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Craig Carlyle was sitting sideways on his living room couch peeking out of the plastic blinds at the house across the street owned by Dorothy Bainbridge, a cranky old widow.
Craig always propped himself to the side this way with one leg on the couch because the cushion under him was so broken down and sagging that it gave him a back ache if he tried to sit up straight on it for very long.
At night, when he was putting in his customary four hours plus of TV-watching time, he'd stretch out full length with a tattered pillow under his head and would often doze off as the commercials blared out their drivel aimed at their simple-minded targets.
Craig was smoking a cigarette and sipping a cup of tepid black coffee.
A pest-extermination truck had just pulled up in front of Mrs. Bainbridge's dilapidated old house.
"Hey, Bonnie," Craig called to his wife who was puttering around in the kitchen. "Looks like old lady Bainbridge must have some bugs!"
"Well, that wouldn't surprise me judging by how her place looks from the outside. I'll bet it's a filthy mess in there!"
Craig watched as two uniformed men exited the blue "We Kill 'Um Pest Control Service" van. The taller of the two was carrying a clipboard, and the pair walked up to the front door and knocked.
Old Mrs. Bainbridge opened the door a crack and peered out, and then opened the door fully and admitted them.
"Well, I hope the poor guys survive in that dump," Craig said as Bonnie exited the kitchen wiping her hands on the front of her pants.
"I think I saw a Palmetto Bug on our kitchen floor the other morning when I walked in and turned on the light, but the damned thing was so quick I'mnot really sure. Whatever it was, it ran under the refrigerator before I could grab the can of spray," Bonnie replied.
"Aw, I wouldn't worry about it," Craig snorted. "After all, this is Florida; we're bound to have a few. It's the two-legged ones we see in some of them fast-food joints that I worry about." He took a sip of coffee from the stained cup and a drag from his cigarette.
"I wish you'd stop smoking them things," Bonnie groused. "Don't ya know they'll kill ya? And they stink up the house pretty bad too."
"Well, this is my house too, and it's my business what I do. I consider 'um part of my health program. I quit for a few weeks last year and felt like shit. Hell, Linda McCartney, that Beatle's wife, was a vegetarian and health nut and died of cancer in her forties. Keith Richards has done it all and is still going strong, so I'm following his example. I heard about a lady in Mexico that was still smoking at a hundred and outlived all her doctors, and then died quietly in her sleep. So, give me a friggin' break, okay?"
Bonnie shook her head and walked down the hall to the bathroom. She wouldn't mind the smoking nearly so much if her husband would go out and get a job.
After a minute Craig heard the toilet flush and the water running in the basin. Then Bonnie returned to the living room and plopped down across from Craig on a smaller equally beat-up sofa.
"What's goin' on over there now?" she asked.
"Nothin', they're still in the house," Craig answered.
Ten minutes passed, and the pest-control men came out and returned to their van. The man with the clipboard glanced over to Craig's house, and, just for an instant, Craig could have sworn the man's eyes glinted shiny black. They got into their truck and drove away.
"Well, so much for that," Craig said. "I'm gonna have another cup of coffee, and then I'd better go fire up my computer and check for jobs." He wasn't really going to do much looking. He mainly wanted to get back to his Spider Solitaire game.
"Yeah, well I hope you find something pretty soon, so we can catch up on our bills and the house payments. I've gotta get dressed and get to the hospital. Damn, I hate my fucking job. I can't hardly stand to even look at some of those bitches I work with. All they do is kiss ass and try to get ahead, and it seems like the more they ass kiss, the more they get ahead no matter how unqualified they are. And the doctors are a bunch of arrogant assholes who expect you to bow down to them like they're gods, or something."
"Well, maybe you need to brush up on your ass kissing skills," Craig joked.
"Oh go to hell," Bonnie snapped and left the living room and went back to get ready to go to work.
A week later, another van from "We Kill 'Um..." pulled up across the street, and two different men got out. This van was larger than the first one and had ladders and equipment secured on its top. They went around and opened up the back of the truck and began removing large blue plastic covers and laying them on the grass on the front lawn.
"Looks like they're going to 'tent' old Dorothy's house," Craig remarked from his vantage point on the sofa. "I told you her place must really be infested. Wonder where she'll go while the place is being fumigated? Wanna offer her our bedroom?" Craig wisecracked.
"Sure, you can sleep with her, and I'll sleep on the couch," Bonnie called from the bedroom where she was dressing for work.
Craig almost choked on his coffee as he sputtered with laughter. "Ha, ha ... very funny. Maybe you should sleep with her!"
