It's important to note that my husband took in this News the same way he usually does, which is by Not Looking At Me while I deliver it, and then by giving not one single sign that he even heard it. I waited for approximately two minutes, and then I said, "Rick. I mean it. Some animal is living in there, and--"
He interrupted me calmly, slowly and patiently turning around to face me with a completely unchanged expression of relative disinterest. "Nance. First of all, I don't smell anything in there. And second, there is no way any animal can get in there. No way. It's impossible. There's no point of entry for anything. A bird could maybe get trapped in there and get a little dirt on your car, but that's about it. I'm telling you, it's nothing."
Shortly after that, several convincing Pieces Of Evidence presented themselves that convinced even Rick that We Were Not Alone: a broken flowerpot on the hood of my car; bite marks on all of the bags of potting soil; pawprints and scratches on a car door. It was time to Do Something, and for once, that Something did NOT involve the BB gun.
"Looks like I have to clean out this garage," he said. "Take everything out and see where the hell it is and see how it's getting in here." In Rick's defense, the garage was already pretty tidy. In no time at all I heard him yelling, and I ran out from the kitchen to see what was happening.
Rick emerged from the back of the garage, triumphant, a shovel in one hand and a bloody raccoon tail in the other. "Got him!" he said, smiling. "That sucker took off so fast! But I got his tail, anyway. He won't be back."
I was still standing there, my hand on my mouth--which was gaping--and my eyes staring at that bloody tail. Finally, I managed to recover myself. "But how did it get in there? And what if it does come back? What if it had babies in there? And what do you plan to do with that tail, for heaven's sake?"
Very soon, I had answers to all of those questions. The clever raccoon had pried off a soffit panel at the back of the garage and sneaked in that way. There was no nest, no babies, for it had no need--it could come and go at will through this access. And the tail was tacked to a nearby stud to serve as a deterrent and a trophy. Rick also fastened the soffit panels with roofing nails to prevent any more invasions.
We went to bed with easy minds that night.
But about three A.M., I was awakened by a loud metallic clunk from the basement. Rick, of course, did not hear it. I sat up and waited for it to repeat itself. When it did not, I still woke him. It had been loud and sounded bad, maybe mechanical. He had to check it out. We both crept down to the basement landing.
As soon as we neared the steps, a terrible stench assailed us. It stunk like something rotten or rotting. "Do you smell that?" I asked him. He nodded. Tears came to my eyes, an involuntary response from fear. I grabbed his arm as he reached for the light. "Be careful!" I whispered, which was stupid. We hadn't bothered to be quiet until now, and once we turned the light on, any hope of secrecy or surprise was long gone. He flipped the light switch, and we both stared in shock.
Trickling under the door to the right was a small stream of deep red. It was travelling inexorably to the drain just ahead of us near the bottom of the steps.
"Holy shit," said Rick with heartfelt piety. "What in the hell is that?"
We pushed open the door to a massacre scene. Deep red splatters covered the spare refrigerator and dripped down its full length. The stench was overwhelming and disgusting. The floor was covered; we instinctively turned to check the bottles of wine in the racks. Those racks contained a lot of money in reds, and...what was this?
One bottle was missing its cork. Instinctively, I looked at the floor. Sure enough, there it was. Rick was sliding the bottle out of the rack, careful not to spill any more of it. He took it over to the sink and poured it out: the remaining contents were a thick, putrid sludge of sediment. It was a bad bottle, probably the last of the run. That sediment had fermented and popped the cork, which hit the ductwork, producing that clank I had heard.
Mystery solved, but now we had a lot of smelly, messy work to do in the wee hours of the morning. As we started to gather our supplies, I turned to Rick. "I thought it was blood! I thought it was that damned raccoon, that somehow it got into the basement and bled to death in this house!" I said.
"Did you really?" he said, and he turned toward me. A patient, kind look illuminated his face. "Nance. There is no possible way that raccoon could ever get into this house."