Fiction: Crawley and the humongous cockroaches

By |  May 1, 2018

Publisher’s Note: This series — “The Adventures of Crawley McPherson, Bug Man” — is a work of fiction. Crawley McPherson and all other characters in this series are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All names, places, locations and incidents are entirely fictional, and any similarity to places or people living or dead is purely coincidental.
 

Illustration: Leo Michael

Oh no, there’s bugs all over her! Help! Help! Nurse, come help! They’re everywhere — even on her face,” screamed a patient.

Jacqueline, a nurse’s aide, ran into the room. “I’m here, Miss Gertrude. Calm down.” She looked around the room. “It’s OK. Maybe you just thought they were bugs.”

She wheeled the patient back to the other side of the room. “Now let me check Miss Vivian to make sure everything’s all right. I’m sure whatever it was is gone now.”

“But I saw ’em! They were humongous. I saw ’em.”

Ten minutes later, Jacqueline was in the nursing coordinator’s office. “I know these Alzheimer’s patients can be confused sometimes, but I’ve seen some really big cockroaches in that room myself lately. What are we going to do?”

Her boss barely looked up. “Report it to facilities management, but other than that, keep this incident to yourself, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes ma’am.”

*****

Later that day, Jack Blackwell, owner of Peace-of-Mind Pest Services, got a call from the nursing home. Upon hearing about the cockroach problem, Jack expressed grave concern and promised to get someone out there right away. As soon as he hung up, he tapped in MJ O’Donnell’s mobile number.

“MJ, don’t you have Pleasant Hill Nursing Home out on Monroe Street?”

“Yes, Tony Ellherd and I shared it, before he retired at the end of the year. Now it’s all mine. Why?”

“I just got a call that they’re having problems with cockroaches. They said they were huge mamma-jammas. Can you go by there and see what’s going on?”

“Sure, I know that facility well. I don’t think they have a cockroach problem, unless something’s changed. I work real hard to keep the place treated appropriately.”

“Well, apparently they’ve got a problem now. Go check it out … and take Crawley if you need him. He loves things like that.” Long pause. “Even with his faults, he’s turned out to be a real asset to our company.”

“You did the right thing hiring him, Jack. He’s smart and I really like him.”

“I’m sure you do,” Jack said flatly. “But you have to admit, sometimes his mouth overloads his rear end. Now go out there and see what you can do, and report back to me.”
 
 

Keep reading… (Part 3)

Pleasant Hill Nursing Home was neither pleasant nor on a hill. It was an older facility located at the edge of an abandoned, city-owned lot next to the industrial park. MJ made her way across double railroad tracks and turned into the large, spacious parking lot of the medical facility. Tufts of grass were growing through cracks in the concrete all across the lot. She looked around before getting out of her truck, even though she had been there many times. I don’t think I’d want any of my relatives in this place, she thought.

Inside, she made her way to the administrator’s office. Felix Applewhite rose from his desk to meet her. He looked like a man from the wrong decade, wearing a dark green three-piece polyester suit, complete with a button-up vest. “Hello there, Ms. O’Donnell. What brings you out here today?”

“Hi Felix. My boss said someone reported a cockroach problem, so I came to do an inspection.”

He looked at her blankly. “That’s news to me. I don’t know who would call that in. We don’t have any roaches. Believe me, I would know. We run a tight ship around here. ‘No hazards or harm to our residents’ is our motto.”

MJ nodded, even though she knew Mr. Applewhite wouldn’t know if they had cockroaches, snakes, or even alligators in the nursing home because he never visited the patient rooms. He was an accountant by training and always had his head in the books.

“Well, I’m going to look around a bit and then let you know what I find out,” she said.

He sat back down and looked at his paperwork. “You can just report your findings to facilities management unless it’s something really drastic. I really don’t have to know everything. I don’t micromanage this place, you know.”

On her way down the hall, MJ considered what she had just heard. She shook her head in disbelief. The man was full of contradictions, saying all that about running a tight ship and knowing if they had roach problems, and then later saying he didn’t micromanage the place.

The first place she stopped was the nurses’ station and break room. MJ had learned through the years that pest problems in healthcare facilities often originated in staff lockers and break rooms. Many times she had found rotting or spoiled fruit, half-empty soda cans, and partially eaten snack cakes in these areas.

MJ inspected the lockers with a flashlight, then the break table, along the baseboards of the room, and lastly around the garbage can. Then she lifted the garbage bag out of the can for a peek under it. She knew there could be gunk in the bottom of the can from leaking garbage bags. Surprisingly, everything was quite clean and tidy.