"Maybe so, at least she might not roll over and just go to sleep the way you did last night!" He probably thinks I'm kidding, Bonnie thought. Maybe he'll take the hint.
"That's funny ... they're knocking, but she's not answering the door. I know she's in there," Craig said.
"Well, who cares? It's none of our concern what's going on over there. Why don't you go fire up your PC and check for jobs? And stay offa them porn sites, will ya? I gotta leave pretty soon."
"Well, we're her neighbor, and she's an old lady. I think maybe something's wrong. I mean, she's usually peering out her window and checking out everything. It's funny she's not coming to the door. I notice her newspaper's still in her front yard, too."
The men continued to knock, but the house was quiet.
Bonnie came in and looked out the window.
"Hmm ... that is unusual. Maybe there is something wrong."
"Do you have her phone number?"
"Yeah, I think so," Bonnie replied. "I'll go out to my craft room and try to call her." She left the room, and Craig could hear her punching in some numbers. After a minute or so, she came back into the living room.
"She doesn't answer; something's not right."
They continued to watch as the men went out and stood in the middle of the yard, and one of them made a call on his cell phone. Then they stood talking and smoking for a few minutes. Finally, one of the men was on his cell phone again, and he seemed agitated and upset. He said something to his partner, and they went over and loaded the plastic covers back into their truck and then got in and drove away.
"I think I'll go over and knock on the door," Craig said.
"What for? Those pest control men just did, and she didn't answer," Bonnie said.
"Well, I'm gonna go over and try; maybe she just changed her mind about getting her house treated and didn't want to answer the door."
Craig crossed the black-top driveway and went across the street. Although it was still early, already the temperature was climbing, and the air was heavy with moisture. Heavy humidity ... another Florida morning. He took a soiled handkerchief from his back pocket and mopped his forehead.
He walked up to the front door and knocked. Silence. Not even any barking from Mrs. Bainbridge's annoying little Jack Russell terrier. Peculiar. He knocked again, waited, and then walked back across the street to his house and went inside.
"Yeah, you're right; she doesn't answer. Guess there's nothing we can do."
"Well, maybe we should call 911 and report it," Bonnie replied.
"Yeah, she might be sick or something. Go ahead and finish getting ready, and I'll make the call." Craig went to the phone and dialed 911. He explained their concern to the operator.
He returned to the living room.
"They're going to send someone by to check," he said.
"Okay, I've got to get going. Send me an email if anything's going on over there. Are we nosey neighbors, or what? I hope you find some work today." Bonnie smiled. She went out and got into her bronze-colored Civic, backed out into the street, and drove away.
Craig went to his room and sat down at his battered desk and fired up his computer. He began plowing through and deleting junk emails and then went on the Internet and pulled up a job site.
He yawned and sat back and lit a cigarette. Shit, I know there won't be nothin', he thought. Craig was basically a lazy man, and he found it hard to get motivated.
He clicked to a porn site and watched a video, and then got up and went into the kitchen and heated a cup of water in the microwave and made a cup of instant coffee.
He came back and lit another cigarette and returned to the job site. I'd better find some work pretty soon. I know Bonnie's getting sick of my shit, and if I don't bring in some additional money, we may lose this dump, he thought. Then he played a game of Spider Solitaire; he had the rest of the day to search for a job.
An hour or so later, an EMS truck pulled up, and two uniformed medical personnel hopped out and went up and pounded on the front door of Dorothy Bainbridge's house. No response.
They walked over and peered into the front window and then stood talking. One of them made a call on her cell phone and then she and her male partner went back and got into their truck and sat talking.
Twenty minutes later, a Pinellas County Sheriff's patrol car pulled up behind the EMS truck and two deputies got out and went up to the door and started pounding and calling. They tried the door ... locked. All was quiet. The EMS couple got out and joined them. The quartet walked over to the gate of the wooden fence, opened it and disappeared into the back yard.
A second patrol car arrived and parked behind the first one, and two more deputies emerged and stood looking at the house, and then the group returned from the back yard, and they all stood talking.
One of the deputies went to the trunk of his patrol car and removed a large cylindrical object and carried it to the front door of the house. He swung it into the door which made a crashing sound and flew open.
Craig jumped up and ran out into his front yard and stood staring as the law enforcement and medical personnel entered the house.
In just a moment the six people all came walking swiftly out of the house gagging and holding handkerchiefs to their noses. They stood staring at the house and shaking their heads as though trying to rid themselves of something noxious. Several other neighbors were now standing in their front yards watching.
