If you’re like me, you’ll think the very worst and go into Maximum Panic Mode.
I went to bed around 11:30 pm the night before Thanksgiving, only to be jolted awake less than an hour later by our two barking beagles. My first thought was they were calling out to a neighbor taking their own dog for a midnight stroll, but when the barking persisted, I had to get up and investigate—especially since I was afraid they would wake up the Crown Prince (who was staying with us for the holiday) and Baby Bear.
I carefully lifted a slat in the blinds covering the living room window and peered out. Terror slashed through me as I saw a police car parked right in front of our house. The silhouette of a very tall officer stood at the foot of the driveway, feet apart, facing our house, looking very much as if he were trying to ascertain if anyone was home. There were no cars parked in our driveway, and all the lights were off.
I could only think of one reason for him to be out there. My critique partner, Jean, who writes romantic suspense, has described this very scenario in a few of her books, and it usually includes dialogue along the lines of, “We’re very sorry to inform you . . . we need you to come with us so you can identify—”
The cop remained standing at the end of the driveway, arms akimbo. Why didn’t he come up and ring the doorbell and put me out of my—or rather, plunge me into further misery? Perhaps I should go out there to meet him. “Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me why you’re in front of my house? You’re making my dogs bark and you’re scaring the hell out of me.”
If only he didn’t look like Gort standing outside the flying saucer. I could almost hear the menacing theme music from the theremin.
But I wasn’t dressed to meet anyone save Mr. Lucky, so I ran back to the bedroom to throw some clothes on. Whimpering and trembling all over, my heart hammering, I returned to the living room window and . . . Gort and the police car were gone.
Now what? Was he on his way back to the station because he thought there was no one home except for the dogs? But he hadn’t rung the bell. At least I hadn’t heard the doorbell; maybe I was still asleep when he rang it and that’s what started the dogs barking.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I call up 911?
“What’s your emergency?” the dispatcher would ask.
“Well, I don’t know that it’s an emergency,” I would say in a tremulous voice broken with panicked sobs, “but my husband is out right now and I just saw a cop parked in front of my house like maybe he was here to—” Scratch that.
Instead I called Mr. Lucky’s cell phone. To my dismay, all I got was voice mail.
By now I was totally freaking. I tried his work place. Maybe he was still there, or maybe someone else there would tell me something . . . or would they?
One of his co-workers answered the phone, and to my everlasting relief, Mr. Lucky was there, safe and sound. His cell phone, he said, was out in the car. But he couldn’t explain anymore than I could why that cop might have been outside our house. The sprinklers hadn’t been running, so it couldn’t be because we were watering on the wrong night.
I was about to go back to bed when the dogs started barking again. I returned to the living room window and—GORT WAS BACK!
At least he remained inside his car, but now what? Was this part of a stakeout? Were we under surveillance? But for what?
I wondered what would happen if I just went out there to ask. Would I get shot? Thrown across the trunk of his squad car and handcuffed? Or be chided with a mere, “Ma’am, get back inside your dwelling, please, and stay there until further notice.”
At least if he came after me like Gort on Patricia Neal, there were no folding chairs in the driveway for me to stumble over and get tangled up in, and no conveniently placed partition for me to trap myself against, instead of just dodging around it and running like hell.
I didn’t want to go out the front door for fear the overexcited beagles would shoot past me and escape. So I turned on all the exterior lights and came out through the garage.
Fortunately, he turned out to be more like Klaatu than Gort.
He met me in the driveway, and politely explained. A neighbor called to complain of a barking dog. I’d heard this same dog several houses over as I fell asleep. But the neighbor seemed to think it was coming from my house. My dogs had been inside all evening, and only started barking when the cop showed up. After determining there was no barking dog outside my house, he’d moved on to see if he could find it elsewhere in the neighborhood, but by that time the owner had apparently wised up and brought his yappy little mutt inside.
The cop then returned to my address to make his report that the complaint was unfounded and our house appeared secure. He remarked that my dogs were actually doing their job very well, and apologized for scaring the bejabbers out of me. He was very nice and professional, and I’m just relieved that my initial fears were as unfounded as the neighbor’s complaint.
Plus, this gave me something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving.