The rain let up as Beth parked her car in front of the antique store in the quaintSonomaCountytown ofFreestone. A rough hand painted sign hung on the front porch of the store AFTER CHRISTMAS SALE– ALL MERCHANDISE 50% OFF.
As she stepped on to the rickety porch, she noticed the garden art in the backyard. A rustic slat house, green with moss, covered the patio and as she looked down, a statue of a dog with ears pointing straight up, caught her eye. Just then, the purveyor poked his head out the back door.
“Oh, there’s Anubis. I swore I put him on the bargain table next to the fireplace. I wonder how he got out here.”
“What did you call him? Anubis?” Beth picked up the two-foot tall jackal.
“Yes, he’s an Egyptian symbol, protector, guardian and divine jester; the opener of the ways. If you put him in your garden, he’ll help you steer a straight course through life; a bargain at twenty-five dollars.”
Beth laughed at the sales pitch, set the piece aside, and continued to look around. Inside she flipped through the vintage art prints, then headed upstairs to the second story. A baby grand piano stood at the center of the room and Beth sat down to play. Her fingers glided over the keys; she played Chopin from memory. Her spinet didn’t do the piece justice; this instrument had resonance. Someday she’d be able to afford her dream piano. As she got up from the bench and turned towards the door, there stood a second Anubis statue. Beth’s first thought was, oh good, there’s a pair, and she picked up the statue and took it downstairs.
“Oh, there it is,” the shop owner exclaimed. “I thought you had left it here. I was going to wrap it for you.”
“I did, but then I found it again upstairs. Didn’t you bring it up?”
“No matter,” said the owner laughing. “I assume you’ll be taking it since it’s following you around.
“I guess I am.”
Later at home, remembering what the shop owner said about Anubis’ Egyptian identity, she placed the dog as a sentry, outside the back door.
“Okay, now do your job,” she said to the statue, “and no funny business. I want some results.” Beth was only half kidding; she expected something to change.
Monday morning as she got ready for work, Beth thought more about her latest marriage proposal. David was head CPA at the accounting firm. At thirty-two, he was rich, successful and powerful, but his perfect life missed one piece, a wife. Beth was attracted to him. Who wouldn’t be? He was gorgeous. He had courted her with gifts and expensive vacations. Saturday night he had demanded an answer to his question.
“So, Beth, have you decided to marry me?” David stood up as Beth came out to join him on the patio.
“David, I wish you’d stop pressuring. You know, I said I’d decide soon.”
David made every effort to impress. “I was inSan Franciscoyesterday and found your wedding present, if you say yes tonight, I’ll order it tomorrow.”
“What are you talking about?”
“A Steinway grand piano from the Crown Jewel Collection, its mahogany and rosewood; it could be yours if you’ll marry me.”
Shaking, Beth turned away. David grabbed her arm and the glass she was holding hit the patio and shattered.
“You’re hurting me. Let go.”
“Not until you answer me. This has gone on long enough,” His grip twisted her arm. Tears welled up in Beth eyes. “David, please let go of my arm.”
David released his grip. “Honey, I’m sorry . . . come here.”
Beth reluctantly went to him.
“David, you scared me.”
David kissed away her tears. “I just want you so bad.”
“You’re right to want a decision. I have been selfish. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll split. Just remember I love you. We could have the perfect life, you and me.” David gave her one long passionate kiss, picked up his jacket, walked around the side of the house, got in his BMW and drove away.
Beth sat down on the back step and looked around for Anubis. The statue wasn’t in its place. Weird, she thought, where could he be? She got up to search the yard, no Anubis. Too tired to think she went inside. As she climbed into bed, she noticed the photo of her with David atWaikikihad fallen from the wall. The glass had shattered and Anubis stood benignly in the corner.
“What have you done? Bad dog,” she said aloud, then caught herself and thought, I’m talking to a statue. I must be losing my mind. Better, go to bed.
The next morning, Beth went straight to David’s office. “David?” he looked up, she continued, “I can’t marry you. I’m sorry, and I don’t think we should see each other socially anymore.”
After several minutes of dead silence, Beth turned to leave and David replied coldly, “You’ll regret this.”
A chill went up Beth’s spine. “Is that a threat?”
“Take it anyway you like.”
Beth managed to avoid David. The office gossip was that he was dating again, but no details.
With spring came plans for the annual company picnic. Beth as head of the committee posted an e-mail request for suggested locations. A colleague approached Beth that afternoon.
“Oh hi, Phyllis, how are you?”
“I read your e-mail and my son plays in the Junior Baseball League. There’s a game that weekend. The ball park has picnic grounds and plenty of parking. What do you think about it for a location?”
Beth knew very little about baseball, but when several other employees offered to help, it sounded like an idea. The plans went smoothly and Beth had all but forgotten about David and his threat.
Beth arrived early the day of the picnic. Both teams of teenage boys were warming up with batting practice. This is going to be fun, she thought, and she congratulated herself for coming up with such a good idea. She started to unload the groceries from her car when she noticed the home team’s coach coming over to her.
“Let me help you with that, it looks heavy,” he said as he hoisted the box of groceries onto a nearby hand truck.
“Oh, thank you, my name is Beth.” She held out her hand to him.
“Glad to meet you, I’m Hank, Hank Wilson. I coach the team.” His warm grasp was like a cuddle and Beth blushed.
Hank filled the hand truck to the top and effortlessly rolled it over to the picnic tables. “Do you need anything else brought over? I need to go check on my boys.”
“No, that’s fine. Thank you.” Beth sat down to watch the practice. Hank grabbed a bat and went to hit balls to the fielders. He hit with such accuracy, Beth was fascinated. The balls went exactly where he wanted each time and the boys scrambled to keep up. She was thoroughly enjoying herself, when David came up from behind and startled her.
“So, you like baseball players?” he said smirking.
“Oh hi, David. I was just watching the warm up.”
“Yeah, I bet you were watching more than that.” David put his hands on her shoulders and Beth started to move away when he pushed her back down hard, catching Hank’s attention.
Hank dropped his bat and came over to the picnic table. “Take your hands off her,” he said into David’s face.
David was no stranger to the gym and when he stood up Hank backed up. The two men faced each other fists clenched and Beth panicked.
“Stop it now! Look the entire team is watching.” She pointed to the boys along the chain link fence, hoping to see a fight.
“Oh this is stupid. I’m going home.” David realized there were too many witnesses, to throw a punch at Hank, but this wasn’t over.
As David drove away, Beth turned to Hank. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where he came from; I haven’t spoken to him in months. We went out, but I broke it off and I thought he had forgotten about me.” Beth couldn’t catch her breath.
“Look you have plenty of help and the game is ready to start. Come sit in the dugout, you’ll feel safe with me.”
By the sixth inning, Beth was having a marvelous time eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and cheering for the home team. She put David out of her mind and watched Hank’s coaching style. He was so good with the teens. It was obvious they looked up to him. The fresh grass on the field smelled sweet and the fluffy clouds overhead looked like cotton candy. Could life be any better?
The tension built as the game went into an extra inning—the home team up, bases loaded, and the pressure on. The weakest batter stood at home plate. Hank called a time out and took him aside. Beth couldn’t hear the words, but as Hank walked away, the boy had a beaming smile.
“Strike one!” the umpire called the pitch.
The third pitch was high and to the side, but over the plate. The bat made solid contact and propelled the ball out of the park. “Home run!” Beth screamed, jumping up and down, clapping her hands. The small crowd went wild. The runners rounded the plates and Hank waited for the last boy to arrive.
“Good work. I told you, you could do it.” He slapped him on the back.
Hank then turned to Beth. “Well we have to celebrate. Can I take you to dinner?”
Beth hesitated, she dated businessmen not athletes.
“I’m sorry, that was presumptuous of me. You probably have lots to do.” Hank read the hesitation as rejection.
“No. No! I would love to have dinner with you.” Beth thought, why not? It’s just dinner.“Let me give you my address and phone number. I’ll finish up here, then go home to shower and change. What if you pick me up around seven?”
Hank’s smile returned. “Perfect. Here, write the info down and leave it on the bench. I have to go congratulate my team. See you at seven.”
Beth floated home. As she showered, she thought about her wardrobe. They hadn’t discussed restaurants. She chose her favorite red sweater, it showed off her curves, and a pair of fitted jeans. “Bad girl,” she said to herself, feeling sexy and alive.
Hank was punctual. He had changed into khaki colored slacks and a tropical style shirt with pictures of cars in the pattern.
Cute, thought Beth as she greeted him from her front porch. As she looked down, there stood Anubis. If he weren’t a statue, his tail would be wagging.
Hank looked at the dog, “That’s different. I’ve never seen a dog that looks like that.”
“I found him in an antique store a few months ago. He’s Egyptian, his name’s Anubis, he brings good luck.”
“Well it certainly is my lucky day. A home run and dinner with a beautiful girl.” Beth took the flowers from Hank’s outstretched arm.
“C’mon in, I’ll put these in water and give you the grand tour.”
Hank noticed the small piano in the corner. “You play?”
“Yes, I competed nationally, but always came up short. I finally gave it up, went back to school and got an accounting degree. I still love it. I just wish I had a better piano. I saw one at the antique store where I found Anubis, but it was too big for this place and way out of my budget.”
“Well I play too.” This surprised Beth, she wasn’t sure why.
“What type of music?”
