Bugged!

Ever wanted to rub out every single insect in your home? Rent a tent!

Early in the afternoon of an unseasonably hot autumn day, an old flatbed truck with wooden side panels and dozens of limp, multicolor fiberglass "snakes" hanging from its back pulls into the narrow driveway of a ranch-style house in a quiet upper-middle-class neighborhood near Dadeland in South Miami. Though someone lives here, the place is deserted now. The doors are locked but all of the windows are open. A thin white braided polyurethane hose, maybe a quarter of an inch in diameter, lies coiled at the base of the front door; one end of the hose passes into the house through the open window nearest the door. A line of tiny red ants trails across the windowsill and over the hose, blissfully unaware of the fate about to befall them. Broken twigs and fallen green leaves around the periphery of the house indicate areas where shrubbery has recently been trimmed back.

Three men in red T-shirts emblazoned with the name and phone number of Guarantee/Floridian Pest Control hop out of the truck's cab. In addition to the T-shirts, the men's work uniforms consist of blue cotton pants, heavy shoes, and baseball caps. The youngest, Tory, baby-faced and light-complected, is also the heaviest. Billy, the senior member of the crew, has a medium build and a bushy mustache, and sports a black hair net under his rapidly deteriorating Oakland Raiders cap. When he scowls, Billy resembles baseball star Eddie Murray. Broad-shouldered Frank, who wears a gold chain around his neck, is the most muscular of the trio and the only one who wears his cap backward. A dozen four-inch aluminum clamps dangle from Frank's T-shirt like the jaws of animals that have bitten him and died without releasing their grip.

The men go about their business like a crack military drill team. Billy grabs a ladder from the truck and clambers atop the house while Frank and Tory survey its exterior. Billy is the "top man," the one who lays out the rectangular 30-by-60-foot soft fiberglass red and yellow (they come in a variety of colors) tarps that eventually will encase the house in a manner worthy of a working-class Christo. He accomplishes this task more by trial and error than by science. (The South Miami home requires three such tarps.) Rolled up, the tarps are heavy and bulky, almost as long as the men are tall and two or three feet in diameter. And yet Billy and Frank balance the bundled shrouds on their necks and shoulders with stunning ease, nonchalantly carrying them up to the roof, using both hands to hold on to the ladder.

Billy quickly spreads out the fiberglass coverings across the flat roof and down the sides of the house, while Frank and Tory begin clamping together the tarps' seams, taking special care to leave the coiled hose near the front door exposed. Tory and Frank carefully anchor the bottoms of the tarps with the four-foot-long fiberglass "snakes," each of which is filled with fifteen to twenty pounds of sand.

The men work hard and sweat profusely. They finish "tenting" the entire house in just under 45 minutes, then proceed to apply the final touch A a white Guarantee/Floridian sign that sits atop the home like a big white bow on a giant red and yellow Christmas present. By 2:30, Billy, Frank, and Tory are on their way to their next job.

The gas chamber has been prepped. Now it's time to bring on the executioner. Enter Raul Dominguez, Guarantee/Floridian's service manager and one of the company's three fumigators. Dominguez doesn't look like a hired killer. Eyewitnesses to his carnage would not describe the man as physically imposing; he's about five feet nine and carries a hint of padding about the midsection not uncommon in a man of 34 years. Nor does Dominguez's voice betray his capacity for slaughter; the affable assassin proudly reveals the secrets of his lethal trade in tones that range from confidently instructive to downright playful. And when he actually meets the people who, as a last resort, have contracted Dominguez's services to eradicate their foes, the polite hit man often calms their fears with a soothing speech.

"I try to make them realize that what they're doing is not that bad," Dominguez confides. "I tell them not to worry. It's no big deal."

But the truck Dominguez drives from massacre to massacre is anything but low-key: a white Ford F-150 pickup festooned with a half-dozen skull-and-crossbones signs that spell out in big block letters the words POISON and POISON GAS. That truck and the two 125-pound cylinders of Vikane (a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that kills quickly and disappears without a trace) that ride in its bed have spelled doom for hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of easy marks over the ten years that Dominguez has worked at Guarantee. Because Vikane is undetectable to human sight and smell, Dominguez pours a little chloropicrin (better known as tear gas) into a dish and allows the fumes to waft throughout the house as a warning agent, in case anyone remains in the home just tented by Billy, Frank, and Tory.

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