Well, talk about the shit hitting the fan. My adrenaline kicked in, roaring through my body like a tidal wave and my mind went into overdrive with motherly concern as my heart went on to Sally and her parents. I could only imagine what they were going through because if it were me in their position, I’d be a blithering idiot and out of my mind with worry. Then I jumped to the fact that Jack the python was on the loose and an icy horror set in. (I was assuming he still was still gone since I hadn’t heard otherwise from Freddie.) What would happen to little four-year-old Sally if the big python came across her? Well, with that picture firmly implanted in my mind, I really did lose it. I started yelling a bunch of blathering nonsense, but I know at one point I must have screamed, “What?!” because Sandy yelled back at me, “What?!” and we went back and forth screaming “What?!” until I realized I needed to get a grip.

“Sorry,” I told my friend, “But it’s really freaking me out about Sally.” Which was only half the reason for my outburst, if that much. I was also major league freaking out about the python slithering around our town somewhere (I tried not to imagine it laying in wait in the bushes outside my backdoor), but I couldn’t tell that to Sandy. I know it sounds weird, but I still felt some weird allegiance to that stupid ex of mine, no matter how crazy it seems. I guess it’s because we do have a history, as they say, and after all these years I’ve just not been able to get him completely out of my mind, nor, for that matter, my system. Believe me, it’s a statement I’m not proud to make, but there it is, the ugly truth rearing its ugly head for all its ugly worth.

“No shit, Sherlock,” was what she told me, wrenching me away from my carnal thoughts of Freddie and back to the present and the reality of the situation as far as little Sally was concerned. “It’s freaking me out, too.”

Sandy filled me in on what she’d heard, “I guess Sally was being baby sat by her grandparents over near Watertown Road and Willow Way.” I knew the location well. It was an area of forests and meadows and ponds that eventually lead out to farmland further to the west and was country as rugged as you’d expect to find only 20 miles from a major metropolitan city like Minneapolis. Our little town was named after picturesque Orchard Lake and is built on its western shore. Our population is just under 2,000, mostly blue-collar workers who like the peace and quiet small-town living afforded them. But in the last ten years or so, richer people have started moving in, buying up big two to five acre lots and building huge McMansions out where Sally went missing. Her grandparents fell into that category, having moved in only about three years ago.

“How long’s she been gone?” My heart was racing, imagining how I would feel if one of my own kids turned up missing.

“Since around four this afternoon,” Sandy told me. I looked at the clock on the wall over the sink. It read a few minutes after five. Missing for one hour.”I guess the grandfather had gone on an errand and the grandmother had fallen asleep. Sally just wandered off.”

“Can we do anything?” I reached out to Hannah who was standing nearby and pulled her to me, holding her close and needing to feel the warmth of her little body and smell the sweet strawberry shampoo aroma of her hair. It helped mitigate my fear for the lost child but only a little.

“That’s why I’m calling. Betty Farnsworth from Our Savior sent out an email. We can meet at the police station at 5:30 to organize into search parties. I’m going. Are you in?”

I didn’t have to think. “Yeah, I told her.” Then I thought about leaving Randy and Hannah home by themselves, something I didn’t want to do. “I’m bringing the kids.”

“Sounds good,” Sandy said, “I’m bringing mine, too.” Sandy’s twins, Cal and Ann, were just a few years older than Randy and all four of our children got along well.

I hung up the phone and got myself and my kids ready. The police station was down the hill and across the highway, only a minute or two drive from me. I grabbed the baseball bat and ran out the door into the backyard thinking I had time for one more check to see if Jake was around. A minute later, I was back inside. He wasn’t anywhere that I could tell, a thought that was only partly comforting given that he could be lurking anywhere, perhaps digesting some poor unfortunate creature. I shivered for about the hundredth time in the last day at the thought.

“Come on, kids,” I yelled, “We’re going to look for a lost girl.” They both ran into the kitchen where I was fixing a small backpack of bottled water and snacks. I tossed some mosquito repellant in too, as I quickly filled them in on what was going on. “I want you to be on your best behavior and do what I say while we’re out there, understand?”

Hannah looked at me wide eyed and said, “Okay.”

Randy said, “Okay,” thought for a moment, then asked, “What about Jack?”

“Yeah, Mommy, what about him?” Hannah chimed in.

