Nebi was a fine cat, Abyssinian by breed. His ruddy fur was shiny, and his body was powerful and sleek. At one year old, he was full of dangerous adolescent energy, and his human, a young woman named Coral, had long ago put away all her breakable knickknacks. She’d also taken down the drapes and put up blinds in the windows, as Nebi was fond of climbing.
Nebi and Coral loved each other. She chased him through the house, and then he chased her. She teased him with long ribbons, and he sailed through the air after them just to hear her laugh. When she went to bed, he slept draped across her neck to protect her from any predators lurking in the dark. He had never seen any, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
But one fateful day, the predator walked right through the door. Coral let him in. Nebi felt his fur stand on end all over his body. He arched his back and puffed his tail with all the threat he could muster. He growled deep in his throat like a beast ten times his size.
The predator looked down at him and laughed. He set down the briefcase he carried by the door.
“What’s this?” he said. “Am I invading your territory, kitty?” He bent down, pretending to pet him. Nebi hissed, and the predator gave him a dark look and straightened up. Now Coral bent down and scooped Nebi up in her arms.
“He doesn’t trust strangers too much,” she explained. Nebi purred against her neck, wondering why she would lie to this predator. He tolerated most strangers, but this male was different. Why couldn’t Coral see that?
“Well,” the male said, “it’s kind of sweet. I think he’s a little jealous.” Coral laughed and put Nebi down.
“He just has to get to know you better, and so do I,” she said. “Come on, I’ll make you a drink.” The male followed her into the kitchen, and Nebi heard glasses clinking.
He took the opportunity to investigate the male’s briefcase. It was covered in his scent, which Nebi found distasteful. He wished Coral’s nose was as sensitive as his own. If she could smell what he smelled, she’d make the predator leave. Perhaps he could take matters into his own paws. This was his house, too. He’d show Coral this male was not to be trusted.
He turned, lifted his magnificent tail, and sprayed the briefcase.
And got caught.
“Damn cat, what are you doing?” The male came running and tried to kick Nebi, but Nebi was far too quick. He jumped easily to one side and hid behind the sofa, peeking around its corner to keep watch.
“What are you doing?” Coral yelled. “You don’t kick my cat, either, Joe.”
“This is an expensive case, and that little bastard ruined it,” Joe said. “Keep him away from me, you hear?”
Coral got a paper towel and began to wipe the case down.
“It’s not ruined. Look, it’ll clean up just fine-”
“Stop,” Joe said, and gripped Coral’s wrists. “Just leave it-”
Coral’s hand bumped the case’s latch, and it sprang open. A roll of duct tape and an evil-looking knife fell out onto the floor.
Coral looked up at Joe, and then her eyes grew wide. Nebi saw Joe’s hands tighten on her wrists.
“I didn’t want you to see that just yet,” Joe said. “I wanted to have a little fun while you were still conscious.”
A white rage flared through every cell of Nebi’s body. With a yowl that sounded like the roar of his wild cousins, he leaped onto Joe’s back. Suddenly he felt large and heavy as a mountain lion. Like a master hunter, he was all teeth and claws now, scratching, biting, tearing the predator’s flesh, looking for bone.
Joe howled in surprise and pain. He fell to the floor, and Nebi the Hunter was on top of him, pinning him where he lay. There was his neck, exposed and vulnerable. One bite over his airway, and Nebi could end him.
“Don’t!” Joe pleaded. “Where’d he come from? He’ll kill me! Help me, Coral! Call 9-1-1!”
Coral bent down and stroked Nebi’s back. He growled impatiently, wanting to take that suffocating bite. He stared into Joe’s disbelieving eyes.
“It’s okay, Nebi,” she said. Then to Joe, “I knew your sweet talk was too good to be true. Good thing I always trust Nebi’s judgment about people.”
“This isn’t your little cat,” Joe squealed. “This thing must’ve escaped from a zoo somewhere. Call 9-1-1 before he kills me!”
“That’s a great idea. Watch him, Nebi,” Coral said, and went to the phone. In a moment she said, “Yes, I’d like to report an attempted murder. I’m lucky, though, and subdued my attacker. I think you may already be looking for this guy. He has some weird stuff in his briefcase. Hurry, please. I don’t know how long I can keep him down.”
She hung up the phone and sat on the floor beside them.
“What the hell is going on?” Joe wailed, staring at the great beast lying on top of him. Nebi took deep pleasure in the sharp scent of his fear.
“Nebi’s the best cat ever,” Coral said. “I was lucky to find him. He takes good care of me.” She bent over and looked into Joe’s terrified face.
“Oh, did I tell you what Nebi’s name means?” she went on. “You’ll love this. It’s Egyptian for panther.” She kissed Nebi’s head, right between the ears. Joe began to sob. Sirens shrilled through the air.
When the police got there, they barely noticed Nebi. He lay on the sofa, washing his paws like any normal house cat would.
At last they took Joe and his briefcase away, while Joe babbled about mountain lions. No one listened to him.
Nebi’s secret was safe.