by David Lack
The repairman held the flashlight in his mouth. He would've held it in his hands, but they were stretched out in front of him, pulling him through the ventilation duct that was just too small for his body. Yes, he had gotten carried away during the holidays and had expanded in size. And now, as he strained through the dark aluminum tunnel, he pictured two things: going back in time and eating less, and removing all his clothes (save the tool belt of course) and greasing himself up with something so that he could effortlessly slide the length of the tunnel to his destination. His destination was somewhere up ahead in the darkness. He had received the call about 9:30 this morning. An awful smell...dog poop...coming from one of the ventilation grates in the ceiling on the 14th floor of a highly respected downtown law office. What was it? Sabotage? A rival law firm trying to stinkify their reputation? Wild animals? Wild dogs? And sure enough, once he had pulled himself the 150 feet from the access hatch to the source of the smell, he discovered that it was in fact dog poop. The repairman was crestfallen when he realized he had come the length of the ventilation duct and had not brought a baggie or something to remove the poo with.
"A Great Dane!?"
"Yes, when I was young we had a Great Dane and the size of the pile I found in your duct was equal to or greater than the size of a pile made by my Great Dane."
"You're telling me it looks like a Great Dane took a plop in our duct?"
"You're telling me that it looks like a Great Dane took a plop in our duct?"
"Yes that's what I'm telling you."
"God that's Awful!"
"Well it wasn't very much fun to clean up either."
"Okay, so, obviously a Great Dane isn't gonna fit up there. And it doesn't seem likely that it would've been planted there....maybe it was...but more likely it's...what? A raccoon maybe?"
"I don't think raccoons go that much sir."
"Well maybe they went back and forth to this spot a lot? It was like a raccoon bathroom."
"I would agree with you except for the fact that it seemed like it was one, uh, deposit. And not many deposits."
"Dammit you're not helping me feel any better about this!"
Outside the secretary pictured the men wearing Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson outfits as they postulated the origin of the poo. She giggled to herself.
Climbing back into his van, the repairman sat for a few moments before starting the engine. There was something very unsettling about this whole situation. Just as the attorney upstairs would be, the repairman was still running through the possible solutions to this bizarre equation. Having seen the poop in its natural and unmolested state, he had a small advantage in this game. There was something about the way it looked that informed him it could not have been planted. The smell was very familiar to someone who had grown up with a dog and was accustomed to cleaning dog mess. The size was also familiar. But these were not things that belonged in a ventilation duct. It was all very strange.
There were other calls, from the same building. As the weeks went by, the calls increased and eventually an extermination service was hired. The repairman was brought in, having become intimately familiar with the twists and turns of the ducts, to help organize and draw maps. The plan was now to capture and discover what creature had been plaguing the building with unusually large and smelly droppings. The repairman had mixed feelings about the plan. While he considered the poop clean-up a chore, he had also become strangely attached to the unseen animal or animals. Perhaps a bit of carryover from when he cleaned up after his Great Dane. Either way, he understood that a business must function and that clients having to smell poop on occasion was not acceptable for a ritzy law office. So the exterminators came.
Traps were set at major duct intersections and at the most popular "drop-sites." Then the waiting began. The exterminators, filled with haughtiness and pride, exclaimed the virtues of their traps and declared that the animals would be caught within minutes if not hours. When hours turned to days, the exterminators shyly smiled and said "these things take time." And when weeks went by they accused the repairman of tampering with the traps. When this was found to not be the case, more waiting ensued. And eventually the exterminators stopped returning calls. Now, during this time there was a marked decrease in the amount of unauthorized duct defecation taking place. It hadn't totally disappeared, but on the whole was down a good 30-35%. Now, the traps had to be removed before poo could be cleaned. While this was annoying and time consuming it was not an impossible scenario. But it did mean that the repairman had to spend even more time in the ducts, removing and replacing traps. And during these extended forays into the dark ducts, a few things began to happen. The repairman found himself with more time alone than he had ever really had in his life. He began to think about his life, weighing the choices he had made. He began to accept all that he had previously regretted. He began to appreciate that which he had taken for granted. And as a result, when he emerged from the ductwork each night, he felt like a new man. He felt that his moral compass had finally found a true north, from which a signal was emit, stronger than he knew existed. He walked the streets, confident, intelligent, compassionate and kind. A friend to all men. He bought a Great Dane, like the one he had when he was a boy. His friends and family noticed the change and commented on it.
After this had gone on for several months, the law office began to get desperate to have the situation resolved. Up until this time they had only asked the repairman to clean the poo or check the traps, or specific functions like that. Now, with his newfound confidence, the repairman had become quite well respected at the law office. They sought his opinion on the matter. He suggested luring the animals with food and the attorneys and secretaries exclaimed how great an idea it was and why hadn't they tried that yet?
So they purchased some ground beef which, it was decided, would probably be universally delicious to dog or raccoon. So a large quantity of ground beef was set before an access shaft, inside one of the traps left by the exterminators. They all agreed that everyone should go home so that the smell of human wouldn't deter the animal/animals from exploring the food.
In the morning there was a feeling much like Christmas morning is for children: a mixture of excitement and apprehension. A sickly sweet mixture of joy and fear. What am I going to get? What did Santa bring me? All presents? Anything I really like? Or just coal? Or just things I don't want! No one expected to see the 11 wide eyed chihuahuas climbing over the mostly empty styrofoam tray where the ground beef had been. They were barking like tiny hyenas and almost seemed to be speaking a small and angry language.
Yes, as it turns out, occasionally a wealthy young woman would come in to speak with a lawyer, and would set down her Louis Vitton or what have you, and the chihuahua would jump out and make its way into the innards of the building. After this had happened several times, they began to breed, eventually developing a complex society that was able to elude even professional exterminators.
The chihuahuas, sensing a kinship with the man who had picked up after them so often, flocked to him, barking and snapping and yipping. A tear in his eye, the repairman felt a strange elation that the mystery was over. In his heart he felt hope for the future and wondered what other mysteries were waiting to be solved?