Fiction: Crawley and the baffling flea infestation


September 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

Martha Mooney was trying her best to relax at home after a long day at work as an attorney, but she kept unconsciously scratching and clawing at her waist and legs. Finally, she realized what she was doing and looked down. Bug bites of various sizes and stages covered her thighs. She raised her shirt, and the results were the same: Big red welts dotted her waist and stomach area. Some of them were beginning to bleed from her scratching.

“Where are these things coming from, Thomas? What’s going on here?”

Her husband, sitting across the living room, lifted his head above his newspaper.

“It’s August, dear,” he said. “You probably just got mosquito bites from being out on the patio or by the pool. Maybe we should talk to the pest control people about installing one of those mosquito-misting systems around our house.”

“These aren’t mosquito bites. How could they be, around my waist and under my shirt? If they’re mosquitoes, wouldn’t there be bites on my arms and hands?”

Martha looked around the opulently furnished room. “Do you think there could be some sort of insects or mites infesting this room? Maybe parasites?”

“Don’t be silly. This house is almost brand new. Those bites have got to be coming from outdoors.”

She shook her head. “Not so. I’m calling our pest control man tomorrow. Maybe he can do an inspection.”

“You mean that goofy-acting guy?”

“Don’t make fun of him. I understand he’s the best pest control person they’ve got. Besides, I think he’s got autism spectrum disorder.”

Thomas snapped the paper open in front of him. “If he’s the best, he’d better fix this problem.”


Keep reading… (Part 2)
Illustration: Leo Michael

Illustration: Leo Michael

A security guard waved Crawley into the gated community where the Mooneys lived. He marveled at the big new houses, and many others still under construction. He recalled how just one year ago the whole area was nothing but woods. He knew the place was too fancy for him. He couldn’t even pay the insurance on these houses.

The Mooneys’ house was at the edge of the subdivision, barely 100 feet from the tree line. Crawley pulled in the circular drive, gathered his things, and walked up some high steps to the front door. He thought it strange that the house was on a conventional foundation, instead of a slab.

Crawley noticed several security cameras in the eaves of the front porch, and fought the urge to make a face or do a little dance to shock whomever was monitoring them. People this rich probably have a whole team of security officers watching the videos around the clock.

He used the knocker on the massive oak door to announce his arrival instead of the doorbell. Presently, Thomas Mooney opened the door and waved him in.

“Come on in, Mr. McPherson, I’m glad you’re here. My wife’s been driving me crazy, claiming there’s bugs in the house.”

Crawley nudged his glasses back up his nose. “Ain’t no bugs here. Too new. Probably something else.”

Thomas looked at him, puzzled. “Now what do you mean by that?”

Crawley nervously ran a hand through his hair. “Uh, nothing. I was just … ah … thinking out loud. Where’re the bugs at?”

Thomas paused. “I suppose in the living room. At least that’s where we’ve been almost every time she’s noticed the biting.”


“Come on, I’ll show you.”

Even though Crawley had been to the house before, he was still in awe of how expensive everything looked. It seemed like he was led through three foyers and an equal number of what looked like dining rooms just to get to the living room. The furniture looked like it came from one of those high-falutin’ places, like Restoration Hardware. As he walked by one of the couches, he noticed a distinct and obvious leathery smell. Crawley had learned from being in rich peoples’ homes that real leather furniture smelled like real leather.

Martha Mooney was there waiting for them, sitting on a big, poufy cushion on the wide fireplace hearth.

“Hello, Mr. McPherson,” she displayed a cautious smile. “We’ve definitely got a bug problem in here, and need you to fix it.”

“How you know it’s bugs?” he said flatly.

“Well, I’ve got bites all over my legs, waist and stomach. It’s got to be bugs. What else could it be?”

“They’re all sorts of things that can be like a bug bite. Fiberglass, allergic reactions, and things like that.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s an insect or a parasite. I’m convinced of it.”

“Have you ever seen or caught one of ’em?”

“No. If I did, wouldn’t I know what the problem is?”

Crawley looked around the room, instantly evaluating the place for any sort of insect harborage or breeding site. “You got any pets?”

“No.” She seemed frustrated. “It’s just us two living here, no other people, pets, ghosts, aliens, or anything. Can’t you just please spray the place?”

