The governor stopped short when he arrived at the fork in the path. It wasn’t indecision that gave the tanned man with the carefully manicured fingernails pause, but rather the python coiled there, studying him with shining saffron eyes.
“Do you, uh…do you mean to block my way here, snake?” the governor said. There was a twang in his speech—an affectation he was trying to perfect in an attempt to echo his predecessors. Like the man himself, the accent was a work in progress.
“Why shouldn’t I?” the snake hissed. “I shouldn’t even be here at all.”
The governor put a hand on his hip; he used the other to scratch at a trickle of sweat in his flawless gray hair. “Well, I suppose that’s probably true. Python, ain’t ya?”
“Yes,” the snake said, stretching the ‘s’ menacingly. Its angular head swayed back and forth, its tongue tasting the air. “Do I frighten you?”
“Nope. Can’t say that you do.”
“Then you are a fool. I've corrupted your lands and I’ve grown fat on your stocks.”
The governor narrowed his eyes. “You mean down in the ‘Glades, don’t you python?”
“I have feasted in the great river. But now, I live in the cane fields as well; you can find me on the banks of Okeechobee. And I'm here, you fool—in the forests near your home.”
The governor chuckled. “So why don’t you just go away? Shoot, just leave us be.”
“It’s not that simple. This place—it was a paradise once…”
“I’m not sure I like your tone, snake. Florida is still first in the nation in tourism. Almost 500 people move here every day. I’d call that pretty damned good, if I don’t mind saying so mys…”
The python darted forward, quicker than the governor could dodge. Its head, a thick wedge of scale and bone, ducked under the old man’s thigh; it only took a moment for itl to impose itself upon the governor—like wild grape on a weathered fence post. The governor toppled and fell over.
“Now what’s this all about, python? I’m just trying to stay trim here—getting a little exercise is all.”
The python tightened up, the governor loosing an audible, “Oooof!”
“You don’t see,” the python responded. “You lack vision. The flood of people. The strange animals—they aren’t from here. They shouldn't be here! You’ve given away the land. You’ve choked the great river to grow poison. You’ve cut down the mangroves and replaced them with walkways. All of it…every last bit of it is an ending.”
“Now just you wait a minute,” the governor started, but the python flexed his muscular body, squeezing a sharp cry from the confused man.
“No time,” it hissed, “for waiting. No time for indecision.”
“What do you want?” the governor croaked. His face, already red from the exercise, was turning purple.
“Reverse it,” the snake said, drawing out the syllables. It sounded like air escaping from a tire.
“But how? You’re talking about undoing a century of policy here, python. Let's be reasonable, now.”
“Things can be undone,” the snake replied. As if to prove its point, it relinquished its hold on the old man and reclaimed its place on the trail.
The governor stood and brushed himself off, a little bit purple but none the worse for wear.
“So is that all?” he said. He made a move toward the left fork in the path, meaning to finish his jog.
The python cut him off, poised for another strike. “Go back,” it said, anger flashing in those saffron eyes. “Go back the way you came. Go back and undo your mistakes.”
The governor glared at the snake. Dang it, but now his afternoon was shot! He pulled a leaf from his tussled hair, frowned at the reptile and then turned and trotted back to where his security detail was waiting in the parking lot.
One of his men passed him a sweating bottle of cold water as they pulled out of the gravel lot. “We still going to the Governor’s Club this afternoon, boss?”
The governor gave it some thought. Probably best not to get on that snake’s bad side. “Naw,” he muttered. “Naw, damnit, let’s just head for home, Bo.”
He skipped his shower and angled straight for his office. It only took him a minute to get Allison Schiller, the state’s lead wildlife biologist, on the phone.
“Pythons, Allie!” he complained. “Dad-gummit, we got pythons! Right here in Leon County!”
There was silence on the line.
“Allie? You still there?”
“Governor, we’ve been trying to tell you that for the last three years,” she said. There was disbelief in her tone—disbelief and anger. “Pythons are just the start of it, sir. We’ve got angel fish in the port of Miami, iguanas in Key West, howler monkeys in Julington Creek…the list goes on and on. We’ve been trying to arrange a state-wide effort to deal with this since your first month in office.”
The governor used a toothpick on his capped teeth; her words made him wince. “Well, shoot. Maybe it’s time we called a meeting. Can you get up to
More stunned silence. “Of course. Of course I can. I can be there before noon.”
“Okay, then. Thanks, Allie. Jeremy will make the appointment,” the governor replied, disconnecting the phone. He sighed, stood and walked to the window.
There were alligators floating in the lake behind his office; a few sunned themselves on the apron of sandy shoreline. An egret stalked minnows in the shallows. Dozens of turtles basked in the sun, necks stretched, balanced atop cypress boughs.
“Shit,” he muttered, raking his fingers through his hair. All at once, as if the man’s disdain for the work ahead was a fork of lightning from an afternoon thunderstorm, the birds and alligators and turtles turned their heads to appraise the man watching them from behind the glass in the great white house.