Sunday, August 29, 2004

CHAPTER l
"The pituitary tumors shown in the lower two panels of Fig. 11 are from older animals of the 803-5 pedigree and represent a complete loss of growth control."
Kelly E. Mayo et al., "GHRH: Synthesis and Signaling"


The late afternoon thunderstorms annoyed Grover, but the drenching rain freed him from the heat of the long sleaved shirt, mosquito net, and pith helmet.

"At least a God—made rain will keep the skeeters down and help my crop," said Grover.

Grover Moss held his head up to the sky and allowed the rain to wash his red face before replacing his helmet and turning on his trolling motor. As he got underway, Grover watched rain splatter and pool on the four ice chests that filled the bottom of the small boat he called The Stumpjumper.

A ray of sunshine flooded the creek bottom with light inspiring Grover to speak to his pitbull, Zero, who sat in the bow of the boat.

"That’s a sign, buddy! It means Old Scratch is beating his wife !"

Zero barked and at that moment a bolt of lightning struck a cypress top a few yards up the bend in the creek.

"Holy shit!" screamed Grover.

Grover’s fear of an imminent death by lightning was suddenly replaced by guilt because of what he had said. He apologized to his dog, "Sorry Zero, them could of been my last words and, Lord knows, I was raised better than that. I hate being that a way."

Grover Moss settled back into his seat and tried to enjoy the rest of his voyage up Bloody Bluff Creek.

Again, he spoke to Zero, "Look at it this way, boy, at least the deer flies and skeeters can’t maneuver in weather like this."

Zero lowered his head and closed his eyes as the rain pelted his brindled back with drops so large they felt like hail.

Grover had lived round Irwin Island on the lower Wekiwahatchee River for almost twenty-five years. To the people around Lucy and Crosby, he was a peaceful man who kept beehives and sold fish, but occasionally rumors flew that Grover was one of the reasons the panhandle of Florida was getting known as the Pothandle. Grover had a poorly kept secret. Grover was a marijuana grower, and the four ice chests in the bottom of The Stumpjumper contained potting soil, fertilizer, and young cannabis plants. These were not ordinary hemp plants. They represented the perfection of recreational drug production from a combination of Afghanistan, Indian, and Hawaiian strains. Packaged over years ol clandestine research by Auburn university’s most preeminent plant geneticists, these plants would grow into the legendary reefer known as "Bascom No Toke." Put your hand in the baggie and you’ll get high. It was known even to make Crimson Tide fans yell "War Damn Eagle!"

The rain was letting up and Grover anticipated the hot and painful hike he and Zero had to make through the mosquito infested puddles that covered Irwin’s Hell Swamp.

"Shumhere boy," Grover called, and Zero clamored over the ice chests to his master. "Yeah, you a good boy, Zero. But you a mean old pupperdawg sometimes. Yeah, you are. Everything’s gonna be alright this morning. This rain’s gonna keep Birddog stuckin the City Cafe drinking coffee till dinnertime. We’ll get theseplants in with no problem at all."

"Birddog" was the nickname of L.D. Russell, game warden for much of Wekiwahatchee and Ogeechee counties. Mr. Russell, a part— time revenue agent and narcotics officer, gained his name by his habit of pointing his finger at suspected perpetrators as they passed by him in the towns and on the country roads of the Wekiwahatchee Delta. Tradition had it that the man who had "Birddog’s" finger of fate pointed at him would some day do time in Starke or Raiford or Draper, or even in Atlanta. Grover hoped "Birddog" would keep his hands to himself and never point that legendary finger at him.

The skies cleared as The Stumpjumper rounded the bend leading to the clump of ironwood trees Grover used to hide his boat. Taking a last minute glance to see if a fresh wasp or
hornet nest blocked their way, Grover and Zero lowered themselves to avoid the ironwood limbs as the protective leaves brushed over the boat and camouflaged The Stumpjumper as it made its landing.

Quickly pulling the boat out of the water and over the bank, Grover readied his cargo for the trip into the swamp. Retrieving his wheelbarrow from its hiding place, Grover used bungee cords to strap the four ice chests onto the large barrow. As Grover snaked his burden through the small hammocks and puddles of the swamp, Zero led the way, snapping his jaws at the bugs and keeping an eye out for cottonmouths. Soon they arrived at the cypress dome that surrounded the small island that Grover called "The Farm."

As Grover was unloading, he was interrupted by an unpleasant odor. "I smell k'yarn, Zero," said Grover. But this was no ordinary odor of carrion. This was the unmistakable stench of dead and decaying human flesh. Grover had smelled it before. As a boy, he had helped his father clean out the shack in which Grover’s grandfather, Pap Moss, had died and decayed.

"Zero, that smells just like Pap’s old easy chair did before we burned it in his front yard in 1959."

Then Grover saw the bloody guts. Lodged between two cypress knees were a fly—covered set of heart and lungs. Turning in horror to the opposite direction, he saw the torso of a cave dive underneath the clear water of the limestone spring that supplied this stand of cypress and Ogeechee tupelo. Stuffed under a root in the shallows, the bloated torso’s head was still covered with the diver’s steel helmet. There was a splash and Zero was gone. Without even one yelp of terror, Grover’s loyal companion of eleven years disappeared underneath the clear waters of the limestone spring. As if by instinct, Grover began to run, and, as he ran, he heard a mighty, bloodcurdling sound.

It was the sound of breaking bones.




CHAPTER 2

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Revelations 12:9

Grover didn’t run very far. He wasn’t afraid of gators. He’d been around gators all his life, and he knew that gators mind their own business. He hated losing Zero, but a hungry gator could eat you out of house and home, and a dog like Zero was just an appetizer for a big old "red—eyed" bull gator. Grover needed to get his plants in the dirt and even a monster gator wouldn’t stop him.

As Grover walked back toward his wheelbarrow, he felt guilty and a little ashamed.
"I can see it now. I’m gonna end up just like Pap Moss. Standing on the corner of Main and St. Andrews Street selling boiled peanuts and warning anyone who will listen about Old Tom," he thought.

