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Rats in the belfry, p.1
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       Rats in the Belfry, p.1

           Bryce Walton
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Rats in the Belfry

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  Rats in the Belfry


  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January1943. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: This house was built to specifications that were strangeindeed; and the rats that inhabited it were stranger still!]

  This little guy Stoddard was one of the toughest customers I'd ever donebusiness with. To look at him you'd think he was typical of the mildpleasant little sort of suburban home owner who caught the eight-oh-twosix days a week and watered the lawn on the seventh. Physically, hisappearance was completely that of the inconspicuous average citizen.Baldish, fortiesh, bespectacled, with the usual behind-the-desk baywindow that most office workers get at his age, he looked like nothingmore than the amiable citizen you see in comic cartoons on suburbanlife.

  Yet, what I'm getting at is that this Stoddard's appearance wasdistinctly deceptive. He was the sort of customer that we in thecontracting business would label as a combination grouser and eccentric.

  When he and his wife came to me with plans for the home they wantedbuilt in Mayfair's second subdivision, they were already full of ideason exactly what they wanted.

  This Stoddard--his name was George B. Stoddard in full--hadpainstakingly outlined about two dozen sheets of drafting paper withsome of the craziest ideas you have ever seen.

  "These specifications aren't quite down to the exact inchage, Mr.Kermit," Stoddard had admitted, "for I don't pretend to be a first classarchitectural draftsman. But my wife and I have had ideas on what sortof a house we want for years, and these plans are the result of ouryears of decision."

  I'd looked at the "plans" a little sickly. The house they'd decided onwas a combination of every architectural nightmare known to man. It wasthe sort of thing a respectable contractor would envision if he everhappened to be dying of malaria fever.

  I could feel them watching me as I went over their dream charts.Watching me for the first faint sign of disapproval or amusement ordisgust on my face. Watching to snatch the "plans" away from me and walkout of my office if I showed any of those symptoms.

  "Ummmhumm," I muttered noncommittally.

  "What do you think of them, Kermit?" Stoddard demanded.

  I had a hunch that they'd been to contractors other than me. Contractorswho'd been tactless enough to offend them into taking their businesselsewhere.

  "You have something distinctly different in mind here, Mr. Stoddard," Ianswered evasively.

  George B. Stoddard beamed at his wife, then back to me.

  "Exactly, sir," he said. "It is our dream castle."

  I shuddered at the expression. If you'd mix ice cream with pickles andbeer and herring and lie down for a nap, it might result in a dreamcastle.

  "It will be a difficult job, Mr. Stoddard," I said. "This is no ordinaryjob you've outlined here."

  "I know that," said Stoddard proudly. "And I am prepared to pay for theextra special work it will probably require."

  That was different. I perked up a little.

  "I'll have to turn over these plans to my own draftsman," I told him,"before I can give you an estimate on the construction."

  George B. Stoddard turned to his wife.

  "I told you, Laura," he said, "that sooner or later we'd find acontractor with brains and imagination."

  * * * * *

  It took fully two months haggling over the plans with Stoddard and myown draftsmen before we were able to start work on the nightmare myclients called their dream castle. Two months haggling in an effort tomake Stoddard relinquish some of his more outlandish ideas on hisproposed dwelling. But he didn't budge an inch, and by the time we'dlaid the foundation for the dream shack, every last building quirk he'dhad originally on those "plans" still held.

  I took a lot of ribbing from contractors in that vicinity once the wordgot round that I was building Stoddard's house for him. It seems thathe'd been to them all before he got around to me.

  But I didn't mind the ribbing much at first. Even though Stoddard was abarrel full of trouble hanging around the building lot with an eagle eyeto see that nothing was omitted, I had already cashed his first fewpayment checks on the construction.

  He'd meant what he said about his willingness to pay more for the extratrouble entailed in the mad construction pattern we had to follow, and Icouldn't call him stingy with his extra compensation by a long shot.

  Financially, I was doing nicely, thank you. Mentally, I was having thedevil's own time with Stoddard.

  He didn't know a damned thing about architecture or construction, ofcourse. But he did know what he wanted. Good Lord, how he knew what hewanted!

  "The basement boiler layout isn't what I had on my plans!" he'd call meup to squawk indignantly.

  "But it isn't greatly different the way we have it," I'd plead."Besides, it's far safer than what you originally planned."

  "Is it humanly possible to put it where I planned it?" my troublesomeclient would demand.

  "Yes," I'd admit. "But saf--"

  "Then put it where I planned it!" he would snap, hanging up. And, ofcourse, I'd have to put it where he'd planned it.

  The workmen on the job also presented a problem. They were getting fedup with Stoddard's snooping, and going crazy laying out patterns whichwere in absolute contradiction to sanity and good taste.

  But in spite of all this, the monstrosity progressed.

  If you can picture a gigantic igloo fronted by southern mansion pillarsand dotted with eighteenth century gables, and having each wing done ina combination early Mexican and eastern Mosque style, you'll have justthe roughest idea of what it was beginning to look like. For milesaround, people were driving out to see that house in the evenings afterconstruction men had left.

  But the Stoddards were pleased. They were as happy about the whole messas a pair of kids erecting a Tarzan dwelling in a tree. And the extracompensations I was getting for the additional trouble wasn't hurting meany.

  * * * * *

  I'll never forget the day when we completed the tiny belfry which toppedoff the monstrosity. Yes, a belfry. Just the kind you still see onlittle country churches and schoolhouses, only, of course a trifledifferent.

  The Stoddards had come out to the lot to witness this momentous event;the completion, practically, of their dream child.

  I was almost as happy as they were, for it stood as the symbol of theending of almost all the grief for me.

  My foreman came over to where I was standing with the Stoddards.

  "You gonna put a bell in that belfry?" he asked.

  George Stoddard looked at him as if he'd gone mad.

  "What for?" he demanded.

  "So you can _use_ the belfry," the foreman said.

  "Don't be so ridiculous, my good man," Stoddard snorted. "It will be ofpleasurable use enough to us, just _looking_ at it."

  When the foreman had marched off, scratching his head, I turned to theStoddards.

  "Well, it's almost done," I said. "Pleased with it?"

  Stoddard beamed. "You have no idea, Mr. Kermit," he said solemnly, "whata tremendous moment this is for my wife and me."

  I looked at the plain, drab, smiling Laura Stoddard. From the shine inher eyes, I guess Stoddard meant what he said. Then I looked up at thebelfry, and shuddered.

  As I remarked before, even the belfry wasn't quite like any belfry humaneyes had ever seen before. It angled in all the way around in asconfusing a maze of geometrical madness you have eve
r seen. It was apatterned craziness, of course, having some rhyme to it, but no reason.

  Looking at it, serenely topping that crazy-quilt house, I had theimpression of its being an outrageously squashed cherry topping, thewhipped cream of as madly a concocted sundae that a soda jerk ever made.A pleasant impression.

  Stoddard's voice broke in on my somewhat sickish contemplation.

  "When will we be able to start moving in?" he asked eagerly.

  "The latter part of next week," I told him. "We should have it set bythen."

  "Good," said Stoddard. "Splendid." He put his arm around his wife, andthe two of them stared starry eyed at their home. It made a lump come toyour throat, seeing the
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