Jonathan Dover checked the time and winced as he brought his truck to a stop before Number Four Privet Drive. He was late. Not very late, mind, only about three minutes due to unexpectedly bad traffic, but from the way his client had gone on about how unsatisfactory it was having him out on a Saturday in the first place, he was willing to bet that he'd hear about every minute. At length. He sighed and swung the door open. At least it was just a trap check. It would be quick, almost not worth the gas money.
The door was open as he walked up to the house, his client's bulk filling the entire space with purple-faced fury. Jonathan tried not to cringe. Instead he forced an overly pleasant smile on his face and attempted a preemptive strike of logic. "Morning, Mr. Dursley. Hope you don't have to go anywhere today, traffic's beastly..."
"And I suppose that's supposed to be an excuse for your tardiness?" The man in the doorway barked.
"I...ah..." Normally Jonathan would have just said 'yes' and gotten on with it, but he wasn't used to being faced with men who looked so much like angry walruses.
"NEVER MIND!" Mr. Dursley bellowed, removing his bulk from the door just enough for Jonathan to squeeze past into the house. "Just get in here and check those traps!"
"Yes'ir." Jonathan muttered, rolling his eyes as he headed toward the second story and the hidden hatchway into the attic. He was just propping the hatch back when Mrs. Dursley came into the room and stood in the doorway, arms folded, glaring at him.
"I don't think you've done your job." She informed him, voice clipped. "I can still hear them up there, scurrying around. I can't believe we have something as common and filthy as rats!"
Jonathan made an inarticulate, neutral noise. He desperately wanted to say that he felt sorry for the rats, living with such unpleasant people, but he wisely kept his mouth shut. He had bills to pay, after all, and one doesn't pay those with pink slips because upper management got too many complaints about your personality. Clambering up the ladder, he paused near the top to listen for the scurrying of little rat feet. He didn't want to be fired, but he also didn't want to come up face to face with an unhappy rodent.
The space above him was silent, or at least he couldn't hear anything above Mrs. Dursley's continuing tirade below him, so he pulled out his flashlight and eased himself through the hatch. His attention was quickly caught by a rather surprisingly large shape in the far corner, right where he'd left one of the traps. Frowning, he played the beam of the flashlight over the shape-
- and yelped in surprise. "Mr. Dursley? Mr. Dursley! I think you should come take a look at this!"
"NO I HAVE NOT BEEN DRINKING!" Vernon Dursley bellowed into the telephone receiver.
Jonathan sat in one of the man's kitchen chairs, sipping a glass of water and watching Dursley rant and rave and wave his arms as if the police officer on the other end of the phone line could see him. Mrs. Dursley was in the living room, still unconscious on the sofa.
"There is a DEAD MAN in my attic! NO I didn't put him there! He somehow broke into my house and got caught in a rat trap! No, I don't know how he wound up dead! How many times do I have to...I AM PERFECTLY SOBER!" The plastic of the receiver creaked in Dursley's grip. "THE PEST CONTROL MAN IS RIGHT HERE! HE CAN TELL YOU I'M SOBER!"
Before he had time to register the shift in the conversation, Jonathan found the receiver being shoved at him.
"HERE! YOU TALK TO THEM!"
Gingerly, Jonathan took the receiver and held it to his ear. He'd never spoken to the police before and had no idea what to expect, although he deeply suspected that bellowing at them as his client had been doing was a bad idea. "Hello? Jonathan Dover here."
"Hello, Mr. Dover." The voice on the other end of the line was female and sounded rather irritated. "I presume that you're the pest control man Mr. Dursley was talking about?"
Ignoring the matter of the other man's volume, Jonathan bobbed his head a little and said, "Yes'm. I work for Cat n' Mouse rodent control. We're a private business."
"I've heard of them." The woman responded, fingers clattering on the computer keys in the background. "And Mr. Dursley hired you to help him with a rat problem, is that correct?"
"And, according to Mr. Dursley, you've caught not a rat but a man in one of the traps?"
Jonathan took a deep breath. "Yes, that is correct." As an after thought he added, "And no, Mr. Dursley's not been drinking. Just to clarify."
