by Chris Robertson
part 1 of 2
It seemed like a darned peculiar request to Pavel Tritiak, but the income was needed and he was glad the offer had come along. Three hundred dollars for a dozen rats was the offer, plucked from the garbage dump just as pretty as you please, and not a cent of cost. At least not to me, thought Pavel.
And that was exactly what he had done. Come back to the county dump where he was employed as a sanitation technician. At least that’s what it said on the working papers that he had to send in the immigration agency. But he was fortunate to have gotten the job and he knew it. If it weren’t for the perfect timing of his application, some other poor laborer would have gotten that filthy job. “Can you stick around and not up and disappear like the last lousy bum I hired?” That’s what his new boss had said to him, on the day Pavel had come to apply. Pavel had assured the man that he would be his best employee, and here it was, now four months later down the line.
And the rats where easy to harvest. They hid during the daylight hours but after dark the heaps swirled and churned in a flea-ridden rat frenzy. Pavel had waited until after full darkness had set in before driving back eastward down Highway 81, the last dirt highway in Levinwood County. He had parked around back at the utility gate where they unlocked the padlock each morning and set about their day’s work. But at night the place sounded different. He could hear the rats as soon as his engine was killed. They were there just beyond his night vision, chirping and scuttling about.
He had not wanted to remain there for any amount of time other than what was necessary. He pretended that it was his own time that was precious, and that that was the reason why he acted hurriedly. But his crawling skin and nervous stomach knew otherwise, as he had taken his flashlight and shown upon the heaps.
The old gloves still bore the name of the employee who had up and left, giving the boss no notice at all. Thank you Elijah, Pavel had thought with much sarcasm as he read the glove, and slid the filthy things on. He wasted no time collecting the vermin.
As Pavel drove to make the delivery he felt much more content. The task was now mostly done and all that remained was the actual delivery and collection of his promised fee.
“But what of the strange procurer?” he thought. He had been an elderly gentleman, and a foreigner like Pavel himself, but this did not offer any comfort. Pavel had not seen his black automobile before that day, he was quite certain. He had seen it pull slowly to the front gate of the dump just as Pavel was preparing to close. In the front seat sat a bald-headed, muscular driver.
All the other dump employees had already departed, and it seemed to Pavel that the old man had sat and waited for this very fact to occur. Pavel remembered watching the rear window roll slowly downward, and then a decrepit hand had appeared. So slowly, it had motioned him over.
“My dear man,” said a voice from a face as weathered as the hand, “I require the services of a strong, young fellow such as yourself.” The words were spoken with a South American accent.
Pavel had inquired politely to the strange old man, thinking only of being rid of him quickly so that he could return home to bath. He had always hated being filthy, and he felt certain that his job was beneath him and that the shame could be washed away like so much foul odor.
“Ten to twelve rats,” said the old man from inside the darkness of his black sedan. “Three hundred dollars for you my good fellow. You see, I am from Brazil and I have brought my pet with me, an anaconda from my homeland. You will be doing me a great service.”
Pavel had watched the eyes and noticed that their look lacked the kindness that the old man gave to his words. Or perhaps he was just insane, growing more senile every day after the other.
The old man spoke again, “It used to eat mice, but not anymore. This will be an ongoing job if you like it, if you find it worth your while. But as it is illegal no one can know. May I ask, are you married my good fellow?” Pavel had informed the old man that he was not. “Good,” said the old man. “Ten p.m. tonight then. Please do not be late. You payment will be waiting. My address is upon this paper. But you must bring this paper with you I am afraid. For by returning my handwritten address to me I’ll know that your word is good.” With that the decrepit hand was again outstretched, and within it a scrawled note. Pavel had taken it promptly, taking care to avoid touching the skin of the tendon-stretched old claw.
Pavel did not think of these, or rather he tried not to, and instead imagined the filthy rats crawling and knowing inside the burlap sack inside the truck of his car. Soon they would be transformed into a handful of well-needed money. He was no innocent lad, having performed after-dark feats before, many years ago while still in the homeland. “Men would do well not to under-estimate the abilities Pavel Tritiak,” he thought brightly to himself.
On the seat beside him lay the handwritten note from that foul hand. He picked it up to read the address, and then replaced it at his side. Without meaning to he began brushing his fingertips along the seat cushion, wiping them off as though they were dirty.
Pavel had never been this far down the road he was now traveling along. At least he did not think so. The homes here were very old and very large. He thought of passing a police officer, and having his beaten old car seen out there at this time of night. Surely he would be intercepted, did not worry about this and kept steadily about his mission to turn those vermin into dollar bills.
There upon a stone column he saw the address showing through thick vines of old ivy. From the road he could see only a single light of the house. But the gate was open and he reversed his car, then forward through the columns of stone.
The house itself was rather lovely, and it warmed his spirits a bit to view it. The exterior was exclusively made of stone, now unheard of for modern construction. He pulled the auto to within twenty feet of the stone archway, beneath which began the drive path to the home’s rear access where surely lay the garage. He turned back his key and opened his trunk, but still he saw not a soul.
Inside the trunk of the automobile the rats were wandering freely, having gnawed a hole just large enough so that their bodies could stretch on through. With anger and not disgust Pavel donned one of his gloves and threw the vermin back into the sack. Once all were accounted for, he encased the damaged sack with another that he had brought just for that purpose. With any luck his money could be retrieved before the new layer of burlap could be chewed through as well.
As Pavel closed the trunk of his automobile, a light came on to the left of the large stone archway. He recognized the broad shoulders and baldhead of the silent driver he had seen just hours before. Seeing him now straight on at eye level, Pavel thought that perhaps he was half Chinese, which would have made him quite large for a Chinaman.
The darkly dressed bald man said nothing, but waited for Pavel to come near. With neither greeting nor smile the bald man turned and opened the door, holding it open from the inside like the servant that he was. Pavel held the burlap sack outstretched before him, the length of his forearm, pinched off at the neck like a chicken’s severed gizzard. He found himself in a type of foyer, a servant’s service entrance built for utility. This suited him just fine. Coming in the main entryway would only have made him uneasy. The bald half-Chinaman fastened and locked the exterior door, then walked businesslike to a closed door at the end of the hall.
This door led into the main quarters, the kitchen being visible on the right. Straight ahead Pavel heard organ music and soft light flowing down the hall. He looked to the servant, who only motioned him toward the music with an upturned, extended palm.
Pavel swallowed his pride and walked inward, still carrying the sack as a decapitated chicken and not really caring whom he encountered. Actually this was not entirely true. In the presence of pompous men he could always swallow his pride, especially when money was concerned. But around beautiful women lowly behavior and treatment seemed to him, nearly unbearable. But as he did round the corner, following the sweet pipe organ sounds, there were no women to be seen. The splendid sitting room contained only the aged Brazilian seated at his organ as if in a trance. Pavel looked around at the lush red drapery, black leather sofas, and red carpet. It was a peculiar room. It seemed to suit the old man quite well.
After several moments the old Brazilian removed his withered hands form the keys of the organ and simultaneously turned upon his bench. Only when he faced Pavel did the old man’s eyes roll slowly open and cast their peculiar gaze upon him.
“Good evening young man,” smiled the old man. “You are punctual. I appreciate that greatly. I used to be very fond of the nighttime, but those days, sadly, are past.”
Pavel relaxed his arm a bit, the weight of the rats now beginning to wear at his arm. “Good evening sir,” he said, “I think you’ll be pleased with the rodents. Perhaps I could give them to your... butler.” English being his second language, he had almost not known the proper word.
Copyright © 2005 by Chris Robertson