It was a Usual Day at Dad's office -- note that I did not say "Normal" day, just a usual one.
Dad was behind his desk contemplating a set of blueprints and absent-mindedly feeling about for a mug, while Dad's Brit Buddy Tom sat sideways in a chair, running a slide rule and swearing creatively at the results.
This scene was disrupted as a gentleman with a plaid scarf wrapped over his nose and mouth, garbage bags put over his hands and run up to his armpits where they were held fast by several feet of gaffer tape, said hands being used to wave a gardening trowel in my fathers general direction, burst into the office.
"You," he announced in tones of Imminent Doom (with more than a trace of California lilt), "Have A Problem."
"Too right," snarled Tom, "There is no bloody way you can put two long tons of ore into a crusher and wind up with four-and-a-half long tons of gravel. Not sodding possible."
"Listen to me!" shrieked Mr. Plaid as he slammed a plastic-wrapped fist on the desk.
Dad raised an eyebrow, reached out and hooked a forefinger in the scarf and dragged it past the chin. "What's on your mind, Hammond?"
The local Peace Corp rep pointed a trembling finger at the ceiling: "Disease! Infection -- maybe viral. Possibly a plague of Biblical proportions!"
Tom patted him on the shoulder, "Let me guess: You're at the khazi, and it feels like some rat bastard snuck razor blades into your morning cuppa, am I right?"
"You don't understand -- something is killing them!"
"Oh, I'm sure it seems that way, but I assure you - one shot, maybe two - and Bob's your uncle. Be a whole new man day after next."
"You're not listening to me!"
So saying, the just-a-hair-under-full-blown-panicky Peace Corp rep chivvied Tom and my father to the front porch of the office, there to gaze upon one very deceased example of rattus rattus.
"See?! And that's not the only one! There're five more along the east side of the building, all dead with blood coming out of their noses, just like this one!"
My father sighed gently as he performed a Migraine Salute, "Hammond, I have children -- both boys, both about ten years old."
"He does," affirmed Tom, helpfully, "I've seen them."
"I understand," proclaimed Hammond, "And I want you to understand that we will everything in out power to prevent this disease from jumping species."
"Listen to me: the rats are more in danger from my kids, than my kids are from the rats. Trust me on this one. You've got your shorts into a knot over nothing."
Hammond gave my father a look of compassionate pity, and confided sotto voce to Tom, "Denial. We see it all the time."
Tom, already having sensed an opportunity for mischief, nodded happily, "Knee-deep in it. Terrible. Terrible."
Dad sighed, cocked an eyebrow at his Right Hand Rotter and the Peace Corp rep, gave a 'Do What You Have To Do' wave of his hand, and headed back to his office.
Hammond rubbed his garbage-bag-wrapped hands together,"Right. We're going to need some dry-ice, a Styrofoam container and some plastic ..."
Four weeks later, the Telex in Dad's office chattered to life:
FROM: [REDACTED MAJOR TEXAS UNIVERSITY]
TO: J. HAMMOND
-BEGIN MESSAGE- YOU HAVE OUTBREAK OF QUARTERNUTITIS -STOP- DISEASE DEADLY TO SMALL ANIMALS -COMMA- BUT NO RECORDED DEATHS IN HUMANS OR LARGE ANIMALS -STOP- DISEASE VECTOR IS USUALLY SMALL MALE CHILDREN WITH SLINGSHOTS -STOP- NO SUGGESTED PROPHYLAXIS -COMMA- TRADITIONAL TREATMENT INVOLVES APPLICATION OF HICKORY IF DISEASE INFECTS BREAKABLE OBJECTS -STOP- LARGE BILL AND LETTER TO FOLLOW -END MESSAGE-
Quarternutitis. I don't know who was measuring things down there, but Chris and I never used anything smaller than 3/8ths.
Tom and the rest of the Usual Suspects were paying us a handsome bounty for each rat -- and if we pulled off a difficult or spectacular shot in front of the engineers, we usually got a pretty hefty bonus.
I miss those slingshots. One of the engineers had hand-carved the grips out of African mahogany and powered the things with two lengths of surgical tubing per side. Chris and I rarely ventured out of the house without them and a pocket full of 3/8ths nuts.
I never see kids out with slingshots these days, and that tends to sadden me.