"Thank you for that." The response was dry. "Alright then, Mr. Dover, can you please tell me exactly what work you've done for Mr. Dursley and how you came to find a dead man in the attic?"
"Well, as I said, I was hired to set rat traps in the attic. Not many, there's probably only one family up there." Jonathan leaned back in the chair, watching the condensation running down the outside of his glass. This, at least, was something he was comfortable talking about.
"When did you set the traps, Mr. Dover?"
"This past Wednesday. We normally set the traps, then check back every couple of days to see if we've gotten anything."
"And how many traps did you set?"
"Six, one in every corner. Rats like corners. Anyway, I came out to do the inspection today, and when I got up there, I saw a big shape lying down at one end of the attic near where my trap was."
"How large is this attic?"
"Not very. It's more of a glorified crawl space really. You couldn't stand up if you wanted too."
"Alright. You saw the shape, what then?"
"Well, since all of the light was coming either from the hatch or my flashlight, I shown my flashlight on it."
"And it was a dead man?"
"Yes. It was a dead man."
"Can you give me a description?"
Jonathan paused, trying to remember as many details as he could. The problem was it had been rather hard to see in the poor lighting, and then Mr. Dursley had come and the yelling had started and it was all very confusing beyond that point. "Let's see. I remember he was lying on his stomach. His hair was a kind of non-descript mousy colour, balding a bit on top. He looked really shabby, you know, kind of like he'd been really fat and then lost all the weight at once without bothering to exercise or anything? I couldn't see his face at all, but his head was bent at a crazy angle, like his neck had been broken, and from what little I could see above his collar, there was this red line going across the back of his skull. It looked for all the world like he'd actually be caught in one of the traps and had his neck broken like an actual rat, but there's no way that's possible."
"You're certain, Mr. Dover?"
"Positive. Rat traps aren't that big. They're strong, yes, and if one closes on your hand it leaves a nasty set of welts, possibly sprain a finger if you're a small child, but that's because it's meant for breaking rat necks. If one closed on your face it might take out an eye or screw up your nose and it would certainly hurt a lot, but it would have to be two to three times bigger, at least, more likely five to ten to fit over a human head."
"Do you use poison to bait the traps?"
"Not for years," Jonathan shook his head. "We bait with peanut butter and little bits of mouldy bread."
The woman changed her tactic. "Mr. Durlsey says he doesn't even known how the man got up there. Do you have any ideas?"
"Not a clue. There's no way to get in from the roof that I can tell and the hatch up to the attic is in the bedroom closet. He'd have to have snuck in when they weren't home, and even then I don't know what he'd be doing in the attic."
The voice on the other end of the line sighed. "Alright, Mr. Dover, I need you to stay there with Mr. Dursley until I can get an officer out to look into this."
"I understand." He'd been expecting as much, really. "I don't have any more runs today, thankfully."
"That's good. You can tell Mr. Dursley that I'll have someone there in fifteen minutes at most."
"Will do." The phone clicked dead in his hand and he looked up at Vernon Dursley who'd been standing, impatiently watching the entire conversation. "She's sending someone out."
"ABOUT TIME! Really, what do we bother paying taxes for?"
Jonathan let his client go off on another tirade and got up to refill his water glass.
In a dark clearing, far from Privet Drive, a circle of cloaked, masked figures stood, waiting, watching the irritable pacing of the half human creature they called 'Master' and 'Dark Lord'.
"Has anyone seen Wormtail?"
A figure on the opposite side of the assembly muttered, "No, thank Merlin."
The Dark Lord spun, crimson eyes narrowing. "What was that, Severus?"
"I said 'No, not since this morning.'" Fortunately the Dark Lord was half snake and snakes have notoriously bad hearing, so the lie wasn't caught, and the people on either side of Severus didn't bother to correct it. "He went out quite early on some sort of self-appointed surveillance."
"Self-appointed indeed." Hissing, the Dark Lord turned to glare into the night. "Well, we will start without him and hope, for his sake, that he does not miss the meeting all together."
The circle bowed and the meeting commenced.
Author's Note: This was spawned by a conversation with Mayura about the cost of trapping rats. Her company charges 39.99 USD, which according to the online converter I used is roughly 23 GBP. Hence the title.
Sign up to rate and review this story