By Buck Dopp.
“I’ll be in touch with you after the background check,” said Clovis Kincaid. Her raspy voice sounded like a handful of gravel spinning in a blender. Thirty years of chain smoking had taken a toll on Kincaid’s voice, and it didn’t do a whole lot for her lungs either.
Scott Baker paused to process her statement before responding. “Background check? How can you do a background check on a Mexican Chihuahua?”
“The background check is not for your Chihuahua. It is for you and your wife.”
Baker’s voice jumped a few decibels. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, Mr. Baker. I’m not. Pet Party Land is a happy place and that’s because I only allow happy dogs and their happy owners.”
“We’re happy, Miss Kincaid. Trust me. We’re happy,” he said.
“Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you shouldn’t mind. I’ve got friends in the police department who will need your social security numbers and the phone numbers of three neighbors.”
Baker fumbled with his smartphone. “I’ve only got two numbers in my phone.”
“Then call me back when you have three.”
“Bye now.” Kincaid hung up.
Sandy Baker listened to her husband’s side of the conversation while frying cheeseburgers. The cooking smells of fried onions and hamburgers seeped from the kitchen into the living room. She followed the fragrance into the living room to make the announcement official.
“Dinner is served,” she said. “What was that all about?”
“That Pet Party Land lady is a little over the top. We gotta give her our social security numbers so she can run background checks,” he said. “She wants phone numbers of neighbors.”
“Let’s discuss her over dinner,” Sandy said. “Burgers are done. Javier is upset. You know how he gets when he’s upset.”
Scott rose and followed his wife into the kitchen. A colorful red and white checkered cloth covered the table. Javier, their Chihuahua, sat on a high chair, his little white napkin tied around his neck and an empty food dish sat in front of him.
Javier’s nose twitched.
Sandy turned around and whispered to her husband. “Javier doesn’t look happy. I think you need to apologize.”
Scott nodded. “How ya doing, Javier? I apologize for holding up your dinner. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
Javier rotated his head in Scott’s direction while showing his front teeth and giving him the stink eye.
Sandy served mouth-watering cheeseburgers—including a small one without the bun for Javier—before taking her seat. “I’m glad she’s picky,” Sandy said. “And remember, she came highly recommended. I want Javier to be in a good place when we go to Italy. You know, he’s got severe separation anxiety issues.”
“Yeah,” Scott said before taking a big bite out of his cheeseburger.
“Remember the Caribbean cruise? Javier was so traumatized it took several months of therapy and medications to bring him back,” Sandy said.
Javier shuddered when he heard the phrase “Caribbean cruise.” He had already finished his burger and glared at Sandy, putting pressure on her to get up and get him another one.
“I’ll get Kincaid everything she wants,” Scott said. “Javier’s happiness is all that matters.”
A couple of weeks later the Bakers got a call from Clovis Kincaid.
“Hello, Mr. Baker? This is Clovis. Your references checked out. The next step is the house tour.”
“That’s fine. We can do it tonight. What’s your address?” he asked.
“Not my house. I’ll be touring your home,” she said.
“Yes. I need to check out Javier’s environment to identify potential concerns.”
“Well, if that’s what we gotta do, fine,” Scott stammered and gave her their address.
That evening, when the front door opened, Kincaid stood in the doorway holding a stack of papers. At the sight of her, Javier went nuts. He started yapping and growling in his high-pitched, eardrum-shattering bark.
Kincaid leaned down and said, “You must be Javier. You can stop your barking now.”
Javier ran into the next room, crawled inside a closet and stuffed his head in a boot.
Sandy extended her hand to Kincaid, and it felt like shaking hands with a rope. “Sorry about that. Javier is very sensitive. He has self-esteem issues. Little things bother him a lot. We call them ‘micro-aggressions.’ For example, if he’s not fed with everyone else, he considers it a micro-aggression.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Kincaid said.
“When you told Javier to stop barking, he may have interpreted that as a micro aggression,” Scott added.
Kincaid nodded. Her bones seemed to be visible beneath her skin and she smelled like a cigarette. Setting the bundle of paperwork on the floor by the couch, she examined their home from top to bottom as if she was General Patton inspecting his Third Army. Kincaid seemed satisfied with what she saw and let the Bakers know by grunting as she went from room to room.
While they toured the house, Javier took the opportunity to tiptoe into the living room. Discovering Kincaid’s paperwork near his favorite spot on the couch, he lifted his leg and for the next thirty seconds relieved himself on the pile.
The tour completed, the Bakers and Kincaid returned to the living room. “Looks good,” Kincaid said. “I’ll need Javier’s complete medical history, all the meds he’s on—”
“He’s on anti-depressants,” Scott interrupted. “Several kinds actually. And he’ll only eat them when they’re placed in a wad of liverwurst.”
“He’s got several food allergies too, including a complex gluten allergy,” Sandy observed.
“I’ve brought a questionnaire you need to fill out and a hold harmless agreement you must sign. The agreement means that if Javier dies in my custody, you exempt me from any liability. In other words, you can’t sue me. You know, stuff happens.”
The Bakers looked at each other but remained silent. Kincaid got up to retrieve the documents. After picking the pile up, she sniffed. “What the heck is this wet stuff?”
Stuff happens, babe. Javier grinned as he pranced into the closet.