Phoebe, the real estate agent who sold us our casa, came to us the other day atwitter with news. She, Max and I sat sipping tall glasses of iced tea by the pool.
She leaned forward. “You know the huge casa down the street that’s been renovated?” she said, breathless with excitement, pointing to the right.
“It sold to a wealthy couple from New York!”
“Really? What are their names?”
Phoebe looked smug, fingering her plastic bead necklace. “Baron Fitzgerald and Regina Berry-Fitzgerald. The names sound hoity-toity but they are down to earth.”
“You know the huge casa down the street that’s been renovated? It sold to a wealthy couple from New York!”
“Hmmmmmm,” Max said. “His name sounds familiar. Do you know what business he’s in?”
“Not sure. You could ask them yourselves. They’re moving in tomorrow.” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, got to run! Busy, busy, busy.”
We returned to our lounge chairs.
Max was twiddling his moustache. Something was up. “What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Just came to me where I’d heard the name Baron Fitzgerald before.”
Max thwacked his glass down on the tabletop. “He’s a food critic. The only critic on the panel of the Golden Radish Awards who stopped me from getting a sixth Radish.”
“Max, dear, you don’t know that for sure. Voting is done in private, details never revealed.”
Max gave me a dark look. “My friend Alphonsine Jacques St. Pierre was also on the panel. She told me.”
I frowned. “She shouldn’t have.”
“But she did.”
I made a dismissive gesture. “Forget it. You already have five Golden Radish Awards. Be positive. Phoebe said they were down to earth people.”
Max smirked. “You mean Middle Earth or are they Orcs?”
“Stop it, Max! Give it a chance. Let’s go over tomorrow. We’ll bring a casserole. That always makes new neighbors feel welcome.”
“Can I lace it with a touch of arsenic?”
I ignored him and went to the kitchen to find a suitable pan.
The next day, late in the afternoon, I covered the Mexican chicken and vegetable casserole I made that morning. “Max,” I shouted out to the terraza, “coming?”
Max had put on slacks and a crisp shirt but he looked grumpy. “Yes, yes,” he said without enthusiasm, following me out the door.
I rang the bell of their house. A striking, statuesque woman about my age answered. She towered over me in slim fit designer jeans, a white blouse revealing a bit of firm flesh. “Can I help you?”
“We are Sylvia and Max Saltwater, your neighbors down the street. You must be busy but we’ve brought you a welcome casserole.”
“Isn’t that dear of you! Please come in. I am Regina Berry-Fitzgerald. How do you do?”
“You must be busy unpacking,” Max said, edging away.
“No, no, no! I insist.” She opened the door. “Our workers are taking care of everything. I’m lounging by the pool. When you hire a really reputable but very expensive company, you needn’t lift a finger.”
The casa was twice as big as ours. A central fountain dominated a terraza surrounded by arches and elaborate carved wood doors. Flowering vines crept to a second floor balcony.
Without taking the casserole, Regina led us through an archway to a garden with palms, giant terra cotta pots with bright pink bougainvillea. Several tables with umbrellas and rattan lounge chairs dotted the area around an Olympic sized pool with a diving board.
I said, “Resplendent!” The casserole was getting heavy. “Let me put this down.”
“If you’re going to have a pool, you might as well have a good one,” Regina said. “Have a seat. Would you like a drink?”
“We really shouldn’t stay.”
Just then I noticed Max. He was perfectly still as if he were in a freeze frame. He had on his frowny face. A handsome figure was coming through a casita door striding toward us with an outstretched hand.
“Max Saltwater! What are you doing here?”
Without extending his hand, Max said, “Sylvia and I are your neighbors. We’ve brought you a welcome casserole. Do you need to critique it?”