The Rat Trap Murders

By Maureen Foss

The Rat Trap Murders
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This intricate, sinister thriller takes place in a private geriatric hospital, where nurses and patients begin disappearing only to turn up in the local sewage system. Tense and dramatic, Maureen Foss's narrative joins a unique cast of characters with an unforgettable plot of ... Read more


This intricate, sinister thriller takes place in a private geriatric hospital, where nurses and patients begin disappearing only to turn up in the local sewage system. Tense and dramatic, Maureen Foss's narrative joins a unique cast of characters with an unforgettable plot of murder, mystery, suspense - and rats.

When the hospital caretaker is found dead at the bottom of
the sixth floor stairwell, Eugene Starbuck comes to the rescue - and to apply for the dead man's job. The unsuspecting triplet brothers who own the facility are only too happy to have him: he works for next to nothing, lives in the furnace room where he can be on constant duty, and doesn't mind emptying the rat traps stationed all over the hospital.

Was Eugene's sudden appearance completely coincidental, or was it all part of a gruesome and twisted plan? Some nurses and patients die, and circumstances point to Eugene. But catching him may be a trial in itself, as those who confront him mysteriously end up missing.

Maureen Foss

Born in New Westminster, Maureen Foss has lived in several western Canadian locales and made her living as a hospital activity worker. Now retired, she focuses her attention on writing. She is the author of the novels The Rat Trap Murders (Nightwood) and The Cadillac Kind (Polestar), as well as a number of award-winning short stories. Her latest book is Scribes (Caitlin). Foss lives with her husband Dave in Garden Bay on BC's Sunshine Coast.



Less than two hours later, a round-shouldered garbage truck lumbers a day early through the murky potholes of the hospital parking lot. The driver and a swamper bounce on the cracked plastic seats until the truck stops before the dumpsters. The hoist engages and hugs the first dumpster as if they're about to dance, but their sedate waltz takes a wild turn when the brawny metal arms, raising the container from the ground, tip it dramatically above the cab. The dumpster lid opens as if in amazement and disgorges its contents into the dark hold below. This dance is repeated with each bin until all four are emptied. As the compactor blade kicks in, the driver stares outside into the cab scope mirror reflecting the truck's cargo. "What the hell?" he says, and shuts off the compactor.

"What's eating you?" gripes his swamper, who is searching for a usable cigarette butt in the ashtray. He blows cold ashes off a two-inch stub.

"I think," the driver says slowly, "I just saw a foot."


I just saw a goddamn foot in the load!" He rolls down the window, jabbing a finger toward the reflecting mirror. "Go check it out."

"No chance."

"Hey, come on," pleads the driver, rubbing his knee. "I'm just off Compo."

The swamper crosses his arms and backs into his corner, the unlit butt hanging from his lip. "Yer in charge."

"Goddamn right!" the driver says at the reminder, slamming the door as he leaves.

"Are you Mr. Harvey?" The woman is waiting for him as he approaches his office. She waves her arm weakly in the direction of his door. "I was trying to rouse you, but..." Her hands butterfly while she searches for words. "I-I knocked but you weren't there, you see. Well, of course, I see you're here now, arent you?"

"What can I help you with?" he says, unlocking the door. Dibbley must be sending out reinforcements.

"I'm Dorothy from the administration office," she says, "and the Brothers sent me to fetch you."

"Yes?" he urges.

"There's a man from a garbage truck yelling and running around the office. Well, actually, there are two men."

"And you want me to throw them out?"

The woman peers over her glasses to read the lettering on the door. "You are Hospital Security?" She crooks her finger, coaxing him to follow and waits while he relocks the
door. "We're phoning the police but until they get here, you'll have to do."


"It's about the body they found." Her crepe-soled orthopaedic shoes make squeaky sounds as she leads the


"In the garbage," the woman says with annoyance. "You are listening, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but I don't read between the lines." By now, Harve can hear the men within the administration office. They're both yelling and pacing in front of the counter as he enters.

"Hospital Security," says Harve, using his lower official voice.

"Oh shit," says the driver, grasping Harve's lapels, "you gotta see this."

"See what?" asks Harve, prying loose the clutching fingers.

"The dead body," the two men yell in chorus.

"Where is it?"

They point toward the window. Harve leans on the sill. I dont see anything."
In the garbage truck by the dumpsters out back," the driver explains. "Come on!"

A cold chill squeezes Harve's neck. "M-maybe we should wait for the police," he cautions.

"It's a nurse," says the swamper, still mouthing the used cigarette.

"A nurse? You sure?"

"Nurse's shoes on her feet."

"Is she dead?"

"If she wasnt dead when she went in, she is now. Mac here compacted her."

Mac crumples into a chair, his head in his hands.

"Water, sir?" asks Dorothy-from-Administration.

Harve urges the swamper to come with him, leaving Mac in Dorothy's fluttery hands.

