There were these water bugs in Finch’s apartment and they showed up every summer. Finch had no idea how they got into the place, maybe from holes cut around the pipes under the kitchen sink, or from holes cut around the central air conditioner unit situated in one of his closets.
These were big bugs: “Croton Bugs,” they called them in New York State. They were about the size of a small mouse and they made a hell of a racket, especially if one accidentally dropped into a box of papers. You could hear this thing flinging itself at the walls of the box as it tried to make its way out.
It almost sounded like somebody was playing a game of dice in there.
The first summer that the bugs appeared, Finch showed them no mercy. He’d run them down in the middle of the night, moving furniture, wielding a heavy Brooklyn phone book and smashing their bodies into goo before they could reproduce and create a thousand more of their kind.
But this method of killing had disadvantages. There was of course the mess that had to be cleaned up, and worse, the guilty feeling of having snuffed out the life of a fellow being that the History Channel had proclaimed was going to be Finch’s likely successor on Earth.
So Finch had lately changed his approach, using a trick that his father had showed him almost fifty years before. When you spotted a big insect that couldn’t fly, you didn’t panic and become murderous: you just got a drinking glass from the kitchen and, when the moment was right, put the glass down over the creature, trapping him. The next step was to get a nice, stiff, flat piece of cardboard like a U.S. Express Mail envelope and slip it under the glass.
Using both hands, one on the glass and one pressing underneath the cardboard to maintain a tight seal, Finch could transport the trapped creature to an open window and, with one strong motion, hurl it away. The bug would sail downward, usually land on its back, lie there for a moment stunned, then flip itself over and scurry into the shadows.
When the bug was outside, and Finch was back in bed, staring at the dark ceiling as adrenaline levels returned to normal, he sometimes wondered whether he wasn’t being a fool. Could it be that it this very moment, the ejected bug was crawling back through the dark passages that led to his apartment? That instead of trapping a dozen bugs in July, he had only trapped one, the same one, again and again?
The truth was that water bugs were very hard to distinguish from each other. Even after they finished racing around the inner surface of the drinking glass and paused, exhausted, on the cardboard surface, staring out at Finch with antennae waving, they all looked the same.
Finch turned over in his bed, unsatisfied. The only thing he knew was that there was an endpoint to this nightly ritual: the appearance of the bugs would taper off when the cold weather returned. Life would soon return to normal, and the drinking glass would stay on the rack for another nine months, waiting for a human guest.