-Chapter 1-

Ocelot stood amongst a small horde of armed people, most of whom were a good six inches taller than her, and an easy eighty pounds heavier. The air was heavy with the smell of sweat, testosterone, and gun oil. Her nose twitched at the offensive combination of odors, but she stubbornly refused to scratch at it. Instead, she stood tall, shoulders squared, fists on her narrow hips, and twisted her mouth into an appropriate scowl.

“My name, is Ocelot. Not Cougar.” She honestly had no idea why the name thing was so difficult for people. Or, for that matter, where the nom de plume of ‘The Cougar’ had come from in the first place. What she did know, was that she hated being called ‘The Cougar’ with all one-hundred ten pounds of her sinewy, martial artist’s body.

“So, you aren’t the Cougar?” the man opposite her in the throng of people asked, raising an eyebrow, which accentuated the fact that one of his eyes was scarred and milky white from some form of damage.

“No!” she spat. “Ocelot. My name is Ocelot. It isn’t even hard to say.” Her nose twitched again. This time she scrunched her face for the briefest of moments to try and ward off the olfactory assault without looking foolish. One must not appear weak in front of one’s potential clients.

“So,” the man continued, putting on his best thoughtful look. “You aren’t the assassin who killed Adrian Malcone out in Englewood a few months back. While he was sealed inside his panic room and surrounded by two dozen armed men?”

Ocelot’s nose twitch turned into an almost feral grin at the mention of Malcone’s demise. That had been a fun job to pull off. Malcone was paranoid as hell. He had a mage put a protective field over the place, preventing anyone from teleporting in or out of the premises anywhere except in one spot. He’d made sure he could teleport out of his safe room if the need arose. She’d snuck into his home in the dead of night, ghosting past all of his security with pathetic ease, and laying time-delay micro-explosives in strategic locations as she went. By the time she had snuck into his panic room the explosives started going off, creating a panic and making everyone believe that an intruder was getting closer and closer to the house. Malcone practically leapt from his bed to the panic room without touching the floor he’d moved so fast. Once he was dead, escape was as easy as using his own single-use talisman to teleport away, leaving no trace of her presence there, and a mystery for the ages as to how she’d done it.

“Of course that was me,” she purred.

“So you are the Cougar,” he inferred.

“No. There is no cougar. I’m Ocelot. That was my work. Me. Myself. I. The one and only. The incomparable Ocelot!” She stopped just shy of thumping her chest with pride at the exclamation.

“But the cougar did that job. Everyone knows that,” the man’s face soured. “And I need the one who did that job to do this job. So if you aren’t the cougar…”

“There. Is. No. Cougar.” Ocelot growled, fingers flexing as she tried not to grab at her weapons and prove how wrong the lot of them were. “Ocelot. That’s me. I did the Malcone job.”

“How?”

“Easy,” she beamed, throwing a little cant to her hips to thrust one out rakishly. “I’m awesome.”

“But you aren’t the Cougar?”

“Ugh,” she spat. “Look, goofey-eye-guy. Either you want me for this job or you don’t. You can go on looking for the cougar if you like, but you’ll never find her, because she doesn’t exist. Never has. So what’s the deal? Who do you want put down?”

“How dare you talk to him like that!” A man to her right roared, lurching forward with his arms outstretched.

Ocelot stepped to the left, reaching out to grab the man’s arm with one hand, and pulled hard in a downward circle, toppling him over her outstretched foot so he landed on his back, right on top of a handful of poisoned caltrops she’d dropped on the floor  with her free hand when she started moving. The man convulsed a few times, foam forming at the corners of his mouth, then expired with a rattling gasp, arms going limp at his sides. “Oh, crap,” she blushed, looking down at the corpse. “Sorry about that. He looked like he was going to get kind’a hands-y with me. I have kind of a knee-jerk reaction to hands-y folk.”

“He was one of my best,” the man with the scarred eye breathed, mouth agape.

“If you say so,” Ocelot shrugged, looking down at the dead man to see if there was anything special about him.

