By David Liscio
The sound of cowboy boots tromping across the polished wood floor told him he was in trouble.
From the very first pair he’d bought her as a Valentine’s Day gift over ten years ago, she’d worn them daily, through all seasons, and to any event – weddings, funerals, to her workplace, shopping, and out for drinks. She now had several pairs lined in a row at the bottom of the master bedroom closet – cowhide, alligator, ostrich and snakeskin. She hoped to one day to find a pair made from elephant, though the snakeskin boots were her prized possessions, particularly the pythons. Some women collected necklaces, seashells or Hummel figurines. Not Melody. With her, it was cowboy boots.
Ted didn’t dare call them cowgirl boots because Melody had been a diehard feminist for as long as he could remember and he’d known her for over twenty years. She would have snarled at the girl half of the word, and yet cowwoman boots was an awkward substitute.
The boots had become her signature, more than a simple fashion statement. They were an act of defiance in Boston where high-top sneakers, tasseled loafers and tight-fitting, knee-high boots were the standard footwear.
But Melody didn’t care what people thought of her or her boots and she ignored snarky comments about whether she was bound for a rodeo or horseback riding in Wyoming. She was equally impervious to frequent comments about the clunky sound the heels made as she marched across wood or tile floors. It was as if this clomping announced her arrival, and it was this sound that sent chills through Ted as he sunk into the soft living room chair after another grueling day at the office. The clomp clomp clomp had come from upstairs, telling him she was back and somewhere inside the house.
Ted’s first thought was to grab his phone and call 911, but there was also the remote possibility Melody had been released from the secure research facility where, after more than a year in state prison, she had agreed to reside and participate in pharmaceutical and behavioral testing in return for a reduced sentence.
As far as Ted knew, the court restraining order against her was still in effect, issued by a judge
who admitted he’d never heard a case in which a wife had hurled an ax at her spouse and actually hit the target. Ted presumed he would be notified if Melody had been released from custody. Wasn’t that how the justice system worked? She was supposed to be behind bars serving her sentence for assault and battery and attempted homicide, and the moment she was set free, he’d be notified.
Clomp clomp clomp. She was coming down the stairs. Ted couldn’t recall if he’d given her the combination to the gun safe and he cursed himself for not having the foresight to change it. Melody had never taken interest in his firearms or learning to shoot.
Ted gripped the soft fabric of the chair, kneading it with his thumb and forefinger. Where were the kids? Oh, right, the nanny had taken them to Plaster Fun Time and then to a Disney movie. They wouldn’t be home until eight at the earliest -- and that was more than three hours away. He had looked forward to this day because he needed a few moments alone to unwind and forget about the egotistical managers at the office who were making his life miserable. Yes, he had taken more than his share of days off during the past three years, but they’d been spent in
courtrooms and hospital emergency rooms, not on some tropical beach drinking pina coladas.
Ted honestly didn’t know how things had gotten so out of hand with his wife. Marriage counseling sure hadn’t helped. Melody’s mood swings had caused the entire family to tread carefully and be mindful of their words. But it was her jealousy that had pushed things over the edge. She was jealous of the other mothers at school who drove nicer cars, wore more expensive clothes and had housekeepers. She especially despised the younger and prettier ones in their twenties and early thirties. How many times had she accused Ted of ogling them?
The past three years had been a nightmare as Melody’s accusations of infidelity ramped up. If Ted stayed an hour or two late at the brokerage, he was undoubtedly having desktop sex with a co- worker. If he spent too long at the supermarket, he had probably run into an old flame and struck up an exhilarating conversation, perhaps arranged for a future rendezvous. If the family attended a church service, Melody would brood for the rest of the day, convinced the women of the congregation were eying her man with come-hither looks that he enthusiastically returned.
The first time the neighbors saw an ambulance outside the house was when Melody accidentally pinned Ted between the car’s front bumper and the garage door. The next time was when Ted experienced intense stomach cramps and altered mental status after eating green Jello on St. Patrick’s Day. The hospital lab results showed he had ingested green automotive anti-freeze. Melody swore she didn’t know how anti-freeze had gotten into the Jello mix.
