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A Short Story by Marshall Riggan

Tom McClain had lain awake most of the night, his spirit soaring, his mind alive with dreams for the future. Now it was morning and at last he could begin his new life. He leaped from bed, turned on the coffee pot, took a quick shower, dressed, then he went outside to his truck to once again inventory the tools of his trade. Here were the traps of all sizes and designs, smoked salmon, cheese and marshmallows and other baits, his canisters of various pesticides, sprayers, steel wool, his long extension ladder and hand tools for patching holes. Finally, there was his grandfather’s Henry 22-caliber rifle and box of tranquilizer darts for use against coyotes and black bear. When he was sure he had everything he could possibly need, he stood back and looked at the freshly painted logo on the side of his panel truck. It read: McClain Pest Control. He smiled at the truck and the morning and at the place in the sky where he imagined heaven to be and there was a spring in his step as he moved back inside to finish his coffee.

It had been no easy task to become a pest control specialist. After high school, he had apprenticed at an established company in town. He watched the professionals at work and decided if he studied and applied himself there was nothing they did that he couldn’t do. And so he worked hard and observed and studied and saved his money. He learned about the various pests and their habits, especially the larger critters like squirrels and opossums, bats and rats. He found them fascinating forms of life that most people found disgusting. Even ants and termites lived lives of such complexity that he was often filled with wonder and with regret when he had to kill them. He also loved the fact that his job often took him out in nature, so much preferable to spending the day in a factory or an office. Then he had to study for his license, hours of intense memorization, learning about pesticides, their use and their dangers to the environment.
Now, at the age of twenty-one, he had his license, was president of his own company and it was time for McClain Pest Control to serve its first customer. The woman had called the day before. She said her name was Beverly Harris and that she had bats in her attic.
Mrs. Harris lived out in the country on a forested hill surrounded by pines and towering oaks. It was a large rambling two-story frame house with fading paint, a wide front veranda and a wood shingle roof. Behind the house was an old dilapidated barn. Tom thought this was exactly the kind of place that bats might like to live. He pulled up, cut the engine, and took a deep breath. This is it, he thought, hoping that he could figure out how to get rid of bats and not at all sure he could. His heart racing, he got out of the truck and approached the house.
Mrs. Harris met him at the door. He was not sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn ’t this. She was very attractive, perhaps in her thirties, with a storm of wild black hair and eyes the color of new green grass. She was dressed in what looked like pajama bottoms and a Key West T-shirt. She was barefoot and had the look of a woman who had just been pulled from sleep or from the arms of a lover. She was looking at him with a sleepy expression that seemed both curious and amused. “You are the batman, are you not?” she asked, deadpanned. Then she laughed, a melodic sound like deep water over stone, and she reached out and touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry, a terrible joke and I’ve embarrassed you. Come into the kitchen and have some coffee."
As he followed her into the kitchen, Tom searched desperately for something to say to a pretty barefoot woman in pajama bottoms and a Key West T-shirt. “Am I too early?” he asked.
“No. I’m sorry for how I look. I slept late.”
Tom thought she looked just fine, disturbingly fine. It was difficult to focus. “So you have bats?”
“In the attic,” she said, smiling her sleepy smile at him as she brought two steaming cups of coffee to the table. “For a long time they were only in the barn. But recently they seem to have been migrating into the house. A whole flock of bats, if that’s what you call it.”
“It’s called a colony.”
“At dusk, you can sit out in the yard and see them streaming from the barn and the house. Actually, it’s a wonderful thingto see. If you’re still here just before sunset maybe we can watch them together. It might give you inspiration.”
“Are you sure you want to get rid of them?” Immediately, Tom regretted a question that might make him lose his first customer. “I mean they are fascinating creatures. They’re the only mammal that can fly. And they’re good for the environment, eat harmful bugs and they pollinate plants.”
“But they’re just not healthy, don’t you think? I’ve read they spread disease. And I’m afraid they’ll get in my hair. And there’s the smell. I don’t want to kill them, I just want them to go somewhere else. Maybe back to the barn.”
“Well,” Tom said, can you show me where they are? I know you said the attic, but are they elsewhere in the house? Can you hear them in the walls?”
“Fluttering. And they make small squeaking and chirping noises and scratching sounds. I’ll show you, but first finish your coffee. Tell me something about yourself, Tom. You seem young to have your own company. Have you been in business long?”
“Not long.”
“A year?”
Tom looked down at his coffee, his heart sinking. “Less,” he said. “Look,” Mrs.Harris…”
“Call me Beverly,” she said, as she reached across the table and touched his hand. “It’s all right, Tom. “I like you, even if I were your firstcustomer.”
“You are my first customer, Mrs. Harris. Beverly.”
