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“Yes to the first, no to the second.” Kate was already up and moving. Business had been good lately, and Lee hired Kate after the thing with the ants. She was a biology major at the local college, and did a fine job keeping the front office going. In between certain kinds of calls.
“You think this is another anomaly,” she said, as Lee followed the GPS’s directions. “Did they tell you what kind?” She reached to the dashboard to stroke the shellacked ant, as long as Lee’s forearm. It was already their good luck charm.
“They never do,” said Lee. “They’re afraid I’ll think they’re nuts and hang up. But you can hear it in their voices.”
Kate nodded and poked at her cellphone. “I’m putting the department on alert,” she explained. “What did they tell you?”
“She. There’s a bunch of snakes under her house. They’re either blue, or silver-gray. She didn’t hang around to get a closer look. But they’re nesting under her house. I told her to keep children and pets inside. I don’t think they’re poisonous, but it’s always best to be safe.” A few minutes later, he stopped the truck in front of a suburban house. “Gear up. Let’s do this.”
The nervous woman led the suited exterminators around the back of the house, to an opening in the foundation. “It’s in there,” she said.
“Okay,” said Lee. “You can go on inside. We’ll take it from here. We’ll let you know when we’re done.” The woman looked like she wanted to say something else, but nodded and bounded onto the porch and through the back door.
Lee set the cage off to the side, and extended the grabber. “Lights, camera, action,” he said, deadpan. They turned on their head-mounted lights and video cameras, then knelt in front of the opening.
“There,” said Kate, pointing. “Looks like a bunch of snakes, all right. Nothing anomalous… what the hell?” The entire group advanced, some rearing up, others slithering. “I’ve never seen behavior like that.”
“Makes it easy, though,” said Lee. “Come to papa… gotcha!” The grabber bucked and twitched in his hands, but held.
“They’re all striking the grabber!” Kate gasped. “I’ve never seen a group work together like that!”
“They’re all coming out at once, too,” Lee grunted. “With any luck, they’ll all hang on until I’ve got ‘em in the cage—what the…”
“It’s one snake! It’s one snake! Seven, eight… how many heads does that thing have?”
“Are you sure? The heads are all different sizes!”
“Look at it!” Kate yelled. “Never mind, you’ll see it in a second. I hope these cameras are working.”
Lee withdrew the writhing body and angry heads, and shoved the entire thing into the cage before letting go. He pushed the hatch closed and slid the grabber out, but the snake stayed well back. “Eight… ten heads. My God.”
“You caught it?” the homeowner poked her head out the door. “Thank God. Have you ever seen a seven-headed snake?”
“It has ten heads,” said Kate. “I hope there’s not another one under there.” She crawled in to look, grabber in hand.
“I don’t think so.” The woman gasped. “Ten heads? It had eight! My husband cut off one of its heads with a shovel, though.”
“Oh, great,” Lee groaned. “Cut off one head, and it grows three back? Kate and her profs are gonna have a party.”
“I don’t see another one under here,” Kate called. “But here’s the nest. There’s eggs!”
“Gather them,” Lee replied. “Your professors will want to see them.”
Kate came out and pulled the hood off her suit. She wore a big grin. “I’ll get a container out of the truck,” she said. “God, I love this job.”
And Mason’s version: “There was a snake under the house with ten heads! I chopped one of the heads off, and three more grew back!” (I’m trying to figure out where he gets his material, I could use more of it myself.)