Mystery and Crime Fiction posted November 11, 2016 Chapters: -Prologue- 1... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
The end of alligator season, the start of something deadly

A chapter in the book The Last Laugh

An uneasy ending

by mbroyles2

He needed one more kill. In twenty-five years the last one was always the hardest. This year had been exceedingly difficult. Halfway through the month he thought of giving up, selling his part of the swamp, and settling down at the restaurant with his memories of the good old days. Back when gators were plentiful, and the thrill of the catch was the driving force of the season, not the money. He smiled at this. It was never about the money. There isn't enough in the gator business to merit all the hard work. The aching back, the risk of life, the cost of fuel and processing, none of that was offset by the measly $12 a foot. Heck, back when he was pulling close to $40 a foot, it still wasn't enough. It was then, and is now, all about the hunt.

Big Jim Dupeux and his partner Hank Gaudet had been checking lines all day with no results. They didn't expect much on the last day of the month-long season. The October sun was high in the sky and making its presence known with a scorching humidity that drenched his gray T-shirt. The Louisiana swamp, just east of his hometown of Alexandria, had apparently yielded all they were going to get. They had one tag left, but all lines had been brought in and there was nothing left to do now but head for home.

The Gator-Tail mud motor hummed as it pushed the 16ft heavy-duty aluminum boat through the shallow water, cutting through the duckweed and salvinia ferns. The cypress trees stretched over the swamp like an oversized glove watching over the small birds as they feasted on muscadine berries.

Hank stood at the bow of the boat. An imposing figure at six foot two inches, barrel-chested, with biceps bigger than most men's thighs. He never liked the feel of gloves and his hands bore the price of under protection, scarred from hooks, gator bites, and snapped fishing lines. He positioned himself like a referee signaling off sides, and moved his head from side to side scanning the swamp for one last trophy. His hair was long and unkempt, black but graying fast. Same for the make-shift beard he was unsuccessfully trying to grow. His month-long attempt looked like a week, and bald patches appeared under his chin and on his left cheek.

Though he was known as "Big Jim", James Dupeux was much smaller in comparison to his cousin Hank. Four inches shorter, fifty pounds lighter, and three years less experienced. His thinning all black hair was slicked straight back, sitting on top of a basketball sized head with a clean shaven face. Normally he was doused with cheap aftershave, but not this month, with the insects still in full force.

"I think this might be it for me, Hank. It's just not fun anymore."

"You're just getting old," Hank said, not taking his eyes off the swamp. "You'll change your mind come next September. The itch will need scratching."

"Yeah," Big Jim's voice held little conviction, "maybe."

The exit of the swamp approached, and the Red river awaited. Big Jim felt like a child at the end of an amusement ride when you realized it wasn't all that good, unfulfilled, like you wasted your time standing in line.

Suddenly, Hank was pointing to the right. "Let's take a look see down that way and scout the area. Might be worth fishing next year if we spot good signs."

Jim sighed, but complied. Shaking his head slightly.

They were a hundred yards deep into the new territory when Hank straightened like he'd been kicked. "Look there!" He almost shouted, but caught himself. He gestured so hard he nearly stumbled out of the boat.

Big Jim killed the motor and half stood to see what Hank was so excited about. It didn't take him long and a bolt of adrenaline shot through him like electricity. He was completely upright now.

To the left of them, resting on the bank amid the tall sawgrass, was the biggest gator they had seen this season. Big Jim estimated it to be 13 feet or bigger. Hank slowly reached for his rifle, a scoped .30/.30, he used only for distance shooting.

"Boy, he's a big 'un!"

That broke the tension as Big Jim looked at him with a slight frown. "Seriously, did you just say that?"

Hank shrugged, and took aim. The shot scattered a few birds, but not the gator. He died instantly. Hank could shoot with the best of them.

"Yeah, buddy!" Big Jim shouted. "That was some mighty fine shooting!"

Firing up the motor they started towards the bank. They noticed the smell before they saw the turkey vultures overhead, not shook by the recent shot.

"Good Lord! What dead animal smells like that?" asked Hank, pinching his nose and wincing away.

The answer only took seconds, lying less than five feet from the massive alligator.

"Is that what I think it is?" asked Hank, now holding his stomach and gagging slightly.

"Yes," answered Big Jim. "It's a body."

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