“Even so, I love your honesty. I understandmany people in your business are not honest. They take advantage. I know youwould never do that.” I know I can trust you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Harris. Beverly.” He took a deep breath and found the courage to look into her eyes. There was no sign of mockery or ridicule.
“Now Tom, lets talk about my bats.”
“It sounds like you do have a colony. The first thing to do is to find out how they get in. Has Mr. Harris looked for the openings where they come in and out?”
“Mr. Harris doesn’t live here anymore, Tom. He flew the coop.”
Tom couldn’t imagine why any man would abandon a fine woman like this. He would have to be crazy. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s a long story, Tom. I’ll tell you about it when we know each other a little better.” Then, she stood abruptly. Let’s go into the attic and see what we can see.”
Tom went to the truck for a flashlight. When he returned, Mrs. Harris had changed into jeans and was wearing tennis shoes. She still wore the Key West T-shirt. She had also put on a Texas Rangers baseball cap, ostensibly to discourage bats from getting in her hair. The second floor contained the bedrooms and a library. In the hall was a pull-down stairway to the attic.
Tom pulled the ladder down. Immediately he was aware of the distinct odor of guano. “You can stay down here, Beverly.”
“I want to go. I’ll be right behind you.”
It was almost pitch dark in the attic. Here and there were places where daylight revealed holes through which bats could pass. Beverly joined him, held on to him from behind. Tom could feel her heat on his back. He turned on the flashlightand swept its beam along the ceiling beams where writhed hundreds, maybe thousands, of dark shapes. Beverly gasped and held him tighter. Tom turned off the light. “Well,” he said. “You’ve got a colony, alright. Let’s go down. I’ve seen what I need to see.”
They went back to the kitchen. Beverly took off her baseball cap releasing her wild mop of hair. Then she poured them more coffee and returned to the table. “It’s bad isn’t it,” Beverly said. She shivered. “I had no idea they would be so ugly.”
“I think you just weren’t expecting so many. Don’t worry. I’ll get rid of them for you.”
He considered all the methods he had studied. Most of the methods he had read about, like ultra sound or mothballs or poison or bright lights or electric bat blasters simply didn’t work or they were lethal.
“What’s the plan, Tom?” She was sitting on the edge of her chair, her green eyes wide.
“First, we have to find their points of entry. Then we seal all the entry points except one. Once that’s done, we make a funnel out of netting to place over the last entry point. It will have a flap designed to let bats fly out of the house, but not back in. Then tonight, at dusk, after the bats have flown out, we will seal the last entry point. And that should do it.”
“Sounds like a lot of work. By the way, while you’re here, there’s a coyote that’s been raiding my hen house and a raccoon that’s been eating my dog’s food. Do you think you could check those things out?”
Tom looked into her wide green eyes and wondered how he could possibly refuse. It looked like this first job might be a life’s work.
It took most of the morning to inspect the attic and find the entry points. As he worked, Beverly would occasionally ask him if there was anything he wanted. When she offered a cold beer, he accepted, realizing he would be drinking on the job, but then, he was boss, what the hell. At noon she fixed them peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches.
In the afternoon, he returned to the attic to block the holes he had found with caulking and wire screening and to attach the one-way exit funnel. The
afternoon Texas sun had made a furnace of the attic and by mid-afternoon he was drenched with sweat and was beginning to feel sick from the heat. But he managed to finish his work.
When he returned down the ladder, Beverly handed him another cold beer. “Poor Baby,” she said. “You look cooked.” When he had finished his beer, she handed him another. “I know just what you need.” She took his hand and led him out the back door and across the lawn to a small pond shaded by giant oaks. A pair of Mallards ghosted along through the shallows. “Last one in is a rotten egg,” she said. She stripped off her jeans and t-shirt and she waded out into the water. Tom thought she looked like a little girl standing there in her bra and panties.
“Take off your boots, your clothes, Tom. It’s okay. The water is wonderful and cool. You can swim in your underwear, like me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, Tom. I’ve seen plenty of boys in their underwear.”
As Tom stripped down to his skivvies, it occurred to him that Beverly was only the second girl he had ever seen in her underwear. The first was after the senior prom in the back of his van before he had loaded it with traps and poisons.
Beverly was right. The water was cool. She took his hand and led him into deeper water. Then she swam away, swam back. “I come here every day,” she said. “It’s good not to swim alone. I’m glad you’re here, Tom.”
Tom had no words for how glad he was to be with this exciting woman, half-naked in a pond in the shade of the oaks. He wanted to tell her so, maybe even to touch her, or hold her, but he knew that wasn’t exactly a business like thing to do. After all, he was a businessman. For a long while they soaked and played and swam in the pond and the afternoon passed.
