"Forget all the rest. Black Flag is good for cockroaches and other insects, but it won't do much against snakes, particularly since I don't know how you'd get them to eat it."
I can't say I was surprised by Lloyd's bleak report. One final phone call did get an exterminator who said he had a method that he used for Minuteman missile silos—it involved the use of cyanide and would render the house uninhabitable for two years. I didn't think Dean would endorse that idea, although he'd said that he'd told his insurance man about my problem and asked the man's advice. The insurance agent had recommended burning the place down, saying he'd rather have a fire insurance claim on the house than a liability suit resulting from a death from snake bite that had occurred on the property.
Weeks went by, and the battle went on. I tried to lure the rattlers out of hiding and into the center of the basement, feeling it would be easier to kill what was easily seen. This effort involved buying a mouse cage and two mice. I hung the cage from the basement ceiling. No luck. One mouse escaped, and the other died a natural death.
We discovered how the snakes had gotten into the cellar. There was a full basement under only half the house. The other half was just a crawl space. The entrance to the crawl space was a 2'x 2' boarded opening in the wall behind the water heater. I took the cover off this opening and could see into the crawl space. At the other end I could see a small hole in the foundation. Apparently the snakes had come in through that hole the previous fall. Perhaps they had been attracted to the full basement because it was warmer than the crawl space; they had entered the larger room by dropping over from the top of the wall separating it from the crawl space.
Looking into the crawl space one day, I saw the outline of a large snake. I killed it easily with one shot from the 20-gauge. There were no problems with wires or pipes in the crawl space. But now there was a problem with that snake. It was 25 or 30 feet into an unlighted space that was probably occupied with friends of the deceased. Spring was on the way. Warmer weather not only meant more activity from my tenants, but it also meant the decomposition of the corpse. I had no idea what a rotting snake smelled like. I didn't want to know. Neither did I want to go in there to get it out. This dilemma set up the Last Great Snake Adventure.
It started, as so many things do, with a conversation. Dean was over one Sunday and the talk turned to snakes, as usual. I remarked about the remains in the crawl space and wondered aloud about how to get the dead snake out. If memory serves, we were having tall Scotches at the time. More than one. A look of resolve came onto Dean's face. "Hell, I'll go in there and get it out. You guys have put up with enough. You don't have to smell a dead snake." (I should comment that Dean was generous almost to a fault during this whole debacle.)
We went to the barn and got a 400-watt light. I secured several extension cords. The idea was to give Dean some light to take with him as he wriggled around in the crawl space. He would, at his insistence, go in with my short-barreled .22/410. I was going to "cover him" with my 20-gauge. I held onto that shotgun as moral support. I didn't actually expect any snakes to attempt an ambush.
Looking back, I don't think I really had any understanding of the bravery I was seeing. Dean was going into a space so confining that he couldn't even begin to stand up. He was going to be in darkness except for the narrow beam of light emitted by his hand-held lamp. His only exit would be through an opening that measured about two feet square. And he might be entering a space occupied by dozens of venomous snakes. Maybe we were just fools. Or drunk.
But back into the basement we went. It was beginning to smell like something left over from World War II, what with all the gunfire that had gone on.