pickerel from the boat and placed it on the gravel. He had bent back to lift out the rods and the tackle box and the thermos of milk and the sweaters. He straightened up with the articles and turned toward where he had placed the fish.
On the loose gravel of the shore, perhaps a foot from the stringer of fish, a thick brown timber rattler was coiled. Its head was perhaps a foot off the ground. The rattles of its tail lay drooped against one of its fat coils. It had been swimming; its smooth, textured body was wet, and it glistened in the sun. The patterns of brown and black repeated themselves regularly along the skin. The eyes of the snake were glossy and dark. Its delicate black tongue flickered out, without a discernible opening of its jaws. The skin beneath the jaws was creamy. The sun had fallen comfortably warm upon the thick snake and upon Sam, who was repeatedly chilled, and he and the snake had remained motionless, except for the snake’s black, delicate tongue which flickered in and out from time to time, for several lifetimes. Sam had begun to feel faint. The position in which he had frozen, almost erect, with the children’s articles and the tackle in his hands, made his muscles ache. The snake appeared relaxed. It made no sound. Sam could think of nothing but his uncertainty; he did not know whether rattlers struck without rattling. Again and again he reminded himself that it made no difference, that the snake could easily satisfy any such ritual quickly enough to hithim before he could get away. Again and again the question nagged at him. “Now look,” he had said at last to the snake, “you can have the goddamned fish. You hear me? You can have them.”
The snake had remained in the same position for a time. Then its coils had begun to straighten. Sam had decided to try to jump if it came toward him. He knew that it could swim faster than he in the water, and he had no weapon. The snake completely controlled the situation. The snake turned slowly on the gravel, its weight rubbing the pebbles against each other. It proceeded up the slope, diagonally away from the cabin. In a while it was gone, and Sam, his body aching, rested the articles on the seats of the boat, and began to tremble.
The spokesman said: “What time does it say now?”
Sam swung his eyes back from the black revolver to the clock. “It doesn’t seem to move,” he said. “Eight forty-seven, I think. It really isn’t much good for telling time. All it does is show the mechanism is working, really.”
When he had told his wife about the snake, she had wanted to leave at once and give up the four days remaining on the cabin rental. And he had said: “We’ve been here what, nine days? That snake’s been here all his life, and he’s big enough so it’s been a long time. There’s probably a snake somewhere else in New England, too. The children haven’t gotten bitten so far. There’s no reason to think he’s going to get more aggressive between now and Saturday. We can’t spend our lives in Ireland just because the kids might get bitten by a snake some time.” They had stayed. But they had noticed themselves picking their way through the long grass, and watching carefully where they stepped on the gravel, and when they were in the water, Sam was constantly watching for the small head and the thick shiny coils in the blue pond.
“Do you want to try it now?” the spokesman said. “Or does it set off the alarm if you try it before the set time?”
“No,” Sam said. “It just doesn’t open. But there’s a click when it hits the set time. There isn’t any use in trying it until you hear that click.”
There was a dry snap inside the door of the safe. “There it is,” Sam said. He began to turn the wheel.
The spokesman said: “When you get it open, move over toward the desks there, so I can watch you and the rest of them at the same time.”
Sam stood near his own desk, staring at the pictures of his family,