In this vignette, Bob Dillon, our hero, is visited by two Frenchmen who are looking to hire an assassin. They have come to Bob because he answered the advertisement the Frenchmen placed in the New York Times want-ads for an ‘exterminator.’
Bob’s scientific interest in bugs began in eighth grade when he was in the library ostensibly doing a book report on Jack London’s The Call Of The Wild as punishment for smart-mouthing his English Lit teacher. However, instead of reading London’s primitivistic canine parable, Bob was flipping through The Common Insects of North America looking at pictures of wasps. It was there that the so-called Tarantula Hawk Wasp (Pepsis mildei) caught his eye.
Bob imagined a great spider, the size of a wharf rat, with a wingspan of six feet, all covered with mangy feathers and hair. To Bob’s dismay, he learned the Tarantula Hawk Wasp grew no larger than 1.2 inches. Nevertheless, the drawing showed a savage, blue-black beast with red wings and antennae and a long curved stinger. The book also described in lurid detail how the female Tarantula Hawk Wasp slowly approached a much larger spider. Somehow the Hawk Wasp hypnotized its prey until the malevolent insect buried its stinger deep in the spellbound arachnid and pumped it full of poison. The paralyzed spider was then dragged to a burrow and implanted with an egg. It served as food for the developing wasp larva, eaten from the inside out.
Wow, young Bob thought, this was better than the earwig story! He never dreamed bugs could be this exciting.
Bob stayed at the library late that day, eventually completing a fascinating, if partially fictionalized, report on the Tarantula Hawk Wasp of Northern Mexico. He received an A+ and such praise from his teacher that he began his life-long devotion to things Insecta.
This dedication eventually led to a degree in entomology and for a while Bob entertained the notion of getting his doctorate and becoming a college professor or a researcher investigating the insects’ role as vectors of viral, bacterial, and protozoal diseases. But somewhere along the line he cooled on that idea.
Then one day after reading (though not thoroughly comprehending) William Borrough’s “Naked Lunch,” Bob got his idea.
The idea led to his dream and his dream eventually led to his Bug Room where he now sat wiggling in his dilapidated swivel-chair, munching a bowl of Lucky Charms while scrutinizing something on the table in front of him. Bob was comfortable, wearing a stained undershirt, his black and red Exterminator cap, and a pair of boxers decorated with red and black ants which Mary had given him last Christmas.
On the table was a cardboard box with tiny, screen-covered air holes punched in a circle on the top. In bright red letters, the box boldly announced: “ARILUS CRISTATUS (Reduviidae).” It was a batch of Wheel Bugs. They bred well with other Reduviidae and their trait as a voracious predator always passed on to the ensuing generation of hybrids.
Bob had also liked the fact that Wheel Bugs looked as if they were designed by the same Northrop engineers who created the stealth fighter, its exoskeleton hard and angular with over-lapping plates of some sort of exotic radar-absorbing carbon fiber material. This was a serious looking bug.
Between each spoon of marshmallowed cereal Bob glanced alternately at the bugs and an open textbook.
Not far from Bob’s house, a Mercedes limousine with blacked-out windows cruised up 48th Street, past New Calvary Cemetery. Marcel and Jean, who had recently arrived from Paris were in the back of the limousine. Marcel was wearing another extra-large five thousand dollar suit and a questionable tie. Jean, his fashionable assistant, was less expensively dressed, but at least his tie picked up some of the color from his shirt.
The Mercedes wheeled to the curb and the men looked through the tinted window at Bob’s house. Marcel took in the mise-en-scene. “This is it. A safe-house undoubtedly.”
“What else could it be?” Jean asked disdainfully.
Marcel opened the door to get out.
“Be careful,” Jean said as he brushed at some lint that stuck to Marcel’s dark taupe worsted wool slacks. “Remember, we know nothing of this man. For all we know he is one of those psychotic Vietnam Veterans.”
Bob was tilting the bowl of spongy cereal toward his mouth when the doorbell rang. The unexpected noise caused him to spill milk down his cheeks. Assuming it was Pratt dropping by to squeeze the blood from his turnip, Bob’s annoyance level doubled. But Bob wasn’t one to duck the landlord, so with a mouth full of green clovers and yellow moons, he went to answer the door.
Marcel shifted nervously as he stood by the door, the wood creaking under his substantial heft. He was startled when the door opened and revealed Bob, still chewing cereal. Bob somehow looked menacing wearing only his boxers, his Exterminator cap, a milk moustache, and a pink heart-shaped marshmallow on his cheek.
Marcel stepped back, frightened. A standoff ensued as they eyed one another.
In the Mercedes, Jean recoiled in horror at the poly-cotton blend of Bob’s boxers.
Finally, Marcel’s trembling hand pulled something from the manilla folder he held. He looked at Bob. “Robert Dillon?” he inquired, Frenchly.