Ted suffered a head wound the previous winter when a large icicle crashed to the ground just as he was passing beneath it. Melody apologized profusely, saying she struck the icicle with a broom handle to make it fall from the roof edge because it was damaging the asphalt shingles. Said she didn’t know Ted was below. Never heard or saw him coming.
The ax hurled at Ted from ten feet away was what finally convinced the police Melody was a danger to herself and others. It had struck Ted in the back, barely missing his spinal cord. The thick blade had penetrated nearly two inches, but gravity and the overall weight of the tool made it fall out and clatter to the floor. Blood had soaked into Ted’s shirt as he staggered out of the house and shouted to the neighbors to call the police and
an ambulance. That was the day Melody was taken away in handcuffs. The neighbors no longer made eye contact with him, nor were the children invited to sleepovers or birthday parties.
Clomp clomp clomp. Clomp clomp clomp. Clomp clomp clomp. Clomp clomp clomp. Clomp clomp clomp. Fifteen steps. Melody stood at the bottom of the stairs. She was wearing a sleeveless red mini-dress and the badass python boots she’d ordered from a pricey designer in Dallas. Those boots – expertly crafted with their red hue and extensive detail -- were her favorite. Her complexion was pale and she’d lost weight over the past year so that her skin pulled tightly around her small head. Her blonde hair was in a ponytail, the hairstyle she knew Ted disliked because he said it made her look like a jock or a cop. A heavy canvas bag about three feet long and two feet wide lay at her feet, its opening fitted with a drawstring secured by a knot. Something was moving inside it.
Ted looked up from his chair, thumbs and forefingers still kneading the fabric. He tried not to act surprised. “What are you doing here?”
Melody twirled so that the hem of her mini- dress rose to her hips. She wasn’t sporting underwear. “Have you missed me, Teddy?”
Melody only called him Teddy when she was angry, which was often. Ted didn’t rise from the chair. He couldn’t. It was as though he were paralyzed.
“Oh, Dear Teddy, why would you miss me? You’ve been fucking that little tart at the office for god knows how long.”
Ted began nervously fiddling with the buttons on his white dress shirt. “I never cheated on you, Melody. Never. Not once. It was all in your head. You were feeling insecure and you let it get the best of you.”
Melody shrieked with delight, curling her fingers and bringing both hands to her lips like a TV game show contestant thrilled at having guessed the right answer. “Tell me the truth. Are you surprised to see me?”
“Frankly, yes. I thought you were trying to get yourself some help.”
“Help? Whatever for? There’s nothing wrong with me. I agreed to let those doctors stick needles in my arms and conduct their experiments because I knew it would get me out of jail quicker.”
“So the judge actually let you out?”
Melody didn’t answer the question. She simply
grinned. “It feels so good to be home. I hope you
didn’t fuck that little tart in our bed while I was gone. And I was so glad to see you didn’t throw out any of my boots. I was worried that you might.”
“I’ve never slept in that bed with anyone but you.”
Melody took several steps toward where Ted was sitting. Clomp clomp clomp. “I cooked you dinner. Shepherd’s pie. You must be hungry after working so hard all day. It’s on the kitchen table. I’ll pour you a glass of milk.”
The wall phone near the kitchen archway started to ring. Ted attempted to get up from his chair but Melody pushed him back with both hands planted against his chest. “Sit down. I brought you a present.”
The phone went silent after ten rings. Melody hummed as she loosened the drawstring on the canvas sack.
A siren wailed in the distance, getting closer. Ted hoped the police were heading his way in search of an escaped prisoner. If she had fled the court or the research facility, it was likely her home address would be on the search list. The phone rang again and kept ringing.
Melody deftly turned the canvas bag upside down and spilled three snakes in Ted’s lap. The
largest snake -- a non-venomous Burmese python -- attempted to burrow into the chair and nestle against Ted’s right thigh, which was jiggling from nervousness.