“So, do you want this other guy killed, or what? I could be out clubbing right now, you know. I got this bitch’n outfit and everything. Striking another pose, she thrust her chest out to emphasize her small-ish breasts. Her tight top and short, flouncy skirt setting off her dark tan and the spots of her namesake tattooed up her back and sides. The bolero jacket she wore covered her shoulders and arms, but not much else. Her tail dangled behind her, twitching with every movement, and her below the knee boots with their practical heels completely failed to jingle with the movement despite the fact that they were covered in zippers, buckles, and glittering chrome chains. Her short, platinum hair let everyone know that her spots went all the way up the back of her bare neck, but long locks dangled down below her shoulders from around her temples to make sure she still had a girlish flare about her. At the top of her head, her hair rose up on either side, looking like the ears of a predatory cat, giving folks enough to think that maybe they were her real ears, since her hair completely covered her actual ears. Her amber eyes burned brilliantly in the relative darkness of the packed room and her nose twitched again at the greasy smell of men on high-protein diets, utterly destroying her hero pose.

Not to mention the fact that everyone present was clearly more interested in her body, or the body on the floor, than they were at all concerned about how amazing her outfit or pose were. Rubbing some sass on her next words, Ocelot dropped one hand to the handle of the pistol strapped to her left thigh, tapping it impatiently. “Hey. Eye-guy!” She snapped her fingers in front of his eyes, drawing him back from his day-dream state. “What’s the job?”

The man blinked a few times, then looked down at his dead companion and back at her, being careful to meet her eyes this time. “Aidelon Ferro,” he announced. He’s up north, in Superior. He’s got…”

“Yawn!” she silenced him. “Say, are you sure about this decorating scheme?” The man looked at her, mouth hanging open again as she pointed to the dreary walls and the decades-old, tattered drapes that hung over the windows. “I think the seventies might sue you for cribbing their style. And doing it so badly.”

“What?” He gaped. The rest of the men present looked around, trying to figure out what she was talking about.

“Seriously,” she tisked. “With all this testosterone you’ve got in here I would think maybe some darker colors. Neon beer signs. Do you even ~have~ a pool table in this shit-hole?”

“I don’t,” the man stammered, then shook his head and tried to get back on track. “Aidelon is the kingpin of the northern…”

“My ex always said that any group of thugs like this should have a nice pool table. You know. Something to pass the time while you’re not out breaking kneecaps or swindling orphans or whatever.”

“Are you sure you’re the one who pulled off the Malcone job?”

“I said I was, didn’t I?” She groused. Frowning at him. “We’re going to be here all night if you keep asking the same questions over and over and over and over and over… Hey! Is that the new Q-Phone 8ES?” Her eyes went wide as she danced past the corpse to crowd in next to a man at the back of the horde, pushing her way through the other stalky bodies to look down on the phone’s screen. The entire room watched her move, an air of confusion following in her wake.

“Er… Yes?” The young man holding the phone responded.

“How’s the new DAC? I’ve been thinking of getting one, but I really want my music to sound right. Ocelot needs her music when she’s out killing and if it doesn’t sound right it throws off her groove.” She shimmied a bit, demonstrating how awesome her dance moves were.

“Are you even listening to me?” The man with the scarred eye blanched.

“Not really,” Ocelot rolled her eyes. “~So~ boring.”

“Well, if you’ll let me finish, you can stop being bored and go get the job done. As I was saying, Aidelon has at least forty men…”

“Boring,” Ocelot cut him off again, yawning dramatically. “How about money. You know my rates, right?”

“Yes,” he groaned, producing a smart phone and pulling up an app to show her. “We put the ten grand in escrow, just like you said. As soon as the job is done, it’s yours.”

“Perfect!” Ocelot beamed, eyes shining at the sight of the account balance. “Ocelot loves getting paid!”

“Right,” he looked at her, a bit of concern showing on his face. “So, about Aidelon’s place…”

“Ugh,” she cut him off again. “Why are you ~so~ boring? That’s it. I’m out of here.” She waived his protest off, rolling her eyes at him and turning on the spot, smacking his shins with the tip of her tail. “I’ma go kill this Alphonse guy so you’ll shut up and pay me my money.”

“Aidelon,” the man corrected to her back.

“Abbadon,” she said, still moving toward the door.

“Aidelon!” he shouted.

“Alright!” she shouted back. “Abraham. Whatever!” Holding her hand up toward him, fingers spread wide, she spared a glance over her shoulder at the stunned room full of thugs. “Just get ready to pay me.”