Authors: Virginia Smith
ALES FROM THE
B & B
Dr. Horatio vs. the Six-Toed Cat (prequel)
The Most Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade
Books by Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith
“A Home in the West” (free short story e-romance prequel)
The Heart's Frontier
A Plain and Simple Heart
A Cowboy at Heart
A Bride for Noah
Rainy Day Dreams
HARVEST HOUSE PUBLISHERS
Published in association with the Books & Such Management, 52 Mission Circle, Suite 122, PMB 170, Santa Rosa, CA 95409-5370,
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover by Garborg Design Works, Savage, Minnesota
DR. HORATIO VS. THE SIX-TOED CAT
Copyright Â© 2015 Virginia Smith
Published by Harvest House Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97402
ISBN 978-0-7369-6483-8 (eBook)
All rights reserved.
ell, isn't that the durndist thing?” Doctor Horatio Forsythe lowered his glasses from their perch on top of his balding head and settled them on his nose for a closer look. “And they're all like this?”
Julia Belchwater nodded, lifted a squirming kitten from the basket, and handed it to him. “Every one, the poor dears.” She placed a chocolate-brown finger beneath a miniature arm and splayed the tiny paws. “Six toes in front and five in the back.”
Doc ran a gentle fingertip over the diminutive creature resting in the palm of his hand, noting the soft bones of the spine, the placement of ribs no wider than toothpicks. The kitten raised a wobbly head and voiced a feeble mewl of protest. The new mother, installed in the basket Julia had carried into the Goose Creek Animal Clinic, extended a nose toward her baby and then glanced upward as if to say, “You be careful with him, Doc.”
“Don't worry, Momma.” Doc returned the kitten to her side. “I won't hurt your little one.”
Belinda, a fine-looking blue-black feline and first-time mom, began applying her rough tongue to the protesting newborn as though to remove any residual human scent from the squirming body.
The worry lines between Julia's eyes deepened as she picked up another baby. “Belinda's favorite place to sleep is on top of that big old giant television set George won't let me get rid of, the tightfisted old
miser. You don't think there's microwaves or electrons or something like that soaking into her body and affecting the kitties?”
Doc laughed, partly at her expression and partly at the idea of what Julia would do to poor George if his refusal to upgrade his TV resulted in her beloved cat giving birth to deformed offspring. “These kittens look as healthy as can be.”
“But all those toes! It ain't natural. Poor things look like they ought to be in a circus sideshow.”
She extended the kitten in her hand as proof. Doc touched each tiny digit, his finger lingering on the sixth. The extra toe on the kitten he'd inspected a minute before had looked like an afterthought, almost a growth tucked between what would normally be the fourth digit and the dewclaw. This one, though, was fully developed, and the dewclaw oversized, giving it the appearance of an opposable thumb.
The baby issued a loud, trumpetlike squeak as if in protest to its lengthy absence from the nest.
“They're not deformed.” He rubbed the tiny head and gestured for her to return the kitten to his mother's side. “Belinda has given birth to a litter of polydactyl cats.”
The lines on Julia's face deepened even further. “Sounds like some kind of dinosaur.”
“Just means they have six toes. It's not common, but it isn't unheard-of either. The story goes that Ernest Hemingway received one as a gift from a sea captain, and the genetic trait spread from there.” He leaned against the counter in the small examining room and plucked the pen out of his lab coat pocket to fiddle with. “Who's the proud papa?”
“Don't know. Belinda doesn't like to go out.” Her features settled into a scowl. “But when she turned up in the family way, George admitted that a couple of times he left the back door propped open while he was working in the yard. Some sneaky tomcat musta come visiting while his back was turned. That sly boots better not come around while I'm on the watch. I'll give him what-for with the business end of a broom.”
Judging by her threatening tone, Doc spared a sympathetic thought for the poor feline who was, after all, only doing what came naturally for unneutered males.
The door burst open and a diminutive silver-haired woman entered the exam room. Startled, Doc stared at her.
“There you are, Horatio.” She turned a smile on his customer. “Hello, Julia.”
Julia broke into a wide smile. “Miss Ernie, I haven't seen you in an age. You're looking fit.”
Though officially named Ernestine Clemmons Forsythe, the entire town knew this petite powerhouse as Miss Ernie. Everyone except Doc, that is. He called her Mother.
“Thank you.” She gave a regal nod. “You too. Red is definitely your color. How's George doing?”
Julia scowled. “Ornery as ever.”
“Mother,” Doc interrupted, “what are you doing here?”
“I have something I've been meaning to talk to you about.”
“Excuse me a minute.” With an apologetic glance at Julia, he rounded the exam table and escorted his mother gently but firmly from the room. In the narrow hallway he gave her a stern look. “Mother, I'm working. You can't simply barge in and interrupt an exam.”
She waved a dismissive hand toward the closed door. “Julia won't care.”
He fought a wave of irritation. “That's not the point.”
“Well, if you'd ever come to see me I could talk to you then. But it seems you don't have time for your aging mother.” She gave an offended sniff and managed to look frail.
Doc didn't buy it. Mother might be eighty-three, but she was strong as a horse and an expert guilt-inflictor. “I've dropped by several times, but you're either not there or you're conducting a meeting of some sort.”
Now she looked peeved, her lips pursed into a tight bow. “The
Fall Festival doesn't plan itself, you know. Summer is my busiest time of the year.”
He swallowed a frustrated sigh. “I've got to get back to work. Can I come by the house later to discuss whatever it is?”
She gave a prim nod. “I have a meeting at seven. Come before then.”
“Fine. Goodbye, Mother.”
He pressed a kiss on her cheek and watched her exit through the swinging door to the reception area before returning to work.
Millie Richardson, morning receptionist at the animal clinic, eyed the desk and slid the appointment calendar slightly to the right so it was perfectly centered. Lizzie Forsythe, Doc's wife, served as the clinic's afternoon receptionist, and she was notorious for rearranging anything Millie set in place. Paper clips, notepads, the dog cookie jarâtheir placement was always slightly different in the morning. Millie had long suspected she did it in order to mark her territory, though that made no sense since hiring a morning receptionist three years ago had been her idea.