The continuing saga of a beleaguered Sonoma mother of five on the trail of a missing emerald necklace – the legendary Green Tara.
Rachel knows that she cannot dig herself out of seventeen years of routine with the same shovel she used to dig the hole, especially since the hole is now backfilled, and buried under layers of sediment deposited in the effluvium of time upon her will to dig. So she remains on her stoop, a suburban Hamadryad, observing the plump brown towhee scratching in the leaf litter, reminding her that she’s committed to start a diet.
A flash of movement beyond the privet catches her eye. It’s her neighbor, Mr. Pancho Tulare, starting his day across the street. He lives in the only other house in the neighborhood to survive Buckeye Creek Estates, or BCE as the HOA refers to it. Mr. Tulare’s rancher is more of a bunker; if BCE is an invading army, Mr. Tulare’s property is a walled city. A thick hedge of oleander marks a perimeter of defense around his half-acre, reinforced by an electrified barbed wire fence. He is a veteran of some war but Rachel is never entirely sure which one.
Mr. Tulare’s arch rival Glorya Minderhoff lives in the first of the Buckeye Creek houses – formerly the sales office – two houses over. They rarely speak to each other ever since Glorya insisted on street parking her white Escalade, which she uses for her real estate business, in front of his house where it leaks coolant onto Mr. Tulare’s personal plot of asphalt.
Rachel takes a perverse joy in observing their tense interactions. Since the local madwoman “Crazypants” McGee was carted off a few months back, the neighborhood is now downright boring. Over the years Rachel has come to think of Mr. Tulare as an odd sort of radical. He rides a retrofitted delivery trike, being too cheap to fill the gas tank of his vintage 1972 baby blue, black-vinyl-topped Ford Thunderbird, and too afraid of increasing the reading on the odometer when the time comes to liquidate his estate. Mr.
Tulare uses a clothesline and teaches classes on trapping gophers and moles through the local extension program. He cultivates rare and exotic plants, but Rachel has yet to see what’s growing inside his greenhouse.
Also, Mr. Tulare has a vegetable garden that supplies all the deserving neighbors with luscious heirloom tomatoes, pole beans and varieties of summer squashes, with the single exception being Glorya Minderhoff, who wants nothing more than to raze both Rachel’s and Mr. Tulare’s houses to the ground to make room for more wine country living. Mr. Tulare also keeps a shotgun and a poster of Hayduke in his garage, along with a collection of vintage American flags.
This morning his infallible hunter’s instincts alert him to Rachel’s presence. He looks up from pumping his bicycle tires and sniffs the air, then turns towards Rachel’s house and spots her hiding behind the privet. She feels a twinge of shame, like she’s been caught peeing in the bushes.
“I put in the ‘Black Krims yesterday!” He calls out.
“Can’t wait!” Rachel calls back, pretending she knows he knows she’s been watching him.
Mr. Tulare shouts back. “I got a thing to show you!” She is not fit to be seen in public and has no desire to move from her spot on the stoop, but she knows also that it’s pointless to argue with someone from the Texas Panhandle who is also nearly deaf.
“Be right over.” She goes inside and throws on a pair of sweatpants she keeps on a hook by the front door for such emergencies and walks across the street.
A lean grey cat drops down from a neighbor’s fence and saunters defiantly across Mr. Tulare’s lawn. Rachel immediately identifies the cat as Tinkerbell, Glorya’s Siamese demon. Glorya gave the cat to her daughter, Chelsea or Kelsey or Kylie – Rachel can never remember her name – after a Peter Pan casting fiasco during junior high school.
From what Rachel can remember – and she heard the story so many times – Glorya’s daughter had wanted the part of Wendy but was given the role of Nana. After Kylie-Kelsey-Chelsea grew bored of the cat, Glorya never let it inside again as her husband, Mr. Minderhoff – Mr. Tulare calls him “Seldom Seen” – is allergic. Plus, the cat shredded Glorya’s Shabby Chic couch until the stuffing came out which Rachel always thought was the point of Shabby Chic. That Tinkerbell is male seems only fitting.
Mr. Tulare’s beef with Tinkerbell is altogether different; the cat is the sublime defiler of all vegetable gardens in a two-mile radius not protected by an electrified, barbed wire fence. Mr. Tulare once attempted to solve this problem by fostering a bull terrier he re-named Glorya – a dog that, coincidentally or not, only ate cat food. Glorya refused to be house-trained so Mr. Tulare sent her back for re-assignment. The one and only thing Mr. Tulare, Rachel, and all the other neighbors have in common, including the rich, eccentric widow Ms. Joan Stevens (for whom Rachel has a deep affection), along with her four West Highland Terriers (all named Shirley), is their mutual hatred of Tinkerbell.
“A common nemesis is a unifying force,” is Mr. Tulare’s motto.
Rachel stands barefoot on the sidewalk. Mr. Tulare looks at her as if she is a rehab escapee. “Excuse me one minute if you don’t mind,” he says politely. He goes around the house to get his hose. “I special-ordered this nozzle to keep that devil from ruining my spinach. It’s a Japanese heirloom variety and I intend to eat it” Mr. Tulare shows Rachel a weapon. “Ain’t it a thang of beauty?”
“Is that a nozzle? It looks like a silencer,” says Rachel, half-joking.
“That’s the point,” says Tulare ,who is not joking at all.
Mr. Tulare aims the hose at Tinkerbell. The cat reacts by sitting down in a patch of sunshine on Mr. Tulare’s lawn to lick his phantom balls. Mr. Tulare is completely appalled, his mouth agape, clearly caught off guard by the cat’s audacity. They both jump at the sound of screeching tires. Glorya’s white Escalade comes tearing around the corner. Glorya jumps out of the car, runs up the sidewalk, falls off one of her heels but keeps marching. Swearing under her breath, Glorya glares at Mr. Tulare, grabs the cat and turns to go.
Tinkerbell, however, has different ideas. It sinks its claws into a wooden fence post, clings like a sailor to a mast during a squall, and then takes a swipe at Glorya’s face when she attempts to pry its claws loose.
“Good morning, Rachel,” says Glorya, never taking her eyes off Mr. Tulare.
“Keep that pest out of my raised beds!” Mr. Tulare smiles. Glorya stomps back to her Escalade, throws the cat in ahead of her, and peels out. Rachel harbors a secret, shameful envy of Glorya’s Escalade – new and white and climate controlled – even though she knows Glorya uses it for selling houses in foreclosure. Rachel can almost smell the “new.”
Mr. Tulare chuckles. “She tells me cats are ‘free roaming’ pets. I hope it won’t mind free roaming at the bottom of the slough.”
“Well, maybe the cat got the message,” says Rachel, hoping to change the subject. She points to the steel and chrome dinosaur slumbering in Mr. Tulare’s immaculate garage. “Do you ever take that car out for a drive? It looks awfully lonely.”
“The T-Bird? Oh. Heavens no! It’s not for everyday driving. It’s a getaway car.”