Dr. Kate Turner is happy with her new life in Oak Falls, upstate New York. Working as a relief veterinarian at a small house-call practice, she truly enjoys helping her patients.
All that changes when client Claire Birnham is found dead, an apparent suicide. A talented artist, Claire had everything to live for: new job, Manhattan apartment, her Cairn terrier Toto. As feisty as the Wizard of Oz Toto, he and Claire were devoted. Kate can't imagine Claire simply abandoning her pet. Was her death murder?
Questions end in the police arresting young kennel helper Eugene. The fragile friendship between Kate and police officer Luke Gianetti frays as she ignores his advice and keeps asking questions. House calls provide gossip and clues, some helpful, some not so much, as she treats her animal patients. Did Claire's recent insurance windfall prove too tempting for her hard-working and hard-drinking mother? What does trouble in the art gallery where Claire worked signal? How huge a grudge did heavy metal rocker A.J. hold against high-school sweetheart Claire after she dumped him? Was Claire a threat to AJ's rich new girl?
Dr. Kate mixes real medicine with murder as she risks her life over Claire's death, aided by insights from a former fire investigator, aka her Gramps. Unleashed is as irresistible as Muzzled.
About the Author
A practicing veterinarian for over 20 years, Eileen Brady 's first book, Muzzled , A Kate Turner, D.V.M. Mystery, won the 2013 Discover Mystery Award. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and two daughters plus an assortment of furry friends.
Read an Excerpt
A Kate Turner, D.V.M. Mystery
By Eileen Brady
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Eileen Brady
All rights reserved.
After kicking my cheating boyfriend to the curb I needed to find a job far far away from him.
Quickly. With $150,000 worth of student loans left to pay for my veterinary education, I couldn't afford to be without an income. That's how I ended up in the tiny town of Oak Falls, about two hours from New York City if you put the pedal to the metal, but light years away from the crowds. Hired as a relief vet while the practice owner, Doc Anderson, took an around-the-world cruise, I lived in an apartment attached to the office. At least it was a short commute.
Now, seven months of house calls later, I thought I had seen just about everything.
I was wrong.
Friday morning, my veterinary technician, Mari, and I piled into the office F-150 truck and drove to our first appointment of the day. Seventy-two Chestnut Lane turned out to be an older farmhouse-style home on an acre of land that bordered the state park. Mature elms created a canopy over the front walkway, lined by low-lying junipers and daylilies. A pretty setting, but we were there to take care of a sick pug whose owner had called for an early morning appointment.
An attractive young woman in her twenties with light brown hair and a gentle face opened the door. "Are you the vet?"
Nodding, I introduced myself. "Yes, I'm Dr. Kate Turner and this is my assistant, Mari."
"Nancy Wagner. Come in." She stepped aside. "Don't let anyone out."
Both Mari and I are masters at not letting dogs, cats, or any other type of pet escape through exits of any kind. Watching carefully, we snuck through the door, using our legs like goalies at a soccer game to block anyone trying to flee.
Nancy watched us close the door. Satisfied none of her pets had gotten out, she led us down a fairly narrow hallway.
Unfortunately our progress abruptly stopped when a large gray and white pot-bellied pig with a pink nose turned the corner, effectively throwing a block.
Could the sick pug we were supposed to be seeing actually be a sick pig? Had our receptionist Cindy made an interesting typing mistake?
"Is this the patient?" I asked.
"Yes. This is my Angel. He's almost a year old and he's got a terrible rash on his belly."
Just because veterinarians treat all kinds of animals doesn't mean we have every species' medical problems right at our fingertips. Luckily, I knew quite a bit about pot-bellied pigs. During vet school several had come into the university's small animal clinic with various problems. I'd also gone on farm calls to a pot-bellied pig breeder, and babysat one named Daisy for a friend for a month. Most of the pigs I'd handled were gentle and surprisingly smart.
"All right. Where can I examine him?"
