Lilly may be losing a husband but she's gaining a toy poodle. That could be seen as a win-win, since her new adopted pooch Aggie (named after Agatha Christie) is cute and adorable, and Lilly's dirty dog of a spouse is cheating on her with a blond bimboexcept for one problem: Albert Echosbys just been murdered, and Lilly is the number-one suspect.
With the cops barking up the wrong tree, it's a good thing her best friend Scarlett """"Dixie"""" Jefferson from Chattanooga, Tennessee, decided to take a break from the dog club circuit to pay a visit, along with her own prize pair of poodles. With help from Dixie, her defense attorney daughter, and a blue-eyed man in blue with a K-9 partner, Lilly is determined to collar the real killer. But when a second murder occurs, it's clear they're dealing with one sick puppy . . .
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"YOU TWO-TIMING LOW LIFE WEASEL!"
I'd always prided myself on being in control and maintaining my dignity, but I was on the verge of not only humiliating myself, but committing physical violence.
"Mom, calm down." Stephanie placed her arm around me and helped me back into my seat.
I glared at my soon-to-be ex-husband, thankful there was a large conference table in between us. He refused to make eye contact, looking everywhere but directly at me. The twenty-year-old home-wrecking hussy sitting next to him looked bored. The bleached-blond, heavily made-up twig was actually filing her fingernails.
I was shocked he'd had the nerve to bring the floozy he was leaving me for to the meeting with our lawyers to discuss divorce proceedings and the distribution of assets.
Less than five minutes ago I was on the verge of tears. My marriage of twenty-five years was ending. That was until Albert walked in with his lawyer and his super-slim girlfriend, who happened to be younger than our children. I shouldn't have been surprised. Even though he'd said he still loved me, I knew there was someone else. Wives always knew. When he started working out, dyeing his hair, and spending lots of late nights at his car lot, I should have known. He said he needed something new. Turned out the "something new" was a twenty-year-old dancer who was younger than both of our children.
Little Miss Home-Wrecker stopped filing her nails and smacking her gum long enough to yawn, and that set me off again.
"Are we boring you?"
She looked at me with a snide curl to her lip and a shrug of her shoulders, and before I knew what came over me, I was halfway across the table with my hands wrapped around her throat. It took three people to pry my hands off her scrawny little neck.
"You're crazy," she croaked.
"I am crazy, you little bimbo."
She backed up to the door. "I'll be in the 'Vette." She marched toward the door. "And the name is Bambi." She turned and left.
The white-hot rage that propelled me across the table subsided, and I allowed myself to be placed in my seat.
Albert stood in place, torn between his current wife, who was all but frothing at the mouth, and his girlfriend, who'd just walked out. He made his choice when he turned and walked out.
His attorney followed not long afterward, leaving Stephanie and me alone in the conference room. We sat in silence for what felt like a long time but was only minutes. Then I hopped up from the upholstered wingback chair and paced in front of the large plate-glass window that looked out over the city of Chicago onto Lake Shore Drive. I was so angry I wanted to swear, but I'd never said the kind of words I saw spray-painted on the sides of buildings or scratched onto the walls in public restrooms. I was raised to believe well-bred ladies didn't use those types of words. I trained my children that the English language was so rich, a well-educated person should be able to express themselves without resorting to those types of words. Today, I learned I was wrong. Well-bred ladies did use those types of words. In fact, I felt like stringing all of them together and saying them loud and repeatedly. Nevertheless, close to fifty years of training and Catholic school guilt didn't dissolve in an instant.
Instead, I said the harshest word I was capable of, "Rassa-frazzin'-fragdaggle-blasted-tater sauce!" "Mom!" Stephanie feigned a look of shock, but couldn't prevent her lips from twitching or her eyes from sparkling. However, the look was brief, given the magnitude of the occasion.
"I'm sorry, dear." I stared at my daughter, embarrassed I'd lost control in front of her. "I shouldn't have said those things about your father. Or tried to strangle his ... whatever she is. This has to be hard enough for you, watching your parents split up, without your mother losing control like that."
"You've got to be joking. You should be furious. You should be swearing, with real curse words, throwing furniture and slashing his tires. Maybe not trying to kill the girl — at least not with so many witnesses." She smiled briefly, but then she banged her hands on the desk, causing a glass of water to shake, sloshing water onto the table. "Get angry and let it out. I know I would."
Old habits die hard. I hurried to the table, grabbed several tissues, and mopped up the water before it could stain the lovely mahogany table that dominated the room.
Stephanie sighed as she watched me clean. "You've spent your entire life cleaning up after other people — Dad, David, and me. After twenty-five years of marriage, he leaves you for a woman younger than me, and here you are, still cleaning up. You shouldn't let him get away with it." She reached across and grabbed my hands, preventing me from continuing. "I'm not going to let him get away with this."