Pap Moss, Grover’s grandfather, had worked hard and long at building a reputation of being "cuckoo." Disabled by mustard gas during World War I, Pap returned to Southeast Alabama with little to prevent his eventual failure as a farmer and a father. During his last years on the streets of Tustennuggee, Alabama, he had become something akin to the village idiot. Holding court at his peanut stand underneath the Cash’s Drug Store sign, he talked endlessly about his lifelong battle with his saurian nemesis, Old Tom.

Old Tom was the stuff of legends. A giant red—eyed bull gator, Tom was the Loch Ness Monster of South Alabama and Northwest Florida. Generation after generation of Lime Sinks youngsters heard the terrible tales of bellies torn open and legs hanging by the vertebral column. Old Tom wasn’t bashful about visiting your pigpen at night, and his tail was so powerful that he could slap a mule into the water with one flip. Old Tom was a dragon, and Pap Moss was his St. George or St. Michael, take your pick. A shining knight who sold peanuts during business hours before returning to the hunting blind behind his truck patch each evening.

All of Grover's childhood friends made fun of his grandfather. They’d ride their bicycles downtown every Saturday, so they could torment the old man with their taunts of "Hey, Gatorman! See ya later, alligator; after while crocodile!" and laugh as he threatened them with his walking cane. Grover Moss was not going to be threatened by any old gator. An obsession with Old Tom was not going to become a family tradition.

"I ain’t worried ‘bout this gator," Grover thought as he approached the limestone spring where he had lost his dog.

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Old Tom’s hollow roar shook Grover to his bones, and this man of the woods found himself running once more.

CHAPTER 3
And I will make Jerusalem heaps and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.
Jeremiah 9:11

"So, whatever caused Mr. Reagan’s bull to disappear remains a mystery. However, with an enormous five—toed track that spans twenty inches, this creature will certainly gain worldwide attention. This is Cleatus Holland reporting for Channel 4 News at Noon. More on the monster this evening on the 6 o’clock Report."

Leon Walker turned off the TV and reread the brief letter he had just written to the editor of the Tustennuggee News.

Dear Editor,

According to the Channel 4 News at Noon, many citizens of our county and possibly the rest of Earth are concerned about the existence of some sort of monster.

Let me take this opportunity to inform you that these are not monsters. These animals are perfectly formed crocodilians of the genus species Alligator mississippiensis. These varmints also happen to be very large, and I find that entirely appropriate.
Like it or not, your rivers and ponds are now inhabited with vast numbers of various voracious reptiles which have been genetically altered to produce a complete lose of growth control.

At present, many of the alligators are approaching 28 feet in length with a weight of over 1 ton.
If you don’t like it, I’d advise you to leave this area. There are cars, planes, and trains moving in every direction at all times of the day and night.

The animals that you are about to discover are useful
tools in the hands of ALMIGHTY GOD, and they are now
consecrated to HIS DIVINE PURPOSE.
Yours truly,
The Snake Doctor

As soon as he finished reading the letter, the LORD GOD spoke to Leon, and the words were from the Old Testament of Amos, Chapter 6, Verse 10, "Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the Lord."

Leon immediately walked over to his gas stove and burned the letter. Leon spoke to his pet coati mundi, Yerbita, "Yes, Yerbita, Almighty God will lead me on the Holy Cause. Through me, Leon Walker, the Lord has intervened in the course of earthly affairs to ensure that the most evil force on Earth, the tyranny of His enemies, will be dominated, subjugated, and exterminated."

Yerbita was a little raccoon-like critter Leon had picked up in Ecuador. She was his daily companion, and she was the only being who ever heard anything concerning Leon’s Divine Mission.

It would be easy to dismiss Leon as a misanthrope. If anyone happened to discover the purpose of Leon’s mission, they could misinterpret it as a dislike or distrust of all mankind. But Leon knew that he was beyond such petty emotions as hatred. Leon Walker was on very intimate terms with Almighty God, and Leon was the first foot soldier in a coming army of Old Testament prophets who would become their Creator’s instruments of destruction.

Prophet Leon Walker reflected upon the recent events as reported on Channel 4 News. Leon hated that Bill Reagan lost his prize Santa Gertrudis bull. Bill’s bull had won the 1995 University of Florida Bull Test, and even though its value to Bill Reagan was incalculable, Leon had to be honest and admit to himself that the bull was a public nuisance.

"At least I’ll never have to worry again about Mr. Reagan’s negligence in allowing that pest to break through its fence. A bull that size was a hazard on a county right of way, " Leon thought.

Prophet Leon leaned back in his rocker and considered the results of his five long years of research at Wekiwahatchee StateUniversity’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Cell Biology.

"Adjunct temporary laboratory instructor. More like night janitor or stock boy, "thought Leon.

Well, the stock boy had done good. Five years on the graveyard shift, and look at what he had to show for his work:

1. The complete amino acid sequences for most reptilian Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH) and its corresponding receptor proteins within the cell membrane.

2. A complete model for GHRH signaling in the pituitary cells that produce Growth Hormone (GH).

3. The enhancement of production of receptor induced C protein which increase the accumulation and activation of the catalytic cascade that activates the Growth Hormone Gene.

4. The discovery of a new protein which activates transcription of the Growth Hormone Messenger RNA and protein in order to replenish cellular stores of growth hormone to be released by pituitary cells.

5. The discovery that this same protein stimulated transcription of the GHRH receptor gene thus leading to greater numbers of GHRIH receptors and thus enhancing the production of GH in the pituitary cell.

6. The discovery of a transgenic technique that activates all of these mechanisms as well as activating mutations that produce pituitary tumors which result in hypersecretion of Growth Hormone.

In other words, Leon Walker had completely removed every possible control upon the growth of any reptile that crawled on the face of the earth, and he had not broken one legal statute

Now the time had come for another prayer for divine guidance. Another instrument of destruction was needed in the war which would triumph over the cancerous group of satan worshippers that now inhabited the planet.

Leon spoke to Yerbita," I may die, Pobrecita, but so will this so-called human race. And my death will be a triumph and another Righteous Soul will take up my sword and replace me."

