Special thanks to Barking Mad about Running (@BarkingMadRun) for giving me the corgi convention prompt and to Ari for telling me what to name a corgi.
While, yes I did use a name of someone I know personally, traits are made up. I just liked her name and needed one in a clutch.
“I’m going to the San Francisco CorgiCon in June!” Adriana danced into the room, holding a slightly confused but ever happy corgi in her arms.
Gus looked up from the mug of coffee he had been contemplating more than drinking in order to make sense of what his wife of ten years had just told him.
“Corgi…con?” The phrase made no sense to Gus even after he repeated it. He had hoped it was only Adriana’s Columbian accent that had made the word strange to his ears. Even his very familiar New Jersey accent hadn’t helped his understanding.
“Si!” Adriana kept twirling with the dog in her arms. “Correcto, Señor Tato? Señor Tato, mi dulce cachorro! Mi lindo perrito!”
Adriana held the corgi close and spoke Spanish endearments while Gus still sat in confusion, not the least because he had never learned the Spanish language. He let his wife continue to dance and speak in a sing-song voice to their 4 year old lightly toasted tan and white corgi.
“What is CorgiCon?” Gus finally managed to ask when Adriana swept passed him again.
Adriana stopped her swirling. Both she and the aforementioned, Mr. Tato stared at him. While his wife gave him a slightly hurt look, the dog just grinned, his tongue lolling from his mouth.
She sat at the kitchen table, plopping the pup on the floor.
“Don’t you remember how I wanted to go the corgi meet up in New York?” She folded her hands on the table and tilted her head so her black hair cascaded to one side, a habit he knew all too well. Gus racked his brain for what she was talking about. He came up blank but didn’t want to admit it.
“It was a big group of corgi owners who were meeting up at a dog park in New York City last week.” Even though she was smiling at him, her voice held an edge to it. “I wanted to stay with my friend Cora, but you told me it was a waste of money.”
Gus had a vague memory of that. To him, it had been a waste of money. Why go all the way to NYC just to let your dog run around a dog park when she could take the dog to a local park? It wasn’t like he would know the difference.
“So, instead of learning from that, you’re now wanting to fly to San Francisco in June?” Gus felt his own temper start to rise. “I don’t see how that’s any cheaper than New York.”
Adriana’s dark eyes narrowed just a fraction. As much as Gus joked about his wife’s ‘fiery Columbian nature’, he had spent his life around loud, strong-willed New Jersey women. He was determined to hold his own.
“I won’t pay for anything.” Adriana’s voice was soft but Gus wasn’t fooled. “I can fly for free because of work. I will be staying with a friend who works CorgiCon and she’s getting us tickets. I won’t even have to pay for food.”
Gus swung a hand out in dismissal. “I don’t want to go to some dumb dog show.”
“You won’t be going.” Adriana said, her smile was wide. “Us is me and Mr. Tato. CorgiCon is on the same week in June you go fishing with your dad.”
As much as he wanted to have the last word, Gus couldn’t think of a single excuse against her trip. It irked him that she had planned every part just so he would lose the argument.
So less than a month later, both Gus and Adriana had packed their vehicles and were heading for two separate areas. Gus was starting his drive to his parents’ house in New Jersey to meet up with his father for their yearly fishing trip. Adriana was on her way to Dulles International Airport where she worked and the reason she would be able to fly to San Francisco for free.
“Have a good time!” She waved as she put Tato, safely in his crate, in the backseat next to her on carryon bag.
Gus waved back but didn’t feel as happy as she seemed to. It wasn’t that he didn’t want his wife to be happy, it was that he didn’t like her to be happy without him. Though he hated to admit it, his own self-esteem was based on the fact that people wanted to be with him. If he wasn’t there, how could she possible have fun?
He was two hours into his drive when his phone rang. For just a moment, he hoped it was Adriana saying she changed her mind and would be staying in town that week. Gus tapped his Bluetooth to engage the call.
“Gus Walsh.” He tried not to sound smug.
“Gus!” To his surprise, it was his mother’s voice, not his wife’s. “I’m so glad I got you, honey! Have you already left your house?”
“Yeah?” The word came out as a question. “I’m about an hour and a half away from you guys.”
There was a word that may have been an ‘oh’ followed by the sound of cloth being scraped over the phone. The muffled talking was too far away for Gus to make out any real words. He waited as patiently as he could before the cloth scraping sound happened again.
“Gus, honey?” His mom’s voice again. “I tried to catch you before you left. Your dad fell off a ladder this morning. He’s fine!” her voice rose in pitch to the point that Gus grimaced from the sound. “He just broke his right arm but the doctor gave him some pain medicine and he’s not hurting.”
