Whitetail Hunting photo

Illustration by Dan Vasconcellos

Dudley is a lovable but crazy, so I should have known to ask him what was in the cup. We were at a South Texas deer camp. Dudley, whom I’ve known since before his first heart attack, was standing by the refrigerator with a 20-ounce Styrofoam cup in one hand and a Crown Royal in the other.

“See for yourself,” he said. I pried off the lid and peeked in and saw a Gordian knot of red, yellow, and block. That old snake ditty came to me: Red then yellow kills a fellow.

“That’s a coral snake, Dudley.”

“Uh-huh,” said Dudley·

I shook the cup to look for its head, which was buried somewhere. “Mind if I dump it on the floor so I can get a good look at it?” I asked.

“Nope. Go ahead,” said Dudley, calm as could be. But then, why wouldn’t he be?

I dumped the snake on the floor, grabbed its rail, and stretched it out. It was more than 2 feet long. “Damn, but that’s a pretty snake,” I said to the crowd that had gathered around. And that’s when the snake’s tongue shot out. “Dudley, this snake’s still alive!” I shouted, causing the crowd to jump up on anything more than 2 feet off the ground.

“Course it’s alive,” said Dudley, as if it’s perfectly normal to carry a large specimen of the deadliest snake in North America around in a Styrofoam cup and permit a dumb Yankee to play with it.

Dudley rounded up the snake with his boot, slipped on a pair of gloves, and popped the snake back in the cup. I grabbed it and put it in the freezer. Overnight. “Dudley,” I said, “if you ever do that to me again, I won’t come to your third heart attack. And by the way…you’ve just been to my first.”

This story originally ran in the February 2002 issue of Field & Stream_._