I knelt down so I was looking them both eye to eye. “We say nothing about Jake to anyone, okay? Not a word.” Then I added, “We don’t want your dad to get into trouble, right?” Randy and Hannah adored their father and playing my “we don’t want your dad to get into trouble” card was one I used on occasion to get them to do something I really wanted them to do. This was one of those times.

They both solemnly nodded their heads in agreement.

“Okay, then, let’s go.”

We trooped out the back door (my eyes scanning under the bushes for you know who), got in the car, and raced down to the village hall, where the police station was. All the while, I was wondering why I was protecting Freddie. I should have just told the cops about the python being on the loose and be done with the whole mess. It was the certainly the right course of action, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Once again, I was falling under the spell of my ex-husband, the father of my kids, the guy who still somehow fired up my former feelings for him, no matter how harmful they might be.

We couldn’t park in the parking lot—it was too full—so we stashed the car down the block and hurried back. It seemed most of the town had turned out to search for little Sally, who now had been missing for an hour and a half. Jack the python had been missing for over a day. I attempted to wipe out a possible collision course between the two from my brain and was only moderately successful. Trying to quell my shaking body and the shivers running up and down my spine, I hustled the kids inside. We fought through the crowded foyer before making our way into the packed city council meeting room. I looked around and found Sara along with Cal and Ann, her eleven-year-old twins, standing against the wall along one side. I made my way to her and we hugged a quick greeting while our kids all said hi to each other.

Sandy was five feet seven and had the slim build of a committed runner although she never did a bit of exercising, one of the many traits we shared. A distinctive feature of hers was a mass of thick and wavy dark red hair that fell well past her shoulders. This evening, she had it pulled back into a ponytail and held it in place with a forest green headband which also set off her light blue eyes and smattering of freckles along her prominent cheekbones. All in all, she was extremely striking looking in a very good way. Her appearance was in sharp contrast to my five feet one inch, rather stocky frame and close-cropped auburn hair. Athletic looking, I was not. I sometimes thought of the two of us as those cartoon characters, Mutt and Jeff, with Sandy being the tall one (I forget which was which). We’ve been close friends for the last three years, ever since I stopped to help her when her car had a flat tire out on the highway a few miles from town (I provided the carjack, we both provided the muscle). We immediately bonded over the poor choices we’d made of men in our lives, she being recently divorced back then, me soon to be.

The chief of police called the meeting together, thanked us for attending and filled us in enough to let us know that there were no new developments. Then he turned the floor over to a search and rescue team from Hennepin County. The leader, a tall, blonde, athletic woman named Steph who looked like she could jog to Alaska and back with only a daypack, gave us an overview of what she wanted from us: follow instructions, stay together and keep our eyes alert for anything not normal (like a python, I grimly thought to myself). Then she broke the crowd into search parties of approximately twenty each. With all of the people volunteering, there were nearly 25 groups.

Our search leader was a short, thin, chiseled man around 30 with a three-day beard and a shaved head who looked like a tri-athlete. His name was Rich and he met us outside in the parking lot.

“Okay, you all,” he said by way of greeting, “you heard what Steph said. Any questions?” Everyone silently shook their heads. “Alright, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Let’s get to it.” He was confident and no-nonsense, and I immediately felt like we were in good hands.

“Yeah, let’s go,” I blurted out, suddenly feeling a rare form of solidarity with my group. I’m usually a person who prefers time spent alone with my kids or Sandy. But this was a different and certainly an extraordinary situation.

Rich looked at me, smiled a quick smile, and then went back to business. He took out a big contour map of the area and knelt down as he unfolded it and lay it on the ground. Our search group gathered around as best we could. He looked up at us, deadly serious, and pointed to the map. “We’re covering the area along the Lucy Line Trail between Brown Road and Leaf Street. It’s a mile-long section. Do you all know where it is?”

We all did. It was about a quarter of a mile from where Sally went missing and a mile from where we now stood.

“Okay, then. I’ll give finally instructions once we get there.” He grimaced as he glanced at his watch, a complicated-looking device that looked like it weighed a couple of pounds, and said, “Time’s wasting.” He stood up quickly while folding his map. “Let’s go.”

