Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, friends, and… cats? Check out this exclusive content from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison on how Peri Reed, the kick-ass heroine of The Drafter & The Operator–out today, from Pocket Books!–met and fell in love with her BFF Carnac the cat!
From the author:
I truly appreciate the independent hunter mentality of cats. They don’t need us as much as we need them, but when a bond forms between a cat and her person, it’s for life. Peri is no exception, and the care of her cat Carnac is always foremost in her mind before she goes out on task, or in the case of The Drafter and The Operator, searches for the truth. Here now, is a look into how these two met.
The scent of disinfectant tickled her nose as Peri crawled backward out of the kennel. It was the last in the long line at one of Detroit’s no-kill shelters. She checked her phone for the time, nodding in satisfaction before rolling it back up into a tube and tucking it away. Jack would be swinging by right before three to pick her up, and she’d wanted to be finished by then.
Eager for turkey and all the trimmings, Peri gathered her disinfectant and rags into a bucket and ambled to the front. Jack had been in the kitchen all day, meaning they’d probably have to stop somewhere on the way home for takeout. She didn’t mind. She’d never had a real Thanksgiving, not like the ones on the TV with family coming together with all their noise and sundry issues. Which might be why I spend the day at an animal rescue, she thought as she passed the dogs, each one watching her with wise eyes and thumping tails, each one quiet with the inane knowledge that they wouldn’t be going home with her.
The tradition of volunteering at the shelter had begun when she was sixteen, forced into a seasonable, charitable act so her well-to-do mother would have something to point to when she was with her friends. Peri had chosen a no-kill shelter out of spite, but now, after nearly two decades, Peri wouldn’t miss her yearly cleaning of cages for anything. The time spent doing something both productive and quiet was needed.
“Hi, Peri. Done back there?” the woman who ran the shelter asked as Peri came out into the lab area. There was an ominous box in her arms, and she set it gently on one of the surgical tables.
“For another year.” Peri put the bucket down and washed her hands, taking the warm suds that smelled like pine all the way up to her elbows.
“I don’t know why you keep coming back, but thank you,” the woman said as she ripped a plastic bag free from a roll. Peri winced, knowing all too well what black plastic bags meant. “I can’t believe some people,” the woman said. “It’s bad enough to leave a cat on the steps, but on Thanksgiving?” She looked up, lips pursed. “Can you hold this for me? She died before I found her.”
“Sure.” Wiping her hands off, Peri came close. But the box wasn’t empty after the woman regretfully consigned the dead cat to its black bag of anonymity. A kitten, so new that his eyes weren’t open yet, scrabbled to the corners, looking for the fading warmth of its mother.
“Sometimes I hate this job,” the woman said as she wrote out a tag and tied the bag shut with it. “Euthanizing kittens is the worst.”
Peri’s eyes darted back into the box. “I thought you were a no-kill shelter,” she said as the caramel-colored ball of fluff no bigger than her palm mewled. His soft claws scratched at the cold cardboard, sounding like death trying to get in.
“We are.” The no-nonsense woman went to a locked cabinet. “But if there is no hope of bringing them back to health, we put them down.” She grimaced. “Resources.”
“He doesn’t look sick to me.” Peri put her hand in the box, and the little cat wobbled on his stubby legs toward the heat of her hand. So soft, she mused when he bumped into her, then jerked her hand out when his tiny claws latched onto her fingers. They were so soft, they couldn’t even scratch her.
The woman set the ampoule down beside a needle. “I see what you’re thinking, Peri. But you’ve never had a cat, and a newborn isn’t the place to start. You’d have to stimulate him to relieve himself for the first few days, and then teach him to use a litter box. There’s a few weeks of round the clock feedings. If you want a kitten, I’ve got an entire bank of them for you to choose from.”
“You’re right,” Peri said softly, but she could tell he wanted to live as he searched the box, looking for her.
The woman silently filled a syringe. “You don’t have to stay and watch,” she said, then grimaced at the harsh buzz of the door. Through the camera pointed at the stoop, Peri saw Jack’s face pressed against the glass, a hand over his head as he peered inside. With a sigh the woman put the syringe down and went to let him in, keys jingling.
“You don’t look like that big of a problem,” Peri whispered. Her mother had never let her have a cat, and with a surge of defiance, she picked him up and held him close. The kitten mewed, stomping about in her cupped hand as she held him to her body before he settled down, his claws poking through her shirt as he looked for something to eat.
“Hey, Peri. Ready for some Asian takeout?” Jack said as he followed the woman into the back, and Peri looked up, knowing her eyes held her need to take the little cat home.
“Oh no,” Jack said, hands raised in protest. “I told you volunteering at an animal shelter was a bad idea. You know we aren’t home enough to have anything that needs us.”
“He won’t need us much after he gets bigger,” Peri said as she tilted her cupped hand and they looked down at him together. “We have at least six weeks off before Bill sends us out again, and we can ask him to watch him. He won’t say no. Not to me.”
“Bill!” Jack barked out, then shook his head ruefully. “Sure. Bill will watch her.”
“Him,” she said, though the kitten was too small to easily tell. “It’s a him.” Feeling renewed, she looked at the shelter’s manager. She was frowning at Peri in warning, but Peri had done a lot wrong in the name of doing right. Saving a kitten was a small thing, but it would prove to her that she wasn’t just a killer. “What do I need?” she asked breathlessly.
The woman sighed, then smiled. “I’ll show you. Come on.”
Hands in his pockets, Jack followed them to the front. “What are you going to call him?” he asked as the woman put the infant formula and two tiny bottles into a bag followed by a printout of feeding schedules and what to watch for. “Turkey? Stuffing? I know, Carnac.”
Peri turned, handing him the bag so she could concentrate on the kitten. “Carnac? As in that ancient city? I don’t get it.”
He grinned at her. “No, as in that guy on the Late Show who held envelopes to his head to divined the truth in them.” Hunched over, he stood before her and ran a finger over the little cat. The orange ball of fluff rolled over to latch onto his finger, looking for milk. His other arm went across Peri’s shoulder, and together they headed for the door. “Because as much as I love you, you never cease to be a mystery to me. Come on. Let’s stop at a gas station on the way home and get him a litter pan.”
Good job, good man, something to look after. I’ve a lot to be thankful for this year, Peri thought as she cupped the kitten close and went out into Detroit’s Thanksgiving-empty street, the spot of warm curled up against her purring.
Click here for an excerpt from THE OPERATOR, now available from Pocket Books!