Deep in the sewers of New York City, the rat population is growing. Dr. Randolph Finch is determined to break the cycle. His new rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats. It sterilizes them from reproducing. But nothing adapts faster than a New York rat . . .
City exterminators and soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson think they know how these rats think. They know how rats breed. And they fear that Degenesis has only made these rats stronger. More aggressive. More intelligent. And more ravenous than ever . . .
TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US
After a noticeable surge in rat den activity, the Jacksons witness something strange. Without warning, the rats disappear—only to reassemble in a massive lair beneath Grand Central Station. Millions upon millions of them. Working together. Operating as a hive mind. Feasting on the flesh of the homeless below—and planning their all-out attack on the unsuspecting humans above . . .
Raves for The Montauk Monster
“Old school horror.” —Jonathan Maberry
“A lot of splattery fun.”—Publishers Weekly
“Frightening, gripping.”—Night Owl Reviews
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I'd seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, but this one took the cake, the plate, and the fork right out from under me.
"Is it really doing what I think it's doing?" Benny said.
A furry snout poked out of the hole in the wall, whiskers twitching. It disappeared and out popped a chunk of drywall. The chalky crumble plunked right onto the glue trap by the baseboard and stuck there.
"I'll be good and goddamned," I whispered with the reverence my mother had taught me to save for church. I hadn't been to church in a lifetime of Sundays. Mom hadn't dispensed little tidbits of wisdom in almost as long. But it still seemed appropriate.
"I could give it the old whack-a-mole," Benny said, gripping a flashlight that doubled as a baton. People would be surprised how often exterminators used our flashlights to defend ourselves.
Unable to take my eyes off the ingenious sucker, I said, "You'll miss. I just know it."
"So we just stand here like idiots?"
"Yes," I said.
"I don't get you," Benny said.
"I remember when you used to."
We shut up, watching the rat litter the glue trap until most of the surface was covered in drywall.
It stretched halfway out of the hole, inspecting its handiwork. Next thing we knew, the rat dropped to the ground, landing on the drywall and scampering into the darkness.
"How?" Benny said.
"Beats me. If I hadn't been here to see it, I'd never have believed it."
"It must have come across glue traps before."
I rubbed the four-day stubble on my chin. "I'd put good money on it."
Most people don't realize how smart rodents are. They learn from their mistakes and from watching the mistakes of others. Norway rats, the number-one scourge of Manhattan, had been getting shrewder with each generation. Pretty soon, they'd be smarter than the guy who invented craft beer.
Norway rats are by nature very fast learners, evolving almost ten times faster than puny humans. Extremely observant, if they suspect a trap, they will regularly send the weakest out to explore or try a new food laced with poison. They sit back and watch what happens. If the rat survives, they follow. If not, they walk away, knowing to stay the hell away the next time.
I don't even want to get into their tolerance to poison. It's the stuff of nightmares.
This particular rat had either gotten temporarily stuck on a glue trap itself or watched one of its kin do likewise. How it figured out that littering it with drywall would stop if from being sticky was anyone's guess. Like I said — craft beer smart.
I shivered, which wasn't easy, considering it must have been over a hundred degrees in the dark, cramped industrial kitchen. The AC was on the fritz. If I didn't get some air soon, I would be next.
"Maybe they hold little rat seminars," Benny said, giggling. "You ARE Smarter Than the Exterminator."
"They start teaching classes, we're done for." The rag I kept using to wipe the back of my neck was soaked. Benny didn't even have a bead of perspiration.
"Well, now what?"
This particular den of rats had outsmarted us at every turn. They ate just enough of the rodenticide not to get sick. They avoided the snap traps like the plague. Now it appeared glue traps were out.
"Set fire to the place?" I said. "It's so hot in here, it just might spontaneously combust."
"We could have at least gotten that one."
Benny was no longer amused that I let it scamper off. Sometimes my curiosity gets in the way of my efficiency.
I said, "You want to chase it with your flashlight, have at it."
"If anyone's doing any chasing, it's going to be you."
For shits and giggles, I poured some rodenticide into the hole. Maybe it would return hungry and have a final feast.
Benny gave me a world-class eye roll.
"It can't hurt," I said.
"It definitely won't hurt them."
"We could always go old-school and have a stakeout with night vision and a BB gun."
"You're such an ass."
Benny stomped out of the kitchen. I followed suit, desperate for fresh air.
Manhattan was at the tail end of a long heat wave. Even though it was ninety outside, it felt like spring in comparison to the stifling restaurant. The sunlight stung my poor eyeballs. Flipping my sunglasses down from the crown of my head, I saw Benny slip into the van. Ninth Avenue was crammed with people on their lunch hour. The crush of humanity never ceased to amaze me.
As above, so below, as the saying goes.
"I'm going up to Yonkers to visit my sister," Benny said. I felt a wisp of cold air coming from the van's air vents.
"I'm supposed to meet Tony at Mulligan's," I said.
I wished Benny would open the window more so I could suck in some of that cool, cool air. The AC in my car was tepid on a good day.