Quoting Isaiah 10:23, he continued, "For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all land."

Leon Walker, prophet of doom and terror, returned to his and the stacks of journal articles on the microbiology of the genera Bacillus and Clostridium.



CHAPTER 4

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs came out of the
mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and
out of the mouth of the false prophet.
Revelation 16:13

A curious character who watched Cleatus Holland’s broadcast was the owner of a local petting zoo, Oakley "Oak" Galloway. Oak Galloway screamed at Cleatus Holland’s image on the TV tube,

"Oh Lord, that Rotten Headed S.O.B. weighs over a ton! He’s mine! He’s mine! He’s mine! I will have that gator. I can see it now! Tampa Stadium! $1000 a seat. $1500 family of four; lower Two—Toed Tom by helicopter onto the field and watch that 30 foot bastard go to town! Oh, buddy! Magnificent! No more time for boa constructors munching on strays and possums—-forget the Food Chain Act!——Tremendous!——no more Munch Bunch Circus!—— Fantastic! The sky is the LIMIT! Watch out State Prison! Capital Punishment coming at you Live and in Living Color, courtesy of the World’s Largest Gator, Two—Toed Tom! Boy, he might shake you like a pitbull or an armadillo, or he might slurp you down like slimy boiled okree--the sure bet is you gonna be gator turd! For sure ... but wait a minute. Why let Tampa Stadium get a piece of the rock? I can build a pit right here at the Live Oak Petting Zoo. There’s that buzzing in my ear!"

Oak gazed out of his den window.

"If you build it, they will come."


CHAPTER 5

Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secret of the heart.
Psalms 44:19—21


"Hey Jim, how many of those collars with the old survival beacons can I get from you right now?" Oak Galloway was calling a favor from his old kindergarten buddy, Jim Spurling.

"What you need beacon collars for in the middle of July?," Jim asked.

"The zoo is in line for some grant money to do a rabies study on coons. All I need you to do is let me have about a dozen collars, add a tracking cell to the satellite, and get me a hard copy of the overnight beacon movement in the morning. One—time shot. You and I will be slick before noon tomorrow."

"Don’t put my beacon on anything other than a coon," commanded Jim.

"Buddy, I understand. Trust me.I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. There’ll be no problem," Oak lied. Oak hated being that way;having to tell lies to old friends. Come on partner, let's cut a deal."

"Where did you get twelve coons?" asked Jim.

"Well, we got five here right now and Poor Boy took my pickup to Panama City to pick up maybe seven more at the Snake—A—Torium. All right?"

"All right."

"Super! Call your warehouse and tell them I’ll be there directly. Make the ticket out for Live Oak Zoo. Okay?"

"Okay. See you later, alligator."

"Afterwhile, Crocodile."

Jim Spurling contemplated the phone call he was about to make to the warehouse of his family’s mail—order business, Gulf States Vet Supply. He knew that there was no rabies study. "God knows what sort of devilment Oak is up to," Jim thought.

He punched the numbers into his cell phone and called in the order. With a little luck, Oak would keep his word on closing out this deal by tomorrow. Oak was generally pretty good at wrapping things up. Taking care of business. TCB. Years before, Jim had called upon Oak’s strong powers of persuasion.

Back in ‘83, Jim’s vet supply stepped a little too deep into the dog collar business in South Florida. One of Jim’s best customers was popped for running (in the words of the indictment) "a school for sadism and masochism" in St. Pete. Arming Oak with little more than a credit card and a set of master keys, Jim sent his zookeeper pal down to Sarasota to clean up the mess on a Friday morning- By Saturday morning, the bruised body of Jim’s customer was found hanging from his Longboat Key shower nozzle. By Sunday, the "suicide victim’s" family was happy the cremation was over with. On Monday, Jim Spurling was back in the dog collar business. But this time, it was only the dog collar business, and only collars which were to be sold in places like K—Marts and vet offices. No more adult toy ‘Tupperware" parties at the beach. The "Feminine Touch" division of Gulf States Vet Supply closed after that episode.

Jim put the phone back in its waterproof case and returned to the readout coming from his boat’s printer. With a computer linked to a geosynchronous satellite, Jim's vessel was like a
high—tech cork bobbing in the turbulent water below the Cowpen’s Dam on the Wekiwahatchee.Jim was doing what he loved best:tracking big fish. Today, his boat, Have Mercy, was receiving satellite—relayed signals from Army surplus beacons stapled to the anal fins of many of the giant alligator gar and sturgeon that teamed in the boiling turbine wash of Lake Euchee’s brown water.

The Cowpen’s Dam, built in the mid—fifties, prevented these monster fish from moving upstream, and only now had the federal government attempted to contemplate the damage done by the dam and its impoundment, Lake Euchee, a public works project of pharaonic proportions.

"Why, that dam opened the river trade back up!," crowed the coffee shop politicians.

Yes, a sort of river trade opened. A river trade in empty grain silos and empty state docks real estate was certainly established. A few barge loads of pine logs were pushed down to the paper mill by tug boats crewed by men who by—passed their onboard septic tanks and tossed their garbage into the wounded river. Crews of men who routinely shot whatever they liked on the river bank thought nothing of killing the young bald eagle recently released by the Corps of Engineers.

The old river trade could never be revived. Competition by the railroads had people moving away from the river over a hundred years ago. Hell, that migration had been going on even before the War Between The States.Now the only large town on the Wekiwahatchee was Tustennuggee. And it thrived on the east—west trade of the rail and interstate systems. The dam simply held the backwater that folks from Tustennuggee who lived on "Silk Stocking Avenue" used when they visited their vacation homes built upon the shores of Lake Euchee.

Right now, Jim was unconcerned about the monumental fraud represented by the Cowpen’s Dam. All he wanted to know was how two of his prize giant gar got above the dam and ended up in a shallow slough on the most eastern edge of the spillway. Jim knew right where his gar had moved, "Those two bastards are in that little slough on the old Euchee Reservation above the place where the Corps let trees grow on the spillway." He thought, "I’ll bet they’re mating."

