“STEP BACK.” Tension made Garth Twyne’s tone harsh and his stomach sour. Everyone in the room kept a watchful eye on his shaking hand as it wielded the knife.
The two sheriff’s deputies flanking him, each with one hand on their holster, glanced at one another nervously, then obeyed. Garth noticed a trickle of sweat rolling down Deputy Kinard’s temple. It glistened its way down his puffy cheek and under the fat rolls of his chin.
Garth pulled at his hair and looked at the knife he was holding. Barely holding. His limbs shook as badly as if he were on a date. And now he had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. What timing.
“Why don’t you set that knife down,” Deputy Bledsoe said.
“Why don’t you shut your trap!” Garth barked.
Both deputies gasped then swallowed down the air.
“Look, let’s just all settle down here,” Kinard said.
Hyperventilation declared its warning in the center of Garth’s lungs. This was not a good sign. He’d performed a lot of different operations under a lot of different kinds of stress, but this was just absurd.
“Can’t you two put your guns somewhere else?” he growled. “What are you going to do, shoot me?”
Bledsoe snorted. “We’re just following the sheriff ’s orders, Garth. Besides, they’re not even loaded.”
Garth shot a skeptical glance to Kinard, who shrugged and said, “It’s Skary, Indiana, for crying out loud. The only thing we’d need a bullet for is to kill a snake.”
“I know a few of those,” Bledsoe chuckled. His smile faded when he glanced at Garth and then the very real knife he was holding. “Anyway, what’s the problem here?”
“The problem,” Garth seethed, “is that this a delicate procedure, and it’s a little freaky having two men with guns breathing down my back.”
“And add the fact that you’ll probably be thrown in jail if you botch this thing again.”
It was true, he’d botched it years before and then let the sheriff believe his cat was neutered, hence creating the cat crisis in town. No thanks to old Missy Peeple, who had exposed the scandal, he now was having to reperform the operation. At gunpoint.
“Quiet, Bledsoe,” Kinard said. “Garth, just do what you need to do. We’re just here to, um, supervise…make sure it’s done right.”
Garth gripped the knife, clenched his teeth, and swallowed. By the sheet-white expressions on their faces, he knew Bledsoe and Kinard probably didn’t have the stomach to handle this. Skary’s bravest, huh? They should step into his shoes for a day.
Kinard let out a gentle sigh. “That cat is a legend.”
“A feline’s feline,” Bledsoe said with a salute. “A real lady’s man. I could probably use some pointers from that guy. I haven’t had a date in a year.”
“All right,” Garth sighed. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“Just remember, you kill this cat and you’ll have to face the sheriff,” Bledsoe said. “That cat is like a child to him.”
All three men glanced down at the cat slumbering peacefully on the cold, metal table. This was a hard sight for any man to witness. Garth was about to make his first incision when Bledsoe stepped away from the table and toward the only window in the room, opened slightly to relieve the humidity that had suddenly formed when these two men first announced they’d be joining Garth for the operation. Outside the day was gray and sputtering a mix of snow and rain. It was as if the earth mourned for its most notorious cat.
“I can’t watch,” Bledsoe whispered.
Garth tried to concentrate on the task at hand. The knife still shook, but he wasn’t about to delay any longer. He remembered quite well when, not long ago, this cat looked dead to the world, then suddenly came alive without a moment’s warning. And this time the feline hadn’t gone under without a fight, either. He’d scratched the daylights out of the vet twice. Thief knew his time carousing in the streets of Skary, Indiana, was about to be over.
“You’ve had a good life,” Garth murmured. He hated cats. Always had. Besides an aggravating allergy to them that brought hives to his skin and water to his eyes, they were snobs. All of them. Always thought they were better than everyone else. Tails high in the air. Noses turned up.
Eyes that always looked as though they were bored to tears at the thought of spending another second around you. Yet needy. So stinkin’ needy. But as much as he hated cats, he couldn’t help feeling a bit of remorse for this poor fool, who had single-handedly populated the town with his offspring.
Thief had even inspired a book by their town’s celebrity horror writer, Wolfe Boone. If only Garth’s life could be so exciting.
He glanced over his shoulder. Kinard had turned away, too, and was staring at the table of instruments that glinted in the room’s fluorescent lights. A satisfied smirk formed on Garth’s face, and finally his hand stopped shaking.
He looked back once more, and now both men peered out the window.
He began the operation.
After a few moments, Bledsoe said. “Hmm.”
“What?” Kinard asked.
“Look. There. In this tree next to the window.”
“What? I don’t see anything.”
“See? Near the top. It’s an owl.”
“An owl? Oh, I do see it,” Kinard said. “You know, I can’t remember ever seeing an owl in these parts.”
“Come on, give us a little hoot. Come on! Come on, little owl,” said Bledsoe.
“Bledsoe, you sound like a moron,” Kinard said. He turned back toward the vet. “Garth, how’s it going over there?”
“You want to come and look?”
“No. No, um. Just keep it up, whatever you’re doing.”
Garth rolled his eyes as Bledsoe continued to call to the owl as if it were a one-year-old. “Hewwo, wittle owl. Hewwo. Gimme a hoot. C’mon. Gimme a hoot.”
This continued for several more agonizing seconds until finally Garth stopped what he was doing and said, “Bledsoe! Knock it off! Owls only hoot at night or early morning.”
“Oh.” Bledsoe turned back around and observed the owl. The room was silent for several minutes, allowing for the concentration Garth needed to get it right this time. At last he set his instruments down, wiped his forehead, and was about to announce the operation a success when the silence was undone by a single sound, coming from outside the window.