I knew that if I could walk into that room, grab that snake and throw it outside, Hidden Springs and the Conservancy preserve below it would be protected in perpetuity. If red-blooded conservationists were throwing themselves in front of bulldozers and standing in the line of fire of harpoon guns, surely the least I could do was pick up a snake. I took a step. The snake hissed menacingly. I recoiled. There was no way I was going to walk into that room and grab that snake. They didn't teach snake-grabbing at the business school.
I tried one last orderly retreat. "Black snakes aren't poisonous, but one that size can give you a nasty bite," I said. "If you're determined to move him, which I don't recommend, I suggest we find something to grab it with."
"The tongs!" exclaimed the professor. "I'll get the tongs from the fireplace. They should do the trick."
"Good idea," I said. "I'll help you."
"No, no," the professor replied. "You stay here and keep an eye on that fellow. We don't want him slipping away."
Louise stood there silently as the professor bounded up the stairs. The snake didn't move. The only thing slipping away was my deal. The professor was back in a flash. He was in good shape for an older man. Good old Virginia might have to wait a while before it got its hands on Hidden Springs. Maybe that was fortunate. The Conservancy would need all the time it could get to resell the professor and Louise on the idea of a conservation easement. My credibility was just about shot.
The professor proffered the tongs, but I was too quick for him. "I'll get the cellar door," I said, looking back over my shoulder. "Try to grab him right behind the head." I opened the door with a flourish. "O.K. Any time you're ready."
The professor entered the pantry. He was a brave man, but then again, it was his house. Louise backed away to the foot of the stairs. I could hear the professor snapping away with the tongs. "Dammit, hold still, you rascal!" A jar shattered as it hit the floor. "Ah ha, there, now I've got you!" Louise started to run up the stairs as the professor burst from the pantry. In front of him was the snake, twisting and twirling. I could see its white belly. He must have grabbed it in the middle, because both ends were thrashing wildly.
I tensed as man and reptile came hurtling toward me. Suddenly the professor let out a shriek. One end of the snake had wrapped itself around his hand. He dropped the tongs. The snake fell to the floor. It undulated back and forth, trying to get its bearings. It sensed its easiest path of escape and came wriggling right at me. I stumbled in panic out the cellar door and ran smack into a wall. The impact knocked me off my feet. I started groping my way up the stone steps. I froze as I felt all six feet of the snake slither over me and disappear into the darkness.
I got up. I tried to dust myself off, but my hands wouldn't stop shaking. Slowly, I followed the light back into the cellar. The professor had picked up the tongs and was going up the stairs with Louise. I took a deep breath, straightened my tie and sheepishly followed. I heard the professor reassuring Cook and the butler as he passed through the kitchen: "No need to worry now. That old snake is back outside where it belongs."