“No ma’am. We don’t spray inside a house without having a target organism identified.”

“Then you better get started identifying, because I about had enough of this.”

Crawley nodded and began examining the room carefully, starting with the baseboards, looking for any sign of insect activity.

Martha got up and followed him around, seemingly skeptical. “Maybe it’s fleas?” she suggested.

“Oh Martha, you’ve suggested just about every insect on earth,” Thomas said. “It’s not fleas. The house is still new, and we don’t have any pets.”

Irritated, Martha plopped back down on her cushion on the hearth, and picked up a magazine.

Just then, Crawley had a thought. “I noticed this here house is on a conventional foundation.”

“Yes, what does that have to do with anything?” demanded Thomas.

“Is it all sealed up? I mean, can an animal get up under there? Wild animals can have fleas on them — and you’re mighty close to the woods. It could be raccoons or something bringing ’em up. ”

“Of course it’s sealed up,” Thomas said. “What do you think this is, a trailer park?”

What’s wrong with a trailer park? Crawley didn’t know how to respond, so he kept pressing on. “What about the chimney? Is it sealed up, too? Is there a screen on top?”

Thomas lowered his head, staring hard at Crawley. “Do you have any idea how much money houses cost in this neighborhood? Our builder would never halfway do something.”

Crawley shook his head. He was out of ideas. “Well, I’m gonna look around inside some more and set out a few glue boards to see if I can catch anything. Then I’ll check the outside foundation. And I might make a preventive perimeter application of pesticides out there for you. I can do that as part of your regular quarterly service contract.”

“Whatever you think you need to do,” Martha said, uncertainty in her voice.

“Well, I’ll say this. If we don’t catch anything on the sticky traps, and the biting continues, please call our office and we’ll come back out,” Crawley replied. “I might bring somebody with me next time to help me investigate. This sure
is a strange case.”

“I wish you’d fix this pest problem before we go on vacation next week,” Martha said with a huff. “I can’t wear my bathing suit at the beach with all these horrible bites.”


Keep reading… (Part 3)

The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) infests many more animals besides felines. PHOTO:

Two days later, Crawley spotted MJ in the break room at Peace-of-Mind Pest Services. He needed to speak to her about the mystery bugs at the Mooney residence. Despite Martha’s claim about bugs biting, Crawley’s inspection had turned up nothing.

When MJ saw Crawley, she smiled. “Hey there, Crawley! Haven’t seen you lately. How’s it going?”

“Uh, OK, I guess. Just sorta tired.”

“Tired?” She looked him over. “I know you spend a lot of time up here working late. You getting enough rest?”

He looked away. “I don’t sleep much, MJ.”

“Why?” Her face was filled with compassion.

Total silence. He wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Tell you what,” she smiled. “I’m gonna text you every night for awhile to wish you a good night. You know, as friends. Would that help?”

“You don’t have to do that.” He squirmed. “Besides, it wouldn’t work. You probably go to bed way before me.”

“OK, then, I’ll text you every morning for awhile and wish you a happy day!”

He appreciated her concern, but had no idea how to respond. “Uh OK, that’d be good.”

She smiled. “Now, what else can I help you with?”

“I was hoping to talk to you about one of my customers.”

MJ was startled. “You’re asking me for pest control advice? It’s usually the other way around.”

“This one’s got me stumped, MJ.”

“C’mon over to the table. I’ll get you a candy bar, then we can discuss your case.”

No amount of sugar could calm Crawley’s nerves around MJ. After several awkward stops and starts, he managed to explain the mysterious bug infestation to her. He hoped she would be able to make sense of his bumbling conversation. To his surprise, MJ listened attentively.

“So there you go, MJ,” Crawley finally stopped. “There is something supposedly biting Ms. Mooney, but I can’t find it out.”

“No mosquitoes or seed ticks?”


“No mites, like at Mrs. Welch’s house?”

He shook his head.

“What about fleas?”

“I thought about that, but I can’t find none. I even placed a white handkerchief on the floor here and there, hoping to spot fleas. Nothing.”

“You said the house is on a conventional foundation. Do you think a wild animal is getting up under the house? That could be causing a flea problem.”

“I told you I checked for fleas and didn’t see none.”

