Fiction: Crawley and the ant problem


August 13, 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

At 10 a.m., Jack Blackwell, owner of Peace-of-Mind Pest Services, punched Crawley’s number on his cell phone.


“Crawley, I want you go to that personal care home on Taylor Road today. I think the name of it is Heavenly Hope House. I’ve been getting reports from some of the patients’ families that they’ve got an ant problem.”

“Yeah, I can do that, but ain’t that Paul Bono’s account?”

“Yes, but he’s had them on a green program that doesn’t seem to be working. I want you to go look-see.”


“This is serious, Crawley. Do you remember that case last summer in Texas? Some lady in a nursing home was attacked by ants, then the family sued the mess out of both the nursing home and the pest control company. The judgment was millions of dollars. When it comes to health-related issues, I can’t take any chances, so go check it out for me.”

“I don’t want Paul mad at me.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already talked to him. Besides, he won’t be angry. I’m the one who gave him permission to put them on a green protocol. You just make plans to get out there ASAP. And don’t be wasting time.”

“Yes, sir.”


Crawley headed to the office for a quick lunch and to pick up more chemicals for his 1 p.m. appointment. He figured he could swing by Heavenly Hope House after that. On the way inside the pest control shop, he pretended to be on his phone to avoid facing the office manager, Margie. He didn’t want to have to justify where he had been or what he had been doing all morning. That woman was just plain nosy.

Margie looked him over as he walked by, but didn’t say anything. But when he passed MJ O’Donnell’s office, MJ hollered at him, “Hey Crawley, come in here a minute.”

His heart skipped a beat. Why would MJ want to talk to me?

“Have a seat.” She pointed at the chair in front of her desk. “I’ve been meaning to ask if you’re going to the national pest control meeting. I think Jack’ll let us go since it’s in late October, the off-season. He might even pay part of it. Maybe we could ride together.”

Crawley was literally shivering by now. The thought of riding in a car on a trip with MJ — no matter how close or far — unnerved him. He could feel his face flush, so he looked down momentarily. “Uh, I guess. Yes, that would be wonderful. I mean, wonderful to get to attend such high-powered educational sessions.”

After a few awkward moments, he got up and dashed to the supply room to get back to work.


Keep reading… (Part 2)
Illustration: Leo Michael

Illustration: Leo Michael

Crawley shook his head. “I guess they don’t want none of them patients getting loose.”

Just inside the house was a big common room, with lots of chairs and a TV. A small check-in station was located just inside the front door, where a receptionist asked sharply, “May I help you?”

“Uh, I’m here to do a pest inspection.”

What little smile she had previously displayed instantly evaporated. “I thought y’all just did an inspection last week. Why would you need to do it again so soon?”

“I was told to come look at your ant problem, ma’am. It won’t take long.”

The woman suddenly seemed agitated. “Who told you we had an ant problem? We’re not aware of any ant incidents with the patients.”

Even Crawley could see through that. “Nobody said nothin’ about no incidents. I’m just looking around for ants.”

“OK.” She picked up the phone. “But I’m going to let Ms. Conway, the owner, know you’re here. But I can tell you right now, she wouldn’t want you spraying around the place. The fumes can be highly toxic to our patients.”

“That’s not true. Pesticides are safe when used rightly.”

“Well, you can look around, but please don’t start dousing the place with chemicals without permission from Ms. Conway. It’s my understanding the other pest man from your company has us on a non-toxic treatment schedule.”

“If it’s non-toxic, then how’s it killing anything?” Crawley popped off. “By definition, any pesticide is toxic.”

She looked him over condescendingly. “Of course, you wouldn’t understand.”

Crawley bit his lip to keep from saying more. Then there was the voice in his head — MJ’s. Be patient, Crawley. Remember, these are our customers.

He turned to begin his inspection. His initial walk-through of the home revealed six patient rooms and three bathrooms in the back part of the house. Up front were the common room and kitchen. Crawley examined each room carefully for signs of ant infestation, particularly fire ants. He knew he’d need to check the outside perimeter of the house as well.

In the third bedroom, a slight, elderly man was sitting in a recliner beside his bed watching TV. He seemed to be having a difficult time eating an individual serving-sized chocolate pudding. He had a distant look in his eyes.

“You want some of my C-rations, soldier?” The man glanced out the window. “The Viet Cong are coming. We’ve got to hurry and get over to the next ridge.”

Crawley had seen dementia before in personal care and nursing home patients, but he glanced out the window just to make sure. “No, I’ve done eaten. I’m just the pest man doing an inspection. You had any problems with bugs in here?”

The man gave him a blank look, then nodded, then shook his head.

Crawley noticed a lone ant crawling along the baseboard and ran over to investigate. He got down on his knees and collected the specimen in a small vial of alcohol. He looked around for other ants, then went over to the recliner to show it to the man. “You been seeing any of these ants in here?”

