With the swish of its tail, the black panther turns and moves deeper into the woods.
“Shame, are you out here?”
The radio squawks out the call, and Shame keys the mic.
“Yeah, I am here.”
Before long, Rachel strides through the brush into the holler where Anthony Morley’s eviscerated body lies. Rachel doesn’t even look at the body, she walks directly to where Shame stands.
“What is out there? What killed Anthony Morley?”
“A black panther.”
Shame shakes his head. “No, I’m not kidding. I saw it with my own eyes.” Rachel shakes her head and runs her fingers through her silver hair.
“Do you know what you’re saying? Black Panthers are rare. Few people ever see them. They’re solitary animals. Can you track it?”
“Maybe. It’s like any other animal.”
“Except this one killed a man.”
Together, Shame and Rachel walk to the body of Anthony Morley. Rachel pinches off her nose and turns. Running to a bush, she loses her lunch. Gasping for air, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Are you okay, Rachel?”
“How can you stand there and not mind the smell of dead flesh?”
“I’ve fought in many wars. Stay here until your back-up arrives. I will see if I can’t find this cat.”
As Shame turns to walk deeper into the woods, Rachel touches his shoulder. “Shame, be careful.” Nodding his head, he picks up his assault pack and bow.
The hunt is on.