"I guess we could use the living room." Nancy made a kissing sound and the pig turned and trotted off behind her. My guess was he had the run of this part of the house.
Without much trouble Angel rolled over on his back and presented us his belly to scratch. A diffuse red rash spread across the pale, almost hairless skin on his abdomen and halfway up both sides. The lack of any raised diamond shaped lesions or pustules quickly ruled out some of the bad pig diseases — which left anything from fungal to contact dermatitis to a million other things. To be certain I took several skin scrapings which Angel seemed to enjoy.
"Is he healthy otherwise? How is his appetite?"
Maybe this was a husbandry problem, having to do with diet or his environment.
Mari, Nancy, and I sat on the wooden floor. Angel loved having his belly rubbed and grunted with pleasure. I listened to his heart and lungs and continued my exam. "What are you feeding him?"
Nancy pointed over to the kitchen counter. "He gets his pig chow plus vegetables and fruits, and some of what I eat every day. Then I let him root around in the yard outside."
Since pigs are omnivores, which means they eat everything, it sounded like a fairly balanced diet. Except for the rash he looked like a healthy piggy. Digging a little deeper I questioned her further. "Did you spread any chemicals or fertilizers outside recently, or add any new plants or trees?"
"Absolutely not. I'm very careful because of all my pets." Nancy sounded indignant.
"What about his sleeping pen?" Since our animal patients can't talk to us, I found taking a detailed history is of huge importance. "Do you change the hay frequently? Is there any evidence of mouse or rat infiltration in his stall?" Skin lesions could be a result of moldy hay or damp unsanitary conditions.
His concerned owner continued to stroke Angel's belly. "I'm sure everything is fine. I don't have any skin problems."
Not sure if she understood I tried to reassured her. "From a preliminary look, I don't think this is contagious to people, but I'm curious if it has something to do with where he sleeps.
Again she looked up at me, eyes wide. "He sleeps with me."
For a moment I thought she sometimes camped in the backyard.
Mari subtly nudged me with her elbow.
I persisted. "Where exactly does Angel sleep at night?"
"In bed. With me," Nancy said in a matter-of-fact voice, as though everyone sleeps with their pig.
That's when a rooster walked into the room. Brightly feathered, brown and black with a red comb, he strutted past us, barely glancing at the pig on the floor. "Hi, Tommy," Nancy said to the chicken.
Mari poked me again and whispered, "That's odd."
I was there to figure out what was wrong with Angel, not the owner, so continued. "Does he sleep on top of the bed?"
"No. Under the sheets. He gets cold at night." she explained, "Besides, he likes to cuddle."
Picturing her spooning with her pig seemed all wrong. I kept going.
"Have you changed your detergent or fabric softener?" Since pigs have sensitive skin I went with one of the most common causes of rashes — contact dermatitis.
Nancy frowned and pursed her lips. "Oh my gosh. I changed my fabric softener to Lavender Fields right around the time I noticed the rash. Do you think that might be it?"
"It certainly could be a cause. Would you be able to wash him with a hypoallergenic shampoo?"
"Sure, Angel likes taking showers with me."
Of course he did. Another place I didn't want to go.
"Great. Mari will get the pet shampoo for you. Follow the directions and wash all the linen and whatever else he comes in contact with in hot water. Use your regular detergent but skip the fabric softener. If that's the cause of his skin condition you should see a difference in about ten days. Meanwhile, we'll call you with the results of our tests. There may be some other type of diagnostics to run, depending on how he responds."
Angel rolled over, then pulled himself up onto his relatively slender feet. I noticed a large doggy door leading out into the backyard. As we watched, the pig aimed his snout into the door flap, pushed it open, then squeezed through.
"Thanks so much, doctor," Nancy said, relief in her voice. "I was worried it might be something serious." She hesitated for a moment. "Do I have to wash Tommy, too?"
For a moment I was confused. "Who is Tommy?"
"My rooster." She smiled a sweet smile. "He sleeps with me too."