Blank look again, then he spoke. “Yes, lots of men crawling over the hill, coming toward us.”

Crawley had no idea how to respond. He tried to orient himself to the outside wall and then headed outside.

When he got outside the building, and specifically, outside the room where the confused patient was, he immediately noticed two large fire ant mounds situated right next to the house foundation.

Crawley whistled. “That’s not good.”

He worked his way around the rest of the house perimeter, counting fire ant mounds next to the foundation. “Six!” he exclaimed. He pulled out his cell phone and called Jack to report the fire ant mounds around the personal care home.

Upon hearing the report, Jack became concerned. “What do you think, Crawley? Is it that the green products are just flat not working? You think Paul’s been appropriately applying them?”

“I wouldn’t say that. These anti-pesticide people are limiting him from spraying, even with green products. He’s probably doing the best he can, just caught between a rock and a hard place.”

“Well, he needs to do his job. If they don’t want our services, we can just walk away from it. And then see how they like that.”

“Maybe it won’t come to that,” Crawley said. “But one thing, I’m thinking I don’t need to leave here today without treating these mounds up against the foundation. I think I’ll drench ’em, and then also, maybe spray the perimeter about 25 feet out from the foundation all the way around the house.”

“She’s not going to like it,” Jack said. “But maybe since it’s outside only, she’ll allow it. Either way, we’ve got to do it. We can’t have any of the patients getting stung by ants.”

“Oh,” Crawley continued, “and maybe you could ask Paul to come by here tomorrow to re-inspect inside the rooms and treat where needed.”


As soon as Jack hung up, Crawley went and got in his truck and drove around to the back yard of the house. Fortunately, it had been an unusually dry July, and he was able to drive through the grass right up to the spot outside the little old man’s room. He got out and began unrolling the hose from the power sprayer mounted in the truck bed. He mixed the pesticide and got ready to begin spraying the foundation wall and portions of the yard.

What are you doing, young man?” a firm voice called out from behind him.

Crawley whirled around. A sixtyish, silver-haired woman was standing there, hands on her hips.

“I said, what are you doing?”

“Spraying for fire ants, ma’am. I’m from the pest control company.”

“Oh, you’re most certainly not going to do that. That stuff is nerve poison.”

“Maybe to the bugs, it’s a nerve poison,” Crawley said.

“Don’t argue with me. I insist you stop immediately.”

Crawley knew better than to disagree with a customer. “Okay, I’ll stop.” He switched off the engine of the sprayer and started rolling the hose back on the rack. “But may I ask you why you don’t want me to spray these fire ants?”

“Just as I told the other man from your company, I don’t mind you treating a little inside the house, but outdoors, we don’t want to kill any little creatures.”

“But these ants can go indoors and attack the patients. Don’t you care about that?”

She crossed her arms tightly across her chest. “As I said, you can put out a limited amount of your products inside, but that’s all. We’ve got to be good stewards, you know.”

He could see it was useless to argue. He would need to call Jack.


Keep reading… (Part 3)

The next morning, Crawley was summoned by Jack to discuss the situation. Paul was already in Jack’s office when he arrived.

Jack had a strained look on his face. “Thanks for coming, Crawley. Have a seat.”

Crawley took a seat next to Paul, who was nervously sipping a cup of coffee.

“I told Paul what happened yesterday out at the personal care home.” He stopped and folded his hands like a preacher. “And I thought it would be good for us to discuss the situation face-to-face. We need a plan of action.”

“She wouldn’t let me spray the mounds and a 25-foot perimeter in the yard,” Crawley started. “But I wasn’t about to make no big fuss.”

Jack turned his attention to Paul. “Has this ever happened before?”

Paul twisted uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes, to be honest, Ms. Conway will barely let me use anything during my regular pest service.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could have called and tried to explain our IPM program to her.”

“I guess I thought I could work around her and still get the job done.”

“I need to know… have you been treating outside the structure for
fire ants?”

Paul hesitated. “Well no, she insisted not to. Said they were part
of nature.”

Jack leaned back. “We can’t let this go on. If someone gets attacked, we’re the ones on the hook.
She’s gonna deny telling you not to spray.” He picked
up the phone and dialed the personal care home.

“Hello, this is Jack Blackwell from Peace-of-Mind Pest Services. Is Ms. Conway in?”

Once connected to her office, Jack listened intently and didn’t say anything for what seemed to be an eternity. Crawley had no idea what the person on the other end of the line was saying, but all of a sudden the look on Jack’s face said it all. He slammed the phone down and jumped up.

“C’mon, we’ve got to go out there. One of the patients has been stung by fire ants.”

“Who?” Crawley asked. “Was it that little old man who was a veteran?”

“How on earth would I know? The woman just
said someone got attacked and that the paramedics were there.”

As they rushed down the hall toward the front door, Crawley quickly stuck his head in MJ’s door. “Can you go with us to a personal care home? We’ve got big trouble.”

