Put a contract out on this rat

   For the last couple of years, Iíve smelled a rat in my business. He (or she) has wreaked havoc in delicate areas, causing the loss of considerable sums of money.
   The ratís identity remains unknown. But Ralph, my general manager, is determined to catch him in the act. And when he does catch him, there will be no need for prosecution. Ralph vows to show no mercy.
   "Iím going to terminate him," says Ralph, a crazed look in his eye. "But first Iíll trap him or poison him or maybe permanently glue his face onto tar paper."
   Oh, did I mention this was a real rat, not an employee?
   This rat has gnawed through solid wood doors, burrowed holes in cabinets and eaten a good portion of the chocolate inventory in one of our retail stores.
    And now, his appetite has expanded to include wiring. Specifically, he prefers the taste of phone lines.
   This was noticed when one of the phones in our 12-unit system went dead.
   "Call AT&T," I said to Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, when she notified me of the problem. "We have a maintenance contract with them for our phones."
   I said this with considerable pride. When I bought the system a few years ago it came with a one-year warranty and the option to purchase an extended maintenance contract. I declined, choosing to risk paying $1,000 per hour labor charges (or something like that) if anything ever went wrong.
   Naturally, the phone system went down shortly after the one-year warranty expired. It was a minor problem, but AT&T chose to send the latest Nobel Prize winner out to fix it, so it cost a bundle. Then AT&T shook its bureaucratic head and suggested once again that I buy a maintenance contract so I wouldnít be faced with such obscene charges.
   So I succumbed. I purchased the contract and naturally watched month after month go by with nary a problem. Until the rat.
   AT&T was there to solve the problem the next day. I smugly watched the technician fiddling with the dead phone, knowing he was working for me gratis because of my wise decision to purchase the maintenance contract. Take your time, my good man, take all the time you want. Fix it up just right.
   "All done," he said, putting his tools away far too soon for my taste. "I canít do much more without your permission."
   "What do you mean?" I cried. "Isnít it fixed?"
   "Thereís nothing wrong with the phone," he replied. "The problem is in the wiring and you donít have wiring coverage in your maintenance contract. Thatís extra."
   "How much will it cost?" I asked weakly.
   "Canít tell for sure. Looks like a rat has been eating through the wires so theyíll have to be replaced back to their source. I bill out at $7,000 per hour (or something like that) and this is going to take some time."
    Then he shook his head and strongly suggested I look into buying AT&Tís maintenance contract that covers phone wiring. That way I wouldnít be faced with these obscene charges.
    I nodded, thoroughly defeated, and told him to go ahead and make the repairs to the wiring. I watched him without the smugness I had enjoyed only a few free minutes before.
   The next morning I walked into the office to find Ralph feverishly placing a 6-ounce chocolate bar on the largest mouse/rat trap Iíve ever seen.
   "Iím going to get him," he said, his left eye twitching ever so slightly. "Eating doors and chocolate is one thing, but when he started messing with the phones, it means war."
   Ralph, who loves phones, was definitely losing it. It was time to let him in on my plan.
   "I know itís been tough," I said. "But our problems are over. That rat will be dead by sundown."
   "How?" cried Ralph. "Iíve tried everything and now heís surviving on phone line wiring. What could you possibly do that would make him go away?"
   I gave Ralph my best John Wayne look and then turned to Ms. Ferguson. "Call AT&T," I ordered. "Tell them weíll buy that maintenance contract on the wiring."
   Ralph crawled over and hugged my ankle. The rat was as good as dead. We all knew that once we had the contract, nothing would ever go wrong.


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