Suddenly, an image of the old 1824 Township plat of the Euchee Reservation was planted in Jim’s mind’s eye, and he recalled the excitement he had felt when he found the story of the old reservation’s demise included in the Congressional Record of 1836.

Jim gazed at the silver sheen of water coming over the spillway of Cowpen’s Dam and contemplated the inundation of Chief Haujo Tustennugee Reservation for the Euchee. Three quarters the acreage was covered by Lake Euchee’s water. Lost in though, Jim stared at the water and considered all that was lost back when the water rose in '54.

Jim knew about as much as anybody about the artifacts lost when water covered this river junction. The junction of the Wekiwahatchee and the Talakhatchee represented an I10—I95 interchange for generations of Native Americans who lived before1800. Artifacts representing the highest culture of the Temple Mound period lay beneath Lake Euchee’s water. A Spanish mission, San Nicholas, also rested across the flooded river channel, covered by one hundred and thirty—six feet of stagnant backwater. Underneath the same water lay a British fort and burial ground with a cache of 18th century British arms still packed in the grease. The remains of these unhappy soldiers of fortune rested a few miles north of the mission on the same side of the channel. Called the Seminole Fort, the explosion of its powder magazine in July of 1816 was heard almost two hundred miles away in Pensacola, and its power vaporized almost 300 runaway slaves. Not all of the artifacts beneath the lake consisted of ruined pottery, glass, and rust. All of the treasure plundered the motley crews of Director General Bowles, the last great pirate of the Gulf, lay deep in the muck of Lake Euchee.

Jim always wondered why nobody ever bothered to build historical monuments for these cultures lost beneath the backwater.

"Buoys!", he thought, "Yeah! We could anchor monuments on buoys."

And then he thought of the objections he would undoubtedly face when he appealed to Tustennuggee's citizens for money to float monuments to commemorate the lives of Indians, runaway slaves, Spaniards, British soldiers of fortune, and Tory pirates.


"This will sink like the Titanic. Forget it."

Jim returned to his printer before preparing to lock through the dam in order to follow his precious fish.

"What on God's green earth are these gars doing hooked up in that slough? I’ve got to follow through on this."

Unfortunately, the secret of Jim Spurling’s gars was perhaps the strangest and most tragic of all the unknown things hidden in the oblivion of Lake Euchee's dark water.

CHAPTER 6


Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even
Christ
.
Matthew 23:10



“Holy shit! They’re everywherel” blurted Oak, instantly wishing he could take back his words as he anxiously read the printout of the previous evening’s beacon activity.

“Where, Mr. Oak? Where?” asked Edward “Poor Boy” McCray, Oak’s driver and righthand man.

“Them damn lovebugs, Poor Boy. Look at that windshield, and I know you had to have washed it this morning.”

“I shore did, Mr. Oak, I shore did.”

“Poor Boy, let me take that burned—out trailer on the Mars Hill place off your hands.”

“Hmmmm. It ain’t in that bad a shape. The roof is solid. Why, the man that built that trailer used..."

"I got two hundred dollars right here,” Oak interrupted while placing the two bills on the dashboard of the moving pickup. “We’ll trade out the rest.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, remember that I own the land that it’s sitting on an I’ve forgotten about all that back rent. Now, what else do you want me to do for you?”

“Let me fish the upper pond,” Poor Boy knew exactly what he wanted.


"On a trial basis only. You can keep the little ones, but anything over five pounds goes back and anything over ten gets videotaped."

"I can’t work that dang video thing."

"We’ll set it up in the farm house soon. I’ll show you how. We got a deal?’

"Deal."

"Good. Let me off at the zoo and go down to Five Points and load up a crew. If they can read this bill of lading, I don’t care if they’re drunk. It’s 8 inches by 11 inches. Bring a ruler and make them measure this paper. Get me four out to Mars Hill to get started stripping that trailer down to the structural steel this morning and promise another four to work this afternoon. That should take care of everything. Hey, Poor Boy, what is six inches long, has a big head, and your wife, Sonya, loves more than she does you?"

"I don’t want to know the answer, Mr. Oak," Poor Boy replied timidly.

"One of them new hundred dollar bills I just give you. Ha! Hal Ha!"

Oak said nothing more on the trip out to the zoo. Poor Boy also remained silent. Poor Boy didn’t have good sense, but he had sense enough to know to leave sleeping dogs alone.

Poor Boy should have asked a few questions about the way Mr. Oak had planned his day. Poor Boy had never seen a gator trap the size of a house trailer, but by sundown, with the help of Tustennuggee’s most intellectually gifted winos and geek monsters, Poor Boy McCray would oversee the construction of the World’s Largest Gator Trap. Patched together with steel cable and chain link fence, this junk yard contraption would soon make history.

CHAPTER 7


But I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable in that
day for Sodom, than for that city.


Luke 10:12



Two miles below Cowpen’s Dam lay the Queen City on the bluff, Tustennuggee, Alabama. Laid out around an old federal armory, the town proved to be an enigma to most outsiders. The convoluted actions of Tustennuggee government and business created by over a century of secrecy seemed to defy all explanation. Yet just underneath the surface of the arbitrary and illogical appearance of each transaction was a spirit of love. Yes, old—fashioned Southern family love. And in the words of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, ‘How do you spell love? M—O—N-E-Y!’

On this Friday morning, as Poor Boy and his crew of inebriated metal workers struggled to strip a well—built firetrap trailer down to its bare steel frame on old Mars Hill, the strangest day in Tustennuggee’s storied history began to unfold.

Down on the riverbank south of the warehouse district, a crew at the foot of Water Street contemplated the near miss of a disaster of cataclysmic proportions.

“I knowed that pipe was coming up back on the day that sorry,
rottenheaded Yankee sack of shit put it down,” yelled Bobby “River Rat” Duncan. “I knowed that drunk dago dick licker loved sand more than concrete. Why, he would steal the quarters off his dead mama's eyes. The day he poured those anchors,
I told him, ‘You walk around here thinking you’re some sort of Yankee prince, but in Alabama, boy, you’re just another Yankee son of a bitch.”

