Breakaway (A Gail McCarthy Mystery)



Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Hayburner, Forged, Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone, Barnstorming

BREAKAWAY. Copyright © 2001 by Laura Crum. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Crum, Laura. Breakaway: a Gail McCarthy mystery / Laura Crum.1st ed.
p. cm. ISBN 0-312-27181-6
1. McCarthy, Gail (Fictitious character)-Fiction. 2. Women veterinarians-Fiction. 3. Santa Cruz (Calif.)-Fiction. I. Title.
PS3553.R76 B74 2001 813'.54-dc21 2001019260
First Edition: July 2001


For Andrew Brian Snow and Zachariah Andrew Snow, my family.


I would like to thank those people whose expertise contributed to this book:
Ruth Cavin, my editor,
Meredith Phillips, my copyeditor,
Lieutenant Patty Sapone of the Santa Cruz Police Department,
Dr. Craig Evans, D.V.M.,
Dr. William Harmon, M.D.,
Jean Lukens, who explained her way of painting,
Marlies Cocheret, for a European point of view (and much more),
Caroline Du Vernois, the best bartender in town,

and Kleine Lettunich, who, along with V. Sackville-West, Beverly Nichols, Gertrude Jekyll, Susan Irvine, Henry Mitchell, Michael Pollan, and a host of other magical garden writers, ignited my passion for old roses.




Santa Cruz County is a real place, but Harkins Valley exists only in my imagination, as do all the characters in this book. Lest the reader think I am stretching the bounds of fiction too far, however, the central premise on which this plot is based did occur in a barn where I once kept my horses, many years ago.





Table of Contents:




TWO 14




SIX 59




TEN 104


























“Dr. McCarthy, I would like you to come check my horse."
Seven o'clock on a Saturday morning, and the voice on the other end of the line was female and unfamiliar.
"What's wrong?" I said dully, my mind still clouded with sleep.

A brief silence. Then, "She has been violated, I think. But I would like you to say what you think. Will you come?" The voice had a slight accent; I couldn't place it.

"If you need me."

My lack of enthusiasm must have sounded loud and clear because the unknown woman's tone grew stronger. "Yes, I would like you to come."

"All right. Is the horse in any kind of distress?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Then I'll be out in an hour or so," I said firmly.

Taking an address and directions, I hung up. Damn. Not ten minutes earlier, I'd been dozing, watching the fog-gray light outside my window and wondering what it would take to propel me out of bed and into the kitchen. Then had come the page from the answering service; my return call had elicited this strange conversation.

Her mare had been violated? What the hell did that mean? Maybe the neighbor's stud horse had gotten loose. In any case, it looked like I had to get up.

Getting up used not to be so difficult, I reflected wearily. At one time I had bounced out of bed with relative enthusiasm. Even this early in the morning. But today and yesterday and the six months previous, I awoke to the same steady, insidious apprehension. I didn't want to leave the bed, didn't want to face the day. Not a useful trait for a veterinarian, or anyone else who needed to earn a living.

Which I did. So, get up Gail, I admonished myself. Take a shower, make coffee. You'll feel better.

But I still lay on my side, staring out the window at a patch of foggy sky. There was no reason for this feeling. My life was going just fine. My boss had recently made me a partner in his business. Two years ago I'd purchased the house and property of my dreams. I owned two horses, a dog, a cat, and a cow. I was thirty-six years old and I'd achieved all the goals I'd set for myself when I turned eighteen. So why in hell was I so sad?

Lonny. His name jumped into my mind. Lonny Peterson, my boyfriend of several years, had decamped. Not without asking me to marry him. But the marriage proposal had included the rider that I be willing to leave my job and home and move to the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my new husband. Born and raised in Santa Cruz County, I felt this patch of rolling coastal hills on the northern edge of California's Monterey Bay was home. I was proud of what I'd achieved here in my career as a horse vet. I was staying, I told Lonny.

I'm not sure what I expected. Perhaps that he would choose to stay in order to be with me. It didn't turn out that way. Lonny had left, pursuing his own particular dream of owning a ranch in the Sierra foothills. We'd stayed in touch; we were still fond of each other. But it wasn't the same. Solitary for most of my life, I hadn't realized how much I'd come to count on Lonny's companionship in the years we were together. Suddenly "alone" didn't seem bearable. Six months ago, Lonny and I had agreed that we could date other people, but instead of feeling freer and happier, as I had expected, I found myself sinking deeper into this strange inertia.

I shifted restlessly, and the dog lying on the bed next to me, who had been curled comfortably in the curve of my body, got up, stretched, and licked my face.

"All right, Roey, all right."

The dog, a small, red, female Queensland heeler who looked very much like a little red fox, wagged her tail and licked my face again. I rolled away from her and let the momentum carry me out of bed.

First the coffee had to be made, then the dog got a biscuit and was let outside, then a shower and the obligatory minimal hair and face touch-up. I studied my closet without interest and pulled out a pair of jeans and a chambray shirt-almost a uniform as far as I was concerned.

