Balloon Man

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Chapter 29

Cooter turned on the radio and blasted the music, singing and banging on pails like they were drums.

“Money, money, money! Gonna make me some money! Yep! All I gotta do now is find someone to buy these whiney little beasts.”

Papite wondered if he’d ever be able to hear again after Cooter banged on the pail. He thought about poor Remy and how terrified the injured boy must be. Just as he thought his ear drums would explode, the banging stopped.

Straining to listen and watch, Papite heard Cooter talking to the young, frightened boy he’d brought with him. It was hard to hear what he was saying because Papite’s ears were still ringing from the pounding on the pail.

“Get down there,” Cooter pointed at the hole and waved him to it.

The young boy sobbed, “Please let me go, please? Don’t hurt me.”

Papite had no doubts now his uncle was the killer.

“I told you to shut up!”

Papite hoped Remy wasn’t watching as Cooter shoved the sobbing kid down into one of the holes, afraid Remy might cry out or make noise, giving away the fact his gag was gone.

After Cooter finished securing his new moneymaker, he started drinking again. Every twenty minutes or so, he’d take a stick and bang on the pails. “I’m back in business. Those worthless orphans couldn’t fetch a good price anymore. Oh, you sure can though, Jacob. Clients are gonna love you! Gotta break you down, first, then it’ll be auction time!”

He looked over at the other buckets. Cooter pulled up two and stared at the sickly faces of the boys. He wondered if they were dead. Then he heard one of them moan.

“Oh shut up,” Cooter grumbled. “Nobody gonna want you for work if you’re weak and sickly. I gave you some meat in there, now drink it! Blended it all up nice for ya and the straw’s right there! Come on, drink!”

Cooter grimaced when the boy tried to move his head but was too weak. “Ugh, never mind. I’ll tend to you later. You two ain’t as cute as ol’ Jacob anyway!”

Cooter needed to find buyers for the boys. He wasn’t in contact with any of the old customers. That end of the business had always been Jo Bob’s responsibility. Where in the world would he find some new buyers? If he started asking around, he’d just attract the law if he talked to the wrong person.

Suddenly, Cooter had an idea. Jo Bob had all the names and addresses tucked away in a small drawer in the study. “Ugh! Why didn’t I grab it that night?” Cooter muttered, smacking his palm on his forehead. “Stupid!”

Cooter though about going back to Swarthmore to steal the address book, yet hesitated. Had the cops been there yet? Did they know what happened? Were they searching for the killer? Did they know it was him?

“No, no way! They may know about them bodies but they don’t know about me! I made sure it looked like Elaine did it. I can go back, I surely can! It will make things easier if I had the names!”

Decision made, Cooter bolted back inside the trailer and changed into camo-colored clothes. He didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in case the law was looking for him. Nope, he’d just blend right in and head under the cover of darkness to Swarthmore.

Once dressed, Cooter sat on the couch and waited for darkness to arrive. He thought about how the business worked, or at least what he recalled Jo Bob telling him. Customers contacted Jo Bob with a list of what type of child they wanted. Jo Bob then told Cooter, and Cooter would get the child. Then, Jo Bob arranged a time for the customer to arrive at night at Swarthmore and take their new family member home.

Thankfully, Cooter dealt with girls maybe once or twice as a special request only for a few loyal clients. Young girls usually had adults around them and they did not go with strangers quite as easily.

The young boys practically jumped in the car when he dangled a wad of bright balloons. Cooter snickered to himself at the memories of all the boys he’d snatched over the years.

On occasion, Cooter stole babies, but that mostly was Foret’s domain. Foret tended to keep the better part of the money, so Cooter didn’t work much for Foret, and only ran into him a few times at Swarthmore.

Thinking about Foret made Cooter laugh. Foret, with his puny little face, decorated with round, wire spectacles, and the mannerisms of a girl.

The grin left his face as he thought about how he’d get customers without Jo Bob’s list. Cooter was not much of a businessman and really didn’t have any contacts. It left him with little choice.

He’d have to get the list, no matter what.

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