Bobby the River Rat was a ubiquitous character around the lower Wekiwahatchee Valley. With only one 1966 semester of high school trig behind him, he had managed to work himself into important positions on every significant construction project in the region during the past thirty years, and as much as Bobby loved accuracy and straight lines, he also loved beer and whiskey. So much so that each hangover morning began with “The Rat’s Breakfast of Champions——a pint of buttermilk and a Zero candy bar.

Munching on his Zero, Rat contemplated his current boss. On this sunny Friday morning, the Rat’s boss was Ira “Slack” Steele, the most notorious and hated diver on the Gulf Coast. Ira Steele earned his nickname the old—fashioned way: pure meanness. Slack perfected his evil by abusing his dive tenders, so this gained him the name “Slack" from his constant command/complaint, “Give me some slack!”

Rat glared at Slack this morning and decided that Robert Duncan was not working for a corrupt stick of white trash today. Never responding to the inevitable question——"Where you going?”—­Rat walked north up River Street to his personal oasis. He contemplated an early brunch. Something light. Something like a tomato sandwich——about the only thing you could get this time of day at the Wheelhouse Bar, home of Odell Swann's Maters and Taters.

Walking through the darkened doorway of Tustennuggee’S Most Famous Nightspot, Rat felt as though he had been going to this old lounge for centuries and, without discounting reincarnation, possibly he had. Legend had it that parts of the original ferryman’s house on the Old Spanish Trail had been built into the walls of this ancient tavern.

The only patron at the bar at this early morning hour was one of Rats old high school buddies, Grover Moss.

Grover looked up from his plate of tomato sandwiches dripping with hot pepper sauce. “Whoa, Rat! Little early even for you, ain’t it?”

“I took a vacation. Yeah, I’m taking me a good vacation.”

“What ya want to eat and drink?" Odell Swann yelled as she sat an opened Pabst bottle onto the bar’s Formica top in front of Rat. Rat replied, “Give me a ‘mater sandwich plate.”

“So, what happened this time?” Grover asked.

“Standard operating procedure--covering up H and S
Construction Company's stinking shit.”

Grover chuckled and asked, “You know what H and S stands for, don’t you, Rat?”

“Yea, ‘Hire them and Screw them.’”

“Naw. It’s ‘Hold them and Sodomize them!’”

“If you say so.”

“So, what’s up?~

“Damn gas line popped up off the river bottom, and one ofWGN’S tows hit it,” explained Rat.

“And we’re still here to talk about it?” Grover asked incredulously.

"Looks like it. No leaks now, but they’ve got to sink that damn pipeline before Channel 4 and the News get ahold of it."

That mission was at that moment being accomplished. “Slack” Steele had used temporary anchors to lower the floating compressed gas pipeline, and he was supposed to be preparing to triple—weld a bolted anchor strap over the damaged pipe.

You could never accuse Ira “Slack” Steele of working himself out of a job. Certainly, he could have made a short order out of this gas line problem, but now was the time for Mr. Slack to make his gravy money, so there he sat on the muddy floor of the sluggish Wekiwahatchee, happily using his magnesium welding rods to
engrave “Ira was here” on a large steam engine boiler he had found on the river bottom.

After finishing his underwater graffiti with the date “7—7—07,” slack cut off his torch and waited for his bottom time to run out.

Suddenly, a force sucked Slack backward so quickly through the darkness that he felt like a marionette whose strings had been jerked. After hitting a fleshy wall, the diver was quickly covered by the soft membranous lining of the inside of Old Tom’s jaws. Reaching for the knife strapped to his calf, Slack prepared to defend himself when the gator’s forward movement brought Slack to the limit of his air line and tether. Jerked in the opposite direction, Slack was almost out of the great lizard’s jaws when the giant alligator instinctively crushed the morsel almost stolen from his enormous snout.

Ira Steele had finally been cut some slack, and so had his pipeline. Tangled in Ira’s tether, the flimsy bolts that temporarily held the line’s anchors snapped, and again the pipeline returned to the Wekiwahatchee’s surface. The second trip up was more than the pipeline could stand, and now it popped——and it popped loudly. High and sharp like a rifle shot and loud like a transformer exploding. But this sound was nothing compared to what was coming. On the bank, the fastest man to his truck, pumped by adrenalin and certain of making his escape, turned his vehicle’s ignition switch.

BAAHLOOM!

That was all she wrote for a large portion of Tustennuggee's waterfront.

Picking themselves off the bar room floor, Rat looked over a Grover and said, “Well, Grover, we both know what that was.”







CHAPTER 8

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of
the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou
brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou
brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to
be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.


Psalms 74:12—14


Oakley Galloway walked across the white rock parking lot of
his roadside zoo and ice cream parlor. Attractively landscaped
with gigantic limestone boulders, elephant ears, ferns, and
cabbage palms, the expansive, white gravel parking lot was shaded
by two-hundred year old live oaks and bordered by massive elephant
ears and philodendrons that shielded the public from the main
building of the Live Oak Zoo, a replica of a 17th century Andean
hacienda. walking along the walkway, Oak whistled for his
gardener, Ernesto. As Oak entered the iron gates of the
hacienda’s walls, he heard Ernesto’s voice coming up from the
direction of the Big Spring, a cavern carved from the soft
limestone that emptied over 50 million gallons of clear ground
water per day into Spring Creek.

“Patron, Patron!” cried Ernesto.

A sudden burst of noise, louder than a clap of thunder, shook
the hacienda’s windows.

Ernesto stopped and yelled, “What is it, Senor Oak? ;Hace
ruido grande! What is it, Senor Oak?”

“Sonic boom. Jets. Come se dice en espafiol? Uh, aviones
de reaccion. Probably the Blue Angels. I saw Trader Jon in
Pensacola Saturday night, and he told me that they’d be flying a
practice run over this way this week.” Oak seemed unconcerned by
the possibility that the sound could have been produced by an
enormous explosion.

“Ernesto, check the fuel in the pontoon boat and tell Pilar
to fix a cooler for overnight. Get the car phones and the
batteries. We’ll be spending the night on the river.”