Bob squinted at the bright sunlight, producing a Clint Eastwood effect. He spoke warily. “Uh, yeah.” He burped a milky white burp.
“The professional. . . exterminator?”
“That’s right.” Bob wiped the milk on the back of his hand.
“May I come in?” Marcel asked. He was apprehensive and slightly disgusted.
Bob looked at the fat man in the shiny suit. “Uh, you a bill collector?”
Marcel shifted on his feet while glancing about. “No, we recently received your, uh, how shall I say. . . your resume?” Bob saw that the stranger was clutching the skull-and-crossbones flyer he had designed.
“Huh?” Bob was confused. He had mailed his flyer to several real estate outfits hoping to interest one of them in his idea. He also wanted to fulfill his promise to Mary that he would seek work. But all those companies had told him to piss off with his idiotic bug idea, or words to that effect. But still, here was someone on his front stoop waving a copy of the flier.
“So, uh, you’re interested in my new method?” Bob asked.
Marcel looked around nervously. “Yes, that’s right. May I come in?”
“Yes, please.” Bob stepped aside and gestured Marcel in. As he closed the door, Bob noticed the large Mercedes parked at the curb. It was an unusual sight. The only other German car Bob had ever seen in his neighborhood was a beat up 1969 Volkswagon Bug.
Bob joined Marcel in the living room. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Call me Marcel.” He scanned the living room. The interior looked to him the way he imagined a lower middle-class American home should look, and he felt a professional urge to comment. “This is a very thorough cover,” he said as he gestured toward the room.
Bob had no idea what Marcel meant, but not wanting to get off on the wrong foot with a potential client, he thanked him and offered him a seat. Someone had actually responded to his flyer! Talk about complete surprise. This was fantastic! If things like this kept dropping out of the clear blue sky, Bob would have that truck with the bug on top of it in no time.
Marcel settled deep into the sofa and poked around at the dog-eared magazines on the coffee table as he spoke, “Obviously, we received your response to our advertisement in the paper.”
Marcel paused to see if Bob would pick up the ball and run with it. This was an extremely touchy situation, Marcel having no idea what sort of killer Bob might be.
As Marcel worried, Bob wondered why Europeans stressed the second syllable in the word, pronouncing it ad-VERT-is-ment instead of ad-ver-TISE-ment. He also wondered what ad-VERT-is-ment Marcel was talking about.
Then it came to him. That drunken night at Freddie’s and the ad in the New York Times.
“Oh!” Bob blurted. “You must be the Swiss guy with the rat problem!”
“The rat problem?” Marcel said.
“No? Oh, that’s right, I just assumed it was rats. It could just as easily be roaches, couldn’t it? Pests in general, doesn’t matter, I can handle it.”
“Yes,” Marcel said, “it is indeed a pest I need your assistance with.”
“Yeah, it’s funny. You know I don’t even remember why I assumed it was rats in the first place. Truth is, I don’t remember much from that night, but that doesn’t matter. Anyway, now I remember your ad. I guess the French accent threw me off, but I suppose it makes sense that you’ve got one, I mean France is pretty close to Switzerland, isn’t it?”
Marcel had expected Bob to be cautious. After all, Bob was a professional killer and had to be sure he wasn’t dealing with the authorities. So he was speaking cryptically.
“Yes, the countries border one another,” Marcel said slyly.
“Well you’ve come to the right place. My method is thoroughly researched,” Bob lied. “I think you’ll be very impressed. In fact, let me show you something.”
Bob jumped up and ran to the Bug Room. He rooted through the documents piled on his work desk before grabbing a single sheet of paper. He returned to the living room and handed the paper to Marcel.
“This is the only one I could find to show you, it’s kind of a mess back there, but it’ll give you an idea of what I’m talking about,” Bob said.
The Spined Assassin Bug (Sinea diadema). One of the most ruthless and cunning thugs in the insect world. It’s glistening black exoskeleton is covered with eight rigid, needle-sharp spines, each of which has a bright yellow ring at its base. Originally a defensive mechanism, over time the Spined Assassin has evolved to use the spines as weapons, trapping prey against solid objects, then driving ahead like an unmanned bulldozer until its quarry is run through like a pin-cushion. The Spined Assassin feeds on the fluids of various large insects.
This cinched it for Marcel. The word “assassin” was right there on the page, yet it was couched in such a way that it could not implicate Bob as a killer for hire.
“Yes, this is brilliant,” Marcel said as he put the sheet of paper on the coffee table. “But let me ask you a question, now that we are on the same page, so to speak.”
“No, go ahead. Believe me, I understand. I imagine you’re going to need some things explained.”
“Yes, uh, exactly.” Marcel moved to the front edge of the sofa and leaned toward Bob. “After receiving your. . . inquiry, my associates and I wondered why we had not heard of you before.”
