Balloon Man

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Chapter 52

“Now you hurry on up! That’s it, you dirty parasite. You pick up the trash with your hands!”

The prison guard used his nightstick to point at trash in a drainage ditch full of water on the side of the road. A line of chained up prisoners cleaned debris up and Cooter was the last one on the line. He wished a bed would hurry up and open at the federal facility—where he’d been sentenced to and was awaiting transfer—rather than being stuck in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. There hadn’t been a day pass since he’d first arrived he hadn’t suffered a beating at the hands of inmates or guards.

His reputation doomed him in prison.

The mean guard with the heavy hand and short temper was right behind him, ready to inflict more pain if Cooter and the others didn’t obey his commands.

“Hey you—sick freak!” The guard spit out a wad of wet tobacco next to Cooter’s foot. “Pick that up then get those bottles.”

Cooter crept down into the drainage ditch and started picking up trash, silently cursing the guard, not paying attention to his surroundings. The last bottle was inches away from the edge of the water. Cooter reached for it when a huge gator burst from the concrete pipe. Before Cooter could even blink, its enormous jaws clamped around his arm. The beast pulled, dragging Cooter and the men chained to him toward the ditch.

“Help! Help! My arm!” screamed Cooter. “Shoot it! It’s Parrain!”

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The guard shot at the alligator, missing the first two times, finally connecting with the last bullet. Intense pain blinded Cooter’s mind. The sounds of muscle and bone ripping from his body made him puke. Finally, the monster let go, disappearing back into the pipe, bleeding yet not dead.

“Help me!” cried Cooter then passed out from the pain.

He never heard the screams of the other inmates or the laughter of the guards.

Hours later, strange voices broke through the haze of pain and disorientation inside Cooter’s mind. The smell was a dead giveaway—he was in the prison infirmary. He recognized the foul odor from his previous incarceration. After being attacked by the huge gator he thought might be Parrian—he couldn’t be sure because it looked like the monster only had one eye—he was shocked to still be alive.

He didn’t recognize who was speaking yet assumed it was medical personnel from the infirmary. He tried to open his eyes but the lids were too heavy. His tongue felt like dead weight in his mouth. Instead of fighting to fully wake up, he remained still and listened.

“Got the antibiotics, Dr. Russell. Oh, and I ran into Sarge in the hallway. He said they caught the beast about twenty minutes ago. Get this—it’s still alive! Game and Fish just picked it up and plan on taking it to the zoo in Baton Rouge. Rumors are flying its Parrian.”

“Richard, you’ve got to stop being so gullible, especially if you want to continue working as a nurse in this facility. If you believe every tidbit of gossip, you won’t make it long.” Dr. Russell answered.

“I didn’t say I believed the rumors, doctor. I simply repeated them.”

“If you want to keep yourself safe from all those incarcerated here, you’ll learn to keep your eyes open and mouth shut. Now, I’m going to need some help. There was simply too much tissue damage and loss of blood. We’ll have to do an A-E, and I’ll need you to assist. Hand me that, please.”

Cooter stirred at the words. He didn’t know they meant, but something inside his gut told him they signaled bad news. Just then, the sound of glass shattering and a loud “Damn!” from the voice he thought belonged to Dr. Russell, filled the room.


“Sorry, Dr. Russell. I thought you had it.”

“Obviously I didn’t. Go get another bottle. We’ll need plenty of Betadine. Better yet, get two.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Cooter heard footsteps retreating then the door open and close. White hot pain shot through his system as someone grazed the open stump where his forearm used to be. Foul breath caressed his cheek as Cooter moaned in agony then whined, “Stop! That hurts. Give me something for the pain! Please?”

“Typical sociopath. You felt nothing when hurting others yet can’t stand a little pain yourself. Wimp.”

Cooter’s eyes flew open at the sound of Dr. Russell’s twisted words. If he could just free his other arm from the handcuff on the bed, he’d break his nose.

Dr. Russell started to whistle a tune Cooter didn’t recognize, and it wasn’t comforting or kind. It was downright eerie. The sound of metal clanking with metal made Cooter’s skin crawl.

“What…what are you doing? I heard what you said earlier. What’s an A-E?”

“Above-elbow amputation. That gator did quite a number on your arm. I’m afraid I’ll have to remove most of what’s left.”

Cooter tried to hold back the tears at the news. He didn’t want them to cut the rest of his arm off! How would he live? Defend himself? Panic and pain forced his mind to work. “Please, don’t! Leave my arm be!”

A cold hand patted his cheek. “Ah, don’t worry Mr. LaFuente. I don’t plan on wasting my time and losing sleep performing an amputation when I already know the end result of the bite.”

“End result?” Cooter whispered.

“Typically, alligator bites are a death sentence without immediate interaction of antibiotics. Those nasty reptiles are a like a moving bacteria farm! I’m afraid the infection will do you in. Soon. You might have stood a slim chance of surviving if I’d administered the medicine in time. Too bad I just dumped it down the sink and filled the vial with saline.”

“You—you can’t do that!” Cooter yelled, struggling against the cuffs. “I’ll tell Richard when he comes back! Help! Please, someone help! He’s gonna kill me!”

Dr. Russell held up a syringe dripping with fluid then calmly walked over to the IV and stuck the needle into the tube. The demented look behind his eyes made Cooter sob like a little child.

“There’s you some pain medication. Probably a bit too much, but hey, mistakes happen all the time. Good thing my brother is the state medical examiner. No one will ever know I killed you.”

“No, please! I don’t wanna die!” Cooter mumbled, the drug already making his head spin.

Dr. Russell bent his head down and whispered in Cooter’s ear, “Neither did any of those kids you killed. Enjoy Hell.”

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