Balloon Man

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Chapter 20

Cooter hitched his way to Baton Rouge where he was dropped off at Walker South Road. He stopped at CVS pharmacy, bought a candy bar, then headed to a grove of trees across the street and ate.

He winced with pain while chewing. The sugar went down into his exposed gums. Loose teeth were noticeable as were his rotten teeth. One front tooth and a side tooth were missing. He knew better than to eat candy, but he was in the mood to celebrate.

Looking down at his clothes, Cooter noticed blood mixed in with the dirt from not washing. There were some dried brown spots. Adjusting his glasses, he knocked the masking tape off that held them together. “Dammit! Crappy tape.”

Spotting a Goodwill store across the street, Cooter stood and walked across the road. Once inside, he bought a used t-shirt then returned to the grove of trees. He changed, tossing his old shirt into the bushes, and rested here for a while.

“I’ll go back to the trailer in a few days after everythin’ settles down.” Cooter mumbled to himself. “Hope I locked everythin’ up good and tight before I left.”

Cooter’s thoughts were interrupted by a commotion down the street so he turned his attention to the noise. A couple boys were in front of the pharmacy, pushing and shoving each other. Even from his hiding spot across the road, Cooter heard the angry words.

“I said you can’t have any of my money! I’m buying candy for me, not you! Get lost!”

“Awe c’mon, please? Just a dollar?” pleaded the smaller one.

“No! Go home!”

The smaller boy looked unhappy as he stood outside the store while the other, taller boy went inside and bought candy.

Cooter walked across the street to where the boy stood. “Hey kid. I’m Cooter. What’re all miserable about? I can help you make a couple dollars to buy candy if that’s what’s botherin’ ya.”

The kid shook his head. “No sir. I’m okay.”

“So, you’re just gonna let that boy tell ya what to do? Don’t you want what he has? Kid, you don’t get it. If you always let him treat you like that, you’ll always be a whiny, little bahbin piece of crap! Just a poutin’ all de time.”

“I ain’t no little bahbin, and I can lick most kids in my class.”

Cooter laughed. “You got some spirit, boy! You know, you remind me of my nephew. He likes to hunt and he’s even got some really big gator traps! He’s hopin’ to get Parrain.”

“Who’s Parrain?” asked the kid.

“What? Hee Haw! You don’t know Parrain? Why, he’s the biggest, meanest gator ever was, over sixteen feet long!”

“Wow, sixteen feet? That be the biggest ever! You’ve seen him mister?”

“Oh yeah!” said Cooter. “He sits right in my river, by my house. You wanna see him?”

“I can’t. I’ve gotta get home soon after my friend comes back.”

“Oh, too bad. He was just sunnin’ hiself today when I was lookin’ out my window. But hey, I gotta an idea! I’ll call your mama and tell her where ya goin’. If she say okay, den it’s okay! I betcha she’ll want you to see Parrain!”

“How you gonna call?”

“I just havta go into the store here and use their phone. My friend works there. Now, what’s your phone number?”

The small boy looked hesitantly at Cooter then back at the store. His friend had yet to return. After biting his lip several times, he finally gave Cooter the number.

Smiling, Cooter said, “You stay here. Oh, what’s your ma’s name? And yours?” Cooter started across the street.

“I’m Jacob Ducreux! Ma’s name’s Bitsy.”

Cooter walked across the street and went into the first store, peering out the window making sure Jacob didn’t follow. Satisfied he waited long enough, he bought what he came in for and left, holding green and blue balloons.

After crossing the street, Cooter handed them to Jacob. “It’s all set. You’re ma said you can come with me and see Parrian. And oh, you gonna see a really, really big somethin’!”

Jacob reluctantly followed Cooter while holding the balloon tight. He was fascinated by the thought of seeing the biggest alligator ever and was glad his ma let him go, since the man was a stranger.

