The cockroaches hadn't gotten the message that the former boarding house, newly renovated, eager to present its fourteen mid- to high-end lofts to a bull real estate market, was no longer the kind of place to live-and-let-live when it came to vermin. Its owners were an out-of-town husband and wife fighting their increasingly evident, embarrassingly located sags and discolorations by forcefully diversifying their investments—a steady source of rental income in the fastest-gentrifying neighborhood in a coastal town, a town that was seeing its first real economic boom in god knows how long, was exactly the thing to round out their joint portfolio's mercifully minor inadequacies. An eminently sensible, broadly lucrative tax-deferred retirement account opened for the wife by her own eminently sensible, broadly generous parents had given them a head start on ensuring their ultimate, total comfort long after they had stopped working, whenever that day might be.
Renovations had been conducted by the steady hands of Tarner Construction Co. Contractor and Home Repairs Company (sic), and overseen by the out-of-town wife via a weekly, exhaustive video conference/ tour of the premises: the wife, whose general fears and anxieties around gutting the boarding house, a process that would divert a not-insubstantial chunk of their annual discretionary income, were assuaged by Mr. Tarner's definitely American accent and skin tone that could easily be a little on the suspicious side of dark just because he's outside so much, one would think.
Although the basement, outfitted with a titanic boiler and racketous HVAC system during the renovations, had been largely untouched due to the eight-inch-square windows at ground level around the perimeter of the space—bringing it up to fire code for extra units or even, like, a gym or pool area would have been unconscionably expensive, and the bizarre mix of bedrock, primordial wood planks, and gravel that made up the floor was, it was agreed, just way too much of a pain in the ass to deal with in any cost-effective way.
Elsewhere original wood floors were uncovered and sanded and polished, brick left exposed and plaster artfully chipped away at, heating ducts decoratively hung and connected to nothing in particular. Her son, when he visited, would call it Tao Lin chic. She had to look up what that was, but she affected what she thought was a pleasant, knowing smile at the time, a smile which in fact was neither pleasant nor knowing—it looked, truthfully, to her son, rather like a grotesque rubber mask of Richard Nixon with a heavy application of rouge and an unflattering shade of lipstick.
The first bug emerged as caulking was being piped around the borders of a deep, farm-style sink in unit 3a, the southernmost apartment, a loft with kitchen windows facing east toward the industrially disconsolate harbor. A monstrous, thumb-sized tank of a cockroach, a bug of Clydesdalian proportions filled with a sickening paste that stained the caulk cholecyst green where one of Mr. Tarner's framers, getting time-and-a-half on some detail work in the last stretches of the job, smashed it with a gloved left hand. The framer used a putty knife to scrape the innards, thick with crunchy fragments of the cockroach's shattered casing, into the maw of a trash chute leading to the dumpster below.
Roaches do not have queens like ants or termites. There is no social organization to a cockroach infestation—they are stupid, fast, and tough, made to run and fly to food, fuck as many other roaches as possible, and survive.
Yet it was an unpleasant surprise to discover that a thorough fumigation of the basement, with emphasis on the softened wood planks suspected to be harboring the roaches' nest, only seemed to irritate them more. Small platoons of pissed off, emboldened roaches, some two fingers wide and about as long, could be found in the middle of almost any given room in the boarding house, unfazed by light and only darting to the sideboards when a foot threatened to stop their eating and fucking and ruthless survival rather more permanently.
Queue three more rounds of fumigation, tenting the entire goddamn building in yellow plastic to create a semi-airtight seal, sending high-toxicity smoke through the entire building for a full 24h, again, this happened three separate times, and each time finding only a handful of roach carcasses in each room, legs splayed to the sky in defiant martyrdom. The couple cut their losses, losses augmented by the expensive full-building exterminations, and sold the building to a well-known upscale hotel chain at a tremendous deficit. The roaches, for the moment, would wake without troubled dreams.