Fiction: Crawley and the bugs at Mrs. Welch’s house

By |  July 30, 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

MJ O’Donnell knew she had to do something. Crawley was in a funk. The eccentric pest control technician had been feeling dejected after a couple recent situations at work had left him feeling under-appreciated. So, during lunch hour at the Peace-of-Mind Pest Services headquarters, she searched for him to cheer him up.

When she couldn’t find him in his office or in the bug examination room, MJ marched to the front office to ask Margie, the office manager, about it.

“Are you sure Crawley’s not out servicing an account right now? I can’t find him.”

“I sincerely doubt it, as slow as he’s been lately.” Margie scowled, then ran her finger down a handwritten sheet of paper taped to the wall beside her. “Nope. Looks like his next scheduled appointment isn’t until 2 p.m. He could be out running errands during lunch, you know.”

“He’s not slow, Margie. He’s thorough — and there’s a difference.” MJ didn’t appreciate Margie slamming her friend. Sure, Crawley was a bit socially off and had a difficult time sticking to schedules, but he was the most knowledgeable technician in the company. “He’s really good, Margie. Cut him some slack.” She turned to go. “I’ll check if his truck’s outside.”

Outside, the June sunshine felt good on her face as she made her way across the parking lot. She spotted Crawley’s truck and noticed what appeared to be the form of a man inside.

Uh oh. Hope he’s not even more depressed.

MJ tapped the glass on the driver’s side door. “Crawley? You all right in there?”

He rolled down the window and pulled ear buds out of his ears. His big eyes looked sad behind his thick glasses, but he didn’t maintain eye contact for more than just a few seconds. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just listening to one of them pest control podcasts. Did you know flesh flies have four bristles on their notopleuron, and blow flies have only two or three? You can use that one little fact to tell them apart.”

MJ looked him over closely and her heart went out to him. He was probably just saying all that to shift attention away from what was bothering him. The guy was really sweet and had indeed been mistreated lately. She figured he couldn’t help it if he came across a little strange sometimes.

“Hey, I was wondering if you’d go with me to see Daisy Welch,” she said. “Remember me asking you about her situation a while back? I could use your help.”

He huffed and looked down, fiddling with his phone. “I’m afraid she’s just one of them delusions of parasitosis folks like we saw a couple of months ago. The bug problem’s probably all up in her head. There may not be much we can do.”

“But we don’t know that for sure. She could have a real bug problem. I’d still like for you to come look at it.”

After what seemed like forever, he looked up. “Mmm. I guess I could go out there with you as long as I get to my scheduled stop by two o’clock.” He paused. “But you’ll see. Them DOP people’ll drive you crazy and there’s probably no bugs involved at all.”

“We’ve still got to try. You don’t know how much I appreciate this, Crawley. You want to follow me out there?”

“Yeah, I reckon that’s best.”

 

Keep reading… (Part 2)
Illustration: Leo Michael

Illustration: Leo Michael

Mrs. Welch lived in a one-story, ranch-style home built in the 1970s, complete with red brick walls, traditional white trim, and a two-car garage. Shrubbery surrounding the home was head-high and untrimmed. On the way walking up the driveway to her house, Crawley seemed to come alive, lecturing about delusions of parasitosis. “You watch, MJ. I’ve seen this a hun’rd times. She’ll have a bunch of samples saved up for us in little vials or pill bottles. And she’ll show us her so-called bites on her body, which will be mostly on her left side if she’s right-handed.”

“Because she’s scratching herself, making the so-called bite marks?”

“Yep, that’s right.” Crawley’s eyes danced with excitement. He seemed thrilled to describe the emotional disorder which was the bane of pest management technicians nationwide. “And then, she’ll say the bugs are found everywhere, and not just one room. I knew one woman who said they followed her everywhere, even to church.”

“C’mon, Crawley, be nice,” MJ chuckled as she knocked on the front door. “Remember, she’s our customer.”

Just then a scrawny dog rounded the corner of the house. It cautiously approached them, with its tail between its hind legs.

“Aww, look Crawley. Poor thing. I wonder if this is her dog.”

Crawley bent over, running his hands gingerly over the dog’s body. “It’s OK, little dog, I’m just checking you over.”

“Checking him over for what?”

“Ticks, mostly . . .” Soon Crawley had the dog on its back, legs up in the air, happily soaking up the free love. Crawley nudged his glasses up his nose to examine the animal’s belly area more closely. “And fleas.”

