Hearing the door rattle, Little Darby Tiptoe lifted his head and sat perfectly still. When it rattled again and he heard the groan of the hook and eye latch, straining to hold the door shut, he sprang to his feet and raced to the door to see who was there.
An unfamiliar face looked down on him from the other side of the wood-framed screen.
“Hey, boy,” the man whispered, “is anybody home? Are you a nice boy?” The man stood still, his eyes fixed on the dog. Little Darby Tiptoe, his head cocked slightly to the side, stood silently, looking up at the man. The man’s eyes shifted from Darby to the room behind, then back to the dog.
“If you were a mean dog, you’d be growling by now. How ’bout I come in and give you a treat?” With that, the man slid an ice pick through the screen and popped the hook up and out of the eye. He pulled the screen door slowly, as if he were testing to see if the dog would come at him. Little Darby Tiptoe stood motionless.
With the door opened wide enough for him to enter, the man inched his way in, his eyes on the dog. “Be a good boy, now, don’t be afraid of me. Don’t bark at me, boy.”
He reached around behind him with his left hand, closing the door so it wouldn’t make a noise. Darby took two steps back from the man.
“Don’t be scared, boy. Here, you want a treat?” The man knew how to behave around unfamiliar dogs. His movements, slow and deliberate, were textbook ‘how to approach a strange dog.’ He pulled a biscuit from his pocket and reached down to give it to the dog.
Little Darby Tiptoe’s lips curled, revealing menacing canine teeth, but he didn’t growl. “Whoa, boy,” the man whispered as he pulled back, “don’t go rogue on me. I just want to give you a treat.” The dog’s lips loosened when the man backed off.
“Okay, boy, you don’t want a treat. Just let me get by you, all right?”
The man leaned toward the wide opening into the living room. Little Darby Tiptoe watched him, but did not get in his way as the intruder stepped around him.
Darby followed the man from room to room at a distance of about ten feet. When the man reached for the knob on Marissa’s bedroom door, Little Darby Tiptoe raced toward him, lunging at his right foot. Darby’s mouth opened wide, then clamped shut on the man’s Achilles tendon.
The man screamed and at the same moment thrust his right hand, the one holding the ice pick, down and backward toward the dog. Darby released his grip on the man’s leg and ran toward the front door. The injured man hesitated for just a moment, then followed the dog. Little Darby Tiptoe scurried to the kitchen, beyond the screen door, and turned around to watch the man swing the screen door open and rush out, limping down the sidewalk, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
Darby’s eyes remained fixed on the man as he disappeared into the driver’s side of a car parked a block away. When the car pulled away, Darby turned. He followed the drops of blood on the wood floor, dutifully licking them up, erasing the unsightly evidence of a break-in gone bad.