I’m still not used to living on the east coast and watching the ten o’clock news at 11:00 pm. So I’m drifting off to sleep when a knock comes at the door.
A frantic knock that sits Gina up in her recliner and has me on my feet.
It’s 1990 in the rural south. Peepholes are not as ubiquitous in townhouse doors as they will become.
So, I open the door.
A young woman practically falls across the threshold. She’s sobbing, but not hysterical. Her hands cover her face, but I can see she’s scared.
And bloody. In fact, she’s covered in blood.
And that’s when Fred Bogart, the basset hound, trundles down the stairs.
The woman screams at the sight of him. Backing up, tripping on her shoelaces, she almost falls back out onto the sidewalk.
“It’s okay,” I say. “He won’t hurt you.”
Such is maybe not the case with the big dude I then see standing outside.
He’s a body-builder type, bare arms outlined by the streetlight, standing immobile, taking up most of our token front yard.
Gina has the woman in, past Fred, sitting on the couch.
I close the door behind her and lock it.
“I just need to use your phone,” she says. “Just need to call somebody.”
Most of the blood seems to be coming from her nose. But I can see a welt on her cheek bone, and a seeping cut there too.
It doesn’t take a lot of street smarts to figure out what’s going on.
Another knock at the door. This one is slower, heavier. And guessing who’s behind it, more menacing.
Fred’s running from the woman on the couch, to the door, back to Gina, wagging his tail, eager to meet new friends.
Again a pounding at the door. More insistent.
I reach up to the hook beside the door, pull down Fred’s walking leash and snap it onto his collar. As far as watch dogs go, he ain’t much. But better safe than sorry.
I open the door a crack. “Yeah?”
“Send the bitch out.”
Sorta what I figured.
“She’s on the phone,” I say.
“Don’t care. Get her out here.” Tough guy now, he makes a move like he’s going to push his way in.
And that’s when happy ol’ floppy-eared Fred decides to say “Hey.” Zipping around my legs, his first act is a joyous woof of greeting. His next move is a typically clumsy, but amiable leap.
I’m astonished to see that the big scary scumbag thinks his number is up.
Backpedaling three times faster than his girlfriend, he’s reduced to a whiney, whimpering adolescent, stamping his feet ten feet away in the parking lot, advising me to “Keep that dog away from me.”
“He’s just playful,” I say, letting Fred take the lead straight for him. I mean, c’mon. It’s a basset hound, pup!
“That dog’s gonna bite me,” he says like it’s a statement of fact.
What the heck. Go with what works.
“I sure hope so,” I say, pulled forward by the insanely excited Fred.
He’s just looking to make a new pal.
When the tough guy runs for his car and locks himself inside, Fred is puzzled, then turns and gives me the trademarked basset hound look of disgust.
He pees on the guy’s tire as if to say, “So, there!”
When we get back to the door, the woman is done with her phone call and Gina’s got her cleaned up.
When the police car pulls in, tough guy makes a rubber-squealing exit from the parking lot.
I wish I could say that’s the last time I see the couple, but neighbors being what they are, they don’t exactly vanish over night.
Still and all, we never wake to find our tires slashed (my biggest concern), nor do we have any more late night visits.
They move away within a few months, and try as he will, Fred can’t make friends with the guy.
I suspect it’s just as well.