The Snyder Brothers weren't smart people, but they were smart enough to know that when you got into trouble ... when you got into real trouble ... you went to see Cassius. And they were smart enough to know that they were in real trouble.
"You knock," said Ray, the older brother and, by right of birth, the leader of this band of two.
"You knock," replied George, the younger brother and, by lack of right of birth, the follower and the one carrying the blood soaked mass, bundled up in dirty sheets, that was the very trouble that the Snyders needed Cassius to fix.
Ray shrugged and thumped on the door with his fist. His knuckles were bloody, just like the sheets, and left dark brown patches on the rough wood of the door. "He'd better be in."
The door swung open soundlessly. "He's in," said Cassius, his voice like honey and poison at the same time. The Snyders didn't believe for a minute in all the voodoo bullshit that Cassius surrounded himself with, but even they had to admit that he had style. "Come on in, you're late."
Ray and George stepped warily into Cassius' small shack. Cassius had the place done out to fool the tourists, a mess of skulls and candles and feathers, all the trappings a rube would expect of the Voodoo man, but it wasn't that that made Ray and George uneasy. No, ignoring the voodoo stuff was one thing, but ignoring Cassius' price was another. And there was always a price for Cassius' help.
That was why people only came here when they were in real trouble.
"Put it down, man, and rest yourself," said Cassius, pulling an old chair out from underneath a small table. George looked at his brother warily, waiting for the nod that meant it was OK to do as he was being told. Ray nodded, and pulled out a chair for himself. Dealing with Cassius was like dealing with a cornered snake; you didn't make any sudden moves, and you kept your eyes on where his eyes were looking.
George stooped and dropped the bundle onto the floor. A small bare leg and pudgy foot popped out, and a small pink shoe bounced loose.
"Fuck's sake, George!" spat Ray, snatching up the shoe and shoving it, and the leg, back inside the mound of bloody sheets. When he turned back to the table, Cassius was smiling, his yellow and black teeth a billboard that announced "YOU'RE FUCKED" to anyone who saw them.
"Guess I don't need to ask what it is that you boys need then, huh?" he said, pulling a bent joint from a pocket in his waistcoat and lighting it from a candle.
"It was an accident," said Ray, "George, he ..."
Cassius held up his hands and blew out a plume of blue smoke that coiled like a viper in the air. "Brother, Cassius isn't here to judge you. I'm just here to help."
"For a price," said Ray.
"For a price," replied Cassius.
Ray reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled our a roll of dirty notes. There was blood on these as well, but it wasn't Ray's.
"This is all we've got," said Ray, tossing the money onto the table.
Cassius raised an eyebrow, looking at the money curiously. "Funny thing is, I usually set the price, not the other way 'round."
Ray swallowed. He'd gripped the snake now, and it looked like he had the end that bit. He looked at his brother, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the pile of sheets that could send them both to prison, or to the electric chair. It was all the kid could do not to break down in tears.
"I can get more," said Ray. "But I'll need more time. I'm good for the rest Cassius, I swear it, but we need help now. George he ... he can't go to prison."
Cassius blew out another plume of smoke, another snake in the air that writhed past Ray, stinging his eyes.
"I don't wanna hear it, brother," said the voodoo man. "Accessory after the fact, and all that, yeah? You tell me what happened, I got to keep that shit secret if the cops coming knocking. Right now, I'm just a guy, you're just a guy, and you want a favour. That's it."
"Yeah, yeah," Ray croaked, relief robbing him of his voice for a moment. "Just guys. I won't let you down, Cassius."
Ray held out his hand, and it hung in the air limply as Cassius picked up the money from the table and shoved it inside his waistcoat. "Follow me boys," he said, picking his way across the small shack between the cramped furniture and voodoo paraphernalia, carefully avoiding the mound of bloody sheets in the middle of the floor. "Let's go meet Sobek."
Leaving the shack through the back door, Ray and George carried the bundle between them. It was only yards from Cassius' back door to the edge of the swamp, and the ground was wet and treacherous underfoot. Cassius led the way, the glowing tip of his joint the only light other than the fat amber moon that lurked behind the clouds overhead.
"Ignore the sign," said Cassius with a chuckle, as the strange trio passed a sign admonishing passer's by for "Feeding or Molesting" the alligators. "Although, I guess you two have already done all your molesting for the day, huh?"
Ray didn't answer. If there was anywhere where Cassius was most dangerous, it was here, disappearing into the fertile green and brown world of the swamp. He'd heard a rumour once that Cassius had a family living in the swamp, somewhere. He couldn't begin to imagine what the voodoo man's swamp mother might look like.
They reached the edge of a small glade, where the ground gave way to dark, murky waters. Strange swamp things moved under the surface, scattering as Cassius crouched down and dipped his finger into the water. He swirled it this way and that, making patterns that caused the water to move in strange ways.
"Look away, George," said Ray to his brother. "Close your eyes."
In the darkness of the water, something gleamed, and Ray got the impression that something was swimming up towards them from a depth far deeper than the swallow pool should have had. The water began to foam and swirl, is if it was going to drain suddenly away. Cassius smiled, his "FUCK YOU" grin, and yanked his finger out of the water as a pair of monstrous green and black jaws burst forth, snapping at the air with jagged teeth.
With a crash, Sobek landed on the ground, snarling and hissing. Ray had never seen anything like it. bigger than any 'gator or croc' he'd even seen, the creature was the size of five or six men. The ground sank underneath the creature's broad, horned feet and its thick tail disappeared back into the water behind it. The jaws, longer than a man's arm and leg together, grew still as Cassius lay his hand gently on the creature's nose and whispered to it in whatever strange tongue voodoo men speak to such creatures in. Ray couldn't understand it, could barely hear it, but the part of his brain that he had inherited from some long dead lizard insisted that there were words.
"Sobek accepts your offering," Cassius said, "Place it here."
Ray took the full weight of the bundle from George and laid it down in front of the gargantuan Sobek. Behind him, George whimpered like a child. Ray could smell piss and watched as a dark patch spread on the front of his brother's jeans. Sobek's nose dipped to the bundle, and snuffled at it.
Ray closed his eyes as the creature opened its massive jaws to slowly engulf the bundle. The sheets, the blood, the tiny leg, the shoe, and everything else that had remained mercifully hidden from view disappeared into the dark gulf of Sobek's jaws. He kept his eyes tight shut through the noises that came next; snapping, crunching, popping, ripping. Sobek gobbled and chewed and swallowed down the Snyder Brother's dirty little secret in mere moments.
"It's over," said Cassius, and Ray opened his eyes. The creature, Sobek, was gone ... and so was George.
"There's no evidence that will come back to you," said Cassius. "That's how it works. What Sobek eats is gone from the world as if it were never there. The girl's parents won't look for her, and even George will fade from your memory in time."
"That's ... good," said Ray. A numbness had crept over him. He wondered if it were simple shock, or whether this was what it felt like when Sobek's teeth nibbled pieces out of your memory. "He ... he didn't scream ..."
Cassius wrapped his arm around Ray and began to steer him away from the glade, back out of the swamp and away from the place where his brother had stood for the last time. "My gift to you," said Cassius, "As a guy, to another guy, just doing a favour. It's better that way. Otherwise, the screaming is the only thing you can remember, and you'll never know why."