Periplaneta americana is commonly known as the American cockroach, but “big mamma jamma” is an apt description, too.
Photo: ©istock.com/Antagain

Just then, a young woman walked in. MJ could see by the nametag that she was a nurse’s aide named Jacqueline.

“Hi Jacqueline, I’m from the pest control company doing an inspection.”

“Oh hi,” Jacqueline grinned real big. “Glad to see you. We’ve been seeing a lot of roaches lately.”

“Oh yeah? Where?”

She hesitated, biting her lip. “Mostly in the Alzheimer’s Unit, but only inside the patient rooms and out in the hall. Never up in the beds or anything.”

MJ studied her. What a weird thing to say.

“Can you show me exactly where?”

Jacqueline looked out toward the hall nervously. “I guess that might be all right.”

MJ followed Jacqueline down the hall until it turned right and angled back toward the west. Jacqueline opened two sets of sturdy double doors by swiping her ID card through an electronic badge reader. MJ recalled being in this Alzheimer’s Unit on previous pest control service stops, but this time it seemed different.

“Have y’all changed this wing? I don’t remember it looking like this last time I was here.”

“Yes, they just recently finished updating the doors, installing cameras, and adding new security systems. Now it’s like going in and out of a prison.”

“What about the food? Isn’t that a pain to bring food carts down here from the cafeteria three times a day?”

“I’m not sure how they do that.” She turned her head to the side. “To be honest, I don’t want to know.”

Jacqueline turned into one of the patient rooms occupied by two elderly women, one seemingly unconscious in the bed and the other sitting in a wheelchair.

After Jacqueline introduced MJ to Miss Gertrude, the patient in the wheelchair, and explained the purpose of her visit, she waved her arm back toward the room. “This is one of the rooms where I’ve seen cockroaches. Feel free to look around and do whatever you need to do.” She turned toward the door. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Wait,” MJ said, taking a step toward Jacqueline. “Just one more thing: What are in the rooms immediately next door on either side of this one? I noticed one of them doesn’t look like a patient room.”

“Not sure … maybe storage.” Jacqueline seemed even more uncomfortable. “I’ve got to go. Really.”

After Jacqueline left, MJ inspected the room and attached bathroom. She was careful to not upset Miss Gertrude, who studied her every movement. MJ found a few dried roach feces in one corner of the room.

“Have you seen anything unusual in your room lately?” MJ asked.

“Well no, I don’t guess.” Miss Gertrude suddenly looked out the window. “Young lady, they’re not nice to people around here, you know. Can you help me out to my car? I’m supposed to meet my son Harold this afternoon.”

MJ knew better than to fall for that. “No ma’am, I’m just the pest control person. You’ll have to ask one of the nurses about that.”

“Pest control?” Miss Gertrude’s eyebrows shot up. “I’ve been seeing lots of humongous roaches in here lately, and mice and rats.”

“Really?” MJ was taken aback. “Roaches and rats and mice?”

“Oh yeah, hundreds. And one of the rats told me a secret about this place the other day.”

“Well, don’t you worry one little bit,” MJ said cheerfully. “We’ll work hard to get rid of them for you.”

MJ excused herself, went back out into the hall, and went to inspect the rooms on either side. One was another patient room, but the one on the east side had a different type of door. It was locked, and no one she was able to find in the hall knew where a key might be.

After checking the nurses’ station in that wing and the dumpsters outside without seeing any cockroaches, MJ decided she had done all she could. Things didn’t add up. Perhaps she should consult Crawley. He would know what to do.

 
 

Keep reading… (Part 4)

Three days later, Crawley was scheduled to meet MJ in the parking lot of the nursing home. He had agreed to help her investigate the cockroach infestation. Of course, he didn’t mind helping her, but the box of banana-flavored snack cakes she promised him sealed the deal.

He smiled thinking about it. Sugar always works.

Crawley put on his service belt and walked toward MJ’s truck. He noticed how the April sun seemed higher in the sky than it had lately. Spring was definitely here; summer would soon follow. He found MJ sitting inside the cab entering something in her handheld computer. She rolled the window down.

“Oh hi, Crawley. Thanks so much for coming.” She looked back at the computer. “Give me a second to close this file.”
Crawley looked at her truck. It was a great example of what a pest control vehicle should look like — clean, orderly and professional. He smiled when he saw a big plastic daisy in a short vase on her dashboard. She always put a personal touch on things.

Presently, she packed up and exited the truck. “You ready?”

“Yep, but I’m not sure why you need me.”

MJ took off toward the building, leaving Crawley struggling to keep up.

“You’ll see,” she said. “There are conflicting statements from the patients and staff. Some say they’ve seen lots of cockroaches, while others say there’s no problem whatsoever. Apparently, the roach problem — if there is one — is concentrated in the Alzheimer’s Unit.”

