The bateau slides through the still waters of the bayou. Still, black waters as dark as the night sky. As dark as the heart of a killer. In the water stand the cypress, rank upon rank, tall sentinels as motionless and silent as death. Behind them, on the banks, the weeping willows, boughs bowed as if by grief, and the live oak with their twisted trunks and gnarled branches, looking like enchanted things eternally frozen in a moment of agony. And from their contorted limbs hangs the moss, gray and dusty and tattered, like old feather boas left to rot in the attic of some long-forgotten, long-ruined mansion.
All is gray and black in the night in the swamp. The absence of light, the reflection of light. A sliver of moon is wedged between high clouds, then disappears. Stillness descends all around as the boat passes. Eyes peer out from the reeds, from the trees, from just above the surface of the water Night is the time of the hunter and the hunted. But all the creatures wait as the bateau slips past them, its motor purring, low and throaty, like a panther's growl. The air of expectation thickens like the mist that hovers between the trunks of the tupelo and sweet gum trees.
One predator has struck the night, cunning and vicious with no motivation but the thrill of holding another's life and savoring the power to snuff it out. The creatures of the swamp watch as the predator passes, as the scent of fresh blood mingles with the rank, metallic aroma of the bayou1 and the sweet perfume of wild honeysuckle, jasmine, and verbena.
The motor dies. The boat skirts a raft of water hyacinth noses through the cattails and lily pads, and sidles up to the muddy bank, where ferns and creepers grow in a tangled skein. Somewhere in the distance a scream tears through the fabric of the night. Like an echo. Like a memory. The predator smiles, fondly, slyly, thinking not of the nutria that issued the sound, but of the woman lying dead on the floor of the bateau.
Another kill. Another rush. Another dizzying high. Power, more seductive than sex, more addictive than cocaine. Blood, warm and silky, sweet as wine. The pulse of life rushing with fear, pounding, frantic . . . ebbing, dying.
The body is dragged to the bank, left near the end of a crushed clamshell path that glows powdery white as the moon flashes down once again like a searchlight—there and gone, there and gone. Its beam illuminates a dark head of hair, damp and disheveled with no trace of the style that had been so painstakingly sculpted and sprayed hours ago; a face, ghostly pale, cheeks rouged clownishly, lipstick smeared, mouth slack, eyes open and staring, unseeing, up at the heavens. Looking for mercy, looking for deliverance. Too late for either.
She will be found. In a day, maybe two. Fishermen will come to fill their creels with bream, bluegill, sac-a-lait. They will find her. But none will find her killer.
Too cunning, too clever, beyond the laws of man, outside the realm of suspicion this predator stalks...
Excerpted from Cry Wolf by Tami Hoag. Copyright © 1997 by Tami Hoag. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.