"What's the name?" says Harve, thumbing his notebook. "Who knows? It's Mac's body. I never saw her."

"Not her name, yours." He licks the pen, waiting.


"G.B.'s not a name."
G.B. Jones." The swamper finds a wooden match, strikes it on his thumbnail and touches it to the cigarette remains.

"What's G.B. stand for?"

"You aint the cops, right?"


"Then I aint tellin'."

"You guys have this vehicle officially inspected lately?" asks Harve, thumping the rust-eaten fender.

"Gale Beverley."

"Right." Harve makes his notes and slides the book inside his jacket. "Now where's this body?"

Harve discovers it's not easy climbing onto the receiving end of the sizable truck, but he grabs the handhold and hauls himself onto the platform to peer inside the stinking interior. Identifiable bits of food cling to the metal walls.

"So where's the body?"

"Sort of at the back, on top. Mac says it's a busted-open orange-coloured bag. Like you use for garden stuff."

There are only two orange bags that he can see on the surface of the refuse, one down near the front, the other at the top. If he has to dig for more, forget it. Not in his job description. A little like rock climbing, he thinks as he proceeds gingerly on all fours. When he jostles the first orange bag, its insides spill and Harve recoils in disgust as long thick strands of mouldy spaghetti slither through the ragged tear.

"How much they pay you to do this?" he yells back at G.B. Jones.

"Not enough."

Harve's gut is reacting to the surroundings when his leathersoled shoe slips, and he flails for something to grab onto. The bags beneath him stir, their delicate balance shifting. One squeezes out of alignment, tumbling to the bottom. The next follows and the next.

"Whoa!" yells Harve, crossing his forearms over his face. The load is up to his knees before it stabilizes.

He drops his arms when the slide abates, and as he lifts his foot to extract himself, he sees her directly before him. A wedge of white uniform. The bend of a knee above rumpled white socks. A thumbtack embedded in the sole of a white shoe.

"What'sa matter?" asks the swamper, hearing the bellow.

Harve struggles to free himself without actually touching anything but in the end must put his hand on the sludgecoated walls.

"You're a mess," says the swamper.

"No shit," says Harve as he resumes breathing outside the truck.

In the distance the sound of a siren draws closer.

Eugene wakes after a restless few hours with the disturbing feeling he's missed something. He rolls onto his back, his eyes tracing the highway of cracks on the ceiling as he reviews the morning's activities. Finally, he throws back the covers and, clad in his underwear, fills the kettle and plugs it in. He remains agitated, staring up into the far corner for inspiration as he has his tea and toast. Something feels wrong. Something left undone.

A sudden light brightens his face. "Whad'ya know?" he says, amused. "Forgot to get a souvenir." The feeling of unease vanishes, leaving him almost cheerful.
After pulling coveralls over yesterday's jeans and shirt, he searches the tool box, noisily pushing aside rusting pliers and coiled wire to get at the pruning shears. Just a small keepsake from Mickey. Toes'll be easy to get at.

Outside the wind has picked up, swirling blackened leaves across the parking lot, but Eugene's attention as he exits the back door is rivetted on the red and blue lights pulsing through the billowing exhaust of an idling police car. He steps back, groping for the door handle, but when he sees something that alarms him more, he changes his mind. Somebody is leaning against his truck. The swamper, warily watching Eugene approach, throws down his bummed cigarette, grinding it into the pavement next
to the remains of several others and burrows his hands deep into opposing sleeves, stamping his feet to restore feeling.

"Whad'ya doing?" asks Eugene, eyeing the back of his truck for any signs of interference.

"Waiting," says the swamper, his breath streaming.

"Colder than a witch's tit, eh?" He continues to shuffle from one foot to the other.

"Waitin' for what?" Eugene straightens a corner of the tarp flipped by the wind.

"For the goddamn coroner who is taking her sweet time." G.B. Jones glances past Eugene to where the garbage truck hunkers. Eugene follows his gaze. The police car sits empty, its dome lights staining the fog.

"Whad'ya want a coroner for?"

I don't want her, they do," he points, withdrawing his sleeved hand. "The cops and that hospital security guy." He crosses his arms over his chest, tucking his fingers under his armpits, seeking warmth.

"What happened?" Eugene asks.

Through the car's exhaust a lone figure, bulky in leather jacket and police paraphernalia, walks toward the two men.

"Found a stiff," the swamper replies. "Had to be in my garbage truck." He turns his back to the advancing officer. I'm losing money waiting around here. We're not union," he states, shaking his head. "No work, no fucking money."

"Better see what he wants," advises Eugene, backing away from his truck. "Gluck."

The cop yells for the swamper to move his tail, and waits, thumbs hooked into his leather pockets.

That's MY body in the dumpster, Eugene tells himself. He has plans for her. In his anger, his breath plumes out dragonlike. They have no business messing with his property.

