The Beetle Leopard was about the size of a large cocker spaniel, with a coat like the coat of a tortoiseshell cat: uneven, mostly dark, of mottled browns and blacks. The private company that kept him in his vivarium on Pigeon Street claimed he was the only beetle leopard on Earth. Under the glass, which was always smudged with fingerprints, was a plaque:
This Beetle Leopard Was Rescued by S. Barry Gibson, Co-Founder and C.E.O. of Gibson and Bree, from Poachers on the Island of Borneo. Please Do Not Disturb the Beetle Leopard. He Is the Last Known Specimen of His Kind.
We went out a lot in those days to a bar called Phantom Harry’s on the corner of Pigeon and Grant, one of just two bars in a neighborhood that, halted by the economic downturn during the early phase of its gentrification, was still more or less a wasteland of functioning and abandoned warehouses. Our favorite pinball game was there, Jungle Madness. We liked it because when you got the silver ball into the lion’s den the whole thing shook as if there were a small person trapped inside, a campy animatronic voice sang “Juuuuuungle Madness!” and its green lights flashed in the dark. It was fun, but the end of the night always hung over us, with its inevitable sobering walk home past the beetle leopard. His environment was well-curated, but not particularly convincing. We were saddened by the fact that the beetle leopard lived in what was, despite its ersatz trees and ferns, despite its pool of real water and plaster cavern, essentially just a painted box, with a window onto the street where drunks like us could stop by and harass him. Nights after Harry’s we’d stop and hoot and holler and tap on the glass, and from his languid slouch on a plastic branch the beetle leopard would look up at us with black eyes.