The door creaked open, and a very frail and wobbly little white-haired woman appeared. At once, Crawley could tell she was not well. It’s DOP for sure, he thought.

“Mrs. Welch, how are you this fine day?” MJ bubbled, trying to appear upbeat.

“About as well as can be expected, I guess.” Mrs. Welch managed a weak smile. “I don’t know how much longer I can put up with these bugs. They’re biting and driving me crazy.”

“Here, Mrs. Welch,” MJ waved toward Crawley, “I want you to meet one of our technicians, Crawley McPherson. He’s the best we’ve got. Really smart and loves bugs. If he doesn’t know a particular factoid about bugs . . . well . . . it’s just not known.”

Crawley extended a hand. “I don’t know about all that, ma’am, but I can help investigate your bug problem if you want me to.”

“I’d like that very much.”

“First, let me ask, is this your dog?” He pointed to the mutt, which was now standing next to MJ.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“Ever seen any fleas on him?”

“It’s a she.”

“She then. Ever noticed any fleas?”

“No, but my eyesight’s not what it used to be.”

“Mmm.” Crawley looked past her into the house. “Ma’am, can I ask, where’re the bugs worse at?”

Mrs. Welch seemed taken aback at his awkward wording. “What do you mean?”

“Where are they worser? Like what room has ’em the most?”

“Well, I’ve found that they’re worse when I’m sleeping on the couch in the living room. Seems like I’ve been doing that a lot lately.”

“You mean they’re not everywhere in your house?”

“No, I don’t guess.” Her eyes got big. “Is that bad? Are they supposed to be?”

Crawley shook his head. “Where’s your bites at? I mean, which arms or legs?”

“Oh, we can’t examine you, ma’am,” MJ interjected. “We aren’t doctors.”

“I didn’t mean it thata’ way,” Crawley backtracked. “You can just tell us about your bites. We don’t have to see them.”

The little lady appeared totally befuddled now. “I have lots of bites, but I’ve never thought about where they’re located. They’re just . . . uh . . . everywhere, I guess.”

“Mmm.”

“What about samples?” MJ took over. “Have you collected any of the bugs for us to look at?”

“No, can’t catch them. I’m pretty sure they’re invisible. I read on the internet they might be no-see-ums.”

“Uh oh,” Crawley blurted out.

Mrs. Welch’s face was becoming ashen. “What do you mean, ‘uh oh?’ Is something wrong?”

Crawley squirmed. “No, I didn’t mean nothing like that. It’s about you sayin’ you ain’t got no samples for us.”

MJ intervened. “We can continue this discussion later. Don’t you think we should get down to business? May we look around?”

“Of course!” Mrs. Welch waved her thin arm back toward the inside of the house. “By all means, go ahead.”

Crawley made a beeline for the living room. “Where’re you going?” MJ hollered after him.

“To examine that couch.”

“Okay, I’ll check the bedrooms. Call me if you find anything.”

In no time, Crawley was like a bulldog going after a bone, down on his hands and knees looking all over, around, and even inside the couch. Cushions flew everywhere. He took a small vial of alcohol from his pocket and began wetting his finger with it, rubbing it along the frame and cushions, and then dabbing the finger back in the vial to remove any attached bugs.

If there’s any mites or tiny insects here, I’ll get ’em in this alcohol, he thought.

Mrs. Welch wobbled into the room, reaching out for the walls or furniture to steady herself as she walked along. “Finding anything, young man?”

“Naw, not so far.” He sat back, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Is this the couch you said you’ve been sleeping on?”

“Yes.”

“Is it always pushed up against the outside wall and window like this?”

“Why, yes. Does that matter?” She leaned over like she was examining the top edge of the couch. “Have you found any lice or bed bugs on this thing?”

“Of course not,” he huffed. “I ain’t found nothing like that. But, I’m taking some samples with this alcohol so I can examine it later for mites.”

“Can you see mites? It scares me that they might be living in here and I can’t see them.”

“Mites ain’t invisible, but they’re sure ’nough hard to see. They’re about the size of a grain of sand.”

The woman seemed worried. “Could it be no-see-ums?”

“Naw, you can see a no-see-um. They’re not invisible. Besides, they breed outdoors along the edges of ponds, lakes, and salt marshes. They don’t live inside houses.”

Crawley got up and replaced the couch cushions. “I gotta inspect the other rooms and then look around outside.”

“Yes, please do,” she pleaded. “I really need some help.”

