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TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN T.C. Boyle, in Without a Hero and Other Stories - page 3 / 4





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the flies began piling up on the windowsills like drift, naturally the geckos feasted on them, stuffing themselves till they looked like sausages crawling up the walls. Where before they moved so fast you could never be sure you'd seen them, now they waddled across the floor, laid around in the corners, clung to the air vents like magnets-and even then no one paid much attention to them till they started turning belly-up in the streets. Believe me, we confirmed a lot of things there about the buildup of these products as you move up the food chain and the efficacy-or lack thereof-of certain methods, no doubt about that.... The cats? That's where it got sticky, really sticky. You see, nobody really lost any sleep over a pile of dead lizards-though we did the tests routinely and the tests confirmed what we'd expected, that is, the product had been concentrated in the geckos because of the sheer number of contaminated flies they consumed. But lizards are one thing and cats are another. These people really have an affection for their cats-no house, no hut, no matter how primitive, is without at least a couple of them. Mangy-looking things, long-legged and scrawny, maybe, not at all the sort of animal you'd see here, but there it was: they loved their cats. Because the cats were functional, you understand-without them, the place would have been swimming in rodents inside of a week.

You're right there, Senator, yes-that's exactly what happened. You see, the cats had a field day with these feeble geckos-you can imagine, if any of you have ever owned a cat, the land of joy these animals must have experienced to see their nemesis, this ultra- quick lizard, and it's just barely creeping across the floor like a bug. Well, to make a long story short, the cats ate up every dead and dying geckos in the country, from snout to tail, and then the cats began to die ... which to my mind would have been no great loss if it wasn't for the rats. Suddenly there were rats everywhere-you couldn't drive down the street without running over half-a-dozen of them at a time. They fouled the grain supplies, fell in the wells and died, bit infants as they slept in their cradles. But that wasn't the worst, not by a long shot. No, things really went down the tube after that. Within the month we were getting scattered reports of bubonic plague, and of course we tracked them all down and made sure the people got a round of treatment with antibiotics, but still we lost a few and the rats kept coming....

It was my plan, yes. I was brainstorming one night, rats scuttling all over the trailer like something out of a cheap horror film, the villagers in a panic over the threat of the plague and the stream of nonstop hysterical reports from the interior-people were turning black, swelling up and bursting, that sort of thing-well, as I say, I came up with a plan, a stopgap, not perfect, not cheap; but at this juncture, I'm sure your agree, something had to be implemented. We wound up going as far as Australia for some of the cats, cleaning out the SPCA facilities and what-have-you, though we rounded most of them up in Indonesia and Singapore-approximately fourteen thousand in all. And yes, it cost us-cost us upfront purchase money and aircraft fuel and pilots' overtime and all the rest of it- but we really felt there was no alternative. It was like all nature had turned against us.

And yet still, all things considered, we made a lot of friends for the U.S.A. the day we dropped those cats, and you should have seen them, gentlemen, the little parachutes and harnesses we'd tricked up, fourteen thousand of them, cats in every color of the rainbow, cats with one ear, no ears, half a tail, three-legged cats, cats that could have taken pride of show in Springfield, Massachusetts, and all of them twirling down out of the sky like great big oversized snowflakes....

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