Heat of the Moment - Lori Handeland

Chapter 1

I glanced up from my examination of a basset hound named Horace to discover the Three Harbors police chief in the doorway. My assistant hovered in the hall behind her.

“Can you take Horace?” I asked, but Joaquin was already scooping the dog off the exam table and releasing him onto the floor. Before I could warn him to leash the beast—my next scheduled patient was Tigger, the cat—Horace had trotted into the waiting area and found out for himself.

Indoor squirrel!

Since childhood, I’d heard the thoughts of animals. Call it an overactive imagination. My parents had. That I was right a good portion of the time, I’d learned to keep to myself. Crazy is as crazy does, and a veterinarian who thinks she can talk to animals would not last long in a small northern Wisconsin tourist town. I doubted she’d last long in any town. But Three Harbors was my home.





Tigger’s owner emitted a stream of curses. Joaquin fled toward the ruckus.

“Kid gonna be okay out there?” Chief Deb jerked a thumb over her shoulder then shut the door.

“If he wants to keep working here, he’d better be.” The waiting room was a battleground, when it wasn’t a three-ring circus.

I sprayed the table with disinfectant and set to wiping it off. “What can I do for you, Chief?”

“I’ve got a missing black cat.”

My hand paused mid-circle. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”

She’d never brought the animal to me, and as I was the only vet within thirty miles, this was at the least worrisome, at the most insulting.

“Just because you picked up a stray,” I continued, “doesn’t mean the animal doesn’t need care.” Ear mites, fleas, ticks, old injuries that had festered—and don’t get me started on the necessity for being spayed or neutered. “A stray probably needs more.”

“Chill, Becca, the missing cat doesn’t belong to me. Neither do the two other black cats, one black dog, and, oddly, a black rabbit that seem to be in the wind.”

I opened my mouth, shut it again, swiped an already clean table, then shrugged. “I don’t have them.”

“If you did, you’d be my newest candidate for serial killer of the week.”

“I … what?”

“After the first two cats went poof, I suspected Angela Cordero.”

“She’s eight years old.”

“Exactly,” Deb agreed. “But when the dog disappeared, I started to think maybe it was Wendell Griggs.”

“Thirteen,” I murmured.

“Missing small animals are one of the first hints of pathological behavior.”

Apparently Chief Deb liked to read that healthy and growing genre, serial killer fiction.

“Missing small animals are usually an indication of a larger predator,” I said. “Especially this close to the forest.”

Three Harbors might be bordered on one side by Lake Superior, but it was backed by a lot of trees, and in those trees all sorts of creatures lived. Perhaps even a few serial killers.

My imagination tingled. If I weren’t careful I’d be writing one of those novels. Maybe I should. Writing might be good therapy for my overactive imagination. Ignoring it certainly wasn’t helping.

“I know.” She sounded disappointed. Apparently the chief would prefer a serial killer to a large animal predator. Worse, she was kind of hoping that the serial killer was someone we knew, who’d yet to hit puberty.

This surprised and disturbed me, though I didn’t know her well. We’d gone to school together, but Deb had occupied the top of the pyramid in high school—literally. Someone of her tiny stature and blond-a-tude had been a given for cheerleader of the year.

She’d worried me when she’d danced on top of those ten-people-high pyramids. Now I was worried that she’d fallen off, once or twice, and hit her head.

“Have you had any animals in here that have been bitten, scratched, mauled, or chewed on?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“Any farmers complain that they’ve seen coyotes or wolves closer to town than they should be?”

“Wouldn’t they report that to you, not me?”

She tilted her head. “Good point.”

Deb had cut her blond ponytail years ago and now wore her hair in a short cap that, when combined with her tree-bark-brown police uniform, Batman-esque utility belt, and Frankenstein-like black shit-locker boots, only made her appear like a child playing dress up.

Dress up.

I tapped the calendar. “Less than two weeks until Halloween.”

“I hate Halloween.” Deb kicked the door, which rattled and caused Horace to yip in the waiting room. Wasn’t he gone yet? “Second only to New Year’s Eve for the greatest number of morons on parade.”

“You said all the missing animals were black.”


“A wolf or a coyote wouldn’t know black