Paula Reid placed the stuffed Hello Kitty figure on top of the amplifier – as she does before every Desperate Hero performance – and seemed completely oblivious that she’d just made one of the most remarkable statements ever heard at the Cobalt Club.
“I’m sorry,” I said, needing to make sure I’d understood her. “You did what with a snake?”
“You regurgitated a snake.”
“I’ll probably regret saying this, but I would like to hear that story.”
“Well,” Paula said, glancing at center stage, where her husband Troy and his fellow rockers were setting up their equipment, “we’ve got a few more minutes before the show starts.”
We sat down at the nearest table, and Emsworth materialized with a plate of crab legs and asparagus on his tray. “Your usual, madam.”
“Thanks. Any chance I could get a Jack & Coke to go with it?”
“I shall have Baxter prepare it at once.”
As Emsworth vanished and Paula broke a leg, I thought that this bespectacled mezzo soprano and toddler mom hardly looked like someone who would even touch a reptile, let alone force one to cough up its most recent meal.
“If I walked up on a snake right now, I’d leap back like any good Southern woman should, start looking for something to chop it up with, and study it when it’s in pieces” she said. “Creepy crawlies have never been my thing.”
“But you signed up for a herpetology class in high school?”
Paula nodded as she speared asparagus. “Why I thought it was a good idea, I don’t know.” Her herpetology class at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile was taught by Dr. Terry Schwaner, a leading expert on Australian tiger snakes.
“I must confess ignorance of the existence of tiger snakes,” I said.
“An extremely venomous snake that lives in southern Australia and Tasmania. Their venom contains neurotoxins and myotoxins, causes blood clots, and breaks down red blood cells. They can get to be 10 feet long, and they don’t back down when they feel threatened.”
“So what you regurgitated was not a tiger snake.”
“No,” she said with a laugh. “It was nonpoisonous, but other than that, I don’t remember what kind it was. Dr. Schwaner took the class to Dauphin Island, and there we were, up to our knees in water and poking around in the brush to look for snakes. A smart thing to do with a bunch of teenagers.”
Before long, Paula found herself with a 16-inch-long, slime-drenched serpent in her hands. “It had this bump in its belly, and Dr. Schwaner said, ‘Let’s see what it ate.’”
“And you do that by…?”
“Smushing up its belly until whatever it ate comes back up.”
“So in this case…?”
“A frog’s foot came sticking out.”
“Tell me about it. The snake was fighting to get it back down as I was trying to get it out of him. To this day, I can see that slimy webbed foot sticking out of its mouth.”
“So you identified what it had eaten. What did you do next?”
“Smushed it back down so the snake could finish digesting it,” Paula said before swallowing crab.
“Do you remember what you were thinking during the regurgitation process?”
“Probably a bit grossed out but still intrigued to some degree.”
I laughed and shook my head. “So that’s the story of how you regurgitated a snake.”
It was then that Wade Smith passed by our table. We greeted him, and my brow crinkled as I saw what he was wearing.
“Yeah,” he said, straightening it out so we could read it. “Isn’t this keen?”
“Where did you get it?”
“In the foyer. The VIP was out there giving them away.”
“Excuse me,” I said to him and Paula as I headed for the front. The Cobalt Club had received two rather enigmatic correspondences from the VIP, but as yet I had no idea of the mysterious character’s identity.
In the foyer, I found Millicent, Chloe Carstairs, Taylor Wyatt, Christy Turnipseed, Deon Gordon, Scott Wilson, and Beth Shelburne all wearing and admiring “Keep Calm and Read the VIP” t-shirts. They had received the garments from a young woman they all described as “fabulous,” but that was all I was able to learn.
None of the regulars could remember her name or agree about what she looked like.