It was Saturday, and Avery had just finished filling the trough, topping up the straw and feed. Even with the pasture at his disposal, the amount of straw and cereal her Baby went through was astonishing.
But then again, it was autumn already, and he was getting no smaller.
At six months and topping 600 pounds, he was still less than half of his adult weight. Still, he had remained generally docile, and Avery had no cause to worry overmuch, despite the fact he was beginning to tower over her, and his horns continued to grow daily, slanting down and away from his face, comical apostrophes that belied the deadly threat they posed.
Jason Weber was concerned, and had dropped by to say so. “It’s a bad idea to keep a bull at all, Avery,” he warned sternly and for the hundredth time, “much less one with horns!” As Baby’s vet and with forty years cattle experience under his belt, he knew what he was talking about. Doc Weber was her neighbor and friend, practically a surrogate father at this point, they spoke so often. It was sweet of him to stop by on his way to the clinic, and she did appreciate it. Avery knew she should listen to him.
And yet, as was true of much of his advice, she chose to ignore it.
“That bull will top a thousand pounds before long – I reckon he’ll finish out around fifteen hundred, and that’s without you putting in much effort to fatten him up. Good God, woman!” Doc Weber looked over her shoulder at Baby lowering his head and charging an invisible foe across the pasture. He shook his head in worried exasperation. “He’s already playing at it. Look at him!”
Avery looked, but all she saw was an over-sized bovine lapdog frolicking in the damp autumn grass. As if sensing he was watched, Baby looked at her and snorted, his breath forming steamy mushroom clouds in the chilly morning air. He looked so silly she had to smile. “Aw, Doc, he’s fine for now.”
“He’ll turn around one day and kill someone, Avery. He’ll do it, I promise you.”
She rolled her eyes. “He won’t attack me,” Avery said, ignoring the slither of worry that made its way down her spine at the very thought. “Doc, he knows me. I’ve raised him from a baby -”
“See, that’s just the thing,” Doc replied, laying his hand on her shoulder and giving her a little shake. “Honey, he ain’t a baby, he’s a bull, and you ain’t a hundred thirty soaking wet. You can’t handle him and you’d be stupid to try. As it is, we’ll have a devil of a time loading him to slaughter -”
Avery blanched. “S-slaughter?” she stammered, as if it were a new thought, and her mouth went dry. Of course he would go to slaughter. It was the only destination for a bull, unless he was used for breeding. And she had no intention of becoming a cattle rancher on six rented acres. Avery watched Baby gamboling in the pasture, kicking his heels like a quarter-ton ballet dancer, and it was hard to imagine a day she would not see him there, pulling at the grass and trotting up to the fence for affection.
Doc nodded sharply. “It’s the only right thing to do by him, honey,” he said. “You ain’t gonna breed him, and that’s all he’s gonna want to do. You get 1500 pounds of frustrated bull on your hands, you’re in for a world of trouble. Right up until the day he turns on you, ’cause he will. A frustrated bull is the most dangerous animal on earth. I told you that a hundred times! Honey,” he pleaded, “you gotta do the right thing.”
Considering this, Avery reluctantly nodded. “I’ll think about it, Doc. I will.”
He gave her a long, hard look. “You call me when you’re ready,” he said, stalking back to his truck. “And stay AWAY from that danged fence! It’s made of matchsticks, I swear. How he ain’t taken it down before now is beyond me.”
“Thanks, Doc,” she said, waving him off, “I’ll be careful. Don’t you worry about me.”
Doc was shaking his head as he pulled out of her drive and back onto the blacktop that took him to town.
Avery looked up into the golden canopy of cottonwood leaves above and wondered at the blue sky beyond. It was an absolutely perfect October’s day, windless and crisp. She hugged her flannel over shirt to herself and headed back into the house, never noticing the grey Pontiac parked up on the shoulder of the road.
Curtis started the car and made a leisurely pass along the blacktop. “Well, good morning, sunshine!” he muttered, lowering his sunglasses to take a better measure of Avery’s property. He was preparing to turn into the drive when Doc’s pickup came back over the rise, signaling and slowing to turn in there himself. Curtis pushed the sunglasses back up and put his foot down.
His arrival in Amos had already been delayed by a little run-in with the law in Wichita, after he had finished fourth on the leaderboard. A few celebratory drinks and feeling up the wrong lady had landed him in the soup. And no matter what anyone said, drunk or sober, he would never threaten to beat anyone with a $400 Callaway driver…he wasn’t a complete idiot! True, he couldn’t remember much of what happened that night, but that pack of lies she told to cover her adulterous butt had cost him a week in jail and a criminal record that would be haunting him for years.
His father had bailed him out for “absolutely the last time.”
Now that he was out of a job, Curtis figured he had all the time in the world. As it was, Avery owed him the money she stole from under his mattress. A couple thousand would tide him over for a little while anyway.
And then there was whatever she made off the sale of the Dodge. He might have signed it over to her, but he won it fair and square in that “Hole in One” competition. Back when he had a game. Back in the days before little Miss Jackson had ruined his swing and ruined his life.
God, she had looked terrible in that flannel shirt, all mousy and unkempt. Looked like she had been going a little heavy on the gravy, too. He snickered to himself, remembering how crazy he had once been about the toxic little bombshell. It served her right to get all plain and fat. Nature was giving her just deserts.
And so would he.
One more day wouldn’t make any difference at all.
Curtis was a patient man. Plus, he needed a drink.
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