Excerpt from St Albans Fire by Archer Mayor, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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St Albans Fire

A Joe Gunther Mystery

By Archer Mayor

St Albans Fire
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2005,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2006,
    352 pages.

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That was one of the things that had so disappointed him with Marianne. He'd envisioned her here, with him, working by his side in the barn, sharing a lifestyle that he'd been taught by his father and which he cherished as among the best in the world. But that was before he'd woken up to her true nature. It was pretty clear now he'd been fantasizing from the start, fueled entirely by his hunger for her.

Unconsciously, he reached out and laid his hand on the smooth haunch of a nearby cow, taking comfort from its warmth. Now that he was here, surrounded by all that gave him sustenance, he recognized how foolish he'd been, and how, in fact, he might end up having to thank Marianne for dumping him.

Not that he was quite ready for that yet.

A sudden lowing from near the stable's far wall made him move quickly in that direction, both the sound and his experience preparing him for what he soon saw. A large cow was lying in a calving pen apart from the stalls, her benign expression at odds with the obvious tension rippling through her body. From her hind quarters, a glistening, milky white sack, the size of a duffel bag, was working its way into the half-lit world.

Gently, Bobby entered the stall. "Hey there, Annie," he said quietly, "you're rushing things. You were supposed to wait a few more days."

He positioned himself behind her and cradled the wet, slippery sack as it continued to emerge from the birth canal, the calf's front feet and nose visible through the thin membrane. Excited and fearful at his lucky timing, Bobby seized the feet as the sack ripped open, and half caught, half eased the bundle onto the hay-covered ground, straining against both the weight and the awkwardness of his package.

Now on his knees, covered with blood, viscous fluid, and the wet, powerful smell of afterbirth, he struggled against Annie's large, inquisitive nose as she tried to push him out of the way to conduct a maternal inspection.

"Easy, girl. Let me do this," he urged, struggling with the small, slimy creature in an attempt to lift its hind leg and check its sex. Successful at last, he smiled at what he found. "Nice, Annie—a future milker. Good girl."

Free to get to work, Annie's enormous tongue immediately began rasping against the calf's nose and eyes with surprising force, cleaning it off as it snorted and shook its head.

Bobby moved back and sat on his haunches, smiling broadly, all thoughts of Marianne banished, and admired the scene, pleased not only by the sight but also by the fact that he'd worked without direction or help. In the morning, he'd surprise his father with this tale of serendipity.

Which thought brought him back to reality. His job wasn't done yet, and what he had to do was way beyond Annie's capabilities. After cleaning up the mess and spreading more sawdust, he traveled back the length of the stable to the milk room and opened up the cabinet housing the drugs and medicines. After setting out two buckets to be filled with tepid water for Annie, he prepared one 2 cc syringe for injection into the calf's nostril and loaded a pill gun so he could deliver a bolus of medicine straight down its throat. He then returned to the pen and distracted the mother with the water, which she gulped down in a thirsty panic while he set out to medicate the newcomer.

Now he was done, he thought, stepping back at last and slipping the syringe into his breast pocket for later disposal. Almost.

Still smiling, he made for the nearest shortcut to the vast hayloft overhead: a broad wooden ladder punching through an open trapdoor in the ceiling. The least he could do was supply the happy twosome with some fresh hay.

Climbing with the ease of a seasoned sailor up a ratline, Bobby broke through to the hayloft floor in seconds, its suddenly enormous, domed, black vastness emphasized by its emptiness. So late in the season, there was but one towering pile of bales left, against the far south wall. The rest of the expansive floor space was bare, aside from a six-inch layer of chaff rustling underfoot.

Copyright © 2005 by Archer Mayor

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