Benny looked at me with barely contained disgust.
"Our dive," I said.
The van pulled away so fast, I had to jump back to make sure my foot didn't get run over.
I watched it barrel down Ninth, making a left turn toward the West Side Highway and ultimately, Yonkers.
Living with Benny had been hard, but we'd managed. I took the smaller guest room and used the hideous bathroom in the basement. My lawyer said our divorce papers would be coming any day now. We'd sell the house after everything was signed and go our separate ways.
But we still had to work together.
I wondered if it was hard for her in the same way it was for me. Benita Anne Jackson may have been pushing fifty, but she was still gorgeous, with her curves still north of the equator, hair like a phoenix and green eyes that could melt the polar ice caps.
When I looked at her, or smelled her, or brushed against her, I still got that anxious feeling in the pit of my gut.
Methinks the only feeling she got in her gut when she looked at me was indigestion.
The back of my neck tingled, the way it would if I felt someone was staring at me.
I turned around and faced the closed restaurant. A big window looked out at the passing foot traffic.
People bumped into me as I stared into the gloom.
Was someone in there?
It couldn't be. Benny and I had been inside for an hour. We'd have known if we had company.
Then I saw it.
A furtive movement atop a chair.
A rat stared back at me, its long tail hanging down the back of the chair like a pink rope. It was as if it were taking great care to remember me.
I know you now, that look said. And I will make sure you never forget me.
That chill came back again.
I rushed the window. The rat scurried away.
"Get ahold of yourself, Chris. They're smart, but not that smart."
After thirty years in the business, I was sure of less and less.CHAPTER 2
"This just came in from FedEx."
Benny tossed a heavy box on my desk. Several pens and my good stapler went flying.
We were in our HQ, better known as a basement office on Eighth and Sixty-third. It was cozy and cluttered, just the way I liked things. To feel at one with aboveground society, I often looked up through one of our two barred windows and watched all the feet passing by. Over the years, I'd become something of a shoe expert.
"Who's it from?"
I was not going to pick the pens and stapler up. At least not while Benny was looking. A man's got to retain at least some of his dignity.
"Ask your secretary," she said.
The chair swiveled round and round when she got up for the coffee maker.
We had a secretary when we first opened up shop a hundred years ago. On her first day, she'd gotten shit-faced at lunch and came back slurring and falling all over the place. Benny fired her before midafternoon tea. We decided then it was best to tarry on without a secretary.
"I'll put in a call to AA and see if she's free," I said.
The desks in our tiny office used to face one another because we were young and in love and couldn't take our eyes off each other.
Two years ago, I had come back from lunch to find Benny's desk on the other side of the room, her back to me. That was the beginning of the end. Though, to hear her say it, things had gone south long before then. I used to fight her on the origin of our marriage's demise. Now, having had plenty of alone time in my own house, I had begun to recall a pattern that may have proven Benny right.
Not that I was going to tell her that.
"It's from that doctor," I said, my calloused fingers struggling to find the raised cardboard zipper tab on the end of the box.
The old coffee maker had been replaced by one that made single cups of coffee. I guessed it was so she didn't have to make me a cup.
"The one that invented that new poison. What's it called?"
I ripped the box open, tilting it so the double-sealed plastic bag slid onto the mess that was my desk. A bound instruction book followed.
"Degenesis," Benny said, sitting down and rolling her chair toward me.
"That's right. Weird name."
Benny sighed. "Not when you consider what it's supposed to do."
"Prevent rats from multiplying."
"Like the loaves and fishes."
"The what?" I said.
"And that's why you don't get the name. Did you fail Bible school?"
"Jesus died so we could be free from failure."
Benny picked up the manual. "Genesis is the first book of the Bible. You remember that?"
"'On the seventh day, God watched football.'"
"If Genesis is the beginning of man, Degenesis is the end of the rats."
I studied the blue pellets in the bag. They looked like any other rodenticide.
"I see, said the blind man."
"It's not going to work," Benny said.
"Because nothing does ... for long. We may stop a few rat lines from expanding, but they'll adapt and we'll be back to square one."
Ever the pessimist.
"Then we might as well strike while the iron is hot." Tucking the bag under my arm, I searched for my keys, finding them under my glazed doughnut.
"You have a place in mind?" Benny asked.
"Oh, yeah. A very big place."
* * *
As one of several contractors for the city, Benny and I were never at a loss for work. Between the bugs and the rodents whose numbers far exceeded the talking bipeds who thought they ran the place, the need for experienced killers was constant.
We drove in separate cars to the Gristedes supermarket on the Upper East Side. I met Benny at the back of the store by the dumpsters and loading dock.
"Check that out," I said to her, pointing at five new burrows besides the battered blue dumpsters. "Looks like they've been busy."
"More escape routes," she said, crouching over a burrow and peering into the hole with her flashlight.
"They must feel the walls closing in."
"Which means we don't have much time."
I shook the bag of freshly minted poison.
"Someone call for delivery?"
"You ever think of coming up with a new line?" she asked, gathering the snap traps we'd laid out two days earlier. She checked each one for any remaining food. They were all empty.
