‘You going to get one, Charlie?’ said Tammy, and she dug out another ladleful of meat from the casserole dish. ‘Great stew, Viola. Thanks for putting on lunch.’
‘I’m not sure,’ Charlie said. ‘Something about it doesn’t seem right, taking a wild thing and caging it up, away from its own kind.’
‘Don’t go turning all animal lib on us now.’ Viola glared at Charlie over the edge of her snout.
‘Yeah, you’re not planning to go on some sort of cage-opening, pet-release rampage, are you?’
‘Don’t be silly! It just makes me think. But you got one, Tammy.’
Tammy nodded. ‘Last week.’
‘How are you finding it?’
‘Are you going to breed it?’ Viola had a two-track mind: food and sex.
‘I think so. One litter, perhaps. But it’s still young. We’ll have to get it used to us first. Ruth has offered me a mate when I’m ready.’
‘Her Rufus? Are you serious? Rufus is one mean mother–‘
‘Violent, yes. All the males are, I’ve heard. Which is why most are ground up after birth, just a few kept for breeding stock. And it’s okay, Charlie.’ Tammy had noticed the look of horror staring her down from the other end of the table. ‘The whole thing is quick and painless. Soundless, even. Except for the grinding.’
‘Take my advice, and never get a male.’ Viola tore apart a slice of bread. ‘And Rufus! You’ll be lucky if your– What’s her name, Tam?’
‘You’ll be lucky if your Princess makes it out alive.’
‘He hasn’t killed one yet.’
‘I’m sure Princess’ll be fine.’
‘Well it sure is a fascinating process to watch.’
‘What is?’ Charlie said, her head rebounding between each line of conversation.
‘Mating.’ Viola gave Charlie a look that told her to keep up.
‘And Ruth is offering me a good price,’ Tammy said. ‘So I will give Rufus a try, I think. In the next year or two.’
‘Best to get onto it quickly,’ Viola said. ‘Breed them before they get to that feisty age. I left mine too late. I had watched it for years, thought I knew exactly everything about it. Then it went psycho.’
‘You talking about Pepper?’
‘Chilli. Before Pepper. Chilli’s how I ended up in stitches.’ Viola traced the line down her left arm. ‘I left it with its babies for too long and it turned feral. When I went to take them, she killed them. Then she turned the knife on herself. I still have no idea of how she got hold of it.’
‘But you ended up in stitches,’ Charlie said.
‘Imagine that. Attacking its own kind!’ Tammy cried. ‘And what sort of animal kills its own babies?’
‘Actually, I’ve heard of that happening in some species,’ said Charlie. ‘It’s a protection mechanism. When the animal judges the situation to be too much for its progeny to bear.’
‘Sounds barbaric!’ Tammy said. ‘How many did it have, Vi?’
‘Two. Natural. But I’d recommend the hormonal path, for more pups.’
‘So did you put Chilli down then?’
‘No question, Chilli had to go. Can’t keep a crazy. But I couldn’t just put it down. What a waste!’ Viola said. She lifted the ladle. ‘Thirds, anyone?’
‘Not for me, Viola. I’m still going.’ Charlie spoke through her next bite. ‘But you must share the recipe.’
‘I’m curious,’ said Tammy, balancing another chunk of meat on her fork. ‘If your pet attacked you and you didn’t put it down, what did you do? What could you do? Rehabilitate?’
‘Heavens, no. Too expensive, and for what? A less than ten per cent chance of success?’
Viola grinned. ‘You think that’s mutton you’re eating?’
Charlie choked up her half-chewed mouthful into a napkin.
‘Ignore her little jest.’ Tammy turned to her still-spluttering dining companion in earnest. ‘So how about it, Charlie. Are you going to get yourself a human?’