I am just back from my research trip to Old Montreal. I had a wonderful time walking the old cobbled streets, and exploring the ancient and beautiful Chateaux Ramezy which was built in 1705 by the first Governor of Montreal. Guess where Amber is going on her honeymoon? That backwoods bear is going to love the big city!
This week I am giving you two more chapters of Bear Fate. Keep those comments and corrections flowing. And if there is anything that seems off in the way the plot is unfolding, or anything you especially like, please let me know. I love to hear from you.
At least Calvin had stopped looking so damned superior when she had pointed out that Bluefield’s was plagiarizing their own records. It was such a stupid thing to do. The mystery was that considering how the mares travelled around, no one else had ever noticed.
Of course if all the mares now at the Bascom Stud had been bred at Bluefield’s last year, the deception would have been caught lickety-split. But when the repetitions were buried at random depths in several separate records, they would not get read by the same person unless a novice like her was set to studying them. But it was hard to believe that the inaccurate records had never before been spotted.
A horse’s labor is a fairly quick event, but it is still not instantaneous. Carlos poked his head in to make sure Sissy was doing okay.
“Not long now,” Calvin said easily. He stroked the mare’s sweating neck and shook his head at Amber. She understood that this was not the moment for revelations about Bluefield’s.
Carlos held up a small brown hand for silence and listened to Sissy’s breathing. “Hear that?” he asked Amber.
“Yes sir. Sounds heavier than usual but not – if you’ll pardon the pun – labored.”
“That’s right, Amber. Cal, you call me if that changes. Don’t forget that there’s Vitamin K in the barrow.”
Cal didn’t take his eyes off Sissy, but he nodded. Carlos left.
Some time later Calvin said. “Take her bridle, Amber, I want to check her hind end.”
“I can see hooves,” she reported.
Calvin moved to the rear and stayed there. Sissy’s foal was born just after lunch. Not that Amber got lunch. She was too busy watching while Calvin used those big hands of his to gently tug the foal out of the birth canal by its spindly legs.
After that things happened fast. The wobbly colt looked surprised to be standing on his four feet. Sissy spent a long time butting him gently towards her udder and licking his wet coat until he was revealed as several shades paler than he had been born. Tears sprang to Amber’s eyes as mother and baby bonded.
“Now the afterbirth,” Calvin said calmly. But it wasn’t. It was another foal. A little filly this time. Calvin took this surprise in stride.
He was so calm and gentle with the mare and her babies, that he might not have been the patronizing jerk who set her teeth on edge. He crooned unselfconsciously to the horse and comforted her. Sissy didn’t mind when he shifted her and her infants closer to the wall, so the bloodstained straw could be removed. But she nipped at Amber as she swabbed down the floor.
“Hey,” Calvin said softly. “None of that my girl.” He grasped the mare’s bridle so that Amber could throw down fresh straw unmolested.
Then while Calvin weighed the foals and dipped them in the antiseptic solution that was standard after birth, Sissy merely watched benignly. Stables were relatively germ laden places and the foals too valuable not to get the most up-to-date medical care, but none of the horses cared for the smell of the antiseptic.
Amber got to dry the colt with a sterile rag before he could take a chill from his dunking. Calvin washed the mare’s underparts with the same solution while she glared at Amber. Considering that Amber had been caring for Sissy for weeks, this seemed like the basest ingratitude.
“I’m just getting your baby warm,” she assured Sissy.
Sissy nibbled at Amber’s braid by way of warning. Calvin’s big hand removed her hair from the horse’s mouth. “She’s slobbered a bit,” he said. He was grinning. He looked younger and happier.
Suddenly she too was filled with euphoria. No wonder everyone had kept telling her that playing equine midwife was not to be missed. It was a total rush. She forgot about being hungry and tired. The colt leaned trustingly into the rough towel that was blotting him dry.
“Should I comb out his tail and mane?” she asked. They were both just soft stubby bristles.
Calvin laughed. “Nope. Let Sissy have the little fellow back as soon as he’s dry. She’ll want to lick him all over herself to get that smell off. And he needs to nurse some more. And his sister needs her bath too.”
