The vet is kneeling beside the dead sheep, fingers feeling the fleece. Out of the corner of her eye, Kate sees him frown, sitting back on his heels in the hay-strewn dust.
“You just found them like this?” he says to Tim. “All three? No marks on them?”
Since marrying Tim, Kate has become used to death – lambs to the slaughter, a sick dog shot. These ewes are different though. They lie with wide eyes rolled back into socket, teeth bared. No blood.
The vet moves on to the second sheep. He tilts the head, feels the belly. His hands are gentle, reverent almost. It’s what he’s known for. This is the vet all the farmers call because he has magic hands – gentle enough to win an animal’s trust, firm enough to stop it bolting.
Kate lifts two of the mugs from the tray. Tim takes one with a worried smile, leaving her to give the other to the vet.
“Thanks.” The vet holds out his hand just far enough away to make her lean towards him. He nods at the sheep. “Not a pretty sight for a lady.”
Kate turns away. “Comes with the job.”
The vet laughs. “You should’ve married a vet instead.” He winks at Tim and Tim laughs too.
There is another vet Tim could’ve called. A good vet – competent, quiet. But he doesn’t have the magic, and sometimes a smell of beer spills out of his Landrover with him; his not-magic hands aren’t always as steady as they might be. So Tim called this one. This vet would never drink on the job. Nobody has ever seen him drunk, not even at New Year when Kate was tipsy and tired and he’d offered to walk her home so Tim could stay on at the pub. Not even then, when he’d insisted on it because the roads were dark and icy and anything might happen to a woman alone.
The vet rises to his feet, slurps his tea. “It’s odd,” he says. “I’d say they’d been attacked, but there’s a complete absence of defensive injuries. No sign of a struggle.”
“Perhaps they were frightened,” Kate says without meeting his eyes. “Perhaps they froze.”
He shakes his head. “You’d have heard. If what was happening was that bad, they wouldn’t have stayed silent, would they?”
He comes over to her, reaching behind her for his bag.
“Funny,” he says. “Whatever it was, they just let it happen.” He shrugs and looks directly at Kate. “Almost as if they wanted it.”
Tim sighs. “Guess I’ll call the knackermen.”
“I’ll do it.” Kate takes a step towards the door.
The vet squeezes her arm as she passes. “Good to see you again, Kate.”
He smiles a wide, untroubled smile. And even when she is across the yard, the kitchen door shut behind her, Kate can still feel those hands on her. Hands that are gentle enough to win an animal’s trust, firm enough to stop it bolting.