“But he can’t go fishing.” Gus pulled off at the nearest exit and headed to a gas station.
“No, honey.” His mom agreed. “You know how much he looks forward to your trips, but it was just bad luck this year. You can still come visit us!”
Gus grimaced again, partly at her high pitch again and partly at the thought of spending a full week with his parent’s in their small Lincroft home.
“I better not, mom.” He said in as sorry a voice as he could. “Adriana is left all alone. It’d be one thing if the fishing trip were happening, but leaving her alone while I just visit makes me feel bad.”
His mother made a noncommittal noise.
“We’ll plan a visit, the four of us before summer’s over.” He said brightly. “I bet you and dad would love that.”
“Of course!” Her own voice came back in a happy screech. “I would love both of you to come! For a whole week?”
Gus sighed internally.
“I’ll have to make sure it’s okay with both of our jobs, but I think we can manage it.” He was hoping he was telling a lie. He knew he could get another summer week off. He ran his own architectural firm, after all. Adriana worked for the airport as a translator and advisor for visiting foreign dignitaries. Her scheduled depended on who was expected in at any given time.
Gus and his mother exchanged goodbyes and Gus turned his car back around to head home. He would finish a 4 hour drive right back where he started, only he would be the one alone. He thought about trying to call Adriana but figured she’d be in the air by now. She had promised to call once she landed safely.
Once Gus got into town, he stopped to pick up some provisions for his week off. He was determined not to break down and go in to the office when he had made it clear he was completely unavailable that week. He was reaching the checkout lane when his phone rang again. This time it was a number he didn’t recognize.
“Gus Walsh.” He used a formal tone. It could be client that had somehow gotten his number despite the threats he’d left with his workers.
“Mr. Walsh?” A young female voice sounded hesitant on the other end. He could hear the echo of dogs barking on her end.
“This is he.” Gus didn’t want to give more away until he was sure who he was talking to.
“Hi, Mr. Walsh.” The voice sounded relieved. “We tried to call your Mrs. Walsh but her phone is off. I know she said you were traveling but we really needed to get in touch with someone.”
Gus waited silently, unsure of what to say.
“Umm…it’s about Mr. Tato?” The girl was starting to babble. “He had a little accident at the doggy pool and we need your permission to get x-rays. We don’t think anything’s broken, it was just a little slip, you see, but the vet insisted—“
“Whoa, hang on!” Gus raised his voice, causing other shoppers to turn to look at him. “What’s this about the dog? Who are you?”
There was an intake of a deep breath on the other end.
“This is Emmaline from Dog Liberty?” She said in a more restrained tone. “Where Mr. Tato is being boarded while you and Mrs. Walsh are on vacation?”
Gus tried to work out what he was being told but it made no sense.
“Tato is with my wife.” The words felt stupid in his mouth. “In San Francisco.”
“N…no, sir.” The girl said. “He was dropped off this morning by Mrs. Walsh. He’s supposed to be boarded for one week.”
Gus nodded dumbly but said nothing.
“And he slipped this morning during pool time.” The girl continued. “The vet said things look fine but would like to take x-rays. We need permission for that if it’s not life threatening.”
Gus nodded again.
“C…can we do the x-rays?” She asked.
“Go ahead.” Gus sighed. “Tell me the address of the vet and I’ll pick him up. Our vacation plans changed.”
The entire ride over to pick up his dog, Gus was sure this was some weird mix-up. First his father falls off a ladder and cancels their yearly fishing trip last minute and now he’s told his wife dropped their dog off at a boarding kennel. The day was making no sense to him at all.
Inside the cool vet’s office, a dark haired man in light blue scrubs smiled when Gus walked in.
“How can I help you, sir?” The man’s smiled widened, crinkling his dark eyes. Gus’ own dark brown eyes didn’t crinkle at all.
“I’m here to pick up my dog.” He said. “I was told he was brought here from the kennel for x-rays?”
“Oh, you’re Mr. Tato’s dad!” The young man reached down to pull a chart. “I think Dr. MacNamara is all ready with your little guy if you want to speak with her.”
Gus, still sure this was a mixup, followed the far too happy young man into the back examination area. Sure enough, the derpy face of Mr. Tato grinned at Gus. The stumpy dog limped towards him. Without thinking, Gus reached down to scratch behind the dog’s ears.
A woman with short, steel gray hair smiled kindly at the dog and Gus.
“Your guy’s all good to go.” She said, glancing at her chart. “We did a few x-rays to be sure nothing broken, but it seems he’s just a little banged up from hitting a concrete floor.”
