In the tropics, predators lurking in the bays and coves feed at night. The black mirror of the quarry reflects the dome of constellations overhead. The mirror’s perfection is broken randomly by fish swirls. A rising tide opens the narrow inlet connecting the bay to the abandoned quarry. Schools of fish pour into the rectangular body of water — nearly the size of a football field, twenty feet deep.

As the rusty pickup truck bounces along the rocky, overgrown road, Gene watches the moon emerge like an egg squeezing out of the horizon. The cones of the headlights fill with swarms of mosquitoes.
At the wheel, Roy is busy dodging potholes. Thorny branches of wild Key lime trees claw and screech at the truck as the road descends through hardwood hammock to sea level. Roy notices Gene’s flinching at every screech, “I know it’s hot but roll up your window,” Roy said, raising the driver’s window.

Gene leans forward straining to see beyond the headlights; “Where is this place? Did you take the wrong road?”

Before Roy bothers to reply, they reach the quarry’s edge, the smell of low tide filling their nostrils. The truck turns around, backing up within a few feet of a drop-off. Roy switches off the engine and headlights. The still, humid air reverberates with the whirring of nighthawks tilting and dipping erratically, chasing flying insects on the wing. The sporadic idiot laughter of wood ibises mocks them from somewhere in the mangroves.

Looking down for snakes, Gene steps from the truck’s cab startled by a nighthawk knocking off his straw hat. Gene’s hands flail at the empty air above his head.

Roy laughs, “You’re acting like a tourist, Gene. Get a grip, man.” The two boys, cousins, are in their late teens. Roy is worried about Gene, who, unlike Roy, did not grow up on the island. Roy knows the islands and wheel channels of the backcountry blindfolded. Gene was raised in the mainland suburbs. Roy glances at his diver’s watch, “Let’s do it, one hour to peak high tide.”

Gene connects the spotlight to a car battery in the back of the truck, sweeping the opposite bank with the beam until five pairs of ruby-red crocodile eyeshines light up like a string of Christmas lights. “Five,” Gene says in a low voice.

“You sure?”

Gene gives Roy a look, “You think I can’t count? Like I’m an idiot?”

“Wrong, I’m betting everything I’ve got that you know how to count, Gene.” Wearing cutoff shorts, Roy is tall, gangly, and skinny with protruding ribs. Snorkel gear in one hand, he hobbles barefoot across the sharp coral rock. It is early summer before the calluses on his feet have grown thick; “Is he still there?”

Gene slaps a mosquito, shakily aiming the spotlight at the opposite bank, “Right there,” Gene points across the inky water; “See him?”

In their muddy wallows, the crocs are as stationary as sculpted pieces of cement statuary. Gene runs the beam up and down the ancient, scaly back of Methuselah’s gargantuan length. It is said by the old Conchs that Methuselah’s back bears embedded Indian spear points, fishing hooks, and the scar from a shotgun blast.

“Yeah, keep the light in his eyes.” Roy steps carefully towards a limestone ledge overhanging the water; “C’mon, Gene; high tide ain’t gonna wait for us.”

Cursing the mosquitoes, Gene hauls out the coiled rope and throw net from the truck bed. “Ouch! Damn it all to hell!” Roy hops on one foot.

“Shhh!” Gene says, “He’s gonna hear you.”

“Shhh, yourself!” Roy is standing on one leg like a flamingo, “Methuselah knows we’re here, Gene.” Clenching his teeth, Roy’s tone is impatient, “Get over here.”

Gripping Gene’s shoulder for support, Roy turns his right foot upward. The spotlight reveals bleeding puncture wounds on the side and bottom of his foot, “Cactus got me.” Grimacing, cursing, he pulls out the cactus spines one by one.

Gene watches with a pained look, “Now what . . . there’s gonna be blood in the water, Roy.”

“Shut up. Just hand me the fins.”

“Gene starts for the truck, holding the spotlight and coil of rope, “Let’s just call it off. Mister Bill Ghaast can shove his five thousand dollars. It ain’t worth it.”

A week ago, Bill Ghaast, the owner-operator of the Miami Serpentarium, shuffled through the photos of Methuselah snapped by Roy. Ghaast was a walking, wasted cadaver, with a complexion as gray as the marl mud of a croc’s wallow. Since he was not wearing his eyepatch, Roy could not look Ghaast in the face. The paralyzed eye looked down, the good eye swiveled in its socket.

