In the market that day there happened to be a man from a fair. The fair was in the next town at the time, and it moved around, as fairs do, but this man had come to Roger’s town because he’d heard a rumour that he wanted to investigate. He was the proprietor of one of the shows in the fair, and his name was Oliver Tapscrew.
Early that evening, Mr Tapscrew was standing at the bar of the Black Horse, a pint of bitter in his hand and a fat cigar in his mouth, talking to the owner of the jellied-eel stall from the market.
‘I heard tell of something odd recently,’ said Mr Tapscrew. ‘I dunno if I heard it right something about a boy who was really a rat. You ever heard of anything like that?’
‘Rats?’ said the jellied-eel man. ‘No. Used to be a plague of ‘em. But the Mayor and Corporation got a first-class firm of exterminators in. They exterminated everything in sight: rats, mice, cockroaches, fleas, lice, you name it. Wiped ‘em out. Clean as a whistle. Place is so clean now I don’t even have to wipe my stall down. Thanks, I’ll have another.’
Mr Tapscrew reminded himself not to eat any jellied eels while he was here.
‘They ain’t really been exterminated,’ said a horse-dealer. ‘Rats and mice. You couldn’t. They’re cunning, they are, they got cunning blood. They take samples of the poison and they learn how to digest it. I shouldn’t wonder if there’s a race of super-rats down the sewers. With fangs like that. And a hatred for the whole human race. The rats’ time is coming, you mark my words.’
Mr Tapscrew listened, and bought more pints of beer, and noticed with satisfaction that although nobody knew anything about rats, or boys who’d been rats, they all enjoyed a good shiver when they thought about them. Good shivers were good business.