She smiled down at the grinning dog.
“It seems no one told you not to run around pools.” Dr. MacNamara said directly to Tato.
She smiled back at Gus.
“He’ll probably limp for a few days but should be back to his old self after that.” She said. “Try to keep him quiet as much as possible to facilitate healing.”
Gus nodded and thanked the woman.
“If you have no questions, you can take Mr. Tato here home.” She said. I recommend carrying him just to give him a little break.”
Guy scooped up the portly dog and gently put him in the carrier he had gone in to only that morning. Gus followed the vet to the front desk to check out. He wasn’t too keen on the amount he had to shell out of unnecessary x-rays, but he paid without comment.
In the car, he put Tato in the back seat and sat for a moment behind the wheel, letting his brain run out scenarios.
Why had Adriana lied?
If she wasn’t going to a corgi convention in San Francisco, where had she gone?
Why in the hell did she lie?!
Gus picked up his phone and sent a text to Adriana.
When you get this, call me immediately.
He thought for a second, then turned around in his seat to snap a picture of the corgi snout poking out of the metal grate of the carrier. He sent that photo as well. By his estimation, if Adriana had actually flown to San Francisco, she should be landing in less than an hour.
Still fuming, he drove straight home. He had unpacked the dog and his groceries when his phone dinged, alerting him of an incoming text.
It’s not what you think.
It was from Adriana.
He wasn’t sure if she could feel the anger in those two little words, but he hoped she could.
When his phone rang, he answered before the first one was done.
“Where in the hell are you?” He yelled into the phone. “It sure isn’t the fuck at some corgi convention, unless you think the best way to attend is without your damn corgi!”
There was a quiet pause on the phone. Gus listened for breathing, for background noises, for anything but all he got was silence.
“Are you going to give me some explanation?” Gus asked.
Adriana gave a little sigh.
“This would be better if we could talk in person.” She said at last. “It’s hard to explain over the phone.”
Gus clenched his right hand into a fist.
“Are you having an affair?” Each word seemed harder to get out than the one before it.
“No.” Her voice was quiet. “I’m not with anyone else. I do love you.”
“Then where are you?” He didn’t know what to believe. They had been together ten years. It seemed impossible that she would be having an affair, but he knew it happened.
“I really am in San Francisco.” She said. “But not for the convention.”
Gus took in a deep breath.
“Tell me why.” He tried not to spit the words out.
It was Adriana’s turn to take in a breath.
“It’s for work.” She said.
“You work for the fucking airport!” Gus was aware he was walking in angry circles but he had no other outlet for his rage. “An office job for incoming people. You do not travel for work!”
“This would be easier face to face.” Adriana said. “Can you please trust me until I come home?”
“When?” Gus asked.
“I should be done in two days.” Adriana replied. “I meet with my clients tomorrow then I write up my report. I will be on the next plane home the morning after that.”
Gus was shaking but was unable to answer.
“Please, mi vida.” She whispered over the phone. “Please trust me.”
Before Gus could say anything more, Adriana rang off. He listened to silence for a full minute before he put the phone in his pocket and stared around him. His own home felt wrong somehow.
Tato was still just grinning not seeming to understand why anyone could be unhappy.
Gus sat on the bottom step of the hallway stairs and pet the fluffy head of the dog.
It was a quiet reunion when Adriana walked into the house just after noon two days later, as promised. Gus heard the door open but didn’t bother getting up from the kitchen table.
Tato limped to see his mistress as she put her bag on the ground and knelt to the happy dog.
“Oh! Mi pobre perrito!” She nuzzled the dog. “Are you okay?”
“He’s fine.” Gus didn’t look up. “The vet said he’d limp for a few days and then be fine. He slipped at the doggy daycare pool.”
Adriana sympathized with the dog for a bit longer before finally standing and walking over to the table.
“You’re mad at me.” It wasn’t a question. “You’re mad because I lied.”
Gus didn’t speak. He stared down at his hands.
“I had to.” She sighed, looking for the words to say. “Mi corazon, please believe me!”
She reached out to put her hands over Gus’. He was tempted to pull them back but he was deeply hurt. He knew their relationship wasn’t perfect but, damn it, he did love his wife.
Gus slid one of his hands out and took hers. He slowly ran a finger over her wedding ring. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her yet.
“My job…” She didn’t pull her hands away. “It’s not a normal job. I didn’t think you would understand it.”
“I’m not stupid.” Gus said quietly. “I’ve never been stupid. You could just tell me.”
Adriana sighed and gripped his hands.
