by Mike Murphy
Sixty-two-year-old Edna Washburn couldn’t believe her luck. A van had pulled into her driveway. On the side: O’Brien’s Pest Control. She opened the door to the stoop just as the blond-haired and -bearded man was about to get behind the wheel and drive away.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he greeted her, leaning on the open van door. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
“Not at all,” she replied. “You’re from O’Brien’s Pest Control?”
“Yes. Jack O’Brien. We’re new to the area,” he explained. “I’ve been putting promotional flyers in people’s mail boxes—left one in yours. We don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising just yet.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“This morning, I noticed some ants in my kitchen—and I keep a clean house.”
“I’m sure you do,” O’Brien assured her. “Ants don’t necessarily mean your home is dirty, Mrs… .”
“It just means that they’ve found their way inside.”
“Can you get rid of them?” Edna inquired.
“I sure can. I have some stuff in the back that’ll do the job—and quickly.” He closed the van door, his keys in his right hand. “Give me a few minutes to get my things.”
* * *
Edna was upstairs on the phone with her friend, Rhonda. She had shown Mr. O’Brien where the ants were in the kitchen, and he asked her to clear out for a bit so he could take care of things. She could hear the occasional clang of his metal tanks and the spray of a hose from a flight up.
“Yes, ants!” she said. “Henry and I have been here for nineteen years. I don’t ever remember seeing an ant in the house… He’s spraying the kitchen now… About six foot two… Maybe 35… No, I didn’t see any tattoos… Rhonda, I’m surprised at you.” She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Mrs. Washburn?” O’Brien called up the stairs.
“I’ll be right down!” Edna called back. “Goodbye, Rhonda. I have to go.” She hung up the phone and rushed to the stairs. “Coming! Coming!”
She was surprised to see all the protective gear O’Brien was wearing. He was clothed in a zippered silver suit. He held a hose in his right hand that was connected to two tanks slung on his back. Over his head, was a hat kind of a thing that reminded her of a beekeeper’s mask. “Did everything turn out OK?” she inquired, approaching him.
“No problem,” he said, his voice muffled through the mask. “Those ants won’t be bothering you anymore.”
“That mask looks… uncomfortable.”
O’Brien sighed. “Yeah,” he agreed, “but I need it since I’m so close to the spray.”
“Is that stuff dangerous?” she asked, alarmed.
“Only while it’s being applied. After that, any danger to people or pets wears off quickly. Tomorrow morning, you won’t even know I was here. Just don’t eat dinner off the floor tonight,” he joked, glancing about, “though it looks like you could.”
Edna chuckled and said, “I try to keep a tidy house.”
“You do a good job,” the younger man complimented her. “Let me get my stuff, and I’ll be going.” He bent at the waist and started picking up another set of metal tanks.
“You’ll mail me a bill?” Mrs. Washburn asked.
O’Brien straightened up quickly and sprayed a stream of the ant poison in Edna’s face. She screamed and clawed at her eyes. She began gagging, lightly at first, then violently. Finally, clutching at her throat, she dropped to the very clean floor, quivered a few times, and was still.
O’Brien nudged Edna’s body with one foot. She didn’t respond. He chuckled and pulled off his headgear. He removed the tanks from his back, took out his cell phone, and dialed.
“All done, Mr. Washburn,” he said. “The ant time lock worked perfectly… It was as painless as I could make it, like you asked… It will look like a heart attack, and there will be no evidence of the spray by the time you come home… Don’t worry about me. I have many ways to change up that van… Ten percent of the insurance money, like we agreed… How’s that?… A co-worker has the same problem? Give him my number… It’s a her? … Makes no difference to me.
“A pest’s a pest.”
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For several years, Mike Murphy has been primarily an author of audio plays, over 150 of produced in the U.S. and overseas, many for Audible. In 2016, he won a Moondance International Film Festival award for a TV pilot script The Bullying Squad. His prose work has appeared in Dime Store Review (including in their second “best of” anthology) and The Flash Fiction Press. In 2015, his script The Candy Man was produced as a short film under the title Dark Chocolate. In 2013, he won the Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.