“Classical mostly, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and some Chopin. I have season tickets to the San Francisco Symphony. Maybe you would come with me sometime.”
“That sounds wonderful, anytime, just call me.” Beth had a new opinion about dating athletes.
Monday morning Beth sat at her desk reviewing her tasks. An audit request, not part of her work load, appeared at the top of her computer screen. The assigned CPA was David. Beth requested reassignment of David’s clients, but one audit wouldn’t kill her, would it?
She opened the audit program and went to work. Beth spotted several unusual transactions between financial accounts and the bank accounts didn’t balance. Complete batches of source materials were missing, making it impossible to verify cash accounts. This was going to be an all day project; she signed the hard copy file out to take home with her that evening.
On her way out, Beth walked past David’s office. Suit jacket off, sweat soaked his dress shirt as he rummaged through the papers on his desk. She kept going. Once home she sat down at the kitchen table and sorted the financial documents. Something was definitely wrong. David’s name appeared as an authorized agent on the bank accounts and there were regular transfers of cash to an offshore account. “Oh my God, David’s embezzling,” Beth said to herself.
The file back in her briefcase she went outside for some fresh air and to think about the next day. Sitting on the patio she looked for Anubis. He was gone again. That darn dog, I can only imagine what he’s up to now.
Beth heard the front doorbell ring. Who would be here this late? She got up, patted in her bare feet to the front door, looked through the peephole, saw David and instead of letting him in, ran to the back of the house. This was not a friendly visit. She secured the patio door, then locked herself in the bathroom. David began to knock, then bang on the door.
“I know you’re in there. I want my file. I know you have it!” David yelled. Beth froze. She heard the side gate open and footsteps move to the rear of the house. David picked up a patio chair and hurled it against the sliding glass door. It took several attempts before the glass shattered. “Where are you? You can’t hide.”
The bathroom knob jiggled and David threw his weight against the door. Beth cowered in the corner of the shower. She looked at the window, but it was too small to fit through. Another thud of David’s shoulder, then the banging stopped. Someone else was here, Beth could hear a struggle. She huddled in fear. After a few minutes she heard a loud thud, then silence.
“Beth? Beth? Are you okay?” It was Hank’s voice and Beth started to breathe again. She opened the bathroom door and fell into Hank’s arms, sobbing.
“I thought he would kill me. Where did you come from? How did you know he was here?”
“I found Anubis in the back seat of my car. I couldn’t figure out how he got there, but I came to return him to you. Then I saw David’s car in the driveway and heard him yelling.” Hank gently moved Beth to arm’s length, so he could see her face. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you.”
“Stay here for a few more minutes, lock the door again. I hit David pretty hard, knocked him out. I’ll call 911.”
Hank went back in the kitchen. David was out cold, but not for long. Anubis stood guard over him. Hank had hit David with the Anubis statue.
When the police and ambulance arrived, David had come to and the paramedic handed him an ice pack. Beth stood across the room, afraid to get too close. “David, I know what you’ve done. Your career is over and by the amount of money missing, I’d say you’re going to jail. Would you have killed me?”
“In an instant and with pleasure.”
“You better not say any more.” The officer warned David, hand cuffed him, read him his rights and escorted him to the ambulance. A second officer took statements to complete the report. After the police left Hank held Beth for a long time.
“Hank I’m afraid to be here alone, would you stay on the couch tonight?”
“Of course, anything for you.”
The next morning, Hank drove Beth to the office to meet with the firm’s attorneys and the police. The long morning of questioning left her drained.
“C’mon, I’d like to show you something, to take your mind off all of this.” Hank took her hand and grabbed her jacket. “I live onMcDonald Avenue. It will only take a few minutes to get there.”
Hank’s house was an old Victorian. “What a beautiful place! This is where you live?” Beth said, clearly impressed with the perfectly manicured lawn, shade trees and brightly painted home. She never thought that Hank would live in such a stately house.
“It’s been my family’s home for over a hundred years. C’mon in and I’ll show you around.”
Hank escorted Beth up the walk and unlocked the solid oak door. As Beth stepped over the threshold, she couldn’t believe what she saw. It was the piano from the antique store.
“How did you get this?”
“I bought it a few days ago. I wanted to surprise you. I knew you didn’t have room for it, and I thought it might give you an excuse to come over to see me.”
Beth sat down and played the Chopin piece she had played not that many months before. Yes, she would be coming here often.
* * * *
“Anubis.” The shopkeeper welcomed the dog back. “I take it you’ve been successful?” Just then a young woman came through the side gate and picked up the statue.
“Anubis, his name’s Anubis. He’s an Egyptian symbol, protector, guardian and divine jester; the opener of the ways. If you put him in your garden, he’ll help you steer a straight course through life; a bargain at twenty-five dollars.”