Dressed and as ready as I was getting, I put some honey and milk in a blue willow mug and poured the strong French roast into it. The coffee steamed into the cool early morning air and I settled myself at one end of my couch and stared out the big windows.

A leaden gray sky, heavy with fog, matched my mood. Laid out before me, like some romantic landscape painting, was my neat vegetable garden, the grape stake fence adorned with climbing roses. My long border of wild perennials provided a foreground for the backdrop of rounded brushy hills. It was June, and the garden was at its peak, but the vividly balanced lavender-blue versus golden-orange color scheme that I'd orchestrated with such care looked as gray as the sky to me now.

In the corrals farther down the slope my two horses, Gunner and Plumber, stared hopefully over the railings toward the house. Plumber gave his shrill, high-pitched nicker, and Gunner echoed him. Daisy, the cow, lowed plaintively from the small riding arena where I kept her. Come feed us, they said.

I took a long swallow of coffee. What in the hell was wrong with me?

What I had, many people would give anything for. A few years ago, I would have said that owning this property, these horses, complete with the degree of financial success I'd achieved, would make me completely happy. I simply was not prepared for the intensity of the despondency I felt.

Was it all about Lonny? I wouldn't have said I was that dependent. There were other men who wanted to date me, men I was attracted to. Was it simply your classic midlife crisis?

All I knew was that, irrational as it seemed, I was beginning to feel that I couldn't go on like this. My life had lost all interest for me.

Plumber nickered again and I finished my coffee. The animals still had to be fed, the woman with the violated mare was waiting. Reluctantly I got up off the couch. Putting one foot in front of the other seemed like too much, but I didn't know how to quit.

Ten minutes later I was driving down the road toward Harkins Valley, a horsey little community not fifteen minutes from where I lived. The chilly fog of a California coastal summer lay heavily over everything; and whether it was my mood or the weather, I could see little beauty in the oak trees and meadows and redwood-filled canyons that used to delight me.

This is what they call depression, I told myself, not for the first time. You need to do something about this, Gail. You need to get help.

But not now. Now, I was pulling into a stranger's driveway and putting on my professional face. The competent, steady, reliable veterinarian, ready for anything.

Looking around, I walked in the direction of a smallish wooden barn-nothing fancy-more or less a large garage converted to a box stall, feed room, tack room setup. A woman came out of the box stall and walked to meet me.

"I'm Dr. McCarthy," I said, and held out my hand.
She was roughly forty, with a fine-boned, olive-skinned face, gentle lines around her eyes. "I am Nicole Devereaux."
We shook hands.

"Would you come with me?" Her accent was elusive, but there. I followed her to the flat-roofed barn. Inside a homemade box stall, a black mare was awkwardly cross-tied, with baling twine and a garden hose improvising an impromptu halter and ties. Behind the mare a five-gallon plastic bucket lay on its side.

"I found her this way," Nicole Devereaux said. "I have not touched anything."

Studying the mare, I noticed that she seemed calm and alert, no signs of distress or any abnormality. Rather, she gazed at me with a docile eye, apparently unperturbed.

I put a hand on her shoulder. The black coat was smooth and slick, without the slightest dampness. Pulse normal, respiration normal.

"She seems fine," I said.

"Yes, she is fine, I think." The woman sounded diffident. "But," she gestured at the mare's rump, "look under her tail."

I walked to the mare's rear end, patted her hip, and glanced to see that her expression was still docile. Lifting her tail, I looked underneath. Nothing seemed amiss, though there was a viscous substance smeared around her vulva. For a long moment I stared, then looked at the five-gallon bucket. It took me a minute, but I got it.

"You found her just like this?" I asked, glancing at the way she was tied.

"Yes, what do you think?" Nicole Devereaux asked.

"I see what you mean," I said slowly. "You think the bucket was used to stand on. Why didn't you call the police?"

"I have no wish to have the police here," she said.
"But if you'd think someone has, uh, sexually abused this mare, it's not a matter for a veterinarian."
"I just want another opinion. Do you think that is what has happened?"

Slowly I ran my eyes over the scene. This time I noticed more smears of the viscous substance, which did, indeed, look like semen, on the mare's rump. Shaking my head, I told the woman, "It seems that way. But if you want to know, I think you should call the police and let them do some analysis of that." I pointed at a smear.

"I don't wish for the police," Nicole Devereaux said. "Do you think she will be all right?"

"She seems fine to me. And if it's true that someone has, well, for lack of a better word, raped her, I can't see any reason why it would do her any harm. More likely to do him harm, I'd say. Does she kick?"

"No, never. She is very sweet." Rubbing the mare's forehead affectionately, Nicole Devereaux untied her and led her out of the barn.

I followed, watching as she put the animal in a small corral shaded by an apple tree. Looking around, I saw an old adobe brick house half-hidden behind a few more ancient fruit trees and a hedge.

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