He was right. As soon as she let the foal go, Sissy used her head to support him to her nipple. He suckled and then his knees buckled and he collapsed exhausted under his mom. Sissy carefully knelt beside him and snuggled him into her big warm body. The foal was instantly asleep, even as his mother’s big tongue continued to groom him.
As soon as the filly was dry, Sissy squirmed around until she could get to her feet and allow the other foal to nurse too. The tiny female was even less steady on her feet than her brother, but she found the teat easily enough and had her first meal.
“Let’s get the walls swabbed down, and leave them in peace.” Calvin was filling out Sissy’s chart with big precise block letters. “We have to announce the good news. And tell Carlos what Bluefield’s is up to. Assuming you can show me a duplicate chart.”
Amber was ready. “Nessy and Lady were at Bluefield three and six years ago.”
“Okay, we’ll put this stuff back, get cleaned up and you show me.” The clipboards were chained to the stall walls to prevent mix-ups in record keeping. It took no time at all to find Nessy and Lady’s Bluefield records.
“Someone’s head is going to roll,” Calvin said grimly. “Well spotted, Amber. I don’t know if you realize how dangerous such a sloppy practice could be.”
“Carlos wouldn’t have wanted me to be familiar with the charts if he didn’t think it was important.” She wondered if he was patronizing her again.
“Hmm.” Calvin was re-reading the records on the clipboards. “Any others?”
“Two or three,” she confessed. “But offhand I can’t remember. Of course, I might have missed some.”
“Maybe. Most of these mares will have been to Bluefield’s – including Laura’s.” His voice was grim.
“Tell you what. You go have some lunch, I’ll call my dad and see what’s happening with Laura, and we’ll make photocopies of the files that are corrupted.”
“Okay. But I first I have to sterilize the wheelbarrow and restock it in case it’s needed.” She hoisted the handles of the one containing the midwifery kit.
“Yup. That’s the rule.” Calvin grinned. “I’ll give you a hand.”
He was as good as his word, mixing up the bleach solution himself and swabbing down the wheelbarrow and the equipment they had used. “Put the rags in the machine to soak – we’ll run it with bleach and three rinses when there’s a full load.”
Together they went through the checklist in the supply cupboard and made sure everything was in the barrow ready for the next birth. Calvin gave her a hand with the big roll of plastic wrap that was used to keep the barrow sterile.
“You go eat. Meet me here in ninety minutes. We’ll go over those records together. With Carlos, if I can track him down.”
* * *
Carlos was eating in the kitchen of the big house while his wife, Rosa, directed her staff. She opened her arms when she saw Calvin and he scooped her up for a big hug and kisses on both cheeks.
“That’s my woman you’re mauling, boy,” Carlos drawled from the long oak table.
Calvin kissed Rosa a third time and set her on her feet. “You’re just jealous, because she loves me best. But, tell you what, I’ll arm wrestle you for the best cook in Colorado.”
“And what about my opinion?” demanded Rosa, her black eyes twinkling.
The kitchen staff gasped, but all three of them chuckled at the standing joke. Rosa had been the ranch cook for years and Carlos had taught Cal and Luther to ride. They were both dear to him.
“You hear anything from the hospital?” asked Rosa.
Calvin shook his head. “I called Dad, but the call went to voice mail.”
“They don’t like you to use your cell phone at the hospital,” said Carlos. He smoothed his mustache. Cal knew he was worrying too.
Rosa put a plate on the table. “Sit,” she urged. “You might as well eat in here, seeing as there’s no one else home.” She waved a hand at a young girl who was probably a niece or the daughter of a friend. Before long Calvin found his plate heaped with what he liked best.
“I don’t usually eat this much at lunch time,” he protested.
Rosa snorted. “You need to keep up your strength.”
“And I’ll bet you don’t spend your mornings playing doctor in a stable in Denver. Eat up, son. There’ll only be more hard work this afternoon.” Carlos filled up his plate again. As much of Rosa’s good cooking as he ate, at past seventy he was still the wiry powerhouse of Cal’s youth.
