The procession was led by two motorcycled traffic officers, the firetruck with its sirens on, police cars, and at the rear following quietly were two ambulances, all flashing lights.
They went down the road and started deployment as was the standard drill for isolating a trouble spot.
The one police car and motorcycle went to the one end of the road to block the traffic, lights flashing, and at the other end the same. The ambulances took up post on either side of the firetruck at a reasonable safe distance. The firetruck hooked up the hoses to the fire hydrant in front of number 14.
The senior fire officer smiled, satisfied, as he surveyed the speed and faultless execution with which the deployment was done.
The standard drill for 'a leak of gas reported' was flawless.
Fire officer Jones almost marched to number 12, and the people of the house were already on the lawn. They were advised what to do over the phone by the 911 operator.
“Good afternoon, Missus Black?” He addressed the women most likely to be the mother of the house. She confirmed with a nervous smile and nod of her head. “I am Fire chief Jones, and I assure you, everything will be done to assure a speedy return to a safe home.”
“Hello Chief, thank you for being here, I don't know what happened, all of a sudden all the gas alarms went off. We switched everything off and went outside.”
The second-in-charge walked briskly up to the Chief and reported all was proceeding well, and the gasman was busy with sorting out the fault. He greeted the family lightly with head nods and introduced himself as fireman Pete.
Chief Jones instructed Pete to carry on as is usual, and he returned to the men at the firetruck. With arm movements, the other firemen were sent to talk to the neighbors, to inform them of the situation, and instruct them in standard procedure.
Nobody ran, still, things moved fast.
The neighbors who were home were most already out of their houses, gawking at the goings on. Half knowing, half guessing as to what was happening, as they all lived with gas.
Pete started doing his side of the street, assuring the people and asking them to preferably stay as close to indoors as possible. At number 10, there was nobody outside, and Pete walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. Inside he heard the ding-dong of the bell, and someone turned the television's sound lower. A shuffle of feet came to the door, and the door opened.
“Good day Sir, I'm with the fire department and we are asking all people to look at their gas installations for possible problems.”
“Good day, Pete” the feet answered, looking at the name tag, then to Pete, “I am sure I have no problems. Now that you mention it, I would not even know what to look for, or where, as I am rather new to town. And I remember your face Pete. I am Boris from the mortuary and I have seen you once or twice when your department sent me some work.”
“Of course, sorry, I did not recognize you in your leisure outfit.” with a light chuckle at his own joke ,looking at the hairy chested, short, pudgy Boris. “Well then, if you don't mind can we have a quick look around?”
“Sure, come in, let me get a shirt. I'll be with you now.” and Boris went down the passage. On his return, he saw the door ajar to the basement.
Pete had already started his inspection on his own, and the basement was the best place to start.
This dawned on Boris as he looked down the staircase, the light was on, and the door at the bottom was ajar. Boris' otherwise emotionless face turned to a frown, then a shrug,”Oh well.” and he stepped into his water boots, which were at the door on a folded newspaper. He went down the steps, at the bottom, he picked up the fireman's helmet, looked around. All was quiet, not a sound and he whispered “Enjoy it, Ana.” and returned to the top.
Boris looked out at the front door and saw the goings on in the street. He went out on the porch, looked a while and returned inside back to his television. He turned the sound up, and the National Geographic program on the Upper Amazon was on. He melted back into his recliner, took his lukewarm beer from the side table, and mentally moved into the world of the Amazon.
The doorbell's chime brought Boris back from his daydream. He went to the door, opened it; “Afternoon Mister, oh, sorry, Boris, I did not ….”
“No problem , Chief, how are you?”
“I did not know you you lived here Boris. Silly of me, of course - I would not know.” for a few moments the undertaker's assistant took a while to sink into the Chief's mind.
“Well, yes Boris, one of our men, Pete, was last seen going into your house. And his tag is still hanging from your postbox.”
With a perplexed look on his face, Boris asked “His tag is on my postbox, why?”
“When a firefighter enters a place, he hangs his tag outside, on the hydrant, or other logical place, as proof of his entering that premises. Pete's is on your postbox?”
Boris opened the door wider, standing back to invite the Chief into his home. The Chief entered on automatic response, and Boris closed the door behind the Chief.
“Are you alone here Chief?” The Chief nodded yes.
The Chief followed Boris into the living room, sat down in the chair that he was shown to, and Boris sat opposite the Chief. “Yes Sir, he was here, he came to inspect the gas meters and alarms and left. Why he did not take his tag, I have no idea?”
“That is highly irregular Boris, why did he inspect the alarms and meters?”
“I am rather new around here, and living alone, eating take-away mostly, you know, a bachelor and all … anyway, I did not not even know where the alarms were. Pete offered to help and show me the ropes.”
“Oh, well, do you mind showing me where the alarms are, and can I have a look around, if you do not mind?”
“Not at all Sir, you are welcome. Come, let us start in the kitchen.”
As they passed the basement door, the Chief stopped, stepped back, looked at the boots on the newspaper, “What is this?”
“Those are my water boots, Sir, and the door leads to the basement, it is rather wet down there.”
“Can I look.” This was not a request anymore.
“Yes Sir, I must warn you Sir, the steps are slippery, and it is a bit dangerous on the steps. You do need to be very careful.”
“What do you do in the basement, Boris?”
“I keep my pet there, Sir.”
“Yes Sir, my pet anaconda.”
“As in that snake from South America?”
“More from the tropics and Amazon, Sir”
“Is it loose or in a cage ….?”
“It has comfortable quarters Sir, not a cage, yet, it is enclosed for its own safety, more than anything else. It has its own jacuzzi, for colder days, and infra red lights, I have done everything to keep it as happy as it can be here with me. After all, it is my pet.”
“Will you open up, let's have look, I still have a lot to do, and finding Pete has to be done first.”
“If you do not mind, Sir, could I keep your headgear for you, as it is a bit low down there.”
The Chief walked down the steps, shining his super strong torch through to all the corners of the basement. The normal lighting did not show the full extent of the basements alterations.
The basement was like a swimming pool, with a jacuzzi next to the bottom of the steps. All around were windows and walls, with meshing in front of the windows. There was a gate at the bottom of the stairs, which opened onto a platform. The stairs, and landing, were enclosed with meshing, and it was clear, that the snake was in a world of its own.
“These snakes grow to a fair size, do they not? What did I see in that one program, to nearly thirty feet?” The Chief was talking to ease himself, and keep the tension low, as Boris was as quiet as can be.
“Yes Sir, in the wild, that is about it. Do mind the slippery steps, and do not shine the torch directly into the water on the landing, Sir.”
The Chief was taken aback with Boris' remarks. Firemen are trained for all situations, and a set of steps was no problem. The Chief opened the latch to the landing, stepped out onto it, and shone the torch into the water.
The next moment there was a shadow that moved in the water, it moved towards the Chief, faster and bigger, and the anaconda's head broke through the surface, its mouth wide open, and that was the last thing the Chief saw. The coils curled round its prey, and it rolled back into the water. The waves came to rest, and the water settled.
Boris watched as the torch still lit the water in a single search-light stream. He turned round, put the light off and went outside. He walked to his post box, looked up and down the street and took the two tags, and pocketed them into his shorts. At the other side of the road, a fireman exited number 11 and Boris called to him.
The fireman came over and recognized Boris, “Hey, how are you? You live here? What can I do for you?”
The new Chief of firefighters sat back in his chair. He read the story for the millionth time. The previous chief and fireman Pete was still on the missing list. It has been more than a year. Why were their tags and head gear found at the boat house at the lakeside, and who called them to go there? The mystery still remains.