Excerpt from “Dr. Doolittle’s Daughter”

This first line just drifted into my head and blossomed into a story. I wanted to get the idea down. If you have anything to comment on it, please let me know. I’ll expand it more, but this is how it begins…

We called her Dr. Doolittle’s Daughter. Not in front of grown-ups, of course. We’d get into a lot of trouble if we did that. They’d probably call it bullying or some such, but it wasn’t. Becky Sue Hubert was weird, for sure, but at least it was INTERESTING weird.

She could talk with animals. Anybody can talk TO animals, but nobody else I ever knew of could understand what they said back. Some of us who knew asked Becky Sue what our pets said about us, but she wouldn’t say. At first, she looked at us like we were crazy and denied she could understand them. But after a while, she would just roll her eyes and walk off.

People learned to take better care of their animals in our little town. Some folks we knew were mean to their critters. Nobody knew how she found out, but pictures would wind up posted around town. Nobody could prove it was her posting the pictures, but we knew. Some of the pictures were so bad, my dad would have to go talk to them. My dad? Oh, he’s the county sheriff. Sheriff Tommy Lee, he is. I’m his youngest son, Barney.

Becky Sue and I are in the same class, just like we’ve been since kindergarten. Our school and town are so small, there’s only one class for every grade. We don’t even have a high school. When we finish the 7th grade we’ll be bussed to the high school in the county seat. We’re in the 5th grade right now, so we have some time. But as my dad likes to say, I digress. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds funny and makes him laugh when I say it.

Usually, Becky Sue stuck to chatting to pets and livestock, but sometimes we wondered who – or what – else she talked to. Her dad was a veterinarian and a good friend of my dad, so the families would have cookouts on the weekends sometimes and sit around and talk a lot. Becky Sue didn’t talk to humans much and spent most of her time drawing pictures of animals. She gave me some pretty good sketches of my dog, Pepper.

One night after eating, everybody was sitting at the picnic table in the backyard, just chatting. I was throwing a ball for Pepper when I heard my dad complain about some guy.

“We all know he’s making meth somewhere, but we haven’t found it yet,” he said. “We figure it must be up in the woods somewhere, but that’s a lot of forest to look through and we haven’t been able to trail him.”

I saw Becky Sue drawing, but I figured it was another animal picture. Then she stood up and walked over to my dad and put her sketchbook in front of him. He started to brush her off with that smile adults give kids who interrupt them and her dad started to say her name. You know how that goes. My mom leaned over and looked at the picture. “Becky Sue, what is that a map of?”

All the adults stared at the sketch. I slid over and looked around my dad’s shoulder. Becky Sue was a good artist. The map was easy to read. She had even labeled the highway and put a compass on the sketch, like a real map. There were trees and hills, and a little line to show a road that branched off the highway. It was labeled, too. The road wound through the trees and ended where she had drawn a little shack.

The grown-ups were real quiet. I felt goosebumps rising on my arms. Our dads looked at each other. Her dad finally looked over at Becky Sue and asked, almost in a whisper, “Becky Sue, where did you get this?”

Becky Sue kept looking at her feet, or Pepper, who was sitting on them. “A friend told me about it,” she mumbled. “He wanted me to make the guy go away, because he likes to hurt the animals around the shack. He said a really bad smell is there. When you said the guy might be making drugs in the woods, I thought it might be the same guy.”

I’ve never seen grown-ups look like that. I got a little queasy and the barbeque we just finished felt like it might want to come back out. Becky Sue crouched down and petted Pepper, who licked her hand like he licked me when he knew I was upset. Her shoulders hunched up around her ears and she kept her face down.

My dad turned around on the bench and lifted Becky Sue up and sat her on his knee like a little kid. He held out his other hand to me until I went over and sat on his other knee. I wouldn’t have acted like such a baby, but right then, I felt like a little kid. I was glad none of my friends were around to see. Well, Becky Sue was more or less a friend, but I could tell she was a little scared, too.

Becky Sue’s dad and mom stood behind her and put their hands on her shoulders. Mom came around the table and put her hands on mine. I could feel his hand on my back sweat a little. He rubbed my back like he did when he was thinking hard.

After a long minute, he finally cleared his throat. “Okay, Becky Sue. I’m not going to ask about your, uh, friend. I know most, uh, informers like to give information in secret. But I’m going to ask all of you, but especially you kids, to not say a word about what’s happened tonight. Not one word. If this guy finds out we have some information, well, bad things could happen. To me, to you, and to the law enforcement officers who are trying to stop him. Or he might just run and do this all over again somewhere else.”

He put the hand on Becky Sue’s back under her chin and stared into her eyes. “I want you to promise me something, Becky Sue. I want you to swear, if you get information from a, a friend or whoever, that you will not give it to anybody but me.”

“Or her parents,” Becky Sue’s dad interrupted. “In fact, I’d feel better if she just let us be a go-between. I don’t want anybody noticing she’s been talking to the law before a bust.”

“What if there isn’t time?” Becky Sue whispered. “What if I’m at school and you’re both working?”

I wondered who – or what – she might be talking to at school, since there weren’t any animals allowed on the school grounds, but then I remembered all the birds that were always flying around. “Just tell me,” I heard myself saying. “Nobody pays attention to me texting my dad. Or my mom. They let me use my phone between classes, since Dad is the sheriff. In case of emergency, you know?” I gulped, wondering why my mouth always got in front of my brains.