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“Ah . . . sure. Yes.”

The vet smiled. “Come this way. He’s been neutered, by the way, so he was owned by someone at some point.”

Anne followed the woman out and down the corridor of exam rooms, the muffled barks and meows behind the closed doors suggesting the practice was a busy one. Entering a more clinical space, they proceeded over to a line of cages. The stray was down at the far end, curled in the corner as if he were terrified but used to being helpless.

“Hey, big guy,” Anne murmured as she went across and got down on her haunches. “How you feeling?”

A tentative wag greeted her, just the tip of the tail moving.

“He recognizes you,” Dr. Delgado said. “Anyway, you can pick him up tomorrow, assuming he does well on the antibiotic shot. I had to give him some powerful—”

“Pick him up?” Anne got to her feet. “I don’t understand.”

Now the vet’s face grew remote. “I thought you were adopting him.”

“I can’t— I mean, no. I’m not a dog person. I’m not a pet person.” She rushed on with, “But I mean, I’ll pay for the charges. And his food and stuff until he’s adopted.”

“We’re not really equipped to hold onto him after he’s been treated.”

“You must have people who want dogs, though.”

“I’ll do what I can. But he’s part pit and that can be a problem. If we can’t find someone, he’ll have to go to a shelter.”

Anne took a deep breath. “Okay, and someone will take him home from there, then.” There was a pause. “Right? I mean, people adopt all the time. He’ll find somebody to care for him.”

“He’ll have a week. If he’s lucky. But again, with the pit in him, I’m not sure anyone will want him.” The vet took a step back. “We have your credit card. I’ll keep you posted on the charges.”

“And how he is?”

“If you want”—the vet put out her hand—“I’ll be in touch.”

Anne shook the palm that was offered and then looked back through the steel weave of the cage. The dog stared up at her, his exhausted, pale brown eyes suggesting that all the things getting done to him and the stuff being pumped into his frail body was just one more scene in a nightmare that had started a long time ago.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the dog. “I really am.”

He wagged one last time and put his head down on the paw that wasn’t bandaged. As Anne turned away, she got busy checking out the clinical space, everything so neat and clean, the techs and vets walking with purpose, the stainless steel tables and X-ray machines and clear-fronted cabinets of supplies as professional as any human-grade clinic she’d ever been to.

The next thing she knew, she was behind the wheel of the municipal sedan in the parking lot. Looking over to the front seat where the dog had been, she noted smudges of dirt and some stains she knew were blood. She was going to have to clean that all up.

As her phone rang, she jumped and fumbled in her bag. When she saw who it was, she cursed. “Hello? Mr. Marshall?”

“I told you, call me Don,” her new boss said. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing. Making progress?”

She stared at the outside of the vet office. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” Reaching forward with the key, she started the sewing-machine engine under the hood. “I should be back in the office in an hour. Or two.”

“Well, that would be good, sure. But tell me, are you planning on spending any time at the scene?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The GPS on the vehicle you were assigned to is reporting you’ve been about seven miles away from the fire scene for the last hour and twenty minutes. I’m just curious what you’re doing and where?”

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