Of Mice & Men. Rat’s & Things

Rats!
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats. 

 Robert Browning

The words echoed in his mind, “Timmy, remember son, sometimes pest control isn’t enough.”  It proved to be the best advice his old man ever shared with him, probably the only one he cherished within the memory bank of his hellish childhood.  He held this memory close, now his family all but extinct.  Especially on days like these.

He was always on edge, always nervous until he satisfied the need.  He swatted a fattened mosquito, noting the blood spattered on his arm and face; they were thick on the lake this time of year.  The sticky mess congealed,  blending with the rest of the blood already there.

His old man, Tim Grogan Sr., had been a frail, sickly alcoholic. After forty years in pest control, the doctors couldn’t pinpoint whether it was the chemicals or the alcohol that had ultimately done him in, his liver shot and major organs riddled with the cancer. He died leaving Timmy only bad memories, an old van, and his pest control business.

Timmy’s father had introduced him to the art of pest control and disposal of all kinds of vermin; vertebrate and invertebrate.  His first experience with his father’s lake-disposal methods had involved Red, his ex-brother-in-law, after Red had made the grievous error of beating Timmy’s sister Ann.  That Red had been a fellow-alcoholic hadn’t deterred Dad in the least.

The heavy chains made a metallic scraping and then a thumping sound as each link hit the side of the boat; the heavier the chain, the deeper the disposal.

He felt his lips move, automatically muttering the now infamous words of his father as the body disappeared in the deep murky water of Laurel Lake.  He swatted another mosquito, leaving more blood on his face and arms.

The hum of the outboard motor comforted him as he slowly made his way back to shore at a trolling pace.  He chugged his Budweiser down, washing out the bad taste the smell of two cycle oil and gasoline left in his mouth.

He knew the world was now a better place without his nephew, and the vermin known as Chance now resided at the bottom of Laurel Lake with his dear old dad, Red.

Chance, like his father before him, had been an abuser of alcohol and drugs, a violent one.  He’d been nothing more than a cockroach Tim knew he’d had to exterminate.  He felt no remorse. Such sentiments had long ago been left behind.  He had developed an exoskeleton as impenetrable as that of of an insect, using it unfailingly to his advantage as his own internal coping mechanism.  Clever planning and stringent housekeeping were paramount to maintaining his sanity, Dad’s voice often echoing through his mind, telling him what to do.

To any observer in the cabins it would appear he was coming back from another night of cat fishing.  For twenty-five* years he had used the lake and, like his father before him, never once to fish.  He hid his actions like the rat traps he baited and strategically placed in clients’ homes, with cunning and purpose.

God knows he meant the average person and his neighbors no harm; he was providing a community service disposing of these “human cockroaches and rats.” There was simply no doubt in his mind.  He had long ago convinced himself of the good deeds he performed on behalf of humanity.  He realized, somewhere in the back of his mind he was convincing himself with alarming regularity, but he’d given up counting years ago.

Later, it was determined he’d legally completed the events as real exterminations from a record-keeping standpoint, the demise of his covert victims marked only by completed work tickets, making note of date, time, method (chemical, mechanical), as well as his state pest control license number.  Dad had always been a stickler for proper paperwork.

He hauled his johnboat to the tree by the boat launch ramp, securing the padlock, the humid night air making him sweat and scratch the accumulated mosquito bites.  He washed up with lake water and sat in the van, the air conditioner humming away. He routed that day’s work tickets, waiting for sunrise so he could commence with his usual work schedule.  It was important not to deviate from his normal routine, he knew.

His days and work weeks were filled with exterminating piss-ants and cockroaches.  Tim Grogan listened patiently as the soccer moms and senior citizens complained.  It was part of the job of a pest control technician.  He often found himself fluctuating between chemical killer and counselor.  Slowly, over a period of years, his real purpose and the voice of dear old Dad grew louder and became clearer in his head. The only certainty he knew was this was his “calling,” as the church folk liked to say.  He protected his clients and the community, and Timmy Grogan was proud of that.

He didn’t mind the job; it opened his eyes to the pests of the world – some of which entomology offered a viable solution.  As for the other pests, well – as Dad’s voice told him – his own brand of extermination was the best control measure he could offer.  He found the work both exciting and fulfilling.

He also enjoyed the customers, most were kind and good people.  He’d  made his job his social life as well, since Leann, his ex, had gone to the bottom of the lake five years ago.  His work had become his only means of human interaction, but it suited him nicely.  He had never been a social creature to begin with, as his ex had pointed out frequently.  His personality was naturally quiet and inconspicuous, and the reason he had never been recognized, nor sought out for his deeds. ”Don’t be a fucking braggart Timmy, nobody likes a braggart,” his father had admonished him on many occasions.  Timmy considered that, perhaps, that particular advice made two good memories he could attribute to his father, instead of one.

Most who remembered him described him as a loner, quiet and the kind of person who just fit into the background.  “He was always pleasant and polite,” his frequent customer, Mrs. Clark, recalled when interviewed later by the local paper, the Gazette.