The kids and I carpooled with Sandy and she drove us to the where Brown Road met with the Lucy Line, a 75- mile-long dirt trail used by walkers, joggers, bicycle riders, and horseback riders. It was maintained by the DNR and ran from Minneapolis out to central Minnesota on an old railroad bed. The area we were to search was hilly and thickly-forested with numerous swamps and ponds tossed in for good measure. It was rough land and going to be a bitch to work through. Add to that the fact that we had to keep our attention focused and on the lookout for a scared little four-year-old girl while also protecting ourselves from hordes of swarming black flies, ticks and mosquitoes that we’d be encountering, all of which were hungrily waiting to suck our blood and then eat us alive, not to mention it was stifling hot and humid and muggy out; well, we definitely had our work cut out for us. And, of course, I had something other than searching for Sally on my mind: that damn python, Jake.

Sandy was my best friend, someone I confided in if ever I needed to talk. On the ten-minute drive to the trail, I decided to tell her about the missing reptile. I spoke quickly and filled her in on the python and Freddie and how he had been taking care of it, but the big snake had somehow got loose and now was slithering around free as you please in the general area. The thought of it possibly being nearby made me move closer to Sara even though we were still in her car, a newish Prius, which I assumed was python-proof.

Sandy did not take a passive stance when I finished my story. “What the hell?” she screamed, slamming her hand on the steering wheel. “What the friggin’ hell?” she yelled again, just a notch below her previous volume and slammed her hand once more for good measure. She was obviously shocked, if not at the same time at a loss for words. I have to admit, now that I’d gotten the story out into the light of day for someone else to hear about, the whole thing sounded too weird to be true. But the fact of the matter was that unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I really had nothing to add in my defense, so I just waited for her to calm down. I stared out the window, looking under every bush we drove past for the python. In a minute, she’d simmered down a bit but was still mad enough at me to spit out an, “Are you nuts? You need to call the cops and report it,” just for good measure, but I could tell her anger was dissipating. She’d taught tenth-grade biology at the local high school for 14 years and was used to dealing with all kinds of issues, especially regarding unruly, hormone-driven teenagers. Having me as a friend was probably pretty similar to what she had to deal with on a daily basis, although she’s always been kind enough never to mention it.

She did, however, mince no words when she bypassed the python issue and went straight to a different point, a point that was a sore spot between the two of us, “I know you still see Freddie occasionally. What’s going on there? Are you comfortable protecting him while that python’s on the loose?”

I probably should say right now that I still sort of have a thing for my insane ex-husband. We’ve even gotten together more than a few times in the two years since the divorce under the guise of “talking,” but it’s usually led to me spending the night at his ratty old garage/shack. I’ve confided this to Sandy before, and even though she thinks I’m nuts, her opinion is that my attraction to him has nothing to do with anything logical (which I can readily attest to) and more to do with something more rudimentary,” as she called it (which sort of made sense once she explained it to me.)

“It’s a simple case of your brain, or more specifically your hypothalamus, taking over,” she said a few years ago when I first told her what was happening. “Thinking has nothing to do with it. It’s all about your need for sex.”

When she initially told me this, I got good and mad and argued vehemently against her accusation. How could she dare think that? I hated the guy. He was a lazy, good for nothing son-of-a-bitch with not one thing going for him except two great kids who happened to be mine (well, his too, of course, but still…) I was the primary caregiver and the main source of income and security for Randy and Hannah. He only saw them two days a month, for God’s sake! (I’m sorry, but here I go again, getting all wound up.) The point is, and the point Sandy was trying to make back then and still believes to this day, is that I’m attracted to Freddie for nothing other than pure and simple physical need. While we’re at it, you might as well add in the fact that he was still good-looking enough to push a few of my buttons—in a good way, if you know what I mean. Then toss in the intense pleasure he gives me on those rare occasions we get together and maybe you can see my conundrum. Or maybe not, but I am putting my hand on a Bible right now and making a promise that that’s all there is to it. I don’t, I repeat, don’t, want to get back with him, a statement I keep telling myself every time I’ve been with him. The truth is, I know that I should just end it and be done with him for good and forever. I really should, but, the problem is, I never do.

Thinking about this all on the drive over to the Lucy Line, it occurred to me that I really was being an idiot about the whole thing. What I should do after this fiasco with the missing child and the missing python is over is this: finally and definitely end it with Freddie, for now and for all time. Yeah, that’s for sure the best course of action. The reasonable thing to do. The smart thing to do.

But, unfortunately, I knew myself well enough to know I was just blowing smoke. I was still in deep with the guy, hard as it was to admit.


For all installments of “Reptile Lust,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1