I stared at the determined look in my daughter's dark eyes and the set of her chin. For an instant, instead of the polished, intelligent, high-powered Chicago attorney, I saw the scrappy tomboy who got sent home from school for beating up the neighborhood bully when he tried to steal a younger kid's lunch money. Stephanie had always been a defender of the poor and downtrodden. At twenty-five, she was still doing it. I felt a moment of pride, knowing I'd had a hand in creating such a strong, beautiful woman. My conscience pricked when I remembered that her father had also contributed to making her the woman she was.
"I shouldn't have allowed you to get involved like this. You shouldn't take sides. He's your father. I —"
"Mom, stop." She grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a shake. "He is my father and I love him. I always will, but you always taught me it was our duty as good citizens to stand up for what was right and to fight for justice for those unable to fight for themselves." She smiled. "That's why I became a lawyer."
I pulled her close and hugged her. When we separated, we both needed tissues to wipe away the tears. We sat down and composed ourselves.
Stephanie pulled some notes from the large folder on the desk. "Daddy's attorney is asking for the house, the car, everything. He claims, as the sole provider, he's entitled to all of the assets."
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "But your father never wanted me to work outside of the home. He said my job was taking care of my family."
"I know. Don't worry. I won't let him get away with that." She scanned the papers. "He claims business hasn't been good, so he can't pay alimony or any type of spousal support." She tapped her pencil on the table and mumbled, "We'll see about that."
"I don't want anything from him. I kept my CPA license, and I can always find a job."
"Mom! That's not the point. You worked harder than anyone to help him build his business. You even did the books for years, plus you raised two kids, cooked, cleaned, and sacrificed. You deserve better than to be tossed aside after more than twenty-five years, like an old discarded newspaper."
Stephanie looked out the window.
She spent several hours explaining things and making phone calls to Albert's attorney. By the end of the day, she had a smug, satisfied look, which told me she'd gotten more than she'd given up in the negotiations. Between the shock of learning the man I'd pledged my troth to over twenty-five years ago not only wanted to call it quits, but he'd been unfaithful, too, had my head pounding beyond anything mere aspirin could soothe. Stephanie wanted me to go to dinner with her, stay overnight, and take the train back to Lighthouse Dunes, Indiana, in the morning, but I wanted to go home, while I still had a home to go to.
The South Shore commuter train ran between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. Lighthouse Dunes was about forty-five miles west of South Bend. The ride from beginning to end took two hours and twenty minutes and was popular, especially in the summer months, for Indiana residents to go to baseball games, museums, and shopping without the hassle of dealing with the often bumper-to-bumper traffic and parking in the Windy City. For me, the ride provided time to sit and think.
When Albert first moved out, I was in denial. I felt like a statistic. At fifty, I was part of the 40 to 50 percent of marriages that end in divorce. Initially, I thought he just needed a little distance to realize he was making a mistake and would eventually come home. I spent the first few months cleaning the house and working out. I even read magazines and books on how to rekindle the spark. I actually replaced my warm flannel pajamas with flimsy negligees. Initially, I was embarrassed by the sheer fabric, which left nothing to the imagination. However, I had to admit they were perfect for coping with hot flashes and night sweats. After six months, the divorce papers arrived. That was when I burned the magazines, tossed out the books, and cried. I cried a lot. When my credit cards were declined and I could no longer get money from our bank account, I called Stephanie. I suspected there was another woman, but I never dreamed she would be so young.
As the train sped through the night, I looked out the window as the trees and buildings sped past. In many ways, that ride mirrored my life. It felt like yesterday I was a new bride, in love and confident our love would conquer anything. Then came the children. Stephanie and David were the joys of my life. One minute they were chubby little babies, and the next they were graduating from college. The years rushed by as quickly as the scenery outside my window. In all likelihood, my life was more than half over, and what did I have to show for it apart from two children who were now adults with little need for me?
I leaned my head against the cool window and pulled my coat tight. I didn't realize I was crying until the woman next to me handed me a tissue.
"Honey, whatever he did, it ain't worth all them tears."
I took the tissue and stared at my neighbor. She was a large African American woman with a round, kind face and a head full of thick gray hair. "Excuse me? How did you ..."
She laughed a low, throaty chuckle that caused her eyes to crinkle at the corners and her belly to shake. "You wanna know how I knew you was crying 'bout a man? Or, how I knew he wasn't worth them tears?" She laughed again. "Only a man can make a woman cry like you was crying. And, baby, ain't no man worth crying over." She leaned close. "Tears are a precious commodity. You shouldn't waste them on someone that done you wrong."
I sat up straight. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She shook her head. "Alright, why don't you tell Miss Florrie what's bothering you."
I stared at the strange woman, who didn't seem to think anything strange about asking personal questions of a complete stranger on a train.