Timmy pulled the van out on to State Road 225 at 7 am, embarked on the day’s schedule route. With temperatures already in the 90’s, the van smelled of the chemicals, Budweiser, and sweat.

He stopped to pick up a hitchhiker just past the county detention center, a scruffy looking young man of about twenty-five, he guessed.  Hair greasy, eyes beady, tattoos covering half his body, as far as Tim could see.

 “It’s a hot one already.  Where are you headed this morning, son?” Tim asked as he offered his passenger a cold beer from his cooler.

“I got to get over to the bar in Clarkson.  A friend is picking me up there. Thanks,” the younger man replied as he downed the cold beer.  “I haven’t had one of these in six months, not since the drug trial.”  The man wiped the condensed sweat from the can.

Tim handed him another from the cooler.  “I have to make a stop, a lady with hornets. Then I can drop you in Clarkson if you like.”  

“That would be good, thanks,” said the Tattoo Boy, visibly relaxing as he chugged on the second beer.

Tim pulled the van to a stop at Mrs. Clark’s home. “Back in a few minutes, I have to take care of this.  Hornets are nasty this year,” he muttered as he extracted his sprayer and chemicals from the back of the van.  He could tell The Rat didn’t hear him; he had begun to slump over in the seat.  Tim wondered if the chemical beer cocktail was really that quick. Had he overused the pesticide, a waste?  Dad hated waste.

He rang the bell and Mrs. Clark answered the door.  He had to make an effort not to wince when he noticed the woman’s right eye was swollen nearly shut.  He could hear Mr. Clark barking in the background cussing and complaining.

“That is a nasty looking eye,” Tim said. “Did a hornet get you?”  He noticed the living room behind her.  Her normally perfectly kept home was in disarray.

“One of them got me good,” she replied, looking away from him in embarrassment. “They are out back, near the pool.  They’re nesting on the gutter,” she said.  Tim knew hornets were ground-burrowing insects and not likely to nest in the gutter.  He felt himself tense, sensing Mrs. Clark’s unspoken plea.  Nodding in polite acknowledgement, he headed back to the van.

The Rat was now passed out, if not dead already.  Tim hauled him quickly to the back of the van, covering his body with a tarp.  With sprayer and chemicals in-hand, he headed around back of the Clark house.  Through the window he saw Mr. Clark strike his wife.  She recoiled in pain, cowering in fright, pleading her husband to leave her alone.  He overheard her crying, saying she wished he would leave and never come back.

Tim knocked on the back door, stopping the argument in its tracks. “I was wondering if Mr. Clark might help me with my extension ladder,” he said, feigning cheerfulness.  He motioned for the man to follow him to his van.  Narrowing his eyes in anger for the exterminator’s interruption, but evidently unwilling to continue his attack in front of a witness, Mr. Clark reluctantly agreed.  With the man following behind him, Tim sprayed the real hornet nest on the ground near the flower bed.

“The bitch deserves it you know” Tim heard the man mutter, the smell of alcohol lingering after he spoke.  “She can’t be bothered to even make a decent cup of coffee,” he groused.  “You’d think after thirty years she could get it right at least once!”

Not bothering to comment, Tim swung open both back doors to the van, motioning the other man to grab the far end of the ladder.  In order to do as he was directed, Mr. Clark had to lean forward, head and chest inside of the van.  As he reached in, he noticed set within the flooring was a well-worn piece of 4×8 plywood, a perfect square.  Looking down at the plywood, he saw a huge block of Swiss cheese, sitting there out of place. Tim saw the man hesitate as the odor caught his attention.

He wasn’t surprised, though, when Mr. Clark reached in to touch it – vermin never could resist temptation.  The man who had terrorized Mrs. Clark for years never saw the fabricated metal fitted around the doorframe of the van in an upside down U shape behind him as he leaned forward to pick up the cheese.  Nor could he see that it was attached to the heavy spring hidden in the interior door frame.  He never saw it as it snapped hard, crushing his rat’s neck to the plywood as he leaned forward.

His legs kicked involuntarily for a moment.  Tim waited patiently for the vermin’s death throes to stop, then simply folded Mr. Clark’s body over and into the van, closing the doors behind him.

He glanced up to see Mrs. Clark, standing in the front doorway, her eyes wide.  Then she looked up at Tim with a ghost of a smile crossing her lips.  Or, perhaps, she was merely gasping for words.  Either way the awkward silence was about to be broken.

“Mrs. Clark, sometimes pest control isn’t enough.”  He handed her an invoice for the hornet treatment, got in the van and drove away.

© JK Dark onthedarkside.wordpress.com

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~ by onthedarkside on May 17, 2010.

2 Responses to “Of Mice & Men. Rat’s & Things”

  1. Geez, this is the dark side ‘ey. Pretty dark but I could see a novel with a dark cover. Tim and his fathers relation could be very interesting.

  2. LOVE IT. LOVE THE LAYERS…. WELL DONE KEV. YOU MAY HAVE FOUND YOUR TRUE GENRE. GREAT PIECE OF WORK BRO.

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