Hot, pulsing, terror was so intense from the four men standing near the edge of the 'gator hole it overrode the smell of damp, rotting vegetation and stagnant backwater. The tall man could feel it radiate toward him as he waited on the bank with his captive close to the edge of the dark brown water. He smiled.
A middle-aged Hispanic man, bound and gagged with electrical tape, rolled his dark eyes wildly in all directions, his long black hair flipping as his head moved from side to side. The tall man pushed him to the ground and took a switchblade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, grabbed the man's bare foot and sliced open the big toe as easily as if he had been cutting a piece of tender steak on a diner plate. Blood spurted onto the ground, then steadied into a drip.
Effortlessly, using his right hand and arm, the tall man grasped the victim around the waist and held him up and over the water at the edge of the gator hole, while using his left hand to hit the water with a long stick.
"We're waiting for my pet," he told the four men. "He shouldn't be too long because he knows he can depend on me for a meal."
"Jesus," one of the men breathed into the humid night air.
The tall man, dressed in black jeans and black T-shirt, eyes the color of old pewter in the uncertain moonlight, turned to stare at the man who had spoken.
"Never let me hear you again take the Lord's name in vain. If you do, you'll find yourself in a similar position." He voice was calm and even. "Is that understood. Justice is mine, said the Lord, and I am his emissary."
The offender gulped audibly and managed a shaky nod.
What appeared to be a dark stationary log stirred and the snout of an eleven-foot alligator started moving, disturbing a leaf on top of the water. Senses aroused, the 'gator started its hungry way toward the gator hole, piloted by the leaf caught in the movement of the water.
The tall man waited patiently, now using both hands to hold the struggling victim over the dark water, apparently without any strain on his muscles. Drops of blood from the victim's toe silently hit the water, like polluted raindrops.
Suddenly a prehistoric head made its way around the slight bend in the current the leaf still leading the way. The tall man waited until the beast was directly under him and he lowered the bound victim toward the gator's open mouth. Intensified breathing of the four spectators filled the small clearing. The man smiled as the 'gator made a gulping sound, then grabbed the victim's bound ankles and started spinning around in the water. It continued twisting as the tall man pitted his strength against that of the 'gator. The victim's bones snapped and he hung limp, as the gator continued until flesh began to tear loose from the man's torso. His muffled moans filled the silence until he fainted. For another few seconds the man and beast struggled for the prize. Laughing out loud, the man released his victim and then 'gator, victim and leaf disappeared beneath the dark surface of the water.
"My friends." His voice was soft, almost gentle. "You have just witnessed what happens to anyone who is a traitor to our organization. I've explained that I will not tolerate any disloyalty and he was foolish enough not to believe it. But do not be too concerned for him. The gator is a very considerate diner. He will not eat him immediately but will let him ripen for a day or two."
One of the men on the bank vomited.