I know, right? A little background, maybe. Disney World, here we come… in December, just a few weeks short of Little Sister’s 5th birthday, the family will travel to Florida for several days in Orlando followed by several days visiting Dad in his winter habitat on Sarasota Bay. Naturally, we’re all quite excited, but a week’s vacation does present a bit of an inconvenience when you have animals that require daily care. The dogs and cats aren’t a problem, as I happen to own a veterinary hospital that offers luxury boarding for the furry family. The livestock, however, are a different matter. We’re a small animal hospital and have no facilities for the horses, and we have too many ducks, chickens and guineas to even consider rounding them up and depositing them somewhere. That leaves us in need of someone to either stop by daily, or find a house-sitter, and I’ve been in the process of trying to find someone so as to save any of our nearby family members from the obligation during the busy holiday season…
* * *
I’m packing for the trip when I get the contest notification, and it’s good news! The pet-sitting website not only has matched my needs with an available pet-sitter, but I’m one of a few lucky vacationers who’s won a Fictional Character Pet-Sitting Experience! (Huh?) Using online algorithms based on my browsing activities, the contest coordinators are certain that they’ve found for me a match made in heaven, as my fictional character is one played by none other than Richard Armitage! (Obviously, whoever’s in charge of the algorithms is really quite competent.) I jump online to learn more and am immediately distracted by buzz on various social media platforms that Richard’s Charitable Pet-Sitting Initiative will be kicking off soon, along with plenty of rumors and speculations about what kind of pet-sitting and for whom and for when! Suddenly, I realize that this could be connected to my Fictional Character Pet-Sitting Experience, and that if I’m right, I may have that elusive “scoop” I’ve been waiting for!
Exhilarated, I log in to the pet-sitting website, ready to learn more about how this is all going to work, and my heart beats faster as I begin to read the list of fictional characters that will be pet-sitting for the holidays! There are some really amazing names here! Cesare Borgia immediately pops out (ok, so that one’s a real historical figure, though fictionally portrayed on The Borgias which I happen to be immersed in at the moment. And may I just say, dayum….) as well as Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones, The Governor from The Walking Dead, and others, and they all seem to follow one theme… they’re baddies. Some are outright villains, while others are more in the anti-hero category, and as I go down the list, my exhilaration begins to transform into mild alarm. Nevertheless, knowing that I’ve scored a Richard Armitage character, I can’t help but speculate that, well, Guy of Gisborne would fit right in on this list. The perfect baddie…. and one that would absolutely qualify as a major fandom coup! (Am I right, ladies?) Near the bottom of the page, however, it’s not Gisborne’s name and face that causes my heart to stop… it’s the partially masked face of Francis Dolarhyde!
The implications are mind-boggling. I immediately (and quite sensibly!) begin to panic, wondering whether Francis Dolarhyde already has the information I’ve submitted to the pet-sitting service: where I live, where I’m going, my family details, my… pets! What have I gotten myself into? Is it too late to stop the company from releasing my pet-sitting information to the serial killer? Can I be matched with someone else? (Someone less…psychotically insane, perhaps?) Is it too late to trade for Cesare Borgia?
I immediately call the company to relate my consternation (and you know it’s a dire pet-sitting mismatch if I’m prepared to call and confront rather than e-mail my concerns!) but the representative reassures me that Francis D. has been fully vetted (by whom? Ted Bundy?) and is more than capable of caring for my feathered friends. He goes on to extol the virtues of the actor Richard Armitage, and reminds me that Dolarhyde is, in fact, a fictitious character, and I need have no qualms whatsoever about him having my information. No, he can’t send Cesare. Cesare has already been deployed to a pet-sitting assignment in Naples. (I didn’t ask whether he meant Florida or Italy.) Furthermore, Francis Dolarhyde is en route and expected to arrive in Oklahoma at any moment for his debriefing with me! (Sounds a little racy, doesn’t it?) I hang up the phone, slightly mollified, reasoning that of course it won’t really be a serial killer that this company deploys to my home. (Just imagine the liability!) No, everything should be fine. They’re sending Richard Armitage. Kind, competent, all-around good guy Richard Armitage. He wouldn’t slaughter anyone.
