Non Gratum Anus Rodentum

06/06/23

There are at least seven ways to kill a person with a ballpoint pen.

I read that somewhere once. Too bad the author didn’t describe any of them. If I knew one I might’ve tried it.

I guess I could‘ve just stabbed the Bic in my hand through the man’s eye and into his brain. That’s probably one of the ways. But, then again, a move like that is likely a lot easier said than done, especially considering that the eye and the brain in question belonged to a six-foot-six, 240 pound ex-con with a gun to my head and I was a cancer-ridden 70-year-old who stood barely five-foot-four in work boots. So I used the pen to do what he told me and drew him a map on the back of an unopened envelope sent from a doctor’s office and marked “Overdue”. I didn’t need it. I had plenty more where that came from.

I got the cancer from all the Agent Orange I sucked into my lungs in Vietnam.  

“It’s not there, I’m coming back and our second talk won’t be so friendly,” he said as he grabbed the map and headed out the door and into the woods behind my trailer-house.

I coughed my ugly, wet cough, spat into a Kleenex, wadded it up and tossed onto the pile.

He’d planned to make me go with him and show him where I buried the stolen diamonds but the monitor strapped to my ankle changed his mind. The West Virginia Penal System made me wear it when they let me out early on account of how the prison’s over-crowded and I’m old and sick and not worth worrying too much about anymore anyway.

I got the stuff I buried out in the woods from the jewelry store I robbed 30 years ago.

In ‘Nam I’d been a tunnel rat. Spent my hitch crawling through the web of underground passages dug by the Viet Cong . Our motto was “Non Gratum Anus Rodentum”; Latin–-or near enough to it–-for “not worth a rat’s ass.” Summed me up pretty well, I guess. Poor kid from the hollers who couldn’t afford to go to college or to Canada to avoid the draft. Government figured I belonged down in those holes. I got damned good at the job.

Wriggling through those sewer pipes to get up into that jewelry store’s basement wasn’t any harder. Just smelled worse. Barely.

I knew tunnels. I didn’t know safes. Old Army buddy hooked me up with a pro. Guy was good at cracking ‘em. Wasn’t so good at keeping his cool, though. Beat cop saw the glare of a flashlight in the window and interrupted us. Safe-cracker shot him dead.

Guy was also no good at keeping his mouth shut. Threw me under the bus for a chance at a lighter sentence. Claimed I was the triggerman. I didn’t even have a gun.

At least they never found my half of the loot. I know how to bury stuff.

Last few months I’ve been playing chicken with the Big C, determined to hang on until the day I could finally retrieve my ill-gotten gains. Way I figured it, the jewelry store’s insurance policy reimbursed them for the loss years ago. That stuff didn’t belong to nobody but me now. I planned to cash it in and leave the money to my daughter and her kids, something to haul them out of the hole poverty dug my family before I was even born. Almost made it, too. Sentence nearly up. Then this asshole came to take it away. He’d been the safe-cracker’s cellmate. That guy stillcan’t keep his mouth shut.

Wasn’t for the ankle monitor I’d be out there with this man right now. Sick as I am, he’d probably make me do the digging. Then I’d have to disarm the booby trap I set, the kind I’d learned about the hard way down in those tunnels in Vietnam.

But he settled for making me draw him a map.

The explosion rattled the trailer’s window glass.

Turns out, there are at least eight ways to kill a person with a ballpoint pen.

~ fin ~

Scott Sullivan

Born and raised in a small town in Kentucky, Scott Sullivan currently lives and works in Los Angeles where he writes and executive-produces Reacher on Amazon Prime and FUBAR on Netflix.