“She's got a dog in there,” Phyllis called from the kitchen. “I know it.” She opened the oven and poked a fork into the honey cinnamon bread. “Needs a few more minutes,” she muttered and rejoined Ethel, Herb, and Al at the rickety old card table.
“No, she doesn't have a dog,” Al said and tapped the deck of cards on the square tabletop. He placed the full stack in front of Herb.
“Every time a new woman moves into the complex, you two gals start plotting and planning,” Herb said.
With a slight raise of her chin, Phyllis said, “That's not true. Everyone has taken notice of her.”
Edith leaned in a bit. “She has a two-piece bathing suit—very skimpy if you know what I mean,” she said.
“Oh, I know what you mean,” Phyllis said. “And so do all those old goats hanging out at the shuffleboard court.”
Ethel nodded. “There was a waiting line to play bocce ball. Never saw that before.”
Herb looked at Al and said, “The woman's newly retired and lives alone. She wants to make new friends. Nothing unusual about that.”
Al sat back in his chair. “And she doesn't have a dog.”
“You think not?” Phyllis adjusted her trifocals and glared at her husband. “So, Mr. Know-It-All, why is there a dog bowl outside her door?”
“A big dog bowl,” Ethel added, lowering her voice.
Herb cut the deck and slid the two stacks back to Al.
Al ran his hand over his bald scalp. “Don't you two gals have anything better to do than spy on the neighbors?”
Phyllis drew back in her chair. “Al, such a thing to say. We're not spies.” She brushed her fingers across the table in front of her, imaginary crumbs gliding to the floor. “As part of the compliance committee, it's our job to check up on these things.”
“What things?” Herb asked.
Ethel looked at her husband. “People having pets. Herb, you know pets aren't allowed in this condo complex.” She shook her head. “I've heard it barking. Every time I come here to visit Phyllis, I hear that dog bark.”
“Even if she had a dog, what's the big deal?” Al shuffled the cards and then split the deck in half. He snapped the top edges with his thumbs, arched them into a bridge, and allowed the cards to slid back together. He banged the deck on the tabletop.
Phyllis raised her voice. “The big deal is, suppose everyone decided to have a pet? Suppose no one followed the condo rules? Where would we be?” She raised her eyebrows. “We worked hard all our lives to be able to live in a nice retirement community like this.” She sniffed. “We need to protect our investment.”
Herb and Al exchanged glances.
Al patted his wife's hand and smiled. “What's the game of the day, Phyllis?”
“Spite and Malice,” she said.
“How about Hearts?” Herb suggested.
“No!” both women responded at once.
“Okay, okay.” Herb raised his hands, palms out in a gesture of surrender. “Spite and Malice it is.”
Al dealt four cards, face up, to each of them.
“I'm telling you, she has a dog in there,” Phyllis said.
Al glared at his wife. “Phyllis, let's give it a rest.”
“Easy for you to say. We're the ones who have to report to the committee.”
Ethel rearranged her cards high to low in front of her and then looked at the others. “Do you know what it says on the dog bowl?”
The three card players looked at her with inquiring eyes.
“Killer.” She gave one nod of her head. “Can you imagine what kind of dog she must have with a name like Killer? It's frightening.”
“Now, Ethel, really, have you ever seen a dog come and go at her condo?” Herb asked.
“No, but I did see a long leash hanging over the rail on her balcony.”
Phyllis brought one hand to her chest. “How long is it?”
“I don't know, but it was made of chain and had a big heavy-duty metal clip on the end of it.”
“Good heavens!” Phyllis said. “You didn't tell me about that.”
“I just saw it on the way here. I heard the dog bark when we passed her door.”
Herb looked at Ethel. “Is that why you wanted to take the long way around the pool to get here?”
“I just wanted to make sure of what I was seeing and hearing. I don't want to make an accusation without first-hand information.”
Herb rolled his eyes and glanced at his wife. “Oh no, you wouldn't want to do that.”
“You heard it too, Herb. Tell the truth,” Ethel said.
Herb rubbed his chin. “I think it was one of those phony dog barking machines used to scare people away.”
“I don't think so, Herb.” Phyllis leaned her head to one side. “I have to confess, I peeked into her trash.”
“You did what?” Al asked, his voice raised in disbelief.
“There were several dog food cans in there. Large cans, solid red meat, enriched with supplements for big dogs.”
“Are you kidding me?” Al knitted his eyebrows. “You actually checked out her garbage?”
“That's what they do on TV. There was also a box of doggie treats, with special ingredients to strengthen bones and teeth.”
“Oh please, stop,” Al said.
“It's the truth. That's just what it said on the package.” Phyllis clasped her hands together. “Can you imagine a big dog with strong teeth?”
“It's scary,” Ethel said.
“It violates the association rules,” Phyllis said.
“It's our obligation to report this,” Ethel said.
“Now, now, ladies,” Al said. “Have either of you ever seen a dog at her condo?”
Phyllis arranged the cards in her hand. “No, but she has a large dog bowl outside her door, a long and heavy-duty leash at the ready, and discarded dog food cans in her garbage.”
Ethel cleared her throat. “Remember, I hear a dog bark every time I pass her door to come here.”
“Ladies, there is no dog,” Al said.
He's right,” Herb said. “The woman doesn't have a dog.”
“What makes you both so sure?” Phyllis asked.
Al tapped his fingers on top of the deck of cards. “Because, no one has ever seen a dog there or anywhere in the complex.”
“Maybe she keeps it inside,” Ethel said.
“Why would she have a dog leash?” Herb asked.
“She probably sneaks out at night and takes him for a walk,” Phyllis said.
“Why haven't there been reports of dog droppings on the property?” Herb asked.
“She picks it up. She's no dummy,” Ethel said.
“Well, before you gals rush off and make a report to the doggie police, let's be sure about this,” Herb said and squinted his eyes. “So, Al, you interested in a little side bet?”
“Sure, if there's no dog, we win. If there is a dog, the ladies win.”
Al laughed. “You're on.” He reached across the table and the two men shook hands. “So, ladies, what're we going to win?”
“Oh, you guys are so sure of yourselves!” Phyllis said. “How about you boys take us out for a nice dinner when you find out there's a dog running around in that woman's condo.”
“Sounds good to me,” Herb said.
“So, Mr. Know-It-All, how are you going to collect the evidence?” Phyllis asked.
He looked at her and smiled. “I'm going to look for clues.”
Phyllis wagged her finger in his direction. “Well, clues are not evidence. We already have clues. We want hard facts.”
“Okay, okay,” Al said. “We'll give you proof.”
The bell on the oven sounded and Phyllis got up to check on the honey cinnamon bread. “Ethel, come and take a look at this and tell me if you think it's done,” she called from the kitchen.
Ethel got up. “No peeking at my cards you two.”
Herb turned to his friend and spoke in a low voice. “I know that gal doesn't have a dog in there, but what makes you so sure?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Al said.
Herb looked over his shoulder toward the kitchen and whispered. “She asked me in to change a light bulb and I gave the place a good look over. There is no dog.”
Al leaned in close. “Really? Was it the light bulb in that small pink lamp on the table next to her bed?”
# # #
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