Ghaast, a herpetologist, had just been discharged from his latest stay at the hospital. He spent nine hours in a coma after allowing a cobra to bite his forearm. Each time he was bitten, he gained more resistance to the venom, convinced he was going to find the cure for cancer through snake venom.
“Bring Methuselah to me alive,” Ghaast said, “I’ll pay you five thousand cash.” Too excited to negotiate, Roy took the offer.

“We’ve gone this far,” Roy said, stepping down nimbly on the wounded foot. “Let’s do it.”

“You’re letting the money go to your head, man.”

Roy held up the snorkel gear, “What’re you worried about? I’m the one going in the water. Let’s get this over with.”

Gene reluctantly aims the spotlight at Methuselah. The leviathan’s massive jaws and ginormous head materialize in the light, a terrifying visage.

Hands trembling, pulling on the swim fins, Roy looks over his shoulder from his perch, “Do not move the light or I’m croc bait.”

Roy straps a miner’s light onto his head, pulls down his mask, and inserts the snorkel in his mouth. Then he shrugs the coil of rope onto his shoulder. Gene makes fast the end of the rope to the truck’s trailer hitch, hurrying back to attend the spotlight.

Roy eases down from the limestone ledge, careful not to make a splash. Gene watches the orb of light on Roy’s head bob steadily across the quarry. He whispers to himself, freezing Methuselah in the blinding light, “Stay put . . . don’t move . . . don’t you dare move.”

At the opposite bank, Roy climbs out of the water very carefully. Taking one step, he freezes for a few seconds before taking the next. Methuselah remains still. Roy’s cast is good. The net opens mid-air like a cloud of mist and falls, draping Methuselah’s head and upper limbs. Roy tosses the rope’s coil into the water.

Roy is halfway across the basin when all hell breaks loose. The spotlight is dropped when Gene trips over a tree root. Methusaleh stirs when the spotlight goes out. The croc’s gargantuan head whips the net from side to side to shake it off. The rope tightens like a guitar string, skimming back and forth across the quarry’s surface. Gene scrambles to his feet at a loss for words. “The truck, man,” Roy yells; “Use the truck.”

Gene shifts the truck into low gear slowly letting out the clutch. The slack in the rope pays out. Treading water, Roy keeps his distance, praying that the rope and net will hold. Wheels spin in the loose coral rock, the black smoke and smell of burnt rubber drift over the quarry. The more Gene accelerates, the more he loses traction. Methuselah is fighting back like a giant blue marlin trying to throw the hook. Each time Methuselah throws his head, the rear of the truck fishtails.

Whenever Gene lets up on the gas, the truck slides backward. Setting the hand brake does not stop the slide. He abandons the truck in a panic.

Methuselah is nowhere to be seen. Roy frantically kicks for the landing. Then comes the awful noise of metal grating against rock. The edge of the quarry’s bank has collapsed. The truck’s rear wheels drop, pitching the hood of the truck upward, causing it to teeter like a seesaw before sliding into the quarry; a ship sinking stern first; Gene’s mouth drops open, “No, no, no!”

Just as the truck disappears, Roy reaches the landing where he had entered the water twenty minutes ago, “He’s underwater. Pull me out. Hurry up, Gene.” The angry desperation in Roy’s voice snaps Gene out of his trance from watching the truck submerge. Squatting down, Gene holds out his hand.

Before Gene can brace himself, Roy pulls too hard, launching Gene into the water, “Where the hell is he!?” Gene screams, turning his head around in every direction.

The broken net floats to the surface. Roy yells through his snorkel, “Get your butt out of the water, Gene, or get out of the way!” Unable to find the footholds with his feet, Gene grabs for a rounded outcropping of coral rock. But without footholds, it is impossible to get any leverage. He falls backward onto Roy.

Gene will not move out of the way. The two boys fight for the handhold. Then they hear the unsettling din of the quarry’s surface erupting, raining dozens of spooked fish. The line of jumping fish advances towards them.

At the bottom of the food chain, Roy’s thoughts turn primitive and wicked: Every man for himself, his mind shouts. Let Gene be the bait. I hope he goes for Gene first. Roy takes a deep breath, diving to the dark bottom of the quarry, leaving Gene to flounder on the surface.

Methuselah’s enormous moonlit silhouette glides past above him. Staying deep, feeling his way along the bottom, Roy swims for the opposite bank. Sound carries too well underwater. Roy plugs his ears, trying to shut out the commotion of gurgling screams, the churning and thrashing above – the death roll.


Lee Robert Rohe is a Florida native. His stage plays have been given readings or productions at various Florida theatres and Off-Broadway. He is the recipient of a Florida Individual Artists Award. His teleplay, Cross Creek Under Cross Exam, was produced and aired by public TV stations in Florida.