The rapping at the front door of the carriage house was unmistakable. Her. I could see Caroline DeSantos’s slender profile through the frosted glass inset of the front door. She had started by ringing the bell, once, twice, three times, then she began rattling the doorknob with one hand and banging at the brass knocker with the other.
“Eloise? Open up. I mean it. That beast of yours did it again. I’m calling the dogcatcher right now. You hear me? I’ve got my cell phone. I’m punching in the number. I know you hear me, Eloise.”
She did indeed have something that looked like a phone in her hand.
Jethro heard Caroline too. He raised his dark muzzle, which has endearing little spots like reverse freckles, his ears pricked up, and, recognizing the voice of the enemy, he slunk under the pine table in the living room.
I knelt down and scratched his chin in sympathy. “Did you, Jethro? Did you really pee on the camellias again?”
Jethro hung his head. He’s just a stray, but he almost never lies to me, which is more than I can say for any other male I’ve ever been involved with.
I patted his head as a reward for his honesty. “Good dog. Help yourself. Pee on everything over there. Poop on the doorstep and I’ll buy you the biggest ham bone in Savannah.”
The banging and door rattling continued. “Eloise. I know you’re home. I saw your truck parked on the street. I’ve called Tal. He’s calling his lawyer.”
“Tattletale,” I muttered, putting aside the box of junk I’d been sorting.
I padded toward the front door of the carriage house. The worn pine floorboards felt cool against the soles of my bare feet. Caroline was banging so hard on the door I was afraid she’d break the etched glass panel.
“Bitch,” I muttered.
Jethro barked his approval. I turned around and saw his tail wagging in agreement.
“Slut.” More wagging. We were both gathering our resolve for the coming barrage. Jethro crawled out from under the table and sat on his haunches, directly behind me. His warm breath on my ankles felt oddly reassuring.
I threw the front door open. “Sic her, Jethro,” I said loudly. “Bite the bad lady.”
Caroline took half a step backward. “I heard that,” she screeched. “If that mutt puts a paw in my garden again, I’m going to…”
“What?” I demanded. “You’re going to what? Poison him? Shoot him? Run him over in that sports car of yours? You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you, Caroline? Running over a poor defenseless dog.”
I put my hands on my hips and did a good imitation of staring her down. It wasn’t physically possible, of course. Caroline DeSantos stands a good four inches taller than I do, and that’s without the four-inch spike heels she considers her fashion trademark.
She flushed. “I’m warning you. That’s all. For the last time. There’s a leash law in this town, as you well know. If you really loved that mutt of yours, you wouldn’t let him run around loose all the time.”
She really was quite lovely, Caroline. Even in Savannah’s ungodly summer heat, she was as crisp and fragrant as a just-plucked gardenia. Her glossy dark hair was pulled off her neck in a chignon, and her olive skin was flawless. She wore lime green linen capri slacks and a matching linen scoop-neck blouse that showed only a tasteful hint of décolletage. I could have gone on living a long time without seeing her that way, that day.
“Oh,” I said. “Jethro is running around. Is that what’s bothering you about my poor little puppy? But you’re an expert at running around, aren’t you, Caroline? I believe you and my husband were running around on me for at least six months before I finally wised up and kicked him out.”
I’d kicked Tal out, but he hadn’t gone far. The judge in our divorce case was an old family friend of Tal’s daddy, Big Tal. He’d given our 1858 townhouse to Tal in the property settlement, and only after my lawyer raised the god-awfullest ruckus you ever heard, had he tossed me a bone—basically—awarding me the slim two-story carriage house right behind the big house.
Tal installed Caroline in the big house the minute the paperwork was completed, and we’ve had a running back-fence spite match ever since.
My lawyer, who also happens to be my uncle James, talked himself blue in the face trying to persuade me to sell out and move, but he knows better than to try to make a Foley change her mind. On Charlton Street I’d make my stand—to live and die in Dixie. Move? Me? No sirreebob.
Caroline flicked a strand of hair out of her face. She looked me up and down and gave me a supercilious smile.
It was Thursday. I’d been up at dawn cruising the still-darkened lanes of Savannah, trying to beat the trashmen to the spoils of the town’s leading lights. I looked like hell. My junking uniform, black leggings and a blue denim work shirt, was caked in grime from the Dumpsters I’d been digging through. My short red hair was festooned with cobwebs, my nails were broken, and peeling paint flakes clung to the back of my knuckles.
The day’s pickings had been unusually slim. The two huge boxes of old books I’d pounced on behind an Italianate brownstone on Barnard Street had yielded up mostly mildewed, totally worthless Methodist hymnbooks from the 1930s. A carton of pretty Occupied Japan dishes rescued from a pile of junk at a house on Washington Avenue hadn’t turned up a single piece not chipped, cracked, or broken. The only remotely promising find was an old cookie tin of buttons I’d bought for two dollars at a yard sale I’d nearly passed up on my way back to the carriage house.
It was that box of buttons I’d been sorting when Caroline had mounted her assault on my front door.
Now there was a soft pooting noise behind me. Caroline literally looked down her long, Latin nose at me and curled her full-blown upper lip. “My God,” she cried. “What is that wretched smell?”
I sniffed and looked over my shoulder at Jethro, who was slinking in the other direction.
“It’s not Jethro,” I said, leaping to my dog’s defense. I pointed over at the wrought-iron railing in the entryway, where I’d draped the tattered hooked rug I’d been trying to air out before bringing it inside.
“It’s probably the rug,” I said. “I got it out of an old crack house on Huntingdon. I think maybe it’s got fleas.”
Caroline jumped back as though the rug were a live skunk.