The woman EMS person looked over and spotted Craig and walked across the street.
"Did you know the lady who lived over there? Are you the one who called 911?"
"Yes, I called," Craig replied. "What do you mean 'lived' over there? She hasn't moved; she still lives there."
The woman ignored his question. "Have you noticed anything unusual over there lately?" One of the deputies crossed the street and joined them.
Craig told them about the pest control incident.
"Mrs. Bainbridge is an old lady, and my wife and I just thought it was strange how she didn't answer her door, that's all."
"Well, the lady's dead," the deputy said brusquely.
Craig was stunned. Finally, "Dead? Wha ... what happened?"
"I can't go into the details, sir, but I do need to get your name and other pertinent information for our report if you'll please come over with me, so I can fill out my paperwork."
Craig walked back over and stood next to the patrol car and answered the deputy's questions as he filled out his report. His partner had placed a white-gauze mask over his nose and had reentered the house carrying a camera.
Craig finished answering the deputy's questions and signed the paper. He stood observing as the EMS couple emerged wheeling a sheet-covered body on a gurney. They loaded it into their vehicle and got into the truck and drove away.
The deputies closed the front door and placed some tape and a notice on it.
"We'll be in touch with you if we need further information. Thank you for your cooperation, sir." The officer turned away and rejoined his companions. They were obviously through with him, and Craig walked back to his house and sat staring out the window as the patrol cars drove off down the street.
Craig was seated on the living-room couch when Bonnie arrived at four-thirty. She parked her car on the lawn and came in the house.
"Hi," she said going over and giving Craig a peck on the cheek. "Boy, what a day. Those bitches were really in rare form today! How are you? Any luck with your job hunting?"
"I'm okay, and I've really been looking, but nothing so far ... the job market's very tight. But I've got something serious to tell you about."
Bonnie hesitated. She never knew, with his constantly fluctuating emotions, what kind of mood she'd find her husband in, and she harbored a secret fear that he was going to leave her someday. "What's wrong?"
"Go get your shoes off and change clothes and come back, and I'll tell you about it."
"Okay, just a minute," Bonnie said and went to the bedroom with a worried look on her face.
She returned and sat down on the small couch facing Craig.
"So, what's going on?"
"Well, after you left this morning the EMS and Sheriff's Department people were over across the street. I don't know what they found after they went into that house, but whatever it was must have been pretty bad because they all came out choking and covering their noses like something smelled horrible.
"One of the deputies said that the old lady was dead in the house, and he asked me a bunch of questions and had me sign a report form. They brought her body out and loaded it into the EMS truck and left, and the officers sealed the front door and put up a warning sign."
"Mrs. Bainbridge is dead? I saw that notice on her house. What in the world happened to her?"
"I don't know," Craig said. "The deputy wouldn't tell me anything more than that she's dead. I have no idea what happened to her."
"Gosh, that's awful. Huh! I can't believe it. Well, I guess we all have to go sometime, and she looked like she was way past her limit."
"Yeah, but it's still kinda shocking," Craig replied.
"Yes, it sure is. Well, I'm gonna go toss something in the microwave for supper, and then maybe we can watch the evening news."
Craig set up a couple of small tables in front of the sofas for them to eat on and then flicked on the television. He sat enduring the last half of Judge Judy and hitting the mute button to silence the commercials for medicines, cars, and numerous other pitches.
Bonnie came in and set a micro-waved dinner in front of him. Craig got up and went in and put some ice cubes in a cup and grabbed a can of Coke.
As Bonnie sat down the five-o'clock news came on.
After more commercials and self-congratulatory plugs for the television channel, the anchor-man finally started reading the reports from his teleprompter.
"Authorities were stunned today when they responded to a 911 call in Largo. After breaking in the front door of a small house in a quiet neighborhood, they found the body of an elderly woman whose partially-nude body was covered with swarms of large cockroaches. "The Sheriff's Department said that her skin was red and broken open from numerous bites, and her eyes had been eaten out of their sockets. Her mutilated face was twisted in a look of terror and was so badly devoured that she was almost unrecognizable.
"Deputies on the scene said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen and that the ceiling and walls of the house were covered with swarms of the insects, and that the smell was simply overpowering. An autopsy is pending by the Medical Examiner, and her next of kin in Michigan will be notified. The Sheriff said the house is in such a state that it may have to be condemned. Stay tuned to this channel for further developments."
Dazed, Craig and Bonnie sat in silence staring at the television screen. Finally, Bonnie said, "Oh ... my ... God."