The open outer door revealed a short, stocky man in navy blue work coveralls on the stoop of my three-bedroom, two and a half bath pride and joy. I pushed out the inner glass door to let him in and my heart jumped as Boo, my white Maltese, screamed like a woman.
My polite smile froze as I looked down at her. I’d never heard such an eerie noise from any dog, much less my yappy lap dog. She was staring at the stranger with the hair on her neck up, the screams stopping and starting, each one lasting a little less time than the previous.
My smile much less certain, I let the man in with Boo’s screams increasing again in volume and intensity.
“I’m so sorry,” I scooped Boo up in my arms. “She’s never done this before. I’m not sure what’s wrong.”
“That’s okay, ma’am,” the drawn brows belied his words, “if you’ll just show me where your washing machine is I can get started.”
“Of course,” I tried to calm Boo as she continued to scream, more softly now, her eyes following the man’s movements. I turned mid-stride. “Oh, I’m Nadine.” I held out my hand, and Boo growled low in his throat. My face grew warm, but, this time, I was able to keep my polite smile in place.
“Doug.” We shook hands briefly before resuming our march down the hallway to the small closet at the back of the house that I generously referred to as my laundry room.
The man’s unsmiling demeanor was not helping to calm the nerves my dog was shredding with her bizarre behavior.
“Well, now, I’ll leave you to it,” I gave a short nod and retreated to the living room to keep watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But my mind was on Boo and her reaction, and I couldn’t focus on Buffy and friends killing vampires and other demons even though I usually mouthed the words along with it.
They say dogs have good instincts about people. What was up with this guy? Was he a serial killer? A rapist? What? Even now, Boo was quivering in my lap, eyes trained on the entrance to the living room.
She emitted a sharp bark.
For the second time in a too short period, my heart jumped. If this continued I could well have a heart attack and die, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of death with Doug never laying a hand on me. Jesus, I needed to get a grip.
“Yes?” I made my voice as cheery as possible, looking him in the eyes to allay my guilt for suspecting him of being anything other than a perfectly nice man based on the behavior of a dog. My eyes fell on a red stain on his shirt. Was that blood? No, no, surely not. My smile slipped again before I quickly pasted it back in place and whipped my eyes back to his face.
“I finished, ma’am. It was just a loose tube in the back of the machine. I replaced the tube and the clamp which was corroded.”
I jumped up, ready to get him out of my house. “Great! How much is it?” I knew my voice was squeaky, but I couldn’t control it.
“It’s $75 for the visit, $25 for the clamp, and $45 for the hose so that’s $145.”
“Okay. Here you go.” Oh, god, maybe he was going to do something with my credit card information. Well, hell, he already knew where I lived. SHUT UP, brain! I knew I kept my smile in place this time and wondered if my eyes looked crazy.
“Just sign here.” He handed me the tiny clipboard he had been writing on, and I took it.
Scribbling my name, I handed it back. “Here you go.”
“Will there be anything else?”
Doug had not smiled once during this entire exchange and was directing all of his comments to my growling dog who was staring him down.
“No, that’s it!” I said and led him to the door.
He nodded and left.
“Thank you!” I called after him, hoping I wasn’t thanking a serial killer who would be back tonight to rape and kill me in my own bed. I couldn’t wait to close the door and lock the deadbolt. I had no weapons in the house, but I would just be sure to keep my phone by my bed tonight.
Damn. I opened the door back up. “Yes?”
He was halfway to his truck and looked nervous. “I think I know why your dog is acting so strange.”
“You do?” I took a step back, ready to slam the door in his face.
“Yes, ma’am. My dog died this morning, and I live on a large property. I buried her this morning and realized a few minutes ago that I didn’t change my clothes after. I apologize if I upset you.”
“Oh,” I opened the door wider. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You have a good day.” And Doug, the washing machine repairman, got in his truck and drove away.
I stood in my doorway for a minute, feeling stunned and sad for a minute. Then I laughed. “I’m a silly goose,” I said to Boo, rubbing her head.
I locked the deadbolt on the inner and outer doors but didn’t call my best friend to tell her about the creepy repairman as I had planned. Because he wasn’t really creepy. It was just Boo’s reaction that got my imagination going. I shivered a little then went back to Buffy, finally able to concentrate again.
After dinner, I relaxed in a hot bath then wrapped myself in a robe to make some hot tea.
“What a lovely night, Boo,” I said, looking down at the little, white dog trotting by my side. He started growling, and I laughed. “What now?”
The doorbell rang. My heart jumped, and I put a hand to it as if it keep it in my chest. “Good lord, Boo, who could that be?” I looked through the peephole and stepped back. Doug stood on the other side of the door.
Open it. You’re being silly.
I opened the inner door, the outer door still closed and locked. A fake smile was pasted again on my face.
“Good evening, ma’am. Sorry to bother you, but I left an important tool here by the washing machine and I need it tomorrow for a call.”
“Oh. I’ll go get it,” I said.
“If I could just come in for a minute, ma’am. It’s heavy, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to carry it.”
“Oh,” I said.
He was in here earlier. Don’t be silly.
I opened the outer door. Doug stepped in, pushing me back and shutting the door.
“I hate dogs,” he said.
My heart jumped.
“You know where you left your tool,” I said, turning to the side of him.
“Yes,” he said.
Boo barked and howled and yipped.
And my heart stopped.