As dusk approached, Beverly took folding chairs and a table out in the yard where they could watch the exodus of the colony. She asked Tom if he liked martinis. He said he did, although he had never had one in his life and wasn’t sure what they were. So, they settled down in the fading light, watching the stars come out one by one by one. Tom sipped his martini, trying not to make a face, but enjoying a new kind of pleasure he had never felt before. The pleasure was so delightful that he had another. The moon rose and soon the first of the bats emerged from the attic, like small darting kites silhouetted against the moon, and Beverly reached for his hand and rested her head on his shoulder. When it seemed the last of the bats had left, they stood and walked toward the house, Beverly still holding his hand. What now, Tom?” she asked.
“I have to seal that last entry point. Then, I’ll come back tomorrow and trap that raccoon.”
“It will be late. Why not stay the night? There’s no reason to drive all the way into town and then all the way back. I’ve got a perfectly nice guest room.”
As they walked hand-in-hand toward the house and he felt her body brushing against his, he thought about that, about the right and wrong of what he imagined might happen. Then she turned into him and kissed him. Her lips were full and soft.
“Thank you Tom for getting rid of my bats.”
“My pleasure,” Tom said.
After a few more martinis and Hungry Man frozen dinners, Tom went out to his truck, got his extension ladder, wire netting and a tube of Liquid Nails and then he climbed up the ladder to seal the final entry point to the attic.
When he returned inside, Beverly had prepared his bed, laid out a towel and washcloth. Then she kissed him again, lightly on the lips, turned out the light and left. Tom lay on his back feeling that his company’s first day had been so much better than he had ever dreamed. He could still feel Beverly’s lips and the small lingering touch of her tongue. Even though he was exhausted, over-stimulated and half drunk, he closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
Several hours later, he opened his eyes and found Beverly sitting on the side of his bed. She was wearing pajamas. “Are you awake?” she asked, touching him lightly on the cheek.
He said he was.
“I really like you, Tom. And I want to be completely honest with you. I told you my husband flew the coop. Well, that wasn’t true. He is in prison. He was a violent, evil man. He beat me every chance he got, burned me with cigarettes.” She turned on the bedside lamp and unbuttoned her pajama tops and showed him her burns and scars. “When I finally had had enough, I went to the police. He was arrested and convicted, sent to prison. He was furious. He vowed to kill me when he gets out.”
“When will he get out?”
“Tomorrow. He called me and told me so. He said he was coming for me.”
Tom was now completely sober. “Then you have to get out, go somewhere safe! You can come stay with me.”
“That’s sweet of you to offer, Tom .” As she turned off the bedside light, she said. “But I’ve been thinking. How were you going to get rid of the raccoon?”
“I was going to set a trap. Then when I caught him, I was going to take him eight or ten miles away and release him far enough away so that he won’t come back.”
“And what about the coyote? How would you get rid of the coyote?
“I’d shoot it with a tranquilizer dart. Then put it in a cage and take him way far away.”
Beverly moved her hand under his T-shirt and traced her fingers along his chest. Her pajama top had slipped from one shoulder and her breast was smooth and white as alabaster in the moonlight.
“And what about a man?” She asked. “How would you trap a man?”
“You must be kidding. You’re teasing me. You’ve been teasing me from the beginning.”
“Would you like to touch me, Tom?”
She led his hand to her breast. It was soft, yet firm beneath his fingers. Tom’s heart did a backflip and he felt he might faint until more powerful sensations intervened. Beverly slipped out of her pajamas and climbed into bed beside him.
The next day, after coffee, they began to make preparations to trap Mr. Harris. Tom went under the house and discovered that the coal room where coal had been stored in the old days of coal-fired heat extended under the front veranda. It was a small dark room removed from the rest of the basement. With his hand tools and sheets of plywood and two-by-fours, he sealed off the room. Then with Beverly’s help he cut a square hole in the veranda deck over the coal room and in front of the front door. Using the wood he had cut from the deck, he made a hinged trapdoor so that anyone approaching the front door would fall through into the coal room. He designed the trapdoor with a spring so that when a person fell through, the trapdoor would spring back up in place, making the trap complete. He explained to Beverly that it was essentially the same design theory that worked well in raccoon and squirrel traps, even traps for black bear. When he had demonstrated several times that the trap worked, he placed a welcome mat to hide his work, returned to the truck and brought the rifle and box of tranquilizer darts back into the house.
He watched Beverly fix a breakfast of peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt again and as he remembered their night together he couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have been with such a woman. She seemed to glow and her green eyes sparkled. “You were very good, Tom. What I felt must have been close to what Christians called Rapture. I’m still tingling.”
Tom knew he was blushing and he felt as proud of himself as he did when he passed the Pest Control exam.