* * *
After saying goodbye and getting into the truck, Mari couldn't hold it in. She laughed her butt off. What exactly was going on in that house? I wasn't sure. Nancy appeared to be a normal person, but lonely. Maybe her surrogate animal family filled the gaps in her life. The animals were healthy and well looked after, so who was I to judge her? After all, I talked to my dog Buddy, and he often slept at the bottom of the bed. During thunderstorms I let him crawl under the blankets. Whatever gets you through the day. Still, I couldn't imagine sleeping with sharp piggy hooves in the bed with me.
"Is there a Mr. Nancy in the picture?" I wondered, turning the corner onto Scenic Drive.
"No such luck." Mari entered something into the laptop. "She confided in me that she doesn't get that many second dates."
I tried not to crack a smile. "Gee, I wonder why?"
An hour later we arrived back at the animal hospital and I immediately looked at the skin samples. Everything checked out fine, no nasty scabies or demodex mites, no yeast or any of the other common skin problems that might cause a rash. Knowing Nancy would be worried I called her back while writing up my records.
"Thanks, Dr. Kate. I'll give you an update in two weeks. She took a moment, then continued, "Why don't you check out my Facebook page and follow the link to our website and my blog?"
Six o'clock rolled around before I had an opportunity to go into Doc's office to check my email. For curiosity's sake I looked up Nancy on Facebook.
To my surprise there were lots of postings on her page and a professional looking link to her website. When I clicked on it I got another surprise. Nancy wrote a blog about her pets and her life, a pretty popular blog, and now I was part of it.
Obviously taken from an overhead cam, the posted picture caught me rubbing Angel's tummy. It was a toss-up who sported the bigger grin, me or the pig.CHAPTER 2
Seven-thirty on Saturday morning my alarm rang. Still half asleep, I stumbled into the animal hospital through the connecting door to my apartment, dying for that first cup of coffee from the office Mr. Coffee machine. Try as I might I've never been a morning person. The shrill barking of one of my patients, a wire-haired Cairn terrier named Toto, woke me faster than usual.
"Good morning, Dr. Kate." Our cheery office manager and chief receptionist, Cindy, handed me a stack of messages. "You're going to be busy today."
"Thanks." I stuffed the notes in my pocket. After taking a blissful first sip of java I made my way over to Toto's cage. The barking turned into fierce growls. Obviously the little guy felt better today. He'd been admitted early Friday morning for observation after his owner found him doing something totally in character with his breeding, running around with a recently dead rat in his mouth. Multiple bite wounds on his lip and face needed to be cleaned and medicated under anesthesia. After taking blood, plus giving him a shot of Vitamin K, I'd kept him in the hospital overnight in case he'd been exposed to rat poison. Happily for all, Claire Birnham, his anxious owner, had arranged for an early pickup of her furry baby this morning. A one-person dog, he loved his mommy and hated the rest of us.
As the staff started to drift in I retreated to the doctor's office to check lab results, review the appointment schedule, and answer my messages. With the practice owner, Doc Anderson, enjoying his round-the-world-cruise, I was the sole veterinarian at the hospital. While I was in the middle of sending an email to a client whose cat was diabetic, Mari poked her head into the room.
"Have you heard?"
"Nuhh," I managed to answer, concentrating on the last sentence I'd typed. I felt sleep-deprived, having spent the night locked in a vivid dream about mega-sharks inexplicably chasing me on their fins through Grand Central Station. Too much Sci-Fi channel.
Used to my morning pattern, Mari didn't need much encouragement to continue. "I heard it from my cousin, the EMT. Claire Birnham committed suicide last night."
"What?" A face flashed before me. Intensely blue eyes full of energy, glossy dark hair curling past her shoulders and an easy brilliant smile. Slender artistic fingers splattered with acrylic paint holding Toto close to her heart.
"She did it in the car. Hooked up a hose to the exhaust and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. A neighbor smelled the exhaust and called the police."