He doesn't go inside the building right away, but waits until the swamper and the cop disappear behind the garbage truck, and feigns a casual saunter back toward his
half-ton, keeping an eye on the proceedings at the other end of the lot. The pruning shears are warm against his palm. He stands on the bumper and swings a leg over the tailgate. Before setting to work, he steals another look around, tenting the tarp so only he can see Mickey's feet, stiff and white, the thick toenails flecked with bits of tangerine-coloured nail polish.

"Like prunin' the ivy," he says, fitting the cutters against the smallest toe. He takes the one next to it as well, for the sake of convenience. Too damn cold to be choosy.
A dark car bearing the coroner's insignia passes as he shunts bags around, weighing down the tarp. The coroner gives him a sidelong glance which he doesn't acknowledge. With the toes and the nippers in his pocket, he walks toward the hospital, hunching his back against the cruel slap of February.

Eugene returns to his room to warm up and organize his souvenirs. With all this unwanted activity out back, he's uneasy about dumping Mickey, but instead of pacing off his restless energy, he selects a magazine from the pile. The girl on the cover recoils in mock terror from a hairy hand holding a braided leather whip handle. Her scarlet-tipped. fingers hold pieces of gauzy uniform across her heaving bosom, nurse's cap set in a tumble of white-blonde curls. Eugene takes the magazine to his cot, undoes the top button and the zipper of his jeans and lies down. He gropes between the bed and the wall for the towel, stiff with previous pornographic satisfactions.

After zipping up his pants, he clasps his hands behind his head, working through his plan for Mickey's disposal. He will stop just past the same manhole he used for the other old lady, so that when he lowers the tailgate the hole is right there. He'll lift the hood on the truck as if he is having engine trouble, pry the manhole cover off enough to dump her in and slide it back. Should be enough runoff to take her right down to the plant. He knows she'll move along better in the plastic bag, although he thinks it would be funnier if she was found stuck to the grating by all fours, like a cartoon cat on a screen door. All he asks is a little recognition, somebody to find her during the night so he can make the next day's papers.

Now he jumps up and begins pacing, waving his hands as he talks to himself "Too bad about the nurse in the dumpster. Could'a used her, too. Maybe that fat cafeteria broad who slops out the stew could be next." He visualizes her turning on a spit with an apple in her mouth, but the vision fades when he decides she's too big and not worth the effort. "Now, that mouthy nurse who went down the stairs, she'll do. Or that son-of-a-bitch security dick with the toy knife." He stops pacing and stares off, eyes unfocussed. In his mind, a one-celled idea splits and evolves into a higher order.
It is nearly five o'clock when Harve phones Annie, two hours later than promised, to invite himself over, happy to do so after a set-to with Felicia. Now, from his car parked behind hers, he can see Annie sitting in her kitchen, the newspaper propped before her. Harve turns off the Caddy but it runs on, coughing politely before it dies. He checks himself in the mirror, noting he needs a haircut.

The past hour or so with Felicia has drained him. Reeking of garbage, he had actually made it through the door without her seeing or smelling him. But her wounded gasp as she tracked his footprints across the virgin territory of newly vacuumed rug spurred him on toward the bathroom. Only the sudden entry of her sturdy oxford had prevented him from closing the door. His gaze followed the line from shoe to support hose to wool dress to the bulldog face above, her thin lips set in disapproval. It wasnt only the stink, she announced, but the footprints as well. Didnt he realize, blah, blah, blah, how much time she spends trying to make his home beautiful? Everything clean and shiny. True, he had to admit, the furniture was as good as the day it was trucked from her place to his one long year ago. Only the plastic covering was showing signs of wear, cloudy in places, maybe a bit rubbed. He was appreciative, he had assured her. It wouldnt happen again. He must see about getting her into a bridge club.
Harve skirts Annie's house and applies his knuckles to her back door, entering at her request.

"Miss Cusco, do you realize you can be seen from the road when your lights are on?"

She shrugs. "And a good evening to you, too," she says, laying aside the paper.

"Take it from a security expert..."

"And who would that be?" she interrupts, arms crossed over her middle, chin thrust forward.

"You can be cocky as hell now, Miss, but that kind of attitude invites freaks and weirdos."

"Which is why you're here?" she says in honeyed tones.

He searches her face, wondering how to take the last remark. "I came, Miss Cusco, to apologize for doubting your intuition."

"You mean I did something right?" She motions him to sit while she clears the remaining dishes from the table.

He frowns, noting her supper had been a very orange macaroni entree, and she hadnt eaten all her mixed vegetables, the lima beans being pushed aside.

"You were saying, Mr. Harvey?" She reaches to remove the placemat, but his hand circles her wrist.

"Sit down, please."