“Where we go, Senor?”

“Cotton Landing, just above Bloody Bluff Island.”

“I make everything ready Senor. "

“Bueno, mi amigo, muy buenisimo.”

Oak walked up the steps of the hacienda’s porch and moved
toward the open stairs that led to the living quarters that filled
the second floor of the hacienda’s main house. The gift
shop and ice cream parlor guests entered as they began their
tour of the Live Oak Zoo occupied the main building’s first floor.
Entering the trophy room few guests ever visited, Oak walked
over to the manatee mounted on the knotty pine panelled wall.
Pulling on the sea cow’s massive head, Oak opened the secret panel
concealing the cabinet that held a most unusual collection.

Compelled to gaze upon his gruesome treasures once more, Oak
contemplated his future and how his life would soon change.

Oakley Galloway was not your average middle-aged Alabamian.
The Live Oak Zoo was not any ordinary roadside gator farm.

Oak built this business for almost forty years with his skill
as an alligator wrestler and bulldogging gators underwater for all
those years had earned him a fortune, but he was not satisfied.
He wanted another jewel in his crown. He dreamed of another way
to shock the public, and he wanted especially to shock the piss
out of the self-pitying, bleeding-heart animal rights advocates
who hounded him daily, and now diligently threatened to destroy
his beloved gator farm.

He fixed his eyes steadily upon the unusual group of
curiosities that over one hundred years of family business had
amassed from the Amazon jungle. Oak possessed the world’s largest
collection of shrunken heads; today he dreamed of adding another
specimen to his collection.

“I’d like to see that FART lunatic’s head shrunk down and
stuffed in this old cupboard,” Oak hissed.

Ah yes. FART was the acronym for Oak’s archenemy: the
Florida Animal Rights Trust. This sect, composed mainly of
single, unemployed thirty—something neurotics from the southern
portion of the Sunshine state, had sought out new frontiers and
found them north of the Florida Line in Wekiwahatchee County,
Alabama. Oak’s roadside zoo was only one of their targets. One
of their more radical and outgoing members, was Stephanie
Rabinowitz. She used to perform as a carrot, brussel sprout, or
rutabaga but had tired of dressing up in giant vegetable
costumes to promote vegetarianism in elementary schools. Now, she
committed her life to becoming the modern version of Nemesis, the
ancient Greek goddess, to deal out retribution to the owner of the
Live Oak Zoo as well as to the scientists who ran the Cell and
Molecular Biology Department of Wekiwahatchee State University.

Oak was serious about his desire to see Stephanie’s hat size
profoundly reduced. In fact, the dark, wrinkled face with hand-
sown lips of one of his family’s older and unfortunate pests, the
late Reverend Parker Cannon, now resided in Oak’s strange trophy
case. Over seventy years before, in 1921, the Reverend Cannon had
crossed the path of Oak’s family. Reverend Cannon’s Christian
Crusade had targeted Oak’s great uncle, Milton Moss.

Milton’s business was a traveling vaudeville show called
Uncle Milt’s Banana Boat Show. Its main profit-maker was Uncle
Milt’s Miracle Banana Tonic. Parker Cannon claimed that Uncle
Milt’s tonic was nothing more than wild cat rum adulterated with
banana extract and that the Banana Boat Show was nothing more than
a front for an extensive bootlegging operation. Unfortunately,
Rev. Cannon was correct and his campaign was one of many factors
that destroyed Uncle Milt and the Spanish Moss Dairy, the winter
home for Uncle Milt’s Banana Boat Show.

Uncle Milt’s decline led to his new identity as Pap Moss, the
alligator-obsessed peanut vendor, who became a favorite target of
Tustennuggee’s bicycle-riding hooligans. Years after his decline
began, Pap witnessed Reverend Cannon’s strange return to
Tustennuggee. In 1957, Parker Cannon attempted the conversion of
Ecuador’s Jivaro Indians and his life ended in a flurry of poison
arrows. Pap Moss took special pleasure on the day that he placed
the small face, framed by long gray hair, into the trophy cabinet
located on the site of one of Reverend Cannon’s earlier conquests,
the old main house of the Spanish Moss Dairy. It’s strange
sometimes how things that go around come around.

And now, at the beginning of a new millennium and after more
than 70 years, the old Spanish Moss Dairy was under attack once
more. This time, there were no Bible-thumping hypocrites to shut
down a family business. Now, a new generation of barren Prozac—
popping pessimists had started a holy war to protect the
inalienable rights of a bunch of obese alligators.

Oak closed the cabinet and returned the old stuffed manatee
to its proper place. He thought, “If they think an old neon sign
with a gator eating a he-coon is offensive advertising, they’ll
drop their teeth when they see the monster that old Oak is about
to haul out of Irwin’s Hell Swamp. They’ll see a new sign:


The Live Oak—Zoo--Open Daily--See Old Oak wrestle Leviathan,
the Swamp Dragon-—the most terrifying Devil that ever
walked the Earth!



“Miss Stephanie better watch her step in Wekiwahatchee country or

her alligator mouth is gonna write a check that her hummingbird

ass can’t cash!”



CHAPTER 9


My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why
art thou so far from helping me, and from the
words of my roaring?

Psalm 22, Verse 1



Without even saying goodbye to Rat, Grover dusted himself off
and walked out of the bar. Damage from the gas pipeline explosion
on Tustennuggee’s riverfront was not severe on the Wheelhouse
Block between South St. Andrew and Cotton Streets. As he headed
down the Water Street sidewalk toward his old van, Grover
contemplated the calm that comes after the storm. Only the distant
wailing of the sirens and the victims three blocks down Water
Street disturbed the quiet of noon that Friday.

Grover couldn’t stand the sounds produced by disaster.
Besides, he’d heard enough bad sounds for one day. Old Grover’s
mind had about given out on him today, so he said a little prayer
for Tustennuggee’s dead, injured and dying and climbed up into his
‘74 Ford Econoline. Grover knew there’d be no shortage of heroes
in his hometown today. He’d grown up with these boys. He knew none
of them would fall off the firetruck. (Except maybe if there was a
meltdown at the George C. Wallace Nuclear Power Plant over at
Black Gum Head.)Grover resolved to return to the riverfront
tomorrow and help with the cleanup.

