The August heat stuck heavy to the alligator hunter’s skin. The air stunk of Louisiana swamp but that’s the way she liked it. Her dog and her partner perched on the edge of the flat-bottomed boat, squinting into the murky water. The sun beat down on the back of the hunter’s neck, crisping it up nice and red. She drummed her fingers on the thick metal steering wheel.
“Think there’ll be a bite at the next line, Minnie?” her partner, still green and wide-eyed, asked. This would be their third line today with no bites.
“Hope so,” Minnie replied.
“Hope it’s a big’un. A big ol’ gator, all fat and pretty.”
“When’s s’last time you saw a fat gator?” Minnie shielded her eyes from the harsh glare of the sun and peered into the distance. The partner fell silent, staring at the water with a frown and placing a hand on the dog’s back.
“I seen plenty of fat gators.”
“You ain’t.” Minnie grunts.
“I have! Farther east, near Belle Chasse, there’s gators the size of horses!” The partner snapped, defensive, fist clenched on the dog’s back. He yelped and skittered to the front of the boat.
“That’s a dirty lie, Addie, I been to Belle Chasse.”
“You ain’t hunted there,” Addie snapped, glaring at the water now. “You ain’t hunted there.”
“S’all the same. Ain’t no gators nowhere – Not here, not Belle Chasse.”
“Y’all’s just bitter ‘cause you can’t get a bite,” Addie said, accusatory. She slapped a mosquito off her arm. Minnie looked past her, eyes forward.
“Then why’re you here if you know I ain’t got a bite?”
“’Cause I ain’t got any either,”
“Nobody’s got any,” Minnie stared in the distance. She could see the tall rise of cypress trees out of the water like bones floating up in an old cemetery. One of them had a heavy line weighted down with waterlogged chicken, hopefully with a fat gator hooked on the end. She wasn’t close enough yet to see, but the gnawing in her gut told her that she wasn’t going to be so lucky.
Addie shut her mouth as they neared the third line so that the only noise was the thrum of the boat’s engine, the cicadas’ cries, and Addie’s own stomach. The dog—a good dog, with a smart nose and no pedigree—perked his pointy ears up and licked his chops, barking sharply. He’s probably smelling the chicken.
“Wouldja look at that!” Addie pointed to the base of a cypress tree, among the tangled roots.
“Well, damn,” Minnie wiped her brow and pulled out her shotgun from where it had been tucked against the boat’s side. She cocked it once, standing up. “Get over here, bring us in,”
Addie clambered to take the wheel, revving the engine and sidling them as close to the cypress as they could get. The gator heard them and snapped his jaws. A glittering metal hook had embedded itself in the back of the beast’s throat, thick wire sprouting from it and tethering him to the thick tree trunk. He swung his tail uselessly, sending stinking droplets of water into the air.
“Shoot him!” Addie said, scrambling to grab the line and hold the gator still. “Get him!”
Minnie ignored her. She waited till the gator had closed his jaws and started a roll, thrashing in the water to break free. She fired once. The dog barked when the bullet hit the water. She cursed and aimed again at the fleshy triangle at the base of the gator’s skull. A quarter-sized chink in the armor, she knew it too well. She shot again, and the gator let out a scream. It stopped thrashing in the water.
“Ha ha, yes! Nice shot!” Addie said, moving over to help haul it into the boat. The dog wagged his tail. Minnie patted him on the head and reached down, gripping the gator with thick, calloused fingers.
Once they got it on the boat, they could get a good look at him. He was scrawny and old and missing a claw. He wasn’t going to fetch a good price, not enough to cover the two of them. Minnie cursed and kicked him halfheartedly with her boot.
“Hey, don’t be like that,” Addie said, wiping her sweat-sticky brow.
“No, I mean it—” Addie tried again, arms wide, pleading.
“So help me God, if you don’t shut up I’ll throw you over. See if that brings ‘em out. Jesus Christ.” Minnie’s words had thorns, but there wasn’t anything behind them. She was too tired to put any fire in her threats.
They spent the ride to the next line in empty silence, the sun creeping inch-by-inch overhead. Minnie took her place at the wheel again, gripping it tightly, jaw clenched.
“Aw, shoot,” Addie said.
“What?” Minnie craned her neck to look.
“And no gator?”
Minnie and Addie glared down at the water together, the sun beating down on them. Addie’s stomach growled again, but the cicadas drowned it out.
Cecil Starr lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has been recently featured in Pulp literary magazine.