© By Gary L Morton
Billy Bob's eyes burned - dry and bloodshot orbs. Spots floated, he thought he saw a skull-and-crossbones symbol on the sign . . . but what was really there was a bump warning.
The pick-up rocked, gravel grinding into the fenders. He was headed for swamp soup, muck, ducks and cattails.
A patch of mud spun him back onto the road and he began to think. “Gotta keep my mind off her. Tallulah is dead because I had to get her out of my life. All she ever did was play bingo then come home and bitch. Bingo! bingo! bingo! gets you bang! bang! bang!”
Blood thundered in his ears as he pounded the dash, and to his dismay, he silenced the radio. Then when he looked up, he saw that he was coming up fast on a police car. Of course, he was on the wrong side of the road and twenty over the limit, but he didn't panic. He let the sheriff flag him down and slid to a stop.
“. . . I sure will get her in for a safety. Don't you worry, Sheriff,” Billy Bob said. “Say, I gotta meet a friend in town, so I better mosey along.”
Billy Bob's eyebrows were sweat dams; he sloshed the hot liquid away as he drove off. A long chat with the sheriff hadn't been in the plan, but now it was too late. If Tallulah's body was discovered the lousy cop would remember seeing him. Checking the rearview mirror, he saw the beefy sheriff crossing the road to a footbridge that ran over a pond. Three shackled cons were doing work on the bridge. Billy Bob wasn't a genius, but he knew the sheriff's brand of chain gang labor was illegal. The sad part was that he'd picked this area for a dump because there were no cops, or there hadn't been in the past. Now that funding for local police had been chopped, and money saving chain gangs were back, small towns were hiring cheap-ass sheriffs. And if this guy was an example - city accent, keeps men in heavy irons, gives tickets to motorists passing the gang, and calls a bird pond an alligator hole - what a pain in the butt these sheriffs were going to be.
Now that he thought back, the men hadn't been your usual cons either. He remembered one guy screaming about cannibals hiding in the swamp. The sheriff had shut him up by rifle-butting him. “You killed your wife and boiled her, that's why you’re a con.”
It was unsettling; he saw will-o'-the-wisp mist and the endless reeds of the swamp clouding his alibi. Tallulah's corpse rode to the surface of his mind. Finally he stopped on the shoulder; his idea being to go back and clear-up the problem. The sheriff had said they were camping out. If he could sneak back and set the cons loose, the cops would do a search of the area and think they were Tallulah's killers, when her body turned up.
The sun sank faster than a swamp rat and it was dark by the time Billy Bob got back. Being wise, he parked a ways back and approached on foot, finding the police car and the sheriff's prison trailer gleaming with firelight. He could see the cons sleeping by the fire. Only the cannibal con appeared to be awake; he was looking at the night, his eyes like splotches of ink on dead yellow parchment.
The sheriff had obviously shackled them and then nodded off in his trailer. It was time for Billy Bob to move, creep up, loose the cons and shoot the sheriff with his own rifle.
Only the plan didn't go smoothly. As he crept out of the shadows, he met a gun barrel. It was the cannibal; he'd been loose all along. Knowing this was a guy who'd shoot, Billy Bob put his hands up.
“Keep 'em high,” the cannibal said, looking sober and mean. “I killed the sheriff, and I'll kill you too.”
“I'm no friend of the sheriff. I was going to kill him and set you free.”
“Yeah, if that's the case you got an invite to dinner. Sit down, but don't try anything funny or I'll shoot.”
“Say, pal,” Billy Bob said, wondering what the cannibal was eating. “I hope that's not the sheriff you're cooking in that pot?”
“Hell no, the sheriff is resting in peace. Him and my buddies. Oh, I forgot to mention it - they're dead too. I cut their throats. But before they died, they brought back a little meat. A little something the sheriff bagged out in the swamp. Most of the carcass is under the tarp. I'll show you.”
The cannibal was as thin as sticks, and he moved like a cat in his baggy clothes. With a quick stroke, he pulled the tarp away, revealing the body of a woman. The head had been severed and set on a plate. It was positively ghastly - slime-swollen eyes, tongue fat and green as a bloated rat, mud and firelight creating ghoulish makeup.
“Oh-no!” Billy Bob thought. “It's Tallulah! They've pulled her out of the swamp!”
. . . Dinner was getting colder and the cannibal was getting meaner. “Come on, fella. Stop babbling about the bingo and saying dead, dead, dead. I want you to eat all of your dinner. I get mighty riled when folks won't eat with me.”
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