“Won’t be as much ruckus on Saturday,” thought Grover.

Grover drove his rusting van down Main Street to where the
four-lane to Panama City opened up near the City Cemetery. Looking
east toward the northwest corner, Grover observed the Williams
Plot covering this entire section of Tustennuggee’s forty-acre
City Cemetery for White Persons. When Grover was growing up, T-
Town’s older boys told him that the Williams Plot, with its
copingstone and forty-four-foot high granite obelisk was the place
where God was buried. Grover knew that ground like the back of his
hand. Being a caretaker for Tustennuggee’ s sixty acres of
municipal cemeteries [40 acres of white and 20 acres of colored]
was Grover’s first job after high school. For over thirty years
he’d watched his old job site fill up.

“There’ll be a few more planted there by sundown tomorrow,”
Grover thought.

Boy, Grover missed Zero. He really loved that dog. Losing
Zero was like losing your best friend. Riding south down Bay Line
Road, Grover surveyed acre after acre of the marble and granite
shaded by cabbage palms, palmettos, cedars and live oaks.

“This is a nightmare,” Grover said out loud and in
midsentence caught himself in his habit of talking to himself.
Eight years of living with Zero had exacerbated that problem. That
was probably one of the reasons Grover’s customers called him
ditsy.

“Well, grieving can wait,” Grover continued.

Accelerating the Blue Nut Truck after getting a green on
Tustennuggee’s last light, Grover speeded down the four-lane
toward his small farmhouse two miles south of town on the banks of
Spring Creek just below the Florida Line. Grover really wanted to
get home quickly, put in some porch swing time, and consider all
his options. How could he tell anyone about encountering Old Tom?
Not only would his report divulge the location of his pot patch
but it would dredge up memories of his lunatic grandfather, Pap
Moss. The last thing the old boy needed was to have the Discovery
Channel’s Loch Ness Monster Search Team camped out in that cypress
dome near the banks of Bloody Bluff Creek. It’d have to be
somebody else’s job to inform Wekiwahatchee County’s citizens that
their most awful legend, Old Tom, was alive and well and visiting
close to home.

“Hell, it ain’t that big a problem. They’ll find out soon
enough,” Grover thought. It was already April and the bull gators
down in Irwin Hell’s Swamp would soon be bellowing one coming
evening. Somebody would hear it. Somebody would hear that red-eyed
monster’s deep-throated thunder.

“You’ll be able to hear that big papa gator for miles,”
Grover thought. “They’ll hear him calling down on Alberson Stretch
and even up at the Fish Camp on Boynton Island.”

Grover pulled into the limestone block gates of Oak
Galloway’s Live Oak Zoo and slowed his van to a crawl as he eased
over crushed white gravel toward the sandy trail leading to his
twenty acres on Spring Creek. Blood may be thicker than water, but
stuff like that didn’t matter to cousin Oak and Grover’s blood
pressure always bumped up a notch when he drove past his first
cousin’s Spanish Moss Hacienda.

“Never know what he might be on,” Grover thought as he
contemplated the fear he always felt as he traveled over his first
cousin’s land. “Thank God my deed from Pap included this easement.
I know I have a legal right to be here, but it still scares the
shit out of me every time I have to pull into ol’ Cuz’s gate just
to get to my own house.”

There was no lack of freaks of nature in the Lime Sink
Region. Wekiwahatchee County, Alabama, and Ogeechee County,
Florida, had plenty of hell-demons; two-legged as well as four-
legged.

“At least my little ‘local problem’ with Oak keeps me on my
toes,” Grover reasoned. “Heaven help me if this old ‘74 fuck truck
ever breaks down before I make it to my land line. Oak would
probably shoot me in the back if he ever saw me walking on his
property.”

The Bermuda grass in Grover’s field was making hay this
spring afternoon, and he gazed with pride along the fence line of
the hillside pasture leading down to the white sand bank where
aeons of Big Springs’ cool, clear water had deposited untold tons
of its snow white grains of disintegrated quartzite. Parking his
Ford van by the cookshed, Grover climbed the steps up to the porch
of the grey cypress decked shotgun house he called home. With each
step he felt the burden of his 51 years; years he loved and
thanked God for every day, but years heavy with suffering and
grief.

Grover needed to smoke some reefer.

Opening his unlocked front door, Grover reached up to the
foyer closet’s door casing. Pulling down his little tin box, he
returned to the front porch, pulling the cord on both ceiling fans
as he strode across the cypress planks toward his green porch
swing. After checking the horizon to see whether the coast was
clear, Grover Moss, known affectionately to his friends as “Fur
Trader,” leaned back and took a hit off the pipe he made from the
antler of a twelve-point he’d killed at Ft. Rucker almost 40 years
before.

After five tokes of his favorite blend, Grover gazed out over
his grassy field and accessed his progress.

“Boy, I miss that dog. I’m gonna have to find a little Zero
soon.”

It was lonely without his dog. Walking back to the front
door, Grover reached inside to the corner bookcase that held his
photo albums. Returning to the swing, he poured over the pages
looking for pictures of his beloved pit bull. Sure enough, he
found photographs of Zero, but he also found more than he was
looking for. Grover found the pictures of Florrie. There she
stood, a Southern angel, in that aquamarine bathing suit her
mother sewed wearing Grover’s Wekiwahatchee High School class ring
on her left hand.

Keeping with his morning’s horrible memories of Zero’s death
in the enormous jaws of Old Tom, and the gas explosion on
Tustennuggee’s riverfront, Grover thought of monsters again. Only
this time the monsters weren’t giant flesh and blood, red-eyed
reptiles. These monsters were made out of strong emotions. These
were green-eyed monsters; disturbing feelings Grover could not
deny.

He was still in love with her.

“How in the hell could this happen?” Grover asked himself.
“What kind of bond could connect me to a damn woman I haven’t seen
or heard from in twenty-seven years? I’ve got to get over that
cunt. Man, I need a drink!”