Ted’s eyes bulged. “What the..?”
Melody laughed. “Don’t worry about him. He’s harmless. And I think he’s frightened of my boots. My little banded friend there is far more dangerous.”
Ted watched in horror as the young King Cobra reared up on a third of its body as though poised to strike and emitted a low growl. He tried to brush the creature off the arm of the chair. For a cobra it was small -- barely three feet long -- but the sight of its hood and fearsome fangs caused Ted’s heart to lose its rhythm. A numbing pain rippled through Ted’s left arm and spread to his chest.
Someone was pounding on the front door. Melody glanced at herself in the mirror near the fireplace. She unclasped her ponytail and shook her head so that her blonde tresses spilled over her shoulders. There was more pounding at the door as she reapplied her red lipstick.
“Police! Open up!”
Ted was on the floor, gasping and clutching his chest. The third snake had wriggled beneath the
couch where only a few inches of its diamond- patterned skin were visible. The other two had slithered onto the floor and were snuggled against Ted’s warm body.
Melody opened the door and two police officers pushed their way inside, guns drawn. They immediately spotted Ted on the floor accompanied by two snakes.
“Shoot,” said the sergeant. “Shoot those fucking things.”
“I’m afraid I’ll miss, “ the patrolman said, his arms outstretched in a shooter’s triangle. “I can’t.” Melody stepped closer to the kitchen where the
wall phone was again ringing. She lifted the receiver and nonchalantly greeted the caller. “It’s Melody, Teddy’s wife. Oh, that’ll be just fine. No worries. Teddy told me he had hired a nanny. It’ll be so nice to meet you. I’ll see you and the kids around eight or nine. Tell them momma’s home.”
The police sergeant was talking excitedly into his handheld radio, instructing the dispatcher to send an ambulance with paramedics prepared to treat snakebites and to notify the city’s animal control department. Ted had stopped gasping and appeared unconscious, but the police officers kept their distance, guns still pointed at the snakes. The big python had coiled atop Ted’s chest, its
serpentine eyes tracking the men, its tongue flicking.
The sergeant looked toward Melody who had hung up the phone and was humming a tune. “Can you please tell me what the hell is going on here?”
“My husband Teddy always wanted to keep snakes as pets, so I brought these home from the lab today, but it seems they didn’t get along very well.”
The sergeant swung his handgun so that it was aimed at Melody. “Put your hands on top of your head,” he ordered, his eyes momentarily distracted by the mini-skirt’s hemline. “We have a fugitive warrant for your arrest. Now kneel on the floor.”
Melody continued to hum as the sergeant clamped her wrists into the handcuffs behind her back, grabbed her by the right arm and escorted her to the police cruiser. As he maneuvered her into the backseat, he was startled by a gunshot followed in short order by two more.
The sergeant locked the cruiser door and jogged back to the house where he encountered chunks of snake flesh scattered about and a red gaping hole in Ted’s chest.
“Soon as you left, it jumped at me. I had to shoot,” said the patrolman, gun in hand, arms
shaking, back pressed against the wall near the front door. He was having difficulty breathing, which the sergeant attributed to stress until he saw the two red fang marks just above the officer’s wrist. The sergeant pressed the transmit button on his radio.
“Officer down. Another snakebite. We’re going to need a second ambulance.”
“Roger that,” said the dispatcher. “The first bus should be at your location in less than one minute.”
“Tell them to step on it. And send backup. I’ve got a fugitive locked in the back of my cruiser but I don’t want to leave my partner. It may be too late for the first victim.”
The patrolman had slowly slid downward until he was seated on the floor, legs stretched out before him. He was staring at the fang marks on his arm as though in disbelief.
“Sarge. Am I going to die?”
“You’re going to be fine. Ambulance is en route. They’ll be here any second.”
As the sergeant went down on one knee to loosen the patrolman’s shirt collar and feel for a jugular pulse he listened to the sirens wailing and warbling. It was a comforting sound, interrupted only by a steady rattle that made his throat go dry.
Copyright March 2019 All Rights Reserved
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