Balloon Man

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Chapter 25

Cye headed over to Swarthmore Home, but he didn’t go to the house. He drove to the back of the lot. There were still police cars and tape all over the place. One of the policemen saw him.

“Hey, you can’t be here. It’s off limits.”

“I want to help,” said Cye.

“You can help by staying away and letting us do our job.”

“That man that got killed was my brother. I have a right to know what’s going on!”

“Go away before I arrest you,” the policeman said as he touched his gun on his hip.

Frustrated, Cye left. He drove nearly five miles then pulled off on a dirt road, got out, and started walking toward the swamp. The sounds of the searchers and dogs was way off in the distance. Cye knew the swamp very well since he and Jo Bob grew up at Swarthmore home.

Cye spent more time in the swamps than he did anywhere else in his life. It was over forty years ago, but it seemed like yesterday. When he turned twenty, he moved to Baton Rouge then ended up in prison for second degree murder. It was self-defense, and Cye pleaded his innocence. The jury didn’t believe him and Cye was sentenced to forty years.

He made parole after thirty and went back home, hoping to pick up the relationship with Jo Bob again. He went out hunting alligators with Jo Bob, Papito, and Cooter Lafuente, but Jo Bob had gotten too involved with Cooter.

Cooter Lafuente shared a cell with Cye years ago. Cye decided he would be looking for new problems if Cooter was around. Cooter was always wheeling and dealing some new illegal ideas, either poaching or hunting on other’s land. Cye was really trying to keep on a straight line so he tried to warn Jo Bob to stay away from Cooter. He’d explained the man was dangerous and couldn’t be trusted. The conversation ended in an argument the day after Papito died.

“It weren’t no accident! None of you were looking when Papito fell into the river. I wasn’t really, either, but out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw Cooter push him over.”

“That’s a load of crap!” Jo Bob had yelled back. “No way!”

Nothing Cye said would change Jo Bob’s mind. Not even when he recounted the times in prison when Cooter told other inmates that if his brother Papito ever died, Papito’s kid would have to come live with him and he’d have to earn his keep. Cooter would laugh, saying nobody would get a free ride from him, and he’d teach the kid to work for a living.

The relationship with Jo Bob was never the same after Papito died. The few times Cye visited Jo Bob after the death of Cooter’s brother, Jo Bob laughed and told him he was an old fool.

“Your stories are full of holes! Papite lives here, not with Cooter! Stop worrying and thinking such bad things about my friend!”

Then, to bring the conversation to a close, Jo Bob would sing, “Ol Atchafalaya crawfish, that be gittin’ you like you be gittin’ dem, because, de Atchafalaya crawfish bring de gators to you, so you be for dem gator bits!”

Cye gave up trying to talk sense into Jo Bob months ago. The memories of those conversations spun through Cye’s head as he made his way into the swamp.

He knew Papito once lived in Prairie Creek with his girlfriend. He would find his way there, and maybe if he could find Cooter, he could find Elaine and the missing boys. Something in his gut wormed around, telling him Cooter was behind all the murders.

He feared by now everyone was dead. It was possible he was wrong about Cooter and maybe he was a victim, too. Either way, he had to find out.

Making his way through the swamp was miserable. It was sticky and hot and insects feasted on his exposed skin. He came to a part of the swamp where he really needed a boat to get around. Without one, he risked running into alligators, stepping on a snake, or stumbling upon the dreaded Parrain. The thought of the monster gator made Cye shudder.

Cye was not equipped to hunt right now since he only had a knife on him. He felt a bit stupid for heading out into the swamp without a rifle.

A knife and a canvas bag with water wasn’t really enough protection to venture out with into the swamp. Any other time, he wanted to get Parrian just like everyone else around, but not today.

Cye was on a mission to find out what happened to his brother.

Too many thoughts roamed around in Cye’s mind as he walked through the muck and mire. He realized the mistake of not paying close attention too late.

The bag flew from Cye’s fingers as his body jerked upward, leaving him hanging upside down over the water, his head about three feet above the top of the murky water. It took him a minute to figure out what happened.

Gator bombed. Cye Swain had just been gator bombed.

His head felt the pressure of hanging upside down as his eyes bulged. Cye groaned as his body swung in the air. “Damnit! Let me down! Let me down!”

No one answered or came to his aide. Cye screamed and screamed until his voice gave out.

Exhausted, he looked down at the water and tried to think of a way to get down. He cursed internally, angry at himself for not putting the knife in his pocket. Panic set in when the alligators appeared below him, circling like the way sharks circle a boat. The ripples in the water from the movement, and the way their glowing eyes watched from the water, made Cye feel sick.

The fright was enough to give Cye a final burst of energy. Bending at the waist, he grabbed the rope and tried to pull. He’d make a little progress then slip.

The gators moved closer. Cye tried getting some momentum by swinging himself, thinking he could grab higher up on the rope. As he swung back and forth, one alligator leapt from the water, missing Cye’s head by mere inches.

Snap!

The creature was so close Cye could almost count its teeth. The pink and red mouth was so big it could easily cover half of Cye’s torso.

“Not today you beast!” Cye yelled. Adrenaline kicked into overdrive, allowing Cye to grab the rope again. Pulling with every ounce of strength he had, Cye managed to twist his body up and erect, his feet firmly planted on the knot of the rope.

He didn’t know how long his old muscles could hold the position. Glancing behind him, he saw the canvas bag about twenty feet away. If he could only get to the knife!

Every movement caused pain in his feet and ankles. He feared he may have broken the right one. Cye took some comfort he was nine feet above the water rather than three.

The position he was in was painful and Cye knew he couldn’t stay upright much longer. His legs were getting weak. Desperate to free himself, Cye looked up, realizing he was only feet away from the top knot rigged over a thick branch. With the last remainder of strength, Cye pulled his body up until both hands touched the bark.

He collapsed onto the branch, wrapped his arms around it while thanking the Lord above for giving him strength. He stayed up in the tree all night, letting his tired, sore body rest.

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