Back on the swing with a cold bottle of India pale ale,
Grover looked at Florrie’s picture once more and it hit him. There
was his answer in full living color: so simple, so plain and
simple. Her hands! Grover’s whole world was right there in
Florrie’ s fingers!

Suddenly, stoned and rocking in his porch swing, Grover
Milton Moss, Esquire, made a miraculous discovery. Now he
understood the monster; not Old Tom but his other monster.
Grover’s monster was the thought of never being touched by Florrie
again in his lifetime. Here Grover found his greatest fear and as
any redneck knows, the best thing to do when scared is to go ahead
well armed. At that moment, Grover completely embraced the
unrequited love he held for his old girlfriend, Florrie Walker.

“Good God, this feels good” Grover yelled.

It felt good to have Florrie on his mind. Those thoughts were
more precious than gold. For the first time in almost thirty years
Grover fully grasped the joy and virtue contained in the
recollections of his youthful love with that beautiful woman.Memories
of Florrie were his most important possession, and the
determination to become the man worthy of Florrie's affection now
consumed Grover's soul.



CHAPTER 10


Blow ye the trumpet of Zion, and sound an
alarm in my holy mountain: let all the
inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day
of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand.


Joel, Chapter 2, Verse I



Leon Walker never named one of his saurian progeny “Old Tom,”
however, the tag certainly fit. Old Tom had gained quite a
notorious reputation over the generations. He had been credited
with every crime imaginable, so why not blame this explosion on
him too?

Leon knew better. He knew Old Tom was nothing more than a
convenient myth country people used to blame all their misery on.
Leon’s big babies weren’t legends. His gators were tools in the
hands of the Almighty God, and their bellowing would be the
forewarning of mankind’s coming doom. Every April morning brought
a warming of the waters and soon melancholy Leon, a hick Dr.
Frankenstein, would hear his monsters barking at the moon;
ferocious creatures who even their demented creator could not
control.

Grover Moss wasn’t the only person in Wekiwahatchee country
to anticipate the excitement Old Tom’s mating call would create.
Leon, the Magnificent Man of God, shared Grover’s assessment that
folks on the river would find out “soon enough” about the giant
gators. In fact, Leon had a hunch that his mutated reptilian
offspring might have something to do with the Tustennuggee blast.

Leon heard about the explosion from a disc jockey who
interrupted his favorite gospel music program to break the news of
the old river town’s disaster. Heading north in his peeling ‘71
Ford E-100 pickup, Leon Listened intently as he moved toward his
destination: the Supreme Cat Food factory in Montgomery. This
would be his last run. Phase I of Leon’s Divine Purpose was now
coming to an end.

Leon had named his four gators Thunder, Wrath, Fury and
Storm, and only one week after their release into the environment,
they were having quite an impact. Consecrated to His Divine
Purpose, these four monsters, each over 30 feet long and still
growing, were the Creator’s instrument of destruction. Their
warning call would not come from the mountain tops. Their bawling
alarm would come from the dark lowlands of terror. It would come
from Irwin’s Hell Swamp.

Rolling down Highway 231, Leon recalled one of his favorite
Bible verses form the Old Testament Book of Amos, Chapter 5, Verse
18:

Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD!
to what end is it for you? The day of the LORD
is darkness and not light.

In that instant of recollection, Leon considered his
destination, Montgomery, Cradle of the Confederacy and home of
Alabama’s latest tourist trap: The Civil Rights Memorial at the
Southern Poverty Law Center, a religious shrine built to the gods
of affirmative action and a woman’s right to choose.

“Those Manic Marxists certainly didn’t use the King James
Version of the Bible as the source of their inscription,” Leon
fumed, ‘‘ 'Let justice roll down ...‘ My foot! That same chapter of
Amos, Chapter 5, Verse 24, states, ‘Let judgment (that means God’s
final judgment of all mankind) run down as waters and
righteousness as a mighty stream,” and without a trace of guilt,
Leon said out loud to the highway,

“And those waters will be God’s verdict: a

Divine death sentence on the entire human race.

God’s Holy Warrior, Leon Walker, spit out his warning like
the cry of the banshee, and as he bounced down the highway, the
Prophet Leon settled back into the comfort that comes from knowing
you are under the infallible protection of’ the shield of Almighty
God.

Leon hated to admit it, but even he was a little surprised by
the complete success of his endeavor to remove every genetic
barrier which could possibly interfere with the growth of an
alligator. Maybe Leon was able to do it because he had resolutely
set his heart in the right direction. Reverend Leon conceived of
his giant alligators as a dramatic object lesson. His gators
would preach his sermon.

The truth be told, the old Spanish Moss Dairy had a lot to do
with making Leon's apocalyptic gators a reality. lt was a long way
from surreptitiously deciphering and manipulating the alligator
genome to actually secretly raising four two-and-a-half ton
alligators to maturity. Nestled on the backside of the defunct
dairy’s property, an old concrete block milking barn served as the
nursery for Leon’s monsters. Fed by an unlimited supply of
specially formulated cat food and warmed by the hot water from a
geothermal artesian well drilled during a 1928 crude oil
exploration, Leon’s four dragons of the Apocalypse passionately
ate their way to maturity in the darkness provided by the painted
windows of the Old Spanish Moss Dairy’s milk barn.

Ironically, Leon’s gators grew up just over the hill from the
glare of Oak Galloway’s Live Oak Zoo’s neon sign. Little did Oak
realize that the alligator of his dreams, Leviathan, was raised
right under his nose and less than a mile across the road from his
home. By sundown this evening, Leon would return home to see that
garish sign, a flashing neon alligator repeatedly munching on a
cuddly raccoon, and he would head to the milk barn to unload his
last cargo of cat food.

“God made America the greatest country on Earth,” Leon
thought, “And with privilege comes responsibility. I will teach
them the consequences of their sins. It is my task to take God’s
words and write his law upon the hearts of men before the End.”


If you liked what you've read so far, email me at
robertoreg2003@yahoo.com and let me know what you think. Then I will print more of the story of the SNAKE DOCTOR.