Coldford Veterinary clinic was the busiest new recruit Alex Ferrald had ever known it. Fresh out of Vet School Alex found himself thrown in the deep end. He had just sent Mrs Rowsely home with her boxer dog in a fresh cast. The appropriately named Fussy just couldn’t stay out of oncoming traffic. Luckily it had been a bike that had hit him this time and not a car.
“You really should keep him on a leash,” Alex warned her.
As he leaned over to check the cast Fussy licked him. He could feel Mrs Rowsely’s stare so he kept his head down.
When she was gone Alex gave a sigh of relief and dropped himself into the plastic clinic room chair. He looked at the clock. Appointments had been cleared for the next couple of hours but just as he began to contemplate the tuna fish sandwich he had packed into his bag the vet nurse Kayleigh opened the door.
“We’ve got an emergency, Mr Ferrald. All the other vets are busy. Can you take it?”
The girl in his room made him bashful – more reluctant than under the glare of Mrs Rowsely.
“Penn,” she explained.
“Penn? As in the PENN AUCTION HOUSE? Is it Rita?” He asked. The family were well known. Rita being the mother and her triplet sons being the main rulers of City Main.
“Reggie,” Kayleigh confirmed. “One of the triplets.”
“I … errr … “ stammered Alex. “What’s the animal?”
“Rats. Two of them. He’s already filled in the paperwork.
“You better send them in then,” Alex resolved taking a deep breath. “I’ll have a look.”
Just as Kayleigh cleared the entrance her petite frame and braces, laced smile was replaced by a much larger, looming presence with a mop of blonde hair, dressed all in black.
The Penn triplets had a reputation. Most people in the Shady City knew them. Violent, wild, respected. Their reputation had been passed down from their father – Reginald – the so called King of City Main. So when Reggie pushed a carrier holding two fat rats into Alex’s arms the mild mannered vet was taken aback.
“Can you help them doctor?” He asked. “Some low life fucker has given them poison.”
Alex was thinking vets aren’t generally titled doctor but who was he to correct one of the triplets?
He opened the carry case. One was darker than the other. One was still on it’s feet, sniffing the air. The other lay down breathing harshly. Both were clean.
“Are they pets?”
REGGIE frowned. “What else would they be?”
Alex focused on the sicker of the two rodents.
“I just mean … erm … where would they have come into contact with poison? Do you know what kind of poison it was?”
“Some fucking scumbag playing silly beggars. I keep them at the warehouse normally. It was broken into. They only got as far as those two. Sick fuck …”
Alex handled the sick rat softly. He turned it in his freshly gloved hands.
“Do you have some time to wait? I’ll put them on an IV and I can give them a transfusion and see how it goes.”
Reggie was smiling but to the rat rather than the vet. He looked up and when he noticed Alex was watching him he confirmed. “That one’s name is Smash.”
“After the lonesome nights character?” Alex responded without thinking.
Lonesome Nights was an online video game his artist friend, David Finn, had introduced him to. It involved hunting prostitutes and stealing cars. Whilst Alex found the idea of theft and prostitution distasteful there was something quite therapeutic about wandering aimlessly around the virtual city. The latest release from Coby Games had made it look a lot like Coldford.
“You play?” Reggie asked as he anxiously watched Alex take blood from Smash and lay him gently in a cage.
“A little,” Alex replied as he opened the carrier for the second rodent.
The second rat still had the energy to run and made a break for it the moment the door was opened.
Reggie’s palm clashed on the table catching the rat by the tail. He pulled it back and clutched it by the body.
“This one is Jacket. You see how his fur is a little darker around the top of his body? It looks like he’s wearing a jacket. I never used to name them. It was easier when they didn’t have names.”
“Uh Huh,” Alex replied, unsettled. He took the more boisterous rat and extracted blood as quickly as he could.
“I’ll have the bloods checked so we can know what type of poison it was. I’ll put them on a drip in the meantime and see how the fair.”
“Thanks doctor,” Reggie replied with genuine gratitude.
“Errr,” Alex averted his gaze. “I’ll have to give them a few hours at least. I can call you when I know more.”
Alex felt a tremble as Reggie brushed the mass of blonde curls back from his face and looked behind him with a cool stare.
“Take care of them. The girl at the desk has my number.”