“Any storm sewers around the place?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Where are the dumpsters in relation to the Alzheimer’s Unit?” he asked next.

“Too close, I have to admit. Near the back entrance, but it’s an emergency exit. Nobody goes in or out that way.”
“That wouldn’t matter to a cockroach. They can enter through a crack.”

MJ stopped to push the buzzer at the front door to gain access. “That’s exactly why I need your help. You think like a bug.”

After some pleasantries with the woman at the receptionist desk, MJ asked for someone to escort them to the Alzheimer’s Unit.

A young man in blue scrubs showed up and politely guided them through several sets of secure doors into the Alzheimer’s Unit.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked when he got them to their destination.

“No, thanks so much,” MJ said. “You’ve been very helpful.”

With that, the man turned and disappeared down the hall.

“Does everybody have to go through all them security doors to get in here?” Crawley asked. “Even the workers?”

“Apparently so,” MJ said.

“Seems kinda cum’ersome.”

MJ looked up and down the hall. “Now, we need Room 122, the room I was in the other day,” she stopped and pointed. “Oh, there it is. Let’s start there.”

Inside the room, they found the invalid patient who seemed totally oblivious to their presence, and Miss Gertrude, staring out the window from her wheelchair.

“Good afternoon, Miss Gertrude,” MJ said loudly, but gently.

The woman whipped her head around. “Are you here to give me my medicine?”

“No ma’am. We’re from pest control. You may not remember me from the other day.”

“Well no, can’t say as I do. I can’t remember all you nurses.”

MJ glanced over at Crawley. There was no need in trying to explain it.

“Do you mind if we look around a few minutes?” she asked.

“Go ahead.” After a few seconds the woman added, “If you’re a new nurse, I’ll say one thing — they don’t treat people right in here.”

Crawley went off to inspect the bathroom, leaving MJ to handle Miss Gertrude. He’d seen people with dementia many times while servicing healthcare facilities. He never knew what to say. Socializing wasn’t his thing.

In the bathroom, he carefully examined the floors, tiles in the bathroom walls and floor, and then lastly, a cabinet under the lavatory sink. He found all sorts of supplies in the cabinet, including toilet paper, liquid soap, and even liquid cleaners.

Crawley shook his head. “They ought not have these things. Them Alzheimer’s patients might eat or drink them.”

He was finally able to move the stuff aside well enough to see the back wall of the sink cabinet.

“Uh oh.” Where the sink drainpipe entered the wall, there was almost 2 inches of open space around the pipe. He knew that was an interstate highway for insects and rodents.

He shined his light into the opening and thought he spotted a large, reddish-brown cockroach scurry away.
“American cockroach,” he muttered.

Back in the main patient room, he found MJ kneeling down and inspecting the baseboards. She stood up when he came in. “Find anything?”

He tipped his head toward the hall. “I’m done. You ready to go?”

MJ must have gotten the message because she quickly said goodbye to Miss Gertrude and headed out into the hall.

Once outside the room, Crawley told her about the large opening under the sink where the drainpipe exited the bathroom and how he thought he had seen an American cockroach.

“That cabinet had a lock on it the other day, and no one could find a key,” MJ sighed.

“Well, there was no lock on it today, so the nurses must’ve forgotten to put it back on.”

“Ugh,” she shook her head. “We can at least get that hole fixed.”

“The more important thing is, where does that opening lead to?” Crawley asked. “That’s where the mother lode is.”

“I don’t know — oh, but that reminds me. Look here at the room on the left.” MJ pointed toward the one on the left side. “That one is locked, and no one could let me in last time. My floor plan of the building says it’s a just another patient room, which I think it still was the time before I was here — but Tony usually did this side of the facility. I know they’ve replaced the doors and such recently, and I have a feeling this room’s use has been changed, too. I wonder what it’s for now?”

“Mmm.”

“What?”

“That’s the side where the drain pipe enters the wall.”

Crawley jiggled the door handle. Then he got down on his knees and tried to look under it. Then he popped back up. “I think I smell food in there.”

“Food? No way.”

MJ got down on her knees beside him and sniffed the bottom of the door. “Hmm, maybe.”

“We’ve got to get inside there, MJ.”

MJ took off down the hall toward the nurse’s station, where she again requested someone give them access to the room.
Presently, the same man in scrubs showed up, and MJ explained to him that she and Crawley needed to get inside the room for a pest inspection.

“It’s my understanding that room is inaccessible,” he said.

“What do you mean, ‘inaccessible’?” MJ asked impatiently. “We have the pest control contract on this place. We can look in any room we want.”