"I can't believe this. We just saw her yesterday."
Both of us stood in silence for a moment, not knowing what to say. A familiar high-pitched bark brought me back to the present.
"What about Toto?"
Mari looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess she wanted him here with us."
The news seemed strange, almost unreal. My email half-finished, I stared at the screen. I'd last spoken to Claire yesterday afternoon. We'd joked about Toto, named after the famous terrier in the Wizard of Oz. Not only did he look identical to the dog in the movie, with his short brindle coat, but he behaved in a fiercely protective manner, putting himself between her and the rest of the world. I had mentioned that the Cowardly Lion could have gotten his courage from her little dog.
My coffee suddenly tasted bitter. I didn't need it anymore to wake me up. "Did she leave a note?"
"I think so," Mari replied, then paused for a moment, a pensive look on her face. "Claire always seemed so full of life. I guess you never know."
I guess you never know. That phrase kept repeating in my head. Upset at the news, I excused myself and went back into the apartment to think. Buddy, my King Charles spaniel, nuzzled up to me.
"Let's go out," I told him and smiled for a moment at the excitement that statement always brings. A former show dog who'd fallen on hard times, he now resembled a mutt, which was fine with me. Only the shape of his head hinted at his refined breeding. As Buddy went and did his business I sat in one of the patio chairs and remembered Claire.
Mari was right. Every once in a while you meet someone so full of life they sweep you up in their enthusiasm. Claire was like that. An artist with her master's degree in art history, she worked two jobs, one at the Quahog Art Gallery in town and the other setting up exhibits in the Edington Museum in Rhinebeck. I'd known her as a friendly and devoted owner to her fireball pet.
Unfortunately, suicide was something I had first-hand knowledge of. One of my classmates at Cornell University killed himself by jumping into a gorge on campus. He seemed the least likely person to do such a thing. A married father with two kids? Who does that? No one saw it coming, not even his wife.
I tossed the ball for Buddy. He took off after it, ears flapping up and down, eye on the prize.
The news about Claire struck me as bewildering and inexpressibly sad. The living may ask why, but the dead don't answer.
Her death put the hospital in an odd position. Who did her dog belong to now? A family member needed to come forward and claim responsibility for Toto. I reminded myself to talk to Cindy about this sad situation.
A chime from my cell phone alerted me to an emergency that just arrived. Putting the suicide out of my mind, I called to Buddy and ran back into the hospital.
The hit-by-car or HBC ended up taking up most of my day. A typical story. Someone didn't close the front door all the way and the family pet ended up running into the street. Queenie, a Siamese-mix cat, had been hit after crossing a busy road. The driver, a cat owner herself, felt terrible and gave us her phone number for reference. Meanwhile, we called the person listed on the kitty's collar and she was astonished that her pet had gotten outside.
Although we found only minor injuries, the cat did have blood inside her chest, probably from contact with the car or the road, so it was touch and go for a while. By three in the afternoon Queenie was out of danger and bravely telling us all about her near miss, and how many lives she had left, in cat language. I was beat.
That's when I noticed Eugene about to walk Toto.
Doc Anderson had hired eighteen-year-old Eugene after a terrible horseback riding accident left him with permanent brain damage. I'd gotten used to him cleaning the cages and kennels, a silent cipher who didn't interact much with people. Some of the staff avoided him, but I liked him and found his silence relaxing to be around. No one doubted his compassion and excellent care of our animal patients. Whenever I felt an animal needed additional attention I could rely on Eugene. As I followed him into the treatment area I noticed how muscular his back and arms looked.
With his dirty blond hair and hazel eyes he must have been a good-looking kid before the accident. Now his facial muscles were slack on the left side and he wore thick glasses to correct his vision.
Before I could warn him, Eugene opened the cage and pulled a thin leash out of the back pocket of his scrubs.
Excerpted from Unleashed by Eileen Brady. Copyright © 2015 Eileen Brady. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.