Eerie bookmark points the way to exterminator

September 27, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

It was the long tail sticking out of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. cookbook that triggered my mental alarm bell.

I didn't really want to believe that a live rat had moved into my kitchen. It was easier not to admit it.

The first signs of upheaval in the kitchen appeared Friday morning. I brushed it off as something that would just go away and went to work.

Couldn't it have been a frolicsome squirrel that knocked over the stack of Tupperware bowls and messed up the cereal boxes. Of course. With all that rain we had Thursday, it had merrily jumped down the old kitchen chimney, rooted around, then departed. No such luck. This was not a Rocky in search of winter's food supply. This was a Willard.

Later, I returned from work and was enjoying a bowl of soup when my eye caught an irregularity on the shelf where the cookbooks are stored. Admittedly, these volumes rarely get used but I don't recall a shiny curled black object left as a bookmark in the BG&E cookbook alongside the Silver Palate and Julia Child volumes.

On the spot, I realized this was no bookmark. That long thing was attached to a living, breathing rat that had come to visit indoors. The rat had selected my large oak counter top, specifically the corner where the kitchen's south and west walls join.

Logic immediately brought the situation into clear focus. The rat was in the summer kitchen, an ancient addition to the main structure and built over an old cistern. It is also adjacent to the garden. And so many of my Charles Village neighbors have been complaining about rats and their successes and failures in killing them.

My first impulse was to catch and kill the somnolent monster -- but not alone.

I ran outside to St. Paul Street in search of some fearless neighbor. As luck would have it, the mighty Jim Berger was just stepping off his front porch to walk his dog. I begged for help. Jim volunteered.

We re-entered the kitchen and Jim tried to drop a carton over the napping rodent. It then darted into the cavities of the kitchen range. As it turned out, it was lodged directly under the surface adjacent to the front right gas burner. Jim devised a second plan. I was to turn on the heat. Willard presumably would get a hot foot and take off. The blue flame sent the rat leaping. He shot across the room and under the cellar door into the darkness of a large 19th century foundation.

This was no baby rat or fat mouse. It was the rodent version of a cocker spaniel.

Jim wisely said he had a pressing engagement in a Federal Hill tavern. I retreated as well and sought consolation in a Glenlivet Scotch.

The rest of the night got increasingly hazy but Saturday dawned warm and sunny. I didn't know what to do so I visited my father. His advice was to the point: Go professional and hire an exterminator.

I was pacing the St. Paul Street sidewalk as a blue Ehrlich truck pulled up and a uniformed man named Duke Willey got out. He vowed he wasn't going to leave until he had the rat in hand. Willard, in the meantime, was out of the cellar and resting on the counter top, having defiled several cookbooks.

I let Duke in the house and ran for the sidewalk. A few minutes later Duke was back, just as another blue truck arrived. So did my brother-in-law. I remained pacing outdoors, confident that three grown men could best a rodent. The exterminators had powders and poisons, tanks and hoses, poles and thick gloves.

I heard crashes and bangs before all three men, ratless and bested, filed out the door.

"Is the rat dead?" I inquired.

"No, he ran into the basement, but we dusted him with poison and he can't live more than 24 hours," Duke said with authority.

I abandoned the house again for lunch and returned in the midafternoon. So had Willard. He was back at his perch on the Julia Child cookbook, sunning himself. A few minutes later, he jumped to the window sill and looked at the garden and its fish pond.

A phone call brought back the blue truck and Robert James. Willard was mad now. He'd gotten partially stuck on a sticky trap and was knocking all over the kitchen like an out-of-whack bumper car. The exterminator did his job. Willard squealed, expired and was carted out.

"He was pretty aggressive," the exterminator said.

I know. I was there.

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