“I think it’s dry storage, and uh, they have some things in there that need to be inaccessible to patients in this unit, if you know what I mean,” he said hastily.

“But we ain’t patients,” Crawley edged in between MJ and the man.

“I understand that,” he said, “but if we open that door, the patients will see that the room is there and then be obsessed with getting inside. You just don’t know how these people are.”

“That makes no sense whatsoever,” MJ snapped as she pulled out her phone. “I’m calling facilities management, they’ll let us in.”

The man turned to go. “Good luck with that.”

Presently, an older, stocky man showed up with a wad of keys on his side as big as a softball. He smiled when he saw MJ. She remembered he was the facilities management supervisor, named Doug.

“I remember you,” he said. “You’re the woman from Peace-of-Mind Pest Control. We met one time when we were having a mouse problem in the kitchen.”

MJ smiled weakly. “Yes, I remember, Doug. Look, we need to get inside this room to perform an inspection. There’s been a cockroach problem in this wing and we’re trying to figure out where they’re coming from.”

“There’s no need to go in there. It’s just dry storage.”

“I don’t care if it’s dry storage, wet storage, or totally empty. If you want us to continue to be your pest control company, you’re gonna have to let us look in there.”

Illustration: Leo Michael

Doug hesitated, as if weighing the pros and cons of continuing the argument, then relented. “Suit yourself. I just work here. I’m not the one who decided how to use this room.” He unlocked the door and stepped aside.

Inside, Crawley and MJ were shocked. Sure enough, the room did contain dry storage — stacks of boxes along two of the walls, but in the middle of the room were three food carts from the cafeteria, containing trays of half-eaten and spoiled food. Several big American cockroaches scurried away from the trays toward a 3-inch hole in the west wall’s drywall near the ground, the result likely of a heavy box falling off a cart and banging into it.

Crawley shot over to the hole in the wall to get a closer look. “This is where they’re coming from.”

“Gross!” MJ exclaimed and turned toward the man from facilities management. “What’s this all about?”

Doug shrugged. “It’s not my fault. We told ’em they shouldn’t do it.”

“Who? Who put these carts in here?”

“The aides from the cafeteria.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I had nothing to do with it.”

“We need an explanation, Doug.” She reached for her phone again. “Or I’ll need to call the health inspector.”

Doug raised his hands. “The cafeteria folks said it was too difficult for them to take the food carts back and forth all the way down to this wing through all those special security doors three times a day. That’s six trips through the security doors each day, so they asked could they leave them in here and just take them all out once a day.”

Crawley spun around. “But these here carts have been left in here more than one day.”

Doug shrugged again. “I can’t explain that. That’s the cafeteria folks.”

Crawley started for the door. “I’m going out to the truck to get my sprayer and several tubes of cockroach bait. I’m gonna spray a good residual up in that hole in the wall, and then put out bait in cracks and crevices in this room and the adjoining ones. After that, y’all are gonna have to fix that hole.”

Doug’s eyes grew big at the mention of pest control products. “What about the patients?”

“I’ve got bait products specially made for sensitive accounts like this,” Crawley said. “It won’t hurt nothin’.”

MJ was full-on angry at the situation, remembering Miss Gertrude’s fears. “And soon, we’re going to have to have a very serious meeting with your cafeteria folks,” she told Doug. “This has got to stop.”

Doug crossed his arms. “Don’t kill the messenger. I didn’t do this.”

“Yes, but you knew about it,” MJ said. “That’s just as bad. This room is a breeding site for cockroaches and no telling what all else. They could be transmitting germs to the patients.”

 
 

Keep reading… (Part 5)

Doug rounded up cafeteria staff members to come remove the food-laden trays and wipe down the walls and floors, after which Crawley was able to apply pesticide treatments in the room. Meanwhile, MJ tried calling Felix Applewhite, the nursing home administrator. Of course, he was “suddenly called downtown” for a meeting. She rammed her phone in her back pocket. She would have a discussion with him later.

After they were satisfied that the treatment was workable and the staff would no longer be using the stockroom as a holding tank for meal leftovers, MJ and Crawley walked out to their trucks.

“Thank you, Crawley, for being here with me today,” MJ said. “It means a lot to me.”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothin’.”

“You did. You solved the problem.”

He smiled widely. “It’s all in a day’s work, MJ. All in a day’s work.”

Dr. Goddard is an extension medical/veterinary entomologist at Mississippi State University. He is also a PMP Hall of Famer (Class of 2012). He may be reached at jgoddard@entomology.msstate.edu.

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1 Comment on "Fiction: Crawley and the humongous cockroaches"

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  1. Richard L says:

    I look forward to these fictional stories!!! Brings back to mind some old problems myself. Great stuff!