“Well, for the past few years I’ve worked exclusively for this company. . .”
Marcel understood. “Ahhh. The Company. Very good. That would explain it.” Marcel was thrilled to be getting someone with CIA training. “And you left The Company because. . .”
“We had a policy disagreement. So I’m on my own now.”
“Out in the cold, as they say.”
“Uh, I guess you could say that. So what can I do for you?”
Marcel handed Bob a folder. “Well, as you might imagine, we need something taken care of.”
Bob opened the folder, expecting to find blueprints or photographs of the building Marcel was hiring him to dis-infest. Instead, he found a photograph and some biographical information on a man named Hans Huweiler. He also found the Polaroid of himself taken that beery night at Freddie’s. Something was wrong, Bob thought, but at the moment he couldn’t figure out what.
Marcel cleared his throat. “I must say, of all the inquiries we received, we were most amused by your, what would you call it, your handbill?”
“Oh, my flier? You liked that, huh?”
“Quite.” Marcel chuckled nervously. “Natural Pest Control. That was, how would you say it? Quite inventive. We especially enjoyed the skull-and-crossbones. A nice touch.”
“Thanks, I designed it myself.” Bob nodded at the folder and the picture of Mr. Hans Huweiler. “Uh, what’s this? Is this the guy with the pest problem?”
“Uh, no. He is the problem,” Marcel said.
Bob thought he had missed something during the course of the conversation. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Mr. Huweiler is your. . . uh, your pest.”
Bob hesitated before speaking. “The pest who needs to be exterminated?”
“C’est Ça!” Marcel smiled.
Bob stared at Marcel as he tried to figure out what the hell was going on. He reviewed all the evidence: the Mercedes limo, a man with an extremely expensive suit, the oblique questions and comments, and the ad in The New York Times offering $50,000 for a weekend exterminator job.
It suddenly occurred to Bob that someone with a French accent was making a big mistake. And Bob was beginning to get a rough idea of what that mistake was. This man wanted someone dead. And he wanted Bob to make him that way.
Bob quickly closed the folder and thrust it back at Marcel who interpreted the sudden, violent movement as one of aggression.
Bob was genuinely frightened.
Marcel was thoroughly terrified.
“Will you take the job?” Marcel asked nervously.
“What?! Uh, no, no thanks, I don’t think so,” Bob said nervously as he got up. Marcel stood also.
“The pay is fifty-thousand American,” Marcel offered, fearing for his own life.
Some papers slipped from the folder and fluttered toward the floor. Bob made an astoundingly quick move to catch them.
Marcel jumped back, hoping he was not going to be killed where he stood.
Bob had to nip this in the bud. “No, you don’t understand. I am not interested in this. This is not my line of work.”
Marcel was confused momentarily until he realized Bob was negotiating. “Ahhh. I see,” Marcel said. “Very well. I am authorized to go as high as one hundred thousand. But it must appear accidental.”
Bob moved abruptly toward the front hall. Marcel followed, assuming the negotiations were coming to a close.
“Look if it can’t be killed with malathion, diazinon, or Combat, I don’t kill it.”
“I understand,” Marcel said with a wave of the hand. “Whatever method you choose is fine as along as it appears accidental.”
“No. Listen to what I’m saying, I just kill bugs,” Bob insisted. “I’m not interested in this. Do you understand?”
“Of course, bugs. And this is not the sort of thing we would ever ask you to do. Very good.” Marcel was getting the hang of it.
“No, you’re not listening to me. Come here.” Bob took Marcel by the arm and led him down the hallway to the Bug Room. Marcel’s eyes fixed immediately on the book shelves where he saw copies of Organic Death and The Art of Poison. He also noticed Bob’s gleaming steel homemade bee smoker which he imagined was an efficient and deadly weapon rarely seen by non-professionals.
Marcel pulled away from Bob, convinced he had the right man for the job. He made his way back to the front door, then paused, offering the folder to Bob. “Will you need this?”
“No, really. I think you should leave now.” Bob opened the door.
Of course, Marcel thought, a photographic memory.
“I am not interested, alright? And I’m sorry if I caused you any inconvenience.”
“Yes, of course, at your convenience. That will be fine. But sooner is better than later if it fits your schedule.”
Bob urged Marcel out the door and shut it. Marcel quickly retreated to the Mercedes and slipped in the back.
“You are white as a ghost,” Jean whispered urgently as he looked out at Bob’s house. “Did he accept?”
Marcel nodded. “Yes, but he forced the higher price.”
“Are you sure about him?”
Marcel dabbed the sweat from his brow and looked at Jean with death in his eyes. “I am lucky to be alive.” He pulled Bob’s photo from the folder and looked at it. “He is even more dangerous than he looks.”
Copyright © 1996 by Reduviidae, Inc., and Knucklewalker Productions, Inc.