Crawley walked out of the room. It’s gotta be the DOP.

While he was inspecting the kitchen, MJ showed up. She leaned close to him in order to whisper. “You still think it’s DOP?”

His pulse quickened. “Uh, not sure,” he said, trying to concentrate. “Probably is the DOP, but some things don’t add up.”

“Find anything?”

“No, but I took some dust samples in alcohol from the couch. I’ll look at ’em after I get done with my next customer.”

MJ checked her watch. “You about to leave?”

He looked at the floor. “Yeah, Jack’s been fussing at me about not doing enough stops lately, and I’m getting tired of it.” A long pause ensued. “But I gotta look outside here first before I leave.”

“C’mon, Crawley, you’re not the only one he fusses at. He’s all right. He’s just trying to increase the company’s efficiency.”

“Maybe . . . but it still bothers me. Can’t he just leave me alone to do my job?”

“Then tell him that. Stick up for yourself.”

He turned to go. “I’m going outside.”

“Okay then, see you back at the office. We can talk more there.”

Once in the yard, Crawley was surprised to find that the big window where the couch was located was almost totally obscured from the outside by a large privet hedge. He fought his way through the thick, twisted limbs to examine the windowsill, and was shocked to see what looked like bird seed scattered about on it.

“What the heck?” he said aloud. “How did these seeds get here?”

Then he carefully pushed the shrubbery limbs back further so he could better examine the entire window. There was clearly a separation between the bricks and the edge of the window. “Uh oh. That would let pests go inside the walls.” His mind ran wild with possibilities. This here requires a closer inspection.

He checked his watch — 1:45 p.m. He knew he had to get on to his next service stop.

 

Keep reading… (Part 3)
Photo: iStock/sidneybernstein

Privet hedges offer privacy for homeowners – and sometimes pests. Photo: iStock/sidneybernstein

It was 4:30 p.m. before Crawley got back to the office. He scurried past Margie in the front office, headed toward the bug examination room.

“Hey Crawley,” she hollered after him. “Jack’s looking for you.”

Oh brother. That can’t be good.

Crawley made his way to the bug room. Jack could wait. Something about the Welch account didn’t make sense, and he was eager to examine the samples he had taken there today. Then he would have something to report to MJ. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, there really could be a pest problem in Mrs. Welch’s house. Maybe these samples would shed light on the situation.

He carefully poured the contents of his alcohol vial into a small petri dish and began the examination using a dissecting microscope. At first, everything looked clear, but under higher magnification, the liquid was actually full of dust, debris, lint and all sorts of tiny fibers. Crawley deliberately slowed down scanning the dish, paying careful attention to the contents floating in the alcohol. He knew mites could be hidden among the dust and debris.

After 15 minutes, he pushed his chair back and stretched his neck. This was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Mites were as small as a grain of sand. He would need to examine the contents in the petri dish again. And perhaps a third time. Pest control often required tedious detective work and lots of time.

Can’t give up.

Just then, Jack popped in the doorway. “Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Crawley eased back up to the microscope and started looking through the objectives again. “I’ve got to finish looking at these samples from the Welch account.”

Jack wouldn’t be deterred, pulling up a chair right beside Crawley. “We need to talk.”

Crawley sat back, trying his best to be respectful. “Yes, sir.”

“Crawley, as you and I have discussed several times lately, this company has certain targets for number of stops for each technician per day, and that should be between about 11 and 15 service stops a day.”

“But that’s for quarterly outside perimeter spraying,” Crawley said. “Most times for me though, I have to investigate things.” He paused. “And uh, help folks with their bug infestations. That’s what I do.”

“Yes, I realize first-time customers require more time, and maybe also when someone has a particular problem indoors, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m telling you that your numbers are consistently low. Way too low.”

Crawley was taken aback. “Do y’all keep up with things like that? I don’t pay no mind to it. I just try to solve peoples’ bug problems.”

“Yes, in fact we do keep stats on each technician. That’s what any good owner or manager does.”

During the awkward impasse over the next few moments, Crawley’s throat became so dry he could barely speak. “What do you want me to do?” he squeaked.

“I really appreciate you being conscientious and trying so hard to help folks, but please try to reduce the amount of time you spend at each place,” Jack said. “Let’s set a goal to make 10 stops a day, and do our best to make it happen. If you can get it up to 10, I’ll let you slide for awhile, then maybe we can increase it. But if not, I’m going to have to ride with you for a few days to see what the problem is and how we might make adjustments. Are we clear on that?”

