No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.
- Abraham Lincoln
I have always been against the idea of having a library mascot. I have heard numerous reports that some libraries have cats roaming their stacks, little gerbils in cages, or lions sitting outside. After last week’s escapade with the rats, I am even more adamant about this. Then today happened and it seems for the time being we have a new member of our library family, however unwillingly.
The first real mid-week program started today for Summer Reading. Ava scheduled one of the local zookeepers to come down with a small menagerie and make the kids “oooo” “ahhhhh” and squeal. It turns out Zookeeper Bob specializes in herpetology and Ava is very interested as well.
“Now, this,” said Zookeeper Bob, opening a small box in front of a crowd of wiggling younglings, “is my friend Nancy. She is Terrapene carolina, or the common box turtle. You can find Nancy’s friends all over the place around here. Does anybody know why they call her a box turtle?”
Hands shot up from around the room. Bob picked one child and helped her through the explanation of how Nancy’s shell worked while the little animal kept poking its head and appendages in and out of its mobile home.
And so it went. While not all reptiles, Bob had a dozen or so little creepy crawlies, from Nancy the Box Turtle to Chester the Hellbender to Sally the Garter Snake. They all had pretty boring names.
I also noticed that when Zookeeper Bob would ask the kids if they wanted to touch the animals, Ava would move in as well. From the look in her eyes and the tilt of her body toward ole Bob, she wanted to touch more than a garter snake. Finding none of this my business, I left the program and went into my office.
The screaming started 20 minutes later. As I was standing up from my desk, Dave opened the door and gestured that I sit down.
“You might better want to wait till everything’s under control,” Dave said.
“Why isn’t everything under control, Dave?” I said.
“Well,” he said, “it seems one of the little animals got loose.”
Confused, I sat back in my chair.
“Oh, huh. Well, that’s not that big a deal. Do tell.”
“Yeah,” Dave said, “it was one of the snakes.”
I thought back to the presentation I saw. I doubted Sally the Garter Snake posed much of a threat and told Dave as much.
“Boss, it wasn’t Sally. It was Victor. He was for last. Now, Bob says that the aquarium was locked up tight, but Victor seems to have slipped out...”
“What kind of snake was Victor?”
“Shit,” I said, reaching for the phone, “Have you called animal control yet?”
“Not yet, Bob said he was gonna try and get it himself.”
I called the police station to tell them to send over Harry with the animal control unit. Then I went to find Zookeeper Bob.
When I found him, he was on his hands and knees in the children’s section looking under shelves.
“Hey, Bob,” I said.
“Oh, hey,” he said, standing, “Look, I’m sorry. Nothing like this has ever happened. Me and Ms. Devillis were packing up all the little creatures in the car and when we came back to get Victor his aquarium was empty. But don’t worry, he can’t have gone far. Plus, agkistrodon piscivorus is not a very aggressive animal if he’s left alone. I’m not even sure why he was so active.”
“We had a bit of a rat problem last week. We set traps, but maybe he skipped out for a snack?”
Ava came around the corner then, putting her arms around Bob’s neck. He hugged her back and looked at me with an arched eyebrow.
“Robert,” she said, “Don’t worry, we’ll find Victor.”
“No, we won’t be doing anything. I’m closing down the library for the day. Animal control is on its way and they can help Robert here. Ms. Devillis, could you please help Dave clear the building and lock up?”
She turned and stared me in the eyes. I stared back. What the hell was going on here? After a moment she turned, touched a hand to Bob’s shirt and left.
“And for god’s sake watch where you step,” I said to her back.
After all the patrons were escorted out and animal control was escorted in, I sent Ava and Dave home. For the next hour we looked from the basement computer lab to the second floor nonfiction but found no trace of Victor.
“Could he have gone outside?” I said.
The experts shrugged their shoulders. After searching every closet and peering down the vents for another hour, we finally gave up. I let them out, locked the door and went home.
As for tomorrow? I proceed with the idea that there is a live cottonmouth viper, otherwise known as water moccasin, loose in my library. At least we will not have any more rat problems.
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