After breakfast, they made a wood box out of plywood and two-by-fours. It was about the size of a small coffin. “I don’t want you to kill him, Tom. He wasn’t always evil. Once long ago I even loved him.”
After lunch they took a long lingering shower together. Then they spent the afternoon lazing around on the bed, playing gin rummy, reading Beverly’s People Magazines and reviewing the plan to trap Mr. Harris.
As night approached, they began to put their plan in action. They moved the living room couch in front of the window that overlooked the veranda. He baited the trap with Beverly. She was wearing a thin negligee. He arranged her seductively on the couch, turned out all the lights but one that bathed her in a soft mellow glow. Then he kissed her, wished her good luck, and stepped back into the darkness. He chambered a dart in the rifle. They waited.
They heard the first sounds just before midnight; the whisper of tires on the driveway, then the sound of a car door closing. Tom listened for footsteps, but only heard the hammering of his heart. They waited. Now there were heavy-booted footfalls on the veranda stairs.
Then, in the pale fringe of light cast from the window, the form of a man emerged. To Tom, he seemed huge. The flare of a struck match. As he drew on the cigarette, the form assumed a face. Tom tried to believe that he looked like a monster. But he was just a man, a large man, with hungry eyes. The man moved closer, staring into the window at Beverly. For a long while he stood, smoking, and then he moved toward the front door and suddenly there was a scream of hinges and Beverly’s husband was gone.
He shouted enraged curses into the night. Then he shouted Beverly’s name. “Something happened! The fucking porch collapsed. Come get me out, Babe!” Then came a string of more profanity and the sound of scraping and pounding as Mr. Harris tried to find a way out of his trap. Tom prayed that the reinforced door to the coal room would hold.
Tom turned on the lights. “Take the flashlight,” he said. Holding the rifle in one hand and Beverly’s hand in the other, they moved carefully outside.
“Tom! What if…”
“Just do what we planned.”
Accompanied by the enraged curses of Beverly’s husband, they carefully approached the trapdoor. Mr. Harris cursed God and he cursed Beverly. He cursed the dark and then he cursed the light as they lowered the trapdoor an inch or two and the beam of Beverly’s flashlight found him where he crouched, his face twisted in rage, his fists clenched. “Bitch!” he shouted and he leaped toward the light. Tom pulled the trigger. Mr. Harris continued to leap toward the trapdoor and then he dropped his arms to his side, found the dart with his fingers, started to struggle toward the light, but fell to his knees and then down and grew still.
“Get dressed, Beverly, then come help me drag him out.”
“How long will he stay out?”
“I don’t know. I never tranquilized a human before.”
Tom went into the basement and began removing the two-by-fours from the door to the coal room. Beverly turned on the basement lights and was soon by his side.
“What now?”
“We’ve got to drag him out.” Tom knew that this was the most dangerous part of trapping a tranquilized animal. Too little tranquilizing agent and the animal would attack. An overdose and the animal might die. But realizing that Mr. Harris was much bigger than a coyote, Tom gave him another shot of tranquilizer. Then they dragged him out of the coal room into the main part of the basement and toward the stairs. He was dead weight, but they managed to wrestle him up into the kitchen and then dump him into the crate that Tom had made the day before. They tossed in a blanket, several bottles of water, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Tom drilled airholes in the crate and then he nailed the lid in place.
On the drive to Dallas, Beverly filled out the Emory Air Freight form they had printed out the day before. They decided to ship Mr. Harris to Anchorage, next day service, hold for pickup at airport. When they arrived outside the Emory Air Freight office, Tom gave him another shot of tranquilizer through a port he had made for that purpose in the crate. Everything went according to plan with the Emory people who loaded the crate on a dolly and rolled Mr. Harris away.
When they returned home, Beverly and Tom showered and then went back to bed to cuddle, read magazines and play gin rummy.
“You know he’ll probably come back,” Tom said. “He’s smarter than a coyote or an opossum.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I won’t be here.”
“Where will you be?”
“With you, if you’ll have me. I know a time will come when you will want a younger woman and that’s okay. What we have now is worth anything that might come down the road.”
“But your house?”
“It’s really his house. There’s nothing here for me except the dog, the chickens and the money I’ve saved. I can get someone to take the animals. The money will keep us going until you get established.”
“Somewhere away from here. Maybe California. Could you get a California State license?”
“Do you think maybe I could get a license, too? I think I enjoy this pest control business.”
“We could be partners.”
Later that afternoon they removed the wire netting blocking the entry points in the attic so that the bats could return home. Then they repainted the sign on Tom’s truck. It now read: McLean & Harris PestControl

If you enjoyed this story, please check out my novels, "Sulu Sea," or, "The Lost Caravan," available on Amazon and on this website.