THEY COME IN THE NIGHT, up from their burrows, out of prehistory, little sinister dinosaurs from South America. Across Mexican arroyo and Louisiana swamp they've traveled, out of the woods and into our Florida backyard, where they dig divots in the lawn, scuffing, snuffling, poking, as if looking for lost change. Genetic freaks—all born in sets of identical quadruplets, and highly susceptible to leprosy—they look half insect, half humanoid. Body of a pill bug, head of one of those poor kids who age too fast. They give my wife, H.B., the creeps.
For me the repugnance is more personal. Back in my single days as a nightlife reporter in Tallahassee I was "Barmadillo," my byline appearing under a cartoon rendering of an inebriated armadillo. Now I'm just a totem assassin. A typical armadillo whack goes like this: I'm in my pj's and rubber boots, down on my hands and knees under our deck. My right arm is thrust to the shoulder into a freshly dug burrow. I have a nine-banded armadillo by the tail.
It chirrups and grunts—"Nyuck nyuck, nyuck nyuck"—ratcheting itself deeper into the earth. In its element, the beast is immensely strong, like a rototiller run amok, headed for China.
"Golf club!" I say to H.B., who's standing by with varmint tools.
I shove the club blade underneath the 'dillo, then twist and pull. Out it comes like a bad tooth.
And it is hideous, writhing in the flashlight beam, a wizened Piglet far gone into leather and S&M. It scrabbles at my arm with its claws—the horror!—and I let go.
Breaking cover, it corners the house at a gallop, then cowers under H.B.'s car in the gravel drive. H.B. fetches her keys, starts the car, and begins to back up. Alas for Dasypus novemcinctus, its tendency to leap straight up when startled makes it synonymous with roadkill. There's a clunk and a crunch, and the stricken 'dillo makes one last dash, trailing viscera.
Suddenly one of our four dogs swoops in and snatches it up in a great mouthful and lopes off into the woods. Silence, and then the terrible scraping of tooth on nubby bone. In the morning, cranky with lack of sleep, we find the armadillo half buried atop a heaped-up ziggurat of dirt like a Lord of the Flies idol, the dogs arrayed in attitudes of worship. Damn. It didn't have to go down like that.