“I will tell you.” She said with conviction. “Whether or not you believe me, I will tell you the whole truth.”
Gus finally looked up into her eyes. They were wet with unshed tears but her face was set with determination.
“I work for a company called Ferrymen, Inc.” She said, letting out a great sigh. “I started work with them when I still lived with my mom in Columbia. I’m….I’m a consultant.”
Gus frowned at her.
“What is Ferrymen?” He asked. “I’ve never heard of the company. Is it based in DC?”
Adriana shook her head and smiled.
“It’s based everywhere.” She pulled a hand back to gesture broadly in a circle. “Everywhere there are….are souls.”
Gus frowned deeper, making Adriana take in another deep breath.
“It will take me a long time to explain the whole thing.” She said. “I’m not even sure how much I’m allowed to tell you about it.”
“I need to know what you do.” Gus said. “I need to know that my wife isn’t running off to have affairs when she tells me she’s going on trips to visit friends.”
It was Adriana’s turn to frown at Gus.
“Why would you think I would ever do that?” She pulled her hands away and crossed them over her chest. “I thought you understood me.”
Gus felt his anger rising.
“I thought I did too!” He was nearly shouting. “You’re telling me now that you’ve been lying to me for over ten years about your job but I’m supposed to just believe you wouldn’t cheat on me?”
Adriana slammed a palm flat on the table, making Tato jump and limp away into another room.
“I am trying to tell you!” She matched him, anger for anger. “The company I work for is not easy to explain and many things they do I cannot talk about!”
Adriana began muttering in Spanish. He didn’t have to understand the words to know she was furious.
“You said you’re a consultant for this company?” He relented. “You don’t work at the airport?”
Though her eyes were still angry, Adriana shook her head.
“I do have an office at the airport.” She said. “I travel more than you think and it’s a very good base for me.”
Gus wove his fingers together to try and calm his anger. He knew it would do neither of them any good to get more worked up than they already were.
“Where do you travel?” He asked.
“All over.” Adriana did the circle wave again. “The company has a private jet but I do not do more than 12 hour jobs. That is because the company doesn’t like those outside knowing about them.”
“Not even husbands?”
Adriana risked a smile.
“Not husbands or mothers or sisters or cousins or uncles.” She said dismissively. “I signed one of those contracts saying I wouldn’t tell.”
She blew a puff of air towards her forehead. “I may get fired over this.”
They looked at each other for a moment, holding a gaze that gave away nothing.
“But you’re going to tell me?” Gus asked.
Adriana nodded then leaned forward.
“I am a consultant for Ferryman, Inc.” She said, moving the salt shaker around on the table. “You may not believe me, but I travel around North America mostly, and check to see if areas are haunted or if they need to be haunted.”
Gus realized that he actually believed her. So little had made sense lately that this new fact just seemed to fit right in.
“It’s not really very easy for me to explain.” Adriana said. “I can tell you spirits are real. I know because I can see them and I can see…” she searched her mind for a word to explain. “I can see evidence of them even if they are not there to be seen.”
She straightened the salt shaker next to the pepper and looked back at Gus.
“When I get a call, I am flown out to an area.” She said. “It may be a building, a field, a hill or even a whole town. Once it was a cat. Another time it was a VHS tape.”
Adriana waved away the distracting thoughts.
“Sometimes I am asked to see if the area is haunted by spirits.” She shrugged as she said this. “If it is, I make a report to the company and let them know how many and what kind—“
“There are different kinds of spirits?” Gus asked, not sure why he was interrupting.
Adriana smiled at him.
“Yes, but it gets very technical and boring to explain.” She said. “My report tells the company what kind of person or team to send out to handle the problem.”
She laughed and put a hand on her forehead.
“I have been wanting to tell you for so long but I thought you would think me cuckoo.” She reached out a hand to her husband. “You believe me?”
Gus nodded. He did believe her. He wasn’t even sure why, but he did.
“I’m very glad.” She said. “I am telling you the truth.”
Gus sat quietly for a moment, holding his wife’s hand.
“Ghosts?” He finally asked. “Ghosts?”
“But it’s much more boring than you think.” She stood up and walked towards the stove to pick up the tea kettle.
“Ghosts.” Gus said this mostly to himself as Adriana was filling the kettle and humming under her breath. In her mind, it was over. The crisis averted and she fully expected Gus to continue along as if she hadn’t just told him that ghosts were real.
He would, he knew, ask more in time. Right now he still had most of a week off and he and Adriana were no longer mad at each other.
Gus looked down as Tato entered the room.
“How long does that CorgiCon last?” He asked, watching his wife’s face light up.
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!