"It's not like the Gristedes rats ever heard it before," I said.
"Like I give a shit about the how the rats feel."
"You want to kill a rat, you have to think and feel like a rat."
She opened the traps and I sprinkled the Degenesis inside. We had been feeding the rats poison-free food for two days. The traps were just little safe havens for the rats to munch away.
You had to do that with rats. They were too smart to just walk into a set trap. Once one rat bit it, the others would steer clear of the area. The key was getting them comfortable so they all let their guard down.
Tonight, things would be different. First, the traps would be set to kill. And if a trap didn't murderize a rat, the poison coursing through its itty-bitty digestive tract should sterilize it.
Benny ignored me, as usual, and went about laying the traps. We increased the number of traps as well, hoping to snag as many as we could. After tonight, the rats would smarten up and avoid the traps like the plague. Pun intended.
"All done?" I said, eyeballing the few remaining pellets in the bag.
"Now let's hope they like the taste."
"You should try one just to test it," Benny said.
For a second, I thought she was serious and was about to lob a few choice words her way. Working together while in the midst of a divorce was a bitch, which is why I tried to keep things light. I'd learned to suffer Benny's slings and arrows with aplomb.
Telling me to eat poison would have been out of character, even for Benny.
"It can't be more toxic than those microwave burritos you eat," she said, the barest trace of a smile on her face.
"Those are strictly emergency rations."
"That's not what your latest blood work said."
"It's nice to see you care," I said.
"I didn't say to stop eating them," she said. "You have been keeping up on the payments for your life insurance, right?"
"Come on, I have two more bags of the stuff and three more stops."
Our bosses in City Hall had mandated that we start using the Degenesis ASAP. I wanted to get this done so I could take a power nap back at the office. I'd been up late watching a Thin Man marathon on TCM and my second wind of the day was flagging.
Benny jumped liked she'd stepped on the third rail when a fat, furry body darted out of one of the burrows and slipped behind a dumpster.
A healthy fear of rats kept exterminators exterminating.
"It's a little early for foraging," she said.
She was right. Rats were not known for their early-afternoon snacking. Not when the sun was up and people were around.
Though lately, I'd noticed the rats growing more brazen. It was almost as if they no longer perceived people as a threat. We were put on this earth to provide garbage, which sustained the rat population.
To them, we were nothing more than oversized chefs.
"That's our cue to leave," I said. I unclipped a metal funnel from my belt and poured the remaining Degensis into one of the burrows. With any luck, it would make its way into the central nest and the dozen or so rats currently lounging about would take a bite or four.CHAPTER 3
"I told you that shit wasn't going to work," Benny said colorfully as she tried to make sense of our accounting ledger. She was slightly better at the books than me, but she hated it with a passion.
I had just gotten in, my morning spent moving my remaining things to my new apartment in the Bronx. It was actually a studio. Cheap and small and old, just like the one I had when I was twenty. Sometimes, reliving your youth is not a good thing.
She was dressed in her standard uniform of tight but well-worn jeans, light blue button-down shirt with the logo of our company over her left breast (and it was a very fine breast), scuffed boots, and her hair pulled through the back of her Red Sox baseball cap. Not many women could dress like a man and exude pure woman.
It was one of her many special qualities. Qualities I missed more than I would dare to let on.
"That Dr. Finch is supposed to start his rat-population survey next week," I said, my muscles aching. For some reason, I had decided I didn't need movers. Tony and I carried shit up and down stairs for the entire weekend. Lesson learned — I was too old for moving.
Benny's eyelids fluttered. She was not happy. "I don't need Ratticus to tell me that his Degensis flopped."
Dr. Finch's real first name was Randolph, but in our circle, it was just too damn easy not to refer to him as Ratticus Finch. At least behind his back.
Degenesis was his toxic baby. It had been three months since we and the other contract exterminators had been using the poison.
A mama rat can have up to ten babies per litter and a new litter every month. Their ability to procreate is astonishing and makes it impossible to keep up with them. Degensis was supposed to put a dead stop to future generations from squirming about. Once the existing rat population was either killed or died from natural causes, the future would be a lot less furry.
At least that's what Ratticus had promised.
Then again, he was a lab monkey. He'd never been in the field. What the fuck did he know?
"I stopped at that Italian restaurant over on Fifty-ninth this morning," Benny said.
"Seems a little early for fettuccini carbonara."
With a quick eye roll, she said, "The number of droppings has increased exponentially. None of the traps were touched. I think that stuff is helping them hump and pump more than ever."
"Your romanticism is what swept me off my feet," I said, picking up the digital camera we used to catalog our progress. I clicked through the pictures Benny had taken.
Jesus, there was shit everywhere, like the remains of some kind of rat Roman orgy.
"Maybe they invited company for dinner," I said, staring at each photo.
"We should get a camera deep in there and see."
"You just don't want to do the books."
"No, I don't. You care to give it a try?"
"I'll get the camera and gear."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rattus New Yorkus"
Copyright © 2018 Hunter Shea.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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