In the back of a taxi, Andy Garson fussed with his tie to alleviate the gradual strangulation. His sport jacket felt a size too small.
“Stop fidgeting.” Andy’s fiance, Mabel Trent, looked into a compact mirror and put the finer touches on her face.
“I’m not used to this,” said Andy.
“Can you be just a little sociable with my friends this time?” Mabel closed her compact and dropped it into her purse. “For me?”
“Come on.” Andy folded his arms and tilted his head.
Mabel smacked her lips. “Why do you hate them?”
“I don’t hate them. I just find their pretentiousness intolerable.”
“How pretentious of you.” She punctuated her scorn with a glare.
Andy rolled his eyes. “You got me.”
“If you’d get to know them, you’d find there’s a lot more to them.”
“Why do you insist on torturing me?” Andy rested his face in his palm.
“Make an effort,” Mabel said. “Just ask a few questions.”
“They’re not interested in me. Why should I be interested in them?”
“You haven’t given them a chance. For all you know, they might find pest control fascinating. The way you ignore them, they think you are the one not interested.”
“Why discour….” The hurt look on Mabel’s face interrupted him. “Fine. I’ll make an effort.”
People, presumably all Mabel’s friends, packed the Huntington’s very spacious brownstone. After forcing a big smile for Lee and Winnie Huntington, the party already smothered Andy, so he slithered downstairs to the recreation room where it was a little less tight, but no less noisy. A few fops off to the side sat at a round table and drank Sherry.
“What the hell,” Andy muttered. He raised his hand. “Hi. How y’all doing?”
“Just fine,” said a balding man with a salt-and-pepper beard. “Care for some Sherry?”
“I’d love some,” said Andy. He’d never had Sherry. “Andy Garson.” He held out his hand. “Exterminator extraordinaire.” Might as well let them know the trailer park had arrived.
They introduced themselves as two financiers and a brain surgeon. James Brett, the brain surgeon, seemed grateful to see him, probably being the odd man out. The conversation between the financiers quickly left Andy and James behind.
“So.” Andy sipped the Sherry, which had a pleasant tang. “Brain surgeon, eh? How long did it take to become one of those?”
“More than a decade. A lot longer than it took to become an exterminator.”
“Really?” said Andy. “Because I spent years studying for this job. I’ve got certs from the Academy of Bugs and everything.”
“You should be very proud.”
“So tell me, James.” Andy swallowed the rest of the Sherry in one gulp. “How many cow brains have you transplanted into humans?”
“Be truthful. It must be millions, because I’ve met an amazing number of doe-eyed bovines over the years.” He set the glass on the table.
“You make fun,” said James.
Andy stood. “It’s all right. You don’t have to tell me. Secrets of the brotherhood, I suppose. Nice talking to you.” He moved along toward the sliding glass doors in back and found some IT guys on the patio talking about stupid users.
“Have a Courvoisier.” A guy in an outdoor lounging chair poured him a glass. “They call me ‘Happy.’ I’m a web developer, what do you do?”
“Mostly I don’t measure people by their occupation,” said Andy. He took a sip of the Courvoisier, and it gave his mouth the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
“Fair enough,” said Happy. “I’m just a little proud of it right now. I broke seven figures this year.”
He just can’t help himself. “Web developer?”
“So tell me, Happy. Where do you guys go to become so skilled at annoying people?”
“Well, yeah.” Andy gulped down the rest of the Courvoisier with one swig. “I mean it’s the number one accomplishment in y’all’s profession. Pop-ups, spontaneous videos, forced logins. How do you come by such superior ability? I mean you’re right up there with bad wheels on shopping carts, opening cereal from the bottom, and people who leave their dog’s poo in the park.”
“Hey, a man has to earn a living.”
“You do what you’ve got to do, I guess.” Andy poured himself another swig and gulped it down. “Anyway, the training must have been good.”
He stood and walked back into the rec room. He found a guy who built embassies, and when he said he preferred a more noble profession than pest control, Andy helped him out with his Dom Perignon and browbeat him about the secret embassies built for extraterrestrials. Then he drank a psychiatrist’s Blanton’s as he inquired about programming assassins.
“Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the pesticides,” said the psychiatrist.
“What?” said Andy. “What are you talking about.”
“Side-effects. You’re as thin-skinned a man as I’ve ever met. Yet you manifest it in outrageous fashion. I wouldn’t mind studying you if you’re up for it.”
“Wait a minute.” Andy gulped down the last of his Blantons. “I’m just reacting to all the pretentious attitudes around here.”
“Heaven forbid they should judge you, eh?”
“Pish-posh,” Andy threw his nose in the air and strutted up the stairs.
Mabel ruffled Andy’s hair. “Thank you, sweetie.”
“For making an effort.” She squeezed his arm as they walked out the front door. “Several people came up to me tonight and told me to bring you back next time. They really liked you.”
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“No.” He waved for a cab. “That wasn’t hard at all.”