When I first introduced you to Claude the alligator, it had just missed out on its dinner date with Lucky the bird. Both had returned to their respective domains, which should have been the end of the story. Well, not yet ...
A few days later, having just finished a morning shower, I was sitting on our balcony in my bathrobe. The balcony overlooked the lagoon in Hilton Head, S.C., and I was relaxing with a freshly mixed mimosa in hand. My fiancée was in the kitchen making breakfast.
I scanned the lagoon looking for Claude the alligator and spotted him basking in the sun on the far side of the pond. Claude wasn’t the biggest of fellows, but he still was a gator and commanded a certain amount of respect.
The tranquility of the moment was interrupted by the noisy arrival of fellow guests from the neighboring villa – a young man accompanied by two small toddlers. The children sat on the grass away from the edge of the water, while he put down a large duffle and removed a professional looking camera.
He worked his way up the edge of the lagoon taking pictures of the scenery and occasionally glancing at the kids to ensure they were OK. When he was near our balcony, I called down to him; I wanted him to be aware that there was a gator in the lagoon. I pointed to Claude lying inconspicuously on the far shore.
He took immediate notice, thanked me for my heads-up and hurried back to his duffel. He extracted another piece of camera equipment, released a series of clamps, and a tripod took shape. Next, he attached his camera to the tripod and put the front leg of the tripod into the water while adjusting the other two legs.
This disruption of the lagoon’s calm surface was the young man’s big mistake. It set into motion a series of events that would have dire consequences.
The picture-taker’s intrusion into his pond piqued Claude’s interest; the violation could not go unanswered. He slid into the water and traversed the lagoon towards the intruder.
I again shouted down a warning to the young man, but he merely waved me off. He was busy adjusting his camera lens to better focus on the closing image. He was so totally absorbed in his craft that he was oblivious to any danger; he just happily clicked away.
At this point my fiancée came out to announce that breakfast was ready, and I told her that I wasn’t the only one in pursuit of a meal. I pointed to the unfolding drama, and she became alarmed, especially when she saw the children nearby.
She darted down our balcony steps and towards the abandoned kids, all the while, shouting at them to stay where they were. The children, upon seeing a stranger rushing towards them, instinctively ran to their father.
But, by this time, it was all too late ...
Claude, upset by the trespass upon his domain, came out of the water with his jaws open.
The photographer jumped away; and, in the process, slipped on the mud bank.
The children both shrieked.
My fiancée grabbed the children and attempted to pull them away.
The wife appeared upon her balcony and let out an ear-piercing scream.
And, as for me, I spilled my mimosa.
Tragedies all … and thus the struggle began.
Claude closed his jaws around the tripod leg that was in the water and began to pull it into the lagoon.
The photographer grabbed his end of the tripod and refused to let go. It turned into a seesaw affair without an obvious victor in sight.
My fiancée continued to pull the children away from the conflict, but the children were not cooperative. They continued to wail loudly and fought her efforts to take them to safety.
The distraught wife screamed into her cell phone for assistance.
I yelled at the photographer to let go of the tripod rather than be pulled into the lagoon. He, however, rejected my advice;\ and, now ankle deep in the water, was trying to unscrew his camera from the tripod. I gave up on my pleas, stepped into my flip-flops, grabbed a nearby broom and rushed to his defense.
As I arrived …
The mud-spattered shutterbug succeeded in rescuing his camera but was still fighting to pull the tripod from Claude’s grasp.
The wife, wearing nothing but a sleepshirt, emerged from her villa and was now running frantically towards her sobbing children.
My upset fiancée continued to wrestle with the struggling children.
And, Claude, having successfully won the tug-of-war, was disappearing into the water with his prize.
After a few more minutes of chaos, things began to calm down just in time for the arrival of the fire and rescue squad with their sirens screeching. This, of course, drew all the nearby neighbors and a crowd assembled.
In a gesture of gallantry, I offered the scantily clad wife my bathrobe; but, seeing me in my tartan shorts, she declined. Eventually, an admiring bystander gave her his jacket.
After an hour or so, everything settled down and was finally sorted out with Claude receiving the bulk of the blame. My fiancée actually argued in Claude’s defense thinking that the authorities might destroy him. But, that wasn’t to be his fate.
The next day, resort personnel captured Claude, taped his jaws shut, and carried him off for relocation. As they placed him in the truck, I saw a defiant swish of his tail as if saying, “What do you expect? After all, I’m an alligator.”
And so, we said goodbye to Claude. He was a force of nature and indomitable to the last.
PS: At the insistence of my fiancée, I told Claude’s story at a gathering of condo owners in Florida. It was actually a competition, and we won first prize – a bottle of champagne and a trip to the Caribbean. Months later, as we relaxed on the beach, we couldn’t help but think of our experiences which led us there.
We offered a celebratory toast to our benefactor, “Thank you Claude, wherever you may be.”