Crescent Moon (Chapter 11)
I couldn't remember what I'd told him and what I hadn't.
"An animal that does not belong."
Which was as good of an explanation as any.
Something was out there. Something that did not belong – be it a wolf in Louisiana, a big, black cat in the swamp, or an animal that no one even knew about yet. Any one of them would be a coup for me to find.
The snick of a match returned my attention to Adam as i he lit a cigarette. I considered protesting, but –
The place was trashed, and it was technically his place. What harm could one more cigarette butt do? Still…
"Those things'll kill you."
He stared out the window, his pose contemplative as he lifted the cigarette to his lips, took a long, slow drag, then blew smoke through his nose. "Something will kill me, but I doubt it'll be this."
I frowned at the statement, a variation of "we all have to die sometime." Except there was a vast difference between dying and being killed. Had his time in the military changed his thoughts on death?
I wanted to ask, but I wasn't sure how. This man's tongue had been in my mouth, his hand on my breast, his body pressed intimately to mine, yet I was uncomfortable questioning him about his past. Which only made me vow not to let his tongue anywhere near me ever again.
A vow easier made than kept, I was certain.
He glanced over his shoulder as he took another drag. "How did that flower get on your bed?"
"Someone put it there while I was sleeping."
His hand, halfway to his mouth with the cigarette, froze. He flicked the stub to the floor and ground it out. He was wearing shoes for perhaps the first time since I'd met him. Combat boots. Figures.
"You're sure?" he asked, the softness of his voice belying the tension in his body.
"Sure it was a fire iris or sure someone left it while I was sleeping?"
"I went to bed without a flower, woke up with one at my feet."
Speaking about what had happened, I was creeped out all over again. Someone had been in my room while I was asleep and vulnerable. I didn't like it.
Adam's lips tightened and his hands clenched. He stared out the window again, and the silver light from the moon filtered over his face. He really was quite beautiful.
As if the glow pained him, he winced and stepped away. "Did you get rid of the flower?"
"Didn't have to. The thing disappeared."
He tilted his head, and his hair swung free of his shoulders. What was it about his hair that made my stomach all warm and jumpy? "So you think you may be losing your mind?"
I didn't answer, because I wasn't sure.
He faced the window, and though his next words were muffled, I could have sworn he said, "Join de club."
Before I could ask what he meant, a chorus of howls split the night. More than one this time and very close.
I raced across the room, but – surprise! – I saw nothing.
"Here." He pressed something cool and heavy into my hand.
A gun. Oh, goody.
"Do you know how to use one?"
"Use it" He headed for the door.
"Wait! I'll go with you."
Adam didn't pause, didn't look at me, didn't answer, just slipped outside. By the time I reached the porch, he was gone.
"How does he do that?" I muttered. And why had he given me his gun? What was he going to use? His bare hands?
Why not? According to local legend he was Cajun Commando. Of course, according to local legend he was also dead and there was a werewolf in the swamp.
Considering what I'd just heard, maybe there were a whole bunch of them.
My gaze swept the thick grass. This was the first time I'd discerned more than one, and I was excited. More than one would be easier to find.
Still, I hesitated. Adam had told me not to go out there without him. But I was here to find the wolf or wolves, and they were close.
I checked the weapon – a .45-caliber Browning – fully loaded. Should be enough. I just needed one more thing.
Hurrying inside, I retrieved my camera. No one believed there was a wolf? I'd forgo the thousand words and take a picture. I needed the actual animal for proof positive, but a photo wouldn't hurt.
The night settled around me, damp and hot The swamp grass whispered, though there wasn't even a flicker of a breeze.
I wished I could imitate the call of a wolf. Wolves howl for a number of reasons: to assemble the pack, warn of danger, locate one another, communicate. If I howled, they'd answer, and I'd know where I was going.
I continued in what I thought had been the direction of the howls. I couldn't be that far behind Adam, yet I didn't hear the muted thud of his boots or catch even the slightest hint of a cigarette.
I hadn't realized where I was headed until I broke into a clearing and found the yellow crime scene tape hanging limply in the no-breeze.
The blood had soaked into the ground, the moist nature of the land removing every stain. If not for the tape, no one would know something horrible had happened here last night
A low, rumbling growl made me tighten one hand on the gun, while the other reached for the camera I'd slung around my neck.
The moon ducked behind a cloud, and I couldn't see more than a few feet. However, the grass rustled all around me, as if animals approached from several directions. But that couldn't be right.
Wolves didn't move in as if they'd learned military formations at West Point, and they didn't attack humans. Chat least they hadn't until they'd turned up in New Orleans.
Who was to say the wolves hadn't changed their hunting tactics along with their geography?
The lack of sight, the plethora of sound, made my nerves jump beneath my skin. I had to know what was coming. So I hit the flash on my camera, and the swamp lit up like a lightning strike.
Eyes stared back at me from the swamp. Alligator? Nutria? Wolf? Psychopath?
Turning to my left, I took another picture. The flash revealed what I already suspected. I was surrounded.
However, this time, before the light died, I saw not only eyes but also the outline of an animal. Too tall for a rat or an alligator, too short for a human being. But not a dog, not a coyote. An animal with longer legs and a bigger head than either a coyote or most dogs. In Zoology 101 those things added up to a wolf.
Amid the tension of being surrounded, a tiny bit of excitement filled me that I'd found something weird. That was, after all, why I'd come.
A growl rumbled to my right, another to my left, one behind. They were closer. I could almost feel their tepid breath. The hair on the back of my neck tingled and adrenaline rushed through me.
"Get lost!" I shouted, hoping I could make them run – the other way – hoping I wouldn't have to shoot them. Not only would it be difficult in the dark, but for proof a live creature was always better than a dead one. Still –
I lifted the gun. If they insisted.
Their measured tread came near, along with their panting, canine breath. I flicked the safety, and the night stilled, as if they'd heard the sound and knew what it was.
My arms shook with the effort of holding the gun, of forcing myself not to run. Predators chased prey. There were many zoologists who subscribed to the theory that if a rabbit didn't flee, a fox wouldn't even be interested. I'd never come down on one side or the other – until now. In the swamp, in the night, I kind of agreed with that theory, too.
How long I stood frozen, frightened, I'm not sure. But the moon danced out from behind the clouds and sprinkled just enough light over the clearing to reveal the truth.
I was alone.
I'd heard something, seen a lot of things.
"I am not crazy."
Then why are you talking to yourself?
Excellent question. One I didn't care to answer. .
I swung around. "Who said that?"
Deesse de la lune.
I'd taken Latin at my high-class prep school. But I knew French when I heard it. Too bad I couldn't understand it.
"Who's there?" I whispered.
There was a flash of movement in the grass. A rush of air, sound, the scent of evil.
The moon disappeared again, as if someone upstairs had thrown a big switch, and all I saw was a shadow darting toward me. Bigger than a wolf, smaller than a man.
No true form, but enough substance that I felt the ground shake beneath its… feet? Paws?
I pulled the trigger.
The report of the gun was so startling, so loud, I took a step back and stumbled over a root, or maybe a rock. I hit the ground on my tailbone. My camera thumped against my chest so hard, I coughed. I waited for a scream, a moan, the thud of a body. I heard nothing.
I sat stunned, shaking, until the moon came out again; then I got to my feet, and I went searching.
No blood, no wolf, no man. Had I imagined everything?
I didn't think so. But I was alone in the clearing where Charlie had died. Just me, my gun, and –
I glanced down at the camera around my neck and smiled.
The pictures I'd taken.
I hurried back to the mansion and waited for dawn.