Hubby isn’t any more enchanted with the idea of Francis Dolarhyde arriving at any moment than I am. He immediately starts to run through all the reasons why this is a horrible idea as he pulls the 22 rifle down and begins to load it. I’m torn between a natural concern for Richard Armitage’s safety, and a stronger concern for my family’s immediate safety. Hubby is really not happy with me at the moment, and is bringing up ancillary concerns that had not occurred to me yet. Hubby thinks we should warn the neighbors. (That’s sure to go over well! How about a note in their mailbox that says, “Howdy, neighbor! We’ve hired a serial killer who massacres entire families to care for our ducks. He’ll be in the area for the next eight days, so please don’t forget to lock your doors at night and post a sentinel! Have a Merry Christmas!”) Hubby also isn’t convinced that the authorities shouldn’t be notified. (“Hello! Our family is going on a Disney vacation and we’ve hired a pet-sitter that might be of interest to law enforcement in several states! Oh, and if you might send a patrol car around every few hours to check on our ducks’ safety, we’d really appreciate it!”) I admit to Hubby that assuming we survive the meeting with Dolarhyde when we line him out about his daily animal duties, I’m also somewhat nervous about the animals themselves. Hubby decides to conceal his wildlife game cameras here and there about the property, thinking we can document Dolarhyde’s activities and record any crimes he might commit while pet-sitting. As Hubby gets to work setting up his surveillance system, I raid my fabric stash in the quilting room and start draping the mirrors throughout the house.
When I finish with that, I resume packing. (Apparently my alarm is not so exaggerated as to cause me to cancel our Disney vacation!) I glance out the window and see Hubby has put a round bale out for the horses (after all, who knows whether Dolarhyde knows how to operate a tractor!) and is now down at the fence line having a conversation with the neighbor. I have no idea what Hubby has told him, but neither man seems to be particularly agitated, and I’m relieved that the neighbor has taken it so well. Hubby, too, seems to have settled down, and I see him shake hands and pat our neighbor’s shoulder in that manly fashion as they part.
I realize that Hubby has embraced the theory that it’s actually going to be Richard Armitage rather than The Great Red Dragon for our caretaker. This is reassuring to me, as well, and I decide to take a few minutes to set a few bottles of red wine on the kitchen island, then I remember that Francis Dolarhyde seems to enjoy martinis. I pull out bottles of vodka, gin and vermouth, not really sure what type of martini Francis prefers, but I figure he’s welcome to any and all of our liquor if it keeps him mellow and occupied. The next time I look out the window, I see a tall figure in Belstaff leather walking up the driveway, and a white panel van parked outside the gate.
Immediately my qualms return. It’s the white panel van that has caused me to again question whether we’re dealing with Richard Armitage, or Francis Dolarhyde. (This scenario, where I have trouble deciding whether it’s Richard or one of his characters, seems to be a recurring theme in my dreams! He’s slippery that way.) I call the kids and order them into the family car, lugging our suitcases out and loading them up. I can’t get my children out of harm’s way soon enough.
What’s even more disturbing, though, is that I see the guinea fowl have flown into a tree and I begin to hear them start in with their loud alarm calls. (Anyone not familiar with guineas may not know that these docile but alert birds have uncanny “watchdog” capabilities… an acute awareness of predators within their habitat, if you will. They make a distinct, almost operatic call that is sounded to alert both us and their fellow poultry to any intrusion, day or night. Whether it’s a delivery person, a coyote, a neighbor dog, or a fictional psychopath pet-sitter, the guineas will let us know!) Pulse now pounding, I start the car, and hit the gate opener so we can make a fast exit if we need to. (I don’t question the guineas’ intuitive knowledge of stranger danger, and neither should anyone else!) Hubby, however, ignores this ominous development and walks down to meet the pet-sitter, carrying his 22 rifle casually at his side. Despite the guinea noise, I do find myself admiring Hubby’s casual confidence as he approaches the unsub. I pull out my phone and surreptitiously film the men as they turn toward the barn. I can’t make out what they’re saying, but I’m relieved to see that Francis Dolarhyde doesn’t have the mask on, nor is he wearing those disagreeable dentures.
The ducks and the chickens, as per their usual habit, immediately notice that Hubby is approaching the barn and begin running toward the feeding area, hoping for corn. I wait to see what the guineas will do. Suddenly, it becomes clear to me that whatever the guineas decide will be my barometer, my index, my indicator. I’ll soon know whether Francis Dolarhyde is to be trusted as a duck-sitter, or if I will call 911. (Because apparently when in doubt, I always leave life-or-death decisions to the pea-sized brain of the flightiest creature nearby!)
Hubby and Dolarhyde emerge from the barn as the the ducks and chickens mill around near the door. Dolarhyde stumbles a bit as our bossiest chicken cuts across his path, and he spills a little corn out of his can. Immediately all the fowl converge on the spilled corn, so he sort of shrugs and dumps out the remainder of his can, and Hubby then casts his own can of corn in a more practiced arc, demonstrating how to best disperse the corn so all the feathered pets are sure to get their share. Dolarhyde nods, seeming to understand the better method.
The guinea noise subsides. I hold my breath. After a few more moments of breathless anticipation, the guineas fly out of the tree and past our car. They land at the feet of Francis Dolarhyde, and peck at the corn.
Weak with relief, I realize that everything will be just fine.
It’s Disney Time.