by John Weagly
This story has never before been published.
“I was in the Chart Room, nursing an Abita Amber, standing back by the jukebox,” Justin said. “I heard these two guys sitting at the bar. They say this old fella has a cardboard box full of money. Doesn’t trust banks, he’s been throwing his dollars in the box his whole life.”
“And he’s an old guy?” Zev asked.
Justin nodded. “In his forties.”
“Must be a fortune.”
“And then some,” Justin agreed.
The two men were sitting in Justin’s car looking at the home of Sebastian Babineaux on Bayou Lafourche, twenty-five miles southwest of The Big Easy. The house was a one-story brick affair with a peaked, shingled roof and hurricane shutters on the windows. Spanish moss dripped from an ancient oak tree on the front lawn and the bayou rolled lazily along just past the old man’s backyard.
“I didn’t realize his house would be this close to the water,” Justin said, looking at the swamp. “You think there are snakes swimming around back there?”
“Who cares!” Zev said. “We’re not going in the water.”
“Right. Let’s just bust in and take the money. You got the gun?”
“Great,” Justin said. “If there’s anybody in there, shoot first and ask questions later.”
Zev put the gun back into his pants and the two bandits stepped out of Justin’s car. They could smell the musky dampness of the bayou a few feet away. As they walked into Sebastian Babineaux’s front yard, Justin wondered if the old man ever had any snakes slither into his house. He’d heard about that, snakes sneaking in through cracks in the foundation or the plumbing, and taking up residences in the walls of a home. He, personally, would never live this close to such slimy vermin.
“You okay?” Zev asked.
“Fine,” Justin said.
They walked cautiously toward the house; the sounds of splashes in the water and birds screeching warnings in the air following them. Before they could reach the large oak in the front lawn, from around the corner of the house came a seven-foot long alligator.
The two men stopped in their tracks.
The reptile did likewise.
Everyone looked at everyone.
“That’s a big gator,” Zev said.
“Not the biggest I’ve seen,” Justin said, “but considerable.”
“Where did you ever see an alligator bigger than that?”
“At the zoo.”
“At the zoo doesn’t count. I’m talking about in the wild.”
“How much you think it weighs?”
The alligator looked from man to man, seemingly understanding their debate on her size. The air was hot and didn’t move.
“Maybe it’ll go away,” Justin said.
“She ain’t gonna go away,” said a third voice.
Justin and Zev looked toward the voice. Standing in the front door of the house was a man in his late forties wearing overalls and holding a dirty sock in his left hand.
“That’s Gumdrop,” said the old man. “She’s somewhat of a pet, somewhat of a watchdog.”
“Are you Mister Babineaux?” Justin asked.
“I am. What can I do for you two gentlemen?”
“We stopped by to…uh…Did we catch you putting on your shoes?”
Sebastian Babineaux held up the dirty sock. “Putting on my shoes?” he said. “This sock’s filthy! I was taking it off.
You think I walk around all day wearing dirty socks?”
“No, sir,” Justin said. “I didn’t mean any offense…We, uh, we came here to…”
“Let me guess, you heard I kept a giant box of money and you drove out here to relieve me of it.”
Justin had to think for a moment to come up with a lie as an alternative to the truth the old man already knew. “No, sir! We were…We would never…”
“Let’s just go back to the car,” Zev said out of the side of his mouth.
Justin nodded and both men took a cautious step back toward their automobile. Gumdrop took a couple of energetic steps toward them. Justin and Zev halted their retreat. Gumdrop stopped and tilted her head.
“Gumdrop doesn’t like suspicious movement,” Sebastian Babineaux said.
“Sorry,” Justin said. His muscles felt tight with fear and he could almost feel the tension emanating from his partner’s skin. “Be cool, Zev,” he said.
“I get folks coming out here all the time looking for that treasure. Do I look like the type of fool that would keep
his life savings in a cardboard box in the linen closet?”
“No, sir,” Justin said. “I…We wanted to ask about…”
“I’m going,” Zev said and took another step toward the car. Gumdrop turned her head to follow his movement and shifted her large tail. “This is stupid,” Zev said. He stopped and pulled the gun from his waistband. He pointed it at the old man in the doorway. “Call off your gator, Mr. Babineaux!”
“I wouldn’t do that, son.”
“I’ve shot people before and I’m not afraid…” Before Zev could finish, Gumdrop ran across the front lawn and grabbed him by the leg. Zev screamed and dropped the gun. Gumdrop’s powerful jaws clamped down hard on his calf and Zev fell to the ground. The beast dragged Zev to the bayou’s edge and into the water.
It was all over in a matter of seconds.
“Guess I don’t have to feed her tonight,” Sebastian Babineaux said.
Justin looked around in a daze. The tree. The house. The old man in the doorway. The stench of mud and rotten vegetation and the outcries of birds. Everything was the same with one exception: Zev was gone.
Well, he’d never been that fond of his reprobate colleague anyway.
His eyes landed on Zev’s fallen pistol, nestled in the Bermudagrass. Justin picked it up and pointed it at Sebastian Babineaux. “You might not have a big box of money,” he said. “But since I came all the way out here, why don’t we take a look at what you do have that might be worth taking?”
“I’d be careful,” the old man said.
“Why? Your somewhat of a pet, somewhat of a watchdog alligator is busy at the moment.”
From the back yard came charging the biggest alligator Justin had ever seen, either in the wild or at the zoo. “Gumdrop’s been having a gentleman caller drop by,” Sebastian Babineaux said. “This is Lemonhead.”
Justin had the wherewithal to fire off a couple of shots at the rampaging alligator, missing with each one. The monster lizard latched onto his foot, pulling him off-balance, and dragged him to the water’s edge.
The last thought Justin had before he went under the murky depths was that he hoped there weren’t any snakes.
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