“Maybe it’s a spotty infestation and you didn’t sample in the right places.”

Crawley ignored that comment. “I found the door to the crawlspace under the house, but it was closed up tight.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s always closed. Maybe you should go look again. I bet this is a flea problem.”


“What do you mean by that?”

“I was just thinking … the Mooneys told me they were going to be out of town on vacation next week. Maybe I could go investigate more thoroughly while they’re gone.”

“You can’t go in someone’s house without permission!”

Crawley grinned. “I didn’t say nothing about going inside. I can call and ask them permission to walk around outside their house, looking for evidence of wild animals at various times of the day.”


Keep reading… (Part 4)

The following Wednesday, MJ was up early. She texted Crawley to wish him a happy day, just as she had done every day since their conversation the week before. This time, though, he didn’t respond. But this was sometimes the case with him. She didn’t mind — that was just the way he was.

MJ arrived at the office by 7 a.m., trying to catch up on paperwork and make a few calls to customers lining up her stops for the day. Quarterly perimeter treatments at residences didn’t require calling the customer first, but indoor pest service did, and MJ still retained a few of those accounts.

Soon Margie showed up, turning on lights up and down the hall and bringing the building to life. She popped her head in MJ’s office. “Hey MJ, you seen Crawley?”

“No, why?”

“He didn’t show up at all yesterday afternoon, and I’ve been calling and leaving him messages. Jack wants him to look at a cockroach problem at the Garden of Eatin’ Restaurant.”

“He hasn’t answered his calls?” And he didn’t respond to my text this morning, MJ added silently, becoming worried.

Margie shook her head. “That little guy needs to be more responsible.”

“Do you know what was his last stop yesterday?”

“Out east of town, near those gated communities on Winchester.”

MJ’s pulse quickened. That was where the Mooneys lived.

“If you see him this morning,” Margie continued, “tell him to call me.”

MJ rose from her desk, reaching for her keys. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

She tried dialing Crawley’s number as she made her way through the parking lot toward her truck. When he failed to answer, MJ left a message for him to call her. Then she recalled him saying he might do some investigating at the Mooney home while they were on vacation. What if he were hurt or injured?

When MJ drove up to the Mooney house, Crawley’s truck was nowhere in sight. Maybe he’s not here after all, she thought. She put the gearshift in park and hopped out to take a quick look anyway.

MJ checked the front door. Surely, he wouldn’t try to go inside while the Mooneys were away. She found the house locked and silent, so she went around to the back. The opening to the crawlspace under the house was ajar — and there were signs of disturbed dirt at the opening.

MJ leaned over, opened the door wide, and peered under the house. She spotted a snack cake wrapper just inside the opening. Crawley!

MJ raised back up and looked around. Crawley had surely been under the house. But where was he now? His truck was gone. She quickly scanned the neighborhood and tree line behind the house. Then something caught her eye, far back in the woods. It was a spot of white. The more she examined it, the more the object began to look like the outline of a truck. Crawley’s truck.

She turned back to the opening to the crawlspace, piecing together that he must have hidden his truck so he could investigate under the house the night before.

MJ got down on her knees and positioned herself at the opening of the crawlspace. “Crawley?” she hollered. “You under here?”


“It’s me, MJ. Are you back there? I’m worried about you.”

She was just about to turn to go, when she heard a muffled voice far back inside the cavernous crawlspace. “Uh, yeah … I’m here.”

“Come out here. I want to talk to you.”

Presently, Crawley emerged from under the house, dirt all over his clothes and in his hair. He dragged behind him what appeared to be an old, beat-up sleeping bag. When he stood up, it was easy for MJ to read embarrassment, almost guilt, all over him.

“Whatcha doing under there, Crawley? I’ve been worried sick about you.”

“Uh, just lookin’ under here for wild animals that could be bringing up fleas or sump’n like that.”

“How long have you been under there?”

He looked down and shrugged.

“That’s a sleeping bag,” she pointed. “You spent the night under there, didn’t you?”

“OK … so I did.” He fell silent for a full minute.

MJ instinctively hugged him. “Don’t scare me like that again. If you’re going to do crazy stuff, please let me or someone else know.” She backed off and looked him over. “C’mon, I’ll go with you to your truck, then let’s go get some breakfast.”