He drew his phone from his back pocket and busied himself with a text message as he left the room.
When alone with the rats Alex gave another sigh. This time it wasn’t relief. Jacket seemed fine. Alex was confident with some treatment he could go home. Smash on the other hand was sniffing very closely to that eternal rat trap.
Could timid Alex really be the one to tell one of the Penn triplets he had lost their precious pet under his care?
“They back doctor?” Reggie Penn came bounding in the following morning.
For the third time Alex resisted the urge to correct the towering presence of the youngest triplet.
He had called the clinic three times the previous afternoon to check up on his rats. He finally gave up when he spoke to Alex himself who explained he was going to keep them overnight for further observation but both (thankfully Smash took a turn for the better) were fine and looking well.
Alex laid the carrier on the examination table. Both rats were squeaking with delight. The vet was glad to have them off his hands. He thought Reggie would have taken the carrier but instead he opened it up and plunged his long fingers and drew the rat out. He sat Jacket on his shoulder and held Smash out in front of him.
“I thought you were a goner,” he cheered, tickling the rats twitching nose. When he noticed Alex was watching him the vet averted his gaze.
“Luckily the rodenticide used was slow acting. I gave a few transfusions for Smash to flush out the poison and one for Jacket to be safe,” explained the vet.
“Slow acting, huh?” Reggie kept his focus on the rats.
“I’ll give you some Vitamin K1. Keep giving them that for the next month and they should be fine.”
Reggie put them back in their carrier. His phone bleeped again. He pulled it from the back pocket of his black jeans, checked it and stored it away again.
“I really owe you.”
Alex’s eyes widened. “It’s just my job. No worries.” He took a deep breath. “Happy to help.”
The last thing. He wanted was to have a Penn indebted to him.
By the time Alex got home he was looking forward to washing off the day.
“Alex! Wait up!”
Alex turned. His chest tightened as he caught sight of blonde hair. Luckily it wasn’t a Penn. It was the unkempt bleached hair of his friend, DAVID FINN.
“Thank God it’s you,” Alex gasped.
David narrowed his gaze. “Who else would it be?”
I had one of the Penns in my clinic today.
David asked, “which one?”
“Reggie. The one with all the rats.”
“I bet that was an experience,” David jested as they slowly started to climb the steps.
The Penn Auction House had shown some interest in David’s work. The sent one of their acquisitions agents to liaise with the Harper Dalway gallery that held most of David’s pieces but he hadn’t met the triplets personally.
“Luckily I managed to save the rats.”
David laughed. “That’s good. You might have ended up in one of the cages.” He stuck his tongue out and made a comical imitation of a man dying.
Alex punched his arm good naturedly. “It’s not funny,” he said but he was now laughing too.
His phone beeped so he stopped on the steps to check it. It was a notification from the Lonesome Nights game.
REG3 SENT YOU A FRIEND REQUEST.
“Fuck!” Alex exclaimed. He showed David.
David shrugged. “You better not ignore it. Do you want to have rats put up your arse?” Alex stared at him in horror. “True story, man,” the artist confirmed with a shrug.
Alex accepted the request. Just has he made to store his phone away it beeped again.
REG3 SENT YOU 5000 COINS
Alex had been given a generous amount of credit to use within the game. A message followed.
THANKS AGAIN DOCTOR. HAVE A GOOD QUALITY PROSTITUTE ON ME.
David laughed more heartily when Alex showed him the new development.
“Can you believe this?” Alex exclaimed.
David grinned. “You should ask him for real money or a real prostitute.”
The both continued joshing until entered Alex’s apartment. Alex’s mind turned back to why the rats had been poisoned in the first place.
“Why would someone do that?” Alex wondered.
David picked up the copy of the Coldford Daily the downstairs neighbour put through the door as she did every day when she had finished reading.
“Those guys have enemies. People out there are sick.”
Alex dropped into the sofa.
“Well I hope it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think I’m cut out to be Reggie Penn’s personal vet.”
David had been flicking through to the sports pages for the latest news on the Coldford Athletic football team when he stumbled on an article from Sam Crusow.
“Well I don’t think they’ll be doing it again anyway.”
He showed Alex the headline that caught his attention.
MAN FOUND DEAD IN A NORTH SIDE LOCK UP. Coroner’s report confirms death by rat poison.
Coincidence? Not very likely.