The two men looked up at the bill nailed to the telegraph pole. There was a woodcutting of a dead rat on its back, X’s for eyes, and some very bold text that only one of them could read.
“What’s it say, Georgy Boy?” Asked Mathias, the illiterate one of the pair, suddenly feeling very self conscious about his pet rat crawling about his shoulders. “What’d they want with poor little Wrinklenose? He ain’t never hurt nobody.”
“Got nothin’ to do with your fleabit rat.” Georgy Boy leaned in closer to the bill, studying the caption under the illustration with a furrowed brow. “How ‘bout that…”
“What? What’s it say?” Mathias whined and stamped his foot. Wrinklenose didn’t appreciate the jostling and bit his ear in retaliation.
“Says they’re lookin’ for trash collectors and rat catchers. Union boy’s’ve finally decided to clean the streets up. Callin’ it a potential public health disaster.”
“Well nuts to that, I say. They won’t be getting any help from the likes of us, will they boy?” Mathias scratched the rat’s head. It snapped at his fingers.
“They’re payin’ fifty cents a day.”
Mathias thumped the rat off his shoulder. “Where do I sign up?”
The spring after they’d occupied Memphis, the Union forces finally decided to do something about the rising cesspool that was the Memphis streets. They hired a hundred men, and pointed them at the horde of rats and mountains of trash in an attempt that this last-minute clean would help stave off the disease that swept into the city every summer.