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   Well, that was fun, he thought as he crossed the Missouri state line. A lot of planning and some chance taking, but it was worth it. He smiled, imagining her terror, first as she discovered the ‘pet’ he’d left her and then his greeting card. He’d changed his tactics this go around. Despite what he’d been taught, he no longer believed patience to be a virtue. It was old school.

   One thing he did like that was old school was sadly going by the wayside: people having to be responsible for themselves. There was a time everyone had to take care of their own crap. Now, they had technology taking up the slack. Computers and cell phones sending alerts if your social security number was accessed or too much money being charged per day. Still, luckily, the majority of people went about their daily lives in a fog. They were just so damned stupid. So unobservant.

   Like the lady at the rental counter when he showed his picture ID. She gave it a cursory look. If she’d actually compared the man in the photo to the one standing in front of her, she would’ve noticed they weren’t one and the same. But she hadn’t and here he was sitting in a panel van enjoying the view on his way home. He liked driving. Here, in this vehicle, he was alone. There was nobody looking over his shoulder telling him what to do.

   He figured the authorities would go looking for the van but it would take them a while to find it, if they found it at all, since he’d rented it in a state other than Missouri. Of course, if they did, the agency and nearby businesses might have cameras from which investigators could get a brief description of him. But that was an ‘if’ scenario and odds were in his favor that all the ‘ifs’ needed to find him would not fall into place.

   The ‘break-in’ at Lydia’s had accomplished several things in addition to increasing her blood pressure, he mused. He had actually broken a window to gain entrance. He could’ve used his bump key set but he didn’t want to tip her or the authorities to the possibility he had burglary tools. This way instead of increasing security by installing better locks or cameras, they would assume he was as stupid as they were and just replace the window.

   Bump keys. They were easily purchased online, and to make it even sweeter, instruction videos were free to watch. Technology working to his advantage. But, along with their use came noise and he needed a silent entry for his next visit. So, he’d gone next door to the landlord’s home and ‘bump keyed’ entrance in search of actual copies of keys to Lydia’s residence. It was almost too easy. There by the garage door hung a rack with numerous keys––and they were labeled. He took the one to the deadbolt for Lydia’s back door and replaced it with a similar one, making sure the brand name was the same and attaching the label. He repeated the process with the key designated ‘garage/kitchen’. Again, the possibility of discovery was slim. Bump keys didn’t leave tampering marks and the switch wouldn’t be discovered unless the owners actually tried to use the keys.

   He set the cruise control to five miles under the speed limit then mentally retraced his steps for the last two days. The first phase had been to obtain Lydia’s pet, SSSSSam. (God, but that was a cool name!) The groundwork for this operation had been laid years ago when he’d watched Snake Salvation on the National Geographic Channel with his dad. He laughed thinking how smart it had been to realize the bite of a cottonmouth snake would create the perfect gift for Lydia’s second anniversary present. After all, the second anniversary was the cotton anniversary. And it had gone so well he felt it was time to branch out, so today he’d employed a different species as he worked on anniversary four.

   Though most states banned congregations that used venomous snakes in worship, he’d found one anyway. It helped that authorities in the area tended to look the other way unless a church member actually died of a snake bite. He’d posed as a free-lance journalist capitalizing on the fanaticism surrounding the art and had ‘interviewed’ Pastor Lewis Cantrell about his snake-handling church services. He knew the comings and goings of the pastor’s family from several years back but needed to see if anything had changed. So, he’d taken a little road trip and learned that Pastor Cantrell still worked at the chicken processing plant in town while Mrs. Cantrell continued home schooling the kids down at the church. In anticipation of his trip, he’d reviewed how to catch and bag a snake on YouTube and purchased a collapsible snake tong in a reptile store west of the Appalachians. He’d traveled to Cantrell’s rural home, used his bump key to enter and collected SSSSSam without a hitch––or should he say ‘hiss’.

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