She rose from her chair with a troubled look. “Why would y’all need me?”

“I guess it’s me needing you, MJ. This is serious.”

“Sure,” she said, reaching for her purse. “We can go in my truck. It’s parked right outside the door. I just stopped by for a few minutes to update my spreadsheet.”

Soon they zipped their way out of the parking lot and onto the main road. They spotted Jack’s truck about a quarter mile ahead.

“Which personal care home is it?” she asked.

“The one out on Taylor Road.”

“I think I’ve been there before, but it was a few years back,” MJ replied. “Tell me what happened.”

“It’s bad.” Crawley shook his head. “It’s real bad.” He then relayed to her the events of the last couple of days. “They’ve called an ambulance,” he said when finished. “That’s all we know.”

“Did they ever write down that they didn’t want spraying?”


“Specifically, that they didn’t want you to treat for ants according to our protocol? Is that written in an e-mail or text or anything like that?”

“Well no, I don’t guess.”

MJ whipped into the parking lot, parking beside Jack Blackwell. “Then they’re gonna deny ever saying it, you watch and see,” she said, grimly.

They jumped out of the truck and followed Jack and Paul toward the entrance of the personal care home. A fire truck was parked just outside the front door with its lights flashing, as was an ambulance with its back doors open. The stretcher was missing and there were no signs of any paramedics.

Jack swung open the front door of the building and waved them inside. “Come on, let’s see how bad this is.” He paused, looking at Crawley. “And let me do the talking. This’ll likely turn into a lawsuit.”

There was no one at the front desk as they made their way through the big common room and down the hall toward the patient rooms. Outside the third bedroom, a small crowd had gathered. Paramedics and firefighters were going in and out of the room, while several staff members and other adults were standing nearby. A few of the people were openly weeping.

“Oh no, it is the little veteran man!” Crawley cried out. “I hope he’s gonna be all right.”

Jack shot him a stern look as they eased up to the crowd.

Ms. Conway strode purposefully toward Jack. She had a grave look on her face.

“I’m glad to see you people,” she said, loud enough for everybody to hear. “There’s been a fire ant stinging incident, and you might be needed to answer questions. The state health inspectors and possibly even the police may want to speak to you.”

“Why would the police want to speak to us?” Jack bristled.

“I’m sorry to say Mr. Turnage has passed,” Ms. Conway said crisply. “There’ll be a thorough investigation, just to make sure there was no foul play. We expect everyone involved to cooperate fully.”

Just then, an older woman and what appeared to be her grown daughter edged their way through the crowd and confronted Ms. Conway. The older woman’s eyes bulged and her cheeks were bright red. “You’re responsible for my husband’s death!” she screamed. “When we got here, we found him with fire ants all over him, coming out of his mouth, ears and nose. Thousands of them. They stung him to death. You did it! You neglected him! I want you to know, we’re holding you personally responsible.”

“Oh no,” Ms. Conway calmly responded, turning toward Jack and the others from Peace-of-Mind Pest Services. “Heavenly Hope House isn’t responsible. We don’t know anything about pests and their control. That’s why we hired the best pest control company in town — to protect our patients from ants, bugs, and all kinds of things like that. If one of the patients was attacked by bugs, it’s … uh … the pest people’s fault, not ours.”

Jack backed up, shocked at the accusation. Paul slipped behind Jack, as if hiding. MJ took Crawley’s arm protectively.

“That there’s not true!” Crawley blurted out. “You’ve been telling Paul not to treat for pests for months. And you know it.”

“I never did any such thing! We would never attempt to second-guess your pest management procedures. It’s our official policy to trust your expertise in these matters.”

Crawley’s eyes were huge ovals by now behind his glasses. His face was beet red. He tried to lunge forward toward Ms. Conway, but MJ pulled him back. “You told me just yesterday not to spray for the fire ants.”

Ms. Conway feigned surprise. “Why, I never said —”

Jack intervened, putting himself between Crawley and Ms. Conway. “C’mon guys, we’re not going to do this. Not here, not now. Let’s go.”

All the way out of the building they could hear Mr. Turnage’s wife and daughter hollering after them about how they killed their husband and father.

Once outside in the parking lot, Jack turned, gathered his team together, and spoke softy to them, making sure no one else could hear him. “This is dead serious, and a matter for our insurance company. These people are gonna sue us.”

“What’re we going to do?” Paul asked, ashen-faced. “She’ll pin this on us.”

Crawley was indignant. “I didn’t have no idea she would act like it was all our fault. This is awful.”

“It certainly is,” MJ offered. “We’re gonna be in trouble if we can’t somehow prove she restricted us from spraying.”

“We should’ve gotten it in writing or taped our conversations with her,” Jack said with a sigh. “But we’ll learn from it. You’ll see. It’ll make us better.”


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