She works her arm away and perches on the edge of the chair, not facing him. Her insides have seized into a lump, a sure sign she's about to get bad news.

"We think we've found Geneva Turrell."

"Oh," she says, clasping her hands, digging her nails in.

"There was a woman's body found today. Needs to be identified but she was wearing a uniform." He wasnt going to include the detail of her missing fingers.

She doesnt trust herself to speak.

"You were right in thinking she ... um, may have been in trouble."

Annie nods. "Where was she?"

He hesitates at the startled doe look of her eyes and rubs at a spot on the table. "In a garbage truck back of the hospital."

The lump in her throat grows too big to swallow. She stands abruptly, trying to leave the room, making it as far as the sink before breaking into tears.

Harve is helpless. He stands next to her, looking over her head at the calendar, using three fingertips to pat her shoulder. She turns, knocking the air from him as she drives herself into his chest. His arms automatically encircle her. A sudden wave of joy jolts him, but he stands immobile until she quiets and pushes away, wiping at her eyes.

"I think my ear just bled on your shirt," she says, brushing at the dot. "I'm sorry," she wails in a new wash of tears. "I made it worse."

"It's okay," Harve assures her. "Dont worry about it." He pulls his jacket over until the blood is covered. "See, it's gone."

She attempts a smile but doesnt meet his eyes. "I have to wash my face."

When she returns, he has made tea.

"I'm really sorry about your friend," Harve offers.

"What happened to her?"

He shakes his head. "Wont know until the coroner has a look."

"How did she get into the garbage truck?"

"Looks like she was thrown into one of the dumpsters. They were emptied today and that's when the driver saw her."

"It's not fair. It's just not fair." So she wont cry again, she tries her tea, even though it's too hot to swallow. "Did anybody tell poor Jimbo?"

"He's IDing her."

"Why do you look like that?" she asks, squinting still-red eyes.

"The cops think 'poor Jimbo'be a suspect."

"No way."

"They think he might have a score to settle."

"No way," she repeats.

"Then who?"

The two breathe into their cups, the only sound Hilary's purring somewhere nearby.

Annie breaks the silence. "The janitor."

"He crossed my mind."

"Did you tell the police?"

Hilary stretches, rubbing her chin against Harve's ankles.

Harve braces for the pain of ripping teeth and shredded socks. "There's no use me telling the police anything at this point," he says, shifting his feet carefully.

"Why's that?"

"To them, my course at the Private Detective College is like something stuck on the sole of their shoes."

"You know what you're doing," she says in his defence.

Harve looks from the cat to Annie, eyeing them with
equal suspicion.

"Don't you?" she adds, raising her eyebrows.

"Thank you, Miss Cusco, for the near vote of confidence."

"It's the least I can do after bleeding on your shirt."

"True," he agrees, touching the stiffening stain. "I have a gut feeling about that guy.

With Geneva's body found right there on hospital property..." He keeps count on his fingers. "You pushed..."


"... pushed down a flight of stairs."

Why do you say pushed? I can be pretty klutzy, you know."

"Have you ever done it before?"

"Not those particular stairs."

"Any stairs?"


"Did you hurt yourself?"

"No-o," Annie says slowly. "It's usually just one or two steps before you grab something. You feel stupid and hope nobody saw you, but hurt? No."

"Exactly," says Harve, jumping to his feet. "You fell how far at the hospital?"

"From top to bottom."

"You grab anything?"

"Couldn't. It happened too fast."

"Did your foot slip?"

Annie rubs her sore knee while she relives the previous night. "I really dont know. I remember that long hang in mid-air, like being pushed off a diving board when you're not ready."

"Ah-ha!" says Harve, with a confrontational finger before Annie's face. Hilary crouches beneath the table, ears back, tail switching.

"I'm not conceding that point," she says, "but continue." "He pulled a knife on me."

"Wh-a-a-t?" Annie clunks down her cup.

"Well, it's sort of a guy thing. I showed him mine and he showed me his. His was bigger."

"Was Geneva killed with a knife?"

He shakes his head. "Don't think so."

She waits while he struggles with the dilemma of how
much to tell.

Harve circles the table with the cat's eyes following his every step. "We think-and this is premature," he cautions, she may have been strangled."

Annie's eyes begin to well, but she keeps herself from crying. "God, I'm tired." She pushes her cup aside and drops her head on her folded arms. "Poor Geneva."

"I'll go now, Miss Cusco, but I'll leave my home number." He pulls the newspaper nearer, writing on the white area above the headlines. "You lock up."

She nods without raising her head.

"I'll let myself out." He tiptoes to the door, little flashes of argyle sock showing beneath his pants. The cat inches back, coiling for the spring.

Annie opens her eyes at the sharp intake of breath to see Harve frozen with his hand on the knob.

"What's the matter?"

He points urgently downward. It looks like he's wearing one fuzzy ankle-length slipper with teeth.


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