Dr. Gene Saltzman, the seventy-year-old veterinarian at Valley Veterinary in Blue Dog Valley, Wisconsin, was just closing up for the night when he noticed the red pickup truck pulling into the parking lot.
He sighed heavily but waited as the man behind the wheel parked, got out, and walked up to him with an expression that was something akin to anger but not quite.
"Evening, Cohen," Dr. Saltzman said. "What can I do you for?" "I heard a rumor," Cohen said. "Word is that you've sold the clinic to a woman vet in California."
Cohen Gable didn't like surprises, and, boy, had he been surprised when Ruby down at the diner told him Dr. Saltzman was selling the clinic to some 'outsider from Los Angeles' and moving himself down to Florida to retire. Cohen had to go right over and find out for himself if it was true.
In the truck, Cohen's cairn terrier, Peanut Butter, yipped through the cracked window, begging to be let out. Peanut Butter didn't like anybody having a conversation without her.
"That's not a rumor," Dr. Saltzman replied patiently. "It's fact, and she'll be here sooner rather than later." Dr. Saltzman had known Cohen the boy's entire life, and he'd always been serious-too serious for his own good. "She's going to be a great addition to this town. She'll liven the place up."
"We don't need livening up," Cohen said. "We need a reliable vet." "And you'll have one."
"How do you know?" Cohen asked. "Do you know her?"
"I know her enough," Dr. Saltzman replied. "I have all the confidence in the world that she will settle right in."
"How do you reckon a vet from L.A. is going to settle into the valley?" Cohen asked. "She can't possibly understand us here."
"About as good as that dog of yours settled in on the farm—in time. You need to have some faith, my boy," Dr. Saltzman said. "I'm counting on you to make sure she feels welcome."
"I'm serious," Dr. Saltzman said. "I'm also going to need you to pick her up from the airport in Milwaukee."
"That's a two-hour drive, one way!" Cohen said.
"Then I suggest," Dr. Saltzman said, patting Cohen on the back, "you learn how to drive and talk at the same time."
Goldie McKenzie watched the pet carrier circle around on the conveyor belt and disappear into the bowels of the Milwaukee airport. There was a cat inside the carrier. She knew that, because she'd watched a man—probably about her age, in his forties-walk up beside her as she waited for her luggage, chattering into a Bluetooth headset attached to his ear like it was 2004.
"What am I looking for?" he was asking. "A 'cat'? You've got to be frickin' kidding me, Brenda. A frickin' cat?"
The first time the carrier passed by them, the man did not make a move to pick it up. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest, listened for a moment, and then said, "You didn't tell me nothin' about pickin' up a frickin' cat."
The carrier made another trip around the belt.
"Well, if you don't even want this frickin' cat, why am I here to pick up a frickin' cat?"
Goldie looked down at her phone, pretending to read an email while she listened.
"I can't believe I paid to park just to pick up a frickin' cat," the man continued. "Cost me ten bucks. Why didn't your sister tell you she was sendin' your dead mother's cat on a frickin' airplane? Of all the ridiculous...What? No. I don't want the frickin' cat." By this time, Goldie had picked up her own bags, the carrier was nearly the only thing left on the belt, and a crowd of people had come and gone. She only had two suitcases; the rest of her belongings would be arriving later, sent to her new home in Blue
Dog Valley, Wisconsin, once she got settled.
Next to her, the man sighed. "If I leave it, won't they just send it back?"
Goldie flicked her eyes up to the man. Surely, he wasn't just going to leave the cat at the airport. Was that even a thing a person could do?
Apparently, it was something a person could do, because the man turned around and walked away, vanishing into the thick onslaught of people who'd already claimed their luggage. All around her, people were hustling and bustling, meeting loved ones, embracing, and grabbing their suitcases, until it was just Goldie and the cat and the low hum of the belt as it continued to circle.