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  • Mr. Rodrigo's Identification Company
  • Ruvanee Pietersz Vilhauer (bio)

When the package arrived on Monday morning by overnight FedEx, a disturbance ensued. Mr. Rodrigo made an agitated phone call in his glassed-in sanctum, looking in turns horrified, elated, and apprehensive.

At first, Jay did not know what the fuss was about. The company often received overnight packages; most customers wanted prompt identification because they were desperate to find the proper means of eradicating whatever was terrorizing their children, bankrupting their businesses, devouring their belongings, or attacking their crops.

"Take pictures! Every angle, and distribute to all three!" Mr. Rodrigo shouted across the crowded office floor to Selena, the receptionist and general assistant, upon emerging from his office. "Also send me the pictures." His voice was almost a screech, reverberating over the hum of the air conditioner. The guy tended to get emotional too easily, and today, he seemed more worked up than usual. Jay hoped he would not have a heart attack and keel over in his striped tie and his button-down shirt.

The other two technicians, Kevin and Ashan, were agog at their desks, waiting for instructions. Kevin had taken off his headphones and Ashan had a pen at the ready.

Take the initiative, P.K. had advised Jay many times. Jay stood up with his hand raised. "What is the assignment, sir?" he said.

Mr. Rodrigo fanned himself with a piece of cardboard packing material. Perspiration shined on his forehead although the office was kept quite cool. He hurried toward the three technicians with a bundle of documents. "The most important assignment we have had so far," he said. His voice shook a little. Jay wondered if the customer was ill. Another person hospitalized with a spider bite? That had happened only once before. Luckily, identifying the dead culprit, which had been hand-delivered in a matchbox by the victim's anxious husband, had not been too difficult.

"Put everything else on hold," Mr. Rodrigo said. "An emergency has come up. A bookshop infestation." He blotted his forehead and cheeks [End Page 133] with a folded white handkerchief, the only vestige of Sri Lanka Jay had ever noticed on him. Mr. Rodrigo carried a spotless handkerchief in the breast pocket of his shirt every day. It was a regular cotton handkerchief like the ones that were available even in small roadside shops in Sri Lanka, not at all like the stylish pocket square P.K. had advised Jay to display when he wore a blazer.

"Ah. Books. Good, good. I was afraid this was a health problem," Ashan said, his voice hovering between a complaint and a chuckle. Ashan had a pen tucked over his ear. Another pen was in the pocket of his gray, checked bush shirt. The pocket bulged with the handkerchief he also kept in it. The shirt was hanging over his mud-brown pants, which had the floppiness of cheap polyester. The guy had no idea about business dress. And there he goes again, making light of everything, Jay thought.

However emotional Mr. Rodrigo got, he rarely got angry with the office workers. He was usually very encouraging to Ashan, more than to Jay or Kevin. Jay found this favoritism galling, especially because Jay was the one who had a connection, however remote, to Mr. Rodrigo. But now Jay thought he saw a shadow of a frown pass over Mr. Rodrigo's face. "This is just as urgent as a health problem," Mr. Rodrigo said. "A life or death matter, you could say. For the company, at least."

That got everyone's attention.

Mr. Rodrigo waved a piece of creamy notepaper at them. Jay glimpsed a gold embossed letterhead on it. "This is from Siegel Rare Books in Hoboken," Mr. Rodrigo said. "Their regular pest control service is not available, they are saying. They got several overseas shipments recently and now there is a big problem in the shop. An infestation, thousands of books at stake. And we are not talking about a Barnes & Noble here. These books are worth hundreds, thousands of dollars. Each!"

"My, my!" Ashan said. Jay thought he sounded like an old woman. He could imagine his...


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pp. 133-144
Launched on MUSE
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