The deputy checked for a pulse. Curtis was alive, but only barely, and an ambulance was summoned to the scene.
“The ambulance is on its way,” he said to Doc, “either put him down, or we need him moved into a pen to keep everybody safe.”
Avery huddled on the porch step and tried to avoid looking at Curtis’ prone form, a study in humiliation with his pants caught around his ankles and bleeding from multiple gore wounds. The fact he was alive at all was, in her opinion, a miracle. She pointed the deputy in the direction of blankets to keep him warm, but she could not, for the life of her, move.
Baby blinked at her from the corner of the yard and shook his head, apparently unconcerned with Doc’s presence, the blue lights on the sheriff’s car, or the small army of strangers who filtered one by one into her driveway. News traveled with lightening speed in Amos.
Doc laid his jacket around Avery’s shoulders. “You OK, honey?”
She felt sick and could scarcely speak. “Yes,” she whispered. “H-how did you know to come here?”
“Let’s just say small town life has its advantages,” he said, giving her a fatherly squeeze. “Mick and the rest of the cops have been keeping an eye on him since he blew into town. When his niece came running to him this morning about this guy creeping her out down at the Sonic, Mick ran his plates and googled him. He found a picture of the two of you at some fancy golf do – I just happened to be at the station when the Banks girl came in. Figured he was the same guy I saw yesterday.” He looked at the man swaddled in Avery’s quilt and frowned. “Looks like I was right.”
“He attacked me, Doc.”
Doc nodded. It didn’t take a genius to do the math, given her bruises and state of shock. He only wished he had got here earlier. He could have saved Baby the trouble of roughing Curtis up.
“Baby saved me, Doc. He saved me.” She dashed away her tears and leaned into Doc’s shoulder. “He saved me,” she wept.
Again, Doc nodded. They sat in silence, watching a neighbor and the deputy applying pressure to Curtis’ wounds. He was still unconscious, and no one dared try to move him before the ambulance arrived.
Doc remained silent for a long time. “You know I’m gonna have to put Baby down, don’t you?” It was more statement than question.
She stiffened and sat up straight, wiping her face on her shirt sleeve. “W-what?” Avery couldn’t believe her ears. “No,” she said. “You won’t. You can’t.”
Doc stood and looked down at her, a sad expression in his eyes. “Avery, I have to.”
Avery decided that Doc did not need to know of her earlier decision to get rid of Baby. Sure, he had flexed his muscle a bit that morning, as would be expected of an adolescent Hereford bull. But Baby was not innately aggressive. This she knew with every fiber of her being. Treated with the proper caution and respect due his size and strength, she had no doubt he would fare just fine in a herd.
“He won’t hurt me, Doc. He was protecting me!”
But Doc was not convinced. “Girl, I’ve been looking after cattle my whole life. And dogs and cats and mice and guinea pigs, for that matter. Biggest mistake you can make is to anthropomorphize any animal. Especially THIS animal. A bull is not a person. The only thing he protects is his territory and his right to breed.”
Doc was wrong. Avery knew it.
She looked around her. Men seemed to be materializing out of thin air, emerging from pickups with ropes and sticks and whatever was handy to help catch the bull. The men looked excited, eager even. She realized with alarm that they were actually looking forward to the chase and the capture. They were relishing the prospect of Baby’s death.
Avery looked at Baby. Her bull stood calmly cropping dried grass at the edge of the fence. His bloody horns had dried to a dark brown, and despite the flurry of cars and strangers encroaching on his territory, he paid them little attention. This was an image decidedly at odds with that of a rampaging beast, and the very idea seemed comical somehow. It didn’t matter she had herself witnessed Baby rampaging. Her bull had every right to defend his turf against Curtis.
Doc had retrieved a shotgun from the gun rack in his pickup and was making his way toward Baby, flanked by the men with their sticks and ropes.
She could not let this happen. There had to be another way. There would be another way! But whatever the case, if anyone was going to handle her bull, it was going to be Avery. Curtis had tried to bully his way into her home and her life and had failed. And even her friend Doc was, with all good intent, trying to bully her into putting Baby down!
Avery decided she was sick to death of other people making decisions for her. Throwing off Doc’s jacket, she climbed to her feet. She retrieved her own weapon of choice from behind her back door and marched into battle.
This was her bull, her responsibility, her life and her decision.
“Get back!” she shouted, making her way to the line of men who held Baby in their wide semicircle. “Get away from my bull!”
Doc had the gun on his shoulder and had drawn a bead on the whorl of creamy fur in the center of Baby’s forehead. He pretended not to hear her.
“GET BACK, all of you!” Avery screamed in her deepest voice, the voice she had used to set Baby himself back a pace just a few short hours ago. She breached the circle of men and pointed her dung fork at one after the other. They lowered their sticks, but Doc held his aim. “Step away from my bull. All of you – Doc – all of you!”
Doc lowered his gun.
She may have been Medusa or the two headed lady, they way they all looked at her. If any had suspected, they now had verifiable fact: Avery Jackson had lost her marbles, well and truly.
“Dang it all, Avery! Get on away from that bull!”
Avery ignored him. She was in front of the corral gate, and she slid the bolt aside, drawing the door wide. She then positioned herself squarely between Doc’s gun and her bull, and pointed the fork at Baby. “Go on, now! Git!” she shouted, waving her arm and moving around to Baby’s backside. “Go on, Bull!” she said gruffly, “Go on now, Baby – GET IN THERE! Go!”
Baby looked at Avery and twitched his ears, blinking his soft brown eyes at her before making his way slowly toward the gate, swishing his tail and lumbering into a slow trot. He paused when he caught the scent of Curtis’ blood, burying his nose deep in the grass, but Avery was having none of it. Using the handle end of the fork, she gave him a nudge in the backside. “Go on, now, bull,” she said, “Get away from that! Go on!”
Baby’s head popped up and, remembering his mission, he bolted for the safety of the corral.
She closed the gate and slid the bolt just as the ambulance screamed its way into earshot. “No one is killing my bull, Doc. Not you, not me, no one. I’ll find a way.”
“No, Doc. It was a horrible thing Baby did to a horrible man, and Curtis is lucky to be alive. But as long as he is alive, I’m safer here with Baby than I would ever be without him. No, Doc. My bull stays.”
Doc was cursing her for the crazy, headstrong woman she was. He told her a pack of Rottweilers would be a safer bet than a 1500 pound bull, but she wouldn’t listen. Just like she never, ever listened.
The men, her neighbors with their sticks and ropes, were disappointed that their little adventure had ground to a halt. One of them suggested getting a few beers and having a fence mending party, but Avery would owe no favors.
Avery watched as they loaded Curtis into the ambulance. She tried hard to feel sorry for him. But she could not. She had no doubt that Curtis would, if he survived, come knocking again. Perhaps the law would as well, but she didn’t care.
They would be fine, Avery decided. She and her Baby would be just fine.
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