The FHARP van pulled up to the big gate with the C S initials scrolled in wrought iron across the center. An eight-foot high chain link fence covered in Trumpet vines disappeared into the hills on either side of the gate.
Wearing a FHARP windbreaker and cap, Jerry smiled at the security camera mounted on the wall beside the gate then reached out for the intercom button. His arm wasn’t halfway there when the gate opened.
Jerry waved at the camera. Beside him Abby looked straight ahead, all business. Behind them Evelyn was deep in character, a scary Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest.
Sitting in Stanton’s library, Rosa looked concerned about the questioning she was about to get. She felt comfortable with Abby. It was the grim countenance of Evelyn that worried her.
“I didn’t know Mr. Knox very well, but he seemed like a nice man. And I know he loved Winifred very much,” Rosa began.
“Tell us about the last dog you had. How long you had it? What happened to it?” Evelyn demanded.
“What dog? I never had a dog. Not since I’ve been with Mr. Stanton. When I was a little girl in Guadalajara, we had many—”
Abby shot Evelyn a look, I’ll do the questioning.
“It’s okay. We understand,” Abby said. “Just so we are clear. You will be taking full responsibility?”
“Then I think it’s time to bring Winifred in. See how she feels about the matter.”
Evelyn made a call on her cell. “We’re in the library.”
“I can’t wait to see her,” said Rosa.
“I’m sure she’ll be just as delighted to see you,” Abby smiled.
Waiting for Jerry and Winifred, Stanton’s library grew uncomfortably quiet. Evelyn offered a cool smile to Rosa, who turned away and watched Abby walk to the open French doors.
Abby looked out to the gardens and vineyards beyond – the peaceful view suddenly bombarded by the high-pitched whine of a motorized trimmer at the end of a long pole pruning a tall boxwood hedge in the distance. The noise drove Abby back inside where she closed the French doors muting the saw’s cry.
Jerry entered the library with Winifred’s travel crate. He smiled at Rosa, bent down and whispered inside the crate…
“Okay, Sweets. Time to say hello to… Rose-a.”
Jerry opened the crate door. Winifred stayed inside.
Jerry and Abby exchanged looks. Abby took charge, reached inside and took Winifred out of the crate, turned her around to face Rosa who smiled and opened her arms.
“Go ahead girl. It’s Rose!”
The FHARP squad held their breath and waited for Winifred’s attack.
“Come to Rosa, sweetheart!” the housekeeper said.
Winifred raced across the room, jumped into Rosa’s waiting arms smothering her with kisses!
Abby, Jerry and Evelyn looked at each other, dumbstruck when Charles Stanton entered the room.
“Well, looks like Winifred and Rosa are getting along famously!”
Stanton beamed and introduced himself to the FHARP squad, shaking everyone’s hands.
“We’ve met before…” he said to Evelyn.
“I don’t think so. I would have remembered.”
Stanton paced. “I do remember!”
Abby shot Evelyn a desperate look.
“Of course,” Evelyn smiled at Stanton. “But I believe you’re thinking of my sister! She attended one of your father’s holiday affairs. She’s much younger, quite attractive and enchanting. You would remember her.” Evelyn said it with just the right amount of sibling jealousy.
Satisfied, Stanton turned to Abby. “And you’re the… animal communicator, I believe you call it.”
“I saw you on television. Quite intriguing. I bet you have some amazing stories to tell.”
Abby smiled, “Some would say… unbelievable.”
“I can only imagine.”
Abby’s eyes flashed, I bet you can.
“Well…” Evelyn broke the awkward silence. “I think Rosa has supplied us with all the pertinent data.”
“Then I trust, our little abode is acceptable?” Stanton asked.
Stony silence from Abby, Evelyn and Jerry.
“Actually, I find it a bit cramped,” Stanton said. “So the whole family will be moving to the islands.”
“Hawaii?” Abby asked.
“St. Barts. Lesser Antilles.”
“Of course,” Evelyn said.
“Then it’s settled. If there are no loose ends, I trust we can sign the official adoption papers this afternoon.”
Abby, Jerry and Evelyn looked at each. Anyone got a plan ‘B’?
Stanton turned to Rosa and Winifred getting along famously. “Looks like she’s already part of our little family.”
Rosa got up with Winifred in her arms and moved to Stanton.
“Say hello to Mr. Stanton, Winifred.”
Winifred greeted Charles Stanton with a low grrrrrr.
Stanton stiffened, smiled to Rosa, “Later.”
Rosa turned, and with arms full of Winifred, headed for the French doors. Opening the doors, she stepped outside and was greeted by the shrill EEEEEEEEEE of the hedge trimmer.
Abby and Jerry double-timed out the doors, not about to let Winifred out of their sight.
Rosa headed across the garden towards the tall hedge, the trimmer shaving the top from behind.
“Edmund! Edmund…” Rosa called over the engine noise, “I want you to meet someone… EDMUND!”
Edmund peeked around the hedge.
Winifred peeked around Rosa, let loose a HOWL, hurled herself out of Rosa’s arms and charged the man ducking back behind the hedge.
Charging after her, Abby and Jerry didn’t get far when Edmund reappeared, pole hedge-trimmer heading straight at Winifred.
Throwing paws in reverse, Winnie ran past Rosa back to Jerry and Abby.
“EDMUND!” Rosa screamed, “Put that thing down. You hear me? I said, PUT IT DOWN!”
Edmund lowered the trimmer. Rosa marched towards him.
“You crazy? Give it to me!”
“I said, GIVE IT TO ME!”
Not this time. Edmund raised the trimmer and charged.
About to slice the housekeeper to shreds, the trimmer sputtered… stopped. Out of gas. Edmund hurled the thing at Rosa and raced out the garden.
Winifred shot after him, Jerry right behind. Not for long as he tripped and landed in a patch of Day Lilies, Abby racing past him.
Edmund flew past the garages where the FHARP van was parked in the driveway. Not far behind, Winifred was gaining on him. Abby ran past the van where Murphy stuck his head out the window, watched his woman fly by, jumped out the widow and lumbered after her.
Jerry hobbled past the van nursing a twisted ankle. Inside, Butch and Sundance slowly rose from their siestas and surveyed the passing parade.
Back in the library, Rosa watched Evelyn and Stanton locked in eyeball to eyeball confrontation, neither ready to blink.
“You know, Chucky… You don’t mind if I call you Chucky, do you?” Evelyn asked. “Of course you do. Anyway, Chucky… I’ve always wanted to say the butler did it! In this case I guess the gardener will have to do.”
Not amused, Stanton turned to leave the room.
“Won’t do any good. The place is surrounded.”
Stanton laughed in her face, and headed for the door.
“You didn’t think we’d come here alone, did you?”
“I know you did. I have security cameras everywhere.”
Stanton smirked and leaned against his Rosewood ladder. It quietly rolled away almost toppling him.
It was hard for Evelyn to keep a straight face.
“I fix!” Rosa said.
Stanton gave her a nasty look.
Evelyn returned the favor. “All I have to do is call and the Boys will be here in two shakes of a tail.”
“I highly doubt that.”
Evelyn walked to the open French doors and hollered, “BOYS! COME TO MAMA!!”
~ ~ ~