On the way to the truck, she asked about his night. “Did you see anything? Any fleas or animals?”

“Nope. Ain’t nothing under there. Clean as a pin.”

“Then what’s biting Ms. Mooney?”

He shrugged again. “I’m stumped. Fresh out of ideas.”


Keep reading… (Part 5)

Two weeks later, about 4 p.m., MJ saw Crawley eating a honey bun in the break room at the Peace-of-Mind headquarters. He looked somber, as if he’d lost his best friend.

She made a beeline toward him. “Hey, Crawley. What are you doing?”

“Just sittin’ here.” He looked down.

“You don’t have any customers today?”

“That ain’t the problem.”

“Then what is?”

He took a big swig from his soda can. “I need to go see the Mooneys, but I’m not wanting to.”

“Why, Crawley?” she asked with concern. “There’s no reason to feel bad.”

Crawley looked up at her and frowned. “But I can’t figure out what’s biting them. What am I going to say?”

She patted his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go. I’ll go with you.”

Crawley stood up, but his face was strained. “OK, I guess we should just go get it over with.”

Thomas Mooney met them at the door. “Hello. What brings you two out here?”

“We wanted to speak with you and your wife about our progress on your insect infestation,” MJ said.

“Or lack thereof, I suppose,” Thomas replied curtly. “I’m beginning to think it’s all in her head or that we need to change to a new pest control company.”

MJ was surprised at his blunt reply, and knew she needed to try to protect Crawley. He would take that as a personal failure.

“Oh no, Crawley and I have been working on it,” she said quickly. We’ve got some information to share with you.”

Crawley’s face twisted as if that was news to him.

Thomas waved them in and escorted them to the living room. Martha was perched on her fireplace hearth cushion, opening a stack of mail. “Oh, hi,” she said, unenthusiastically.

“Ms. Mooney, we just wanted to come update you and your husband about what all we’ve been doing about your insect problem while y’all were out of town.” MJ was doing her thing — trying to empathize with customer feelings — but truth be told, in this case she had no real news to report.

She took a breath to continue, despite having no idea where the conversation was headed. Then she noticed Crawley staring hard at Martha, who was scratching again.

“Stupid bugs,” the woman interrupted MJ. “I wasn’t having any new bites while we were gone. Now it’s started back again.”

Crawley eased over toward her, his eyes like huge ovals bouncing around behind his glasses. He reached out toward her — then touched the cushion she was sitting on.

Martha shot up from the cushion like a rocket. “I beg your pardon!” she roared.

Crawley leaned past her and stuck his head into the opening of the fireplace. He took out his handkerchief and spread it out in the opening of the fireplace. Then he slowly ran his hand along the inside of the fireplace itself. Presently, a huge grin spread across his face.

MJ had seen that look before. He had solved the case!

He picked up the handkerchief. “Lookey here. There’s fleas on this thing. Probably cat fleas.”

Thomas ran over. “How could that be? I’ve told you we don’t have pets.”

“Other animals can have cat fleas,” Crawley told him. “The fleas are coming down out of the chimney, probably from a raccoon sleeping up in there. They do that, I’ve seen it before. And especially since you’re right up at the edge of the woods.”

“Martha does sit there a lot,” Thomas said softly.

“But how could a raccoon get in here?” Martha was flabbergasted. “That’s ridiculous.”

“From the top. They climb up there and think it’s a hollow tree.”

“But the chimney’s capped.”

“I bet not.”

“Oh yes, it is,” Thomas interjected, then less confidently added, “Or supposedly, it is.”

“Look, we can do a spot treatment here right now, but first thing tomorrow, why don’t you call your builder and ask him or her to send someone out to check the chimney cap?” MJ said. “If it’s not properly in place, tell them to inspect the chimney to make sure there’s no animals in there and then cap it off.”

“Wow!” Thomas was stunned. He turned to Crawley. “How did you know?”

“It just came to me. I remembered that every time I’ve been here, Ms. Mooney was sittin’ right there.” He looked down. “It shouldn’t have taken me that long to figure it out. I’m sorry.”

“I told y’all we had some news about your insect infestation,” MJ said lightly.

“But he just now figured it out …” Thomas said, then laughed. “Oh, never mind.”

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