Make adjustments? “Yes, sir.”

Jack stood up, patted him on the back and disappeared out the door.

Crawley resumed examining the sample and refused to give up until he was absolutely sure there were no mites or insects in it. He got up to leave and checked his watch — 6:30 p.m.

“I’ll have to go back out there tomorrow and get more samples, whether Jack likes it or not,” he told himself.

 

Keep reading… (Part 4)

The next morning Crawley was at Mrs. Welch’s front door at 7 a.m. sharp. Surely, she would be up. Since he always got up early, he figured all people should do likewise. Crawley had on his service belt and several vials of alcohol stuffed in his pockets.

The elderly woman cracked open the door and peeped her gray head out. “Yeess?”

“Mrs. Welch, it’s me, Crawley, the bug man. I’m sorry to bother you so early, but I was hoping you’d let me take some more samples from that couch of your’n. Would that be all right?”

She welcomed him inside. “Why yes, if you think it’s necessary.”

Crawley noticed fresh bloody scabs on the woman’s arms and neck. “Are the bugs still biting you?”

“Oh yes, it’s awful. Positively awful. I’m miserable.”

“Did you sleep on that couch again last night?”

“Yes.”

“Why you keep doin’ that, if they’re biting you there?”

She seemed embarrassed. “It’s got special meaning to me. That’s all I can say. My husband passed away a few months ago.”

Crawley had no idea how to respond. “Can I get started collectin’? I need to get on with my regular pest control service stops right away.”

In no time, he was rooting around in the floor beside the couch, taking dust samples in and under the thing. Mrs. Welch wobbled up beside him, studying his every move.

“Seeing anything?” she asked.

Crawley sat up, leaning back, his hands planted on the carpeted floor behind him.

“Mrs. Welch, could I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“Yesterday, when I was examining right outside there,” he nodded toward the window, “I saw bird seed on the windowsill. Did you put it there?”

Her eyebrows went up. “Yes I did, is that bad?”

“Why would you be a’doing that?”

“To feed the birds. When my husband was alive, he watched birds in the hedge out there.”

“But the couch is facing the wrong way for that.”

“Didn’t used to be.” She waved a bony arm. “It was angled in that direction where he could see outside.”

Crawley suddenly felt a slight tingling or crawling sensation on his hands, which had been on the carpeted floor. He sat up and examined them carefully, like a jeweler might examine a diamond. Sure enough, what appeared to be freckles on his right hand were moving!

“Uh oh.”

“What’s wrong?”

Crawley scrambled for an alcohol vial and quickly transferred a couple of the tiny brown mites into the liquid. He then turned on his all-fours and began examining the baseboard under the window. He found more mites.

Crawley stood up and tapped on the wall beside the window. “This here’s your problem, Mrs. Welch. I’ll bet you anything there’s a bird nest in this wall. You were calling them up by feeding birds out there and they entered the wall through cracks outside and made nests. And now you have bird mites.”

“Oh my, can you spray them? Do I have to get rid of my couch?”

Crawley placed his hands on his service belt like a gunslinger and smiled a big toothy grin. “No need to throw out the couch. Don’t you worry one bit. I’ll get ’em.”

Just then, his phone rang. It was MJ. He was excited to hear her voice.

“Hello?”

“Crawley, where in the world are you?” she sounded exasperated. “Margie said you never came in this morning to get more chemicals and turn in yesterday’s tickets. Don’t you know Jack’s gonna be mad at you for not showing up?”

“I’m at Mrs. Welch’s place. I found the mites! I guarantee they’re bird mites living in the wall and in the couch. I’m about to spray the mess outta them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve gone out there with you. You don’t have to do my accounts.”

“I just got to thinking about it last night, MJ, and got carried away. You know I don’t sleep too good. I knew it had to be a bird nest or something.”

She seemed to calm down. “What all are you going to have to do? How long will it take?’

“I’ve gotta treat the floor and couch, then cut a hole in the drywall to clean out the nesting area. Then spray real good. Then I gotta go outside and seal up that big crack.”

“That’ll take hours, Crawley! What about your other stops today?”

“Ain’t got time to talk, MJ. Gotta kill bugs!”

“I’ll try to cover for you with Jack —”

Crawley punched the “end call” button. Jack would just have to understand. This was what he was born to do. And he was going to do it, no matter the consequences.

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