Calvin dug in. He ate well in Denver. But there was nothing like Rosa’s tacos and her homemade salsa and pork stew. Her food made him feel like a boy again.
“I hear Sissy had twins,” Carlos said.
The stable grapevine at its finest. “She did.” Calvin helped himself to another soft corn taco.
“How did Amber do?”
“Pretty good. No. Better than good. She was right there every time I needed anything. And she spotted something in Bluefield’s record keeping that needs looking into.”
“Yeah?” Carlos put a spoonful of vegetables on his taco and added a scoop of salsa.
“Yeah. Some half-wit has been doing a cut and paste instead of transcribing the actual foaling notes. Amber noticed that every mare that’s given birth at Bluefield’s has precisely the same set of notes.”
“For the love of Mike,” spluttered Carlos. “That’s plumb loco.”
“Loco is the word. Amber has been reading and re-reading the records on the clipboards. Some lazy son of a beardless goat at Bluefield’s is going to get his,” Cal shot Rosa a glance, “Comeuppance.”
Rosa smiled approval as Carlos shook his head in disbelief. “Bluefield’s has seventy to eighty mares go through their place every year. Even if only some of the records are compromised.” His voice trailed off.
“Yup. No wonder Laura is so obsessive about her records.”
“More stew, Cal?” asked Rosa.
“No thank you. It was delicious, but I’m done,” he responded. “I’ll just have coffee and head back to the stables. I told Amber we’d go through all the records after lunch.”
“There’s coconut cake for dessert,” Rosa informed him.
Cal groaned aloud. “Twist my arm.”
She beamed. “I know what you like.”
Cal’s phone burbled in his hip pocket. The hum of the staff and the clank of pots being scrubbed stopped instantly. “Hi, Dad,” he said.
“Laura’s had her babies,” Freddie said. “Boy and a girl.”
“There’s many a slip between the ultrasound and childbirth,” Freddie returned dryly. “Kenneth Luther and Lucy Brenda.”
Kenneth was Steve’s birth father’s name. Luther was Cal and Laura’s brother. Brenda was their mom. “Who’s Lucy?” Cal asked.
“I think they just liked the name. Anyway, the babies are six pounds apiece and they are coming home tonight.”
“Is that safe?”
“It’s normal. Tell Rosa that Laura will be home for supper.”
“Give Laura my love. I won’t come to the hospital if they will be here in a couple of hours.”
“Best not. I’m sure you have plenty to do right there.”
“Tell Laura that Sissy’s colt needs a call name. And so does the filly.”
“Twins?” Freddie gasped. “And I call myself a vet! I’ll tell Laura.”
Rosa and Carlos were wreathed in smiles. Rosa stood up to hug him again and he spun her in a circle. “I’m an uncle,” he cried.
Carlos clapped him on the shoulder. “Who’s Lucy?” he asked.
“My niece. Lucy Brenda. The boy is Kenneth Luther.” His eyes were moist.
“It’s a banner day for the Double B for durned sure,” declared Carlos. “Did we hear right? Is Laura coming home tonight?”
“She sure is. The babies are six pounders. Dad said to tell you they’ll be back for supper.”
It was another half hour before they finished celebrating both the birth and the fact that Laura’s inheritance was at last secure. The birth of Laura’s children fulfilled the last of the conditions of her great-grandfather’s will.
Carlos and Cal headed back to the stud together. They found Amber propped against the wall outside Goldie’s stall reading her chart. Goldie was seventeen years old and had been bred many times.
“Hey,” she said looking between them.
“I’m an uncle,” he told her.
“Congratulations.” Her pretty face was prettier when it was wholeheartedly smiling. “How’s Laura?”
“Fine. She and the babies will be home for dinner.”
“So soon? You must be relieved.”
“I am. Poor old Patrick.” His cousin must feel caught in limbo.
“Hope, Stella and Bethany are doing as well as can be expected. They’ll go home as soon as they’ve gained a few more ounces.” But her blue eyes glistened.
“They will. I’ll take you back to French Town as soon as they go home,” he promised.
“Thank you.” She swallowed.
“What made you read Goldie’s records?” He patted her shoulder and felt a jolt as he connected with firm round muscles.