“Bein’ that my car broke down, we travelin’ the freeman’s way.” Cooter stuck his thumb out to hitchhike.

Having second thoughts about going with the odd man, Jacob balked. “Maybe I can come see the gator another day.” Jacob backed up a few steps.

“Oh, don’t be afraid! Just calm down,” Cooter said while grabbing Jacob’s hand. “If you don’t like him, I’ll bring you right back. I promised your mama that you’d come home with some smoked gator, too. Here, now, let’s tie these on so they don’t float away.”

Jacob didn’t move. He felt a hard pit form in his stomach. In the distance, he heard the sound of a car or truck coming. Jacob decided it was time to run.

He only made it two steps before the man grabbed him from behind. Strong fingers dug into his shoulder blade. The pain made Jacob’s vision blur.

Jacob heard a truck stop and Cooter talking real fast, saying he appreciated the ride because his poor nephew felt dizzy from the heat. Jacob wanted to scream and yell, to run away from the crazy man, but he couldn’t move. It was like he was paralyzed. Even when Cooter lifted him up to the bed of the truck, Jacob couldn’t speak.

As the truck started down the road, Cooter let go of Jacob’s shoulder. He leaned close and whispered, “Say one word, just one scream, and I’ll kill your ma.”

Tears ran down Jacob’s face and he started to shake. He’d never been so scared in his life.

They rode in the back of the truck for a long time. Jacob was terrified. From the moment they started moving, Cooter’s smiling face turned ugly and his demeanor changed. He looked really mad.

Jacob tried to calm himself down by reciting the alphabet inside his head. He kept hoping the truck would stop, giving him a chance to get away, but the truck just kept on driving. He considered jumping out but he knew the truck was going too fast and he would end up getting killed.

The ride was bumpy, the hard bed of the truck hurt Jacob’s back where he leaned against the rear window. When it finally stopped, Cooter jumped out and pulled Jacob out too. The balloons had already popped on only the thin string remained tied to the boy’s wrist.

“Smile and keep your mouth shut or Mama gets it!” Cooter whispered. He then waved to the driver and said, “Thanks for takin’ me and my nephew home!”

The truck took off and Cooter held Jacob’s hand really tight. The string with the deflated balloon was still fastened to Jacob’s wrist flopped on the road behind him. They walked down the road and when they turned onto a dirt path, Jacob started to cry. The tears came hard and swift, and Jacob pissed himself.

Cooter let out a low whistle and tied Jacob’s hands up behind his back. Jacob tried to resist but it was no use. Cooter was too strong.

“Knock it off kid!” Cooter backhanded Jacob in the face with his huge hand.

Cooter dragged and pulled Jacob, who had a bloody nose and was in shock. There was no more niceness or kidding or even mention of Parrain. Dazed, frightened, and in pain, Jacob tried to decipher Cooter’s mutterings.

“Lazy kids, good for nuthin craps. Gotta teach ’em!” Cooter stopped walking and threw Jacob to the ground. “Get down in there. Now.”

Jacob didn’t have a chance to fully grasp what he was looking at before Cooter pushed him into a big hole in the ground.

Cooter ignored the screams from the kid and pulled a big cement disk out from under a bush. He placed it on top of the hole and said, “You stay quiet until I get back. You hear?”

The screaming stopped.

Cooter threw some leaves and sticks on top of the cover. He stepped back and looked, satisfied it was well hidden. He leaned against a tree and watched for a few minutes, making sure the kid remained quiet. Hearing nothing, Cooter smiled. He’d done a fine job scary the piss right out of the kid.

Cooter headed through the swamp toward his trailer.

Jacob sat in the mucky bottom of the dark hole. He felt crawfish and other creatures walking around on his bare legs. He was in a state of shock, his body shaking. He did not make a sound for fear of being heard by Cooter. He tried to stand but the hole was not deep enough. Sitting with his forehead against his knees he cried silent tears, fearing what Cooter was going to do to him.

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