Miss Florrie looked at me expectantly. Her soft brown eyes were patient and kind, and before I realized it, I was telling her about Albert, our life in Lighthouse Dunes, Stephanie and David, and even my pitiful excuse for a garden.
Miss Florrie listened patiently without interrupting. She listened and nodded at the appropriate places and tsked her disapproval at the right time.
When I finished my tale, I felt spent but calmer than I'd felt in months. I looked at Miss Florrie and waited for her pronouncement. Part of my brain wondered why I cared what this stranger thought. However, another part of me was more than curious.
Miss Florrie sat quietly for several moments. Then she smiled. "Well, you been done wrong, that's for sure, but ain't nobody on this earth gets off without no trouble. I reckon you done had yo share. Now, whatchu gonna do 'bout it?"
I blinked. "What do you mean?" The irony of telling my troubles to a complete stranger on a train hit me. I had no intention of reenacting the Alfred Hitchcock movie where two strangers met on a train and committed murder for each other.
She must have read my mind, because she laughed again. "Honey, you ain't got no cause to worry 'bout Miss Florrie." She chuckled. "I like watching dem old movies too, but I ain't 'bout to kill nobody." She laughed.
Her hearty laugh and sincerity made me realize I was being ridiculous.
"Your husband left you." She stared intently at me. "Whatchu gonna do now?"
I shrugged. "Well, my daughter is an attorney and she's working on negotiating for support and the house —"
"You mean that house you just told me you can't stand?"
I stared at her. "Yeah, that house."
"Why you want it? Seems to me that man done you a favor."
"I don't understand."
"Well, you don't like the house. He wants the house. Why fight for a house you don't want?" I shrugged. "I guess it's the principle of the thing."
"Pshaw. You gotta pick yo battles, and that one ain't worth the energy. Now, I ain't saying you just give him the house. No. You entitled to a fair share. He should pay you half of what the house is worth. Then you take that money and you do the things you've always wanted to do."
She laughed. "Baby, only you can answer dat."
She chuckled. "But I can tell you, if it was me and I had a chance to start over, I'd leave this snow and cold and move someplace warm."
I smiled. "Florida?"
"Noooo." She shook her head. "Florida is too hot and humid for me, plus they got gators in Florida. Miss Florrie can't do no gators."
There was something lyrical in the way she spoke. Florida sounded like Floor-y-da, and I wanted to smile.
She shook her head. "Naw, I got a sister lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I ain't seen her in ten years. I'd move there."
"Chattanooga? I have a friend in Chattanooga, my roommate from college."
I shrugged. "I'm not really sure. I've never been there. We were best friends in college, but we drifted apart," I said vaguely. "You know the kids came, and well, we just lost touch."
Miss Florrie looked at me as though she could see through my soul. Heat rose up my neck, and I knew I was blushing. She saw through all of my lies, but she didn't say anything.
Instead, she shrugged. "It's warm most of the time in Chattanooga. It gets hot in the summer, but that's okay with me." She leaned closer. "The older I get, the harder it is for me to take the snow and cold." She shivered. "I feel the cold down in my bones and it gets in my soul. The long, cold winters do somethin' to folks. They gets depressed and sad with all dat snow and cold." She shook her head as though shaking away the memory of the cold. "They got mountains and lots of green in Tennessee." She nodded. "Yep, if it was me, that's what I'd do. I'd buy me a house and a little building where I could start a restaurant down south and start over. Life is too short to be unhappy."
"A restaurant? Are you a chef?"
She chuckled. "Naw, I ain't no chef. You gotta go to school to be a chef. I'm just a cook. Been cooking all my life." She sat straight and tall. "Pretty good at it too, if I do say so myself."
"What if you move away and you don't like it?"
Miss Florrie laughed. "Baby, that's easy. I'd sell the house and the restaurant and try someplace else, and I'd keep trying until I find my happy place."
* * *
Later, when I sat in the cold cookie-cutter house Albert insisted would be a great investment, I thought about what Miss Florrie said. I thought about finding my happy place. If I was honest with myself, I hated the house. I'd always hated it. Almost all of the houses looked exactly the same. The same builder built most of them, and there were only three different plans in the entire subdivision. The same house, but with different color siding, shutters, or brick façades. I hated the fact the house had very few windows. I hated that the neighborhood association dictated my life, right down to the type of plants I could have, and refused to allow a fence. They even had rules about the type of Christmas decorations I could put up. I'd always wanted a dog, but the association would only allow invisible fences. At one time, I thought about fighting them, but Albert was allergic to dogs anyway, so it all became a moot point and I eventually gave up. If I moved, I could get a house with a fence and I could get a dog. Heck, I could get several dogs if I wanted. The children were grown and had both moved away, Stephanie to Chicago and David to New York City. There was nothing holding me to Lighthouse Dunes. No job. No husband.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In the Dog House"
Copyright © 2018 V.M. Burns.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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