“I’m reading them all,” she said. “Starting with the oldest mares.”
“And for why?” demanded Carlos.
“Because they had the highest probability of having been to Bluefield’s multiple times,” she replied. “Goldie’s been five times.”
“And what have you found?” asked Carlos looking pleased.
“Bluefield’s problem started in 2011. Goldie’s 2015 labor reads like her 2012 labor.” Amber flipped through the thick wad of papers. “See. In 2006 her contractions were sluggish and they put her on an oxytocin drip. In 2009, she caught them by surprise. Labor lasted twelve minutes.”
Carlos took the clipboard out of her hand. “And what do you make of that?”
“Bluefield’s problem is clerical,” she said promptly. “Someone in the office is doing that cut and paste thing instead of taking the time to transcribe actual foaling notes. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“I agree,” Cal said. “I want you to keep reading and make notes as you go. I’m afraid it will take a long while and be very tedious.”
She shook her head. “I won’t find it tedious. It’s pretty exciting. Not twins exciting, but still.” She obviously meant every word because her smile got broader.
“How was your first foaling?” Lance asked over her shoulder.
Amber jumped to her feet. She had begun sitting on the floor after the fifth chart. “It was wonderful. Not that Sissy appreciated my help. And I can’t believe that it was twins and nobody suspected!”
“They fool us sometimes. Don’t mind her skittishness, it takes some of them like that – they get suspicious.” His deep voice was sympathetic.
“She seemed happy enough with Calvin,” Amber complained.
“Yeah? Maybe he has the Bascom touch.” Was it her imagination or was Lance’s face stiffer than usual despite his laugh?
“Maybe. Anyway, I loved the whole experience and I can’t wait until the next time.”
“Is that why you’re reading those charts over?” he asked looking puzzled.
“Didn’t Carlos tell you? I’m checking the records. The Bluefield’s notes are not to be trusted. They’re mostly the same after 2011.”
“Is that a fact?” Lance took the clipboard from her. He flipped through the pages and looked at the pink stickies she had placed on the relevant entries. He whistled. “Carlos caught this?”
“Not exactly. I noticed that the records seemed to be blending together and finally the penny dropped that I was reading the exact same words.”
“Is that why we have Dusty doing evening stables?”
“Yeah, my job is to read every document on every clipboard and make notes. We have to tell Bluefield’s about this.”
“We sure do. Pretty boring for you though.”
“Not really. I find it kind of restful – even though whoever is doing this is nothing short of criminal. Falsifying veterinary records is deplorable. I don’t know how it can have been going on for six years without anyone at Bluefield’s noticing. To say nothing of all the studs!”
Lance shook his head. “Better you than me. I don’t understand people like that, myself.”
Of course he didn’t. Lance was no shirker.
“I better get on, seeing as we’re down a hand. May I drop by to see you this evening?” His drawl was intimate and his crooked smile uncertain.
“I’d like that.”
Lance went away and Amber returned to her reading. She only looked up when a shadow blocked her light. Calvin was frowning down at her.
“How are you getting on?” he asked gruffly.
“Fine. It started slow in 2011 and then gradually more and more of the paperwork got corrupted.” She showed him her notes.
He squatted beside her. “These are really organized,” he said.
“You don’t have to sound surprised. I’m no dummy.”
“No, you’re not. But these are exemplary. We have dates, names, owners, etc. All the info we need. Nice and neat too. You have a systematic mind.”
“Thank you,” she said primly. Calvin made her feel crowded, even though all he was doing was looking at her notes.
After a while he stood up and handed her back the clip board. “Make sure you take breaks,” he said. “This isn’t an emergency. No need for you to wear yourself out.”
“Okay.” She went back to her scrutiny.
Suddenly he returned with a three-legged stool. “This will make it easier to sit and read.”
The stool did make the job easier, yet somehow Calvin’s unexpected kindness made her feel odd.
* * *
“Laura and Steve had their twins this afternoon,” Cal said.
“Yeah? That’s great. How is she?” Patrick asked.
“Fine. She’s home. Ate a hearty dinner and retired to nurse her babies. Steve went with her.”
