The year is 1936. Flotation “Flo” Jones lives in the bayou country of Louisiana. Flo is young, but not so young that she and Tucker Waters, whom she knows as “the watermelon man,” can’t catch each other’s eye. Flo also has a beautiful voice and a talent for singing, and the local mayor fancies her as a decoration for parties at his mansion. But the socializing is a cover for organized crime. Flo, Tucker and some friends will desperately try to escape its clutches.
Tucker was an hour away from the White Palace, and the clock on the dashboard said 10:15 pm. State Road 116 to Morgan City was sparsely traveled, especially on a night like this. Heavy rain was falling and lightning strikes showed the swamps on either side of the road, an eerie graveyard of dead cypress trees and black water. Tucker had a thing about swamps and just looking at them made his skin crawl.
He wanted desperately to turn the car around and go back to Flo. Suppose she was in trouble and needed him? The decision was suddenly made for him. His headlights picked up something on the road ahead. At first he thought it was a log, and he threw on the brakes. Seconds later, when it began moving, he knew it was a giant gator, easily ten feet long.
The Packard careened to the right, skidding on the wet blacktop. All Tucker could think of was the black water ahead until he heard a scream coming from the back seat.
* * *
Flo finished the second set with one thought in mind, finding Wheatie. Tucker was nowhere to be seen and time was running out. At first she thought about calling the sheriff. Then she remembered seeing his deputy talking to Mayor Bucknell. She couldn’t take the chance.
Flo made her way to the second floor and began opening the bedroom doors, hoping to find Wheatie. She turned the doorknobs quietly, quickly releasing the ones that were locked. Flo had reached the last room, with no luck, when she heard May’s voice on the stairs. She was loud and sounded drunk.
Flo twisted the last door knob, holding her breath until it turned. “Thank you, Lawd,” she sighed, slipping into the room. There was only one place to hide: under the bed. Flo listened, hoping the voices would pass the room by.
Her luck did not hold. The door swung open and she could see May’s gold sling pumps standing right beside the bed. The sight that caused Flo to lose her breath were the shoes standing across from May. The four-inch platforms that could belong only to one person.
“Listen, honey” — Oggie Phelps’ voice grew louder — “I want my money NOW! I ain’t waitin’.”
May’s reply was just as loud. “The boss says you’re charging too much. He told me to give you half.”
“Half?” Oggie shouted. “You thinks it’s easy what I do? Makin’ twelve year olds look legal. Makeup and hair is time and money, honey.” Then Oggie lowered his voice. “Supposin’ somebody should let on about what’s goin’ on out here.”
“You’re dumber than I thought,” May replied, pulling a small revolver out of her kimono pocket. “Threatening Bucknell was a mistake,” she added, pushing the muzzle of the gun into Oggie’s bulging stomach and pulling the trigger twice.
The sound of both gunshots was muffled by Oggie’s girth. Flo winced when his body hit the floor, his eyes wide open, staring at her. He moved his mouth, trying to say something, but a gush of blood cut off the words.
“Now we only got one more problem,” May laughed, opening the bedroom door. “A canary that ain’t gonna sing no more.”
* * *
The Packard came to rest against a concrete marker post that read “Danger Quick Sand.” The left rear fender was obliterated along with part of the rear bumper, and for some reason Tucker didn’t understand, the front windshield was cracked from one side to the other.
“Is we dead yet?” a voice from the back seat moaned. Tucker looked over the seat to discover the source of the question. It was Wheatie, on the floor like a limp rag, her eyes rolling back in her head.
“No, you ain’t dead yet, girl,” Tucker said, “but you might be, pretty soon. What you doin’ back there anyway?”
Wheatie pulled herself up on the seat and Tucker recognized her. He had seen her in the hallway of the White Palace.
“They was gonna kill me. I knows it,” she blurted out, suddenly returning to reality.
“What you talkin’ ’bout, girl. Who’s gonna kill you?”
“Miss May, “ Wheatie answered, fear on her face. “She done found out I told Miss Flo about the girls locked up down below.”
Nothing made sense to Tucker, except that now he was sure Flo was in danger. “Tell me everything slow,” Tucker said as he opened the door to see about freeing the Packard. “Lawd,” he said to himself, “I hope’s that gator’s dead.”
Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen