planks threatened to collapse under Templar’s ample weight. Templar hated Duval’s house; hated it almost as much as the bogs that surrounded it. Every time he came out here, which was as rarely as possible, he felt as if he was strangling, as if the vines and trees that surrounded the shack were creeping up on him, reaching out to him. But tonight he’d had no choice.
“Dunno what’s goin’ on,” Judd had told him over the radio. “All’s I know is Amelie Coulton is here, and says there’s a body in the swamp.”
“Well how the hell are we supposed to find it tonight?” Marty had complained. He’d been sitting at the counter in Arlette’s, mopping up the last of some biscuits and gravy, when the radio on his hip had come to life. “Jeez, Judd—you can barely find anything out there in the daylight. At night …” He’d let the words trail off, knowing there was no use arguing with Judd Duval. He’d go into the swamp anytime, day or night. To him, as to the other swamp rats, it didn’t seem to make a difference. So when Judd had told him to “shut up and move his fat butt,” he’d stuffed the last of the biscuits in his mouth, dropped some money on the counter, and headed for the car. He supposed he hadn’t really needed to turn the siren on, but what the hell—at least it let him drive as fast as he wanted.
He picked his way across the glimmering muck to the back door of Judd’s place, banged on it, then let himself in. The cabin was only two rooms, and the door opened onto the larger of them, the one that served as both Judd’s living room and kitchen. A television glowed in one corner of the room, but its volume was turned down. Judd was sitting in his big reclining chair, and Amelie Coulton was seated heavily on a sagging sofa, her face pale, but her narrow features bloated only alittle by her advanced pregnancy. As Marty came inside, Judd rose from his chair and glared sourly at the other officer.
“Took you long enough,” he groused. “Time we get out there, there won’t be enough left of whoever it is to identify.”
Templar’s gaze shifted to Amelie. “You didn’t recognize him?”
“I didn’t hardly look long enough,” Amelie said nervously. Though her eyes met his, there was a veiled look to them that made Templar wonder if she was telling the truth. “All’s I know is whoever he is, he be dead. Lookin’ up at me outta the water. Like to give me a turn, I can tell you.”
“Let’s not sit here workin’ our jaws,” Duval broke in. “The longer we wait, the harder this’ll be.”
The three of them went out to the porch, and Templar stared with distaste at the tangle of foliage. Despite the heat, a shiver went through him. He could already imagine the snakes that lay coiled in the branches of the trees, waiting to drop out of the darkness.
“Nothin’s gonna get you,” Judd Duval mocked, easily reading the fear in Marty. “Maybe a ’gator or a moccasin, but nothin’ to worry about.” Chortling at his own joke, he stepped off the porch into the aluminum boat that was tied to the railing and started the outboard while Amelie Coulton and Marty Templar settled themselves onto the center bench.
“Move forward, Marty,” Judd ordered, knowing full well how much Templar hated both boats and the swamp. “You don’t give us some weight up there, we’re gonna foul the prop and have to wade home.”
Templar shifted his weight onto the small seat in the boat’s bow, but twisted himself around so he could see where they were going. Judd cast off the line, gunned the engine. The boat shot away from the house and a moment later was lost in the twisting courses of the waterways.
With Amelie pointing the way, they moved steadilythrough the maze of islets. Then, signaling Duval to stop with her right hand, Amelie pointed ahead with her left, Judd cut the throttle, killed the engine, and let the boat drift silently ahead.
Amelie pointed into the water, and Marty
A. Destiny and Catherine Hapka