Patrick laughed. “That’s wonderful. How much did they weigh?”
“Six pounds plus each.”
“Yeah. Same as Heather, but of course divided over three infants.” Pat sighed.
“How are they doing?”
“Good. Bethany weighs just under five pounds now, but the doctors don’t want to send her home without her sisters. But Hope lost an ounce today and Stella didn’t gain at all. So we’ll probably be spending another week in Yakima City.”
“Well that sucks. I’m sorry to hear that, Pat.”
“You bet. Did Steve and Laura pick names yet?”
“Kenneth Luther and Lucy Brenda.”
“Kenny and Lucy. I like that.” In Pat’s twang it came out Kinny.
“So do I. Dad’s over the moon. Carlos and Rosa are acting like they got another set of grandbabies.”
“Well it’s a red-letter day at the Double B! You give Laura my love.” Patrick paused. “Listen, Cal, are you guys aware that the guy who attacked Amber is a snake shifter? I got the feeling from what Heather said Amber hadn’t mentioned it to anyone in Colorado.”
Cal felt his heart rate pick up. “For fuck’s sake! That girl is a Grade A goose.”
“Nothing wrong with her brains,” Pat defended his sister-in-law.
“She’s smart enough, I’ll give you that. But she doesn’t have a lick of common sense. Why the hell didn’t she tell me or Freddie or even Steve? A snake shifter! I wonder if that sonovabitch is actually still in jail. It would be damned hard to keep a snake penned up.”
“Amber says he is. But I don’t know that for a fact.”
Cal swore again. Long and imaginatively. Patrick coughed. “You might want to keep that down, Cal. Little Kenny and Lucy are a mite young for that kind of language.”
“Yeah. Listen, Pat, I gotta go check on Amber. Snake-fucking-shifter.”
* * *
“Laura had her twins this afternoon,” Amber said.
“I know. Girl and a boy.” Heather laughed. “Calvin just got off the phone with Patrick, and Uncle Freddie called hours ago. They’re all relieved and excited.”
“Yeah. The babies coming early threw everyone for a loop. when he told me Laura was in labor, Calvin sure sounded worried.”
“He told you?”
“Sure. He’s helping out at the stables while Laura is having her maternity leave. We delivered Sissy’s foals this morning.” Amber chuckled. “Or at least Calvin delivered and I watched.”
“Really. A boy and a girl – just like Laura. It was a blast!”
“I thought that was kind of a messy job,” Heather said.
“You bet. But Calvin didn’t seem to mind. Of course he had left his three piece suit at home. And Laura is his sister. At a time like this, it’s his duty to give her a hand.”
“Hmm. Well, I think better of him for doing it.”
“Me too,” admitted Amber.
“How did last night’s shift with Lance Prescott go?”
“It was lovely. Even though we only watched the mares and none of them went into labor. We talked quite a bit. He’s from Tennessee and he was career military before his medical discharge.”
“Yeah. Marines. Anyway, you might as well hear it from me, Heather. Lance has some pretty extensive injuries. He wears a patch over his left eye and he’s badly scarred too.”
“If his scars don’t bother you, they won’t bother me,” Heather said firmly.
“I wish he hadn’t been hurt, of course. But he’s still very much a man. He acts like our cousins and that makes me feel right at home.”
“Don’t let your heart run away with your head,” Heather advised.
“I only said he put me in mind of Joey and Lenny,” Amber protested.
“Just keep in mind that he’s not a bear.” Heather warned. “How do you go about telling someone who is not a shifter that you are? Tell me that.”
“I purely do not know,” Amber sighed. “But it’s early days yet. We’re just starting to get to know one another.”
Was Heather correct? Was the fact that she was a bear shifter going to be a deal breaker for Lance? Should she cut her losses before she broke her heart again? It seemed foolhardy to risk the pain of falling in love with the wrong person. But equally cowardly not to give whatever was blossoming between her and Lance a chance.
“You take your time.” Heather broke into Amber’s ruminations. “Get to know him.”
“Lance walked me home last night when our shift was over. He looked all around. On guard. He was probably expecting that snake’s friend Dog will come looking for the gal who got his buddy imprisoned.”
Heather snorted. “That’s the least I would expect of any man if he’s interested. But you be careful, sis. That snake will for sure be looking for revenge. That’s what snakes do. You better keep a sharp eye out. And maybe you should think about telling Laura or Steve that Blondie is a rattlesnake. If he means you harm, bars won’t keep you safe.”
“I don’t know he’s a rattlesnake for sure,” Amber objected. “I just knew when I smelled Blondie he was a snake shifter. And that’s all I know. Anyway, if he does break out of jail, he’ll have a hard time sneaking up on me in the snow. Either in human or as a serpent. There are still mountains of snow here. Even the paths are just packed snow. He’d leave tracks for sure.”
“Snakes are sneaky. You make sure he can’t just slither along the electric wires and come down your chimney.”
“Heather, it’s twelve below this evening. My stove is blazing away, and I have to keep it going all night. Any snake that tried to slither down my stove pipe would come to the same end as the Big Bad Wolf.”
As she had intended, Heather laughed. “I guess so. I’ll try not to worry. But it’s hard when you’re so far away. I really miss you.”
“I miss you too, twin. But I’ll bet you don’t have a lot of time to miss me, not with three babies to feed and a commute to the hospital.”
“It’s not much of a commute from the hotel to the hospital, but I’ll admit I’m tired. Although Patrick does his part too. I can only nurse two and the third has to be formula fed.” Heather sighed. “We’re both at the hospital day and night – we take turns feeding them and sleeping on the cot beside the incubators.”
“It’s only right that Patrick should suffer too, Heather. They’re his responsibility.”
“He’s taken to being a daddy like a duck to water. Turned into a proper bear,” Heather said proudly. “He insists that we go to the hotel for a real meal twice a day, and that I nap whenever I can.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Privately, Amber doubted that Patrick Bascom had really changed. But she didn’t want an open breach with her only sister and her twin, so she kept her suspicions to herself.
“You need a bear, Amber Dupré. I don’t care how much of a man you think Lance Prescott is. He’s likely to take to his heels the second he finds out you’re a black bear.”
Amber sighed. Part of her felt that Heather was correct. The other part was hopeful that a sincere affection would make it possible for Lance to accept her for who she was. But all she said was, “Chance would be a fine thing. But aside from Steve Holden – and he’s taken – there aren’t any bears to speak of around here.”
“Calvin has a way of making me feel about a smart as a day-old chick. Besides, he lives in Denver. We don’t see him except once in a way here in Success.”
“Didn’t you just tell me you spent the day helping him with a mare in labor?”
“That’s hardly permanent.”
“It’s a chance to get to know him a bit better. Patrick thinks the world of his cousin. Under all that gloss, Calvin is a good man. He’s a captain in the reserves like Patrick – like Gideon.” Their cousin Gideon Bascom was in the Air Guard.
“I admit Calvin showed a different side today. But he’s usually so stiff and disapproving that I just want to creep into a hole.”
“Patrick was like that at first. But the love of a good woman has made a new bear of him.” Heather was smug.
“And you think I could work a similar miracle on Mr. Calvin Bascom? I don’t think I’m cut out to be a miracle worker, Heather. I’m not much for trying to change people. I just want to take them as they come. And Lance doesn’t seem to need much in the way of changing.”
“You’re infatuated,” Heather accused.
“I’d say, interested. I enjoy Lance’s company, and I look forward to more of it. He’s easy to talk to.” And he smelled right.
“Is he a good lover?”
“Heather Dupré Bascom! You’re asking for a little too much information, sis. We haven’t got anywhere near that far.”
“Is he at least a good kisser? Kissing is important. If a man’s no good at kissing, he is not going to be any good at the rest of it. It’s been a long time since Willie was killed.” Heather’s voice was warmly sympathetic.
“This has nothing to do with Willie,” Amber snapped.
“Sure it does. You’ve lived like a nun since he died.”
“Maybe,” Amber conceded. “I’ll tell you this for nothing, I don’t feel like a nun around Lance.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017